America’s front porches on rails

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Passenger trains offer a safe, efficient, accessible, environmentally sound means of travel that also creates jobs, sparks economic activity and fosters walkable development patterns. But is it these qualities that people think about when they decide to take a train trip, particularly a long-distance one? And is it these factors that motivate people to advocate for the expansion and improvement of America’s passenger train network? In a recent column for the blog Next City, Danya Sherman,...

A first-timer visits the Nevada Northern, and oh! What a steam show!

Posted 2 years ago by Robert W. Scott
“Its four hours from anywhere” is the quote that would stick in my head as I planned my trip to the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nev., to be a part of the annual Winter Photo Spectacular. Ahead for me was an experience that I would not soon forget and will look forward to returning to participate in. In my years being a railroad photographer and enthusiast, I have often not given steam operations and preservation groups a second look. For two consecutive weekends in February the ...

A wish list for the next generation of single-level intercity coaches

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
25 new baggage cars delivered to Amtrak in November are currently undergoing testing in hopes of being added to passenger train consists in place of 50-plus-year-old Heritage baggage cars this year. Soon, new sleepers, diners and bag-dorm cars should be delivered and put into service. This will hopefully result in more sleeper capacity on Eastern long-distance trains, thereby lowering accommodation charges to more closely match those of Superliner-equipped trains on a per-mile basis. But once th...

New photos from West Virginia Crude Oil Derailment

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Greetings,  In a series of recent crude-by-rail incidents, the latest derailment comes to us from southern West Virginia, southeast of the capital city of Charleston. As reported on the magazine's New Wire yesterday with periodic updates, an initial generalization of the derailment includes approximately two dozen derailed tank cars, with as many as 13 of those cars on fire. The derail occurred at approximately 1:20 PM EST on Monday, February 16. A series of explosions accompanied the dera...

Gazing out the Carolinian window, admiring nature's engineers

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Written February 13, 2014 I’m back aboard Amtrak’s southbound Carolinian, headed to see family and friends in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up. I went for Business Class, as usual. I’m such a regular on this train that the Business Class attendant, who works the southbound on Fridays and the northbound on Sundays, knows me. I also usually know the volunteer North Carolina Train Host, who boards in Rocky Mount and acts as an ambassador for the state, under a program sponsored by...

Dispatches from TRB: Equipment standards, multi-state corridors, shared-use challenges, accessibility and project financing

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Here is a synopsis at some of the presentations on the technical, financial and administrative aspects of passenger rail development that were given at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC last month. Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee approves revised requirements for dual-mode locomotives — Jack Madden, Project Team Leader with the New York State Dept. of Transportation The committee, consisting of Federal Railroad Administration, ...

Riding Amtrak's Crescent

Posted 2 years ago by Wayne Laepple
It's been a long, long time since my wife and I have made a long-distance trip on Amtrak. Not since the early days of our marriage had we the time and money to make such a trip. Since we needed to be in New Orleans from Jan. 25-30, we booked on the Crescent for the round trip. What follows are a few thoughts and observations of the trip. One should not book a roomette to share with another person unless one is very fond of the other. The walk-in closet in our apartment is larger. Fortunately, m...

Are freight railroads starting to take passenger trains more seriously?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
For most of the last half of the 20th century and into the start of the 21st, the apparent prevailing attitude of the large private, primarily freight-carrying railroads towards passenger trains was to treat them as a necessary nuisance and a hindrance to efficient, fluid freight movement. But there are signs that senior management at the Class I’s are starting to take passenger trains more seriously, and look to passenger train operators and the government agencies that sponsor passenger ...

How do you predict how many will ride a train?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Deciding whether or not to introduce a new passenger train service or make changes to existing service comes down to one question: how many (more) people will ride the trains after the changes are made? This is true for both government transportation agencies and private companies. Ridership forecasting is a famously inexact science, and the entity performing the forecasting is liable to either overestimate or underestimate demand based on which approach best suits its interests. However, some m...

When did running a railroad become optional?

Posted 2 years ago by John Hankey
As the last flake fall on what clearly was a historic winter storm in New England, I have to ask a historian's question: At what point in the relatively recent past did it become optional for Amtrak and other entities to run passenger trains? This is not a snarky question. It is a serious strategic issue.I am old enough to have ridden pre-Amtrak trains, and to have a vague cultural memory that when other modes of transportation shut down because of inclement weather, at least you could depend on...

Railroaders, Railfans, and “The Letter”

Posted 2 years ago by Steve Glischinski
It all started innocently enough. In May 2010, two friends and myself drove north from the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports with the idea of photographing trains on the former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range lines now owned by Canadian National. For the first couple of hours we trooped around the area shooting what we could, and then learned there was a southbound ore train on the former Missabe that would be delivered to BNSF Railway. This was an unusual move, so we moved to intercept the train, ...

Training North Carolina

Posted 3 years ago by Kristen E. Jeffers
The morning is cold and grey, as I stand on the Greensboro, N.C., station platform awaiting the northbound Carolinian. I’d been in a rush, having grabbed a Biscuitville biscuit for the nearly 8-hour ride to Washington DC that awaited me. I thought I was being cool on this particular December morning, showing up just 45 minutes before time for me to head up to the platform to board the train. I forgot I needed to get a long-term parking pass (5 minutes), and to check my bags (10 minutes). W...

Overnight coach or first class private bedroom? How about something in between?

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Last week, I discussed the inconsistencies in the level of service that Amtrak terms “business class” across its national network, and how it often fails to meet passengers’ expectations. Business class, however, is only available on shorter-distance trains that travel predominantly during the daytime (with the exception of overnight Northeast Regional trains 66 and 67). This week, I’ll explore several possibilities for improving accommodations on overnight trains, any of...

The appeal of immaculate and contemporary locomotives

Posted 3 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
While spending this past Sunday morning trackside along Norfolk Southern’s Pocahontas District, I intercepted a pair of brand new SD70ACe’s assigned to Elkhorn pusher duty between Iaeger, W.Va. and Bluefield. Norfolk Southern has been taking delivery of the 4,300 horsepower ACe’s since mid-2014, numbered in the 1100 series. While I’ve seen several of those locomotives in revenue service, it does not take long for equipment to acquire a weathered look, especially when assi...

Welcome to the District of Catastrophe

Posted 3 years ago by John Hankey
My intention is not to pile on. There will be plenty of folks better positioned to do that than I. But I have to point out the fundamental weirdness of the recent Washington, D.C. Metro incident involving acrid electrical smoke filling a subway tunnel, an entire train, and the local consciousness. On Monday, Jan. 12 at around 3:18 p.m. (give or take — officials are not yet supplying detailed information, citing a variety of restrictions and privileges), a Yellow Line train left the L'Enfa...

How to make railroaders happy

Posted 3 years ago by Thomas Tancula
With all of the high security and paranoia following the attacks of 9/11, railroads have been mandated to implement security measures to prevent disasters. That has caused bumps in the road for those who like to take pictures as well as those who visit yards and repair facilities. While this has added to the “request for permission to enter” process, it has not deterred students of the industry – railfans -- from dropping in on facilities. Security concerns have not been a dete...

Should 4501 Have Been Painted Green?

Posted 3 years ago by David Lester
The new year looks as though it may become a memorable one on the Norfolk Southern system if plans to run the recently restored 4501 and the nearly restored 611 in the NS 21st Century Steam program come to fruition. Along with many others, I was fortunate to be at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Railfest last year for the debut of 4501, and she never looked better. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I was a teenager in the 1970s when the Southern Railw...

Amtrak's Business Class too often isn't worth the extra fare

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Let’s pretend that you have little or no experience with train travel in the United States and you’re booking a trip on Amtrak’s website. You’re given a choice between “Reserved Coach” and “Business Class” (for $20 to $50 on top of the base fare). What kind of accommodations and perks would you expect to get for that extra fare? Perhaps a bigger, more comfortable seat with more legroom? Perhaps 2-and-1 seating, giving a solo traveler the option of ...

2014’s biggest US passenger train developments

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Revised January 6, 2015 at 12:00 Noon As 2014 winds to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the year’s big stories in the world of American passenger trains. This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows that overall, this has been a year of progress, but only the tepid, very gradual kind that American train supporters have become accustomed to. Much more is needed before the US can approach the level of passenger train development seen in most of the industrialized world. Nat...

Railroads and a sense of place

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Seeing many railroad-themed holiday cards featuring a train passing through a snowy scene, sometimes stopped at a warmly-lit depot with steam rising from around the locomotive, has gotten me thinking about how closely tied railroads are with the places they inhabit, and how the sense of a particular railroad place defines how we fans, historians and appreciators relate to our favorite steel thoroughfares. Railroads revolutionized travel and commerce and forever altered the physical character of...

What's become of Amtrak's Performance Improvement Plans?

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) required Amtrak to complete Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) for each of its 15 long-distance routes in order to “to achieve financial and operating improvements,” in the words of the legislation. Each plan was to address such aspects of the customer experience as on-time performance, schedules, frequencies, routes, stops, equipment consists, needed capital improvements, on-board amenities, and financial performanc...

My Reflections from 2014

Posted 3 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
It’s that time of year again where the holidays are approaching at such a fast pace that many of us are overwhelmed, preoccupied, and looking ahead, rather than reflecting on the past. Toward the end of each year, generally the week between Christmas and the New Year, I try to set aside a few days to reflect on what accomplishments have been met, new experiences enjoyed, and a general review, per say of the obstacles and good times 2014 offered to us. Undoubtedly from the perspective of n...

Railroading - a hobby for everyone

Posted 3 years ago by Dave Lustig
One of the fun things about railroading as a hobby is there’s no right way or wrong way to enjoy it. Want to take pictures? Great. Want to delve into the industry’s history? Outstanding. Want to volunteer at a tourist railroad? Enjoy! Along the way, you’ll likely discover that not only will your interests take you places you might never have imagined, but you’ll also have opportunities to help others appreciate the multi-faceted world of railroading, and teach them some ...

About that Big Boy number…

Posted 3 years ago by Steve Glischinski
Railroad fans are known to be sticklers for detail. Just make one slip up, such as “Burlington Northern had (fill in the blank with a number) SD40-2s,” and if you’re one number off, the fans will let you know about it. That’s why some are referred to as “rivet counters.” Fans want and expect things to be correct when they engage in their favorite pastime. I freely admit I’m one of those people. When I see something that isn’t right, I cringe, and ...

Justices hear arguments in case that could shift US passenger train landscape

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a case that could have a lasting impact on Amtrak’s status and the shape of the passenger rail industry in this country. The main question in the case, about which I wrote in October, is whether Section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which says the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak “shall jointly” issue a set of Metrics & Standards (M&S) for on-time perfor...

What Makes a Great Railroad Story?

Posted 3 years ago by Scott Lothes
We read for two reasons, mainly: to learn, and to be entertained. The best writing helps us do both. That’s true of any great story, but how do you accomplish that within the framework of the railroad? Trains magazine’s new book, Great American Railroad Stories, has some insights.  The book contains 51 stories from close to 75 years of magazines—51 stories selected from literally thousands. The book is highly accessible. Open it to any page, find the nearest headline, and...

High and dry with the Hualapai: Following the Transcon along Route 66

Posted 3 years ago by Bill Metzger
This is a love note to the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, Ariz., the BNSF Transcon line that runs through town, and the unspoiled surrounding real estate — as fine a spot as you can find to watch the Big Show where the trains run on 15-minute headways on a first class double-track, CTC-signaled railroad mostly laid with concrete ties. The locomotives are clean and quiet. The weather is generally cloudless and the air is dry and crisp. The resulting light is a tad contrasty, but it’...

Antonito Hotel Caters to Rail Enthusiast Retirees

Posted 3 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Located in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado in the small railroad community of Antonito, the Steam Train Hotel and its owner Bob Rainek are reaching out to retirees with a passion for railroads and steam railroad preservation. Adjacent to one of our Nation’s premiere narrow-gauge steam tourist railroads, the Steam Train Hotel is a cozy destination that caters to traveling railroad enthusiasts, retirees, and outdoorsmen. An area affluent with natural beauty and history, the Steam Tr...

Realizing trains’ natural advantage in serving passengers with disabilities

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Note: This is an update of a report I authored for the February 2013 issue of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ NARP News, while I was employed by the Association. Americans with physical disabilities face challenges in getting from A to B from a combination of factors that people without a disability tend to overlook. This is true no matter which mode of travel one chooses. But trains, at least in theory, should be easier to access for those with physical disabilities beca...

Giving thanks for passenger trains, and the communities they bring together

Posted 3 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
As I write this, I am in a Business Class seat aboard Amtrak train 79, the southbound Carolinian. I am headed back to North Carolina from Washington, DC, to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving. It’s the day before the holiday, and we are heading southward over the former RF&P on-time as a winter storm hovers over the Northeast. The rain had begun to change to snow as I was leaving DC, but it became rain again as I approached Fredericksburg, VA, and mostly tapered off by the time ...

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy

Search the Community