Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow

Posted 6 months ago by George Hamlin
This eastbound Southern Pacific manifest is at Salinas, California on February 5, 1987.  It’s being led by a “Flare”, i.e. one of the SP’s massive fleet of EMD SD45s, followed by a Union Pacific SD40-2, and a pair of Espee “Tunnel Motors”.  According to Wikipedia, the SP was the most prolific original operator of EMD’s 3600 horsepower C-C, with 317 units, to which should be added the 39 rostered by the St. Louis Southwestern, the “Co...

Almost, but Not Quite

Posted 6 months ago by George Hamlin
I suspect that many of you are familiar with the famed “Triple Crossing” in Richmond, Virginia, where three different railroads intersect in the same place, on three different levels.  Using their heritage identifications, from top to bottom, the players were Chesapeake and Ohio; Seaboard Air Line; and the Southern Railway.  Essentially adjacent to the James River, the crossing is virtually surrounded by highways today. Needless to say, it’s been an objective for p...

Sometimes good things do come in small packages

Posted 7 months ago by Bill Stephens
When you explore, you just never know what you might find. Case in point: The tiny former Grand Trunk Railway depot in Gilead, Maine, a speck of a town on the New Hampshire border. After a Fourth of July bike ride I was wolfing down a sandwich in the shade in front of the depot when a car pulled up. The driver asked if we were interested in seeing inside the station. Of course, I told the gentleman, noting that we’d passed by many times and I’d always been curious about the depot, ...

The cheapening of American train travel continues

Posted 7 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Though my interest in trains goes back much farther (and I had ridden a few tourist trains, New York City and Washington, D.C.-area commuter trains and subways, and a couple of short Amtrak trips before then), my first experience with an overnight Amtrak ride came in 2002, at the age of 16. By that time, my father and I had made our way from Greensboro, N.C. to the New York City area every summer to see my aunt in the city and my grandma in Madison, Conn. for about a decade, but we had always fl...

On the Property

Posted 7 months ago by George Hamlin
  Back in the “good old days” of mythological memory (of whatever prior era suits you), it was often possible for non-employees to enter onto railroad property in pursuit of their interests and hobbies, and in many cases, to return to the “outside world” sans being accosted, ejected and/or threatened with arrest.  Of course, there were instances where these untoward events occurred, but by and large, they weren’t in the majority. In the process of do...

Why VIA Rail Canada’s high frequency rail plan is a dud

Posted 7 months ago by Bill Stephens
Normally a proposed passenger-only rail route is cause for celebration in North America. Pop the champagne cork for the high-speed route Virgin Trains USA is building to Orlando, Fla., for example, or the Texas Central Railroad’s ambitious plan to link Dallas and Houston. But don’t break out the bubbly for VIA Rail Canada’s dream of cobbling together a dedicated passenger route from abandoned, lightly used, and new rail lines in its crucial Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City ...

Step in the Right Direction

Posted 7 months ago by George Hamlin
Like many other railfans, I was pleased when the Norfolk Southern announced its “Heritage Unit” program in 2012, particularly based on their decision to use historically-correct paint schemes, adapted as necessary to conform to the shapes of present-day locomotives.  Yes, the original Union Pacific program was a nice step in that direction, although it combined elements from different eras, in some cases; Amtrak’s modest fortieth anniversary repainting of a small numbe...

Ontario’s passengers have much to celebrate & anticipate

Posted 8 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Last week I attended the American Public Transportation Association’s annual Rail Conference, which is held in a different North American city each year. The setting of this year’s conference in Toronto was appropriate, as Ontario is a hotbed of propitious activity in passenger train and rail transit development.  First, rail transit continues to grow and thrive in greater Toronto. North America’s largest legacy streetcar system continues to be well-loved and well-used by...

Why reinvent the wheel?

Posted 8 months ago by Tyler Trahan
On my blog post last week about the Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference, a commenter asked “Why reinvent the wheel?” and noted that the same basic wheel shape has been used since at least the 1870s.  I don’t mean to single out this commenter. It’s a good question.  My answer, and I welcome others in the comments, is in two parts: Because everything above and below the wheel has also been reinvented Because the process isn’t intended to change the...

The park and the train

Posted 8 months ago by Justin Franz
This past weekend, Glacier National Park opened its iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road for the summer. The 50-mile highway passes through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Northwest, through tunnels and over cascading waterfalls.  Unsurprisingly, it was also jammed with traffic within hours of opening. On Sunday afternoon, park officials reported “bumper to bumper traffic” along an 8-mile stretch of the road and people looking for a parking spot at the Continential Divide e...

You’ve got to spend money to save money

Posted 8 months ago by Tyler Trahan
At the Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference this week, the goal of everyone present is to make railroads safer and more efficient by reducing unwanted forces which cause wear and damage to both rails and wheels. Efficiency, of course, equals money saved. One of the poster children for saving money by optimizing the wheel-rail interface is the Red Line of the Los Angeles Metro. When the line opened in 1993, the wheels of its subway cars needed to be trued every 5,000 miles and replaced after 19,000...

Back for more Wheel-Rail Interaction

Posted 8 months ago by Tyler Trahan
Every year, some of the brightest people in the railroad and transit worlds gather to discuss the dime-sized contact patch between wheels and rails. The four-day Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference brings together engineers — the kind who run calculations, not locomotives — from major railroads, transit agencies, suppliers, consulting firms, and research organizations to learn from each other and present their research and experiences in order to make railroading safer and more effici...

Short-Haul Sleepers

Posted 8 months ago by George Hamlin
While perusing Amtrak’s Five Year Equipment Asset Line Plan (FY2019+) recently, I was surprised to learn, on page 27, that arrival of the new Viewliner Sleepers will be used to “Reinstate sleeper service on Northeast Regional Trains 65, 66 and 67”. These trains (and their predecessors) once provided overnight first-class service on what had become the “Twilight Shoreliner”, operating between Boston, New York City, Washington and on to Newport News, Virginia. ...

Striking a balance for weather-resilient railroads

Posted 8 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
After reading the comments on my previous column about the shortcomings of Positive Train Control and weatherproofing signal systems, doing further reading and consulting with knowledgable sources, I’ll admit that my conclusions drew on a limited understanding of how signal systems work and of the true complexity of what it takes to make them less susceptible to failure in heavy rain and other weather events.  I did not intend for my words to be interpreted as in any way denigrating ...

The reason railroads idle humps is probably not what you think

Posted 8 months ago by Bill Stephens
E. Hunter Harrison famously closed hump yards while bringing his Precision Scheduled Railroading operating model to Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and CSX Transportation. The conventional wisdom says this signature move of PSR is simply part of cutting costs to the bone. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. The idling of humps is a byproduct of operational changes that render them superfluous. It’s easy to see why the cost-cutting misperception persists. After all, Hunter himself ...

Does it Ever Get Old?

Posted 9 months ago by George Hamlin
Watching trains while waiting at a grade crossing, that is.  Sure, on occasion when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, and probably worst of all, when it’s preventing you from proceeding in the chase … of another train.  Otherwise, it’s one of life’s small pleasures, particularly for railfans, and the young at heart. For many of us, this probably began in our earliest years, possibly even before we really knew what railroads and trains were, in a fu...

Railroads’ nervous systems need better insulation

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Railroading is making many technological advancements geared towards safety, efficiency and speed. But what about reliability and resiliency? The causes of delay to my most recent long-distance Amtrak trip suggest a lack of attention to ensuring that passenger and freight trains run reliably in challenging terrain and adverse weather — the latter of which is becoming a more formidable adversary with the increased effects of climate change. I traveled from Washington, D.C. to Albuquerque, ...

The Circus that Wasn't and the Memories that Were

Posted 9 months ago by Dave Crosby
“You’re nuts!” “You couldn’t pay me to go out there!” “It was nice knowing you.” These are a few of the warnings I received prior to heading west for the triumphant return of Union Pacific “Big Boy” 4014.  I knew I would be just one among thousands of other people making the same pilgrimage.  Even with dire forecasts of mass chaos and hysteria, this was 2019 and an engine no one ever thought would run again was due to lead a ...

Tips for seeing Big Boy No. 4014

Posted 9 months ago by Justin Franz
Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 is coming to a town near you and I have a couple pieces of advice for those of you who didn’t see the 4-8-8-4 on its inaugural run earlier this month. My first piece of advice? If you can, go and see it for yourself. While details of its upcoming tour are still limited — so far we only know that the locomotive will be leading an excursion to benefit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum on July 15 — you can be sure that this is just the beginning of...

We Can Dream, Can't We?

Posted 9 months ago by George Hamlin
At one point, “foreign”, i.e. non-home road motive power was a pretty novel item.  In steam days, this was understandable, since there was a higher degree of customization of this product to the specifications of individual railroads (who also built them at home, in many cases).  There were examples, such as the Pennsylvania Railroad’s use of Santa Fe 2-10-4s on its Columbus-Sandusky, Ohio line late in the steam era; this also produced a veritable stampede of rail...

A Lost Opportunity

Posted 9 months ago by John Hankey
May 10 has come and gone. And I suggest that we blew it.  Let me begin with a deeply held, seriously researched, professional opinion:  The Pacific Railroad Project, generally understood as “the Transcontinental Railroad,” was a pivotal event in American History. The idea to connect the Atlantic with the Pacific by rail originated in the 1830s—at the dawn of America’s “Railway Age.”  It ripened in the 1840s and 1850s and made possible the ide...

Why railroads love long trains

Posted 9 months ago by Bill Stephens
The 270-car, 38,475-ton coal train Union Pacific recently ran from Nebraska to a Wisconsin power plant is but one extreme example of the railroad’s focus on running longer trains, a fundamental building block of Precision Scheduled Railroading. Why the focus on long trains at UP and elsewhere? Simple: Moving your tonnage on longer trains is the fastest and easiest way to cut your operating expenses. Reduce train starts and you use fewer crews and fewer locomotives. To see the financial...

How to turn MARC & VRE into D.C. Regional Rail

Posted 10 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Good ideas abound for modernizing and transforming the Washington, D.C. area’s two commuter rail systems — Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC) and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) — into an interconnected regional rail system more like Philadelphia’s SEPTA Regional Rail. Infrastructural and logistical challenges abound that will take a generation or so to resolve, but the biggest obstacles to sustaining the necessary political momentum are jurisdictional divisions, political...

Get the Shot, Now

Posted 10 months ago by George Hamlin
The basics of this scene are still there, and it’s just as accessible as when  Amtrak’s northbound Crescent passed through Rapidan, Virginia twenty-four years ago on April 1, 1995.  The single-track Norfolk Southern (and Southern Railway before 1982) roadbed still occupies the fill to the west of Virginia County route 615; an Amfleet 2 lounge is likely to be in the train’s consist, albeit next to the diner, near the middle of the trains; General Electric Genesis u...

Mainline and Main Street

Posted 10 months ago by George Hamlin
In times past, railroads were a very integral part of life in much of the United States.  When people traveled, particularly for longer distances, they took the train.  Mail was sent and received using the railroad system; for larger shipments, there also was the once-ubiquitous Railway Express.  Freight of all kinds arrived in towns and cities as a part of the production-to-user distribution cycle, often in individual carloads, or even the predecessor of today’s LTL (le...

The public-image value of special trains

Posted 10 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
A friend in South Carolina on April 3 chased Norfolk Southern’s business car special bound to Augusta, Ga. for the Master’s tournament for about 300 miles. Along the way, he encountered and conversed with others who had also pulled over at grade crossings to photograph the train. He remarked to me that, based on their conversations, he would categorize almost none of these people as dyed-in-the-wool railfans. Some told him they just happened to be stopped at a grade crossing and saw ...

Flawed federal policy, plus a stingy state, threaten Hoosier State

Posted 10 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Amtrak announced today that it will suspend the four-times-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State effective July 1, unless grassroots passenger advocates in Indiana are successful in overriding their miserly governor’s wishes and getting $3 million added to next fiscal year’s state budget. This would mark the first Amtrak ‘train-off’ in 14 years and the first unintended casualty of Section 209 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act (PRIIA). This ab...

Big Boy and “the 30 day miracle”

Posted 10 months ago by Justin Franz
The clock is ticking. As I write this, Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 is scheduled to depart Cheyenne, Wyo., in just four weeks. One of the most watched steam locomotive restorations in a generation is coming down to the wire and railroad enthusiasts, steam fans and history buffs are waiting with bated breath to see if it can be done. Although there have been few images out of Cheyenne in recent weeks, I imagine the UP steam shop is a busy place these days. Not unlike a roundhouse in Baltimor...

Nebraska: Enjoy the Drive!

Posted 10 months ago by Dave Crosby
Nebraska: Enjoy the Drive In May, 2019 the railroad world will turn its attention to Northern Utah and the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike.  For thousands, the promise of a Union Pacific Big Boy in steam and a once in a life time celebration of our nation’s history is enough to encourage the making of travel plans far in advance of any official schedule of events. Most any true road trip has a component known as “the drive”.  For many East Coast...

Traveling in Style

Posted 11 months ago by George Hamlin
It won’t be easy to see, but there is an individual in silhouette visible in the rearmost window in this “PV” (Private Varnish) bringing up the markers of Amtrak’s northbound Silver Meteor as it crosses Neabsco Creek in northern Virginia on CSX’s former RF&P (Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac) line “linking north and south” between Washington, DC and Richmond, Virginia.  (Clicking on the picture will enlarge it, enabling a better view.)...

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