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They came in throngs to greet the train

Posted 5 months ago by Hayley Enoch
The word on the street is that it’s a wait of at least three hours to take a stroll through the Kansas City Southern’s Holiday Express,  and the briefest of glances is enough to counter any suspicions that the number might have been exaggerated through repetition. If the line of guests were yanked straight--it has, like water settling into the lowest point of the valley, formed a tortuous route through the streets and around the structures in downtown Greenville, Texas-it migh...

Time to get serious about self-driving cars - and to hold the incoming administration accountable

Posted 5 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles, which many experts say is imminent within the next decade, is a topic that deserves a lot more attention from those of us who want to see railroads — both passenger and freight — grow and thrive. I shall focus this column on that subject, but I wish to first share some thoughts on the election, whose results I find shocking and quite troubling. I have many deep concerns about the incoming administration and the views, statements and tem...

Giving back to the preservation community

Posted 6 months ago by Justin Franz
Railfanning can be an expensive hobby. Just for a moment, think about all the gear that’s in your camera bag. Then think about how many railroad-related books are sitting on your bookshelf. While you’re at it, think about the number of times you went trackside this year and then do a little back-of-the-envelope math and figure out how many gallons of fuel you consumed doing that. You know what? Let’s stop before it gets too depressing. But whatever most of us spend on this ...

The timeless allure of Holiday Trains

Posted 6 months ago by Hayley Enoch
These days, the traditions to fill out the weekend after Thanksgiving are almost as varied as the feast itself.  Putting up Christmas decorations, consuming leftovers, and either taking advantage of or consciously avoiding sales serves as a denouement for the holiday.  Thanksgiving break has also serves opening week for most of the Polar Express and other holiday trains hosted on tourist railroads across the country.  These events often involve an entire year’s worth of prep...

What does a Republican majority mean for our railroads?

Posted 6 months ago by Hayley Enoch
The results of the 2016 election will, no doubt, bring sweeping change to the culture and economy of the United States. Two week afters the election is too early to make substantive predictions for the next four years, but many observers of and participants in the railroad business wonder what a Republican sweep of the Presidency and both houses of Congress might mean for the industry.   When it comes to railroads, many of the the campaign promises and policy platforms traditionally pr...

Shoot it before it’s too late

Posted 6 months ago by Justin Franz
“Are you done foaming?” My boss yelled as I snuck back into my office on a recent Friday afternoon. Although I thought I had been inconspicuous when I casually walked out of the newsroom with a camera slung over my shoulder, I guess it was pretty obvious what I was doing. The fact that I suddenly left after hearing a locomotive horn down the street and then returned 25 minutes later, only two or three minutes after that same horn halted traffic in front of our building again, migh...

Dallas: Where steel rails grow amidst a sea of asphalt

Posted 6 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I’m proud to say that I have now ridden the rail transit systems in all but four of the US metropolitan areas that have them. I ticked a major one that I had been missing off my list this past weekend when I traveled to Dallas (my first time spending more than an hour on the Dallas side of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex) to sample the nearly 20-year-old Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail system, the five-year-old Denton County Transportation Authority A-train DMU commuter rail li...

Back to the future in dots and dashes

Posted 7 months ago by Al DiCenso
It’s a chilly December 1943 evening in Harrisburg, Pa., and you’re in Harris Tower at the west end of the busy Pennsylvania Railroad station, where the towermen are hustling to keep up with traffic.  Outside, there’s a non-stop parade of mighty GG-1s and K-4ss swapping their trains, and the nightly march westward of the famed “Blue Ribbon Fleet.”  It’s at the height of the World War II traffic crush, and on top of that there’s the usual holid...

My pet project: Canadian Pacific’s Southern Main Line

Posted 7 months ago by Justin Franz
It is exactly 85 miles from my apartment in Whitefish, Montana to the Canadian Pacific’s tracks in Elko, British Columbia. Depending on road conditions and how busy the border crossing is, I can cover that distance in about 90 minutes on a Saturday morning, and it’s a drive I’ve done a number of times over the last five years. Since moving to Northwest Montana in 2011, I’ve turned the CP’s secondary main line through British Columbia’s southern interior into...

A trip to Alco land

Posted 7 months ago by Robert W. Scott
Living in the Pacific Northwest, Alco locomotives were always something of a foreign concept to a rail photographer. Although in the early Burlington Northern days as well as their predecessor railroads years, Alco's were somewhat usual faire for local railroads. The Spokane Portland and Seattle Railway rostered 10 of the monster C636 Alco locomotives that were used into the BN merger days. These 3600 horsepower monsters patrolled the Columbia River route with long drag freights between Spokan...

SP&S 700 Boiler Inspection Update: Superheater Removal Complete!

Posted 7 months ago by Stephen P. Sedaker
One of the big tasks related to the boiler inspection is the removal of all superheater assemblies in the locomotive. This effort took place over a period of several workdays on different weeks, to avoid interference with the operation of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center on its operating days (Thursdays through Sundays). It is a very dirty job that creates a lot of pesky soot and dirt that drifts throughout the building, and so we must mitigate the mess by covering and protecting furniture and ...

Moorman listens to front-line feedback during commute on the Crescent

Posted 7 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
America’s passenger train faithful have placed a great deal of expectations on the shoulders of Wick Moorman. Even though the former Chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern officially took the helm of Amtrak on September 1, he has spent much of his first few weeks on the job on a previously scheduled vacation to New Zealand. He is on the job this week, and at least one initial report gives me great confidence that he is approaching the role from the perspective of passengers and front-line em...

Give the media a break

Posted 7 months ago by Justin Franz
Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting at work when your boss walks over and tells you he needs you to write a report and he needs it now. Right now. Not an hour from now or a day from now, but right now. Not only does he need the report now, he needs you to write it about a topic that you’re not that familiar with. Under those pressures, it’s unlikely you’re going to put out a stellar report. That is exactly what happened in newsrooms and controls rooms all across New...

Positive Train Control and last week's Hoboken crash

Posted 7 months ago by Tyler Trahan
Last Thursday's wreck in Hoboken, NJ, where a New Jersey Transit (NJT) train overshot the end of track and crashed into the platform and station building has renewed mainstream conversation — and confusion — about Positive Train Control. First, we don’t know the cause of this crash and this article will not speculate. Here’s what we do know: On September 29th, NJT train No. 1614, a diesel-hauled push-pull set, was operating in push mode, with the engineer operating ...

Taking your photography to new heights the old fashioned way

Posted 8 months ago by Justin Franz
If you’re raifanning in 2016, chances are you know someone who has taken the plunge and purchased a drone. Just last week, after seeing yet another friend buy a drone and capture spectacular images, I went online to look at one. After seeing the price, I promptly shut my computer (Let’s be honest, journalists aren’t exactly swimming in cash). But besides the cost, there’s another reason I have yet to take my railroad photography to new altitudes with a drone. Railroad...

By the sweat of their brow, and the grace of their paperwork

Posted 8 months ago by Hayley Enoch
The briefest introduction to steam locomotives makes it clear that nothing about the technology comes easily.   Their size and bulk makes any aspect of maintaining them a struggle of iron against flesh; coaxing them into full pressure and then making the best use of that potential energy takes skill and patience. Simply keeping a locomotive in good working order is a notable accomplishment all to its own, but the logistics of moving one out of an enclave of preservation and onto the...

Revolution vs. evolution towards the future of railroading

Posted 8 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I returned to the city I grew up in this past weekend (by train, as always) for a major folk music festival. The shindig encompassed a very broad array of musical styles, all of which are connected to traditions that go back decades, if not centuries. While several of the styles, such as Dixieland jazz, are often thought of as old-fashioned and of a particular time, the artists at these festivals demonstrated that these idioms are living, evolving art forms. In music, as in biology, every new th...

Searching for the perfect image of autumn

Posted 8 months ago by Justin Franz
I took a drive this past weekend up Marias Pass, site of the Great Northern Railway’s legendary mountain crossing along Glacier National Park. It was cold and rainy (and snowy in some places) and not exactly an ideal day to go trackside. Even when the weather is less than perfect though, I push myself out of bed with the idea that railroading is a 24-hour business and trains don’t just run on sunny days. If you want to document the industry in its entirety, you have go out on the ...

Better Days on the Western Maryland

Posted 8 months ago by John Hankey
It has been a rough year for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Like most heritage lines around for decades, it is a resilient and resourceful operation. But this year has been a doozy. WMSR is like the proverbial cat with nine lives. I recall a half-dozen times over the last 30 years when the project might have folded (with good reasons) and ended up as a bike trail. Instead, it survives as a splendid example of Big Time mainline steam railroading. By late 2015, there was a realistic cha...

Unconventional approach makes Reading & Northern a model for short-line passenger service

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
The Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern is unique among short line and regional railroads in a number of ways, primarily having to do with the unconventional business approach of the company’s owner, Andy Muller, Jr. The northeastern Pennsylvania railroad, whose primary cash cow is hauling anthracite coal between mines and interchange points with Class I railroads, has also offered a fair amount of seasonal, excursion passenger service over its entire network. In addition to regular 10-mil...

“Land Ferry” would move trucks across Nevada on wind-powered trains

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Nearly every state in the country is faced with the challenge of accommodating what is expected to be a major growth in freight and passenger traffic over the next several decades while meeting increasingly stringent energy efficiency and emission reduction targets. Many states’ transportation and freight mobility planning efforts are focusing on a mixture of highway and rail capital improvement projects. But only Nevada is seriously considering an outside-the-box idea that would truly com...

Mars Lights, Night Shots, and the Musings In Between

Posted 9 months ago by Hayley Enoch
It takes about half a day, in general, for the first wave of cell phone pictures and hastily edited DSLR shots documenting a notable steam excursion to show up on social media. So it was with the 844’s run a week ago. Those of us who were there snapped our shots and got them up as soon as possible; those at home followed eagerly to get their first, second-hand glimpse of the locomotive in service in almost three years.   Most of the discussion surrounding those earliest photographs a...

Boston entrepreneur pursues inexpensive start-up Worcester-Providence train service

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Many professionals in and observers of the railroad industry are jaded and skeptical of the idea that a group of private investors could start a successful or even profitable passenger train service — beyond occasional tourist or excursion runs — in the US without government subsidy or assistance. But one 45-year-old native Bostonian with a background in consulting on electric energy technologies has quite the opposite attitude. Vincent Bono readily offers statistics from memory to s...

The SP&S 700 Boiler Inspection Effort Continues

Posted 10 months ago by Stephen P. Sedaker
The first major part of our actual inspection is about to begin, as we are finishing up the mapping of the sections of the boiler. The boiler is mapped out into 1 square foot segments after the surface has been cleaned, and then the boiler wall thickness of each segment is recorded with an ultrasound probe. The outer boiler wall has been mapped out, so soon this process will begin. We are also inspecting our supply of superheater tubes that we have had in storage (since the Brooklyn Roundhouse d...

At long last, steam on the UP mainline

Posted 10 months ago by Hayley Enoch
There are few people sitting along US-85 in northern Colorado, far few than I expected to welcome the Union Pacific’s 844 back to the rails after an absence of several years. No other group joins our party at a rural crossing just south of Greeley. Despite that, today’s chase doesn’t need the excitement that large groups of people create to infuse the air with a crackling energy. It’s enough to know that the Northern is somewhere down the tracks, that it’s hot a...

Why not carry express, parcels on US passenger trains?

Posted 10 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Historically, American railroads have helped cover the cost of passenger operations by taking advantage of the faster, scheduled nature of passenger trains and their capacity and haulage capability to also carry high-revenue express and parcel shipments, as well as the US Mail (at least until 1967). Many railroads worldwide still load up passenger trains with “head-end” cargo. Given this history, it has perplexed me that Amtrak has been unable to develop a successful, sustainable exp...

Finding tranquility among the turmoil

Posted 10 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
We are a society that lives for tomorrow. We plan our vacations months, if not years in advance and our jobs are oftentimes concentrated on events and details in the forthcoming months. That is certainly the case with journalism and my field of study. Consumers are looking to Christmas and tourist railroads are marketing Polar Express and other holiday trains. We will soon complain that summer ended all too soon, while we focus on holiday door busters and next year’s spring break. The s...

Correcting the imbalance in US transportation policy and its influencers

Posted 11 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
My friend Benjamin Ross, an author and transportation and urban development historian from the DC area, penned an article for the current issue of Dissent magazine that reports his research into the seeming infatuation of major foundations, think tanks and environmental nonprofits with the idea of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). As a reader of a number of environmental and sustainability publications, I had been somewhat cognizant of the preponderance of articles that praise BRT as a cost-effective way...

Oh June, the places we’ve been…

Posted 11 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
  Penetrating through a deteriorating cloud deck and resting on the shoulders of the western Rockies, a June sun illuminates prairie lands of rural Colorado just outside of Trinidad. Pointed toward La Junta, a northbound Federal Railroad Administration geometry train trails Amtrak’s Southwest Chief into the remnants of a Kansas-bound thunderstorm. The skies are wide open – as with the throttle of the two-car passenger train. Track speeds are good for 60 MPH on this stretch of B...

Take us home, Mountain Rails

Posted 11 months ago by Hayley Enoch
Departing Durango makes for a somber morning. After a three night’s stay,  the elegant Strater hotel began to feel familiar and domestic. More than that, leaving our temporary habitat puts us face to face with the reality that there are only two days and two more train rides left before the tour ends and our group will part ways and scatter across the globe. We rise early and go southwards to Chama, New Mexico, for our ride on the  Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Af...