Analyzing Amtrak

Posted 10 months ago by George Hamlin
In his article in TRAINS’ January 2019 issue (“Amtrak’s Money Mystery”), Bob Johnston points out, correctly, in my opinion, that “The expense burden has become Amtrak’s justification for systemwide cost cutting.”  This, as he discusses near the end of the article, also creates the problem that if a train is eliminated for cost reasons, system overhead costs will be spread over the remaining runs, thereby increasing the costs of the trains that w...

Ely on the mind

Posted 10 months ago by Justin Franz
It’s early December and I really should be getting a jump on my Christmas shopping (actually, it probably should already be done), but instead I’ve been looking at hotel rooms and pricing rental cars for northern Nevada in February. The frigid desert of Nevada in February probably doesn’t top a lot of people’s list for ideal winter vacations. Unless of course you’re into time travel. Every February, the Nevada Northern Railway turns back the clock with a winter ph...

One of Europe’s last boat trains offers enjoyable journey

Posted 10 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
The concept of rolling a passenger train onto a boat for a stretch of its journey that crosses a sizable body of water is one that has steady fallen out of favor over time. North America once had a handful of them, crossing waterways from the Hudson River to the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to the San Francisco Bay. Most of these met their demise along with the general decline of passenger trains, fueled by an imbalanced public policy regime that subsidized roads and taxed railroads.  ...

Good Things, in a Small Place

Posted 10 months ago by George Hamlin
  Justin Franz’s post on November 26, about the railroad museum in Conrad, Montana (http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/observation-tower/archive/2018/11/26/tiny-donations-make-the-difference.aspx), included this statement:  “There are dozens of little museums like the one in Conrad all across America and each one preserves something special, something worth saving,” I concur, heartily, and offer an example closer to me, specifically the former Norfolk & Western statio...

What GM Tells Us

Posted 10 months ago by John Hankey
The recent moves by General Motors to close U.S. manufacturing plants and eliminate 14,000 craft and salaried jobs comes as no surprise. There will be the inevitable back-and-forth in our current politically-charged environment. It will have a minor effect on railroad traffic patterns. But I think a little historical perspective is in order. GM’s decision (as part of a global reinvention of the company following the 2008 recession) is frank acknowledgement that its future will be based on...

Tiny donations make the difference

Posted 10 months ago by Justin Franz
Last August, I found myself in the small town of Conrad, Montana. I was spending the weekend visiting my in-laws in nearby Great Falls and had escaped for a morning of railfanning along BNSF Railway’s Great Falls Subdivision. When I pulled into Conrad, I beelined it for the old Great Northern Railway depot in the middle of town in hopes of using it as a prop in a photo of the northbound freight I was chasing. Like many former GN structures in Montana, the Conrad depot was built to look l...

Could We Help?

Posted 11 months ago by John Hankey
Please understand this as a fantasy piece. All of it would be possible and none of it seems feasible. In my mind’s ear I hear all of the reasons why something like this couldn’t happen, especially in today’s business environment. I doubt that bankers, Wall Street and hedge fund overlords would stand for it. Could the railroad industry seriously help alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of people in California following this horrendous spate of wildfires? Does the indu...

Still waiting in Gaspé

Posted 11 months ago by Justin Franz
Earlier this month, fans of Canadian passenger trains got a rare piece of good news: VIA Rail would soon call on Churchill, Manitoba. again. For more than a year, this remote community on the edge of the Arctic has been without a critical connection to the outside world. But Churchill isn’t the only town that’s waiting for its passenger train to return. Dec. 11 will mark seven years since VIA Rail’s Chaleur pulled into Gaspé, Quebec, a city of approximately 15,000 on t...

Aural and Visual Cues, and Food for Thought

Posted 11 months ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) Not that long ago, they were common, if not ubiquitous, in transportation terminals, both rail and air.  The so-called “Split Flap” displays were, in many ways, emblematic of modernity in their heyday during the 1970s and 80s.  While today almost everything to do with communicating information in public spaces has become electronic, the Solari Boards, as they were known after the name of their manufacturer, were electro-mechanical devices. An...

Southern Railway Finally Comes Home

Posted 11 months ago by David Lester
As most Trains readers know, today’s Norfolk Southern was created in 1982 by the merger of Southern Railway and the Norfolk & Western.  Since Southern Railway's founding in 1894, right up to the Norfolk Southern merger in 1982, Southern maintained its executive headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Many years ago, someone asked one Southern executive why the railroad kept the base in D.C. rather than in Atlanta since Atlanta was already the operational headquarters.  This ex...

For well-run trains and stunning scenery, go north

Posted 11 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
After spending five days riding nearly all of its main lines, I feel confident in saying that Norway should advance to a higher spot on any train travel aficionado’s bucket list. Not only did I find the scenery on each line more spectacular than the previous one, but I was pleased by how well-run the Norwegian State Railways (NSB) seemed to be overall. Nearly every line is mostly single-track and handles a significant volume of freight traffic, but passenger trains are scheduled and dispat...

Two flavors of German main-line steam

Posted 11 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
While in Germany for two weeks in late September surrounding InnoTrans, the biennial global rail industry trade fair in Berlin, a friend and I had a chance to experience two quite distinct kinds of main-line steam excursion and get a sense of the productive and mutually beneficial relationship that a number of German rail preservation nonprofits have with Deutsche Bahn, the national railway. The sheer number of opportunities that Europeans — Germans especially — have to experience ma...

42 miles of interurban bliss

Posted 11 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Hugging the North Sea coastline of the Belgian province of West Flanders lies the world’s longest tram (light rail in North American parlance) line, the Coast Tram (Kusttram in Dutch). It is in fact one of the world’s last remaining interurban railways — one of a rare breed of rail line that acts as a streetcar within a city or town (running in mixed traffic down a busy commercial street) then stretches its legs on an exclusive right of way between towns before becoming a stree...

Classic, or Hybrid?

Posted 11 months ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) There is a tendency in the railfan community to think of the early years of Amtrak as a sort of 'restoration' of the fondly-remembered postwar streamliners.  Certainly Amtrak's initial marketing mantra, "Making the Trains Worth Traveling Again" did little to disabuse fans, and for that matter, potential patrons.  With few exceptions (Santa Fe and Seaboard Coast LIne in particular), the remaining intercity passenger trains in the U.S. by April 1971 were ...

Trans-Atlantic parallels in train travel

Posted 11 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Two weeks ago, I returned from a thoroughly enjoyable month in northern Europe. The focal point of the trip was attending the global rail industry’s premier biennial trade show in Berlin known as InnoTrans, but I also took the opportunity to sample rail passenger services in Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I will be profiling several of these operations in greater depth at this blog over the coming weeks. I would like to start, however, by sharing some broader observations fr...

Why we do this

Posted 11 months ago by Justin Franz
I sometimes have a hard time explaining my hobby of railroad photography to my wife, an intelligent and totally rational person. Our conversations usually go something like this... Me: “I’m going railfanning this weekend.” Her: “Where?” Me: “Idaho.” Her: “They run a lot of trains there?” Me: “No. Actually we’re not even sure they’re going to run the train when we’re there.” Her: “Why are you even goin...

Diesel Spotting, Then and Now

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W.Hamlin)   When I started reading TRAINS magazine regularly in the summer of 1960, there was very little information available about diesel locomotives for newcomers concerning just what diesel locomotives we were seeing.  Somewhere I’d picked up the fact that a type of visibly-distinctive locomotives that appeared with some regularity in Cincinnati, where I spent my early years, were known as “Sharknoses”. However, I had no knowledge of who had...

Behind John Gruber’s bold body of work, a quiet legend

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
In the 1960s, John Gruber’s photographs exploded onto the pages of Trains Magazine, bringing readers unique and daring views few had seen before. But in real life, Gruber could easily walk into a crowded room unnoticed. “In person he was so quiet and reserved,” recalls writer, photographer and longtime Trains contributor George Hamlin. “But he had a passion and you could see that passion within his extensive body of work.” Gruber, a prolific photographer, writer,...

Dining on the Rails

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) Yesterday, in search of a relatively unusual pairing of two Amtrak heritage units on the same train (184 in the Phase 4 scheme and 822 in the Phase 3 colors), I arrived at the station in Alexandria, Virginia pre-dawn awaiting  Amtrak’s northbound Silver Meteor, which had these units as its motive power. Fortunately, train 98 was running about forty-five minutes late, which provided enough light for a ‘daylight’ photo of the illustrious d...

The Enduring Legacy of the Canadian Pacific's Hotels

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
Ever since moving to Northwest Montana seven years ago, I've been fascinated with the lodges and chalets built in Glacier National Park by the Great Northern Railway in the 1910s. Walking through the doors of the such rustic accommodations as the Many Glacier Hotel or the Granite Park Chalet is truly like stepping back in time. The Glacier Park lodges were built to compliment the landscape that surrounded them and emulate the rural lodges of Switzerland. It was all part of the GN’s camp...

Bob Johnston: Looking out for customers on the 'Lake Shore Limited'

Posted one year ago by David Lassen
A guest post from Trains passenger columnist Bob Johnston: CHICAGO — Sometimes it falls to unsupervised front-line employees to make the right service decision. So when the Lake Shore Limited’s Chicago-based first class lead service attendant Kristen Hefner listened to the plight of Rosa Robinson and Annie Walker, who were only entitled to a complimentary beverage as the train departed the Windy City on Tuesday, Sept. 11, she decided to bend the rules. The mother-in-law and daug...

Thrill Rides

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) Engineers and conductors, now riding together in the cab of the lead locomotive, and no longer at opposite ends of the train that they’re running, see many different things, according to the route that they are traveling.  Since they typically work on a particular section of the rail network, much of this becomes very familiar and routine. On the other hand, some scenes, even though viewed frequently for years, may produce more reactions than others...

Summer in Ely: A Q&A with a Nevada Northern intern

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
In my younger years, I held a number of summer jobs. My first job back in high school was working in a restaurant, mostly washing dishes and doing a little cooking. Next up, I spent a summer digging holes and installing fences. All sorts of fences, from residential fences right on up to prison fences (I’d like to take this opportunity to note that I was merely a grunt and cannot be held responsible for any prison breaks in central Maine). My last summer job before landing a writing gig w...

What's Amtrak Up To?

Posted one year ago by David Lester
The news coming from Amtrak lately has not been good.  Calls for reduced-quality food service on long-distance trains, removal of amenities such as fresh flowers and newspapers for first-class passengers, and the ridiculous proposal of making the Southwest Chief an all-coach train by busing passengers during the overnight portion of the trip are absurd.  These efforts are, supposedly, put forth in the name of cost saving, but the reality is that these changes are not going to save that...

My most memorable train trips

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
This year marks two decades since my first Amtrak ride and 17 years since I started riding trains with regularity. I think it’s safe to say that I’m no stranger to train travel. I take at least four intercity train trips each month, not to mention my regular use of rail transit at home in Washington, D.C. and while on the road. I have ridden trains in 47 U.S. states and 16 other countries. Nearly every train ride brings a new experience: ever-changing views out the window and meeting...

From Little Acorns...

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Norfolk Southern train 233 west of Rectortown, Virginia, October 14, 1989; photo by George W. Hamlin Shortly after arriving in northern Virginia in the fall of 1989, I had a weekend available for railfanning in mid-October.  Since I’d had only a modest opportunity to learn the local “lay of the land” from a railroad perspective, it seemed logical to start with something close by, in this case, the Norfolk Southern’s former Southern Railway line from Manassas w...

GB&W crew remembers its last train

Posted one year ago by John Gruber
It was 25 years ago (Aug. 28, 1993) when the Green Bay & Western’s last train pulled into Wisconsin Rapids, ending service on Wisconsin’s 255-mile east-west railroad famous for its Alco locomotives. I was the only photographer there at 5 a.m. to record the event. Usually, the freight train went through to East Winona, Wis., but because of the sale to a Wisconsin Central subsidiary, it was terminated at the Rapids. The last train, No. 1 (extra 311 west), left Green Bay at 9 p.m. ...

Recognizing rail’s public benefits and harnessing its potential

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
The bulk of the nation’s railroad network consists of privately owned and maintained steel thoroughfares whose existence and maintenance benefits the public in a number of ways. We benefit as consumers of goods delivered by rail, as users of highways less congested and burdened by trucks, as breathers of cleaner air, and as patrons of passenger trains, to name a few ways. A handful of tweaks in public policy that recognize the tremendous value that Americans receive from the private sector...

Capturing The Transcontinental Landscape

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
The sesquicentennial of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad is just nine months away. For those of us born deep into the diesel era, the celebration of the golden spike anniversary will be the biggest railroad-related celebration in our lifetime and, if everything goes to plan, one big 4-8-8-4 steam locomotive will be the star attraction. But when Richard Koenig thinks about the Transcontinental Railroad, something much bigger than a single locomotive comes to mind. Koenig, the Gen...

Your High-Speed Ride Awaits

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
In general, it’s safe to say that railfans seem to prefer watching and/or photographing passenger trains to riding on them.  In many cases, this is related to the fact that there are few, or no, opportunities to take a short, relatively inexpensive ride just for the experience.  In some areas, (think South Dakota, for example), there simply isn’t any regular service available.  And even in cases where there is, now that Amtrak has adopted airline-style pricing, wh...