42 miles of interurban bliss

Posted 9 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 9 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 9 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 9 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 10 months 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 10 months 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 10 months 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 10 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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 11 months 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...

Is ignorance or malice driving Amtrak cutbacks?

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
A host of actions taken by Amtrak since March, which have been detailed in this blog and in Trains News Wire, will —whether intentionally or not — have the combined effect of discouraging patronage and shrinking revenues for the company’s long-distance National Network trains. Based on what I know about how Amtrak is managed and on conversations with others who are knowledgable, I will offer three possible explanations for this dismal trend. On-board service staff is being cut...

Everything Looks Worse in Black and White?

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) To cut to the chase, I don’t think so.  To the contrary, sometimes it can make memories look better than if they were depicted in color.  While the subjects that we cross paths with almost always exist in color in the real world (encountering a truly monochrome scene would actually be quite unusual, although certain cloudy days seemingly come close – and a Penn Central passenger train with all stainless steel cars might fit this paradigm), m...

The greatest streetcar museum in America

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
There are numerous museums in America dedicated to the history of urban transit. Many of them feature world-class collections and I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few, including the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton, Pa. and the Seashore Trolley Museum in my native Maine. But for me, the greatest place to enjoy historic transit is in the streets of San Francisco. Every day, up to two dozen vintage streetcars leave Cameron Beach Yard before dawn bound for the F-Market Line, a 6-mi...

A rare peek at an Amtrak-host railroad contract

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
An examination of the docket (containing all the documents entered into the record) of last week’s two-day National Transportation Safety Board hearing on passenger train safety affords a rare opportunity to read at least parts of one of Amtrak’s commercial and operating agreements with its host railroads, mostly private freight carriers. The NTSB’s inquiry into what happened to lead to Amtrak’s Silver Star being diverted onto a siding south of Columbia to collide with a ...

Whither Amtrak's Western Long Hauls?

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
(Amtrak's eastbound "Desert Wind" in California's Cajon Pass, 1989.  George W. Hamlin photo) As discussed in a previous post (“Corridors and Long Hauls, Continued”, posted June 1, 2018; http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/observation-tower/archive/2018/06/01/corridors-and-long-hauls-continued.aspx) it is my belief that long-haul passenger services in the U.S. work most effectively when they can be integrated with short/medium-haul corridors. More recently, (July 1, 2018, “The G...

Is Amtrak missing the big picture on PTC and safety?

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
‘Safety is always the first priority.’ This phrase, or some variant of it, is drilled into the psyche of every railroader, and for good reason. Every other goal, cause and criterion should always take a back seat to safety. But there is such a thing as losing sight of the proverbial forest for focusing too much on individual trees when it comes to safety, and it is possible to overreact to safety lapses. I fear that Amtrak is falling into both of these traps based on its approach to ...

Another Loss for Atlanta

Posted one year ago by David Lester
On June 20, 2018, the last structure that was part of the downtown Atlanta rail passenger terminal complex met the wrecking ball.  After having stood for 113 years, the south interlocking tower for Atlanta Terminal Station required only one day to remove from the landscape. The tower sat directly across from the old Southern/Norfolk Southern Spring Street office building, which NS vacated years ago. The primary reason the tower was torn down is that NS is going to sell the land adjac...

Dreaming about summer this summer

Posted one year ago by Chase Gunnoe
 4 months and 25 days ago today I watched a luminous orange hue gently subdue one of the most pristine night skies I’ve ever seen.  Shades of yellow, orange, and red filtered by a thin haze illuminated three tired GE locomotives that had just completed a full night’s work of hauling dry bulk freight across the countryside. It was 6:33 a.m. at the time I captured a photo in the rural agriculture town of Dubbo. For my friends and family back home in West Virginia, it wa...

Steam preservation’s tiny miracles

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
In the summer of 2018, it can be easy to get discouraged about the state of mainline steam. As Jim Wrinn perfectly put it, the year in steam went from “grand to grim” when Amtrak announced in March that it was drastically altering its policy regarding excursions.   But a piece on today’s Trains News Wire gives me hope. On Tuesday, the Illinois Railway Museum fired up J. Neils Lumber Co. three-truck Shay No. 5 for the first time in 19 years. No. 5 was built in 1929 and hau...

The Great Plains and the Great Basin: a Great Problem

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Draw an imaginary line on a map of the lower 48 U.S. states from the Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolitan area to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  With the exception of a few, relatively isolated instances, including Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City and possibly Boise and El Paso, west of this line there is no significant urban conurbation until you get to the three west coast states, with the exception of Las Vegas, Nevada, which arguably is a satellite of California.  East o...

Lack of travel resiliency cripples America

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
America’s transportation system is subpar because it offers little redundancy or choice to travelers. Delays, diversions and cancellations are becoming more common regardless of which travel mode one chooses. As populations grow in most of the country’s regions, highway traffic congestion is soaring, making travel times unpredictable. The same traffic impedes the intercity bus network, which has been cut to the bone. As airlines have consolidated into fewer hubs, minor problems that ...

A National Route System

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
A relevant question:  on Amtrak day one in 1971, how much rail travel was truly ‘national’?  Yes, the brand-new timetable had a route map that extended across the country as far east as Boston (a first in U.S. railroad circles, but nothing out of the ordinary for our Canadian neighbors, who had accomplished this almost ninety years earlier, and with an actual operating railroad, no less), but getting from one coast to the other typically required one or more changes, or...

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