The reason railroads idle humps is probably not what you think

Posted 11 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 11 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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.)...

Social media: A tool for branding, legitimacy in railway preservation

Posted one year ago by Chase Gunnoe
Crowd funding platforms and social media make it easy to solicit donations, but railway preservation groups say it’s all about building brand legitimacy and engaging new audiences that adds value to nonprofit preservation initiatives. I recently reached out to some of the more socially active railway preservation groups to understand how social media plays a role in their business models as organizations of all sectors turn to social media for financial support. “We use social med...

Amtrak’s Workhorses

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
Cram 800 to 1,000 additional horses and 400 more gallons of fuel into a frame whose height is 10 inches lower than most diesel-electric passenger locomotives. Design a 100-mph machine with a carbody capable of 150-mph speed that must also operate over track of varying quality and with plenty of highway grade crossings. Significantly increase fuel efficiency and reduce polluting emissions. Develop a variation that can operate off 650-volt D.C. third-rail power through New York's tunnels. Explore ...

Continuity and Change*

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Railroads have had a significant presence in the U.S. since the middle of the nineteenth century, both physically and via their role in the nation’s economy.  As a result, evidence of the past is often present in many cases as we look at the contemporary scene. This holds true for their geographic presence, in terms of right-of-way, in many cases and track gauge, at least once the wholesale move to ‘standard’ gauge, in the 1880s, was accomplished (and yes, there will a...

Trust Me, This Will End Better than it Looks Now

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
  When I took this photo on July 24, 1976, I was glad to get a shot of a locomotive that had been repainted into what we would come to know as Conrail’s “Dress Blue” paint scheme.  While Conrail had been around officially a little over three months, having commenced operations on April 1, 1976, I didn’t live close to main lines where Conrail was operating, and had only a modest amount of “spare” time to head over to places in New Jersey where such...

Railroading’s Other Sesquicentennial

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
In a few short months, the railroad world will be focused on a lonely stretch of desert in Utah to celebrate 150 years of transcontinental railroading. There will be speeches and fireworks and events that those lucky enough to attend are sure to remember for a lifetime. But the 150th anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad is not the only sesquicentennial worth celebrating in 2019. This year, marks 150 years of operation for New Hampshire’s “Railway to ...

A Pair of Anachronisms

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
­ Back in the woods at Cherry Run, West Virginia, on May 26, 2000, CSX local D721 is approaching Miller Tower, on the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline between Washington, DC and Cumberland, Maryland.  It’s being led by non-powered Road Slug 2208, built originally as a GP30 in December 1962 for the B&O, so it’s likely that this is familiar territory for this unit. While it retains the overall, and distinctive, contours of the GP30, the lack of radiator fans on t...

Private railcars and Amtrak: a clearer picture

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
Amtrak’s Office of the Inspector General released a report today recommending ways that the national passenger carrier could improve safety, better manage costs and increase revenue associated with the haulage of privately-owned railcars. A key takeway is that, just as Amtrak’s flawed accounting system (see Bob Johnston’s report in the January 2019 issue of Trains or this August 2018 Rail Passengers Association paper) keeps it from knowing the actual costs or profit/loss of its...

Short-Notice Celebration

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
I wasn’t aware of the event until I saw an announcement of it in a social media post on the internet.  January 16, 2019 was going to be the fiftieth anniversary of the first run of the Metroliners, and Scott Spencer, at AmeriStarRail, based in Wilmington, Delaware had arranged a series of events in Philadelphia and New York City to celebrate the anniversary.  Since I saw the announcement on January 14, and the events were going to be on the 16th, a quick go/no-go decision was req...

A wartime lesson in infrastructure resiliency

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes an emergency to compel those in charge to acknowledge chokepoints and vulnerabilities in America’s infrastructure, particularly when it comes to railroads. One case in point is the Long Bridge, built across the Potomac River in 1904 (though bridges existed at that location since a century before that) to connect Washington, D.C. with Virginia. The two-track formerly electrified span, now owned by CSX, is the easternmost rail crossing of this major river a...

A Continuing Conversation

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
As of October 17, 1971, when this shot of what is now Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” was made at Morton Grove, Illinois, the “Builder” had been moved to the Milwaukee Road east of the Twin Cities by Amtrak, away from its classic/heritage routing on the Burlington, and more recently, the Burlington Northern down the Mississippi (“Where Nature Smiles 300 Miles”). But, at least the “Builder” had been ‘saved’ by Amtrak. Not so, howeve...

Big Bend by train in mid-December

Posted one year ago by Malcolm Kenton
As President Trump’s partial federal government shutdown drags on and saddening stories of damage being done to National Parks in the absence of the civil servants who normally protect them and keep them clean blanket the news, I think back on a train-to-park trip I took in mid-December just before the shutdown began. It is not one of the Amtrak-accessible National Parks that is typically marketed with tour packages, such as Glacier or the Grand Canyon, but it is one that a few fellow trai...

An appointment with No. 9

Posted one year ago by Justin Franz
Even though my marriage is just six months old, I’ve learned a few things to help keep both parties happy. One of them is not subjecting my wife to too much time trackside. That’s not to say she will protest an unplanned stop when we happen to see a train on a scenic Sunday drive, but I recognize that railroad photography is not everyone’s idea of a good time. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. In fact, one of those instances arose a few weeks back when we were ho...

Requiem for Southern 722?

Posted one year ago by David Lester
The past several years have been a boon for steam locomotive restoration, and the future looks promising as well.  This year, we expect to see the restoration of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” 4014 completed, and its inaugural run to Ogden, Utah as part of the 150th-anniversary celebration of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.  That Union Pacific devoted the time, human resources, and money for this event is nothing short of phenomenal. ...

Nationwide Nomenclature

Posted one year ago by George Hamlin
Now that CSX and Norfolk Southern have digested Conrail thoroughly, and there are two large railroads in both the east and west, it’s probably time to consider what many consider to be likely in U.S. railroading’s future:  two transcontinental mega-systems.  The key questions, of course, are who will be paired with whom, and what will the resulting entities be called?  And in addition, now that we are in 2019, celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the...

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