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Here's what I'm watching in 2017

Posted 9 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
A tough year for railroads is something we all could agree with when reflecting on the year 2016. It has been a challenging year with downturns in coal and crude-by-rail. U.S. railroads have been hard-pressed to climb out of a 5 percent slump in traffic nationwide, despite a strong harvest season, an expanded Panama Canal, and steady general merchandise numbers. It hasn’t been easy when Class I railroads are trying to tackle PTC implementation, as well. I think Class I railroads have done...
6

Inspiration, Persistence and Bicycles

Posted 9 months ago by Justin Franz
Last week, Assistant Editor Brian Schmidt encouraged readers to “brush up on the basics” of photography by taking a photo course or picking up a guidebook. The post got me thinking about other ways to “brush up” and how looking to other photographers for inspiration can be just as important. There’s an end table in my living room where I keep a small collection of inspiration: railroad photography books that I often flip through when trying to come up with new idea...
7

Southern news suggests passenger trains still enjoy bipartisan support

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
What I’ve read so far about the incoming administration and Congressional leadership’s plans for transportation does not bode well for a needed major investment in passenger train infrastructure and equipment. But while Republicans on the national level seem to remain penny-pinchers when it comes to passenger trains — the national party platform approved in July calls for ending Amtrak subsidies — recent moves from Southern states under Republican control make me somewhat...
21

The High Gravity of Heavy Rail

Posted 9 months ago by Hayley Enoch
The coldest morning yet to dawn on North Texas this season brings temperatures in the upper 20s. The cold snap finds me on the highway, at the wheel of a car that signals its displeasure with pops and groans and indignant little shudders,  headed up towards southern Oklahoma.This true cold is somewhat late in coming, but this year, it has been heralded by a particularly brilliant set of fall colors, one that approaches the palate typical to Eastern states. There are flaming oranges and ...
16

Why You Should Care About the Container Shipping Industry

Posted 9 months ago by David Lester
Maersk Container Ship Maersk Winnipeg departs the Port of Savannah in October 2016. Photo by David Lester The hottest trains on Class I railroads are those dedicated to carrying trailers and containers.  However, this line of business is largely focused on containers, which move both domestically (defined here as those with origins and destinations within the United States, Canada and Mexico) and internationally. International container shipping usually involves the container moving on a...
8

A 1309 Community

Posted 9 months ago by John Hankey
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s 1309 project crossed a major threshold in early November. Mike Manwiller, now CMO with the Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority in Utah, delivered 1309’s new rear tube sheet to the Ridgeley, WV shop. Mike is a WMSR veteran with local roots. This was a 2,000 mile delivery run. The sheet is now riveted in and ready for a few hundred new tubes and flues. That was the last major boiler component needed to wrap up the 1309 project. Almost everything...
6

Shoot, duck and run: Memories of plow extras in Maine

Posted 9 months ago by Justin Franz
Today was the first day of the year that I needed to start the car a few minutes early, a sure sign that winter has arrived. The chill of winter always brings a flurry of memories of days spent trackside back home in Maine, specifically along the Bangor & Aroostook. Serving the northern half of Maine, the B&A* operated through harsh country and the drama of man versus nature almost always revealed itself on an epic scale come winter. The most dramatic display of that battle came when t...
11

Autonomous vehicles, railroads, public policy and not repeating past mistakes

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I wish to expand upon and clarify some of the points I made in my previous column on autonomous vehicles, in light of a Brookings Institution forum on the subject I attended yesterday and of some of the comments on last week’s post. First of all, I never intended to suggest that autonomous cars will completely replace traditional cars. I do believe that they will eventually come to dominate in urban and suburban areas, but rural areas will almost certainly retain a number of traditional ve...
5

They came in throngs to greet the train

Posted 9 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...
17

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

Posted 9 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...
3

Giving back to the preservation community

Posted 10 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 ...
8

The timeless allure of Holiday Trains

Posted 10 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...
11

What does a Republican majority mean for our railroads?

Posted 10 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...
11

Shoot it before it’s too late

Posted 10 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...
2

Dallas: Where steel rails grow amidst a sea of asphalt

Posted 10 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...
9

Back to the future in dots and dashes

Posted 11 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...
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My pet project: Canadian Pacific’s Southern Main Line

Posted 11 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...
5

A trip to Alco land

Posted 11 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...
1

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

Posted 11 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 ...
26

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

Posted 11 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...
34

Give the media a break

Posted 11 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...
9

Positive Train Control and last week's Hoboken crash

Posted 11 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 ...
6

Taking your photography to new heights the old fashioned way

Posted one year 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...
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By the sweat of their brow, and the grace of their paperwork

Posted one year 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...
15

Revolution vs. evolution towards the future of railroading

Posted one year 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...
5

Searching for the perfect image of autumn

Posted one year 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 ...
8

Better Days on the Western Maryland

Posted one year 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...
0

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

Posted one year 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...
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“Land Ferry” would move trucks across Nevada on wind-powered trains

Posted one year 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...
14

Mars Lights, Night Shots, and the Musings In Between

Posted one year 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...