A history of avalanches on Marias Pass

Posted 9 months ago by Justin Franz
For as long as there have been rails over Marias Pass, Mother Nature has thrown everything she’s got at the railroaders who work along the old Great Northern Railway across northwest Montana. This week has been no exception, as BNSF Railway employees have been tirelessly trying to reopen that railroad’s critical main line to the Pacific Northwest after a series of avalanches along the southern edge of Glacier National Park. By Wednesday morning, trains were once again rolling thro...

'Selling Sunshine: The Florida Trains' has a home

Posted 9 months ago by Richard Luckin
Jacksonville’s WJCT PBS-NPR station has announced that it will be the presenting station to PBS for the new program, "Selling Sunshine: The Florida Trains." This one-hour program, made for Trains Magazine, traces the history of Florida rail service from the late 19th century forward to the 21st century. Program chapters will explore why railroads expanded to Florida and tell the story about two major Florida developers, Henry Flagler and Henry Plant. Another chapter goes on to describe ...

BNSF Snow Dozer day on Stevens Pass

Posted 9 months ago by Robert W. Scott
Winter and railroads. Something that every year at least a few places around the country requires specialized equipment to keep things moving fluid and the lines cleared of snow. This winter has seen plows and rotaries up and running in the northern Plains and spreaders and flangers working in the Sierra's. This would also be a year that the Pacific Northwest had some snow removal action.  This past Thursday was a special day on the BNSF Scenic Sub in Washington State. It was the first usa...

Investment Grade

Posted 9 months ago by George Hamlin
Evidence of longevity at Calverton, Virginia; photo by George W. Hamlin Admittedly, I don’t spend a lot of my time trackside examining rails.  While they are a foundational part of railroading, typically something else causes me to appear trackside, camera in hand.  For that matter, their sides are typically not well-lit, and they are often in the shadows, both literally and figuratively.  They spend most of their time waiting for relatively brief (in most locations) in...

The next Ely?

Posted 9 months ago by Justin Franz
Three years ago, I stood along a muddy road in the woods of western Washington and listened to the rain. The weather was exactly what you would expect for the Pacific Northwest: gray, grungy and wet. After a few minutes, a low rumble emerged from the forest in front of me. As the rumble grew louder it was joined by the squeal of wheels rolling along rusty rails. A few minutes after that, a loud horn interrupted the rumble and the squeal and a red SW1200 poked its noise around the corner lead...

An infrastructure agenda, or “alternative facts?”

Posted 9 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I and many other longtime rail passenger advocates were buoyed somewhat, at a time when there is a lot of troubling news coming from the high levels of the federal executive branch, by last Monday’s release (via McClatchy Newspapers) of a document claiming to show a list of 50 nationally significant infrastructure projects that were priorities for the Trump transition team. Included on this list were 11 rail projects, among them the vital Gateway Project to ease the cross-Hudson River bott...

Railroading: A nocturnal craft

Posted 9 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
If you liked my Facebook post this morning, you are the reason I’m writing this blog. This morning was one of those rare instances when I woke up before the coffee pot. My day started a shade after 4 a.m. eastern this morning – and no for particular reason. As with any day, I started with a quick swipe through missed text messages and a morning cup (or pot) of coffee. A few moments later, I heard a train descending off ‘Scary Hill’ across the river from the house…...

People change and so do our railroads...

Posted 10 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
By now, we’ve all learned about the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus closing its circus tours after 146 years of performances. And for us who enjoy trains, we know that’s the end of traveling circus shows by rail. Not just a couple of coaches and some flat cars, but the end of operations for a fleet of more than 120 cars. It means forthcoming lost jobs, a presumable disposition of rail equipment, and another American icon destined for the history books… or tab...

The Circus is Leaving Town

Posted 10 months ago by Hayley Enoch
The Red Unit passes through Waco, Texas, in 2008. Photo credit Bradley Linda. I got my first glimpse of the Ringling Brother’s Circus Train about a decade ago, during a brief residency in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The sighting came before I began writing about railroads as a profession, long before I was even aware that there was a community of train-watchers who put great effort into having the kind of experience that I had at the Uintah Street overpass. ...

Why not trains to move masses to, from and within Disney World?

Posted 10 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I spent New Years week with extended family at Walt Disney World in Florida at the behest of my step-nieces who are six and nine years old. This was my only visit to the gigantic theme park complex since a high school class trip in April 2004. Of course, one of my favorite things about the Disney parks is the plethora of train rides and train-themed rides, which exist thanks mainly to Walt Disney's own unabashed love of trains.  Mickey Mouse came into Disney’s imagination over the co...

The return of Kodachrome?

Posted 10 months ago by Justin Franz
Earlier this week, PetaPixel reported that Kodak was “investigating” what it would take to bring one of its most iconic films back into production: Kodachrome. For decades, Kodachrome was the first choice of film for railroad photographers. My father Tim Franz was long a believer in the red and yellow box and had they not stopped processing the stuff eight years ago I’m positive he would still be shooting it today (in fact, part of me thinks had he secured a stockpile before ...

1309 Update

Posted 10 months ago by John Hankey
The one question most asked about the 1309 project is the most difficult to answer: When will it be done? We have a best guess, but that is really all we can do. This is a complex and unpredictable project. WMSR has to “get it right” the first time around. This is a “return to specification” overhaul. The locomotive will be a superior machine to the one that rolled out of Eddystone in late 1949. It will have a more modern air brake system (26L), forced lubrication of man...

SP&S Boiler Inspection Continues into the New Year

Posted 10 months ago by Stephen P. Sedaker
A lot has been accomplished in 2016 toward the Pacific Railroad Preservation Association efforts toward the 700's 1472 Day Inspection, in regards to our tear-down, and rebuilding of major boiler components. All appliances that limit access to inspection points have been removed, and all of the superheater assemblies have been removed, as well as all of the firebrick in the firebox. The boiler surface has been mapped out, and the tedious task of making all of the ultrasound measurements...

Harder than Iron, Colder than Steel

Posted 10 months ago by Hayley Enoch
Long-time Texas residents know to keep one eye warily turned to the sky, to regard the horizon with suspicion. The weather is capricious here: A winter day might dawn warm enough for  enough to break a sweat inside of thick cotton overalls, but it’s not uncommon for the temperature to fall severely enough to freeze standing water by the time dusk arrives.  The last time such a forecast was drawn up finds me stationed on the left side of the cab. Which particular locomotive that...

Here's what I'm watching in 2017

Posted 10 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...

Inspiration, Persistence and Bicycles

Posted 11 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...

Southern news suggests passenger trains still enjoy bipartisan support

Posted 11 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...

The High Gravity of Heavy Rail

Posted 11 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 ...

Why You Should Care About the Container Shipping Industry

Posted 11 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...

A 1309 Community

Posted 11 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...

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

Posted 11 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...

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

Posted 11 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...

They came in throngs to greet the train

Posted 11 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 11 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 11 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 11 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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 one year 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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