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9

Amtrak: Want to shrink your operating deficit? Don’t devalue your product.

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
I’ve said this a few times at Observation Tower, and it is once again evident: when it comes to increasing revenue and improving the customer experience, Amtrak management thinks reductively. This is true systemwide, but particularly when it comes to the long-distance trains, which could benefit from some expansive, outside-the-box thinking. Witness this week’s announcement that, for an 8-month trial period from this June through next January, the traditional dining car will be remov...
3

Next Generation: Hunter Richardson

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Photographer Spotlight: Profiling young talent in railroad photography April 2015: Hunter Richardson Through a new series designed to profile the photography of aspiring rail enthusiasts, each month, the Observation Tower blog will highlight a young photographer that features samples of his/her work and a brief biography, enlightening us on how he/she developed an interest in the hobby, and how rail photography has potentially guided them with their college pursuit or career choice.  For...
22

Railroad Ends Service in Washington State

Posted 2 years ago by Robert W. Scott
It’s been repeated countless times over the years as railroads come and go – the closure of a railroad or rail line. The endless parade of mainline Class I trains makes it difficult to look to the more obscure lines for what they have to offer. On March 9th, 2015, it came to an end for Patriot Rail’s Weyerhauser Woods Railroad at Longview, Wash. Trains have plied the rails and climbed the foothills of the Cascades for the past 87 years, but the rails will now be silent. Flori...
19

Nebraska rail artist designs modern-day renderings of BNSF predecessor locomotives

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Here's a little extra color for your Thursday morning... An appreciation for railroads and fallen flags has inspired high school artist August VanCleave of Lincoln, Nebraska to design a series of BNSF predecessor locomotive drawings, representing the families of Santa Fe, Burlington Northern, and St. Louis – San Francisco Railway. August, a 16 year old 11th grader at Lincoln Southeast High School has had an interest in railroads since he was a young child. “I’ve enjoyed train...
7

The greatest advantage of Amtrak's new baggage cars: bike racks

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The “Viewliner II” series of baggage cars, built by CAF USA, are starting to enter revenue service. I have seen reports that they have already taken the place of Heritage baggage cars (many of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s as coaches, then retrofitted into baggage cars) on the Silver Service, Palmetto, Carolinian, Crescent and Cardinal. And I witnesses a string of four Heritage baggage cars at the head of the westbound Capitol Limited leaving Washington, DC on Saturday afte...
9

Cascades trains south of Portland could end if budget plan is approved

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Revised Friday 3/27/2015 at 4:15 PM EDT - reaction from State Sen. Richard Devlin added at bottom. Amidst all the media attention on Indiana and Illinois, it is easy to overlook other state-supported Amtrak routes that could be in jeopardy. One state where you would least expect short-distance corridor service to be cut back is Oregon, which recently purchased two new articulated trainsets from Talgo (two of the four made at Talgo’s short-lived Milwaukee plant, the other two having been o...
7

Progress towards freer flow of passenger trains across the US-Canada border

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
This week’s announcement that the United States and Canada have reached an agreement that will allow US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) agents to pre-screen US-bound rail passengers at Montreal’s Central Station — and potentially at other stations in Canada — is certainly welcome news. It means that passengers on Amtrak’s Adirondack, and on a future northward extension of the Vermonter, will no longer have a scheduled delay of an hour or more at the border to ...
5

What the Supreme Court has, and has not, ruled about Amtrak

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
I am nestled into a Roomette aboard the northbound Silver Meteor, hustling up the Northeast Corridor to New York after spending a few days in South Florida. This trip comes amidst a momentous week for passenger trains in America, with the same day bringing news of a key Supreme Court ruling regarding Amtrak, and of the Indiana Department of Transportation’s decision to terminate the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State in light of a forthcoming Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) determina...
6

Breaking down Wednesday’s House floor action on passenger train policy

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Early Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives passed a bill that would authorize Amtrak and intercity passenger rail programs to be funded at fiscal 2015 levels through fiscal 2020. While the bill, dubbed the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA, H.R.749) contains some troublesome provisions and is far from perfect from the perspective of most rail passenger advocates, it passed the House by a convincing margin of 316 to 101, with 132 Republi...
7

Who does it take to bring a railroad museum to life? To find out, just visit the Nevada Northern

Posted 2 years ago by Robert W. Scott
In my last blog post, I talked about the fantastic time that I had at the Nevada Northern in Ely, Nevada, when I participated in the railroad’s annual Winter Photo Spectacular, Feb 13-15, 2015. There is not enough that can be said about the operation in Ely. It is truly a class A operation. Executive Director Mark Bassett was a wonderful host to our group and allowed us to experience firsthand what steam railroading in the early 1900s was all about. His cadre of staff and volunteers m...
11

America’s front porches on rails

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Passenger trains offer a safe, efficient, accessible, environmentally sound means of travel that also creates jobs, sparks economic activity and fosters walkable development patterns. But is it these qualities that people think about when they decide to take a train trip, particularly a long-distance one? And is it these factors that motivate people to advocate for the expansion and improvement of America’s passenger train network? In a recent column for the blog Next City, Danya Sherman,...
12

A first-timer visits the Nevada Northern, and oh! What a steam show!

Posted 2 years ago by Robert W. Scott
“Its four hours from anywhere” is the quote that would stick in my head as I planned my trip to the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nev., to be a part of the annual Winter Photo Spectacular. Ahead for me was an experience that I would not soon forget and will look forward to returning to participate in. In my years being a railroad photographer and enthusiast, I have often not given steam operations and preservation groups a second look. For two consecutive weekends in February the ...
19

A wish list for the next generation of single-level intercity coaches

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
25 new baggage cars delivered to Amtrak in November are currently undergoing testing in hopes of being added to passenger train consists in place of 50-plus-year-old Heritage baggage cars this year. Soon, new sleepers, diners and bag-dorm cars should be delivered and put into service. This will hopefully result in more sleeper capacity on Eastern long-distance trains, thereby lowering accommodation charges to more closely match those of Superliner-equipped trains on a per-mile basis. But once th...
13

New photos from West Virginia Crude Oil Derailment

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Greetings,  In a series of recent crude-by-rail incidents, the latest derailment comes to us from southern West Virginia, southeast of the capital city of Charleston. As reported on the magazine's New Wire yesterday with periodic updates, an initial generalization of the derailment includes approximately two dozen derailed tank cars, with as many as 13 of those cars on fire. The derail occurred at approximately 1:20 PM EST on Monday, February 16. A series of explosions accompanied the dera...
7

Gazing out the Carolinian window, admiring nature's engineers

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Written February 13, 2014 I’m back aboard Amtrak’s southbound Carolinian, headed to see family and friends in Greensboro, NC, where I grew up. I went for Business Class, as usual. I’m such a regular on this train that the Business Class attendant, who works the southbound on Fridays and the northbound on Sundays, knows me. I also usually know the volunteer North Carolina Train Host, who boards in Rocky Mount and acts as an ambassador for the state, under a program sponsored by...
9

Dispatches from TRB: Equipment standards, multi-state corridors, shared-use challenges, accessibility and project financing

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Here is a synopsis at some of the presentations on the technical, financial and administrative aspects of passenger rail development that were given at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC last month. Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee approves revised requirements for dual-mode locomotives — Jack Madden, Project Team Leader with the New York State Dept. of Transportation The committee, consisting of Federal Railroad Administration, ...
13

Riding Amtrak's Crescent

Posted 2 years ago by Wayne Laepple
It's been a long, long time since my wife and I have made a long-distance trip on Amtrak. Not since the early days of our marriage had we the time and money to make such a trip. Since we needed to be in New Orleans from Jan. 25-30, we booked on the Crescent for the round trip. What follows are a few thoughts and observations of the trip. One should not book a roomette to share with another person unless one is very fond of the other. The walk-in closet in our apartment is larger. Fortunately, m...
6

Are freight railroads starting to take passenger trains more seriously?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
For most of the last half of the 20th century and into the start of the 21st, the apparent prevailing attitude of the large private, primarily freight-carrying railroads towards passenger trains was to treat them as a necessary nuisance and a hindrance to efficient, fluid freight movement. But there are signs that senior management at the Class I’s are starting to take passenger trains more seriously, and look to passenger train operators and the government agencies that sponsor passenger ...
13

How do you predict how many will ride a train?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Deciding whether or not to introduce a new passenger train service or make changes to existing service comes down to one question: how many (more) people will ride the trains after the changes are made? This is true for both government transportation agencies and private companies. Ridership forecasting is a famously inexact science, and the entity performing the forecasting is liable to either overestimate or underestimate demand based on which approach best suits its interests. However, some m...
22

When did running a railroad become optional?

Posted 2 years ago by John Hankey
As the last flake fall on what clearly was a historic winter storm in New England, I have to ask a historian's question: At what point in the relatively recent past did it become optional for Amtrak and other entities to run passenger trains? This is not a snarky question. It is a serious strategic issue.I am old enough to have ridden pre-Amtrak trains, and to have a vague cultural memory that when other modes of transportation shut down because of inclement weather, at least you could depend on...
81

Railroaders, Railfans, and “The Letter”

Posted 2 years ago by Steve Glischinski
It all started innocently enough. In May 2010, two friends and myself drove north from the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports with the idea of photographing trains on the former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range lines now owned by Canadian National. For the first couple of hours we trooped around the area shooting what we could, and then learned there was a southbound ore train on the former Missabe that would be delivered to BNSF Railway. This was an unusual move, so we moved to intercept the train, ...
18

Training North Carolina

Posted 2 years ago by Kristen E. Jeffers
The morning is cold and grey, as I stand on the Greensboro, N.C., station platform awaiting the northbound Carolinian. I’d been in a rush, having grabbed a Biscuitville biscuit for the nearly 8-hour ride to Washington DC that awaited me. I thought I was being cool on this particular December morning, showing up just 45 minutes before time for me to head up to the platform to board the train. I forgot I needed to get a long-term parking pass (5 minutes), and to check my bags (10 minutes). W...
27

Overnight coach or first class private bedroom? How about something in between?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Last week, I discussed the inconsistencies in the level of service that Amtrak terms “business class” across its national network, and how it often fails to meet passengers’ expectations. Business class, however, is only available on shorter-distance trains that travel predominantly during the daytime (with the exception of overnight Northeast Regional trains 66 and 67). This week, I’ll explore several possibilities for improving accommodations on overnight trains, any of...
5

The appeal of immaculate and contemporary locomotives

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
While spending this past Sunday morning trackside along Norfolk Southern’s Pocahontas District, I intercepted a pair of brand new SD70ACe’s assigned to Elkhorn pusher duty between Iaeger, W.Va. and Bluefield. Norfolk Southern has been taking delivery of the 4,300 horsepower ACe’s since mid-2014, numbered in the 1100 series. While I’ve seen several of those locomotives in revenue service, it does not take long for equipment to acquire a weathered look, especially when assi...
31

Welcome to the District of Catastrophe

Posted 2 years ago by John Hankey
My intention is not to pile on. There will be plenty of folks better positioned to do that than I. But I have to point out the fundamental weirdness of the recent Washington, D.C. Metro incident involving acrid electrical smoke filling a subway tunnel, an entire train, and the local consciousness. On Monday, Jan. 12 at around 3:18 p.m. (give or take — officials are not yet supplying detailed information, citing a variety of restrictions and privileges), a Yellow Line train left the L'Enfa...
9

How to make railroaders happy

Posted 2 years ago by Thomas Tancula
With all of the high security and paranoia following the attacks of 9/11, railroads have been mandated to implement security measures to prevent disasters. That has caused bumps in the road for those who like to take pictures as well as those who visit yards and repair facilities. While this has added to the “request for permission to enter” process, it has not deterred students of the industry – railfans -- from dropping in on facilities. Security concerns have not been a dete...
17

Should 4501 Have Been Painted Green?

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
The new year looks as though it may become a memorable one on the Norfolk Southern system if plans to run the recently restored 4501 and the nearly restored 611 in the NS 21st Century Steam program come to fruition. Along with many others, I was fortunate to be at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Railfest last year for the debut of 4501, and she never looked better. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I was a teenager in the 1970s when the Southern Railw...
22

Amtrak's Business Class too often isn't worth the extra fare

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Let’s pretend that you have little or no experience with train travel in the United States and you’re booking a trip on Amtrak’s website. You’re given a choice between “Reserved Coach” and “Business Class” (for $20 to $50 on top of the base fare). What kind of accommodations and perks would you expect to get for that extra fare? Perhaps a bigger, more comfortable seat with more legroom? Perhaps 2-and-1 seating, giving a solo traveler the option of ...
8

2014’s biggest US passenger train developments

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Revised January 6, 2015 at 12:00 Noon As 2014 winds to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the year’s big stories in the world of American passenger trains. This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows that overall, this has been a year of progress, but only the tepid, very gradual kind that American train supporters have become accustomed to. Much more is needed before the US can approach the level of passenger train development seen in most of the industrialized world. Nat...
4

Railroads and a sense of place

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Seeing many railroad-themed holiday cards featuring a train passing through a snowy scene, sometimes stopped at a warmly-lit depot with steam rising from around the locomotive, has gotten me thinking about how closely tied railroads are with the places they inhabit, and how the sense of a particular railroad place defines how we fans, historians and appreciators relate to our favorite steel thoroughfares. Railroads revolutionized travel and commerce and forever altered the physical character of...

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