7

Unnecessary standoff over PTC reflects outmoded attitude towards railroads

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
A standoff continues between the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), on the one hand, and two terminal railroad companies on the other, that threatens to result in the suspension of passenger train service to the Show Me State’s two biggest cities if not resolved. It centers around the mandate in the federal law passed in 2008 that all railroads carrying passenger trains install Positive Train Control (PTC) by December 31 of this year, b...
1

Next Generation: Stephen Schmidt

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
June 2015: Stephen Schmidt The month of June acknowledges Stephen Schmidt in our latest installment of profiling young talent in railroad photography. Born in Chicago's western suburbs, Schmidt's interest in rail photography has recently blossomed into a career with BNSF Railway at the young age of only 18 years old. Schmidt still calls the Chicago area home, but will soon be moving to La Crosse, Wis. to advance his career with BNSF Railway.  Schmidt's introduction to railroad photography...
16

Realistic thinking, more citizen involvement needed to revamp American passenger trains

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
One of the conclusions I arrived at in my column reflecting on the political aftermath of the fatal derailment of Amtrak train 188 in Philadelphia last month is that both the lack of adequate and reliable funding for American intercity passenger trains and Amtrak's institutional problems seem to be two sides of the same illness, and that both problems continue to reinforce each other. Several articles, columns and blog posts written since have caused me to ruminate further on this idea...
3

N&W 611, a missed opportunity?

Posted 2 years ago by G. Mark Ray
The morning in the Piedmont began with the sun rising to clear skies.  Inside NS Coach 29, the windows are covered in condensation from the frigid air conditioning that has the temperature somewhere in the upper 60s.  Passengers for today’s Inaugural Run of Norfolk & Western 611 are slowly working their way to their seats.  Up front, the star of today’s show simmers as her patient crew of volunteers readies her for the big show.  The man who will run her from ...
8

Going car-free for a rural traction ride

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
As one who enjoys rail history and witnessing and riding aboard historic equipment, but also does not own a car and advocates a less automobile-dependent future in America, I find it somewhat ironic that so many railroad museums — even those that preserve urban transit equipment — are difficult to access without a car. A friend and I had to improvise in order to visit one of these, the Western Railway Museum near Suisun City, CA, during my visit to the Golden State this weekend. The...
4

A job well done! Welcome home, 611!

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Yesterday’s maiden voyage home for N&W 4-8-4 J-Class No. 611 could be described countless ways. For many, it was simply the feeling of being reunited with an old friend. For others such as myself, it was my first encounter with No. 611 in all her glory. And for all of us trackside, it was truly magical. By now, we have all enjoyed seeing the many photos of No. 611 and it’s 18 car passenger consist parading along Norfolk Southern’s ex- Southern Railway and Norfolk & West...
4

Chasing Norfolk & Western 611 between Manassas and Front Royal, Virginia

Posted 2 years ago by Alex Mayes
In just two weeks, Norfolk & Western 4-6-4 Class J No. 611 will once again ply the rails on Norfolk Southern’s B Line between Manassas and Front Royal, Virginia.  Three trips are scheduled on this line-a morning run on June 6th and morning and afternoon runs on June 7th.  All trips will depart Manassas and run west to Riverton Junction in Front Royal and return to Manassas.  The excursion trains won’t be running as fast as they will be running on other Norfolk Sout...
0

WRI school is cool for railroaders

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
While school graduation ceremonies have been going on throughout the country, the attendees at the 21st annual Wheel-Rail Interaction conference have been hard at work in the classroom learning about the principles and of wheel-rail interaction, and strategies for managing it to ensure long life for wheels and rails. Christopher Ono, a young engineer with ATS Consulting who is new to the railroad industry, said “I’m having flashbacks of being in college!,” after completing Tues...
1

Steam Returns to Cheat Bridge, 200 photographers gather from around the country

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
The Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association (MSR&LHA) recently completed its annual Cass Railfan Weekend in partnership with the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad (DGVRR). As many are aware, the DGVRR began operating the Cass Scenic Railroad, in addition to continued operation of its Elkins and Durbin operations in January. The new operation has allowed the railroad to expand on preexisting tourist train operations and sequentially, allowed MSR&LHA, a non-profi...
11

Derailment should spur concerted bipartisan effort to make train travel safer, better

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The hearts of everyone in the railroad industry and who cares about passenger trains are heavy with the losses suffered in last week’s tragedy in Philadelphia. I started writing this from aboard an Acela Express traveling from Boston to New York on Friday. I was headed to Philadelphia for my cousin’s law school graduation, using the New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor Line to SEPTA West Trenton Line bridge that had been set up to bypass the site of the derailment. I had been schedu...
0

Who you gonna call? WRI!

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
If you’re in the engineering department of any transit, passenger or heavy haul railroad, chances are good that you’re periodically gnashing your teeth over problems with interaction between wheel and rail. You are expected to be the Sherlock Holmes of your railroad when wheel/rail-related accidents, transverse defects, wheel and rail breaks, or uneven rail wear occurs, and solve the case as quickly as possible. Fortunately, help is available at the Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference...
4

What 611’s revival says about NS and passenger excursions

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The revival of Norfolk and Western Class J No. 611 to once again power passenger trains over the main lines of Virginia and neighboring states is truly an inspiring occasion. Restoring a steam locomotive is a proposition that requires great quantities of labor, time, persistence and money, and the coming together of those ingredients is a major feat. But more than that, the iconic No. 611 running under her own power on Saturday represented the culmination of both individual and institutional sup...
1

Profiling Young Talent in Railroad Photography: Jeremiah Lietke

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
May 2015: Jeremiah Lietke Our second installment in a monthly series profiling up-and-coming railroad photographers joins us from Vancouver, Washington at the age of 16 years old. Jeremiah Lietke, a high school student attending Mountain View High School has had an interest in railroads since a three-way meet between Amtrak’s Cascades, Coast Starlight, and the Portland section of the Empire Builder during a visit to Vancouver’s Amtrak Station as a toddler. He attributes this encount...
6

Why you often don't pay a premium to ride Acela

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
As much as I love the long-distance trains, because of where I live and where the people I most often visit live, the bulk of my train travel is along the Northeast Corridor, particularly Washington, DC to New York, and occasionally to Boston. Being somewhat price sensitive (though not enough so that I would opt for an intercity bus over the train), one would think that I would almost always be aboard a Northeast Regional as opposed to an Acela Express. Oddly enough, over the past two years, at ...
3

30 minutes in Kenova: The NS/CSX Crossroads of the Mountain State

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Freshmen finals are in the books, the cherry trees are in bloom, and we are fast approaching an action-packed summer season of mainline steam, railroad photography-driven vacations, and some much-appreciated warm temperatures and blue skies. While the upcoming months in Appalachia will bring us some exciting times with N&W 611, doubleheaders on the mountain at Cass, and never-ending variety of colorful heritage power in the coalfields, I'm taking a few hours this Monday May 4 to soak up the ...
3

Passenger updates and views from Capitol Hill, Amtrak and FRA

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Amtrak and Obama Administration officials provided a host of legislative and administrative updates and insights to passenger train advocates last Monday (April 20) when they addressed the annual Washington, DC conference of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). “They won’t call this the ‘do-nothing Congress,’” Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Corporate Communications, offered in summary. “They’ll do ...
4

Milwaukee Road Track Alive – Small Successes

Posted 2 years ago by Robert W. Scott
It was March 1980, 35 years ago, when the Milwaukee Road left Washington State. On the far reaching end of the Milwaukee system was Centralia, Wash. Centralia and nearby Chehalis are locally known as the “Twin Cities." The rail route through Centralia was a part of its route south of Tacoma, Wash. At Chehalis, the Milwaukee left its own rails to use Burlington Northern to access Portland, Ore., and a new gateway that was opened in 1970 as a condition of the Burlington Northern merger.&nb...
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...

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