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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...
16

What's become of Amtrak's Performance Improvement Plans?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) required Amtrak to complete Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) for each of its 15 long-distance routes in order to “to achieve financial and operating improvements,” in the words of the legislation. Each plan was to address such aspects of the customer experience as on-time performance, schedules, frequencies, routes, stops, equipment consists, needed capital improvements, on-board amenities, and financial performanc...
2

My Reflections from 2014

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
It’s that time of year again where the holidays are approaching at such a fast pace that many of us are overwhelmed, preoccupied, and looking ahead, rather than reflecting on the past. Toward the end of each year, generally the week between Christmas and the New Year, I try to set aside a few days to reflect on what accomplishments have been met, new experiences enjoyed, and a general review, per say of the obstacles and good times 2014 offered to us. Undoubtedly from the perspective of n...
5

Railroading - a hobby for everyone

Posted 2 years ago by Dave Lustig
One of the fun things about railroading as a hobby is there’s no right way or wrong way to enjoy it. Want to take pictures? Great. Want to delve into the industry’s history? Outstanding. Want to volunteer at a tourist railroad? Enjoy! Along the way, you’ll likely discover that not only will your interests take you places you might never have imagined, but you’ll also have opportunities to help others appreciate the multi-faceted world of railroading, and teach them some ...
18

About that Big Boy number…

Posted 2 years ago by Steve Glischinski
Railroad fans are known to be sticklers for detail. Just make one slip up, such as “Burlington Northern had (fill in the blank with a number) SD40-2s,” and if you’re one number off, the fans will let you know about it. That’s why some are referred to as “rivet counters.” Fans want and expect things to be correct when they engage in their favorite pastime. I freely admit I’m one of those people. When I see something that isn’t right, I cringe, and ...
18

Justices hear arguments in case that could shift US passenger train landscape

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a case that could have a lasting impact on Amtrak’s status and the shape of the passenger rail industry in this country. The main question in the case, about which I wrote in October, is whether Section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), which says the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak “shall jointly” issue a set of Metrics & Standards (M&S) for on-time perfor...
0

What Makes a Great Railroad Story?

Posted 2 years ago by Scott Lothes
We read for two reasons, mainly: to learn, and to be entertained. The best writing helps us do both. That’s true of any great story, but how do you accomplish that within the framework of the railroad? Trains magazine’s new book, Great American Railroad Stories, has some insights.  The book contains 51 stories from close to 75 years of magazines—51 stories selected from literally thousands. The book is highly accessible. Open it to any page, find the nearest headline, and...
9

High and dry with the Hualapai: Following the Transcon along Route 66

Posted 2 years ago by Bill Metzger
This is a love note to the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, Ariz., the BNSF Transcon line that runs through town, and the unspoiled surrounding real estate — as fine a spot as you can find to watch the Big Show where the trains run on 15-minute headways on a first class double-track, CTC-signaled railroad mostly laid with concrete ties. The locomotives are clean and quiet. The weather is generally cloudless and the air is dry and crisp. The resulting light is a tad contrasty, but it’...
4

Antonito Hotel Caters to Rail Enthusiast Retirees

Posted 2 years ago by Chase Gunnoe
Located in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado in the small railroad community of Antonito, the Steam Train Hotel and its owner Bob Rainek are reaching out to retirees with a passion for railroads and steam railroad preservation. Adjacent to one of our Nation’s premiere narrow-gauge steam tourist railroads, the Steam Train Hotel is a cozy destination that caters to traveling railroad enthusiasts, retirees, and outdoorsmen. An area affluent with natural beauty and history, the Steam Tr...
2

Realizing trains’ natural advantage in serving passengers with disabilities

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Note: This is an update of a report I authored for the February 2013 issue of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ NARP News, while I was employed by the Association. Americans with physical disabilities face challenges in getting from A to B from a combination of factors that people without a disability tend to overlook. This is true no matter which mode of travel one chooses. But trains, at least in theory, should be easier to access for those with physical disabilities beca...
6

Giving thanks for passenger trains, and the communities they bring together

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
As I write this, I am in a Business Class seat aboard Amtrak train 79, the southbound Carolinian. I am headed back to North Carolina from Washington, DC, to visit family and friends for Thanksgiving. It’s the day before the holiday, and we are heading southward over the former RF&P on-time as a winter storm hovers over the Northeast. The rain had begun to change to snow as I was leaving DC, but it became rain again as I approached Fredericksburg, VA, and mostly tapered off by the time ...
11

Burgeoning PA short line serves up delightful excursions. Could it become a bigger passenger carrier?

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
On any given day, one could have awoken in the small city of Pottsville, nestled in the Appalachian hills of east-central Pennsylvania, walked down to Union Station, and climbed aboard a train for a three-hour ride along the wooded shores of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal. The train would have been a service of the Reading Company, later Conrail and later the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). From the 1950s till its demise in 1981, one woul...
13

Amtrak's Autumn Express: Rare mileage in hot demand

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
On Sunday, I was aboard only the fourth special rare-mileage trip that Amtrak has operated and offered to the public on its own (as opposed to operating charter trips for which tickets are sold by another entity, usually a railroad historical society), each of which sold out quickly — three sold out within a few hours of tickets becoming available. This was Amtrak’s second annual Autumn Express Train. The trip took nine and a half hours round-trip to cover 240 mostly rare miles, with...
12

Transportation at the ballot box

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Was transportation one of the foremost issues on your mind when you went to the polls yesterday (or within the past three weeks, if you voted early or by mail)? I’m sure some of you considered candidates’ positions on rail funding and policies when you filled out your ballot. But I’m guessing that the answer for most of you is no, unless there was a transportation-specific measure or referendum on your ballot, or a transportation issue was a particular topic of contention in on...
10

Merger Talk – An Unnecessary Distraction

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
The recent discussion of Class I railroad mergers, prompted by the news that Canadian Pacific had approached CSX about a possible merger, has been a waste of precious time and intellectual resources among leaders and knowledgeable consultants in the industry. A common refrain heard for the past few weeks is that “this is not a good time to be discussing mergers,” referring to the key challenges the industry faces in the autumn of 2014. The next question, “If now is not a good t...
5

Andrew G. Harmantas – A Remembrance

Posted 2 years ago by Geoffrey H. Doughty
Along with names we associate with railroad art, Fogg, Rose, Danneman, is another – Harmantas. Like all artists, he had his own style and his own devoted following of those who warmed to it. And, in common with the others, his pictures told a story, but to each viewer the story held a personal connection. Art, of course, is subjective in nature…either it speaks to you or it doesn’t. That’s the secret gift of a great artist. Andrew Harmantas had that gift. Artists are o...
34

Amtrak food service doesn’t make money on its own. But that’s not its purpose.

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
On-board food & beverage (F&B) service is expensive to provide, particularly in terms of labor, and dining cars on the long-distance trains (source of over 90% of Amtrak’s F&B losses) will probably never completely cover their costs through direct revenue. But diners are an essential component of the longer-distance train travel experience that, if eliminated, would result in ticket revenue declines greater than the current gap between F&B costs and direct revenues, and F&a...
2

From lines on a map to more punctual trains

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Before returning to Washington, DC after meeting with regional transportation leaders around the southwestern US, FRA Administrator Joe Szabo stopped in Salt Lake City to address the annual fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP, for which I serve on the national advisory body in an elected, volunteer position). His meetings in the region surrounded the unveiling of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA first regional vision map based on the three levels...
2

How scenic excursions help sustain a positive image of train travel

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
What makes passenger trains special is that they are about taking in the journey as much as getting to a destination. In the case of tourist and excursion trains, the journey is the destination, so these operations thrive either on spectacular scenery or on providing a connection with history. Some of the best known tourist railways, such as Colorado’s Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, combine both. And in my neck of the woods, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and the Stra...
23

Is there a solution to the graffiti problem?

Posted 2 years ago by Payson Wild
Graffiti on railroad equipment is epidemic, of course, in the early 21st Century. If there is a graffiti-free freight car anywhere in the US, Canada and Mexico, it has been just released from the manufacturing plant or repair facility. It will not be long before it is “tagged.” Unfortunately, graffiti on freight cars has replaced the old slogans the public use to see including such monikers as “Route of the 400s, Way of the Zephyrs, Santa Fe all the way” etc. Those fre...
4

Putting the power of the purse in citizens' hands

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
If you had your choice of ways to spend public money on transportation improvements, and of ways to increase revenues in order to pay for these improvements, which would you prioritize? If average citizens were able to use a simple model of large, complex budgets to demonstrate their priorities — both how they would prefer to pay (through taxes, fees, tolls, bonds, etc.) and where they’d prefer to see more or less money spent — I’m willing to bet that runaway spending on ...
1

Big railroads equal big data

Posted 2 years ago by David Lester
One of the latest business buzzwords to hit the street is the term “big data.”  You’ll hear this term used in reference to nearly all types of business activity, including online shopping, health care, manufacturing, and even railroading.  “Big data” essentially refers to the tremendous amount of data that can be collected through computers as companies conduct their daily business, and how they use that data to improve performance.  Now that the evol...
9

When and where did the “diesel that did it” actually do it?

Posted 2 years ago by Bill Metzger
When former Senior Editor Matt Van Hattem and I talked about this map last year, we figured it would be relatively easy to do.  After all, it would celebrate the 75th anniversary of the FT diesel’s epic tour and be based on the map that ran in the February, 1960 issue of Trains.            My idea was to build on the existing map and add an itinerary consisting of the dates and mileage on each railroad.  Piece a cake, right?       &nb...
11

Lessons from Indiana’s experiment with intercity passenger train competition

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
Corrected on October 7, 2014 Thanks to the power granted to the states to oversee the provision of short-distance (750 total route miles or fewer) intercity passenger train service by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, several states are investigating the possibility of contracting with companies other than Amtrak to operate these services. And a host of companies is competing with Amtrak for this business. Most of them are established operators of commuter rail and tran...
11

The Supreme Court could change the face of American intercity passenger rail. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

Posted 2 years ago by Malcolm Kenton
The US Supreme Court’s decision early next year in the dispute over on-time performance metrics and standards for Amtrak trains using freight railroads’ tracks could have implications beyond the fate of those standards, depending on how the case (US Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, 13-1080) is decided. If the court issues a general interpretation of Amtrak’s status — that it should be treated as a government agency for most intents and pu...

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