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Timing is everything, Part 2: Amtrak P32 on the point of the Empire Builder

Posted 23 hours ago by Jim Wrinn
A rare catch, Amtrak P32-8 No. 503 leads the Empire Builder into Milwaukee on April 18, 2015. Jim Wrinn photo. MILWAUKEE -- Recently I wrote about my fortunate timing at the flyover in Grand Island, Neb., when BNSF Railway and Union Pacific unit coal trains came into the same photo at the same time. Happily, I had good timing again last weekend with the appearance of a rare P32-8 on the point of Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Here’s how it happened. On Saturday, I was at work, preparing ...

Notes and observations on Norfolk Southern’s 2015 steam schedule

Posted 3 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Southern Railway No. 630 and two diesel helpers leave Spencer, N.C., in June 2012. Jim Wrinn photo. Studying Norfolk Southern’s 2015 steam excursion calendar is a lot like going back to the mid-1980s. It begins in Spring and continues into the fall. OK, it’s not as extensive as the old days when trips began in March and ended in November and rare was the open weekend in between. But it still covers 14 weekends from early June to early October, three different locomotives, and puts i...

10 reasons why you should enter Trains Photo Contest

Posted 4 days ago by Angela Pusztai-Pasternak
I looked up at the cobalt-blue sky contrasting with the salmon Davis Amtrak Station in Davis, Calif., and I couldn't help but capture the colors and the vintage Southern Pacific signage on March 13, 2015.  Angela Pusztai-Pasternak photo Inspired by Jim's post earlier this week, I came up with this list of reasons why you should enter Trains 2015 Photo Contest with the theme, "It's all in the details."  There are prizes. Your photo will appear in the magazine. You can make your ...

Chasing 765: a battle plan for Upstate New York

Posted 4 days ago by Steve Sweeney
YEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW!  Nickel Plate Road No. 765 is going to steam in Western New York on the old Erie Railroad mainline Aug. 1 and 2. It's the first time since 1985 that that beautiful, black 2-8-4 steaming iron horse has visited where I grew up. Thir-tee looong years. Little 'ol me was barely able to print my name in crayon or work the antennae on the television set in 1985, let alone remember the brief presence of a thundering Berkshire. When she steams between Buffalo and C...

10 things I learned — or was reminded of — at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art annual conversations last weekend

Posted 7 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Noted photographer J. Parker Lamb discusses his photography on stage. Photo by Brian Schmidt. The Trains staff attended the Center for Railroad Photography & Art annual conference in Lake Forest, Ill., last weekend. Almost 175 attendees from across the continent and four foreign countries were represented. Here's what I learned while at the conference. 1. Charlie Castner, long-time spokesman for the Louisville & Nashville and long retired now, can still play a doggone good piano at age...

Timing is everything: BNSF over UP at Grand Island, Neb.

Posted 10 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Eastbound UP train shows up at Grand Island, Neb. Jim Wrinn photo. GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – I was visiting Nebraska last Saturday on a bird watching (crane migration) / train watching expedition when an old cliché came up from behind me and grabbed me by the throat and tossed me to the ground: “Timing is everything.” I hate to use a cliché, but this one truly fits. Hear me out. I  put this well-worn phrase to use time after time, as I was trying to execute phot...

Norfolk & Western No. 611: From ‘train of tears’ to a reason to celebrate

Posted 19 days ago by Jim Wrinn
A lot of us cried when Norfolk & Western No. 611 was sidelined in 1994. The engine was in good shape mechanically. The train was in good shape — Norfolk Southern had just overhauled the coaches a couple of years before. There was no reason to quit, except that the corporate will was no longer there. There were literally tears flowing from the faces of passengers standing in the open door of a baggage car behind the engine that rainy December night in Alabama. We listened to the exhau...

Three habits of highly effective train watching

Posted 21 days ago by Jim Wrinn
UP No. 4019 leads another SD70M, No. 5057, SD70ACe No. 8605, and AC4460CW No. 7074, still with its "We will deliver" lettering, at Round Grove Road between Morrison and Sterling, Ill., on March 28, 2015. Jim Wrinn photo. I was in Illinois Saturday on a quick overnight road trip to central Iowa and stopped at a favorite crossing on the Union Pacific, where I’ve had good luck before. My hunch was right: The headlight of an eastbound mixed freight was on the horizon at Round Grove Road betwe...

Ahead for steam in the second quarter of 2015

Posted 26 days ago by Jim Wrinn
The first three months of the year have passed with a few significant steam outings. Nevada Northern’s annual photographer’s weekend produced stunning images as usual (See Robert Scott’s report here.);  a private charter on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic did likewise; and John and Barney Gramling’s roaming 0-6-0T No. 126 put on a show with a mixed train in the snow at my own home road, the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer. The next quarter of the year...

A snow train experience

Posted 28 days ago by Mark Boncher
What do you do when it is -40 degree Fahrenheit outside? Ride a train of course! OK, so that might not be what first comes to mind, but that’s exactly what my wife and I did for Valentine's Day weekend. To be honest, I don’t love trains, but have always been fascinated by them, the people who work them, and the areas they serve. We rode the "Snow Train" from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, straight up to what seemed like Santa’s front yard. Truthfully, it was only a couple hundr...

Sleepless in Dubai

Posted one month ago by Steve Sweeney
Not sleeping is usually bad, but we've all done it: staying up late enjoying adult beverages with friends, moonlighting at a second job, or pulling an all-nighter to coddle a crying infant. And come morning you hope for a second-wind and go to work and pretend you're just fine. What's worse is when you want to sleep and can't. You're wary that you'll screw up the next day in a drowsy stupor. That's what I was worried was going to happen to me on the Trains adventure to Dubai, United Arab Emirat...

Two weeks of Wisconsin train watching

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
Thursday marked my 14th consecutive day photographing at least one train. The rules were simple: It had to be a genuine, full-size train. No display equipment, no cars on sidings or in yards, and no models. To share my achievement, here are 10 favorite photos from the past two weeks: The westbound 'Empire Builder' splits the Milwaukee Road-era searchlight signals at Duplainville, Wis., on March 7. In the distance is a Canadian Pacific freight on Track 1 approaching the diamond. March 8 w...

My first was its last: Winterail 2015 in California

Posted one month ago by Angela Pusztai-Pasternak
I attended my first Winterail in Stockton, Calif., this past Saturday, March 14. Winterail seems to be the rite-of-passage railfan event of the West, attracting about 550 people nationwide this year. In its 37th year, Winterail, a railroad photography and railroadiana show, celebrated its final year at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. There was a bittersweet mixture of excitement, nostalgia, and melancholy as the attendees all knew that next year the event will be held in a new location. It was...

Lincoln, the law, and a bridge that was in the way

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
Abraham Lincoln has been on my mind, thanks to a new book. At Trains, we ran a story about Lincoln’s connection to railroading in 2009 during the 200th anniversary of the 16th president’s birth. Most people know that Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 that authorized the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, today’s Union Pacific. Most know that Lincoln’s body returned from Washington to Springfield, Ill., via a funeral train on board a special...

Put your camel on the shelf. I'm going to Dubai.

Posted one month ago by Steve Sweeney
The picture you see of a kitschy camel and a scaled-down streetcar represent stereotypes. The streetcar is what I think most Americans picture when they think of light rail: a 1930s-styled steel behemoth that trundles along. The camel is a stand-in for what I hear too many Americans say about Middle Eastern or Arab nations. Like the toys in the picture, these stereotypes belong on the shelf. In their place I submit to you a light rail system in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emira...

Five days, and counting

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
It occurred to me this morning that I have photographed at least one train each of of the five previous days. I doubt it's a personal record, but nonetheless it's a sure sign that spring is here. How long can I keep it going? I'd like to think at least as long as the sunshine holds out here. If I stretch it past a week I'd be inclined to call it a personal record, too. I could still fumble it today — in spite of what my friends think, we still have a magazine to produce and I don't actual...

Positive train control extension? Probably not.

Posted one month ago by Steve Sweeney
"Probably not." That's the least speculative answer I can honestly give when I ask myself if I think Congress and the President will approve the latest proposal to delay positive train control implementation in U.S. railroading. But first, the facts. Missouri's Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt recently introduced a bill that would postpone the requirement for U.S. railroads to install functioning PTC systems until Dec. 31, 2020. The current deadline is Dec. 31 this year. Claire McCaskill, Misso...

Treading trodden trails of railroad photography

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
I attended a railroad slide show this weekend with 23 of my closest friends. Without fail there were multiple shows on the most popular topics of the times: Florida East Coast and Montana Rail Link. Add Raton Pass and you have the unholy trifecta of over-exposed railroad subjects in the early 21st century.Full disclosure: I traveled to photograph Florida East Coast already this calendar year. I had a blast. It was worth the trip. But I fully recognize that, since Fred Frailey's January 2015 issu...

Where do you take visitors when they come to call? In our case, Canadian National’s Byron Hill

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
It is a universal truth that we Americans rarely visit the sights that are in our own backyards. It is also a universal truth that when company comes to visit, we eagerly and gladly take our friends and family to visit these attractions. So it was when Trains photo contributor Samuel Phillips and his friend Jonathan McCoy came to visit us last weekend here in Trains home turf in southeastern Wisconsin. Byron Hill is the significant railroad geographical feature in the region. It’s long be...

212,000 grade crossings in the U.S. Can we close more of them?

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
After Tuesday’s Metrolink grade crossing collision that injured 28, four critically, and the Feb. 3 Metro-North collision that killed six and caused $3.7 million in damage, I think it’s time for a serious discussion about aggressively closing more grade crossings in the United States. This isn’t a complex equation. More trains are hauling more commuters, passengers, and freight than at any other time in modern history. I used to wait for hours in a small town in the Carolinas ...

Two Union Pacific diesels that hold a special place in a steam lover’s heart

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
SOMEWHERE IN EASTERN IOWA – I had to be in Iowa overnight last weekend, and while driving both coming and going, I photographed Union Pacific diesels on the main line that warmed the heart of this steam lover on a chilly weekend. On the way west, I got on U.S. 30 just east of DeWitt, Iowa, and immediately noticed the tail end of a westbound autorack train. So I did what any of us would do and gave chase. Now UP’s mainline, when it is fluid, is a thing of beauty – trains zip ri...

What a difference a year makes: Chicago & North Western 1385

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
Last weekend, Mid-Continent Railway Museum held its second annual open house for the most famous of the steam locomotives in its fleet, Chicago & North Western 4-6-0 No. 1385. The 1907 Alco has been out of service since 1998, needs a new boiler, and the push is on to return this Ten-Wheeler to steam. Mid-Continent hosted the open house at SPEC Machine in Middleton, Wis., a shop located northwest of Madison in about the most unlikely place you’d expect to find a 108-year-old steam loco...

Eight questions for a man who wrote and sings a song called “Norfolk Southern”

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
If you haven’t heard it yet, there’s a new song out called “Norfolk Southern” by Nashville’s Jason Lee McKinney. (Watch the official music video for "Norfolk Southern.") As you can imagine, it’s pretty popular with a southeastern railroad that paints its locomotives black, shows its history and pride with heritage units and steam excursions, and turns a nice profit. Heck, NS even has its own band, The Lawmen, and unless I’m mistaken, the company is the o...

The ‘tough’ part of working for Trains: a day on the Quad Graphics private cars

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
SUSSEX, Wis. – I like to think that I work hard. I know the Trains staff works hard. But I have to admit, some days at Trains are so embarrassingly good that what we do doesn’t seem like work at all. Such was the case Wednesday when we held our annual staff planning meeting on board a private car that belongs to our printer, Quad Graphics. Our meeting site was a 1948 stainless steel dome car built for the legendary California Zephyr. Today, it and three sisters serve as a stationary...

10 questions and answers for the T1 Trust

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I asked Brad Noble, chairman of the T1 Trust that plans to build a replica Pennsylvania Railroad T1 4-4-4-4 steam locomotive, 10 questions about the project. The non-profit educational organization’s aim is to construct PRR T1 No. 5550, the 53rd locomotive of its class for mainline excursions and to set a world speed record for steam locomotives. Here’s what he told us. Question: Who makes up The T1 Trust that is pushing this project? Tell us about their experience and qualification...

Train-watching weenies?

Posted 2 months ago by Brian Schmidt
 Fifteen years ago, as a newly independent railfan, I could not wait to get out trackside each weekend. I would gas up the car, stock the cooler, grab a few rolls of film, and set out in search of adventure. Some weekends were more fruitful than others, but I always had fun doing it. There used to be an adventurous, almost pioneering spirit to railfans. A bright, warm day was all it took to set out in search of trains. You could almost count on running into some other railfans when tracksid...

Admiring Union Pacific’s Blair bridge across the Missouri River

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I am a sucker for overwhelming structures, and on Sunday, I got to spend time admiring one of the big bridges in the Midwest, this one over the Missouri River at Blair, Neb. It is a big, imposing, through truss structure that soars into the air. Trains approach it and climb up to it from the Iowa side. American Bridge Co. built the three spans, totaling about 1,335 feet, in 1924 when the Chicago & Northwestern was running this route. Today, it’s part of the Union Pacific main line acr...

Recreating a moment when Norfolk & Western steam was king

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I’ve always admired this photo – the one of the magnificent three — Norfolk & Western’s best steam locomotive creations, from left, the J, the Y, and the A. The image was made April 13, 1943, when building these incredible machines was an every day occurrence at the Roanoke, Va., shops. The aim was to move coal, merchandise, and people between N&W’s namesake Tidewater city and Cincinnati, Ohio. The result was mechanical bliss. Just imagine, the world’s...

The end of an era on Christiansburg Mountain

Posted 2 months ago by Samuel Phillips
After many years of service, the classic Norfolk & Western color position light signals between Salem and Christiansburg, Va., are falling to progress. Norfolk Southern has installed new Safetran signals at Arthur, Montgomery Tunnel, and Christiansburg, with the old ones currently standing beside them. These CPLs have been photographed by countless photographers over the years, and witnessed the era of mighty N&W steam locomotives like the Class A, J, and Y in regular service.  The...

Full metal jacket: Putting a blanket on a Mikado

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I recently had a great day with eight other steam fans working on a privately-owned 2-8-2 being restored to operate at Wisconsin’s Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. We spent a day installing the jacketing and lagging on Skip Lichter’s Saginaw Timber Co. No. 2. The 1912 Baldwin Mikado has been under restoration since soon after its last run in 2000. That was the last time steam ran at this long-time center of ancient locomotives and wooden passenger cars. It looks like 20...