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Recreating a moment when Norfolk & Western steam was king

Posted 3 days 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 3 days 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 6 days 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...

Why 2015 may be a frustratingly good year for mainline steam

Posted 18 days ago by Jim Wrinn
I have good reasons to be optimistic that you and I will run into each other trackside this year while we’re both waiting on a steam train. There are more mainline steam locomotives that are either ready now or being prepared to roll than any time in the last 25 years. The 1,472-day inspections of two famous 4-8-4s — Norfolk & Western No. 611 and Southern Pacific No. 4449 -- have been completed and those engines are well on their way to being operational. Union Pacific said last...

Serendipity on board the Silver Star

Posted 21 days ago by Brian Schmidt
 I'm typing this from on board Amtrak train No. 92, the northbound Silver Star, as I pass the new SunRail commuter service layover yard, somewhere north of Orlando. It's been a fun run so far out of Hollywood on my trip north to Jacksonville. A morning obligation kept me from taking the earlier train, No. 98, which does not make the detour to Tampa. So I've trekked from one side of Florida to the other, and now I'm headed back to the coast from where I started. I had a few o...

Exploring the main line across Iowa is more fun than a silo full of corn

Posted 25 days ago by Jim Wrinn
I’ve come to throw myself at the mercy of the Iowans out there. For years, I’ve been thinking their state would be a dull place to watch trains -- a flat, uninteresting, straight as an arrow trip through endless cornfields. I’ve held that view for much of my adult life. Then in the last year family obligations prompted me to take frequent trips to Iowa or across the state. Now I have come to ask forgiveness and to praise the tracks in the farms. Being a child of the south, my ...

6 happenings I want to see in 2015 and one resolution

Posted 26 days ago by Jim Wrinn
The start of the new year has me thinking about railroading in 2015. The year just past was incredible in so many ways, but the year ahead could be even more amazing. Here’s what has me eagerly anticipating the days and months ahead. I can’t wait to see how these turn out: The first Tier 4 diesel locomotives (probably for BNSF next spring), Positive Train Control installation, and winter operations on main lines nationwide. One thing I’d love to see come to a conclusion: Th...

Allegheny Central’s Jack Showalter inspired many

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
I had a phone call recently from an old friend who had sad news to share. Sally Showalter called to tell me about the passing last month of her dad, Jack, one of the true greats in U.S. steam railway preservation. When the list of folks who kept steam alive between the regular service era and today, Jack’s name will be among those brave souls who put everything they had into making sure that old locomotives would continue in operation. Jack’s stage was the Allegheny Central tourist ...

Making the website better

Posted one month ago by Steve Sweeney
When Trains' new website appeared in October, you loyal and attentive readers out there let us know what you thought. Much of what you wrote to us in emails and called us on the phone about was positive. Before long though, you found problems. So we listened and learned. We took what you told us and started working. I'm happy to say that as of this morning, the good website people in our building added new computer codes that make the website better. No, really, it's improved. Here's what to lo...

An East Texas junction worth visiting

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
BIG SANDY, Texas – One of my favorite things to do when I am traveling is to explore places that I’ve read or heard about all my life, but I also love to visit little-known gems. This is about one of those unremarked hot spots. A friend of mine suggested that while I was in Tyler, Texas, for business last month that I take the time to drive about 25 miles north to a place called Big Sandy. What would I find there, I asked? When Patrick Flynn wrote about it in the March 1994 issue of...

Of dome cars and sentiment

Posted 2 months ago by David Lassen
I spent the Friday of my long holiday weekend on a round trip from Chicago to Springfield, Ill., solely to get some seat time in Amtrak’s lone remaining dome car, the “Ocean View.” As part of the passenger system’s response to the Thanksgiving rush, the full-length dome, built in 1955 for Great Northern’s Empire Builder, was placed in service on Chicago-Milwaukee and Chicago-St. Louis runs. As I watched the landscape pass from the always-coveted front seat, I tho...

About that ‘other’ Alco PA, Santa Fe, 59L in Texas

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
FRISCO, Texas – In the midst of the collection of rolling stock lined up at the new Museum of the American Railroad is a wrecked and worn out celebrity awaiting a makeover and a comeback: Santa Fe Alco PA No. 59L. Right now, this 1948 diesel passenger locomotive in tattered and fading Delaware & Hudson blue and gray looks as if a giant had crumpled it, tossed it against a canyon wall, and ripped it apart. But the museum’s Robert Willis and Bob LaPrelle assure me that it can be f...

Caption this image

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
RUSK, Texas – This is Santa Fe 4-6-2 No. 1316, also known as Texas State Railroad No. 500. The 1911 passenger locomotive last steamed 12 years ago, and the railroad, then part of Texas State Parks, built an all new welded boiler for the locomotive for installation. Trouble is, the new boiler has technical issues (too complex to go into here), and so the cylinders, frame, and running gear, have been like this for years. Iowa Pacific runs the railroad now, and their mechanical forces are try...

Permitted daydreaming: Trains 2015 calendar

Posted 3 months ago by Steve Sweeney
The staff at Trains occasionally receive calls or letters referring to the "current" issue of Trains magazine. We work on three or four different issues at a time and each one is in a different stage of production or editing. So, if the letter writer or phone caller does not refer to a specific month, we have to pause and look up the right information in a calendar. Everyone on staff has at least two calendars. I use three: the one built-in to the company's email system, to keep track of meetin...

That old Trains feel

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin P. Keefe
Some of you will know why this picture, taken last evening, is here. It’s been 27 years since a bunch of talented Trains magazine (and Model Railroader) editors and graphic designers made magic behind that door, 27 years since our company left downtown Milwaukee for the suburbs. The time just flew! But I’m happy to report that, inside this stolid old building on 7th Street, it still looks like 1975. Still looks like you might bump into D.P.M. or Rosemary Entringer or Gil Reid at an...

10 years goes by fast when you have the world’s greatest job

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I won’t lie to you. I have the world’s greatest job. Ten years ago today, I walked into Kalmbach Publishing Co., and began my editorship of Trains. For me, it was the dream job that I had wanted as a daily newspaper journalist and as a Trains reader since childhood. I started doing photography and writing for Trains in 1982 when I was still in college. I wrote feature stories for years. But things changed in 2004 when I went to work full-time, and I want to thank you for this privile...

Official non-profit foundation for Cass Scenic Railroad will continue efforts in collaboration with new operator

Posted 3 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
Today, as the West Virginia Rail Authority voted to accept a lease agreement of the railroad assets of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, many have questioned the future sustainability and involvement of Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association and how it will be integrated into the operations of the new railroad operator. As a board member for the Association, executives from the foundation appointed a Transition Comm...

More questions about Western Maryland Scenic and C&O 1309? We’ve got answers!

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Earlier this month, we asked Western Maryland Scenic Railroad General Superintendent Mike Gresham 10 questions about the popular railroad between Cumberland, Md., and Frostburg, Md., and its groundbreaking project, the restoration of Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309. The railroad’s 1916 2-8-0 No. 734 is well known, too. Mike generously consented to answer eight more questions from our Trains Facebook page. Here’s what he told us. 1. From Brian Hedrick: Has expanding the scen...

75 years in one book

Posted 3 months ago by Steve Sweeney
A little more than a year from now, Trains Magazine will be 75 years old - a complete lifetime away from when Trains' founder A.C. Kalmbach printed the first official issue in November 1940. Celebrating this anniversary means that we'll have a party sometime in 2015 (I'll save you some cake.) We'll also have a couple of trips and a memory book. And right now, this memory book intrigues me the most. It's called "Great American Railroad Stories." My copy is a pre-distribution soft-cover version ...

Occasionally, it pays to take a chance on a photo

Posted 3 months ago by David Lassen
I hadn’t really planned to post another photo from the recent Pullman Rail Journeys “Varsity” operation between Chicago and Madison, Wis., having put a few up on the Trains Facebook page. But this one (click on the image to see a full-size version) received so much favorable comment from friends — even those not interested in railroading — that I thought it might be worth passing along as an illustration of the value of occasionally trying to shoot in less than op...

Steam: Some days are diamonds, some are clinkers

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Watch this time lapse video of Jim's day at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum with Saginaw Timber No. 2. NORTH FREEDOM, Wis. – I pulled up to the shop area at Mid-Continent Railway Museum last Friday about 10:30 a.m. Volunteers were already milling about, but the star of the day, Saginaw Timber 2-8-2 No. 2, was nowhere in sight. She was still in the shop, peering out of two wide open doors like a scene from Lucius Beebe’s “Mixed Train Daily.” This day was to be the locomo...

FAQ: CP-CSX merger talk (updated)

Posted 3 months ago by David Lassen
Major railroad industry news broke this weekend with reports that Canadian Pacific had made merger overtures to CSX. Both companies declined to comment on the story, which originated in the Walll Street Journal, but published reports say CSX was not interested in pursuing the merger. Trains is pursuing the story on numerous fronts. While those articles develop, here are some frequently asked questions about a potential CP-CSX merger. We will continue to update this article as information become...

10 questions for Mike Gresham of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Among the big steam restoration projects in the United States with tremendous worldwide interest is Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s rebuild of Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309. The 1949 Baldwin was the last commercially built steam locomotive for domestic use. It was moved from its long-term home at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum to the Western Maryland Scenic shop in Cumberland last summer. Work has already begun on this eastern articulated. The locomotive will take ove...

Impolite dinner conversation for railroaders: Chinese tank cars

Posted 4 months ago by Steve Sweeney
CHICAGO - If you want to silence a table of railroaders in a noisy restaurant, do what I did last week and ask, "What did you think of the Chinese tank cars?" [Crickets chirping. Blank stares. Puzzled looks.] My fellow diners' reaction was understandable. At first, these Class I railroaders and managers might have thought I said something random, like "frog guts" to get attention. Truth is, no fewer than six Chinese railroad suppliers attended last week's conference and exhibition in Chicago f...

Steam running on street trackage in 2014? Narrow gauge line on the Baltic runs 20 trains per day behind steam

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
BAD DOBERAN, Germany – After finishing my visit to InnoTrans in Berlin, the world’s largest railroad technology and trade show last week, I decided to stay in the country and take a trip that would put me in touch with railroad technology of 100 years ago. I rode fast and modern electric and diesel regional trains three hours north of Berlin to a resort area on the Baltic Sea for my first visit to the Mollibahn, a 10-mile-long, 900 mm gauge branch off the main German railway system a...

A CSX hat trick, in Wisconsin

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
Since I moved to Wisconsin from Ohio two years ago, I've seen some great sights while trackside. But, at the same time, I've missed train-watching on the well-trodden CSX lines of the lower Great Lakes region. So imagine my surprise Sept. 28 when three successive Canadian National trains through Waukesha were led by CSX units. First, a northbound showed up, led by a CSX GE and a Union Pacific EMD. I was set up on the west side of Waukesha, along the aptly named West Avenue, waiting on a northb...

Part stampede, part geek fest, here’s InnoTrans in four easy lessons

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Commuters crowd onto the S-Bahn on their way to InnoTrans. Photo by Jim Wrinn. BERLIN, Germany – It is not even first thing in the morning but closer to 9:15 when I arrive at the zoo railway station to catch my commuter train, the S-Bahn, to reach InnoTrans, the world’s largest railroad trade and technology show. But the trains are all packed with dark suited business men and women who’ve come from 55 countries from around the world to talk railroading, gadgets, and better way...

A few trips on the SBB confirm that Swiss precision is still among the best

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
 Our train preparing to climb the Gotthard Pass route on the William Tell Express. Photo by Jim Wrinn. ON BOARD THE ICE TRAIN – I am doing something that seems totally wrong as I type this blog post in praise of Swiss railroads. I am doing it from a seat in the first class section on board a German ICE train that has just left the depot in Basel, Switzerland, crossed the border, and paused at the German station before zipping right up to sustained operation at 91 mph. Doesn’t s...

The best transportation museum in the world: Swiss Museum of Transportation’s ‘zoo’ includes a Crocodile, an Elephant, and a lot of great ideas

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
The "elephant" is one of 44 pieces of rolling stock a the Swiss Museum of Transportation. Photo by Jim Wrinn. LUZERN, Switzerland – If you are a director, board member, staffer, or volunteer at one of the almost 600 railroad museums in America, print this blog post out and take it to whomever gets things done at your organization and tell them you need two first class plane tickets to Switzerland asap to see the best transportation museum in the world. Yes, you heard me right, this littl...

Don’t do this train if you’re afraid of heights

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
A Mount Piatus cog railway car desdends the mountain Wednesday afternoon. Jim Wrinn photo. PILATUS, Switzerland – Greetings from Switzerland, where railroads have no fear of grades. Yesterday and today I am riding the cog railway at Mount Pilatus, a peak just outside Luzern that is about 6,800-feet high and offers stunning views of the nearby Alps. To get here you have your choice – the steepest cog railway in the world with maximum grades of 48 percent – or helicopter. A fle...