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Three weeks to better railroad photography

Posted 3 days ago by Brian Schmidt
Sometimes you get lucky, but most of the time you've got to work for it. That's how life goes, and railroad photography is no different. I got a catalog in the mail today, highlighting the continuing education classes available at my local community college. There are two photography classes listed for the fall, a three-week basic digital photography course for $43 and a five-week travel photography course for $100. Both meet one day a week and offer help with basic photography skills and cam...

I found the silver bullet at WRI

Posted 4 days ago by Steve Sweeney
We’re on the verge of something big. Until just this morning, when I paused to reflect on the 23rd Wheel Rail Interaction conference from Montreal in early June, I thought there was no silver bullet out there for railroading to cure all real and perceived problems; no steam-to-diesel-like transition waiting in the wings.I was wrong.Data from more machines and sensing devices will drive railroading changes fast enough to make heads spin — just as in nearly every other industry. My evi...

Train delays: So what?

Posted 12 days ago by Brian Schmidt
Help me out, folks. I see railroad discussion forums overrun these days with inquiries about late trains, and I don't know why. "48(31) lost 13 minutes between Buffalo and Erie. Why?" Why indeed. Years ago, I rode the Silver Star from Hollywood to Jacksonville where some friends were to pick me up. The train was, to little surprise, running late. Maybe it was the crowds of people boarding in Tampa, pictured here, that put us behind. Maybe it was bad dispatching. Maybe it was the lack of a pr...

Get lost in your photography, or not

Posted 24 days ago by Brian Schmidt
There's something to be said for riding a train and getting lost in the moment. To not have a care other than to gaze out the window and watch the miles go by. Unfortunately, if you're taking photos on that journey, it still pays dividends to keep track of where you are. I learned this upon my return from the 2016 Trains Magazine tour of Ireland, England, and France. A number of factors contributed to my disorientation on this trip. First, I was with a tour group, so I had done virtually no p...

A Prayer for Railroaders

Posted 27 days ago by Steve Sweeney
In the past couple of years, I've read plenty of comments on Facebook and heard stories over beers from train crews and dispatchers about mergers, layoffs, and work policies they disagree with. Or that day they remember when they hit a trespasser. Or the way the schedule works, they'll be away from home for awhile — but at least they're making a trainload of money. Ha. Long story short, I asked a railfan pal, Michael Murray, if he would conjure or cajole a kind of prayer for today's railr...

Portland’s nod to its railroad past

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
Northern Pacific F units gather near the Hoyt Street Roundhouse in Portland's River District in 1964. The present-day Tanner Springs Park would be at the far left, where the passenger cars rest. Photo by J.W. Swanberg How do you tell the tale of railroading to a reluctant public? True railfans will, of course, endure countless eccentricities to learn more about their interest. Hot days at the museum looking over rusty machines and esoteric artifacts. But John Q. Public isn’t so hardy. T...

A glimpse of the industrial past in Portland

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
I had the opportunity to explore Portland, Ore., earlier this year on my trip to attend Winterail 2017 in Corvallis. I spent one rainy day exploring the city, doing my best to be on some form of rail transit during the heaviest downpours. During a break from the precipitation, I found myself on the edge of the Pearl District, northeast of downtown hard along Interstate 405. There I stumbled onto one of the last remnants of Portland's one-time extensive industrial switching districts in NW 15th A...

Of Big Steam, a 2-10-4, video, and Baldwin diesels

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
I’ve been away for a few more days than I anticipated, so I want to catch up on a few housekeeping notes. First, our new 90-minute video, Big Steam is Back, has returned from the replicator, which gives me great joy, having just taken a ride and done some chasing with Norfolk & Western No. 611 earlier this month. I’m excited about this video project because it captures all of the big locomotives out there running today and gives a preview of many of the projects that are in the ...

Judge not, lest you too lose your situational awareness

Posted one month ago by Steve Sweeney
And so it begins. Brandon Bostian surrendered to police in Philadelphia today (May 18) to face criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, among other things, related to the May 2015 crash of Amtrak Northeast Regional train 188. That crash killed eight passengers and injured hundreds more on-board. Bostian was the Amtrak engineer at the throttle when the crash happened. Local prosecutors declined to charge Bostian for lack of evidence of a crime and the National Transportation Safety Board d...

Rainy day people

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
The northbound 'Silver Meteor' pauses at Palatka, Fla.,  on a rainy January 2015 day. Photo by Brian Schmidt This past weekend the Center for Railroad Photography & Art held its annual "Conversations" conference at Lake Forest College in suburban Chicago, which brought together some of the continent's best railroad photographers. The weather for the weekend, by most accounts, was abysmal. It was cold, rainy, and windy. Not the most pleasant weather to be standing trackside waiting fo...

Texas debut party notes... before today's clothes go up in smoke

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
So I am beat from a 12-hour day in the field. Preparing our live streaming gear for today’s debut of the steam locomotive Texas put me on site at the N.C. Transportation Museum early this morning and I’ll be  back again Saturday. I am pretty well fried. I want to take a shower at the hotel and burn my clothes. But first, I want to share a few things that surprised and delighted me at the debut of the restored Civil War locomotive, rolled out today for the first time for its rest...

Buffalo's now-superfluous station

Posted 2 months ago by Steve Sweeney
Buffalo Central Terminal in 1999. Photo by Matt Van Hattem Buffalo, N.Y., residents and newcomers rebuilding the City of Good Neighbors say they'll need a good train station to support their urban renaissance — but not Central Terminal. I fear a local board's decision this month to replace the long-decrepit Exchange Street Station in downtown is the end of any grand plans to restore and use the New York Central's former Buffalo Central Terminal on the east side of the city. It's the en...

Live streaming the Texas brings to mind history and a childhood recollection

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
On Friday and Saturday, I’ll be in Spencer, N.C., at my home museum, the N.C. Transportation Museum, where Trains will live stream the rollout of the cosmetically restored 1856 steam era locomotive Texas of the Civil War Great Locomotive Chase fame. You can watch along with us at, and be sure to check out coverage on Newswire as well as our Facebook page. In addition to the Texas, you’ll see Norfolk & Western No. 611 and Lehigh Coal 0-6-0T No. 126 in st...

Spring steam 2017: No. 261 makes it a complete serving of hot heavy metal

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I’ve been excited about this year’s steam season for many reasons: Lots of trips, major restorations, our Big Steam is Back special issue and DVD are set for June release and almost finished. As you’ll learn in our video and special magazine, it’s a new golden age for mainline steam. Let’s talk about trips. All of the big mainline engines have interesting and unique schedules between now and July. Union Pacific No. 844 leaves for Boise Tuesday and is also called ...

All the dope on Big Steam is Back

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
We’re in the home stretch of finishing up our next special issue, Big Steam is Back, due from the printer in June, and its companion DVD, available at the same time. To get this or any magazine out the door, we rely on two pieces of paper to see us through: A dope sheet and a planning sheet. The dope sheet is the document that gives each story a place in the pecking order and a page allocation, as well as the editor-and-author pairing. I like to think of it as sheet music for a publicati...

Where's Jim? Here I am!

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I had a sinking feeling Sunday afternoon. I knew it had been a while since my last post, but when I checked, it had been almost two weeks since I touched base with you all here. Where have I been? Working is part of the answer. We’ve got some great content coming up for you, and that’s been demanding every minute of my attention. We’re finishing up the June issue, our annual issue with significant short line and regional railroad coverage in it, and I prepared a feature stor...

Always expect a train, indeed

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
The number one item on Operation Lifesaver's "Safety Tips and Facts" is, in bold letters, "Always expect a train." While the message is meant for those not versed in railroad operations, it applies equally to those who are, in fact, looking for trains already. I was visiting the Oregon Rail Heritage Center with correspondent Justin Franz on Sunday. As we were wrapping up our visit, we paused outside to photograph MAX light rail Orange Line trains passing the facility. (In fact, visitors who d...

Guilty of railfaning, nothing more

Posted 3 months ago by Steve Sweeney
So here’s the short version of what happened.  On Monday, I was photographing Union Pacific and BNSF Railway yard operations from the sidewalk of a highway overpass in Denver’s northern reaches, when a Denver city policewoman rolled up and got out to talk to me about what I was doing. And so did three other patrol cars, including one from BNSF marked “K9.” They talked to me and then went away. (Happened to your before? I now empathize, since this was my first time ...

765's non-excursion excursion

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
With last week’s announcement that Nickel Plate Road No. 765 will pull two daily Joliet-Chicago excursions June 17 and 18, we now have something on the table that may be unrecognizable, at least to veteran devotees of steam locomotives and their use in late 20th century and early 21st century excursions. For simplicity, let’s call the June 17 and 18 runs the non-excursion excursions, a train ride to get to a 1940s-theme party with food, music, re-enactors, cab tours, and cocktails. I...

Flying -- the right decision

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
I'm checking Amtrak train status as I wait for my plane home. The train I was supposed to be on, No. 8 of March 19, lost more than six hours before entering Montana. How will it do the rest of the way to Milwaukee? Well, I suppose that doesn't matter to me anymore, account of my arrival at the airport today. But that's still better than No. 18 of March 17, which is limping along through North Dakota today more than 40 hours late. Certainly the crews deserve recognition for keeping the faith an...

I give up

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
I threw in the towel today on my next Amtrak expedition and booked an airline ticket home. Faced with delayed inbound trains and recurring mudslides on the Hi Line, I've opted to scratch my pending Empire Builder trek and instead fly back to Milwaukee. Trains Magazine correspondent Justin Franz is sticking with the train, though, to return to Montana. I just wasn't thrilled with the prospect of a possible bus bridge en route, a many-hours-late arrival in the Cream City, or both. (I am, however, ...

If Big Boys could talk

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Last week I told you about my visit to the Union Pacific steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyo., where the railroad’s steam crew is working on Big Boy No. 4014 with the aim of returning it to service in 2019. When it’s done, it will rival the Goodyear blimp in terms of its public relations prowess.  Today, I’m going to tell you about the Big Boy I visited on the way to Wyoming, No. 4005. That other 4-8-8-4 is the centerpiece exhibit of the Forney Museum in Denver. It’s cramme...

Another one rides the bus, part two

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
Looking out the front of the chartered on Interstate 5 near Tacoma, the driver noted that on a bus you can see where you're going, but on a train you can only see where you are. Photo by Brian Schmidt The bus in question showed up at the Tukwila, Wash., station about 2:35 pm, only about 10 minutes after the train is (was) scheduled. The driver had to park on a street to the west, unable to clear a railroad underpass to access the station. So an Amtrak employee walked over to round up the peop...

Another one rides the bus

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
Tuesday morning, upon my arrival at Milwaukee’s Gen. Mitchell Airport, I spotted a new email from Amtrak. My Amtrak Cascades train later in the day from Tukwilla, Wash., to Portland was canceled, and I should (maybe?) call Amtrak to inquire about possible alternate transportation. The stock email message was vague – it suggested that I should check with Amtrak about alternate transportation, but didn’t convey a specific need to. I called anyway while waiting for my flight and ...

Winter winds are howling on Sherman Hill, but in Cheyenne crews are working on Big Boy No. 4014

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I spent two days earlier this week in wind-whipped Wyoming for a good cause, although at the time, I had doubts, as 40 and 50 mph sustained winds and 70 mph gusts made it difficult to stand, let alone hold a camera steady, or take a deep breath. The reason for the trip is that we’re gathering photos and information for our latest special issue, Big Steam is Back, 100 pages of mainline-worthy steam stories and photos due out in late June. As you can imagine, one of our main feature stories ...

How could Harrison be good for passenger rail in the East?

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
There’s a reasonable chance that passenger rail could see expansion under Harrison’s CSX Transportation. Hear me out. If Harrison continues the “Network of Tomorrow” approach, focusing on three main corridors that form a triangle, then a lot of what is left could go to new regional railroads. Would they be more accepting of passenger start-ups than CSX was? If these are marginal lines, then the new operators must look at many different scenarios for traffic and income. ...

Doing the "Harlem Shuffle" ... in Chicagoland

Posted 3 months ago by David Lassen
A few weeks ago, when our part of the upper Midwest enjoyed a Sunday with temperatures above freezing and that big yellow orb in the sky, I jumped in the car for some railfanning. With an even nicer weekend in the offing — we're talking 47 and partly cloudy on Saturday, and 59 (although cloudy) on Sunday — it seems like a good time to discuss the excellent single-day railfan plan I mapped out that day. Call it the Harlem Avenue shuffle:  With roughly 13 miles of driving — ...

CSX: Clearing the runway or lacing it with landmines?

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
In business, when it comes to takeovers, succession, and change, there is posturing, and then there is actual stance. Understanding the difference is a fine art. Thus, I am absorbing this week’s CSX news like a college student's junior’s appreciation course. How shall we interpret CSX’s top management shakeup -- CEO Michael Ward to retire without a successor -- and the railroad’s plan to layoff 1,000 management positions? At a glance i see a picture of a company that&rsq...

About CSX: It all makes 'cents', so pray

Posted 4 months ago by Steve Sweeney
CSX Corp.'s share price is up today to $48.89 a share in the middle of the afternoon on Feb. 21. It is higher, even, than rumors of a Hunter Harrison takeover could send it in January. And that's just as it should be, if you believe Chris K. Chris is one of my former editors, a mentor and a friend. And in one of those late-night bull sessions we'd raise at our newspaper long after we put the paper to bed, we'd talk. Anything was fair game: religion, office politics, politics generally, sports ...

And Mr. Railroad is...

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
First, let me thank the nomination committee for its work. I originally intended to leave this this an open-ended question, but after reading all your comments for these past few weeks I've decided to reach a conclusion. (Yes, yes, you're welcome.) With the qualifications of my first post in mind, I have selected prolific author and new Trains Magazine columnist Brian Solomon as Mr. Railroad. He has more than 60 railroad publications to his name, titles that are among the most accessible in the...

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