Two plumes up Cumbres Pass: Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the last Rio Grande narrow gauge freights

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Where were you in 1968? For me, I was a kid growing up in North Carolina. In my mind, it is hard to believe that 50 years have passed. But they have, perhaps, with the exception of that timeless railroad location, Chama, N.M. This is where the Rio Grande prepared its forces to battle against gravity for the summit of Cumbres Pass, and where for the last 46 years the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic has sent its tourist trains across 64 miles of Rio Grande’s San Juan extension in a quest to tu...

Understanding the 'Southwest Chief' with a ride

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
ON BOARD THE 'SOUTHWEST CHIEF' – “When I hear them talk about doing away with this train, it just breaks my heart.” The source of that statement was a middle-aged woman slowly pecking at a burger and chips in the dining car of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. She had just returned from Ireland and was on her way to southern California for family business. The train, she said, has always been a part of her life. She’d rather ride than drive. On Tuesday and Wednesday, my wi...

I'm all for LA Metro's body scanners

Posted 2 months ago by Steve Sweeney
If LA Metro's new body scanners work out, I want them rolled out nationwide at commuter and passenger train stations — airports too. If you're cursing me out as a nanny state worshipper, please hear me out.  My support is mostly to boost the psychological well-being of passengers, myself included. In major transportation hubs we already have plenty of armed, combat-ready police; metal detectors; bomb sniffing dogs; drug dogs; and other safety-security contrivances. (At Philadelphia...

Why Scouts on a train is a good thing

Posted 3 months ago by Steve Sweeney
Boy Scouts on the Capitol Limited. Bob Johnston Bob Johnston's story this week about the Southwest Chief and Scouting reminds me of the time I could have traveled by Amtrak to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, but:  I was too busy.  I didn't have enough money.  That's a lot of time to be gone.  I have a girlfriend. Et cetera. Et cetera.   I'm not old, but I'm old enough now to understand those arguments from long ago kept me from a unique experienc...

Railroad photography: Keeping 'it' together

Posted 3 months ago by Brian Schmidt
Do you have little yellow or green boxes with 38 slides strewn across your desk? Do you look for a better way to organize and catalog them? I ditched the developer boxes years ago, but still struggle to organize my slide collection in a meaningful way. I'm hoping that with this post other film dinosaurs such as myself will share their methods. First, let's start with an example. I've always been a Milwaukee Road fan, even before my relocation to America's Dairyland. That includes modern railf...

Thoughts on a day at Illinois Railway Museum

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
UNION, Ill. -- I went to Illinois Railway Museum with some friends Saturday. It’s the height of summer vacation season, and it’s always fun to see who shows up at preservation centers like this one. You’ll find families, retirees, and, of course, rail enthusiasts. Each constituency comes with their own set of expectations. Those are fun in their own ways: Curious families whose kids want to go beyond Thomas the Tank Engine. Retirees reliving fond memories. Fans with their fav...

The Frontier Days train tragedy: Let's prevent the next fatality

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
We still don’t know why a 56-year-old Colorado woman stood in the path of Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 earlier this month as the mainline steam legend hauled the annual Frontier Days train back to Denver. Hopefully, new information will come to light soon to tell us why she made the choice to be where she was and paid with her life. Right now, we just don’t know. And that’s frustrating. But what we do have is a full understanding of how to prevent a similar tragedy from happeni...

The return of 'Railroad Maps'

Posted 3 months ago by David Lassen
Fans of Trains Magazine maps, we have some good news. Our 2013 special issue, Railroad Maps, which collected 45 maps — most from the pages of Trains, but also including four created just for the issue — is back in print. It is scheduled to be available at newsstands and hobby shops beginning Tuesday, July 31. The original printing sold out so quickly that even the Trains staff was caught a bit off guard — not even everyone on the staff has one, and those of us who do have had...

Frontier Days Train with Union Pacific No. 844

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
We followed the annual Union Pacific Frontier Days Train Saturday on its annual run from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyo., for the famous rodeo. The train is difficult to chase on the single-track route that busy U.S. 85 parallels. The highway runs through several small towns and suburbia. But there are a few good views such as this one between Platteville and Gilcrist, Colo. Fortunately the train pauses in Greeley in each direction. At Cheyenne, the train backs to the junction at Speer, where it pas...

Every story is a railroad story. Just ask Karl Marx

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
When I was growing up in the 1970s, one of my favorite syndicated newspaper columnists was a Chicago writer named Sydney Harris. His work appeared on the op-ed page in our region’s daily paper, the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. Among his regular opinion pieces were collections of snippets of wisdom and random and interesting facts and thoughts, which he would entitle “Things I learned while on the way to looking up other things.” This blog post is presented in the spirit of H...

Indiana Transportation Museum and 10 rules for railway preservation

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
While we try to make sense of out of the eviction of the Indiana Transportation Museum from its home of 50 years and the resulting scramble to save locomotives and rolling stock from scrap that is underway as you read this (the deadline is July 12), let’s review basic realities of railway preservation. They should be universal knowledge, but maybe not. 1. Control your house. If you don’t own your own site, station, tracks, etc., you’re in danger. 2. Keep your relations with C...

Amtrak: What direction will you take?

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Half of 2018 has passed. In a normal year, Trains waits until late December to name our top railroad stories of the 12 months just passed. The top stories are the subject of staff discussion and debate. This time, I’m willing to say that at the end of the year Richard Anderson and the dramatic changes he’s making at Amtrak, barring any drastic change in his employment status, a major merger among Class I railroads, or something totally unexpected, will be the top story. It has t...

Railroad photography: That is my bag, baby

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
On this National Camera Day 2018, it's a good time to think about keeping your cameras safe. Many photographers will spend hours talking about their favorite camera and how it improves their work. (I often wonder how much could be accomplished if they spent the same time talking about technique, but that's another blog post.) Yet, in spite of having $1,000 (or more!) hanging from their neck, they do little to think about protecting it. In my estimation, the camera bag and strap are as importan...

Aim beyond 2018. The year of the articulated is ahead

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
A few months ago, 2018 was looking good for mainline steam. The famous and iconic American locomotives that were going to fill the spring, summer, and fall with smoke and steam -- 261, 611, 765, 844, 4449 -- promised to make this a year to remember. I was expecting to have to choose among trips this fall. Then, Amtrak in March decided to end charter trains, and in a day the year in steam went from grand to grim. There is a flicker of hope. Milwaukee Road No. 261 announced over the weekend plans...

The spirit of Promontory is alive and well

Posted 5 months ago by Jim Wrinn
For the last few days, I’ve been chasing the spirit of Promontory. On the busy Union Pacific main line east of Ogden, at the very ground where the Golden Spike was driven at that desolate spot called Promontory Summit in 1869, on the lonely trek across what is left of the Central Pacific right of way around the north side of the Great Salt Lake, I have come as a pilgrim in search of a holy grail. I’ve found that spirit everywhere I’ve looked and even some places I wasn&rs...

In search of the meaning of Promontory

Posted 5 months ago by Jim Wrinn
It is time to take a trip. Yes, I can hear the groaning now. You’re on the road more than most of us, Wrinn. Why is this one any different than the others that you have to tell us about it in advance? Can’t you just take your trip, keep your mouth shut, and then revel in it later? Let me explain. Indeed, I am taking another trip on behalf of Trains magazine and its website. In 14 years, the trips and the miles, the photos, the friends, the memories have piled up into what was once...

Railroads at the Henry Ford Museum: Prepare to be overwhelmed

Posted 5 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Michigan’s Henry Ford museum and its sister attraction, Greenfield Village, rarely hit in the top 10 of must see places for those of us who appreciate railroad history. But they should be. The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, are among the great institutions of American history. A recent visit to Dearborn in suburban Detroit, my first in 10 years, reinforced this notion. Far from a car museum and a collection of old buildings, they’re a lively look at how America moves, innovate...

Railroad photography: Learn from a master

Posted 5 months ago by Brian Schmidt
There's an element of dedication required to master any craft. Trains Magazine columnist Brian Solomon's dedication shows with his daily railroad photography blog, Tracking the Light. Yes, that means every day. For those inclined to learn, Brian takes the time to talk about the choices that he made to record these images. For those looking for lots of great railroad photos, and maybe a lunchtime diversion each day, the site offers that, too. Solomon launched the blog in 2012, and made it dail...

Was I ever wrong about GE Transportation

Posted 5 months ago by Steve Sweeney
Boy, was I wrong about GE Transportation. GE and Wabtec officials announced today that they'll combine their companies but keep divisional headquarters in Chicago and Wilmerding, Pa. And it all makes sense. For years, I harangued GE Transportation media people about driverless trains, automation, and artificial intelligence. Early on, they politely responded with additional information on their latest products. Deep down, I knew services to railroads or locomotive owners would be a bigger...

I went to Carolina: Here's what was on my mind

Posted 5 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I just returned from a few days back home in North Carolina. Even though I have lived in Wisconsin, where Trains is published, for almost 14 years, the Tar Heel State will always be home. It’s the land of great barbecue, pine forests, and a place where, to my southern ear, people don’t have an accent. Let me tell you about my visit. The main purpose of my trip was to attend a joint meeting of the Norfolk & Western Historical Society, the Southern Railway Historical Association, ...

Royal wedding reminds me there is a steam locomotive paradise in England

Posted 6 months ago by Jim Wrinn
This week, the wedding of Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markel has the United Kingdom in the celebrity spotlight. Expect to be bombarded with coverage and all sorts of references to England and British culture. It got started over the weekend when CBS’ Sunday Morning show, focused on the UK. It all reminds me what a paradise for steam locomotive lovers this country is. Their trains may look different and wear bright colors that many American fans might find objectionable, but as my frien...

Our Journey to Promontory begins today. We invite you to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad with us

Posted 6 months ago by Jim Wrinn
My friends, it’s time to party like it’s 1869 — a year from now. I’m here to share exciting news about how Trains magazine will celebrate the 150th anniversary of America’s first transcontinental railroad and the return of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 Big Boy steam locomotive No. 4014. We’re busy preparing special publications, videos, and today we’re launching two new blogs, and announcing a tour you can participate in that captures the “Journey to Pro...

Ross Rowland on gloves, dinner companions, Anderson's Amtrak, C&O 1309, May 10, 2019, Big Boy, and much more

Posted 6 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Ross Rowland has been a major figure in American steam locomotive preservation and operation for more than a half century. He is well known as the central figure of the High Iron Co. trips of the 1960s, the American Freedom Train, Chessie Steam Special, Chesapeake & Ohio No. 614, and numerous other projects. I asked Ross 20 odd questions about his affinity for steam, Richard Anderson’s Amtrak, C&O 1309, the Louisiana & Arkansas 503 in Texas, and more. Here’s what he tol...

Journey to Promontory: Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad

Posted 6 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Journey to Promontory: The 1-year countdown begins We’re only days away from the 149th anniversary of the Golden Spike, the May 10, 1869 event that marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. It is a big deal. Among the major events in American history, this is among the most significant in so many ways. Of the images that as a people we know by heart is that of two American-type locomotives nose to nose with an assemblage of celebrants decorating them in the Utah desert...

Beebe & Clegg: Gruber & Co. shed new light on these groundbreaking railroad photographers

Posted 6 months ago by Jim Wrinn
On the cover of a new book, “Beebe & Clegg Their Enduring Photographic Legacy” is a most un-Beebe-like Beebe image. It’s a westbound Union Pacific train on Sherman Hill from a far distance with profuse smoke against a cloudy sky – definitely not the sunny day, three-quarter angle, in-your-face wedge shot that Beebe and Clegg made famous. The surprise cover of this new book is the first clue that the reader is about to experience a new and different treatment of this f...

Waiting for the adults to take charge

Posted 6 months ago by Steve Sweeney
Railroad bridges of St. Louis, 2014. Railroads maintain their infrastructure, why aren't the rest of us? Photo by S. Sweeney Mississippi announced recently that it will close 100 bridges to automobile traffic until further notice because of structural deficiencies.  As I began composing this blog post (3:39 p.m. Central Time April 12), the New York Times had yet to post a story on this. CNN was too busy with wall-to-wall coverage of President Donald Trump controversies and so hadn't pos...

Nashville: Hot Spot, Big Steam, and commuter trains

Posted 7 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I just got back from the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. From Sunday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon, my colleagues Mike Yuhas, Jane Brenner, and I were on hand to meet readers, advertisers, and learn more about this important side of the railroad industry. It’s one of the reasons why you saw extra attention to this business in our April issue. The trade show’s two days were packed with seminars, speakers, and networking (more...

Conversations at the short line and regional railroad's annual gathering

Posted 7 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Greetings from Nashville, Tenn., where we are exhibiting and writing about the nation’s more than 500 short line and regional railroads at the annual conference of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. Here’s a quick postcard of the conversations that we’re hearing often at this gathering of industry professionals. What we’re hearing this year is among the widest ranging and wildest in terms of tone. Some samples: “I’m surprised that Amtr...

One of my hometown railroads

Posted 7 months ago by Angela Pusztai-Pasternak
Joliet Junction Railroad on its first day of operations in 1994. Photo by Joe Petric Having moved around a lot as a kid, I count Joliet, Ill., as one of probably five hometown railroads. I spent my high school and college years in this area. My first apartment was adjacent to a short line called the Joliet Junction Railroad. The 6-mile former Elgin, Joliet & Eastern branch line was out of service and, during my time living there, in disarray.  The EJ&E abandoned the branch after...

Rolling back Amtrak's private car restrictions and special train ban won't be easy: Here's how to do it

Posted 7 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Last week, Amtrak said it would no longer run special trains or charters and would severely restrict running private cars. The railroad said it was about profitability and time keeping and customer service. The change hits the 150 or so private cars (some place the figure closer to 250) that are still fit for the mainline, big steam locomotives that venture out once or twice a year on the main, and a handful of non-profits that utilize charter trains or tack private cars on Amtrak trains as part...