Thursday, May 21, 2015

Next week: Ferroequinology Fieldwork

In the next 3 weeks, I'm making trips to cover several railroad-related events. The first is 24 Hours @ Saginaw, a railroad photography event near Ft. Worth, Texas. Then, late next week, I'm heading to North Carolina to team up with the Trains Magazine staff to provide live coverage of the 611's debut and first passenger trip to Roanoke, Virginia. If you can't make the event in person, be sure to watch the live stream on Trains Magazine's web site--guess who will be the one running the camera! The week after that, I'll be headed to Nebraska for the Union Pacific/Chicago Northwestern Historical Societies' conference.

I'll be posting updates from all three events here and on F-O-F's Facebook pace, but such a busy schedule means that there just isn't enough time to keep to the normal schedule of posting an article every two weeks. It will be roughly 3 weeks before I get the second article about diesel locomotive preservation posted and followup on the takeaway from the Amtrak crash.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Amtrak 188 has derailed. Are we listening?

Image via AP

Update: The latest news indicates that crash may be related to excessive speed, and the death toll has raised to 7. 
Go up to any railfan, and ask why they like trains. You're going to get an answer like "they're big" or "they're fast" or "they get me to work." These are pretty ready answers but they get at something more philosophical and harder to articulate. We like these things about trains because they're the tip of the iceberg, the visible hints of just how much kinetic energy a train displaces when it's moving at full speed--even at low speed, by right of it's sheer size.

We get hints of it,  when we feel the ground tremble under our feet, or hear the rumble of a fully loaded freight from miles off. You can experience those things and get a fuzzy understanding of just how much power is there, in the same way that some really hard thought about basic algebra might give you some conception of how the mathematics of advanced physics works. You get just enough to know how much you aren't experiencing.

I wonder how many of us who like/work on/frequently ride trains sit down and think about just how much of a balancing act the whole thing is. Try wrapping your head around it--tens of thousands of pounds resting on eight(or fewer) tiny points of contact per car, moving upwards of fifty miles per hour. It's easy to forget that almost two centuries of engineering has gone into the railroads now, and that the whole thing doesn't run on faith. You could be forgiven for thinking you're going to end up in the ditch the moment you close your eyes and stop wiling the train to stay on the tracks.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Plight of First Generation Diesels, Part 1

          This ex-FNM del Pacifico Alco PA-4 fell into disrepair before arriving at the Museum of the American Railroad. 

One of the recent Friends of the Flange articles described some individual locomotives that should have been saved, but somehow were not preserved. This post received decent circulation and discussion. A number of the commentators-- both online and in real life--brought up a very valid point: Some of the surviving examples of the first classes diesel locomotives have become perilously few in number.

Not only was this was an enlightening comment, one fully worth exploring in its own article, it also brought up that so far, the articles on this blog have not examined the beginning of the diesel era in its own right. All previous entries have focused on what it did to steam and the people who specialized in that technology. This article--broken into two parts as it ended up being significantly longer than a normal post--will examine the history of early diesel locomotives, and then go on to look at the challenges in preserving the remaining members of the early classes produced for use on American railroads.