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 Post subject: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 1:32 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
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Location: Inwood, W.Va.
The recent discussion and sad photos of the 6218 (and I had forgotten how handsome this series of CN 4-8-4s was) brought to mind the end of the CN steam program several years after the 6218's retirement, which at that time was with the 6060.

One of the interesting things about the last days of the steam program was that the 6060 was actually running in regular service on a scheduled passenger train. Working from memory and a certain amount of speculation (and thus subject to corrections from people who know better), it's my understanding that this operation (perhaps similar to a "plandampf" event today) was at least operationally profitable at the time, with the steam engine helping to put the train over the top financially. The real end of the steam operation supposedly may have come not from financial, operational, or mechanical issues, but from the formation of VIA and the exit of CN proper from the passenger field. In other words, CN was out of the passenger business and had no need for a steam passenger locomotive, and VIA didn't think a steam locomotive fit their "image" or "mission," and they didn't need it either. (Shades of the Chinese being embarrassed by steam in Mongolia decades later!)

In any event, the reason I'm interested in this is that I attempted to put together such an operation in West Virginia over what was then Chessie trackage. Insurance problems (mid-1980s) and a lack of knowledge (particularly about how to estimate ridership--but I later found my cost estimates were pretty good) kept this from going anywhere, but one of the things I was convinced of at the time was that this was preferable to the typical excursion program, in which a locomotive and train are ferried between various sites, water and coal have to be scrounged at each one, the crew lives in a dormitory car or motel rooms, and the engine lives on a grease gun and last winter's repairs--not to mention the costs of deadhead moves and scrounging that coal and water.

What I had in mind was what could be called the "Class I tourist railroad." Basically, this was to run mainline steam on a scheduled basis on a regular (if seasonal) route. The advantages would come from the basic definition of a railroad as a "transportation factory." This classic definition implies mass production, which on a railroad means some sort of regularly scheduled service; that's what successful railroading normally is, as opposed to the typical excursion program, which conceptually at least, is in some ways closer to the operation of a circus (setting up for a show in a town, then going to another show in another town). "Regularly Scheduled" operation is what Strasburg and White Pass and Durango & Silverton and Cumbres & Toltec and Hawk Mountain all do.

One of the real advantages in such an operation would be having the crews home at night. The engine would normally be home at night, too, and that "home" would be a repair shop that could handle running repairs easier and quicker than a baggage car. The same would apply for the cars she would pull. Water and coal? A regularly scheduled operation could justify facilities for this. Dispatching? This becomes just another scheduled train, not some event to keep a special eye on. The same goes for everybody else on the railroad in question.

The big key in this is location. A longish train ride like this wouldn't be enough of an attraction by itself; you would need some reason for people to ride this train, one or more destinations on the route. You also need to start in or near a traffic source, too.

One example of how this might look would be the New River trains once operated by the C. P. Huntington Chapter of the NRHS (which I think they still run with Amtrak equipment). Extending this run to Clifton Forge, this former C&O route has (or in some cases, had) quite a few special features worth dropping people off for and a number of places to also pick people up. These included a glass works in Milton, several state parks (Hawks Nest, Grandview, and Pipestem--the latter off line but fairly close to Hinton--and most recently Kanawha Falls), and two grand hotels--the Greenbrier, of course, and also the Hot Springs hotel (off line, but still close--and in fact, almost reachable by train with the remnant of the Hot Springs branch, which had been operated for a time by Jack Showalter). Those who are familiar with the area know something about the scenery there. There were (and are) whitewater outfits in the Thurmond area, and I could imagine taking people from Huntington, dropping them off in Thurmond, and picking them up after their raft ride at Hawks Nest for the trip back to Huntington. At that time, Clifton Forge still had a shop with a working turntable, and that combination is still at Huntington. Also, there were still plenty of working water columns on the route then, to service the then-existing steam wrecker cranes and the weed spraying train.

Fantasy? Impractical? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly it would be much more difficult to launch this today with modern management attitudes, insurance problems, the increase in freight traffic and the loss of track capacity. Still, there was that example in Canada that was supposed to have made a bit of money. . .

Was that real? Or was it just a dream?

We now open the floor for comments. . .


Last edited by J3a-614 on Mon Jul 04, 2016 10:56 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 7:00 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:26 am
Posts: 3745
Location: Maine
Glad you brought this up. I have wondered why, years after rehabilitating one of the most beautiful passenger locomotives in North America, CNR simply washed their hands of it. To further speculation, what has CPR learned about steam heritage that CNR has forgotten?
Steam is a huge draw for Class 1's, and while it causes a series of logistics issues regarding fuel, water, and keeping the main clear for revenue trains, should that infra-structure be put in place once more, the kinks and reliability issues worked out, it might become a regular travel destination in those places where big steam was characteristic of the culture and economy. Making it pay for itself is the stretch. Ross Rowland would be the best person to consult about that aspect. Still, if N&W 1218 was returned to service, regularly dragging coal hoppers in the historic stomping grounds, I think it would pull in, not just rail buffs, but thousands of visitors from all walks of life, to see what made the legend. Likewise, CNR's "Bullet Nose Betty" with a string of period cars in green-gold-and black, one regular revenue run across country, might be a money maker.
And "might be" is the gamble.

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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 9:14 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
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Location: Inwood, W.Va.
Thinking about reliability and logistics issues reminds me that we have past and current examples that at least demonstrate that the mechanical quirks and logistics issues are surmountable.

First, we have had main line excursions that have demonstrated (again) the performance that modern steam can have--think of the speed and power and endurance shown of 2101, 614, 611, 1218, 844, 3985, 759, 765, 261, 4449, and others. Think of what was done with older power in main line excursion service, such as 630, 722, and 4501, and others.

Think of what is still done with shortline power; how many miles are run per day by Strasburg's 90, 475, 31, and 89, of the miles put on per year per Mikado on the up-and-down railroads of the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec, of the miles per day and per year on the Grand Canyon when it ran steam on a regular basis. And coal and water and a repair shop are all available on these roads, keeping the engines reliable and the people unstrained (at least a little bit). . .

The tough part is, as noted, finding a place to make this pay--and convincing a host railroad that this is something that could work financially. We have to be honest, some carriers--specifically, some people on said carriers--are not as visionary as we would like, even when we can demonstrate a case.

Alternately--and this is a long shot, partially because some in authority wouldn't understand--there is the possibility of this operation taking place under a public operating authority, such as a commuter service or Amtrak. I doubt that Amtrak would take on CSX for this, but I can imagine an operation at least partially steam hauled that would become a summer second section for the Empire Builder or some other train that sells out in that time; it could be a way to alleviate Amtrak's consistent equipment shortages.

It wouldn't even necessarily have to be steam; it could (in the Empire Builder example) be green and orange F-units on vintage cars, although I would love to see it as 12-wheel Pullmans pulled by green-jacketed steam. . .and for such a long trip, it may require multiple engines, working in relays as before. . .more problems, but could it be doable, and profitable?

Would it be worthwhile?

http://www.greatnorthernempire.net/imag ... yardWA.JPG


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:06 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:26 am
Posts: 3745
Location: Maine
More likely with a set of matched Diesel units, such as F"s A-B-B-A and matching cars, but there are still hurdles such as obtaining cars, making them service reliable, parts, and initiating a service these companies fought to eliminate. Still, the innovation of riding the overnight "Pine Tree Limited" from GCT to Portland, might be the type of thing people would shell out for.
Steam would be great, assuming you are standing line side, but to ride behind? I doubt regular passengers would care. Having big steam haul regular revenue freight would certainly bring economic stimulus into places like West Virginia.
Please cut Amtrak out of the equation, as Federal dollars do not belong in this kind of enterprise.

I'm waiting for our two resident nay-sayers to chime in.

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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 12:09 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
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Richard Glueck wrote:

Steam would be great, assuming you are standing line side, but to ride behind? I doubt regular passengers would care. Having big steam haul regular revenue freight would certainly bring economic stimulus into places like West Virginia.
Please cut Amtrak out of the equation, as Federal dollars do not belong in this kind of enterprise.

I'm waiting for our two resident nay-sayers to chime in.


Dick -

Would regular passengers care if steam was on the front end? Well, they might. In the right circumstances. There has long been a desire to run a passenger service through northern Illinois. From Chicago, through Rockford, Freeport, Galena and ending up in Dubuque, Iowa. The key to this is Galena, Illinois, which draws a large group of visitors to its old time charm. The roads to Galena are two lane in many spots, so a train makes sense. Illinois (despite its current financial problems) has long had a program of supporting passenger service. A steam locomotive on this particular run makes sense. And it should be promoted as such. Put a baggage car with open doors for visitors to catch the sound. A couple of coaches and a diner. A Pacific or Mike-sized engine could easily provide the power. Would it make sense? I don't know. But how about certain days with ADVERTISED steam (at a slight premium), and other days with diesel. See if steam makes a difference in the passenger count. If not, then okay. But it would at least be worth trying.

And cutting Amtrak out of the equation is not necessary. Remember that Amtrak was created to provide passenger service. The power, whether diesel or electric or yes, steam, is besides the point. For if steam can help to make a run more profitable (or lower the deficit), then it should be used. And Amtrak HAS experience with steam; even if only as a helper on steam powered excursions.

So...I too await for the nay-sayers!

Les


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 12:31 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 3:01 pm
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Location: SouthEast Pennsylvania
This seems like something that Ross Rowland would consider.


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 1:03 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 3:37 pm
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Location: Pacific, MO
This sounds like something that should be tabled until the economy improves. All good ideas if you're Bill Gates or Warren Buffet but timing is off.


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 1:08 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 27, 2004 4:02 pm
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A few thoughts. I was sort of thinking along these lines the other day in the post-Train Festival fog of recovery from the awful heat and long days (but not as long and hot as Jason and company had by any means - I don't know how Rich and company stood being on the Berk on Friday, someone told me their car thermometer got up to 103 degrees!). First, you have to define what you are trying to do. Obviously, number one is at minimum not to lose money, and hopefully make a little. Reliability, back-up power, and a friendly host carrier are all necessary. When you look at it that way, the IAIS QJ's stand out as a possible place to start.

I want to be clear that although I have briefly met Mr. Posner, I don't really know him and anything I say about this idea is purely speculation, conjecture, and flight of fancy. My trip to the Train Festival was also the first time I have ever been around the IAIS to any degree. Having said all that, it strikes me that setting up an occasional freight photo charter program with the QJ's has some merit. IAIS is not shy about using them in revenue service, at least occasionally. This could be done without the the participants actually riding a train on the railroad. They would either pay for a package that includes a chaser pass to get into the photo locations, or everyone would ride on buses from one location to the next. Communications between the train and the chase leaders would be conducted either by cell phone, or on a secret, non-AAR radio frequency that randomly changes every so often, so interlopers would not know what was going on. Set it up as either a one day round-trip from say Iowa City to Rock Island and back (morning Eastbound/afternoon Westbound) or a two-day round-trip between either Newton, or Iowa City and Bureau.

Not having the participants on the train saves on liability insurance, and also speeds up the operation and increases the number of runbys per day by saving the backup, detraining, and re-boarding time. The train just has to hold back until the photographers are in position at each location.

Second, it struck me that probably the most attractive excursion of the entire long weekend was the Nebraska Zephyr trip on Sunday. I believe that is true because it was the only train that was not a dog's breakfast of whatever equipment could be found, but a truly pure consist that ran as it historically operated, in territory similar to where it ran. This is by no means a criticism of the way the festival was put on. You can't run an operation in this day and age for tens of thousands of people without massive compromise, and as near as I could tell, it came off with the barest minimum of any problems. Since this is a discussion of the possibility of operating a historically accurate semi-regular excursion operation, I'll stick to train sets that could still be put together today, and the Zephyr set is at the top of the list. I believe that the 75th anniversary of the train set is coming up in a few years, and wouldn't it be great to have a live, passenger hauling run on it's historic route, as close to it's historic schedule as possible for that anniversary.

Finally, since there seems to be a significant number of Milwaukee orange cars around, how about a semi-regular excursion with them as a matched set, find some F-units to match, or use 261 when it's rebuild is finished. I believe that Peter Lerro did, in-fact, run a photo charter like that several years ago, but this would be more of a passenger-centered trip.

Others can probably come up with their own ideas. I'm just trying to stay with what it appears to me might be possible with the least amount of magical thinking and wishing required.


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 3:55 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:26 am
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Location: Maine
Allow me to clarify and reiterate, passenger service behind a matched Diesel loco set could possibly be a revenue maker amongst those who care to live the experience in retro-mode. You would probably get you best response from a carrier by using Diesel power.

A regular freight haul behind N&W's 1218, a drag of 125 coal hoppers for instance, perhaps on a weekly basis, would bring hundreds of people into towns at line side, spending money on food, hostelries, gasoline, etc. Making it a regular operation would allow chasers to plan, allow the state to plan, allow the police to plan, and allow merchants to plan. The carrier get's its freight moved, the railfans, nostalgics, and others, get their experience, and the state gets a shot in the arm. Consider double headed Berks on such a train, say 759 and 765?

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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 4:40 pm 

Joined: Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:20 am
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Richard Glueck wrote:
Allow me to clarify and reiterate, passenger service behind a matched Diesel loco set could possibly be a revenue maker amongst those who care to live the experience in retro-mode. You would probably get you best response from a carrier by using Diesel power.

A regular freight haul behind N&W's 1218, a drag of 125 coal hoppers for instance, perhaps on a weekly basis, would bring hundreds of people into towns at line side, spending money on food, hostelries, gasoline, etc. Making it a regular operation would allow chasers to plan, allow the state to plan, allow the police to plan, and allow merchants to plan. The carrier get's its freight moved, the railfans, nostalgics, and others, get their experience, and the state gets a shot in the arm. Consider double headed Berks on such a train, say 759 and 765?



What about Reading 2102 and 2124?


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 6:37 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:26 am
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Location: Maine
2124 is not going to run soon, if ever again. I thought this had been put to bed. Bring 2100 back and then you might have something. I assume you have the bucks to cover this renovation?

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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 7:44 pm 

Joined: Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:05 am
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Location: Australia
In Australia, a similar thing had occured in Victoria. A wealthy railfan, along with some non-railfan business partners purchased a failing passenger route from the state owned rail passenger service (V/Line Passenger) and began regular diesel operations between the state capital of Melbourne and a large regional city called Warrnambool. That in itself proved profitable and was going along nicely-for a while.
The company decided to add steam to the agenda and acquired 2 R class 4-6-4 Hudsons (there are 7 survivors of 70 built). These were rebuilt with many modern steam ideas used as well as a livery which closely matched their diesel shed-mates. When these locos were used on regular services, they ran out of coaches to put on the train. The route is mostly flat with no major grades so the train length is mostly governed by siding and staion platform lengths. They ran regularly scheduled steam passenger services during major school holiday periods and these proved immensely popular- always sold out.
They ran into problems when the early '50s era EMD passenger diesels began to get cracks in their trucks and their fleet was essentially "grounded". The hire charges for locos combined with cancelled services put the operation in jeopardy and the final straw was the untimely death of the wealthy railfan owner. With little passion from all others involved the operation was auctioned off piecemeal and the services were sold back to the state- NO STEAM.
The only positive is that all steam (there were also several 4-6-0s and a 2-8-0 that were unrestored ex park locos in their stable as well) have survived in preservation, all of their now historic coaches found a home in preservation and all of the older diesels survive, some still in hire fleets and some for preservation.
This rail operation was called the West Coast Railway and the R class locos are numbered R711 and R766 if anyone wants to google them.

Wes

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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 11:45 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
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Location: Inwood, W.Va.
U-25b's story about the road in Australia reminded me of the story of the Settle and Carlisle, as related to me by none other than the late Kenneth Wescott Jones, whom I had the pleasure to meet with briefly when he was visiting a mutual friend in Shepherdstown, W.Va. As I recall the story as related by Mr. Jones, the S&C had been threatened with abandonment for years, and the local population worked very hard to save it. Part of the effort included steam excursions, some of which held down what were regularly scheduled trains. These trains had a tariff that charged a "steam premium" on the days the puffers ran. These proved popular enough to turn the line's finances around; supposedly traffic over time jumped something like sixfold. This and other efforts helped to keep this line open.

I've never been out of the country, but I've seen photos and some videos on the S&C; I can only say it must be one of the most spectacular rail routes in the world, with some of the most fantastic stone bridges around. I'm glad our British brethren were able to keep it alive.


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 11:49 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
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Location: Inwood, W.Va.
U-25b's story also reminds us of how fragile some of our efforts can be. I can only emphasize how important it can be to have estate planning, or something similar for our activities to keep things around after we are not.

Now, I need to get in touch with a lawyer about my own will. . .


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 Post subject: Re: End of Canadian National's Steam Program
PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 3:18 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 10:49 am
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Find someone to loan me 15 million dollars and I'll have a freight traffic heavy, scenic and urban anchor to make a shot at it....


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