20 June 2017
Virginia City Nevada USA - High in the red rocks of western Nevada, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad runs a 100-year-old steam locomotive that carries weekend passengers on a round trip between Carson City (OKthePK Joint Bar Editor: actually a few miles outside Carson City) and Virginia City, the historic Old West town once famous for its rich gold and silver mines.
The 90 minute train ride is a sensory experience.
The chugging of the engine mixes with the subtle smell of steam power and the sight of rust-colored terrain dotted with desert plants.
The route twists and turns through two tunnels, and as the locomotive powers up the hills, the valley below comes into full view.
Passengers can step to the front or back of the train for a glimpse of the sprawling, mountainous, landscape.
A keen eye can usually spot a herd of wild horses, brown and beautiful, grazing peacefully on tall grasses.
The railroad experience is completed by a costumed conductor and rail hand, they narrate the train ride with historical facts and anecdotes.
It's easy for passengers to conjure up images of the Old West.
The Gold Rush led people to the mines of Nevada, creating a necessity for a rail system to transport people and goods from Virginia City to Reno, Lake Tahoe, and elsewhere.
Today, the 24 miles of track are located partially along this original line.
Once in Virginia City, choose from a long list of attractions.
Get some grub at a steak house or saloon (Bucket of Blood has been open since 1876), take a bus tour and learn all about the town's history, or hit up the many small shops for jewelry or rare stones.
Enjoy the quirky odds and ends, The Suicide Table, for example, now sits on exhibit in the dimly lit Delta Saloon, it was once an infamously unlucky surface for gambling.
The Historic Fourth Ward School Museum & Archives is a kid-friendly spot that was built as a schoolhouse for more than 1,000 students.
Children can sit in the old desks and imagine dipping quills into inkwells to practice penmanship.
Families can mosey through the museum's many exhibits and see artifacts from the mining days.
Round out the afternoon with a tour of the mines or a trip to Mackay Mansion, once owned by strike-it-rich silver miner John Mackay.
The visitor center in town can help you plan your day.
As the day comes to a close, board the train once again for the trip back down to Carson City.
Ride once more past Gold Hill, another mining town smaller than Virginia City.
Take a last look at the natural beauty of Nevada and reflect on your day.
If you're not ready to leave Virginia City, stick around and things might get really interesting, a few hotels are rumored to be haunted.
Train ticket prices range from US$32 to US$82.
Learn more about the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in this article.
21 June 2017
Linlithgow Scotland United Kingdom - The opportunity to step back in time and travel by steam train on Scotland's newest scenic rail route, as well as cross the Forth Rail Bridge, is back on the timetable this summer.
Hundreds of passengers will have the opportunity to travel on a train hauled by a Black Five steam locomotive when it travels for the first time every Sunday in August on the route that takes in two of Scotland's Great Scenic Rail Routes.
The Black Five locomotive was designed by Sir William Stanier for the London Midland & Scottish Railway and a total of 842 were built between 1934 and 1951.
The steam experience is being operated by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, a charity which owns and maintains the former British Rail coaches.
It is the first time that passengers can board a steam train in West Lothian and Fife to cross the Forth Rail Bridge and travel over the new Borders Railway.
The journey begins in Linlithgow before travelling over the Forth Rail Bridge and round the Fife coast before heading south on the Borders Railway to Tweedbank every Sunday in August.
Visit Scotland says that the return of steam experiences will help shine a spotlight once again on the Borders Railway as it approaches two years since it was officially opened by HM Queen in September 2015 and highlight the quality of the country's tourism.
Passengers from Linlithgow will be able to enjoy the unforgettable experience of crossing by steam the Forth Rail Bridge, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, before taking in the spectacular views from Kinghorn, Burntisland, and Aberdour along the Fife coast.
After crossing the bridge once again, the train steams through Princes Street Gardens before arriving at Edinburgh Waverley and continuing along the 31-mile route of the Borders Railway, stopping at Galashiels and Tweedbank.
Passengers will be able to enjoy more than two hours in the Borders before the return journey and are being encouraged to visit some of the nearby towns and visitor attractions on offer in the region.
Trips are being arranged to Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott, as well as to the historic towns of Melrose and Galashiels.
The Scottish Borders is celebrated for its outstanding natural larder with a variety of food and drink establishments on offer in the local towns, as well as at Seasons restaurant over the River Tweed in Gattonside.
The hop-on, hop-off, City Sightseeing Scottish Borders open top bus will also be operating tours of the Borders for train passengers.
Visit Scotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead said, "We are absolutely delighted that steam railway experiences are returning to the Scottish Borders, Lothians and Fife once again this summer. As well as providing another unique opportunity to showcase the recently opened Borders Railway, passengers on board the train will be able to enjoy the picturesque beauty of the Fife coast and the breath-taking experience of crossing the Forth Rail Bridge by steam engine. It also presents a unique opportunity to travel from the heart of Edinburgh city centre where Sir Walter Scott is celebrated right through the rich heritage and beautiful and inspiring landscape of the Scottish Borders to the home of the famous author at Abbotsford House. The Borders Railway has had a massive impact on the local economy since it was re-opened less than two years ago and opportunities like this continue to shine the global spotlight on the quality of tourism offering in this country."
SRPS Railtours commercial director Roger Haynes said, "SRPS Rail Tours are organized and staffed by unpaid volunteers with proceeds from the rail tours used to restore rolling stock and locomotives of historical value. We would urge passengers across the country and further afield to take part in this rail tour to discover the truly magical experience that awaits them and the spectacular scenery to be enjoyed."
Rob Dickson, Scottish Borders Council's Corporate Transformation and Services Director, said, "This is the third year of the steam train experience, and the most exciting yet. The offering this year will provide a day to remember for all on board, crossing the Forth Rail Bridge before travelling along the Borders Railway to spend the afternoon in our wonderful area with plenty to see and do, and quality local food and drink available. I am delighted the Scottish Rail Preservation Society is hosting the steam train days out this year, and with support from the Borders Railway Blueprint group partners, I am sure passengers will enjoy a fantastic occasion. It is clear that the Borders Railway is now becoming one of the great scenic rail journeys to experience."
The Forth Bridge and Borders Steam Special Experience will depart from Linlithgow every Sunday in August, picking up passengers at Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Dalgety Bay, and Edinburgh Waverley.
The return will be diesel-hauled from Tweedbank to Newcraighall, where the train will be turned on Niddrie triangle so that it can be steam-hauled for the remainder of the return journey.
21 June 2017
Miami Florida USA - When the Brightline opens in Florida late this summer, it will be the first passenger-rail train of its kind built in the U.S. in a century.
What's so special about it?
Where the money comes from.
The high-speed intercity line is privately funded, built, and operated.
None of the $1.3 billion cost of the first phase of the operation, laying track, building bridges, stations, and complete trains, is coming out of taxpayers' pockets.
The only government involvement is that the project has permission to sell tax-exempt bonds to fund part of the project through a state agency.
Government planners and companies are watching the project closely.
For some, the funding structure could show a way forward for cities, states, and counties looking to ease roadway congestion and help reduce carbon emissions without putting a heavy squeeze on taxpayers.
But there have been obstacles that may make other cities wary of this kind of undertaking.
The project has faced legal challenges, and some activists, claiming the train will disrupt south Florida's quality of life, still have concerns about some parts of the plan.
And not every locale will have access to developers like those behind Brightline, which already owns a network of tracks.
But there is little doubt that how this shakes out could have a profound effect on what happens to rail next.
"Once some organization demonstrates that there is value to be generated by high-speed rail, just like Ford did with the horseless carriage, then others will be bound to follow," says Anthony Perl, a professor of urban studies and political science at Simon Fraser University and a former director of VIA Rail Canada, the Canadian equivalent of Amtrak.
He is sanguine about Brightline's chances.
"I've seen many initiatives come and go, but none have been put forward by an organization that owns the infrastructure, and that puts Brightline in a class by itself," he says.
"As long as there is not some big shock to the global financial markets or another wild card, I'm optimistic."
The groundwork for Brightline, whose formal name is All Aboard Florida, was laid over a century ago by Henry Flagler, a co-founder of Standard Oil.
Mr. Flagler built a network of rails for passenger and freight trains in Florida with his company, Florida East Coast Railway, which has since been split into two firms, Florida East Coast Industries, and Florida East Coast Railway, owned by Fortress Investment Group.
For phase one of the project, Brightline is laying new rail next to existing freight tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach and updating the signal infrastructure along the whole route.
The train is scheduled to start running from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale late this summer, followed by a fall extension to Miami.
A second phase of the project, connecting the line to Orlando, is due to open in 2019.
Ticket prices have yet to be set, but should compete with the cost of driving, says Brightline CEO Dave Howard.
The top speed will be 125 miles an hour, and travel time between cities is likely to be much faster than going by car.
The ride between Miami and Orlando, for instance, will likely be three hours, compared with four to five by car.
Brightline's operators and designers are stressing the differences between their project and other intercity rail lines.
For one thing, the tracks run through city centers, as opposed to the outskirts of town, and Florida East Coast Industries and other developers are putting up buildings around the stations.
The West Palm Beach station, for example, sits between City Place, a retail and entertainment village, and downtown.
Two apartment buildings, one with 315 units, the other with 290, are planned to rise adjacent to the station.
John Renne, director of the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University, sees Brightline as an example of the potential for integrating transit into the fabric of urban centers.
"The typical model we've been following is that the government builds the transit service and development is disconnected to the train stations," says Mr. Renne, who is also managing director of the TOD Group, a private real-estate investment and master-development firm, which didn't work on Brightline.
The Florida project "is integrating development into the station, which drives desirability and ridership."
Assuming Brightline is successful, he adds, "many freight-rail companies will take notice as a way to generate new income from existing assets."
(Grupo Mexico is in talks to purchase Florida East Coast Railway, but Brightline has an agreement in place to operate passenger rail within the existing rail corridor in perpetuity.)
The project's developers are also trying to add amenities to the trains that other lines don't have.
Siemens Rolling Stock, North America, which designed and built the train cars, added wider aisles, a gap-filler so that passengers can roll luggage, strollers, or wheelchairs directly onto the platform, and completely touch less bathrooms, among other things.
Meanwhile, architect David Rockwell, whose firm Rockwell Group has created hotels, playgrounds, nightclubs, and the stage set for Broadway's "Kinky Boots," gave some cars more than the typical two groups of four seats "to allow for more social activity," while a designated retail car will offer healthy food choices when phase two of the project is completed.
Overhead storage is transparent, and there are plenty of racks for bikes.
Mr. Rockwell's proudest achievement, he says, is the tray tables that unfold to triple in size so food and computers don't have to compete for space.
Mr. Renne thinks there is big potential for other freight-line owners to follow the Brightline model "of investing in their corridors to combine freight with passenger service," he says.
"Freight-rail companies could become private transit providers over the next several decades, offering passengers options including high-speed rail, commuter rail, and local urban rail."
Of course, many other experts say most freight companies aren't interested in offering passenger service currently and have had a fraught relationship at times with Amtrak's passenger rail.
And Brightline has faced legal hurdles.
In 2015, a pair of civil lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court by Indian River and Martin counties sought to challenge a decision by the U.S. Transportation Department to allocate as much as US$1.75 billion in non-taxable private-activity bonds to help finance the project, arguing that the project would have an adverse environmental impact.
The judge later dismissed the suits because the Transportation Department withdrew the original US$1.75 billion allocation and Brightline was awarded a new allocation, US$600 million, for a part of the project that didn't affect the two counties.
In a separate case, an administrative law judge denied a petition challenging Brightline's environmental permit for lack of evidence, brought by the Indian River Farms Water Control District, the suit sought to shut down construction, arguing that Brightline's new canal-spanning bridges would increase flooding risk.
And some citizen groups in Martin, Indian River, and St. Lucie counties have made public complaints about the project's safety, noise, and other issues.
Brightline says the project had to go through a multi-year environmental study led by the Federal Railroad Administration, which issued a final statement in August 2015 concluding that there would be no significant environmental impact from the infrastructure and that any potential impact was sufficiently mitigated.
Brightline says it met with stakeholders, including multiple federal, state, and local agencies, as well as homeowners associations, chambers of commerce, and citizens so they could provide input before a shovel was put in the ground.
New tracks, new signals, and positive train control, designed to stop trains automatically in certain conditions, were put in place to enhance safety beyond baseline government regulations.
Brightline is also working with local communities to create quiet zones that are meant to enhance the quality of life for people living near the track.
In West Palm Beach, Mayor Jeri Muoio wasn't initially a fan because the station would block east-west passage of her city's 108,000 residents.
Through some negotiations for a "quiet zone" and design tweaks, Mayor Muoio was won over.
"We're already seeing more businesses coming up from Fort Lauderdale because West Palm Beach has all the culture and opportunities without the hassle of a bigger city," she says.
"I think we'll soon see expansion from south of us as a result. This could be a real economic driver."
21 June 2017
Bulli Australia - It was the Winter Solstice, 21 June, 130-years-ago that the first government trains started to roll on the South Coast Rail Line.
Yes, on the shortest day of the year, the journey which would become the longest haul for many Illawarra rail commuters all began.
Previously, access to the coast was via rough roads or an equally rough sea trip.
Perhaps unfortunately, the steam locomotive named "Bogan", originally slated to haul the first full trip, was too big to fit under a bridge so was replaced for the big day by another named the "Gladstone".
But it wasn't until October the following year that the line was connected all the way from Kiama to Sydney, raising the prospect of another big anniversary next year.
To mark the occasion, the Black Diamond Heritage Centre Museum at Bulli station opened an exhibition on the train line that has since become the lifeline, and the cross to bear, for many Wollongong workers.
The museum's creator Kerrie Ann Christian, herself descended from four generations of railway men, invited people to share photos and stories of their railway experience with the museum.
"It is important that we recognize this part of our local heritage," Ms Christian said.
"The whole of Illawarra had come together from the 1870's to push for a South Coast rail line, rail really opened up the region and changed the area."
20 June 2017
Anaheim California USA - There seems to be less and less "Walt" at Disneyland as the years pass, for some people, the whole park is a tribute to his legacy, and that's not wrong.
But I mean that the things on which Walt Disney had a direct influence, things he helped design, or even attractions that he would have been able to ride during his lifetime, have become fewer and fewer.
For those familiar with the history of park, the Disneyland Railroad feels like a direct link to the man that so many of us admire, I am grateful that the locomotives are not only still there, but seem to be more popular than ever.
For some reason I thought that the trains were mostly run by old-timers back in those days, yet that fellow with the hat looks to be a young'un.
The "Ripley" looks wonderful as always, with gleaming paint and polished brass.
20 June 2017
Buckfastleigh South Devon England United Kingdom - Britain's most powerful steam locomotive is being built in South Devon.
The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust has been established to build a new Gresley class P2 Mikado, number 2007, "Prince of Wales".
Fitted with additional water capacity and the latest railway safety electronics, 2007 will be fully equipped for tomorrow's main line railway.
The Gresley class P2 were the most powerful passenger locomotives to operate in the UK and six class P2s were built in 1934-1936, but the design was never fully developed and they were rebuilt by his successor Edward Thompson into ungainly 4-6-2s in 1943-1944 and scrapped by 1961.
The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust is now building the seventh member of this class over seven years at an estimated cost of £5 million and it is hoped to be built by 2021.
The project will demonstrate how the design can be fully realized through use of modern computer design techniques, enabling the new locomotive to deliver its full potential hauling passenger trains at high speed across today's national network.
The crank axle has now been assembled at South Devon Railway in Buckfastleigh, a critical milestone for the project, as it has eliminated a weakness in the original design that resulted in fracturing of the crank axle.
The assembly of the axle will be followed by final machining prior to fitting of wheels and tyres which will complete the wheelset and it is hoped the have the engine wheeled by before the end of 2017.
May has also seen a record total given to the project by supporters, with almost £90,000 donated and pledged over the past month, but the project needs to raise more than £700,000 per year to keep the mission on schedule.
Mark Allatt, P2 Project Director for the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, added, "The completion of the crank axle for 2007 Prince of Wales and our record breaking £90,000 donated and pledged in a single month mark two significant milestones in the project to build our new Gresley class P2 Mikado. We are delighted with the level of support that the project to build Britain's most powerful steam locomotive has received since construction started only three years ago. Thanks to our supporters' continued generosity, well over £1 million has been spent on construction, over £1.4 million donated, and over £2.4 million pledged. We are confident that we will have completed the rolling chassis for 2007 Prince of Wales in 2017 and remain on-track for completion of the new locomotive in 2021. However, to maintain this rate of progress we need to raise more than £700,000 per year, which given the nature of the regular donation scheme becomes more challenging as each year passes. We would encourage all steam enthusiasts who haven't yet contributed to this exciting project to help us to meet these deadlines by becoming a monthly covenantor or supporting one of our other fund raising initiatives."
23 June 2017
Darlington England United Kingdom - A sculpture which divided opinion when it was installed is now 20-years-old.
Brick Train, designed by Scottish artist David Mach, stands next to the A66 on the outskirts of Darlington, and celebrates the town's railway heritage.
At the time of its unveiling in 1997 some questioned the project, and the cost, with one councillor saying Darlington "needed another model train like it needed a hole in the head".
However, it is now regarded as a "much loved, landmark".
The 23 feet (7 metres) high and 130 feet (29 metres) long structure commemorates the Stockton-Darlington Railway which opened in 1825 and was Britain's first permanent steam locomotive railway.
It consists of 185,000 bricks, and is modelled on locomotive Mallard, which broke the world speed record for steam in 1938.
Most of the £760,000 cost was from Heritage Lottery funding, but Darlington Borough Council, Northern Arts, and supermarket chain Morrisons, which is responsible for the land on which it is set, also contributed.
Stephen Wiper, manager of Creative Darlington, a group which supports local arts, said that as a piece of art, there was a mixed reaction at first, but people now have "the real wow factor", when they see it.
"It's a really good symbol of our railway heritage", he said.
"There's something about a train that's fascinating, and I think that as it's next to the A66 it creates the impression that Darlington is a playful place, an imaginative place, a place that's on the move. It's a real good welcome for visitors, and shows Darlington is a place you can enjoy and find new things. And for locals, it's a much-loved site to visit and place to see."