I think trains get a bad rap here in the States. A few bad experiences with Amtrak, or getting caught behind mile long Union Pacific freights probably doesn’t help. There seems to be an unspoken rule amongst car enthusiasts that they can’t get excited over trains, either. So bear with me.
Portland & Western Railroad (PNWR) is one of those ‘Class II’ roads. Its about 500 miles of Oregon-only track that came into existence after the failure of national giant Southern Pacific. But here’s where it gets tech-y. Big roads like UP, Amtrak, and CSX generally employ a national fleet of fairly new diesel locomotives. This makes for a pretty boring fleet with little variety.
But on a smaller railroad, it’s a little more interesting. Think of them as the equivalent to visiting Cuba, where vintage American cars are still common (out of necessity). Small railroads across the nation buy the old, sometimes barely usable, diesels that the big guys leave on the auction block. This results in a wonderful display of mechanical diversity and colors. The PNWR has massive steel giants that first ruled the rails as far back as the early 1950s. Some have been repainted in the new corporate orange-and-black, but a good many retain the colors of their original owners.
These small, local roads are a last grand stand for an entire era of train technology that’s closer to being phased out every year as more and more SD7’s and GP9’s give up the ghost. The locomotives of regional railroads are rolling, roaring testimonies to some of the most powerful and influential business empires that conquered the American landscape (long before car or plane). In their heyday, they were some of the most high-tech behemoths ever to move on dry land. They stop for no one. They demand every car, person, and pet to yield as they travel through towns and cities. The size, power, and sounds of these old trains are certainly something to admire.
[Ed. This article was written by Atomic Toasters reader Conor S. Dempsey and is presented here with minimal editing. The photos are all his. I enjoyed reading it, and I hope you do, too. If you have an idea for an article, or come across some neat-o stuff be sure to drop us a heads up at tips at atomictoasters dot com.]