Freight Car Friday – Eastern Ohio Rails

16 08 2013

If you’re headed to our Customer Service Open House tomorrow in Canfield, Ohio you may want to save a little time for some real train watching as well. Northeastern Ohio is a still a busy railroad area with plenty of Class 1 railroads as well as several local shortlines providing lots of action and variety. Several promising train watching locations can be found within just a few minutes’ drive from our Ohio facility.

Norfolk Southern


A Norfolk Southern Roadrailer train heads east against a summer sunset in Columbiana – just south of our facility. With the long summer days, you can enjoy the open house and still get in plenty of train watching!

Today’s Norfolk Southern has several historic ties to the region. The closest rails to Canfield are both former Pennsylvania Railroad lines acquired through Conrail. Just a few miles south of town you can catch lots of mainline action on the former PRR mainline to Chicago and St. Louis. You’ll see freight cars of just about every type here. Intermodal trains are quite common, including double stacks and Roadrailers. You’ll also catch unit trains of coal, oil and ethanol, stone, autos and occasionally grain. There is frequent mixed freight action coming and going from Conway Yard, not far away across the Pennsylvania line. Amtrak’s Capitol Limited also uses the line but normally passes here in the dark.


Traffic at Hazelton Yard in Youngstown still shows lots of cars serving steel industries.

Heading east towards Youngstown, you can also catch Norfolk Southern on the Pennsy’s former Youngstown Line. Traffic here is a little lighter but includes a few daily mixed freights, plenty of coal and ore trains along with empties, as well as local runs serving a variety of industries. Although the steel trade is not what it once was, steel products are still make up many of the loads. Gondola, coil cars and flatcars are most common.

For a completely different look, you can travel a few miles in the opposite direction to the large GM assembly plant in Lordstown. Although the plant is served by Norfolk Southern via a small branch line, most of the traffic is delivered to CSX’s nearby mainline. If you’re looking for big boxcars and autoracks, this is the place.



One of the many auto trains on CSX heads races east ahead of threatening skies. The small town of Lowelville offers a pleasant place to catch all the action – along with the NS Youngstown Line.

CSX comes through the area on former B&O and P&LE tracks. Part of their mainline west from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C., you’ll see a great variety of traffic here too. In the Youngstown area, CSX and the NS Youngstown line are often close by. With the help of a scanner you can easily catch trains on both lines all day. The lines cross at Center Street in Youngstown and the junction is easily and safely viewed from a public overpass.

CSX traffic includes lots of coal, coke, auto and intermodal trains in addition to mixed freights and locals. Lines east of Pittsburgh have clearance restrictions which limit double stacks to pairs of the shorter international containers. Scenery on this line also varies from quaint small towns to wooded hills, to the urban backdrop of Youngstown to open farmland. If you want a different view, it can usually be had in just a few minutes’ drive.

Youngstown and Southeastern

Lionel boxcar

Here’s one you just can’t shoot anywhere else!

Looking for something completely different? The Youngstown and Southeastern offers a chance to watch some first-generation Geeps hauling large unit trash trains down a single-track branch line. The line was originally the Youngstown and Southern, eventually part of the P&LE and handed down through a long string of owners after 1991. Today the line’s primary function is to serve the Total Waste Logistics trash incinerator. Trash cars are interchanged with CSX and NS in Youngstown.

When not in use, the line’s locomotives can usually be found next to the old station in North Lima. While you’re there, make sure to see the Lionel Lines and LGB boxcars!

We hope you’ll all be able to make it to our 3rd annual open house. There are lots of other great train (and non-train) activities in the region too, so make a weekend of it!

Freight Car Friday – The Auto Train

30 11 2012

Part passenger train, part freight train, all fun! The Auto Train hauls both passengers and their automobiles between Virginia and Florida and is the longest passenger train in the world. Similar operations can be found across Europe, including through the Chunnel as part of their high-speed rail network.

Auto Train Corporation


Part passenger train and part freight, the Auto Train is huge in equipment and service.

The original Auto Train concept was pioneered by a for-profit company in 1971. The Auto Train Corporation used equipment acquired from a variety of sources to make up its unique train.

This included large dome cars, dining cars, sleepers and coaches from a variety of railroads and of course auto carriers which were among the first enclosed auto carriers built. These came from Canadian National and helped pave the way for future enclosed auto racks to follow.

end doors

Track after track of auto racks await loading at Lorton, VA. In addition to providing an excellent travel experience, the terminals are among the few places you can safely watch loading and switching operations like this.

In typical 1970s railroad style, the train was painted in rather non-traditional railroad colors of white, red and purple from the locomotives to the caboose. The train ran daily over the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac and Seaboard Coast Line between Lorton, Virginia (just south of Washington D.C.) and Sanford, Florida (about 30 minutes north of Orlando.)

Despite high ridership and a loyal customer base, the corporation went into bankruptcy after ten years of operation. Accidents, high operating costs, and unsuccessful expansion attempts were simply too much for the service to carry.


Although the corporation failed, the concept was highly successful and Amtrak resumed the service in 1983, using a combination of original Auto Train equipment and their own refurbished rail cars (Heritage Fleet) and locomotives.

Amtrak modernized the Auto Train with Superliner passenger equipment in the 1990s and 80 new bi-level autoracks built by Johnstown America from December, 2004 to January, 2005.

auto rack

Amtrak’s modern auto racks hold 10 vehicles each and have a clean appearance and integrated body design different from most racks used in freight service.

These replaced the original CN cars as well as some tri-level racks purchased new in 1976. Unlike the auto racks you see commonly in freight trains, these racks are all an integrated construction – not just a rack attached to a flat car. They are completely enclosed with a clean and modern appearance that complements the Superliner cars nicely.

Today the train regularly runs with consists of around fifty cars including sleepers, coaches, diners and lounges and the autocarriers. Each auto car will hold up to ten vehicles and the train will handle up to 330 vehicles and 650 passengers at full capacity. Pulled by two or three P40 locomotives, the train stretches more than 3/4 of a mile in length.


Multiple ramps at each terminal allow quick loading and unloading from both decks of the racks. Once loaded, these smaller groups of cars are gathered together and attached to the rear of the train.

Since traffic is often seasonal with “snow bird” passengers heading south for extended winter stays in Florida, empty cars may be frequently dead-headed to the opposite terminal to maintain a balance. The roster also has enough cars to cover maintenance down-time.


Some racks carry Amtrak’s Auto Train reservation number which pretty much sums it all up, “1-877 SKIP I95”

Trains operate daily in both directions, departing simultaneously at 4:00 in the afternoon from each terminal. The trains arrive at the other end at about 9:30 the following morning. Only one stop is made en-route to refuel and allow a crew change for the engineer and conductor. The train averages 49 mph over the run. While this is certainly not competition for air travel, it is competitive with driving and most passengers find it far more convenient and comfortable!

The route remains the same – though the tracks now all belong to CSX. And the train is traditionally one of the most “profitable” on Amtrak (although the train still runs at a lost, its revenue / operating costs are closer than on most runs.) While additional routes for this service have been explored in the past and may continue to be looked at in the future, for now the only firm commitment is this single market to compete with I-95. And its future looks as bright as the Florida sunshine.

New Product Spotlight – News from York

22 10 2012

We had many new products on display this past week at the National Toy Train Museum and the TCA York meet. So many in fact that we’re going to split this look into two days! Today we’ll share some of the new scale models that were on display, in both O and S.

Scale Autorack Pre-Production Sample


Capturing the huge size of these cars is a challenge!

No other model produced a more audible “OOOOOOHHHH” in Strasburg than the sight of the new scale autorack. You really do have to see these in person to appreciate their size.


From opening doors to excellent rivet details, there’s more to these cars than size.

Not only are they huge, these new models have many fine details as well. From the see-through side panels to opening doors to the interior floors of the car, these new racks look as good up close as they do from a distance.

Perhaps most unbelievable of all is that these will still negotiate an O-54 curve thanks to the innovative coupler arrangement on the bottom of the car.

We’ve announced additional racks as 2-packs in the Volume 2 catalog, and there will be more to come!

Single Centipedes

N de M

Our Centipedes head south of the border!

Although we first showed the VISION Line Centipedes at a previous show, we were able to show one of the just-cataloged LEGACY Centipedes in the N de M and PRR 5-stripe paint schemes this weekend.

These locomotives have a more simplified sound system than their two-unit VISION sisters, but still have all of the other popular features of the model.

BNSF Heritage

The Santa Fe is back on our BNSF Heritage units.

We brought along one of the BNSF heritage units in the Santa Fe scheme. These fanciful engines are a fun combination of history and modern power in the tradition of other “what-if” heritage engines from Lionel.

These are now available at dealers!

X-31 Boxcars


Bold graphics meet unique design on the round-roof boxcar.

We had several decorated samples of the round-roof X-31 boxcars on display, including the single and double-door varieties. These will no doubt be popular with transition-era modelers.

Although created on the Pennsylvania, these cars found homes on many railroads and could be seen hauling automobiles and other large loads all across the country. The high level of detail on these models will make any scale modeler proud.

O cylindrical

The O Gauge cylindrical line continues with more schemes like this gray CN car.

Cylindrical Covered Hoppers

Samples of the popular cylindrical covered hoppers were seen in both O scale with a decorated Canadian National version, and a pre-production sample of the same car for our American Flyer line.

AF Cylindrical

The first preproduction sample of the American Flyer version shows many great details.

The O scale cars feature great detail and colorful graphics and the American Flyer versions will be no different. Although only a first sample, the new American Flyer model shows Lionel’s commitment to raising the bar in S Gauge rolling stock with this new model.

From see-through roof walks to a mounting location for scale knuckle couplers, these cars are designed for the demanding modeler.  Look for these tubular cars to roll out in many paint schemes in the near future.


The Texas Special PA’s showcase amazing graphics on a classic model.

Texas Special PA’s

Bridging the gap between our new and traditional American Flyer lines, the first samples of the ALCo PA in the Texas Special scheme were also on display. These models feature amazing graphics on a classic carbody.

The PA’s are offered as an A-A powered / non-powered set.

American Flyer 2-8-8-2


The new 2-8-8-2 is simply a beautiful model.

Samples of the new 2-8-8-2 in all roadnames were seen at York. The detail on these articulateds is amazing, including many roadname-specific variations.

From big eastern roads like the N&W and PRR to the Santa Fe and Union Pacific out west, these steam locomotives were found all across the country. One look at the finish on these beautiful models and we think the American Flyer versions will be too! The 2-8-8-2 sets a new standard for S Gauge steam.

Undec SD70

This pre-production sample shows the details and potential of the new model.

American Flyer SD70M-2

Also seen were undecorated samples of the new SD70M-2 in the American Flyer line and one painted for Norfolk Southern (the traditional scheme.)

These burly locomotives are quickly becoming a standard on railroads all over North America. The railroad paint scheme options were incredible – even before Norfolk Southern started their heritage program!


Even in the traditional Norfolk Southern scheme, the SD70M is a striking model.

Like the 2-8-8-2 these mod.els are all new and set to raise the bar for S Gauge. Powerful and well detailed, if you’ve been waiting for a reason to get into S, these locomotives are quite the temptation

As you can see, this October was one of the best shows for American Flyer yet. With these two high-quality locomotives now just around the corner, American Flyer fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

That is all just a taste of the new product on display. We’ll continue tomorrow with some of our new traditional products as well as some of the newly announced power options and more.

Freight Car Friday – Auto Carriers

25 11 2011

Railroads have been carrying finished automobiles since the days of the Model T. For nearly forty years, vehicles were carried in boxcars. Because of their large size and relatively light weight, conventional cars were very inefficient. Railroads attempted new boxcar designs, like the Pennsylvania’s X31, to increase capacity and added larger side and even end-doors to make loading and unloading easier.


Although small by today's standards, automobile cars like the X31 boxcar pushed the clearance limits when new.

In the 1960s however, after Trailer-on-Flatcar trains had paved the way for longer cars, railroads began looking at the same flat cars for transporting smaller vehicles. Platforms, or racks, attached to the deck of the flat car allowed vehicles to be stacked two or three high. Bi-level racks are used for trucks and vans, tri-levels for automobiles. The efficiency in loading and handling these cars made them an immediate success on railroads with the clearances to handle them.

SLSF bilevel rack

Two-level racks like this Frisco car (6-26082) are used for trucks, vans and SUV's.

In most cases, railroads purchased the racks and welded them onto flat cars leased from Trailer Train Corporation. Some railroads own the entire car. Autoracks, like intermodal equipment, are operated in pools. Railroads supply cars to the nationwide pool which simplifies billing and optimizes car utilization. The amount of cars supplied to the pool is proportional to the amount used. This means that any autorack can show up in any train, making auto trains a colorful mix of railroads from across the continent.

CN Rack

Autoracks operate in shared pools, so you can see almost any railroad's racks in a train near you.

Beginning in the 1980s, railroads began adding protective side panels to the sides of the cars to prevent damage from vandals throwing rocks. End doors and roofs soon followed. These were all necessary to reduce damage claims caused by man and nature. The addition of car roofs however made them too tall again for many railroads and prompted some to raise clearances. The latest security features have been focused on reducing damage to the loads from spray paint which blows throw the ventilation holes in the panels when the racks are hit with graffiti.

PRR Tri level rack

Three-level racks are used for automobiles. Damage from icicles and vandals prompted railroads to add protective layers to racks in the 1980s.

Other changes to the cars include better coupler cushioning devices to reduce damage from coupling and slack. Articulated racks take the concept a step further and eliminate one coupling by joining two cars on an articulated joint. Even larger cars have also emerged, again filling the templates proven by larger intermodal cars. Cars capable of carrying three tiers of trucks and vans are now on the rails, running on the same routes that can handle double-stack containers.

articulated rack

Articulated autoracks like these can carry more and reduce coupler slack and friction in long trains.

The automotive industry continues to be one of the railroads’ best customers, both in receiving parts and shipping finished loads. Although short-haul delivery is often done by trucks, finished vehicle moves greater than 300 miles still generally move by rail. With production centered just a few assembly plants nationwide, the autorack should have a strong presence on the rails for years to come.