Freight Car Friday – Freight Cars of Indianapolis

18 07 2014

This week Lionel and the LCCA are racing to Indianapolis for the LCCA’s 2014 Convention. While this city is best known for a different sort of “track” there is plenty of railroad history and contemporary action to entertain any rail fan.

Indianapolis Union Railway

X31 boxcar

Indianapolis was an important stop of the Pennsy’s route from Pittsburgh to St. Louis.

To get a good picture of the total Indianapolis railroad scene you just have to start with one company, the Indianapolis Union Railway. Indianapolis was the first city in the world to host a “Union Station” – that is a station which served more than one company equally. When opened in 1853, the new station offered the citizens of Indianapolis a single, central station from which they could catch a train on a number of different railroads which radiated out of town like the spokes of a wheel. For travelers making connections in Indianapolis, the unified facility meant catching another train was never much more difficult than walking to a different platform instead of arranging transportation across town to another rail head.


The Monon was among the smallest of roads to enter Indianapolis, but it wore its Hoosier State pride proudly.

The IU was organized in 1850 as the Union Track Railway Company with a total of about 3 miles of track built or ceded by three railroads. The name changed to Indianapolis Union in 1853. Over the coming years, more railroads would be added as the efficiency of Union Station spurred commerce in and around the city. By the early 2oth Century, the list of owners included the Pennsylvania, New York Central, Baltimore and Ohio, Nickel Plate, Illinois Central and the Monon.

Conrail PS-2

In 1976, Conrail took over most of the remaining rails in and around the city.

In the 1930s, ownership of the IU was consolidated down to just the Pennsylvania and New York Central, with the other companies paying rent and continuing to run into the station. In 1968 the IU became a wholly owned subsidiary of Penn Central then passed to Conrail and finally to CSX.  The passenger trains of course ran under only the Amtrak banner after 1971.

Today’s Operations

Norfolk Southern

Despite the perceptions of endless farm fields, southern Indiana and Illinois topography offers hills, grades and coal. Between mines and utilities, coal trains remain a common sight in the region.

Today’s freight operations include Norfolk Southern and CSX as well as the regional Indiana Railroad and shortlines Indiana Southern and Louisville and Indiana. The latter three roads all began as Conrail shed duplicate main and branchlines around the city in the 1980s and 1990s. CSX inherited most of the remaining Conrail property in the city in 1999, with Norfolk Southern operating on trackage rights.


CSX is the major player in town today. Covered hoppers are in constant supply, bound for numerous grain elevators in the region.

Avon Yard, on the west side of the city near the airport, serves as the major classification point for traffic heading east-west as well as connections north-south. While much of the traffic still passes right through the heart of the city thanks to the elevated right-of-way built for the station more than a century ago, connecting lines and branches can provide a different look in any direction as you travel around the area. Whether you’re after heavy action on a Class 1 railroad with an urban backdrop or a local freight on bucolic rural branch line, all can be had within a short drive and from safe, public vantage points.

Freight Car Friday – Freight Cars of Detroit

21 02 2014

This week’s Worlds Greatest Hobby show comes into familiar territory for Lionel. For many years Lionel’s main offices and assembly operations were just a few minutes north of Detroit and we still have offices in Sterling Heights today.

While cars may still trump rails for notoriety in the Motor City, Detroit’s auto industry (and others) require an extensive network of railroads. Today the city is served by Conrail (Yes, still Conrail!) and Canadian National with a long heritage of famous fallen flags.


Conrail remains a major operator around Detroit serving the remaining automotive assembly plants and other industries.

When Conrail was split between Norfolk Southern and CSX in 1998, there were areas where there was no easy way to divide the routes and preserve competition. Detroit is one of these three “Shared Assets Areas” where Conrail still exists as a terminal switching railroad owned by NS and CSX. Conrail interchanges traffic with both railroads as well as Canadian National’s Grand Trunk.


The Grand Trunk and its autoracks and other cars are still a household name in Detroit.

Most of the current Conrail route traces its route to the New York Central and its predecessors, the most notable being the Michigan Central and Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. A former Pennsylvania Railroad branch and connecting lines from the Detroit Terminal and Union Belt Railway round out the miles. All of these lines were first consolidated under Penn Central and then became part of Conrail.


The Wabash was one of many historic roads with rails into Detroit. The tracks are part of Norfolk Southern today.

Norfolk Southern had another historic route into Detroit before the Conrail acquisition via the old Wabash.

Most domestic traffic moves south from the city to connections with the major east-west trunk lines at Toledo, Ohio or further west at interchanges in Indiana. Heading north into the peninsula, branch lines serve a variety of other industries and deposits of natural resources.


Prior to the days of big autoracks, boxcars like this were the primary means of moving Detroit’s top export.

The Grand Trunk provides an important outlet for goods moving east to Canada (from Detroit most international traffic moves east, not north.) Today’s Grand Trunk includes parts of the former Detroit, Toledo and Ironton which it absorbed in 1981.

The DT&I itself has an interesting history that very much mirrors the boom and bust periods that typify the rest of Detroit’s past. It was for a time owned by Henry Ford, who’s experiment with electrification in 1923 can still be seen in some remaining catenary supports today. The DT&I was then sold to financial holding companies of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It retained its own identity through PRR control and was even given control of the Ann Arbor railroad for a time. The Penn Central bankruptcy changed things and the DT&I went into the hands of private investors for about a decade before being sold to Canadian National.

The names have all changed, but railroads continue to cross the city like a web serving the auto industry and many others. With multiple carriers sharing limited space, operations can still get very interesting around the many yards, crossings and interchanges and the future of the rails here seems secure.


New Product Spotlight – American Flyer Norfolk Southern Heritage ES44ACs

7 10 2013

We introduced our American Flyer replicas of Norfolk Southern’s now famous Heritage Series of locomotives in 2012. This year we are completing the run with the remainder of the twenty locomotive fleet including a new-to-S Gauge ES44AC!


6-42531 – Reading SD70ACE

Shortly after their introduction, these locomotives were turned loose on Norfolk Southern to perform daily chores just like the rest of the roster. They can show up almost anywhere at any time on any train. Several have even made it well off of Norfolk Southern’s rails, being seen as far away as Washington and California. Despite their “regular roles” the locomotives are still required to be washed monthly and crews will often take the extra time to make sure they are in the lead on a consist whenever possible.


6-42542 Central of Georgia ES44AC

Whether you are a fan of modern era railroading or just like seeing a favorite fallen flag back again, these locomotives have something for everybody. And our American Flyer models are designed to please as well.

Both the SD70ACE and ES44AC models have similar features. Powered and non-powered models of each scheme are available with unique numbers. Powered locomotives include:


6-42552 Norfolk and Western ES44AC

  • LEGACY Control System – able to run on LEGACY, TMCC or Conventional power. The models are also DCC enabled.
  • AF Speed Control with on/off switch for maintaining an even speed through curves and grades
  • LEGACY RailSounds featuring
    • CrewTalk and TowerCom announcements with varying scenarios based on the train’s motion


      6-42546 Interstate ES44AC

    • Eight diesel RPM levels
    • LEGACY Quilling Horn
    • Single hit or continuous mechanical bell
    • Independent volume control
  • Two maintenance-free motors
  • Front and Rear ElectroCouplers
  • Mounting holes and support plate for scale couplers (sold separately)
  • Pivoting Pilot allows for operation on tight curves with better appearance
  • Operating headlight, ditch lights, illuminated number boards and detailed cab interior

    6-42544 Conrail ES44AC

    6-42544 Conrail ES44AC

  • Traction Tires
  • Metal Frame
  • Fan-driven smoke unit
  • Die-cast metal trucks, pilots and fuel tank
  • Separately applied metal details
  • Cab window glass
  • Engineer and conductor figures

Non powered locomotives feature:


6-42548 Lehigh Valley ES44AC

  • Metal Frame
  • Die-cast metal trucks, pilots, fuel tank
  • Front and Rear operating couplers
  • Separately applied metal details

6-42550 Nickel Plate ES44AC

All locomotives will negotiate S-36 curves. All come with American Flyer wheels but can be switched to scale wheels which will be available separately through Lionel Customer Service. ES44AC locomotives retail for $529.99 (powered) and $269.99 (non-powered.) SD70ACEs retail for $479.99 and $239.99.


6-42535 Virginian SD70ACE

In addition to the locomotives, separate sale cylindrical covered hoppers are also available decorated in complementary schemes for each road name. Twenty of these would certainly create a colorful consist! Cars retail for $79.99 each.


6-42558 Norfolk Southern ES44AC

If you are looking for colorful modern power for your American Flyer layout, it doesn’t get any better than this. Keep your eyes open for these Heritage Units coming to the rails and hobby shops near you!


6-42556 Southern ES44AC


6-42537 Wabash SD70ACE


6-42554 Pennsylvania ES44AC


6-42533 Savannah & Atlanta SD70ACE

6-42560 Monongahela ES44AC

6-42560 Monongahela ES44AC

New Product Spotlight – SD40-2 Diesels

1 07 2013

The best-selling locomotive of all time. Anyone who has spent any time beside the rails from the 1970s to today would have no trouble believing the SD40-2’s rightful claim to that title.


6-38918 Chessie System

The SD40 was overshadowed in the trade press by the more powerful SD45 when EMD introduced the locomotives in 1965. But crankshaft problems and high fuel consumption in the midst of rapidly rising oil prices caused many railroads to quickly reconsider the priorities of horsepower over efficiency. Soon the “mid-size” SD40 was gaining ground and finding buyers all across North America.

When EMD introduced it’s upgraded “-2” electrical package in 1972, the SD40 became even more attractive. The 3,000 horsepower road engine was just the right size for nearly every task. Its efficient and reliable operation sealed the deal.


6-38924 B&O

In order to accommodate the new HT-C trucks without compromising the space for the fuel tank, EMD used a longer frame for the SD40-2. The result was a pair of very large “porches” that gave the SD40-2 a distinctive look. When EMD modified the radiator air intakes for the “Tunnel Motor” SD40T-2, most of the back porch was eliminated. We’ve included this variation on our Union Pacific model.


6-38936 Union Pacific (SD40T-2)

In total, EMD sold 3,982 SD40-2s between 1972 and 1989. A testament to the locomotive’s reliability,  most are still in service today. Many railroads have rebuilt their SD40-2 fleets as opposed to selling or trading them. Most of those that have been sold have gone to leasing companies which loan the locomotives back to the railroads when traffic demands are high. Other locomotives like SD45s and SD50s have been rebuilt so that, at least internally, they are identical to the SD40-2.

Found on railroads coast-to-coast (and beyond), Lionel is proud to add five new roadnames to our growing family of SD40-2s. All of the models feature:

  • LEGACY Control – also capable of running on TMCC or Conventional


    6-38933 Conrail

  • Odyssey II Speed Control
  • LEGACY RailSounds including
    • CrewTalk and TowerCom dialog
    • 6 Railroad speeds
    • 8 Diesel RPM levels
    • LEGACY Quilling horn
    • Single hit or continuous mechanical bell
    • Sequence control provides sounds and dialog for an entire trip around your layout
    • Current speed and fuel dialog and refueling sounds
  • ElectroCouplers on front and rear
  • Dual motors with flywheels
  • Refined Transformer Control with lower starting speeds
  • Traction Tires
  • Fan-driven smoke unit with adjustable output
  • Directional lighting including LED headlights
  • Working Marker Lights
  • Illuminated number boards
  • Lighted and detailed cab interior with figures
  • Operating Ditch Lights
  • Metal frame
  • Die-cast metal trucks, fuel tank and pilots
  • O-31 minimum curve

Two LEGACY powered and one non-powered locomotive are available for each roadname allowing you to recreate a typical 3-unit consist. These locomotives also frequently wandered from one railroad to another, so mixing some of your favorites will look perfectly prototypical.

Non-Powered locomotives feature:


6-38939 Norfolk Southern

  • Die-cast metal trucks, pilot and fuel tank
  • Select separately applied details
  • Magnetic couplers

In addition to the five new roadnames pictured here, the SD40-2s are also available decorated for the Norfolk and Western, Missouri Kansas and Texas, Burlington Northern, Frisco, Chicago and Northwestern and CSX. See our 2013 Catalog for more images.

From sea to shining sea, the SD40-2 is the perfect power for anybody who enjoys the trains of the 1970s to today. See your local dealer to add this best-seller to your roster.

Freight Car Friday – Freight Cars of York

19 10 2012

Sure, the city of York, Pennsylvania is filled with thousands of freight cars this week – but not all of them are O and S gauge! Let’s take a look at some of the historic railroads and freight cars that have called York home.

The Pennsylvania

It’s hard to go anywhere in the Commonwealth without seeing the impact of the “Standard Railroad of the World.” York was an important stop at about the midway point between Harrisburg and Baltimore on the historic Northern Central.

X31 boxcar

York was and is a manufacturing town. Boxcars like the Pennsylvania’s X-31 were a common site around the many factories as well as passing through to the many connections.

Construction on the route began in 1854. Work on the southern end of the line was greatly stymied by both finances and politics. The Civil War actually provided an opportunity for the line as it used new political connections to its own advantage. Thanks to Simon Cameron’s appointment to Lincoln’s cabinet and an allegiance with the Pennsylvania, the Northern Central was able to out maneuver the Baltimore and Ohio who had blocked attempts for the “foreign” line’s intrusion in their home city.

While the Northern Central remained a separate railroad on paper for many more years, it was operated as a division of the Pennsy. Its mainline eventually extended all the way to Buffalo and formed a critical north-south route for the Pennsy.

PP&L hoppers

Although not located in York itself, a large PP&L power plant is just a few miles away at Bruner Island. The PP&L’s unit hopper trains, along of course with other hoppers from the PRR and its successors, remain a common sight in the area.

The route between York and Baltimore featured more curves and grades than online customers. But it was the most direct route between Baltimore and Washington and the Pennsy’s east-west mainline. Although most freight was routed via the nearby Columbia and Port Deposit, passenger trains continued to use the Northern Central up until Amtrak’s arrival in 1971. Hurricane Agnes delivered the final crushing blow to through service on the line two years later.

Conrail autorack

Conrail maintained an automobile distribution yard in York for many years. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the cars had to travel via Buffalo and the Northern Central due to the tunnels on the old PRR mainline. The facility closed earlier this decade and has now become a transload facility for lumber products.

Today you can walk most of the route between York and Timmonium on a rail trail. One track remains in place on the Pennsylvania side of the border and there are hopes of returning a steam excursion to the southern end.

Although the eastbound Pennsy branch to Wrightsville and Columbia has also been largely abandoned, northbound from York, the line remains an active freight corridor. Today it is part of Norfolk Southern’s network and is served by a train to and from Enola daily.

Western Maryland

Western Maryland

The Western Maryland’s insulated steel boxcars were a common sight in the region, carrying apples and other farm produce to Baltimore markets. Many were stenciled to be returned to the WM at Hanover – just a few miles west of York.

Often overlooked in the history of York’s railroads is the Western Maryland. The “Wild Mary” reached the city off of a branchline from the southwest.

Although its route to Baltimore was less efficient than the Pennsy, the Western Maryland did represent an alternative for local customers looking for a route to the west. The railroad also brought loads and empties from other points along the winding southern Pennsylvania line from Hagerstown to York for interchange to the Pennsylvania for delivery to points north and east.

Today both this and a nearly parallel Pennsy branch are operated by Genesee Wyoming to serve local customers and interchange with CSX at the western end.

Maryland and Pennsylvania

The smallest of the roads to call York home was the Maryland and Pennsylvania. The quintessential shortline, the Ma and Pa was built up through the late Nineteenth Century from a series of independent small roads, some of them narrow gauge. The winding course from York to Baltimore rolled through the hills of York, Harford and Baltimore Counties to a terminus just blocks from the Pennsy’s Baltimore station.


Although the lettering scheme is far more simple than the Ma & Pa’s “per diem” cars, Yorkrail boxcars can still be seen all across the country, like this one in Centralia, IL.

The Ma and Pa never really represented a competitive threat to the PRR for through passenger or freight traffic however. Traffic generally originated or terminated on line. From points north of the Mason-Dixon, York was the primary interchange.

Although the lines south of the border ended operations in the 1950s, the railroad’s northern end hung on. It became part of Emmons Transportation who built a railcar refurbishing plant on the line. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, rebuilt “MA & PA” boxcars could be seen all across the country. The railroad was finally merged with the company’s Yorkrail line (a former PRR line to Hanover) in 1999. Today the property is part of the Genesee and Wyoming shortline group.

Freight Car Friday – Pennsylvania Railroad N5c “Caboose”

12 10 2012

While cabooses don’t usually fall into the category of freight cars, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s distinctive N5c class is one of the most iconic Lionel prototypes of all time. Though Pennsy folks will be sure to tell you, it’s not a caboose – it’s a cabin car.

PRR N5C caboose

The Pennsy’s N5c, with its porthole windows, has been a Lionel classic for more than 60 years.

When the railroad found itself in need of more cabin cars to meet the increased traffic demands during World War II, restrictions caused by that same war had a profound visual effect on the design. Prior to the war, the railroad had built hundreds of class N5, N5a and N5b cabin cars. The N5c was similar in size and interior configuration but had two major external differences.

The most obvious and famous of these was the substitution of round porthole windows on the sides and ends of the cars. These were necessitated by wartime production standards and utilized glass from shops already set up to cut windows for naval ships.


The “Shadow Keystone” was one of the more attractive schemes applied by the Pennsy.

The second feature improved comforts for the crew inside. The ends of the cupola on top of the roof were extended diagonally outward and the smoke stack from the coal stove was run through the cupola instead of directly out the roof. This provided extra heat for the crew in the cupola on cold days and also a more streamlined look on the exterior.

The Pennsy built 200 N5c’s before production ended. They certainly weren’t the last or most common class of cabin cars on the railroad, but they were the most unusual. And thanks to Lionel – among the best known caboose designs in the country!

1953 model

This classic Lionel model, made in 1953, shows the Pennsy’s previous paint scheme. It still looks good nearly 60 years later.

While Lionel and other manufacturers have reproduced this car in many scales and many paint schemes, there was plenty of variety on the prototype as well. When built, the cars featured a rather simple paint scheme with a very brownish red paint and basic PENNSYLVANIA lettering. In 1954, the “shadow keystone” and brighter red paint scheme was introduced.

Red turned to orange in the 1960s, then Penn Central green and finally Conrail blue a decade later. But there were other variations as well. Five cars were painted brown by Penn Central and Conrail for dedicated service on Pennsylvania Power and Light unit coal trains. On the Pennsy, some cars were painted with yellow cupolas. These signified that the cars were in “pool service” and could be interchanged between divisions.

Lionel Lines

Lionel Lines seems as at home on this distinctive car as Pennsylvania.

Some, but certainly not all, of the cars were equipped with the Pennsy’s distinctive Trainphone radio antennae. In the 1960s, more modern radios replaced these. Conrail further modified the roofs of all of the cars by removing roofwalks and lowering ladders. Cupola windows were also replaced and many had the distinctive portholes plated over.

The cars largely faded from the rails in the mid-1980s as cabooses overall were eliminated. Among the older cars included in the Conrail caboose roster, the N5c was an early casualty. During these retirements, dozens of the distinctive cars were purchased by museums, short lines, private collectors or communities looking for a landmark to place in a local park. And one certainly has to think that the high percentage of these cars in preservation may have just a little to do with fond memories of them running around beneath the Christmas tree.

Freight Car Friday – Roadrailers

28 09 2012

When is a freight car not a freight car? When it’s a truck. The Roadrailer is a unique intermodal vehicle that is both. These highway trailers / railcars have had a long and interesting story.

Early History


A Norfolk Southern Roadrailer train heads east against a summer sunset in Ohio.

Many think of intermodal and Roadrailer technology as something relatively new. The Chesapeake and Ohio introduced the first Roadrailers on the rear of passenger trains between Detroit and Grand Rapids in 1955. The short, 29′ vans were coupled to the back of the daily trains and carried mail and other less-than-carload traffic. Compared to today, the operation was as diminutive as the equipment but it paved the way for future developments.

The bi-modal concept went into hibernation for over a decade. In 1981, this very week in fact, a new generation of Roadrailers debuted on the Illinois Central Gulf. Like the earlier cars, the trailers carried their own set of railroad wheels and were connected to each other with drawbars. While this arrangement reduced tare weight on the rails vs. a traditional trailer-on-flatcar, on the highway the added weight was a detriment. The mechanics of the equipment were another potential problem as well.

Unlike the original service, these new trailers operated as their own dedicated train. After the Illinois Central, several additional railroads experimented with the concept and equipment through the 1980s. They could even be seen running behind EMD F units on CSX. Although the concept was gaining ground, the limitations of the equipment prevented most of the railroads from going forward with the experiment.

Technology Takes Hold

Triple Crown

Triple Crown’s fleet of roadrailers proved the advantages of the Wabash National design.

By the end of the decade, the Roadrailer would mature and begin to shed its railroad wheels. Wabash National, the leading builder of trailers in the U.S., purchased the technology in 1991 and redesigned the roadrailer to be much more like a conventional trailer. The noticeable difference between a Roadrailer and a road-only trailer are the extra connection pins and an air line for the train airbrakes.

The trailers are attached to railroad bogies, or trucks, in the terminal. A pneumatic suspension system on the trailer raises the body to accept the bogie. Once attached, the road wheels are then drawn up for clearance. Trains are built from the back to the front, one trailer at a time, with a single bogie supporting both the front of one trailer and the rear of another.


The “Couplermate” adaptor allows an easy connection to the locomotives. It is the only coupler needed for the entire train.

Once the trailers are connected, the air lines must be connected to the bogies which also hold the brake cylinders. An end-of-train device is put on the rear and a special adapter bogie with a standard knuckle coupler at one end is placed under the front of the first trailer.

Because of the tight connections between the trailers, a train of as many as 125 cars has only six inches of coupler slack. With its light weight and tight connections, a Roadrailer handles much more differently than a conventional train. While in some ways this handling is easier and more advantageous, engineers must still be careful as the structure of the trailers is not nearly as robust as a railcar. A sudden stop or start can tear a trailer in half or crush it like a soda can.

The Modern Era


BNSF’s refrigerated Roadrailers now travel on flatcars. Some retain their Roadrailer hardware however.

Thanks to these improvements, Roadrailers saw an explosion of growth in the 1990s. The largest operator then and now is Triple Crown Corporation, owned by Norfolk Southern. Conrail bought a 50% stake in the company in 1993 which returned to NS during the merger in 1999.

There were several more operations springing up across the country. Santa Fe tested five trailers specially adapted for hauling automobiles. Later BNSF ordered a large fleet of refrigerated trailers for service out of the Northwest. Canadian National and trucking companies Schneider National, Clipper and Swift also bought fleets of Roadrailers.


Amtrak’s first group of Roadrailers were only 48′ long and featured sliding side doors. Triple Crown no longer uses the side doors.

Then the technology came full circle as Amtrak purchased new Roadrailers for mail and express shipments. These rode on the rear of passenger trains all across the country.

The golden years were short lived however. Amtrak soon decided that the added delays to passengers more than offset the financial gains from its Roadrailers and other express contracts. All of the other operations except for Triple Crown also fizzled within a few months or years of inception. Many of these Roadrailers were sold to Triple Crown and are still in service. Others can still be spotted riding conventional intermodal trains as trailers.

ex Clipper

Most of the Roadrailers built in the 1990s are serving their final years on Triple Crown trains, like this ex – Clipper trailer.

Triple Crown continues to operate an extensive network across the northeast U.S. serving many automotive suppliers and other industries with the flexible service. In recent months however the company has begun to show a shift to conventional trailers and rumors abound that within a few years it too may cease Roadrailer operations. Just in case, get out there are see them while you can! Who knows if or when the revolution will begin again.