New Product Spotlight – The City of Miami

3 09 2013

Thanks to Arlo Guthrie, most of us are more familiar with this train’s sister, the City of New Orleans. The train connecting North and South was an icon long before that for travelers. But for the Illinois Central to get Chicago passengers all the way to Miami, they needed the help of some other railroads as well.

The City of Miami

From its inception in 1940, the City of Miami was an interesting train. It was one of three “City” trains on the Illinois Central and received an all-new streamlined consist and diesel locomotive. From Chicago, the train traveled 690 miles south on the Illinois Central to Birmingham. Here the train was handed over to the Central of Georgia. The Central took the train 250 miles to Albany, GA where the train changed hands again – to the Atlantic Coast Line. While in the station at Albany, the train’s timetable moved from Central to Eastern time.

city of miami

From the original streamliner’s color scheme to interior decoration to advertising, the Illinois Central clearly wanted its passengers to feel as though they had already arrived in Florida from the moment they saw the train.

The Atlantic Coast Line carried the passengers for about 190 miles before handing it over one last time to the Florida East Coast in Jacksonville. From here, the FEC took the passengers the final 360 miles to Miami. Despite the frequent railroad changes, passengers were never required to change cars.

At first the train’s Illinois Central consist and locomotives stayed together all the way to Jacksonville where the FEC supplied its own power. The consist remained unchanged. In later years, the CofG also supplied power – painted to match the IC’s brown and orange trains. And still later cars from connecting roads were mixed into the consist to handle demand at the expense of the unified color scheme. Videos of the train in the 1960s show the train often running in excess of a dozen cars, with little head-end traffic to inflate the consist.

Change on the FEC

The Florida East Coast has long been a leader and a harbinger of changes to come on the railroad industry as a whole. In the 1960s this manifested itself as an incredibly long and bitter fight between management and labor. Many of the changes pushed through by management through the hiring of non-union employees eventually came to the rest of the country. This included the end of the caboose and nearly all passenger service. From 1963 until 1971 the train was handed to the Seaboard Air Line from the ACL for the last leg of the trip. At the start-up of Amtrak, the City of Miami route ended.

FEC’s historic trends are interesting to note and one might hope that now they continue to be a crystal ball for the future. Not only is the railroad’s freight service stellar by any standard, it has recently announced plans to begin its own passenger service between Orlando and Miami. This would be the first fully privatized intercity passenger rail initiative in the US in decades – and it is on a fast track to completion in 2015.

Lionel’s Models

Now you can add a splash of Florida sunshine to your layout with the colorful locomotives and cars of the Florida East Coast. Astute followers of the FEC will note that the railroad never owned any E8s or E9s. They did however own E7s and like several other roads replaced the rectangular side windows with portholes giving them an appearance like that of the later models. Also, the Gold Coast Museum has acquired a former Pennsy E8 and given her an absolutely gorgeous and brilliant FEC paint scheme.

So if you’ll allow this train to take you on a bit of a vacation from rivet counting, you’ll find it more than captures the spirit and colors of this famous route.

The new E8s include one powered and one non-powered locomotive. Both engines feature:

  • Fan-driven smoke unit with adjustable output
  • Directional lighting including LED headlights
  • Front ElectroCouplers

    Our Florida East Coast E8’s capture the look of the railroad’s beautiful passenger service at its peak.

  • Working front Marker Lights
  • Illuminated number boards
  • Lighted and detailed cab interior
  • Die-cast metal trucks, fuel tank and pilots
  • High level of separately applied details
  • O-31 minimum curve

Powered locomotives also feature:

  • LEGACY Control – also capable of running on TMCC or Conventional
  • 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
  • Dual motors with flywheels
  • Refined Transformer Control with lower starting speeds
  • Traction Tires
  • Engineer and Fireman figures

Passenger cars feature:

  • Die-cast sprung metal trucks with operating couplers featuring hidden uncoupling tabs
  • Extruded aluminum bodies with flush-fitting windows
  • Operating end vestibules with flexible diaphragms
    passenger cars

    Our passenger cars feature fine details and rugged construction.

  • Separately applied metal roof vents and grab irons
  • Interior lighting with on/off switch
  • Detailed interiors with passenger and crew figures
  • Operating marker and end lights on observation car
  • Lighted drumhead on observation car
  • Metal frame
  • Metal underframe details
  • O-54 minimum curve

The locomotives retail for $929.99 and the passenger car 4-packs for $639.99. See your dealers today to pick up your own set and let it brighten your layout like a ray of Florida sun.

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.

New Product Spotlight – Early Berkshires

9 04 2012

As our recent “Motive Power Madness” popularity contest on Facebook proved, the Lima Berkshire is one amazing machine. Today, the Berk’s legacy is secured by the many examples of the later production locomotives that have been preserved from the C&O, Pere Marquette and of course the Nickel Plate Road. And the locomotive that introduced “Super Power” has also invited a new generation of rail fans through its role in The Polar Express.


Lima No. 1 set records and sold locomotives everywhere she went. The locomotive was sold to the Illinois Central after her tours.

The Lima Super Power concept was a proven mechanical success from the earliest tests of their new 2-8-4 locomotives in the Berkshire Mountains of New England on the New York Central, and Boston and Albany in 1924. By enlarging the firebox, hence the need for a four-wheel trailing truck, the locomotives could generate and maintain greater steam pressure. The 2-8-4 was designed as a replacement for the Mikado (2-8-2). In one test, the prototype locomotive was matched against a Mikado between Selkirk and North Adams. The Berk departed 45 minutes behind with a heavier train – and arrived 10 minutes ahead of its rival. Used in fast freight service, the locomotives were a natural on produce, livestock and mail trains. The extra power gave them what they needed to maintain a tight schedule even over rugged grades. But their design was also compact enough to make them perfect for the tighter clearances of the Northeast.


The first Berk's were more function than form. The Coffin feed water heater did little to improve upon the locomotive's looks.

Despite the famous looks of the later Berks built for the Van Swerigan roads, the first 2-8-4s were a bit less visually balanced. Perhaps the biggest visual change were the feed water heaters on the smokebox fronts. The Coffin feed water heater especially is, frankly, not designed for aesthetics. Still, even if the styling had room for improvement, their service record was impressive from the start.

Lionel’s LEGACY Models

Santa Fe

While we traditionally think of the Berkshire as an eastern locomotive, the largest fleet was owned by the Santa Fe (91 locomotives.)

Lionel’s 2012 release of the Berkshire captures the unique look of these earlier locomotives. In addition to the New England Roads, the early orders for the Illinois Central, and Santa Fe are also represented along with the demonstrator itself, so these locomotives will look right at home on railroads anywhere from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Boston and Albany

No history of the Berkshire would be complete without the Boston and Albany.

The Berkshires are LEGACY equipped, with all of the control, bells and quillable whistles you’ve come to expect. Sounds also include crew dialog including speed and fuel announcements and sequence control to narrate an entire trip. Additionally, they feature both smoke and whistle steam effects, directional headlight and tender back-up light, firebox flicker, lighted number boards and cab interior. These Berks are packed with details including the correct Coffin or Elesco feed water heaters.

The 2-8-4 will negotiate an O-54 curve and retails for $1249.99. Available in the following road names:

Illinois Central

In addition to the original demonstrator, the Illinois Central purchased 50 Berkshires early.

  • 6-11386 Boston and Maine
  • 6-11387 Santa Fe
  • 6-11388 Southern Pacific
  • 6-11389 Boston and Albany
  • 6-11390 Lima Demonstrator
  • 6-11391 Illinois Central
  • 6-11392 Michigan Central

It’s no surprise that most railroads who saw the Berkshire in action quickly ordered some for themselves – we think you’ll want to do the same!