Lionel Tackles E3 – Mission Accomplished

21 06 2013

The Lionel team had a great time at E3 in Los Angeles last week! While many were surprised to see us at a video gaming conference, our booth sure turned a lot of heads, garnered positive interest and in many cases brought back great memories.

Equipped with several Ready to Run sets and our Legacy System (which was powered by an iPad) the booth drew huge crowds from train enthusiasts and gamers alike. Of course, the big buzz came from the introduction of our new Lionel Battle Train iPad app, displayed on two large monitors where attendees had a chance to try out the game and save the world from evil Dr. DeRaille’s enemy RoboCars.

We had the pleasure of talking to several folks at the show, and there was much excitement about Lionel embracing the digital age and making a statement around technology – both through Lionel Battle Train and our iPad-powered Legacy Set. Lionel continued to amaze viewers with the ability to show real train replication, incorporating sophisticated sound and movement engineering while displaying imagination with our new app.

An interesting trend evident during the show was that many of the gaming companies were pushing physical toys to accompany their games. AllThingsD reporter Eric Johnson actually wrote a great piece on this – and even mentions how Lionel is doing just the opposite. That said, we think Battle Train will be an excellent way to bring classic trains back into kids’ hands and develop a new generation of Lionel fans. Stay tuned and get your iPads ready – because we are only a few weeks away from bringing Battle Train to the iOS store!

For more information, go to

Lionel's E3 Booth

Lionel’s E3 Booth


Freight Car Friday – F.R.E.D.

28 12 2012

We need something appropriate for the last Friday of the year. In 2011 we ended with the caboose, so this year let’s take a look at the little box that took its place. FRED (Flashing Rear End Device) may never share the iconic stature of the caboose, but it is still an integral part of freight railroading.


An EOT brings up the rear of a westbound CSX freight train.

Hard to believe, but the FRED has been around for more than forty years! First tested on the Florida East Coast in 1969, the device (also called an EOT or ETD for End of Train Device) caught on nationwide over the next two decades. While the caboose had become something special for all of us, for conductors and brakemen it meant a livelihood.

The loss of the caboose meant many cost savings for the railroad – most of them coming at the expense of labor. This transition saw the size of crews drop from an average of four to two. It was the single biggest threat to railroad jobs since the arrival of the diesel. But savings were badly needed by the railroad industry as a whole in the 1970s and 1980s and the jobs lost with cabooses were just one part of the overall picture as railroads streamlined their infrastructure and cut operating costs in every department.


The caboose is not gone completely. Trains like this local freight often carry a caboose if they need to make a long reverse run. This gives the conductor a safe platform to watch the rails ahead.

For many years, cabooses remained mandatory by state requirements. Virginia and Montana were the last to eliminate the caboose regulations in the United States in 1988 . They lasted a little longer in Canada.

In 1988, a new caboose cost $80,000. A new FRED cost $4,500. The Association of American Railroads estimated that cabooses cost the railroads $400 million / year to operate – that was nearly 25% of the $1.3 billion total profits of the industry in 1986. (Source: The Washington Post, Feb. 25, 1988)

 The Evolution of the EOT

Lionel EOT

Lionel has included working EOTs on some of our cars, like the Tank Train sets.

There is more to these boxes than just a flashing light. The EOT also monitors the pressure in the air line used to activate the brakes on the train. This information is sent to a screen in the cab via a radio signal.

More recently “Smart” EOTs have become available. These not only read and transmit data to the cab, they can also receive a signal from the locomotive to release the air from the end of the train. This provides both a faster and smoother stop and the drop in pressure works toward the middle of the train from both ends, instead of having to travel the entire length of the train. Many also carry a GPS transponder.


FRED does make an interesting subject for a night photograph. Here the EOT of an eastbound freight traces its path as a westbound approaches.

Early EOTs were battery-powered. A solar cell on the device was used to turn the flashing beacon off during daylight hours to conserve battery life. Today’s are powered by a small dynamo which works off of pressure from the air line. These are easy to spot from their distinctive, high-pitched “whirring” sound.

For many of us, a train just isn’t quite the same without a caboose on the end. It is doubtful that FRED will ever take the caboose’s place in our hearts or our popular culture, but it is definitely here to stay. At least until the next thing comes along…

Freight Car Friday – Red White and Blue

6 07 2012

Let’s finish off this patriotic week with a look at some of the most memorable red, white and blue freight cars out there – the “State of Maine Products” boxcars. For more patriotic cars, check out this blog from Memorial Day.

State of Maine Products

State of Maine

The BAR was the biggest owner of these colorful cars, with 450 in service in the 1950s.

When I think red white and blue trains, the first thing that comes to mind are those colorful “State of Maine” insulated boxcars from the Bangor and Aroostook and New Haven. These cars were purchased to haul potatoes between Maine and New York. This seemingly short move was part of an operating pool that required four railroads, the BAR, Maine Central, Boston and Maine and New Haven. In peak season, dedicated pototato trains made the rounds between Maine and market. Out of the potato season, they could be used for other commodities with newsprint being the most preferred and could be seen all around the country. Not only were they insulated, the cars also featured ventilators and charcoal heaters. The BAR placed their first order for 300 cars with Magor in 1950. In 1953 the turned to Pacific Car and Foundry for an additional 150.

Both roads used a common paint scheme, with their own herald in the center white band and of course their own reporting marks. The New Haven cars were an add-on order for 100 cars with PCF and by using the same red, white and blue paint scheme, they saved money! It’s always nice when some of that Yankee thrift and patriotism can be combined!

Recently, shortline Montreal Maine and Atlantic brought back the colorful scheme on some much more modern exterior post boxcars. The cars first appeared in 2005 to commemorate the one year anniversary of the new railroad. While the paint scheme is very remeniscent of the original cars, right down to the MMA’s BAR-styled herald, the cars are not equipped for potatoes and can be seen hauling a variety of products, although paper and newsprint is again common.

Freight Car Friday – Railroad Advertising

11 05 2012

Railroads have long used their freight cars as brands for their “product.” These catchy slogans have in many ways become part of a broader popular culture and connection with these companies. Different than the billboard cars of private owners, railroad branding was about the trains themselves – often passenger trains but premier service of any type has been fair game.

See how many of these famous freight cars you recognize. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list so chime in and tell us your favorites. Model your own “freelanced” railroad?  What’s your company slogan?

Santa Fe mapSanta Fe

The Santa Fe’s route map and named-train boxcars and reefers have to be among the most famous and effective of these advertising tools. One side of the cars featured a line drawing of the Santa Fe’s principle routes and major cities served. This was aimed at passengers and freight agents alike in search of single-line direct service across the Southwest.

On the opposite side of the car, Santa Fe used the blank space on the boxcar to advertise one of its elite passenger trains. With more than half-a-dozen trains listed, there was variety even amidst a string of “identical” cars. The huge graphics stood out in any train to catch the eye of anybody waiting for the train to pass.


The Santa Fe wasn’t the only railroad to use its freight cars to advertise its passenger trains. The Seaboard’s Silver Meteor was the way to travel between the Northeast and Florida. And the hint at a fast and friendly trip to vacation land was just what the worker needed as he looked across the loading dock to the boxcar on the siding.


You didn’t have to be a huge railroad like the Santa Fe to be proud of the region you served. The Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville, better known as the Monon, was always eager to show its Indiana Hoosier pride. Not only were boxcars emblazoned with its “Hoosier Line” slogan, its diesels were later painted in the colors of some of the six colleges and universities served by the regional line. (Red and White for Wabash College and Indiana University, Black and Gold for Depauw and Purdue.)

Western Pacific

Sometimes there was a specific part of the railroad that lent itself to promotion. The Western Pacific’s scenic route through the Feather River Canyon was a major draw on trains like the California Zephyr but the railroad found even more uses for it. From the “Feather River Route” came this creative slogan for careful service that would ensure your load arrived on time and in one piece as it “Rides Like a Feather.”

State of MaineState of Maine

Bridging the line between railroad advertising and product advertising were the famous red, white and blue boxcars and reefers shared by both the Bangor and Aroostook and New Haven railroads. The cars proudly showed that they carried products from the great state of Maine. This scheme was rekindled in more recent years by the Montreal Maine and Atlantic.

The Old ReliableLouisville and Nashville

Nothing to bold or flashy for the L&N, just a simple slogan that says it all. “The Old Reliable” – the railroad you’ve known and come to trust for generations and that you can continue to count on for all your traveling and shipping needs.

We could go on with this list for days. “Southern Serves the South” “We Can Handle It” “Mainline of Mid-America” “The Road of Anthracite” What slogans stick out in your memory? Which ones grace the rails on your layout?