Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Train News: Air-train model under test

Air Cargo Asian Pacific: Air-train model under test
A California, USA group has developed an air-propelled train - currently in model form - that it hopes will change the face of high-speed rail.
Max Schlienger, the owner of Flight Rail Corporation, says its Vectorr model uses vacuum pressure to push magnets through a tube below the train. Because the train also has magnets, it moves as well and at very high speeds due to a lack of friction.

Wheels grip the track at a 45-degree angle to make sure it does not derail. Compared to traditional rail stock that struggles with inclines of more than three degrees, Vectorr is claimed to be able to climb a 10 per cent gradient. Schlienger also said the Vectorr is environmentally sensitive.

"We think these trains could be as green as any trains running," he said, adding that Vectorr would be ideal for inter-city use, such as for shuttles or light freight, and would not need electrical wires connected to it.

Many types of power could be used to power the vacuum tubes, such as electricity, solar or wind, and the power stations could be placed 50 miles apart.

The group now seeks funds to build a full-scale test model of the Vectorr.

The current model is 1/6th scale.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Train op eds: U.S. rail boosters are missing the bus

From Boston Herald (an op ed piece): U.S. rail boosters are missing the bus
Not long ago, I wrote about how the private sector outraces and laps government. While governments dither and dispute, the private sector discovers.

Now across my laptop comes news of another area in which private sector actors have overtaken government. Again an older technology has been improved and adapted to fill a need, while government dithers. The old technology in this case is buses.

While the Obama administration has been desperately seeking to spend $53 billion on so-called high-speed rail lines, private businessmen have developed Chinatown and Megabus lines that provide intercity service that has attracted legions of price-conscious travelers.

Chinatown bus service (they go by several names) started in 1998 to provide a cheap way for Asian immigrants to get from New York to Boston. You lined up at the curb, paid your $20 fare to the driver and settled into a comfortable bus for four hours or so.

Now there’s service to multiple destinations (including gambling casinos) from New York and on the West Coast, too. And competitors have arisen. Megabus routes exist between Maine and Memphis and Minneapolis, notably including many college towns.

The buses have bathrooms, AC power outlets and free wi-fi. They’re not as fast as the much more expensive Acela train, but they tend to run on schedule.

Chinatown and Megabus operators opted for a model that works for travelers for whom money is scarce and time plentiful. Who needs a station? Intercity buses can occupy curb space briefly just as city buses do. Who needs multiple stops? You can make money on people who want to go from one specific location to another.

Needless to say, the cost to the taxpaying public is minimal.

Private bus operators have effectively taken a 100-year-old technology, the bus, and adapted it seamlessly to the 21st century.

Compare high-speed rail. It is tethered to enormous stations that must be built or refurbished and limited to particular routes that, once the rails are laid down, cannot be changed except at prohibitive expense.

And it is enormously costly. In just two years, the estimated cost of the Obama administration’s pet project, California high-speed rail, in the “flatter than Kansas” Central Valley has risen from $7.1 billion to $13.9 billion.

Operating costs almost always end up higher than fares. And fares always turn out to be expensive, comparable to airfare if you book a popular flight the day before your trip.

So high-speed rail is a form of transportation on which government subsidizes business travelers. You don’t see backpackers anymore on the Acela or Amtrak trains from Washington to New York. They’re taking the Chinatown bus or one of its competitors.

Finally, most of the high-speed rail lines the Obama administration is touting are a whole lot slower than France’s TGV or Japan’s bullet train.

So the private sector provides cheap intercity transportation while government struggles to waste $53 billion. Please remind me which is the wave of the future.

Author Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Train News: For the C Train’s Rickety and Rackety Cars, Retirement Will Have to Wait

From New York Times: For the C Train’s Rickety and Rackety Cars, Retirement Will Have to Wait
There is the telltale wheeze, then an ominous rattle. And then the C train, that least loved of New York City subway lines, rumbles sadly into the station, its faded tin-can siding a dreary reminder to passengers of an earlier subterranean era.

The cars on the C line are not only the oldest in the New York subway: They also rank among the oldest city subway trains still in regular operation anywhere in the world. And they are not leaving anytime soon.

Like an employer pushing back a valued worker’s retirement, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has responded to budget problems by extending the lives of the C cars, known by their model number as R32s. The cars will now run through at least 2017, when they will be 53 years old, well past the tenure envisioned upon their gleaming debut during the Johnson administration in 1964.

To be sure, there is Buenos Aires, with its fleet of 100-year-old wooden subway cars still rattling on. (Local preservation groups have held up plans for replacements.) And the London tube has its creaky Metropolitan Line, whose 51-year-old trains are just now being replaced.

But many major metro systems, including those in Boston and Paris, have phased out most of their elderly trains, leaving New York at the forefront of the subway senior citizens club.

In a modern city that prides itself on Bloombergian efficiency, the C is a throwback, said Gene Russianoff, staff lawyer at the Straphangers’ Campaign, the riders’ group. “It is a grim reminder of what the past looked like.”

Some riders relish the retro feel of the R32, its dim taupe interiors, old-fashioned roll signs, and an unusual front window that allows an unobstructed view of the track.

Time, however, has taken a toll. This week, the Straphangers’ Campaign released its rankings of the city’s subway lines, and for the third year in a row, the C ranked dead last.

The survey found that C trains break down three times as often as the average subway car, arrive only once every 10 minutes at peak periods, and have the least understandable announcements in the system.

It can be hard to imagine that when the trains were introduced in September 1964, in a ceremony at Grand Central Terminal complete with a 20-piece marching band, the R32s carried the optimistic nickname “Brightliners” and were heralded as the most technologically advanced trains yet seen in the New York City subway.

“The cars, which gleam of steel on the outside, are finished in shades of blue inside,” according to a contemporary report in The New York Times. “Contoured fiberglass seats are arranged along the sides.”

The Brightliners, manufactured by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, were the first subway cars in New York to be made of stainless steel, and they are often cited for their superior durability and craftsmanship, according to James Greller, a subway historian who has written widely on the topic.

In fact, the R32s have outlasted some of their younger brethren. Five other classes of subway cars built between 1964 and 1973 have been retired by the transportation authority, in some cases due to structural defects. One type of train, built around the same time as the R32, can still be found in Queens — as a mounted museum display outside of Borough Hall.

Subway officials had intended to replace the R32s a few years ago with the stylish new R160s, those sleek trains with the digital displays that now ply the E, F, M and other lettered lines. But another type of train, this one from the 1970s, began breaking down and had to be retired first.

New York City Transit will spend about $24 million to refurbish the R32s for their extended careers. (The cars already underwent a major overhaul in the late 1980s.)

A subway spokesman, Jeremy Soffin, said the extension was the most cost-efficient way to provide reliable service at a time when transit financing is scarce. “We’re stretching the dollars we have,” he said, adding that, ideally, the agency could provide every customer with the digital amenities that come standard in the newer fleet.

“The financial situation has forced our hand a little bit,” Mr. Soffin said. “We’re not able to do exactly what we’d like to do.”

Special measures must be taken to keep the R32s in adequate shape. This summer, about half of the cars were switched onto the A line as a way to lessen the demands on overtaxed air-conditioning units. (The C runs entirely underground in stifling conditions, while the A has a long outdoor run in Queens that provides natural cooling.) The cars are expected to return to the C line after Labor Day.

On a Brooklyn-bound R32 on Thursday, stone-faced passengers watched a fly buzz around walls that resembled the color of curdled milk. “It’s loud, it’s bad,” Ron Goldbrenner, 69, said of the C, which he has ridden since he was a child growing up in Washington Heights. In that time, he said, the cars had changed little: “It’s much more the same than different.”

Opinion was not always so negative on the R32s. Mr. Greller, the historian, said that when they made their debut, the shiny Brightliners were warmly welcomed by riders accustomed to ugly, drab subway cars. Stainless steel, at the time, was a well-received novelty.

“People were impressed,” he said, citing the original robin’s-egg blue interior and aquamarine seats. “Rail fans love the R32s. They are very pleased they are not going to replace them.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Model Railroad Club keeps chugging along

From Model Railroad Club keeps chugging along
Three little girls raced around a model railroad layout Friday night at the Historic Train Depot on Seventh Avenue. They were each following a train as it chugged around the tracks, vanishing into tunnels and reappearing in different rooms.

Junior Engineer's Program
Krista Newman traveled two hours from Rock Hill, S.C., to bring her kids to the Apple Valley Model Railroad Club that night. The club offers the Junior Engineer program on the third Friday of every month, and Newman's second-youngest daughter, 9-year-old Dorothy, wanted to come for her birthday.

“We like it up here,” Newman said. “They get to do something they enjoy.”

Dorothy's favorite part? “Everything.”

The program, started about a year and a half ago by Apple Valley member Brian Tucker, helps young model railroad enthusiasts learn about the hobby. The kids participate in an operating session, where they run the model trains on schedules similar to those of real trains.

The kids are able to learn what they want, Tucker explained.

“We leave it up to their imagination,” he added. “Some want to see how many cars their locomotive will pull.”

The model railroad club has about 50 members, along with 16 junior engineers. Club members limit the number of junior engineers to eight to 10 per Friday session to give them a better opportunity to learn.

“I joined Apple Valley about four-and-a-half years ago, and I noticed there were a lot of the same kids coming in,” Tucker said. Some of the kids had their own model railroad layouts, while others were looking for a place to learn.

“A lot of the members are retired,” Tucker said. “There's a lot of talent — each one of them in their own way.”

His daughter, 15-year-old Morgan Tucker, also participated last Friday.

“I've been coming here for a few years, ever since my dad started it,” she said. “I just have a huge interest in trains and all the history that comes with it.”

“The kids, a lot of them, came with a lot of knowledge,” Brian Tucker said. “A lot of them work together.”

He added that it's interesting to watch as the parents get involved with the children. When the program first started, the parents would segregate themselves. Yet by the end of the night, “every one of them was involved with their son or daughter,” Brian Tucker said.

The program is by invitation only. The model railroad display is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. During the Apple Festival, the display will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with a locomotive from Operation Lifesaver that people can explore.

For more information, visit

Monday, August 22, 2011

Two-day Train Expo at Lake Miona Recreation Center draws hundreds of children of all ages

From The Villages Sun: Two-day Train Expo at Lake Miona Recreation Center draws hundreds of children of all ages
By KATIE BACKMAN, DAILY SUN The Villages Daily Sun

THE VILLAGES — Three-year-old Luke Ring sat on his father’s shoulders Sunday afternoon as he pointed to the model trains buzzing around the tracks at Lake Miona Recreation Center.

Luke, his brother, Jack Ring, their father, Michael Ring, along with Michael’s mother, Mary Ring of the Village of Orange Blossom Gardens, wandered throughout the recreation center looking at all the displays and vendor booths.

But the Rings’ visit to the third annual Train Expo wouldn’t be complete without the young boys walking away with some new toys.

Luke opened his train engine, coal car and red caboose at a table in the recreation center’s lobby. Once the train was connected, Luke pulled the train engine around the table while saying “choo-choo.”

“My brother really likes Thomas the Train,”

5-year-old Jack said. “I like seeing all the trains, too.

I think it’s fun.”

The Rings were among the hundreds of people who crowded into the recreation center during the two-day Train Expo.

Al Goldberg, president of The Villages Railroad Historical Society which points on the event, said Saturday brought in 739 people and Sunday’s crowd was steady, too.

The slower economy has effected the model train hobby, but the show in The Villages has had one of the better turnouts in the area, Goldberg said. He said the 34 vendors on hand were pleased with the turnout and all expressed interest in participating in next year’s expo.

He said he was pleased to see many of the residents brought their grandkids, too.

“If kids get hooked on model trains when they’re young it will stick with them for life,” Goldberg said. “They might not be as interested in high school or college, but they will gain it as a hobby later on in life again.”

Michael said everyone in the family likes trains, and especially watching models trains. He said he remembered playing with trains when he was younger, especially around Christmastime, and his sons have those memories, too.

Michael’s said his children mostly associate model trains with Thomas the Train, the fictional steam locomotive character. But for him, he mostly thinks of the Lionel trains of his youth.

Mary wanted to bring her grandsons to the event because she knew they would enjoy seeing the trains.

“I love seeing my grandsons and I’m glad this is here in

The Villages for us to see while they’re here,” Mary said. “We like seeing all the collectibles, but we really look forward to the Christmas train show.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tiny trains, big fun

From Our Tri Lakes Tiny trains, big fun
Members of the Pikes Peak “N” Gineers Model Railroad Club get around just about as much as the trains they model. They go on field trips to train-related attractions, take rides on “real” trains and, about once a month, put on a model railroad show somewhere around the state.

Most recently the club could be seen at the Rocky Mountain Chautauqua Assembly in Palmer Lake.

Their passion, model railroads, come in a variety of sizes. N-scale trains, for instance, have 9 mm between the rails. The club was formed by about 60 N-scale, model-train enthusiasts in 1989 and has recently opened a small facility in Colorado Springs.

Over the years they’ve moved around quite a bit but they’ve kept their Monument mailing address. Members live all over the Front Range from Woodmoor to Fountain and some members live in California, Tennessee and even Germany.

“When we formed the club there wasn’t a Z-scale, which is about half the size of N-scale, but there were a lot of larger scales,” said club charter member and superintendent Mike Peck. “There is the HO-scale, about 18-20 mm between the rails, the O-standard scale and the G-scale, also called Garden Scale — you’d need a lot of outdoor space for that one.”

Club member Lester Coburn said the N-scale locomotives have Digital Command Control chips inside them that control lights and sounds and allow two model trains to run on the same tracks at the same time.

“N-scale is standard around the world,” he added. “If I take my trains to Australia, I can run them there with no modifications.”

The club’s model railroad layout is housed at 32 S. Sierra Madre St. in Colorado Springs, in the old Denver & Rio Grande Western depot. That’s where club members come to work on the models. The train yard module, where all the electronics are located as well as the drawbridge — which opens to let people inside the layout — are owned by the club. The rest of the modules on site are built by club members. Some of these are modeled after actual places, such as the Moffat Tunnel, a 6-mile long tunnel through James Peak that was originally built for the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad.

As might be expected of a charter member, Peck’s association with trains and modeling started early. He was introduced to the hobby by his father as a boy.

“He and his brother used to go down to the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek (District) railroad tracks and measure the cars,” he said. “Then they would come home and build models to scale from scraps.”

One of the first models Peck and his father worked on was a flat car.

“I thought I could finish it in one day but he made me take five,” Peck said. “He wanted me to be meticulous but that took me awhile.”

Most modelers don’t make their own cars because they can be bought ready to run.

“Railroad modeling isn’t just about the trains,” Peck said. “It’s about making everything look as real as possible.”

That’s why the club offers monthly scenery clinics for its members. They learn the tricks behind making realistic trees, rocks, grass and water, for example.

Peck’s wife, Mary, also a club member, specializes in painting backdrops. “We’re all artists in one way or another,” she said.

When the club has a show, the traveling layout comes out of storage.

“If we have a lot of helpers we can set it up in about an hour and a half,” Peck said. “It typically takes about 40 minutes to tear down no matter how many helpers we have because we don’t have to level everything and make sure all the couplings work.”

When they have a two- or three-day show, they get out the layout they received from actor Gary Coleman a few years ago, Peck said.

For more information about the club, including dues information and an events calendar, visit or call 719-550-1780.

San Ramon, CA: Toonerville Trolley and model trains truck out of town

From San Ramon Express: Toonerville Trolley and model trains truck out of town
San Ramon residents have one final week to catch a train before it goes chooglin' into the sunset.

The Toonerville Trolley and Model Trains exhibit at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley will close on Sunday, Aug. 21 to make way for an exhibit on quilting. The exhibit features photos of the Toonerville Trolley, which traveled along Hartz Avenue as part of the Oaland, Antioch and Eastern Railway, as well as 50 feet of model train track.

The model trains belong to members of the San Francisco Bay chapter of European Train Enthusiasts. While the Danville train is not among the models on display, member Steve Imiaek said the group's trains run on a centenary similar to the one Toonerville used.

While the Danville Branch Line lasted only a decade -- the Valley could not support a trolley line once the county road to Walnut Creek was paved in 1920 -- it remains an important part of local history. Don't miss the soap opera tales of a job-ending hold op, open umbrellas inside the train car or a rivalry between the conductor and engineer.

The museum is located at the intersection of Railroad and Prospect avenues and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Western Reserve Model Railroad Museum Is Leaving Mentor

From Mentor Patch: Western Reserve Model Railroad Museum Is Leaving Mentor
The trains are leaving Mentor – the miniature model trains.

After receiving an eviction notice ordered by Mentor Municipal Court for failing to pay more than $120,000 in rent and utilities, the Western Reserve Model Railroad Museum, 7320 Justin Way, has closed and is reportedly moving to Eastlake.

A brief statement on the museum’s website says it officially closed Aug. 9. The court-ordered eviction says the museum must move out by Monday.

The museum has not made any rent or utility payments since June 2010, according to a Lake County Common Pleas civil lawsuit filed last month by the museum’s landlord Ohio Realty Advisors LLC of Richfield Township. Ohio Realty is suing the museum and its curator and board director Rick Montgomery for more than $120,000, plus attorney fees and other costs.

The museum’s financial crisis surfaced last spring when Montgomery made a public plea for donations. In April, he received a letter from the landlord that eviction was inevitable. Montgomery said millions of dollars of expected state and federal grants as well as corporate contributions never materialized.

When interviewed by Mentor Patch in April, Montgomery said he received notifications in early 2010 that the museum would not receive the grants and corporate contributions because of either government policy changes or economic conditions.

“It’s disappointing. Certainly, they had a growing following and it certainly was a unique attraction in the city and in the region,” said Ron Traub, Mentor’s economic development director. “It’s unfortunate that the museum has been impacted by the same difficult economy that has affected nonprofits and for-profits alike. We wish them well in their new home.”

Traub said the city was working with Montgomery to help the museum find another facility in Mentor. Montgomery also was looking at holding bingo and Texas Hold’em events to raise funds for the museum.

“It’s been the interpretation of the police chief that Texas Hold’em is gambling and therefore not permitted in the city,” said Traub.

Montgomery has said the museum attracted about 30,000 visitors a year. According to its website, the Western Reserve Model Railroad Museum, established in 2004, is the largest model railroad museum of its type in the world with 26 model train displays and more than 2,600 feet of track

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Aug 20 and 21: Train Days roll toward Norman library

From News Train Days roll toward Norman library
NORMAN — The Norman Public Library's annual Train Days celebration will be Saturday and Sunday at the library, 225 N Webster Ave.

The South Canadian Model Railroad Club and Oklahoma N-Rail will have model trains running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in the Lowry Room.

The two groups regularly sponsor some of the largest scale-model railroading layouts in the Oklahoma City area. Members will be available to answer questions.

For more information, call 701-2600 or go to

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Model railway set to be smashed up

From KentOnline: Model railway set to be smashed up

by Nick Lillitos

Kent, England: The railway took more than 30 years to build, it carried no passengers and its surrounding scenery was awesome.

But passersby never knew it existed as trains, track and surrounding were all tucked away in a loft in Bearsted.

Now the intricate and complex model railway, measuring 6 metres by 4 metres, is about to be smashed up following the death of its builder, Frederick Ernest Lucas.

Mr Lucas, 87, left no next of kin and his bungalow in Weavering Street, will next Wednesday be handed to an equity release company.

His executor and friend Peter Scobey, said: “All those decades of lovingly building it just shone through. If you saw it you would think it’s out of this world.

“You go up through the loft hatch and you’re totally surrounded by this railway and landscaping of countryside with little houses.

“When the collectors went up last weekend they just couldn’t speak for the first 15 minutes. They had never seen anything like it on that scale and beauty.

“It took Fred over three decades to build.

“Sadly, the loft will be cleared by the owners, and so the only thing that is salvagable is the little railway’s rolling stock, which will go to specialised collectors.”

Mr Lucas lived at the bungalow with his late wife Brenda, who died at 81 in 2004, for some 61 years.

Ill health followed Mr Lucas, which prevented him from climbing the loft ladder to tend his beloved railway and so it remained unused for ten years.

“Fred was devastated by his wife’s death and his health gradually deteriorated,” said Mr Scobey.

“He collapsed inside Tesco’s at Grove Green on Thursday, July 7 and was taken to Maidstone Hospital before passing away in a nursing home two weeks later.

Mr Scobey said: “A few days before his death he made me promise I would do everything in my power to try to save as much of the railway as possible.

“I can’t be present when the rest is broken on Wednesday, I’d be too emotional to witness it.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

Model Railroad Club heads to Springfield

My Suburban life: Model Railroad Club heads to Springfield
Elmhurst, IL —

To build a convincing model railroad layout, you need varied talents — electricians, painters, history buffs and others — all working together. Every detail and contribution leads to another. And if you look closely, as the train passes period-specific cars, drive-in theaters and mid-century America main streets, you see the stories unfold.

On one miniature country road is a figurine of a soldier kissing his girlfriend in front of his Corvette as a greyhound bus drives away. Further along the track, there are downed power lines, and the utility men are out for repairs. The ground around a nearby factory is dark and damp — this is before the Environmental Protection Agency’s founding — and it has been dumping oil right into the soil and letting it run into a creek.

The attention to detail is striking, and now aided by technology, pinhead-sized LED lights allow the club to add headlights on the matchbox-size cars passing through the retro downtowns. A small LCD screen is inserted into the drive-through movie theater kit, connected to a video player hidden under the layout.
There is a make-believe playfulness and tongue-in cheek sense of humor. A model factory is named “Hoffa Concrete,” after the infamous union boss Jimmy Hoffa, supposedly buried under Giant Stadium in New Jersey by mobsters.

But, the focus is still on the locomotives. And with a layout this big, the train can pull nearly 200 cars.

“Running the train,” said Club Board Member Tom Fretch. “That’s the whole point of it.”

The Elmhurst Model Railroad Club has been upgrading, improving and modifying this 600 feet of track, equal to about 10 scale miles — in the current location in the basement of 111 E. First St. for 22 years. The club began in 1969, has met in two previous locations, and now totals some 140 members.

This summer, the club’s website landed them a surprise request from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who asked the club if it would build a layout demonstrating hardwood lumbering in Illinois and how it benefits the state through industry, recreation and environmental care.
The IDNR will present the display at the Illinois State Fair beginning Aug. 12 in Springfield, in the conservation world area.

“We kind of got the idea that kids like trains, and we knew that and it’s all part of trying to get kids outdoors more and understand natural resource management in Illinois,” said IDNR Forest Biologist Tom Gargrave, who commissioned the project. “Kids learn so much about the rainforest, but they never really learn about what they have in their very own backyard.”
The IDNR adds a new display of some sort every few years and cycles out the old ones, he said. He hopes to use this new model for several years.

“We estimate at the state fair we have 2,000 to 5,000 people, per day, coming through (the IDNR tent),” he said. “It’s going to get viewed.”

Gargrave found the Elmhurst club through its website, and called club member Dan Hollis.

“They were very interested and very cooperative,” Gargrave said. “Once I told them what I wanted to do, they were all over it. They’ve been a good group to work with.”

Hollis designed the layout to sit on a 4-by-8-foot plywood base, with removable legs. The smaller objects on the layout — trees, people, cars, timber and deer — will be attached. Several large pieces, like the lumber mill and houses, are removable for transportation. The entire layout will be surrounded by Plexiglass.

“We’ve never turned down a challenge yet around this place, so we went ahead,” Hollis said.

Fretch worked on the detailed lumber mill and other features dotting the display’s green, rolling hills.
It shows nearly every part of the renewable hardwood lumbering process, with the club’s usual attention to detail, from cutting and replanting, debarking and milling, to the houses that are eventually built with the wood, and even the hunters managing the deer population in the re-grown forest.

“(The IDNR) made the point to us that if there wasn’t recreational deer hunters, the deer would overpopulate and starve,” Fretch said. “And then with the lumbering, you can see the tree stumps where they’ve cut down the lumber and here were it grew back. What they do is rotate, and then, over here is where they planted the trees. The lumber industry wants to stay in business. So over time they clear cut a field and they plant more trees than they cut down. So that in 20 years they can come back and cut it again.”

And of course, a train will circle and weave through the display, picking up and dropping off freight cars filled with wood and other materials.

“In order to build this, I had to learn how it actually functions and what it’s for,” Fretch said. “You pick up a whole bunch of other things as you’re building it that you normally wouldn’t think of.”

Model train museum chugs to life in Pottersville

From Post Star: Model train museum chugs to life in Pottersville
CHESTER - For Clarke and Barbara Dunham, it's better late than never.

The anticipated Railroads on Parade model train exhibit and museum officially launched Monday, marking the end of a long journey for the Dunhams and the first of what local officials hope is a renaissance of new railroad-associated business.

"We can actually have a normal life again," Mr. Dunham said during Monday's grand opening ceremony.

The retired Tony Award winning set designer began modeling train layouts when he moved out of the Broadway musical scene as a means to feed his passion for creating detailed representations of reality.

For years, his Railroads on parade exhibit, with models of places like Hell's Gate Bridge and the Adirondack Railroad circa 1955, toured the country and was an annual staple at New York City's Christmas festivities.

But after 20 years, Citigroup pulled its sponsorship in 2008 and left Dunham with thousands of highly-detailed buildings, bridges and trains, and 2,500 feet of track, all collecting dust in his Pottersville garage.

The Dunhams have been working for several years now to open the Pottersville location to display Mr. Dunham's work. They hoped for an early June opening, but were setback when the Warren County Planning Office questioned the total potential occupancy of the building.

Dunham said the two month holdup resulted in an additional $80,000 in unforeseen expenses.

"This is about tomorrow, not yesterday," he said.

Railroads on parade opened its doors two-weeks ago, with half-price admissions cost, even though the entire facility wasn't totally completed.

The families of Paul Rivera and Ronald "Grumpy" Fields, both from Queens, didn't know Monday was the exhibit's official grand opening. Both men said they stumbled on the exhibit while parsing fliers at their hotel.

They were greeted as they entered the building by massive Art Deco-styled wooden cutouts of New York Central Railroad freight trains.

"The detailing is awesome," Rivera said of the various exhibits.

Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe hailed the project as a potentially significant tourist draw for Pottersville.

And other officials hope that Railroads on Parade is one of many new attractions that spring up on the heels of the recent beginning of operation of the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad.

"Something like this is all part of the hop on, hop off experience," said Pam Morin, the First Wilderness Corridor project manager for Warren County's Planning and Community Development Office. "It's all about raising awareness of the communities, which in the past, haven't been featured."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Model train show to make rare Central Va. appearance

From The Daily Progress: Model train show to make rare Central Va. appearance
A love of toy trains often begins with a shriek of joy when a wide-eyed youngster spots one beneath a Christmas tree.

Tracks are quickly snapped together, and within minutes the glistening locomotive is merrily chugging around a little circle. Although these popular playthings are most often associated with youth, for some it becomes a lifelong hobby.

Newcomers and veteran enthusiasts of this pastime that started more than a century ago will be descending on Charlottesville on Saturday for the Virginia Train Collectors’ Summer Train Meet.

More than 70 vendors will be offering items of interest to seasoned collectors, as well as those just getting started. Items will range from rare antiques to modern pieces that feature the latest technology.

“There are two basic types of people who fool with toy trains — operators and collectors,” said Peter F. Primiani, past president of the VTC and organizer of the meet. “We’ll have things for both at this meet.

“Many collectors collect older trains, and we’ll have a great selection of those. There will also be a good variety of starter sets available.

“This will be a great way for young parents to introduce their children to the hobby. There will be a large operating layout on display that will enable everyone to see toy trains in action.”

The elaborate layout is courtesy of the Silver Rail Club of Midlothian. A video of this particular setup can be seen at www.

According to Primiani, the hobby is currently enjoying a second golden age. The first golden age is placed between 1950 and 1955, when model railroading took on a realism that had never been achieved before.

“The hobby is divided into three eras,” Primiani explained. “There’s the period before World War II, post-war from 1945 to 1969 and the modern era from 1970 to the present.

“The second golden age of toy trains started in the early 1990s when a young guy from Maryland started Mike’s Train House. He had been working for Lionel reproducing some of their older items from the 1920s.

“He left Lionel in the early 1990s and started his own company. He has been very successful, and has revitalized the hobby by bringing all these tin-plate trains back into production. He also started making modern-era trains that incorporate all the new technology, like computer chips.”

The VTC was founded in 1976 and hosts five train meets a year. The meets are usually held in Richmond and Norfolk, so Saturday’s event offers a rare opportunity for people in this area to see toy trains and related items that span the entire history of the hobby.

Like many people, Primiani packed up his toy trains and accessories when he moved into adulthood. He happily unpacked them about 20 years ago in order to share them with his own children.

“When I started sharing my old trains with my kids, I got bitten by the bug again,” Primiani said. “Now I’m both a collector and an operator.

“When I got back into the hobby I discovered the beauty of the tin-plate trains that date back to before I was born. My interest switched from the 1950s era, when I was growing up, to the prewar era.

“I now enjoy collecting the tin buildings that were made in the early 1900s and used in train layouts.”

Primiani has a large model railroad layout in his home on which he runs both a passenger train and a freight train. He had a pretty neat layout when he was a kid, as well.

“My father rigged up a piece of plywood in our one-car garage that could be lowered on pulleys,” said Primiani, who grew up outside San Francisco. “When I let the plywood down, it would take up almost the whole garage.

“I would spend hours making elaborate layouts and wiring things up. It was my own little world I was creating.

“I had KW transformers that could run two trains. I remember going over to a person’s house to admire his ZW transformer, which was the most powerful you could get at the time.

“That ZW transformer was a real status symbol back then.”

The Virginia Train Collectors’ Summer Train Meet will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Holiday Inn Monticello on Fifth Street Extended. Admission is $6; free for children 12 and under.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pueblo, CO: Model train buffs rolling to rail fair

From Model train buffs rolling to rail fair
Whether gliding through majestic mountain landscapes or over intricate layouts in basements, these guys love to ride the rails.

The Pueblo Model Railroad Association is a group of enthusiasts who love model railroading as well as the real thing, relishing in the history of a time long passed.

They build their own amazingly intricate layouts, paying flawless attention to every detail of real-life rail lines and the trains that run on them. They gather for operating sessions that mimic real railroad trips. They support tourist railroads and enjoy riding on them, basking in the experience of the very things they recreate in their basements.

"It's similar to playing chess or bridge," Roger Otto said. "It's an intellectual challenge.

"I never had much use for history — until I discovered railroads."

The group's passion led it to establishing the 2011 Colorado Rail Fair, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at the Pueblo Convention Center. PMRA members hope it will be a big draw from throughout the region and promote model railroading and tourist trains for years to come.

"Pueblo has a rich history in railroad," Pueblo West resident John Denny said. "With the fair, we're trying to promote Pueblo as a hub for the tourist trains throughout Southern Colorado."

Several tourist trains will be represented at the fair and the group wants to tout Pueblo as a jumping-off point to railroads such as the Royal Gorge, Georgetown Loop, Cumbres & Toltec, Leadville Colorado & Southern, Durango & Silverton, Rio Grande Scenic, and Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge.

Model railroading will be a big element to the fair as well, with commercial vendors, trains and collectibles for sale and a local swap meet. Scale modules will be on display and operating, and the Pueblo Railroad Museum will offer caboose rides on its train out of the Pueblo Union Depot.

"We want to promote the hobby and the real thing," Denny said. "It's going to be more than just another model railroad swap meet."

With most of the PMRA being senior citizens, members also hope the fair will help infuse interest into an entire new generation of railroad enthusiasts.

"We wanted to do something to get more people involved," PMRA President Bill Shanaman of Sugar City said. "Model railroading relies on a person's imagination. It's very intellectual, very good for a child's imagination and it teaches a child a lot of different things. It's all in the way a person perceives it."

Gerald Long founded the PMRA in 1984. His son, Greg Long, serves as the club's secretary and Lance Hill is one of the few original members still actively involved.

Prospective members usually become involved by word of mouth or frequenting hobby shops or trade shows. The club currently has 17 members and three honorary members, and meets one Friday per month at one of the members' homes.

Members construct their own layouts and usually dedicate to a specific scale and railroad, such as the Colorado, Rio Grande or Santa Fe. Layouts usually recreate real-life lines, complete with the surrounding landscape in minute detail, that can consume entire basements. Some create their own layouts from scratch.

Everything is created by hand and the attention to detail is amazing, such as every tree or contour in the land being accurate to scale.

These guys are also technically savvy, making sure the trains run just like the real thing.

"If I'm a complete model railroader, I have to be a jack-of-all-trades," Otto said. "I have to know the electrical, carpentry, plumbing, mechanical — everything. There's a big artistic element to it as well.

"The detail is just fascinating with the technology they have now."

Model railroaders usually fall into camps based on scale. HO scale is 1/87th of real-life size and N scale is a miniscule 1/160th, comprising the two most popular scales.

Plenty of good-natured ribbing goes on between the loyalists of the two scales, and joking also abounds about the amount of money model railroaders spend on their hobby as well as what their wives think of their incessant tinkering with tiny trains.

Lines about the wives include, "Mine doesn't want anything to do with modeling, but if we're going to ride one, she's the first in line," and, "My wife actually paints my backdrops."

But there is a serious assessment to what wives and families think of the hobby as well.

"Wives are a really important part of this. They know how we love doing this and they're very supportive," Pueblo West resident Larry Todd said. "This is something that includes the families, particularly the kids and grandkids. They love it."

Denny said that for many years, the club would rent the parlor car on the Cumbres & Toltec and take all of the members' families along. There's a common love for rail travel, the relaxation and the incomparable views.

"There are a lot of different aspects to the hobby," Todd said. ‘‘Rail photography is a real neat aspect of the hobby, ‘chasing trains,’ ’’ Todd said. "It gets in your blood and you've got to go. You end up spending a lot of time in the mountains."

Operating sessions are possibly the biggest part of the club's activities. Almost every weekend, they gather at one member's home and run trains on that layout.

"We replicate what real trains do on a miniature scale," Denny said. "We operate like a real railroad with a full schedule, transfers, originating point, destination, cargo, everything."

Operating has taken on an entirely new scope in light of the advances made in model railroading. Rather than taking weeks to construct trains from kits and then constantly "fiddling" with them to ensure smooth operation, operators can simply take them out of the box straight to the track, often free of mechanical issues.

"The ready-to-run market is progressing each year," Denny said, noting significant advancements in the field made by the Japanese. "During the last 10 years or so, the hobby has seen a renaissance in detail, a rejuvenation because of the technology."

Despite the progression, PMRA members say the hobby is always ongoing. A layout is never truly complete, interests and curiosity are never fully satisfied, which is part of the beauty of model railroading.

"It takes a lifetime. It never ends because there's always something you can do," Shanaman said. "There's nothing like getting your hands on a train, running it and always looking for ways to make it better."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August 6-7: Model trains re-create the Lehigh Valley

The Morning Call: Model trains re-create the Lehigh Valley

Musikfest is about music, but the Lehigh & Keystone Valley Model Railroad Museum puts out the welcome mat to Bethlehem visitors during its annual Musikfest open house 2-5 p.m. Aug. 6-7 and 13-14 at 705 Linden St.

See a re-creation of the paths of the Lehigh Valley and Reading Railroads from New Jersey through the Lehigh Valley to mid-state in

the largest model train layout of its kind in eastern Pennsylvania. The museum has nearly 5,000 square feet of track that includes the historical operations of the railroads of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, Lehigh & Hudson River, Central Jersey and the Reading Railroads circa 1950-1960.

New is a 200 feet extension that includes sections of Pittston, Coxton Yard, Emmaus and Reading. Look for the section depicting Bethlehem Steel in circa 1960-1970.

The Lehigh & Keystone Valley Model Railroad Society hopes to recreate the entire rail system east to west from West Portal, NJ to Harrisburg and north to Sayre, Bradford County and has completed about 75 percent of the system.

Other highlights are the Allentown yard, Bethlehem engine terminal and Easton passenger station, as well as models of Sure-Fit Co. and HAB industries.

Admission is $7; free, under age 12. Info:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Instant Live 8: Lionel model trains collectors convention July 29-30

Dallas Fort Worth Instant Live 8: Lionel model trains collectors convention

GRAPEVINE - Hundreds of the biggest model train collectors in the country were in North Texas this past weekend.

The Lionel Collectors Club of America held its 41st annual convention at the Hyatt Regency DFW.

On Friday, members of the group told WFAA’s Wyatt Goolsby that they would welcome anyone inside to take a look at their displays and the cost is free.

Members explained how they have over 40 model trains to show off. In addition, they mentioned their displays featured mountains, bridges, tunnels, and even a subway system.

While Lionel has been making model trains since 1900, collectors said model trains are still a great hobby for both adults and children.

"I think it goes back to childhood, actually," explained Al Kolis, President and CEO of the Lionel Collectors Club of America. "I think it lowers your blood pressure. When you were a kid, you used to run the trains, and the sights and smell of the smoke, everything like that brings back all those feelings."

"It's just an enjoyable hobby," added Thomas Nuzzo, Lionel Events Manager. "Children, if they are introduced to the hobby, develop skills about basic principles of electricity and model railroads, building kits, and stuff like that."

The model train sets were on display July 29 until 5 p.m. and July 30 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

It was free to the public, and the Hyatt Regency DFW will validate the parking for you.

The Lionel Collectors Club of America collected donations for Children's Medical Center in Dallas

Monday, August 1, 2011

Railway History: All Aboard for New Train Exhibit

From San Ramon Patch: All Aboard for New Train Exhibit
The new exhibit that opened July 26 at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley features local railroad history, told through the story of the 'Toonerville Trolley,' and features model railroads on display through August 21.
Trains have a special kind of draw for people of all ages.

The new exhibit at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, on display through August 21, tells the local story of the railroad line that ran through the San Ramon Valley until 1978, and its impact, through photographs, artifacts, video, and model trains.

Always a popular part of the annual display, the exhibit features model trains on the move.

Currently the larger sized “S gauge” scale model trains are on display through August 6, presented by the Bay Area S Scalers model railroading club.

On August 7, the European Train Enthusiasts will showcase smaller "N gauge" scale trains, until August 21.

The universal appeal of the trains draws in people who don’t typically come to the museum, says Danville resident and volunteer docent, Craig Miller.

Miller has been a docent for the past seven years.

During the exhibit, special guest conductors are on hand to run the trains and share their knowledge with museum visitors.

One of the volunteer engineers, Lee Johnson, of the Bay Area S Scalers, started model railroading when he was nine or ten years old.

Johnson has noticed that the trains seem to hold the attention of the youngest visitors — they usually aren’t eager to leave, he says.

Young children are particularly fascinated by the steam engines, according to Johnson — they like to see the moving parts, particularly the wheels.

Diesels are also popular because children see them more frequently and “can relate to them.”

In fact, the trains one sees in childhood tend to make the most lasting impressions for those who ultimately pick up the model-railroading hobby, he says. “Most people model the trains they knew as children.”

This holds true for Johnson himself, who is most interested in the steam engines and early diesels of the 1940s and 1950s that he saw as a child.

But while the trains capture the interest of young and old alike, Johnson says he and his fellow modelers are concerned about holding the interest of children as they move into their adolescence.

They hope to engage a new generation of enthusiasts to carry on the tradition.

Drew Frank, 7, of San Ramon, might be a candidate.

He says he came to the museum with his family because he “likes trains a lot”— his favorites are the Southern Pacific railroad cars and the steam engines.

Frank says he finds the trains interesting and “likes to learn lots about them.”

The museum is trying to encourage that enthusiasm, by making the local history of the railroad accessible to kids.

In addition to the model railroad display, the exhibit features a Thomas the Train railroad set for kids to play with; a period rail crossing bell that delights children with its loud sound; and local stories to make railroad history come alive.

In particular, this year's exhibit tells the story of the Danville branch of the Oakland Antioch and Eastern Railway, dubbed the ‘Toonerville Trolley,’ after a popular comic of the time.

The Toonerville Trolley was an electric light rail that ran from Saranap (now a part of Walnut Creek), down the middle of Hartz Avenue, and out to the Diablo Country Club from 1914-1924.

To say that the rail-line, and the people that ran it and rode it were somewhat “quirky” is an understatement, and learning their stories is a real treat when you visit the exhibit.

For example, because the rail tracks often became misaligned, passengers regularly had to pitch in and grab picks and shovels from under their seats to help get the car moving again.

And, if you happened to be a Republican, you especially had to pitch in, because William ”Pop” French, known as “The Skipper” of the trolley, was an avid Democrat. He had an ongoing "friendly rivalry" with his Motorman, Frank Flautt, who was an equally as avid Republican.

French reportedly took great pleasure when the railway tracks needed to be repaired calling out, “Republicans, mount the shovels!”, and would sit back puffing on his pipe while Flautt and the passengers made the necessary repairs.

Through such preserved anecdotal stories, artifacts and photographs, as well as the model trains themselves, perhaps a new generation of train enthusiasts will be inspired to continue to ride the rails.

For more information about the exhibit, please call 925-837-3750 or visit

The Museum of the San Ramon Valley is located at 205 Railroad Ave. in Danville.

Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10-2 p.m., Closed Sunday and Monday.

Cost: Free for museum members; $3 for Adults; $1 for Children; $5 for a Family; $2 for Students (with id)

Did you know?:

The depot that houses the museum originally sat 600 feet to the south, and thousands turned out to see it moved to its current location on June 9, 1996.

Trains: CA: Panel finds flaws in high-speed-rail forecasts

From Palo Alto Online: Panel finds flaws in high-speed-rail forecasts
The California agency charged with building America's first high-speed-rail system has been using a flawed forecasting model to predict ridership for the proposed system, a peer-review panel concluded in a report that largely confirms previous criticism from transportation experts and rail watchdogs.

The five-member panel, which consists of professors and transportation experts, found that the ridership model, while "generally well founded and implemented," suffers from a series of major flaws. These include insufficient consideration of socioeconomic factors; a bias in the survey data used as a basis for the model; and a failure to distinguish between short and long trips when calculating the impact of schedule delays.

The highly technical report, which was released in late July and covers the panel's findings and recommendations during its January to March review period, confirms earlier findings from the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies and from the Palo Alto-based watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD). Both groups had criticized the methodology used by the consulting firm Cambridge Systematics and argued that the California High-Speed Rail Authority's estimates of the number of people who would ride the rail system are too flawed to be used for setting policy.

The panel, which reports to rail authority CEO Roelof Van Ark, is chaired by Frank Koppelman, professor emeritus of civil engineering at Northwestern University. It also includes Kay W. Axhausen, a professor at the Institute for Transport Planning and Systems in Zurich, Switzerland; Billy Charlton from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority; Eric Miller, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto; and Kenneth A. Small, a professor emeritus in economics at University of California, Irvine.

The panel calls Cambridge's ridership model "ambitious" and representing a "significant improvement in practice in several respects." But the report also notes that "there are important technical deficiencies in the model and the documentation thereof." It encourages the rail authority to lower its projections.

"The Panel has significant concerns about the model formulation, primarily with respect to specification that should have been addressed during previous work," the report states. "Pending improvements to the model, we recommend that any use of the model include some steps to make the demand forecasts more conservative, especially in forecasts for financial (investment and risk) analysis."

A rail official, meanwhile, said that the report highlighted the complex nature of forecasting.

"Essentially, the report says that this is the most ambitious and most transparent modeling exercise to have occurred in this realm and, when refined, will represent best practices for this kind of forecasting in North America. The panel asserts no bias or improper practices," spokesperson Rachel Wall said in an email.

"What the panel expresses desire for is more documentation and more testing, both of which have been provided to the panel in the time between March and today, and which will be reflected in the forthcoming reports from the panel," she said.

One flaw that the panel identified involved the ridership model's treatment of out-of-vehicle travel time, particularly the time passengers have to wait when trains are delayed. The report states that the assumptions used in the Cambridge model to calculate the "constraint on out-of-vehicle travel time" are valid only for urban trips with small headways (that is, the distance and time between trains). The report cites a study showing the passengers' behavior is much different in the "intercity market." In other words, passengers are much more likely to stomach scheduling delays if they're preparing for long trips out of town as opposed to jaunts from one neighborhood to another.

The report calls the ridership model's use of this constraint "unjustified."

The panel also found "several instances of incomplete or outdated information in the documentation," according to the report. This includes insufficient discussion of such factors as fare levels, highway and airport congestion, train frequency and analysis of how the proposed train system would impact other modes of transportation, including airlines and intercity bus services.

The report is particularly critical of the survey used by Cambridge to get data for the ridership model. The company used a technique called "choice based sampling" which targets and, as a result, over-represents a specific subset of the population (in this case airline and train travelers). The firm conducted surveys in 2005 at airports, rail stations and over the phone. This included on-board surveys on Altamont Commuter Express trains, telephone interviews of Amtrak passengers and surveys of passengers at six California airports.

The report notes that while choice-based sampling is useful for making sure "enough respondents were found to choose each of the major modes," the technique is also "known to bias estimation results unless the estimation procedure is modified to take account of this sampling."

"The method used by CSI, which was believed to be correct at the time of model estimation, has since been shown to be incorrect and a new procedure has been developed which is correct," the report states. "Future estimation work should take advantage of this new knowledge."

The panel released its findings at a time when the rail system continues to weather criticism and financial uncertainty. State Sens. Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal have consistently criticized the rail authority's ridership forecasts and business plans over the past two years. Other critics, including CARRD and a group of Silicon Valley economics and business executives, issued reports criticizing the rail authority's business plan and its assumptions about federal grants and private investments.

Rail authority officials could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.