The Paris-Hong Kong 1988 Orient Express

In 1988 a Japanese television company commissioned a special running of the Orient Express to celebrate their 30th Anniversary.
The trip started with a journey from Zurich to Paris, and then at 9:45am on September 7th the main journey began calling at Aachen, Cologne, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Sabaikalks, Beijing and Hong Kong.
There were many difficulties in trying to make the journey at all, the foremost being dealing with the authorities in all the countries involved to clear the tracks. The difference between European and Russian track gauges had to be planned for as well. Specially made Broad Gauge bogies were made and delivered to the Polish-Soviet border at Brest, where they were exchanged for the long journey through the vastness of Russia.
There already existed at the Polish-Soviet border three bogie changing stations for passenger coaches equipped with jacks to lift the coach bodies. Several coaches could be lifted at any one time. The existing bogies were pulled out by a winch, and the new bogies were pushed in the other side and the body lowered again.
The full Orient Express bogie exchange was completed in just 4 hours, and the train was ready to depart on the Broad Gauge side of Brest Station, the start of the Soviet Rail network.
The Standard Gauge bogies made the journey as well, loaded on wagons and taken to the Chinese border where the whole process was repeated in reverse, China sharing Europe’s 1435mm gauge size.
The Journey had passengers from Japan, USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland, and their sleeper cabins were furnished in luxurious 20th Century furnishings. Never before had it been possible, without switchover, to reach the Pacific Ocean over land via Siberia. The cost of the ticket was $20,000 and the available 60 seats sold out very quickly. Approximately the same amount of staff took care of the passengers.
Included in the price was an exclusive and varied program, including a stylishly presented Rococo evening at the court of Frederick the Great with baroque chamber music at the newly built East Berlin Grand Hotel, and a piano concert at the birthplace of Frederic Chopin near Warsaw, as well as an impressive performance of the first Russian opera Ivan Susanna in the renovated Moscow Bolshoi theater.
A further highlight of the journey was on its arrival in Hong Kong it was presented with a certificate and its addition the the 1988 Guinness Book of Records for the longest train journey.
Supervised by the service crew of the French President, the passengers dined on the cuisine of the country that they were traveling through. The food was the very best and coaches number 4158 and 4149 carried the dignified atmosphere of Pullman dining coaches. A few pre-dinner drinks could be had in coach number 4164, the saloon bar coach. During the day the passengers could watch the ever-changing view go past at approximately 60 miles per hour.
After passing through the endless expanses of Russia there was another sensation – the first foreign private train to cross the Russian-Chinese border since the 1920s. Two days and nearly 1000 miles later they arrived in Beijing, and four days after that the Orient Express reached Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, where the journey ended exactly on time at 2:45pm.
From Hong Kong some of the coaches were shipped to Japan where they were used for more special trips.
The idea for this unique journey came from Albert Glatt, the former president of the Swiss tour operator Intraflug, which was the owner of the train in the early 1980s. His goal on this trip was to connect the diverse cultures between Europe and the Far East while justifying the ‘express’ part of the Orient Express name. As is well known, the original Orient Express only travelled as far east as Istanbul, known as the Gateway to the Orient.
All information comes from the information booklet included with the new Kato Paris-Hong Kong Orient Express set.

Amtrak ACS-64

We just got in the new Amtrak ACS-64 sets from Kato. This is the newest Amtrak locomotive that they just built up the road from us in Sacramento! These new sets just came out from Kato and include the locomotive, three coaches, and a cafe car. The set comes packaged in a seven slot bookcase, so you can add some more cars to your set. There are two different add-on sets for this, one comes with two coaches (set A), and the other comes with a coach and a cafe (set B). Altogether you could put together a very nice passenger train.

The design of the ACS-64 is based on the EuroSprinter and the Vectron platforms, which Siemens sells in Europe and Asia. Significant structural changes to the design were made to comply with American crashworthiness requirements, including the addition of crumple zones and anti-climbing features as well as structural strengthening of the cab, resulting in a heavier locomotive than the previous models. The body is a monocoque structure with integral frames and sidewalls.

The locomotives are able to operate from the 25 kV 60 Hz, 12.5 kV 60 Hz, and 12 kV 25 Hz power supplies used on the Northeast Corridor, and have a maximum power of 6,400 kilowatts (8,600 hp). The locomotives are designed to be capable of accelerating 18 Amfleet cars to maximum speeds as high as 125 mph on the Northeast Corridor in a little over eight minutes, with trains of eight Amfleets taking two and a half minutes to reach the same speed. They have advanced safety systems, including specialized couplers designed to keep trains from rolling over, jackknifing, or derailing during a collision. Additionally, the new locomotives are more energy-efficient than those that they replace, and lack dynamic braking grids in favor of 100% regenerative braking, depending on grid receptiveness. Energy generated from the brake may also be utilized to meet HEP needs, further reducing current draw from the grid.

Each locomotive has two electrical converter units with three IGBT based, water cooled output inverters per converter. Two of the inverters power the traction motors; the third unit supplies head-end and auxiliary power. The HEP/auxiliary inverters are dual-redundant and identical (rated 1,000 kW or 1,300 hp), allowing the locomotive to remain in service should one inverter fail en route. The locomotive bogies are fabricated steel designs, with low-lying traction links and center pivot pin. The traction motors are frame-mounted, with torque transmitted via a hollow shaft drive. Locomotive braking is facilitated by cheek mounted disc brakes on each wheel.

The locomotives are being manufactured at Siemens’ factory in Florin, California, with traction and electrical equipment being manufactured at Siemens facilities in Norcross and Alpharetta, Georgia. Traction inverters are manufactured in Alpharetta, and the traction motors and gear units are manufactured in Norwood, Ohio.Amtrak_ACS-64_601.jpg

Canadian Pacific

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) began in 1870 when British Columbia insisted upon a transport link to the East as a condition of joining the Confederation of Canada. At the same time, manufacturing interests needed access to raw materials and markets in Western Canada. The early history of CP is full of controversy, including the toppling of the Conservative government and forcing an election. This caused a stall in the project, and construction did not begin until a group of Scottish Canadian businessmen formed a syndicate to build a transcontinental railway in 1880, nearly 10 years behind schedule.

The railroad was incorporated in 1881, with George Stephen as its first president. That first year of construction was a complete bust with only 131 miles of track built. The chief engineer and general superintendent were fired and replaced by William Cornelius Van Horne. Van Horne boasted that he would build 500 miles of main line railway in his first year.

Floods delayed the start of the 1882 construction season, but by the end of the year, Van Horne had laid 418 miles of main line and 110 miles of branch line. The Thunder Bay branch was completed in June 1882 by the Department of Railways and canals and turned over to CP in 1883, permitting all-Canadian lake and railway traffic from Eastern Canada to Winnipeg for the first time in Canada’s history. By the end of 1883, the railway had reached the Rocky Mountains.

On November 7, 1885, the eastern and western portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway met at Craigellachie, British Columbia, where Donald A. Smith drove the last spike. The first transcontinental train leaving Montreal and Toronto for Port Moody left on June 28, 1886, and arrived on July 4, 1886. This train consisted of two baggage cars, a mail car, a second class coach, two immigrant sleeps, two first-class coaches, two sleeping cars, and a diner. At around the same time, the western terminus had moved from Port Moody to Granville, which was later renamed Vancouver.

By 1889, the railway extended from coast to coast and the enterprise had expanded to include a wide range of related and unrelated businesses. CP had been involved in land settlement and land sales as early as September 1881. They also erected telegraph lines along the transcontinental line, performed express shipping and built some of their own steam locomotives. CP later built its own passenger cars, making it second to only the Pullman Company in passenger car production.

CP also had steamships on the Great Lakes, chartered ships on the Pacific Ocean, and launched its own Pacific fleet in 1891. They were also involved in tourism and natural gas.

At the same time as they were diversifying, CP was also expanding their rail holdings. CP leased the New Brunswick Railway in 1891 for 991 years, and built the International railway of Maine in 1889. In 1896 the decision was made to chart a second main line across British Columbia due to pressure from Great Northern and BC Rail. One result of these new lines in the West was that CP helped settle Western Canada as they ran an intense campaign to bring immigrants into Canada. Immigrants were sold a package that included passage on a CP ship, travel on a CP train, and land sold by the CP at $2.50 an acre requiring cultivation.

During the first part of the 1900s, CP continued fast paced growth via construction and acquisitions. They built several long bridges and tunnels, extending their lines to places previously inaccessible. The CP also acquired several smaller railways during this time such as the Dominion Atlantic Railway, which gave CP a connection to Halifax for the first time.

During the First World War, CP put its entire resources at the disposal of the British Empire, including trains and tracks, ships, shops, hotels, telegraphs, and staff.

As Canada entered the Great Depression, many railroads were strongly affected. However, because it was debt free at the time, CP was largely unscathed. One highlight of the 1930s was the Royal Tour of Canada, where CP and Canadian National pulled the Royal Trains across the country. Shortly after the Royal Tour, World War II broke out.

As government energy and production geared toward World War II, CP put their entire network at the disposal of the war effort. CP moved 307 million tons of freight, 86 million passengers, including 280,000 military personnel. They sent 22 ships to war, with only 10 returning, and they pioneered the “Atlantic Bridge”, which ferried bombers from Canada to Britain.

After World War II, cars, trucks, and airplanes changed the landscape. Where rail was king, now cars, trucks, busses and airplanes took passenger and freight traffic away from the railways. CP was well situated to deal with this as they already had a hand in air and truck freight business.

In the 1950s, CP was completely dieselized. In the 1960s started to pull out of passenger service, and in 1978, they transferred passenger service to VIA Rail. By 1986, CP was Canada’s second largest company with $15 billion in revenue, including their income from CP Railway, PanCanadian energy, Fordling Coal, CP (Fairmont) Hotels, and CP Ships.

CP continued to grow with CP taking full control of the Soo Line in 1990 giving it access to the US Midwest. Soo had already absorbed Milwaukee Road and the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern, in 1990. In 1991, CP bought Delaware and Hudson, giving it access to ports in the US Northeast.

Currently, CP holds a 14,000 mile network extending from the Port of Vancouver to the Port of Montreal, including the US industrial centers of Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York City, and Buffalo.


Montana Rail Link

The Montana Rail Link (MRL) is a privately held Class II railroad operated out of Missoula, Montana. The MRL is a unit of the Washington Companies and operates on trackage originally built by the Northern Pacific Railway. MRL runs between Huntley, Montana and Spokane, Washington, passing through Missoula, Livingston, Bozeman, Billings, and Helena, and connects with the BNSF on both ends of the line, and also in Garrison, Montana. The railroad has over 900 miles of track, serves 100 stations, and employs 1,000 personnel, making it one of the largest Class II railroads in the country.

MRL got it’s start in 1987 when BNSF agreed to lease its former Northern Pacific main line between Billings, Montana and Sandpoint, Idaho. This new line was to be operated by Dennis Washington, who named it Montana Rail Link. Thus the MRL was born with over 900 miles of track.

Since the MRL line is connected to BNSF at both endpoints, a significant portion of MRL traffic is actually complete BNSF units, where MRL receives the train at one end and passes it back to BNSF at the other end. MRL also operates several local trains to distribute local freight, mainly forest products and grain, along its lines. The Gas Local is another significant MRL train, operating between Missoula and Thompson Falls, to bridge a gap in a long-distance gasoline pipeline.

The MRL is known to be a very well-run railroad, and has become so profitable that they recently completed a purchase of 25 new EMD SD70ACe locomotives. This new purchase added modern power to an already large fleet of EMD locomotives operated by MRL. These new SD70ACe locomotives are intended to replace aging SD40 and SD45 locomotives on trains crossing the Rocky Mountains over the continental divide at Mullan Pass near Helena, Montana, and Bozeman Pass near Bozeman, Montana.

Although the MRL is a very well-run railroad, they are not immune to disaster. On February 2, 1989, one of the most severe accidents in MRL history occurred. 48 decoupled rail cars rolled into Helena hitting a parked work train. The train caught fire and exploded, extensively damaging nearby property. Windows were blasted out up to three miles away from the impact, and most of the city lost power, with residents being forced to evacuate in subzero weather.

The cars were decoupled as engineers opted to switch the lead engine of a train because it lacked a working heater. Unfortunately the rest of the train started to roll and didn’t stop rolling until they hit a parked locomotive in Helena. A tank car carrying isopropyl alcohol caught fire, sparking an explosion in a adjacent tank of hydrogen peroxide. Cleanup was hampered by the cold, as it was minus 28 with a wind chill of minus 75 outside at the time. Both people and machines froze up in the bitter cold, but in the end there were no injuries reported during the disaster. According to one of the volunteers, “In the end, it was more of an adventure than a tragedy.”


Cotton Belt

The Saint Louis Southwestern Railroad (STLSW, or Cotton Belt) began life in 1877 near Tyler, Texas as the Tyler Tap Railroad. The citizens of Tyler longed to be connected to a main line railroad. This hope came to life when Major James P. Douglas returned from war. Major Douglas held a particular interest in the fruit industry in East Texas, and he saw the need for increased infrastructure in the area in order to grow the industry. Major Douglas petitioned the Twelfth Legislature of Texas to pass a special act of incorporation granting to him and others the right to locate, construct, own, operate, and maintain a railroad, with a single or double track, for a distance not exceeding 40 miles from Tyler to connect with some other railroad, to be selected by the directors. This was granted in 1871, and a narrow gauge line of three feet was built and operated with one locomotive.

Unfortunately the tiny railroad ran into financial trouble, and in 1879, Douglas went to a group of investors located in Saint Louis. The group was headed by James W. Paramore, the owner of the St. Louis Cotton Compress Company. Paramore was looking for a way to ship his cotton into Texas. Paramore agreed to terms with Douglas, and in 1879 the Tyler Tap Railroad was reorganized as the Texas & St. Louis Railway. The track from the Tyler Tap Railroad was extended to St. Louis in the north and Texarkana in the south, with the plan to extend to Waco by 1881.

Paramore had visions of extending his new railroad. He received permission to run in Arkansas and Missouri, but he needed help on the Arkansas end of the venture. He recruited Samuel W. Fordyce, who immediately began searching for a suitable route through his home state. Fordyce came up with a route through Texarkana, Camden, Pine Bluff, Clardon, Jonesboro, and Birds Point, Missouri. Construction began in 1881 using rails imported from England, and white oak ties, and was completed in 1883. The Texas & St. Louis Railway was again reorganized as the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway in 1886, and began the change to standard rail on October 18 of that year.

The St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway then began acquiring short lines to expand its track mileage. In 1891, the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway was reorganized as the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (STLSW or Cotton Belt). The Cotton Belt continued absorbing short line railroads through 1918, greatly expanding its presence in the area.

Progress caught up the Cotton Belt as they held an important section of track for the Southern Pacific, connecting parts east of Texas with the Pacific during the 1920s. The SP began consolidating it’s operations in the late 1920s in order to strengthen its position in the Southwest. In July, 1930, the SP filed an application with the ICC seeking to acquire control of the Cotton Belt through ownership of a majority of its capital stock. The plan went through, and in 1932, the Southern Pacific purchased sufficient stocks to complete control of the Cotton Belt.

The SP continued to operate the Cotton Belt as a separate entity until 1992, when the SP consolidated Cotton Belt’s operations into the parent company. During this span, Cotton Belt locomotives were painted in Southern Pacific paint schemes, but with “Cotton Belt” or “SSW” markings. Then in 1996, the Union Pacific railroad finished the acquisition, merging both companies into the UP, and remarking locomotives as UP for all railroad operations.Cotton_Belt_Route-outline_trans


One of the most unique connections to the tinplate era and U.S. industry can be found in the form of a tinplate toy monorail system that was manufactured in the late 1920s by Leland Detroit a company headed up by men who helped found Cadillac and Lincoln Motor Company.

That a car manufacturer had a hand in the development of this unique tinplate set is interesting enough. That the manufacturer introduced the world to both Cadillac and Lincoln, two of the most well known luxury automobile nameplates in the U.S. is even more fascinating.

The original 3-car monorail set operated on 6 to 12 volts AC from any common toy train transformer and featured a single motor that was mounted above the powered car. The other cars were unpowered, but all shared the same body stamping tools and all utilized bayonet interior bulbs, the first toy trains to do so. Reversing direction was facilitated by a hand reverse lever. The track itself was composed of parallel rail sections attached to wire hangers. Each hanger was inserted into a cast iron red base.

The Lionel Corporation Tinplate Leland Detroit Monorail captures the essence of the original 3-car monorail set and can be purchased in a Traditional version with the hand reverse lever or a Contemporary version fully equipped with Proto-Sound 3.0. Whichever you choose, the bright shiny colors and durable tinplate construction will bring a long missing touch to any tinplate layout.


New York Central

The history of the New York Central Railroad (NYC) began with the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal opened in 1825, and was the main route of transportation between Albany and Buffalo, New York at the time. However, this water route included several locks, and was thus extremely slow. In an effort to reduce transit time, stagecoaches began traversing the direct routes between cities. Then in 1826, the Mohawk & Hudson Rail Road (M&H) was incorporated to replace the stagecoach route between Albany and Schenectady. The M&H began operation in 1831 with it’s first locomotive, the DeWitt Clinton. Shortly after the M&H began operation, there was a call for a railroad to connect Albany with Buffalo, reducing transit time, and reducing the load on the Erie Canal.

After the success of the M&H, several other railroads replaced overland stagecoach routes along the path, and in 1841 it was possible to make the entire journey from Albany to Buffalo by rail in 25 hours. Then in 1853, the ten different railroads connecting Buffalo to Albany were consolidated as the New York Central Railroad.

By 1863 Cornelius Vanderbilt had acquired control of the New York Central, consolidating it with the Hudson River to form the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad (NYC&HR).

As the controlling interest in the New York Central, Vanderbilt wanted to build a grand terminal for the NYC&HR in New York City. Construction for the Grand Central Depot began in 1869 on the corner of 42nd Street and Fourth Avenue, and was completed in two years. The Grand Central Depot served as three separate stations serving the NYC&HR, the New York & Hudson, and the New Haven.

This was the first of the three Grand Centrals, with the present station, the Grand Central Terminal, opening in 1913. The Grand Central Terminal was a marvel with 48 total platform tracks on two subterranean levels, depressing and decking over the tracks along Park Avenue, and electrification of the NYC lines north to Harmon and White Plains.

Over the next two decades, the New York Central underwent name changes, consolidations, mergers, acquisitions, and expansions. The final name change to the New York Central System occurred in 1935. By that point, it was the largest eastern railroad in terms of track mileage, and second only the the mighty Pennsy in terms of revenue. The NYC operated mainly industrial freight and passenger service.

The NYC System continued to compete with the PRR through the following decades, with the advantage of generally level topography over the rugged mountainous terrain of the PRR. This led to steam locomotives designed for speed along the famous “Water Level Route” of the NYC as opposed to the small mountain trains of the PRR.

The NYC began its decline after World War Two due in part to rising labor and material costs. Due to rising costs and falling revenue, the NYC was forced to rapidly diesellize, hoping to save money on the costly steam engine repairs and maintenance. Airline service and the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 put further strain on the NYC as more passengers travelled by car or plane, and more freight was transported over the new highway system. All of this in conjunction with substantial tax burdens – both property taxes on the NYC land holdings and the wartime-era tax of 15% on passenger fares – created such a substantial burden that the NYC began looking for merger partners.

The end result was NYC merging with the PRR in the the disastrous Penn Central merger in 1968. By 1970, the Penn Central filed for bankruptcy. As the PC was falling apart, the federal government created the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) to keep the PC line from completely shutting down. Conrail has since been split between CSX and Norfolk Southern, with CSX ending up with much of the original NYC.