Author Archives: Justin Young

2020-Summer-Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Restoration, upgrades to Milwaukee Road E9 32A near completion

Volunteers and employees of the Friends of the 261 are making great progress with the restoration and upgrading of Milwaukee Road E9 32A. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, crews have been practicing social distancing while working at the 261 shop in Minneapolis.

Even though 32A was in good condition when received from Wisconsin & Southern, the unit still needed some work. The outer steel skin was removed, which revealed much rust, so new steel panels were purchased and cut to fit. The car body structures and frame were heavily needle scaled and anti-rust treatment was applied.

Mechanical work has been ongoing since the locomotive arrived. Jim DeRocher of the 32A Diesel Team provides us with the updates on work that has been performed, and what future plans are. His recap gives an insider look at the work that goes into maintaining a 65 year-old diesel, as follows:

“The No. 2 (rear) prime mover was not making transition, which is a crucial function for increasing speed during operation. After extensive diagnostics, we found and repaired failed internal components on the BARCO transition module. The front and rear axle generators were also overhauled. Following repairs, the system is now functioning correctly.

Main and Auxiliary generator maintenance was performed. This includes rebrushing the main and auxiliary generators. We discovered many brush holders were sticking open, creating the opportunity for electrical failure. The engine load regulators were serviced similarly after discovering issues. All generators are functioning correctly now. Additionally, all traction motors received similar maintenance and lubrication. 

Upon receiving the locomotive, a full crankcase and airbox inspection was carried out on both engines, the valve lash adjusted and set, and fuel injector racks adjusted. This is a maintenance measure that allows us to look inside the engine while it slowly rotates, providing the ability to ensure the engine is sound mechanically internally, and running efficiently. It was observed that the rear prime was running warm during the first excursion in 2019. The source was a defective (stuck open) oil bypass valve, which causes a 70% reduction in engine cooling when defective, that was found and repaired.

An inspection of the air brake system was performed. Two defective unions were replaced and piping that was deemed worn or leaking was repaired. Due to long term storage, the air compressor unloaders were sticking, causing delay in building full air pressure. The compressor unloaders were overhauled, and compressors received standard maintenance. A number of frozen brake heads, which hold the brake shoes against the wheels, were freed up and the linkages were adjusted.

The hot start system (one system per engine) needed work. This system keeps the engines warm while not running during cold weather operation. Justin Young replaced one defective electric drive motor. The drives were leaking fluids due to dry rotted seals. New seal kits for the drives/pumps were ordered, and they will be rebuilt once parts arrive.

Still to come are FRA periodic maintenance (this process includes changing filters, required full locomotive inspection, and confirmation of compliance), and acquisition and installation of an Event Recorder/Alerter system. The system being installed is fully compatible with Positive Train Control. It can be installed now, and PTC can be added later. Final maintenance items include a load test, a shakedown run, and making any final repairs.”

No. 32A will be painted in orange and maroon to fit with the majority of the Friends passenger fleet. Since Milwaukee Road E9s were painted Union Pacific yellow, the scheme will hark back to original Milwaukee Road diesel schemes. The paint scheme will be a combination of the Milwaukee Road’s 1947 E7 scheme with orange substituted for gray, and the 1950s E7 scheme which featured orange and maroon.

Several members of the 32A crew pause for photos while working on the E-unit. They are AJ Murphy, Steve Kinghorn, Henry Overzet, Charlie Elo, and Justin Young. – Steve Sandberg photo.

EMD E9s – A History

The E9 is the last in the series of E-units developed by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of La Grange, Ill. for passenger service. The series can be traced back to the EA of 1937, built for the Baltimore & Ohio and Santa Fe; the AT&SF units were classified as E1s. Other units in the series were E3, E5, E6, E7 (the most popular E unit) and E8. Successor to the E8, the 2,400-horsepower E9 was produced between April 1954 and January 1964. 100 cab-equipped A units and 44 cabless booster B units were constructed, all for service in the United States. The E9 was the tenth and last model of EMD E-unit design and differed from the earlier E8 as built only by newer engines and a different, flusher-fitting mounting for the headlight glass, the latter being the only visible difference.

E9s have two 1,200 horsepower V12 model 567C engines, with each engine driving one generator to power two traction motors. The Milwaukee Road purchased 12 A units and six B units built to Union Pacific specifications for use on UP’s “City” streamliners when they switched from the Chicago & North Western to the Milwaukee Road between Chicago and Omaha in 1955. They were also used on other Milwaukee Road trains, notably the Olympian Hiawatha between Chicago, the Twin Cities and Seattle/Tacoma (discontinued in 1961) and the Twin Cities Hiawathas between Chicago and the Twin Cities. In April 1961 the Milwaukee purchased six more E9s for Chicago commuter service, among the last E units built. These all came with head power electrical power generators for use with bi-level commuter cars.

The last Hiawatha was discontinued in 1971 and the non-commuter units were sold to Amtrak. Amtrak used E9s until 1979, and converted some E9B units to steam generator and head end power cars. Milwaukee 32A, by then Amtrak 434, was officially retired in October 1982 and sold to the Alaska Railroad, which renumbered it 2402.

E9s led some of America’s most famous trains. In addition to the City and Hiawatha streamliners, E9s pulled Baltimore & Ohio’s Capitol Limited, Burlington’s Zephyrs, including the famed California Zephyr, Illinois Central’s Panama Limited, and Southern Pacific’s Daylights and Sunset Limited.

Of Milwaukee’s total of 18 E9A units, four are known to survive. The numbers and locations of the survivors are:
     32A – Friends of the 261, Minneapolis
     33C – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois
     36A – Display, Deer Lodge, Montana
     37A – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois.

In addition to the Milwaukee Road units, a surprising number of E9s survive, thanks largely to the model being the last in its class. The most notable of these is an A-B-A set owned by Union Pacific, including an A and B that the railroad repurchased years after they had been sold. Another well known unit is Southern Pacific No. 6051, painted in Daylight colors and maintained in operating condition by the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Milwaukee Road’s other E units

The Milwaukee Road’s fleet of E9s weren’t the only E units on its motive power roster. In addition to the E9s, the Milwaukee Road owned two E6s and ten E7s.

The first E units to arrive were E6As 15A and 15B in September 1941. They were dubbed “Fabulous 15” thanks to their outstanding performance. According to Jim Scribbins The Hiawatha Story, at the time the Milwaukee Road was well pleased with its 4-4-2 Atlantics and F-7 Class Hudsons, and the E6s were purchased mainly because they could quickly be serviced at terminals and could make a round trip daily between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

They did just that. Each evening at 9 p.m. they would leave Chicago with train 57, the Fast Mail for Minneapolis arriving at 6:15 a.m. The train usually included 20 to 25 mail cars. A little over 90 minutes later, No. 15 would lock couplers with train 6, the Morning Hiawatha for Chicago. This train routinely included 100 mph running. No. 15 A and B held this assignment until summer 1949 with infrequent relief. Their performance sold the Milwaukee on diesels. In 1946 the Milwaukee purchased ten E7s, and in 1947 five E7s bumped the 4-6-4s from the Twin City Hiawathas for good. The last Milwaukee E7 was retired in 1969.

Surprisingly, six E9s the Milwaukee Road received in 1961 for commuter service weren’t the last new passenger power purchased by the railroad. That honor went to five EMD FP45s delivered in December 1968. They only lasted in passenger service until 1971, when they were transferred to freight service.

Milwaukee Road 32A: A Family Affair

Like Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, E9 No. 32A is a family affair for Friends of the 261 President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. The Sandberg family has a long history with both 261 and 32A.

That association began with Steve’s grandfather, Frank E. Sandberg, Sr. He hired out on the Milwaukee Road in 1920 at the age of 18 as a fireman on steam locomotives. He qualified as a engineer in the 1930s but remained on the extra board into the 1940s before he had enough seniority to run with regularity. His regular run was handling passenger trains between the Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis and La Crosse, Wis. on the Milwaukee’s River Division. In that capacity he ran Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 on several occasions when it was in regular service between 1944 and 1954.

After the Milwaukee Road dieselized in 1955, the elder Sandberg continued to operate the newer motive power, including the E9s that arrived that year. At first assigned to the Cities trains between Chicago and Omaha, the E9s drifted into other assignments as the Cities trains were consolidated. Eventually they came to be used on several trains in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, including the Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas, locals 55 and 58, the overnight Pioneer Limited, and the Fast Mail.

Frank Senior passed on the “railroad gene” to his son, Frank E. Sandberg, Jr. born in 1941. His father often took his son to work, and he got to ride several classes of Milwaukee Road steam, including S3 class 4-8-4s such as No. 261. In the diesel era, the “two Franks” frequently rode in the cab of Milwaukee E9s together. As Frank Junior grew older his interest in railroading increased. He loved steam locomotives in particular, and with his high school sweetheart Judy Casey they photographed steam locomotives around the country.

After their marriage daughter Cathie and son Steve were born, with Steve picking up his father’s interest in railroading. Steve’s grandfather often brought his grandson on cab rides between Minneapolis and La Crosse, including in the 32A. “It is odd to think that I ran the same locomotive 50 years apart,” Steve Sandberg says. “I ran the locomotive as a five-year-old with my grandfather in 1970 and again in 2020.”
On Jan. 30, 1971, Frank Sandberg, Sr. retired from the Milwaukee Road after 51 years of service. On his last trip he brought westbound Train No. 5, the Morning Hiawatha into the Milwaukee Road Minneapolis Depot. What was the motive power for his last run? The 32A, of course. As he brought the streamliner into the station, he was surprised to find his family – including Frank Jr. and Steve – waiting along with newspaper and television reporters. Who could have foreseen that his grandson would one day run 32A again?

Three months after Frank Senior’s retirement, Amtrak was born, and 32A went to work for the new railroad, beginning a journey that would eventually bring it back to Minneapolis. After it’s Amtrak service it went to the Alaska Railroad, Scenic Rail Dining, and Wisconsin & Southern. Thanks to the support of long time Friends members Robert Schroeder and Mary Walters, No. 32A was purchased in 2019 and is now back in Minneapolis, only a few blocks from where Frank E. Sandberg, Sr. made his last run 50 years ago.

Fundraising continues for 32A repairs, paint

While the upgrade and repair of Milwaukee Road E9 32A continues in Minneapolis, so too does fund-raising to pay for the project. The cost of maintaining this classic diesel locomotive, much like Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, is very high. In addition, plans for a colorful, classic paint scheme for the locomotive will entail considerable expense.

Members and friends can join in the effort to keep 32A running and looking good for years to come by making contributions for the project. We make it easy for you too: simply log onto the Friends of the 261 web site at and go to “Support the 261” where you will find a list of projects. Select “Milwaukee 32A” choose your amount, enter your payment information and you are all set!

Of course the Friends always welcomes your support for other projects as well, including No. 261, Fleet Upgrades, or donations to the General Fund to be used on any project.

With no excursions currently planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your financial support is more important than ever. Please consider making a donation to the 32A or other projects so we can roll again soon!

Northern Lines is produced by Friends of the 261 for distribution to members and supporters. Assistance with this issue provided by Don Crimmin, Jim DeRocher, Fred Hyde, Dale Sanders, and Mike Sossalla.

Editor: Steve Glischinski

© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

Friends to upgrade fleet with medical grade air filtration systems

With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, many heritage rail groups are seeking safe solutions to once again carry passengers. In the coming weeks the Friends of the 261 will be announcing that we have been working with Swiss manufacturers to design and implement a medical-grade air filtration system for our rail cars. This system will be the first of its kind in the United States and will provide “real time” data on air quality for our customers. We have also been working with leading HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) manufacturers to implement the new filtration system in our passenger car HVAC systems. These systems will measure the Air Quality Index (AQI), Particulate Matter (PM2.5), C02 level and filter air to .003 micros to remove coronavirus molecules. The first system was delivered in June. The Friends will be working to modify our cars and install the first systems in Super Dome 53 and Skytop parlor-lounge-observation Cedar Rapids.
If this cutting edge technology is a success, the Friends hope to offer these services as part of the equipment fleet that are chartered by other organizations, and offer it for installation on privately-owned rail cars.

IN THE SHOP – Alaska Railroad 2402, formerly Milwaukee Road 32A, is being serviced inside the shop in Anchorage in June 1983. On the right is Alaska FP7 1510, which survives today pulling excursion trains on the Verde Canyon Railroad out of Clarkdale, Ariz. – ©Dale Sanders

NEW STEEL – New steel side panels with proper sized porthole windows adorn Milwaukee Road 32A after installation by the diesel team in late June. The panels replace steel that was found to be rusted in several places. © Steve Sandberg

2020-Covid Update

Category : Uncategorized

Hello Friends,

I’m writing to you in the hopes that you and your loved ones are safe & healthy.  In this unprecedented time, I wanted to let you know that we are all thinking about you and your families.  We view you as part of our big railroad family and we are greatly looking forward to seeing you on the train in the future. 

I’d like to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about our non-profit railroad organization.  Since our foundation 29 years ago our goal has been to educate people about our nation’s rich railroad history and provide a safe fun family experience on historic trains.   Long before Covid 19, our organization placed your health and safety as our number one priority.  Due to several of our volunteers coming from the healthcare industry, we have always placed you as our highest priority.   We have always provided ample hand sanitizer onboard our trains and we follow very strict guidelines for our kitchens and staff.

Thanks to your continued support our non-profit is healthy and working on several projects. Currently we are working on our recently acquired 1955 EMD E-9 locomotive #32a.  The locomotive is getting more modern electronics that will be compatible with the new positive train control (PTC) guidelines and shop forces have begun the process of replacing the rusted steel in preparation for new paint later this spring.  The estimated cost of the upgrades will be about $40,000. To the right are some photos of the progress.  Steam locomotive 261 is fully operational and we are exploring several possible operations in 2020 and 2021.  

Later this summer the locomotive will undergo it’s federally required flexible stay-bolt inspection and the locomotive will likely get repainted.  We continue to make significant upgrades to our passenger fleet, current projects include new upholstery in the observation end of the Cedar Rapids, new window glass in several cars and interior upgrades to several cars.  We are trying to design a more flexible seating arrangement to give passengers a better view out the windows.  We will test the layout in a handful of locations on the train in 2020.

On the operating front, earlier this year we had been working with Amtrak to again operate an excursion along the Mississippi River. The excursion would not include the 261 due to PTC requirements and would be powered by Amtrak locomotives. We are still moving forward with plans to operate this train on October 3 & 4. We hope to have additional news in the coming weeks. We have also been looking at returning to Chicago with our private cars on the rear of Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Looking towards Christmas we are all hoping to have the virus in the past and make this Christmas special. Our North Pole Express trains are scheduled for the first two weeks in December at Union Depot in St. Paul and we can’t wait to see all our friends once again. 2021 expects to be a great year for the 261, our group has been asked to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Twin Cities & Western Railroad. With our recently acquired 1955 diesel locomotive and the 261 we expect to offer several unique excursions.

Normally this would be the point that I’d ask for a donation to our non-profit, I think it is more important for you to reach out and support someone in need at this time. The best way to support our organization is to join our membership with the link above and ride our trains in the future. In closing, I’d like to wish all of you are safe and healthy in the coming weeks. While riding excursion trains is not an essential industry, we do think that a smile on grandchild’s face or the belly laugh from a grandparent is an essential part of life.  Right now we’d ask everyone to take care of your loved ones, help your neighborhood and support those less fortunate. There will be plenty of time to ride, smile and enjoy trains in the future.


Steven Sandberg

261 Friend & Founder

2019 – November – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

North Pole Express on the ready track

2018 North Pole Express at Union Depot in St. Paul. The 2019 trips will operate Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 12-15. ©Steve Glischinski

The 2019 North Pole Express is on the ready track to spread holiday cheer at Union Depot in St. Paul. The dates for this year’s trains are Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 12-15. The trains are operating later this year because the Thanksgiving holiday does not fall until Nov. 28.

Since 2014, No. 261 has been pulling the “North Pole Express.” The train operates on short runs on Union Depot property with a mix of bi-level and single-level equipment. It’s one of the Friends biggest fund-raisers of the year.

The train runs from the west end of the depot to its east end, where a special “North Pole” stage assembled at the Friends shop in Minneapolis has been moved into position. Each trip the train pulls up alongside the structure and Santa emerges to board the train.

The train has become a tradition with many families. The trains sell out every year – many passengers return year after year. In 2018 the train carried a record 12,500 passengers on 48 trips over nine days at Union Depot.

Volunteer coordinator Jon Strand is seeking at least 40 volunteers on weekdays and even more on weekends to staff the trains. In addition to the crews that operate the steam locomotive, volunteer positions that must be filled include sales, preparation and distribution of cookies and cocoa to children, first class service crew persons, car hosts, and Santa’s helpers. To make the volunteer process easier, the Friends are using for Boarding Platform, Santa’s Helper and Car Host Sign-Ups.

Here’s how it works in three easy steps:
1) Go to 261 Volunteer Sign Up
2) Review the options listed and choose the spot(s) you like.
3) Sign up!
It’s easy – you will not need to register an account or keep a password.

Using revenue from the North Pole Express trips, last year the Friends made donations to several charities including Children’s Hospitals of Minnesota, the Ronald McDonald House, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the Wounded Warrior Project. Please consider volunteering for this great holiday event.

2020 Annual Dues Notice

It’s dues time again for the Friends of the 261, but before I speak briefly about our activities and goals, I want to say thank you to all our members and friends for your generous support over the years. Thanks to your dues and donations, we’ve been able to keep 261 in operation and update our car fleet.

Thanks to your support, we are able to keep moving ahead. In 2020 we are planning more trips with 261, more car charters, and international tours. By renewing your membership, and making an additional donation, we will continue our progress.

Remember, your dues and donations are fully deductible under both federal and state income tax law, so if you act before the end of the year you can deduct the amount on your 2020 income tax return. You can renew and donate by sending the notice back by mail, or simply going to

Thanks again for your continuing support. I hope to see you on a Friends of the 261 excursion or charter in 2020!

Gourmet Express, special trains roll

The Gourmet Express rolls west on the Twin Cities & Western at Eden Prairie, Minn. on Sept. 21, 2019. © Jeff Terry

The autumn 2019 version of the Gourmet Express on the Twin Cities & Western Railroad operated Sept. 21-22. The special trips cater to passengers interested in unusual food and wine events and piggyback on similar trips operated in 2018.

The seven-hour trips traveled between St. Louis Park and Glencoe, Minn. The Friends had chefs on board the train to prepare meals, and wine tastings were conducted. 

A stop in Bongards, Minn., was made for photo runs and to taste cheese from the Bongards Cheese factory adjacent to the tracks. The train included mostly first-class cars including for the first time three dome cars.

In a change this year, rather than departing from the Friends shop in Minneapolis, the trains loaded in St. Louis Park on tracks now owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA). The agency acquired the tracks from Canadian Pacific earlier this year in conjunction with construction of Metro Transit’s Southwest Light Rail Line, which will involve relocating and rebuilding the tracks. Twin Cities & Western retains trackage rights over the route. The Friends have developed a new relationship with our Metro Transit and HCRRA partners that was facilitated by Metro Transit’s Ryan Ball. The agencies graciously allowed the Friends to park and load the train in St. Louis Park which proved to be advantageous since it eliminated a good deal of slow running between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

In addition to the Gourmet Express, the Friends operated special trains over TC&W for Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc. in conjunction with the Railway Interchange trade show held in Minneapolis Sept. 22-25. Loram is a railroad maintenance equipment and services provider founded in 1954 and based in Hamel, Minn.

On Sept. 23-24, approximately 200 railway executives from around the world boarded the special Loram dinner/tour train pulled by E9 No. 101/32A westbound and 261 eastbound from St. Louis Park to Chanhassen, Minn. At Chanhassen passengers left the train at a special platform built just for the event for a tour and reception at Paisley Park, the late entertainer Prince’s private estate and production complex.

“While LRT construction made boarding a bit more difficult, we are grateful for the cooperation we received from the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and Metro Transit for their cooperation and assistance. Without their help the trips could not have operated,” Friends of the 261 President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg said.

261 cars assist Autumn Colors Express

The operators of the Autumn Colors Express, formerly the New River Train, chartered several Friends of the 261 passenger cars for trips out Huntington, West Virginia, Oct. 25-27. For 52 years the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society sponsored trips on the former Chesapeake & Ohio between Huntington and Hinton, W. Va. as the New River Train.

In early 2019 the society decided it would not operate the excursions after it suffered a financial loss at the conclusion of its October 2018 trips. The nonprofit society’s financial issues stem from cost overruns and cash flow issues as a result of what the society alleges as increases in Amtrak charter and tariff rates.

In July 2019, it was announced that Minnesota-based Rail Excursion Management Co., had reached an agreement with Amtrak and other stakeholders to resume the New River excursions under the Autumn Colors Express brand.

The new management group’s diesel-powered excursions operated on the same Huntington-Hinton route as the traditional New River Train. Rather than two weekends as the New River Train operated, the Autumn Colors Express ran on one weekend but added a Friday trip for three days of operation. The train was assembled in Chicago and operated as a deadhead special move from Chicago to Huntington.

Among the cars the Friends provided for the train were coaches Lake Pepin, Nokomis and Wenonah, dome Silver Palace, lounges Fox River Valley and Wisconsin Valley, Super Dome 53 and Skytop Cedar Rapids. The Skytop served as the eastbound tail car, while Pennsylvania Railroad Frank Thompson served as the westbound tail car. Organizers said they wanted the Cedar Rapids on the train because of its high number of seats and is such a unique car.

2019 was the 21st year the Friends have sent passenger cars to West Virginia for autumn trips. Chartering cars is another way the Friends helps generate revenue to keep our equipment in operation.

Cedar Rapids flashes by a CSX coal train as it brings up the rear of the Autumn Colors Express in West Virginia in October. © Nick Benson/Autumn Colors Express

Shop Report

Friends of the 261 employees and volunteers have had a busy summer and fall at the Friends shop. Milwaukee Road E9A 32A has been receiving regular “tune ups” as it has operated over the spring and fall and crews become more familiar with the locomotive. One benefit of adding diesel power to the Friends fleet is it has drawn in younger people who are interested in diesels to work on the streamlined unit.

Contract work has kept the shop busy. As dome cars were added to the passenger car fleet, the Friends crew gained expertise in the specialized work of installing curved glass in dome cars. Having conducted this work on the three dome cars it owns, word spread in the private car industry that the Friends were the “go to” shop for getting dome glass installed. As a result, the Friends have received contracts from private dome car owners to work on their cars These projects have helped generate revenue that can then help with the maintenance and upgrade of the Friends car fleet.

One project that wrapped up in time for the Gourmet Express trips was the rebuilding and remodeling of ex-Union Pacific dome lounge observation 9001. The car, built for UP by American Car & Foundry in 1952, is the newest passenger car to enter service for the Friends of the 261. The Friends now has operational cars constructed by all three major dome car builders: American Car & Foundry, Budd Co., and Pullman Standard.

Friends offering British steam tour in spring 2020

The Friends of the 261 is again offering a tour of Great Britain by steam train. The latest tour will run from May 6-15, 2020 and explore some of the most remote parts of England and Wales. The tour will travel by steam and vintage diesel trains in private luxury rail cars, through some of the most unspoiled countryside in Britain visiting the West Country Moors, Cambrian Mountains, Snowdonia, the Lakeland Fells, and the Moors and Dales of Northern England. The tour allows plenty of private time to sightsee and will offer extra guided tours of some of the most famous attractions.

Caernarfon Castle

Passengers will stay in area hotels of the highest luxury. The peerless Italianate village of Portmeirion in Snowdonia, where we will spend three nights, is one of the highlights.

Among the rail highlights are the Dartmouth Steam railway, South Devon Railway, double-headed by steam over one of the most remote and scenic railways in Britain – the Central Wales Line, steam on the North Wales Coast Railway, and one of the great Victorian feats of construction, the magnificent Settle and Carlisle Railway.

Included in the tour is nine nights’ hotel accommodations on a bed & breakfast basis, train travel on days 2, 4, 5, 8 and 10, luggage courier service transporting your luggage directly to the train to and from your hotel rooms, coach transfers between train and hotels, and staff on-board and at your hotels.

Pricing is as follows:

5 Star Pullman Class
$5,199.00 per person Double occupancy
$5,999.00 Single Occupancy

4 Star Premier Class
$3,999.00 per person Double Occupancy
$4,499.00 Single Occupancy

Special Table for 2 – $975.00

In addition to the steam tours of Great Britain, the Friends are also agents for Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Railway luxury tours. These tours are offered at $27,000 per person.

For more information, click here

For booking the Great Britain and Russian tours
contact Steve Sandberg at 651-688-7320 or [email protected]

2019-Engine Report

Category : Uncategorized

Engine Report

April 2019

Steam locomotive 261 undergoing signification firebox work before the 2019 season. As the snow has melted and Spring has sprung work begins on getting the 261 ready for the 2019 season. Work crews have undertaken the major job of replacing one of the water circulators or sometimes called “Arch Tubes” in the big 4-8-4’s fire box.

Built in 1944 the 261 was designed with most modern technology for thermodynamic water circulation. The American Circulator Company touted that the 5” diameter pipes were the most efficient way of circulating water from the lower part of the fire box foundation ring, around the firebox and over the crown sheet. With modern Super Power locomotives in order to create the maximum horse power you need to be able to boiler water quickly and efficiently. It is estimated that the at maximum power the 261 can evaporate as much as 10,000 gallons of water an hour.

Each year as part of our annual Federal inspection we are required to ultrasonically test these pipes to verify the thickness of the metal and make sure they are suitable for the 261’s boiler pressure. The original thickness is required to be 3/8” thick steel, over the many years of service the front tube which is closet to the fire has developed some small thin areas where the arch brick has rubbed the metal. Safety First, we have been closely monitoring these for years and it is now time for replacement.

Next time you’re in the 261 cab ask a crew member to point the large circulating pipes. When you look in the fire box you will see a very large set of horizontal pipes, they run across the fire box and branch into a much larger 7” pipe that goes vertically in the fire box crown sheet. The large pipes are essential to circulating the water around the hot fire box to make steam and also hold the locomotive’s fire brick arch in place.

Replacement requires a very complex repair that require first that we locate the proper ASME Code certified material or metal tubes/pipes. These pipes are then custom bent in Duluth by a company the specializes in bending pipes for oil refineries and power plants. Bend-Tec in Duluth is one of the worlds leading companies for this type of work. After removing the old pipes engineering drawings were made to replicate the old pipe and make new pipes. Currently the new pipes are now on hand and work in moving forward to carefully fit up these new pipes. Once all of the pipes are fit up Moorhead Boiler and Machine Company will send in it’s certified welder to complete the installation. After the welding is complete a third party inspection company will be brought in the Radiograph the welds and make sure everything is up to code.

“To date we are about 50% done with the work we have planned this Spring.” says 261 Chief Steve Sandberg, “You can’t really rush this type of work, it takes lots of time for each step of the process to evolve and you can’t rush safety.” We have brought in extra help including longtime 261 crew member Jeff Miller from Pittsburgh, Jeff has many years of doing specialty boiler work and is a perfectionist. As work continues, it is expected to wrap up by the end of May, ahead of the scheduled June 22 & 23 excursions. “Work continues at a good pace,” says Sandberg, “but there is always the chance that we could run into an issue and the 261 would not be available for the June excursions, if so the trips would continue as scheduled with Diesel power.”

Article by Steve Sandberg

2019 – Spring – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Friends of the 261 now proud owner of Milwaukee Road E9A No. 32A

By Don Crimmin

Milw E9 32AThrough the hard work of long-time members and volunteers Dr. Robert Schoeder and Mary Walters and the generosity of the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad and WATCO, the Friends of the 261 is now the proud owner of a fully operational EMD E9A locomotive, former Milwaukee Road 32A.

No. 32A was built in 1956 and initially carried the number 202A but was soon renumbered 32A. It was one of six sets of A-B-A E9s that the CMStP&P ordered to handle the Omaha – Chicago leg of the UP City trains when the service was switched from the C&NW to Milwaukee Road in 1955.

After Amtrak assumed operation of intercity rail passenger service in 1971, 32A continued to power Amtrak passenger trains and was rebuilt and renumbered Amtrak 434. In the early 1980s the Alaska Railroad acquired the locomotive and numbered it 2402. A few years later it returned to the “lower 48” to become Scenic Rail Dining No. 10C. This was a dinner train that operated out of North Milwaukee on the fledging Wisconsin & Southern to Horicon, Wis. After the dinner train was discontinued, 10C and other E units hauled rail enthusiast specials and business trains on WSOR and occasionally were pressed into freight service.

When Wisconsin & Southern was sold to WATCO, a short line holding company, the role of the E9s was diminished. Robert and Mary were aware of the locomotive’s availability and historical significance, particularly its Milwaukee Road heritage. They spearheaded the donation of the locomotive for continued service and enjoyment of fans of classic EMD cab units.

No. 32A will be painted in orange and maroon to fit with the majority of Friends fleet. Equipped with head end power, supplying 480-volt power to passenger cars for heat, lighting and air conditioning, No. 32A also opens the door to diesel charters and photo specials.

2018 North Pole Express Recap

The 2018 North Pole Express carried a record 12,500 passengers on 48 trips over nine days at Union Depot in St. Paul in December. The trips, now in their fifth year, are pulled by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 and operate on short runs on Union Depot property with a mix of bi-level and single-level equipment. It’s one of our biggest fundraisers of the year.

Preparations for the North Pole Express begin months in advance. Dates of operations and schedules are laid out, sponsors (which include BNSF Railway) are contacted, and Justin Young sets up the on-line ticketing program.

Before the train can turn a wheel, volunteers work on the passenger cars to clean and decorate them with holiday lights and wreaths. #261 is equipped with decorations and lights and a North Pole Express nameplate ahead of the smoke box. Other volunteers move a special North Pole stage from the Friends shop in Minneapolis and assemble it at Union Depot. Each trip the train pulls up alongside the structure and children can watch as elves work and Santa emerges to board the train. This year a table was added in the depot where children could make their own Christmas decorations.

Using revenue from the North Pole Express trips, this year the Friends made donations to several charities:

The train has become a tradition with families: many of the passengers are repeat customers (the trains sell out every year) who return year after year, some traveling from adjoining states to take the one-hour rides. They also allow children to get an up close and personal view of a large steam locomotive, a special holiday gift in the 21st Century.

The Friends look forward to the 2019 North Pole Express this November and December.

Positive Train Control Fundraiser Update

By Erik Hoofnagle

Positive Train Control, PTC, is the most significant and complex infrastructure investment America’s railroads have ever undertaken. As the Federally mandated statutory deadline passed on December 31, 2018, all required Railroads have met or exceeded implementation of operational PTC systems.

PTC is designed to monitor the speed and location of a train via data acquisition, data transmission, and data processing systems and is intended to override the controls, reduce the throttle and apply the brakes in an emergency situation where a collision could occur, a misaligned switch or the crew becoming incapacitated.

Though the mandate was originally intended to cover newer diesel-electric locomotives, the now compliant freight railroads are unlikely to permit a non-compliant locomotive to operate excursions over their networks without functioning PTC.

For that reason, in order for the Friends of the 261 to continue to be a mainline excursion operator, we now face the daunting task of getting 21st century computer technology to interface with a 75 year old steam locomotive and our ‘new’ 63 year old E9 Diesel.

Ultimately for a technology that is still maturing and with no final FRA/PTC laws regarding steam locomotives or excursion operations, relying on waivers and extensions is not a reasonable long term solution.

Friends of the 261 have been working directly with WABTEC, the biggest supplier of FRA approved PTC technology. WABTEC representatives have been to our facility to view the #261 and help coordinate how to retrofit the locomotive to be compliant once the FRA finalizes its rules for steam/diesel excursion operators. As a group, we now have designed the required diagram of the brake airline piping, adding the electronic components needed and have compiled a list of the additional hardware required.

While some hardware components can be shared between the two locomotives, many of the software components cannot. For instance, the PTC system has a LOCO ID programmable chip built into the cable bundles. The LOCO ID stores critical locomotive date such as: Owning and reporting Railroad, SCAC (Standard Carrier Alpha Code), engine number, GPS antenna offsets, locomotive weight, length, number of axels, horse power, default wheel size, pulse’s per revolution and locomotive control system. The adaptation requires an on board computer, wayside monitor and host server for information access. Additional software programming of a ‘Slot 10’ communication processor unique to each locomotive from METEORCOMM. Ultimately the Head End Power from the recently acquired E9 Diesel will help with the necessary dedicated power supply.

In the meantime, WABTEC and our Class 1 railroad associates have asked us to refrain from purchasing most of the hardware and none of the software for our Steam and or Diesel locomotives. While hardware is available for purchase the software requires a license to operate and cannot be purchased without agreements with host operators and the supplier.

We all feel as the demand for PTC components subsides to meet the Federally mandated deadline the cost for the hardware and software components will continue to decline.

The cost to implement PTC on our locomotives is estimated to be in excess of $150,000. Friends of the 261 were fortunate to receive a PTC grant from the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust last year in the amount of $30,000 and have been diligent in applying for more grants. We are also continuing to fund raise via social media, our membership and a portion of all our excursions, including the successful North Pole Express. Although our biggest fundraiser trip to Duluth was cancelled by Amtrak and their new policies early last year, we are confident we can continue to fund raise. We are also confident that our dedicated crew can and will adapt our locomotives to the new technology and continue to be a leader in the excursion industry with your help.

Please consider a donation to help fund this necessary application of PTC enabling us to continue to operate our historic locomotives and associated equipment for the benefit and education of the general public and the next generation. Donate today!


As this issue of Northern Lines went to press, we have been informed we will receive another $30,000 grant for the John H. Emery Rail Heritage trust. Our thanks to the Trust for this generous grant!

Negotiations underway for Windy City Express in May

The Friends of the 261 is working to return to the Windy City of Chicago with special private car operations on Amtrak’s Empire Builder this spring.

If negotiations with Amtrak and other parties are successful, the Windy City Express would depart St. Paul on Thursday, May 16, with premier rolling stock: baggage/bar car #2450 and dome car Silver Palace. Passengers can ride from St. Paul to Milwaukee or all the way to Chicago. Passengers may also board at Milwaukee for the short hop to Chicago.

The trip would return from Chicago on Sunday, May 19. The return trip will include #2450, Silver Palace, and Super Dome #53, giving passengers the chance to ride in two different dome cars on one trip.

Passengers will be able to watch nature’s spring beauty unfold along the Mississippi River which the train will parallel from Hastings to La Crosse. Eagle-eyed passengers may be able to spot bald eagles from the dome of the Silver Palace. Any money raised for the trips goes to maintain Milwaukee Road #261, E9 32A, and our fleet of historic passenger cars.

Fares for the Windy City Express would be as follows:

Round Trip
MSP to Milwaukee or Chicago – $279.00

Check for updates on these possible trips.

One way
MSP to Milwaukee or Chicago – $199.00
Chicago or Milwaukee to MSP – $199.00
Milwaukee to Chicago – $75.00
Chicago to Milwaukee – $75.00

MRHA, Friends team up for Hiawatha steam excursions in June

The Friends of the 261 and the Milwaukee Road Historical Association (MRHA) are teaming up to operate two Hiawatha excursions in conjunction with MRHA’s annual convention in St. Paul. The trips will operate over the Twin Cities & Western and Minnesota Prairie Line June 22-23. Power will be Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 and Milwaukee Road E9 32A, pulling its first Friends excursion. On both days because there are no turning facilities for #261, the trains will be pulled east back to Minneapolis by 32A.

While these trips are being operated for MRHA, Friends members can purchase any remaining tickets. This is a rare chance to join former Milwaukee Road employees and friends as they take a special journey on the former route of the Milwaukee Road’s famed Olympian Hiawatha, which once traveled portions of what is now the TC&W main line.

On June 22, the train will make a round trip from Minneapolis to Glencoe, Minn. on the Twin Cities & Western’s former Milwaukee Road line that the Olympian Hiawatha used until it was discontinued in 1961. On June 23, the train will travel on TC&W from Minneapolis to Norwood, where it will switch to the Minnesota Prairie Line’s former Minneapolis & St. Louis route to Winthrop, Minn. Passenger service ended on the M&StL route between Minneapolis and Watertown, S.D., on July 20, 1960. Photo run-bys will be held both days.

The train will include Dome Class, Premium Class, Presidential Class, First Class and Coach seating. Premium Class features seating in ex-Milwaukee Road Skytop observation car Cedar Rapids. Dome Class includes full length Super Dome #53 and ex-California Zephyr dome Silver Palace where passengers can enjoy a meal under glass. Premium and Dome class includes a selection of complimentary meals, hors d’oeuvres and beverages and deluxe reserved seating, while First Class includes complimentary meals, snacks and beverages in a deluxe lounge car. Presidential Class includes First Class service in a car specially designated for you and your group.

Ticket prices are still being worked out, so mark your calendar and watch for more information on when you can purchase tickets for these exciting excursions.

Amtrak charter train update

In March 2018, Amtrak implemented a new policy which in effect banned special charter train operations and severely limited private car movements. This policy has had a chilling effect on the Friends of the 261, resulting in the cancellation of a previously scheduled steam trip to Duluth, which would have provided substantial revenue to install Positive Train Control on No. 261. Other charter trips have helped raise money for the overhaul and maintenance of No. 261. The operation of private cars and charter train provides additional profitable funding to Amtrak but requires additional effort. Amtrak has decided that operating these trains is a distraction from their core business and revenue that these charter trains provides is profitable but not worth the effort. While Amtrak has rejected revenue from charter trains and private cars, it continues to ask for subsidies from taxpayers to operate.

There has been some incremental progress. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was able to persuade Amtrak to operate the New River Train in his state last fall, but Amtrak raised the operating costs so much the future of the train remains in doubt. On March 1, ninety-one members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson demanding answers to a long list of concerns “regarding changes that Amtrak has recently implemented and is reportedly considering making to its operations” posed by their constituents. Among the concerns stated in the letter is private car carriage and charges.

The Friends of the 261 continues to press for changes in Amtrak’s policy. In our home state of Minnesota, a possible new Amtrak train service from Minneapolis to Duluth is being studied, and would require taxpayer subsidies to Amtrak to operate it. We are asking that if Minnesota taxpayers are helping pay for the new service, Amtrak should at least be willing to let the Friends operate charter trains in the state.

We again call on all members and friends to contact your elected representatives by letter, phone call or email and ask for this policy to be rescinded so that nonprofits such as ours can continue to educate the public about railroads and passenger train travel.

Shop news

By Justin Young

With the snow piling up from a typical Minnesota winter, things around the shop progress slowly. Although it does not stop, work continues on the Union Pacific dome 9001. All the dome windows are being replaced with new FRA compliant glass, as well as repairs being done to the window openings. After sitting outside in the elements for over a decade, there is quite a bit of repair work to do to make the windows seal properly. Along with new windows, the UP dome is also having new base board radiant heat installed, and new LED lighting. All abandoned electrical systems are being completely removed in preparation for a new electrical control panel. Plans for the car also included sending the generator out for a complete over haul by the manufacturer, as well as complete overhauls on the A/C system to make sure they are ready for the summer sun.

Work also continues on other odds and ends projects such as, replacements for the glass partition walls in the Silver Palace, as well as new glass partitions for the Fox River Valley. Some of the cars have older model fluorescent lighting which is getting costly to replace, so some of these are being converted to LED.

Scotland SOLD OUT!

The Friends of the 261 is sponsoring a once a once in a lifetime holiday in Scotland in May 2019. These international trips have become popular: this trip to Scotland is already sold out!

This 10-day Holiday, which will take place May 8-17 includes truly spectacular Scottish Highland Scenery. We will travel by steam train in private luxury rail cars. Our steam power will be the world famous 4-6-2 Flying Scotsman and Class B1 Mayflower.

Leaving from London we join the Flying Scotsman in York to travel on a beautiful stretch of railway including vistas such as Durham Cathedral, the Angel of the North, Holy Island and over the Royal Border Bridge into Edinburgh.

Locomotive B Class 4-6-0 Mayflower will take us north across the beautiful scenery to the famous castle of Dunrobin. There will be time to explore the magnificent castle and grounds, home to the Earls of Caithness. The Mayflower will also haul the train on one of the great railway journeys of the world across the highlands with breathtaking scenery along the West Coast to the Kyle of Lochalsh.

Visit to get on the e-mail list for upcoming international trips.

2018 Car Shop Report Fall

Category : Uncategorized

2018 has brought big changes to the fleet of the Friends of the 261. 2 new domes and a complete overhaul on the Fox River Valley, former Henry Hudson. New Gaskets and windows are on their way for the Silver Palace, former Western Pacific coach dome. Custom carpet is on its way for the Silver Palace as well as the Fox River Valley. The Fox River Valley is having major changes made as well. When the car was with Amtrak it was a Buffet car, complete with steam table and lots of refrigeration. With most of the item in need of major repair, it was time to convert it back to a lounge car. 



Five windows were cut back open, which were previously plugged by Amtrak, as well as all new windows through out the car. Two new bathrooms are being added back in, many mechanical updates are being made with simplifying the electrical and hvac systems. The Fox River Valley is also being completely refinished from floor to ceiling in African Mahogany.

The Fox River Valley will make its debut appearance on the Gourmet Express in September 2018. Be one of the first people to ride the Fox River Valley!

Photos are sorted before and after, with in-progress photos at the end.

2018 – September – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Frank E. Sandberg, Jr.


One of the founders of the Friends of the 261, Frank E. Sandberg Jr. passed away June 13 at age 77. Together with his wife Judy (who died in 2014), Frank founded the Friends of the 261 in the early 1990s as restoration of Milwaukee Road No. 261 got underway.

Frank was an early activist in rail preservation and father of Friends of the 261’s President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. He and Judy were founding members of the Minnesota Transportation Museum in 1962, which preserved and operated Twin City Rapid Transit Co. streetcar No. 1300. He was also a founding member of the Tourist Railway Association, and went on to serve as museum president during the 1980s, where he spearheaded the rebuilding and return to operation of Northern Pacific 4-6-0 No. 328.

Born Sept. 2, 1941, Frank E. Sandberg Jr. was his given name, but for those who knew him well, it was “Sandy.” He was born into a railroad family: his father, Frank Sr., was an engineer for the Milwaukee Road for 53 years, running trains between Minneapolis and La Crosse, Wis. His father often took his son to work, and he got to ride several classes of Milwaukee Road steam. As he grew older his interest in railroading increased, and with his high school sweetheart Judy Casey they photographed steam locomotives around the country, with Judy driving the car while Frank made photographs. After their marriage daughter Cathie and son Steve were born, with Steve picking up his father’s interest in railroading.

In the early 1990s Steve and several private investors formed North Star Rail Inc. to restore No. 261, which was on display at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wis. The engine was moved to Minneapolis for rebuilding, and Frank served as a sounding board and mentor for his son as the rebuilding process went forward. The Friends was formed by Frank and Judy to serve as a support group for 261 operations, and in 1995 took over direct marketing and operation of the 4-8-4. The Friends purchased the locomotive from the museum in 2010.

The Friends was based out of the Sandberg’s home, where a special telephone line was installed so passengers could call in to ask questions and order tickets. A mechanical engineer by trade, Sandberg would hand draw passenger seating charts for excursion trains, and Frank and Judy would organize and mail out tickets for each excursion. He greeted passengers as they arrived at Minneapolis Jct. for steam trips, as the unofficial head of parking. He was aboard virtually every 261 trip, frequently riding in the cab.

Friends of the 261 trips were Sandberg family affairs that included Frank, Judy and Steve, daughter Cathie and various grandchildren and in-laws working in the concession car and providing first class service. Cathie caught the railroad bug as well: she works for railroad maintenance equipment and services provider Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc.

A successful businessman, Sandberg began his career as a draftsman and moved on to be a design engineer for Remmele Engineering in St. Paul, Minn. In 1983 he and fellow Remmele employee Darrel Johnson started engineering and manufacturing company Con-Tek Machine. Sandberg would work with his son on engineering and machinery issues that would come up with No. 261, and parts and even boiler tubes from No. 261 and other steam locomotives were sometimes stored at Con-Tek. Sandberg retired and sold the company in 2015.

Frank and Judy helped support restoration projects for railroad heritage organizations including Minnesota Transportation Museum; the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, a spin-off created in 2005 where he was member No. 3; the Lake Superior Railroad Museum; and, of course, Friends of the 261.

With the success of his business, Frank and Judy were able to travel the world, riding trains on several continents, often bringing their children and their families along. An avid wine collector, he maintained an extensive collection of wine at his home.
Sandberg’s railroad legacy is large, but if you asked what he was most proud of, he would say “family.”

No. 261 to pull Gourmet Express

The Friends of the 261 will operate excursions pulled by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 on the Twin Cities & Western Railroad Sept. 8-9. The locomotive has traveled the route several times before, so the Friends have come up with a different strategy to attract passengers – gourmet food and dining.

The Friends hope to tap into the growing number of people that look for unusual food and wine events. For them, the attraction is being able to experience fine food, wine, and cocktails on board a moving train. As such, the train has been named the Gourmet Express. Any money earned from the trips will go toward equipping No. 261 with positive train control equipment.

The Friends will have chefs on board the train to prepare meals, and is contacting wine makers to conduct wine tastings. The train will be made up mostly of first class cars, along with coaches and the Friends two open door baggage/concession cars. The schedule reflects the dining theme. Rather than leaving early in the morning, the Sept. 8 train will depart at 1 p.m. and return at 8 p.m. so passengers can enjoy afternoon and evening meals. On Sept. 9 the train will depart Minneapolis at 10:30 a.m. returning at 5 p.m. offering a brunch during the trip. The trains will go as far west as time allows, probably to the Glencoe area.

The train will include Premium Class, Dome Class, Presidential Class, First Class, and coach seating. Premium Class includes seating in Milwaukee Road Skytop observation car Cedar Rapids. Dome Class features seating in Milwaukee Road Super Dome 53 or newly restored Western Pacific ex-California Zephyr Budd dome Silver Palace, making its first excursion trip. Premium Class also includes complimentary meals, hors d’oeuvres, beverages and reserved seating, while First Class includes complimentary meals, snacks and beverages in lounge cars. Presidential Class features seating in former railroad business cars Lamberts Point or Milwaukee.

The Twin Cities & Western main line was once the route of Milwaukee Road’s famed Olympian Hiawatha that traveled from Chicago and the Twin Cities to Seattle/Tacoma. No. 261 operated over this trackage when it was in regular service for the Milwaukee Road between 1944 and 1954. The trips will head west from Minneapolis through Hopkins, Norwood, and Glencoe with No. 261 leading, but since there is nowhere to turn the steam locomotive a TC&W diesel will pull the train east to Minneapolis.

Tickets for the trips can be purchased at The Friends previously scheduled a positive train control fund-raising trip from Minneapolis to Duluth over BNSF Railway on June 9-10, but was forced to cancel the trip when Amtrak changed its charter train policy earlier this year.

Positive Train Control and Milwaukee Road 261

by Erik Hoofnagle

If Milwaukee Road 261 is going to have a future pulling main line excursions, it must be equipped with Positive Train Control, or PTC. Why? After a series of deadly accidents, Congress mandated that US railroads equip their main lines with PTC, a computer controlled system designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur. In particular, PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, and train movements through misaligned track switches.

The Federal mandate for PTC is December 2018. Without funding to purchase, install and train for PTC’s use on 261, mainline excursions might never run again.

After months of planning and logistics, the Friends of the 261 are offering the Gourmet Express trips on Sept. 8-9 as a fund-raiser for PTC installation. A portion of the cost of each ticket along with additional donations can make the installation and operation of PTC possible.

Addressing this federally mandated technological adaptation is critical to the continued operation of the 261. With PTC installation cost estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars we have our work cut out for us.

The Friends of the 261 have always been the industry leader in overcoming obstacles associated with running mainline steam excursions. With your generous contribution you can assure 261’s continued mainline operation.

If you cannot travel with us in September, you can still donate to the 261 Positive Train Control installation fund by going to our Donation page.

Amtrak changes charter train, private car policy

In March, Amtrak abruptly changed its charter train and private car policies that had been in place for decades. The new policy virtually eliminated special charter trains and severely restricted movements of private railroad cars on Amtrak. Amtrak gave no prior warning about its announcement, even though the Friends of the 261 has worked with Amtrak for over a decade on special train movements. Amtrak had approved a Positive Train Control trip to Duluth in June, then withdrew its approval with the new policy.

According to Amtrak, the rationale to stop charter excursions was prompted by relatively slim profit margins on those operations for Amtrak and their impact on the schedules of Amtrak’s own trains. However, the Duluth trip was on a non-Amtrak route and could not have delayed any Amtrak trains.

Amtrak receives subsidies from U.S. taxpayers on a yearly basis. In 2016 it received over $1.3 billion in subsidies. In legislation approved by Congress in 2008, Amtrak was encouraged by statute to operate special trains to minimize the need for Federal subsidies.

“It is important to note that our non-profit alone has paid Amtrak over $2.5 million over the years, said Steve Sandberg, president and chief operating officer of the Friends of the 261. “Amtrak and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners have told me that special trains and private cars generate $10 million in revenue each year and the net profit is about $6 million. This is $6 million that contributes to the reduction in Federal taxpayer subsidies each year paid to Amtrak,” Sandberg said.

Railroad heritage groups across the United States decried Amtrak’s decision. Cancellation of the special trains left many non-profit historical societies with passengers who have purchased tickets and made travel arrangements and then had no train to ride. In addition many groups have invested millions of dollars to update their passenger cars to Amtrak standards and can no longer operate them.

Over the last 15 years the Friends of the 261 has invested over $8 million in upgrading equipment to meet Amtrak mechanical standards. Car owners have employees, contractors, and vendors who will be left jobless and mechanical and storage facilities will be shuttered.

The decision is also a blow to cities and towns that have served as destinations for the trains. In Duluth, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum will be impacted. Ken Buehler, executive director of the Lake Superior Museum said the museum has lost both the 261 trip and the annual convention of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) in September. Between those two trains the railroad museum will lose somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000.

The public will be deprived of an opportunity to see vintage rail cars and locomotives in operation, a testimony to a vital part of American history, Sandberg said. The introduction of railroading and train travel to young people and a public that’s largely forgotten that railroads exist will be lost.

The Friends of the 261 is asking members to contact your Senators and members of Congress to press Amtrak to reverse its decision. To locate contact information for your representatives go to

Russia steam tour nearly sold out

The Friends of the 261 is sponsoring a steam-focused tour of Russia in autumn 2018. The trip was announced on the 261 website, and only a handful of tickets remain.

The tour will feature 21 different steam locomotives covering 3,500 miles on a journey from Moscow to the North Caucasus and the Black Sea coast. The trip will operate Sept. 28 to Oct. 12, 2018.

Steam locomotives on the tour will include double-headed 4-8-4s on several segments, a Kizlyar LV 2-10-2, double-headed 2-10-2s and 2-10-0s, single and double-headed 2-6-2s, double-headed 0-10-2s, a narrow gauge diesel, even a 0-6-0. In total, 21 locomotives are scheduled for the tour.

The trip will begin in Moscow, with the first excursion pulled by a P36 Class 4-8-4 steam locomotive, Russia’s final steam passenger design and Europe’s largest steam locomotive. The special train will head south to the Volga at Saratov and Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. The tour then heads west along the Caucasus Mountains to Grozniyy, Chechnya’s capital and Vladikavkaz, capital of adjacent North Ossetia.

The tour also visits the areas of Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk – favorite resorts for the leaders of the Soviet Union.

The private train includes Golden Eagle en-suite sleeping accommodations, Heritage accommodations, and lounge and restaurant cars. There is only one “Gold Class Suite” available on the trip. The price for this suite has been discounted $4000 from retail price.

For booking and more information call 651-688-7320 or e-mail [email protected].

Mini-Hiawatha operates in Pacific Northwest

It’s been 56 years since the Milwaukee Road’s Olympian Hiawatha rolled its last miles through the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, but on Jan. 27, 2018, a “mini-Hiawatha” rolled through the same mountain range – but on a different route.

The Friends of the 261 provided four cars for a special charter Amtrak train that operated from Seattle to Whitefish, Mont., via BNSF Railway’s ex-Great Northern line through the Cascades, also used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder. A musician chartered the special train for a birthday celebration.

The train included an Amtrak unit and four cars, all painted in Milwaukee Road orange-and-maroon passenger colors. The Friends cars departed St. Paul on Amtrak’s Empire Builder on Jan. 22, with space sold on the cars during the ferry move. This was one of longest charter trips ever operated by the Friends, and is unusual since it was a charter in winter when the cars are normally stored.

Friends receives $30,000 PTC grant from Emery Trust

In April the Emery Rail Heritage Trust awarded the Friends of the 261 and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society each $30,000 grants for the installation of Positive Train Control on their steam locomotives. The money will be used to kick-start the groups individual fundraising efforts to cover the estimated $120,000 for PTC implementation.

The trust was established by the late John H. Emery, a Chicago resident and avid railroad enthusiast who wanted to preserve rolling stock and infrastructure so that future generations could enjoy what he considered to be the Golden Age of Railroads from the 1920 to 1960.

“We are grateful to The Emery Rail Heritage Trust for this very kind contribution. We look forward to working with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and sharing information on how best to solve this challenge facing our non-profit groups,” said Steve Sandberg, President & Chief Operating Officer of Friends of the 261.

The Friends is currently working with Wabtec Railway Electronics to perform an assessment on how PTC will be installed on 261.
“We are hopeful that various suppliers of PTC equipment will see our non-profit organizations as worthy causes to help in this process,” Sandberg added.

2017 North Pole Express: another success

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulled the 4th annual North Pole Express at the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul in November and December. The trips have become a holiday tradition for thousands. The 2017 version of the Express operated Nov. 30-Dec. 3 and Dec. 7-10 with multiple runs each day carrying over 10,000 passengers.

The North Pole Express offers a 60-minute train ride on the Union Depot grounds. After departing the depot platform, the trains travel to the east end of the depot property to Santa’s Workshop, a structure built by Friends volunteers. Santa boards the train and collects letters written to him by passengers. He visits with each child on the trip back to the depot, then volunteers offer children cookies and hot cocoa in the depot on their return.

Passengers now enjoy a slightly longer ride because depot owner Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority extended the tail track on the east end of the depot property by 251 feet in 2016.

Special trains also operated. On Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 trips for the Minnesota Wild/Ronald McDonald House were operated. On Dec. 8 a trip ran for North Pole Express sponsors, and Dec. 9 another special trip was made for sponsor Bell Bank. The same day, Metro Transit operated a Northstar commuter train to the depot from Big Lake, Minn. and intermediate points.

Sponsors for the 2017 North Pole Express included BNSF Railway, Bell Bank Mortgage, Broadway Pizza, Hilltop Carrier and RV, JJL, ReMax Advantage Plus, Trademark Title Services, Inc., and Union Depot.

Plans are already underway for the 2018 version of the North Pole Express during the upcoming holiday season.

Friends of the 261 traveling to Scotland in May 2019

2019The Friends of the 261 will be sponsoring a once a once in a lifetime holiday in Scotland in May 2019. This 10-day Holiday, which will take place May 8-17 includes truly spectacular Scottish Highland Scenery. We will travel by steam train in private luxury rail cars and stay in four and five-star hotels. The tour allows for plenty of private time to sightsee and will offer extra guided tours of some of Scotland’s most famous attractions.

Our steam power will be the world famous 4-6-2 “Flying Scotsman” and Class B1 “Mayflower.” This is the first time “Flying Scotsman” has been to Northern Scotland since its overhaul. In Fort William passengers will enjoy the Jacobite Railway and travel by steam locomotive over the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous in the movie “Harry Potter” to the sea side village of Mallaig. Among the trip highlights are:
* Leaving from London we join the Flying Scotsman in York to travel on a beautiful stretch of railway including vistas such as Durham Cathedral, the Angel of the North, Holy Island and over the Royal Border Bridge into Edinburgh.
* Locomotive B Class 4-6-0 Mayflower will take us north across the beautiful scenery to the famous castle of Dunrobin. There will be time to explore the magnificent castle and grounds, home to the Earls of Caithness. The Mayflower will also haul the train on one of the great railway journeys of the world across the highlands with breathtaking scenery along the West Coast to the Kyle of Lochalsh.

Click here for more information.

2018 – Car Shop Report Summer

Category : Uncategorized

In December 2017 the Friends of the 261 purchased two dome cars from Canadian National. The cars are former Western Pacific California Zephyr dome coach Silver Palace and Algoma Central dome coach observation. The cars were last used on CN’s Algoma Central Railway Agawa Canyon Tour Train. CN gained ownership of the cars when it acquired Wisconsin Central and subsidiary Algoma Central in 2001.

The former WP car was named Silver Palace and numbered 813 when the Budd Co. delivered it to Western Pacific in 1948. It remained in Zephyr service until the train was discontinued in 1970, then was sold to Auto-Train. It went through a succession of owners, and was leased to several operators before WC bought the car in 1998. Among the work being done on the car are all new dome windows, removing paint and a red painted band from the side of the car, replacing damaged side windows, head end power repairs, Amtrak certification updates, generator rebuilding, electrical clean ups and updates, servicing of the plumbing system, service and repair HVAC system, new window sills, new custom ordered carpet (like what is currently in Skytop Cedar Rapids but blue), and LED lighting upgrades. The car will make its debut on the Gourmet Express in September.

The Algoma Central car was one 15 of the dome blunt-end observation cars ordered by Union Pacific from American Car & Foundry. UP received the car in February 1955 and assigned it to the City of Los Angeles. It was sold to Auto-Train in 1972 and renumbered 901. In late 1981, it was sold to a dealer, then in 1982 was sold to the Green Bay & Western Railroad for use as a business car. WC acquired the GB&W in 1993, and in 1997 the car was moved to Algoma Central

With the addition of the two cars, the Friends now own cars built by the three major dome car builders: American Car & Foundry, Budd Co., and Pullman Standard. The Friends has owned P-S built Milwaukee Road Super Dome No. 53 since 2005.


PTC Could End Mainline Steam Excursions

Category : Uncategorized

Now that we have your attention we want you to know how critical PTC is to the future operations of the 261. Without it operating a steam powered passenger excursion train on any mainline will not happen.

Positive Train Control, PTC, federal mandate becomes effective December 31, 2018.

For a technology that matures daily and while the FRA has not made the final ruling regarding steam locomotive operations relying on waivers is not a long term solution.

PTC is designed to monitor speed and location of a train and can override the controls, reduce the throttle and apply the brakes in an emergency situation such as an immanent collision, incapacitated crew, missed signal or misaligned switch. The adaptation for steam is challenging with the requirement of a programmable on board computer, server for information access, dedicated power source with redundant backup power, monitors,and wayside monitoring system all being installed in the dirty unclimate controlled environment of the steam locomotive cab. Additionally being capable of interoperability between the different host railroads PTC technology and software systems. Then adding an element of electronic mechanical throttle and braking control over a manually operated system of a steam locomotive.

The cost of implementing PTC nationwide is in the billions.

The Friends of the 261 assessment of the scope and cost to retrofit the locomotive with PTC means we are tasked with approximately $150,000 for the parts, equipment and technical know-how to install and operate the associated components.

With this in mind the Friends have been working with the FRA, other mainline steam operators, potential host railroads, and suppliers on how to adapt PTC to steam operations.

The Friends have identified and applied for several grants to help with this new cost burden but now our fund raising must start in earnest as it is our responsibility to raise and allocate this major sum for the implementation of PTC in addition to our existing operational and ongoing mechanical, maintenance costs associated with operating the 261 annually.

Sales of Steam passenger excursions, Windy City trips, private car rentals, North Pole Express events and donations are essential to help with this funding effort.
The Friends of the 261 will absolutely need the support of every member if the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive is to continue to operate mainline excursions beyond 2018.

We are counting on everyone to help! Click here to help keep mainline steam operating today by donating!

2018 Dues Notice and Appeal

Category : Uncategorized

It’s dues time again for the Friends of the 261, but before I speak briefly about our activities and goals, I want to say thank you to all our members and friends for your generous support over the years. Thanks to your dues and donations, we’ve been able to keep 261 in operation, update our car fleet, and buy new cars such as the recently acquired buffet/diner Henry Hudson.

I also have exciting news for you: we have purchased two dome cars from Canadian National! The cars are former Western Pacific California Zephyr dome coach Spirit of Superior and Algoma Central dome coach observation 901. The cars were last used on CN’s Algoma Central Railway. The WP car was named Silver Palace and was delivered to Western Pacific by the Budd Co. in 1948. It is Amtrak compatible and will enter service in 2018. The ACR car is a blunt end dome observation built for Union Pacific by American Car & Foundry in 1955. It will need some work before entering service.

In addition to the dome car purchase, there were several other exciting developments for your organization in 2017. Among the highlights were:

  • Operating No. 261 on the Red River Valley & Western Railroad to celebrate their 30th Anniversary, the first time 261 has run on RRVW
  • Fall Colors excursions with No. 261 on Twin Cities & Western and Minnesota Prairie Line
  • Operated our annual North Pole Express trips at St. Paul Union Depot carrying over 10,000 passengers
  • Acquired buffet-diner Henry Hudson
  • Completed the rebuilding of dome car Silver Club for the Lake Superior Railroad Museum
  • Ran three “Windy City” charters on Amtrak from St. Paul to Chicago
  • Continued our successful international tours with a visit to Ireland. Two more tours, to Germany and the Czech Republicand to Russia are planned in 2018
  • Overhauled sleeper Minnesota River with new sheet metal, partial repainting, updated the air brake system and performed the mandatory Amtrak truck roll out inspection
  • Sent several passenger cars to West Virginia to operate on New River Train excursions
  • Completed roof repairs to Milwaukee Road business car “Milwaukee” with new metal topped with a rubber truck bend liner coating
  • Performed required Amtrak repairs including new wheels under privately owned dome car Northern Sky.
  • Installed firebox grates from Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 in No. 261 to replace older grates that had worn out or were damaged by heat.

These are just a few of the activities the Friends of the 261 undertook in 2017. As you can imagine, keeping 261 under steam and maintaining our expanding car fleet to meet Amtrak standards is very expensive. For example, the new rubber truck bend liner coating for business car Milwaukee cost $5000! In light of this we are increasing our yearly regular dues from $25 to $30. This is the first time since the Friends was founded in 1992 that we’ve increased our dues, but rising costs have forced us to do so.

Thanks to your support, we are able to keep moving ahead. In 2018 we are planning more trips with 261, more car charters, and international tours. For the first time, 261 equipment will be traveling west in winter, heading to a private event in Seattle on January 27, and we will be selling tickets to members and friends. By renewing your membership, and making an additional donation, we will continue our progress.

Remember, your dues and donations are fully deductible under both federal and state income tax law, so if you act before the end of the year you can deduct the amount on your 2017 income tax return. You can renew and donate by sending the notice back by mail, or simply going to

Thanks again for your continuing support. I hope to see you on a Friends of the 261 excursion or charter in 2018!

Steve Sandberg
Friends of the 261
Chief Operating Officer