Mar 16, 2019

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

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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.

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