Last Wednesday evening I stepped off Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian onto the platform of Pittsburgh’s spartan Amtrak station. On the next track twin burgundy locomotives idled, coupled to three Pennsylvania Railroad cars. It was not hard to imagine myself tracking along on this gleaming private train.

The lead engine’s number was easy to remember. Did the 5711 belong to Heinz corporation??

When I was a kid family vacations included train museums, train excursions, counting train cars, and model railroad exhibits. Standing next to a working private train last week gave me a thrill, and may have pushed me from casual railfan to ferroequinologist, a term for “one who studies iron horses,” or—a train geek.

Photograph by Dan Davidson from the Akron Railroad Club Blog. "The Pennsy E units pass by MP 211 in Amherst, Ohio, on May 8, 2011, at 3:48 p.m."

I tugged on my railroad research cap. The 5711 locomotive, its twin, number 5809, and the three cars it pulls, are owned by a Philadelphia-area businessman. After overnighting in Pittsburgh, 5711 and company would continued choo-chooing to Chicago to celebrate National Train Day, Saturday, May 7. Officially, numbers 5711 and 5809 are Pennsylvania Railroad E8s traveling on this trip as an “Amtrak Special.” They would be featured in Chicago’s Union Station Train Day rail equipment display.

Manufactured for PRR in 1951 by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division, the locomotives were restored at the Juniata Locomotive Shops in Altoona, PA. One blogger wrote that they were “beautifully restored to full PRR livery, right down to their trainphone antennae.”

The PRR E8 5711 on this book cover!

A catalog search and a walk up the Library stairs to the Pennsylvania Department’s railroad section revealed a long train’s worth of history. Books that caught my eye include The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Pictorial History by Edwin P. Alexander, Pennsylvania Railroad by Mike Schafer and Brian Solomon, and Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited by Joe Welsh.

A quick dip into the world of trainspotting (ferroequinology!) offers ample documentation of the PRR E8 5711/5809 recent Chicago journey. According to one spotter, this train last made a journey west in 2004. Last week it traveled in bright spring sunshine. Still photos and videos posted on various train-related web sites are glorious. They can’t compare, though, with standing next to it. Riding would be even better.



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2 responses to “Special!

  1. RK

    Great post Julie; having just taken the train to NY from Harrisburg last week. Having grown up in NY during the 60s-70s, I used to take the LIRR (Long Island RR) often to Penn Station (and Shea Stadium.) We’d pass the Sunnyside Yards which is where the Penn Central – the Pennsylvania’s successors and later on Amtrak repaired, cleaned, and assembled their trains for the next run. The yard had all the liveries – New York Central black, silver streamliners and your choice of Pennsylvania Tuscan Red (Burgundy) or Brunswick Green. I’d also see the range of motive power – E8s, ALCO F2s, Budd Metroliners and the queen of them all – The GG-1 electric engines – more mammoth than any other engine save for the older steam engines of the 30s and 40s. It all evoked wanderlust and images of Rick waiting on a Paris platform with steam rising all around him.

    • Julie

      Thanks for sharing your memories of the range of railroad lines and equipment in NY. I love how trains still evoke wanderlust. And now I know. That beautiful color is Tuscan Red!

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