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.
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.
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.