• Can you help an old U.K. Railfan now living in the Midwest?

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.

Moderator: railohio

  by Moleyuk
Here's a question that's a little out of left field. I'm an English ex-pat that's been living in central Illinois for the past 15 years but I have recently rekindled my interest in train spotting.
As a young boy, I was lucky enough to go on many spotting trips with my elder brothers, predominantly in and around the West Country, where the Great Western Railway (GWR) was king, but also sometimes further afield. This was in the mid 60's when steam was giving way to diesel and there was sometimes electric locomotives to be seen.
After a long day, or days, on the end of a platform or, if luck would have it, looking through a grimy engine shed, there would be the rewarding task of logging the numbers in the Ian Allen loco shed or combined volumes. Each number seen would be carefully underlined and, if you were lucky, you would get to underline a 'picture cop' where there was a picture in the book of a loco you'd seen. Over time, the collection would build up and new spots were always eagerly awaited.
Now I am starting to have an interest in US railroads, I was wondering if there was an equivalent book, or nowadays app, where all the possible loco numbers were listed and could gradually be underlined when seen. I've had a brief look around but can't see anything and the task seems to be a giant one.
I was hoping with your collectively vast knowledge of the rail fan world in this area that you would have some insights into whether such a listing/book/app etc exists and where I might find it. It may be that my approach maybe old fashioned, based as it is on 50 year old memories of a much smaller nation, but those memories are very fond and surprisingly strong after all this time and it would be nice if such a thing still existed for this country.
Thank you for listening to an older man reminisce and ramble on and I thank you in anticipation of your generous attention to my inquiry.
(As I send this, I'm camped out outside the BNSF/Metra depot in Chicago restarting my current number collection).
  by ExCon90
I go back more than a few years and have never seen or heard of such publications for U. S. railroads. I don't think recording of numbers has ever been nearly as widespread here as in the U. K.--in fact, practically unknown. (I did know a guy in the Army who meticulously recorded the number of every streetcar he rode, and the points where he boarded and alighted, but he used a blank notebook for that.) I'm not computer literate, but given today's technological capabilities, it might be possible to find a website showing equipment rosters (someone on here probably knows which ones there are), somehow download it to a tablet, and then mark the unit numbers as you spot them. Bear in mind also that interchangeability of locomotives means that you'll see locos of almost any railroad on almost any other railroad at any time--no Gresley A4's on the Cornish Riviera.
  by Moleyuk
Thank you for the reply. The thought of a Gresley on the Cornish Riviera would have brought thousands of trainspotters, young and old alike, lining up along the route to see such a scarcity. Every bridge, platform, embankment and cutting would have been covered.
I know the relevant task is enormous and I wasn't aware that the idea of number taking was so rare here. Maybe I could start a trend - lol. I know The Diesel Depot has links to many of the stock lists and I could download some of them. It would be a monumental job in need of constant updating. However, maybe I need a challenge that could see me into my retirement and beyond. It could be a bit like 'The Field of Dreams'. Create it and they will use it - or not. Lol
Thanks again for the reply and I'll be interested to see how this develops. Anyone else interested in any number list that might be created for logging locos seen?
  by RRspatch
I found two apps that might be of help -

http://www.train-spotting.co.uk/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The above link points to an Apple IOS app.

https://www.appszoom.com/android_applic ... fakbl.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The above link points to an Android app.

While both apps appear to be set up for the UK/European market it's possible you still might make use of them.

As several people have pointed out writing down engine numbers was never a big thing over here. The closest I ever got to doing that was to keep a record of where I took a picture and what the engine number was. This helped me to catalog my slide collection (remember slides?). I also wrote down car numbers (consists) of Amtrak trains I traveled on.
  by Moleyuk
Thanks for the latest reply. As you suggest, both the apps seem to be for the UK Trainspotting scene but I'll certainly look into those, thanks.
In a way, I'm surprised that the habit of taking train numbers hasn't taken off over here. I mean, you guys are really spoiled because the numbers on your locos are HUGE. Also, as suggested by a previous respondent, there's always the possibility of seeing different company's locos on any line and I would've thought that would've made it even more interesting. However, perhaps it just points to us English people being sad. LOL.
Collecting train numbers was always a good way of getting young people interested in railroads. They might get hooked on a particular color or type or company and then that led to maybe larger things. I know that when you were getting close to completing a set of a particular locomotive, you would almost go to any lengths to get the last remaining numbers. It was always exciting when you got one you hadn't seen before. As with many hobbies, it got to you to see places that you would never dream of seeing if it was not for that hobby.
Finally, when I was Trainspotting, I was too young to take pictures of my own. However, my interest of my teen years and later was military aircraft and I took many a slide of the various different airplanes you could see in England at that time. As with the passing of steam on railroads, I think maybe the golden days of spotting military airplanes has passed us by as they become more expensive and more cosseted.
Thank you again for the reply and I'm really interested by the comments that are being made. I look forward to seeing more.
  by ExCon90
I think that for many who grew up in the 1940's and -50's what took the place of spotting different engine numbers was the number of railroad companies that existed at that time--somewhat like Britain pre-Grouping. Sometime in the 20's the Interstate Commerce Commission (at that time the Federal agency regulating railroads) proposed the U. S. equivalent of the Grouping--and for the same reasons--but it never happened, and there were a great many different railroads. You saw railroad names like Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and on and on. Most railroads used their boxcars to publicize their names and advertising slogans--Santa Fe All the Way, Everywhere West, Through the Heart of the South, etc. There is little doubt that many youngsters got some idea from that of what was out there, since in those days freight cars were seen everywhere.
  by Moleyuk
Thank you ex con for your evocative reply. Your description of the beautiful variety that was existant before regulatory interference makes it come alive for someone who wasn't there.

That rich diversity was definitely one of the attractions in the first place. As you pointed out, the days before everything in England was absorbed into one railway company, British Railways, was a glorious mix of different companies with different color schemes. Even after nationalization, the remnants of the original companies lived on. Even 20 years later, when I was finally old enough to take an interest, and the age of steam was about to pass away, there were the vestiges of diversity.

On the West Coast, where the GWR was king, you would see their dark green, almost British racing green, engines with glorious copper top chimneys and the occasional chocolate and cream coaches. Loco classes like Halls and Manors, Castles and Kings, set the young blood racing, each with individual name plates.

If you ventured to the south coast, you would see the lighter green Bulleid class locos (Battle of Britains, West Countries and Merchant Navys). Then there were the streamlined A4 Pacifics like 'The Mallard' or 'Sir Nigel Gresley' of the LNER. Finally, you had the almost purple engines of the LMS, like Coronation Scots and Queen Elizabeth.

Another big difference between US and UK railways was that UK railways were predominantly passenger trains whereas in the US it was the reverse with freight being more prolific. As a previous contributor mentioned, it was always a thrill when you saw a locomotive of a different region visiting with a special train.

I think these days, we just have to be a little bit more imaginative. There is still diversity there but you just have to look closer. For example, I noticed when I was looking at the Chicago Metra trains that some of them had names and others didn't. It would be nice to find out which locos have been named and to see each of them in person. I also see from a lot of the different photos posted on the various railfan websites that some of the companies are still experimenting with different color schemes and it would be nice to see some of those in various different locations. Maybe the spotting of old has gone but it's still possible that a new style of spotting could become popular.

Anyway, I've rambled on enough. Thank you to you all again for all of your input so far and I look forward to hearing more comments as the days go on.
  by ExCon90
As to the naming of Metra locomotives, you might try posting a question under Chicagoland Commuter & Transit. Someone who follows that forum can probably list every one of them without having to look it up.
Last edited by ExCon90 on Sat Sep 02, 2017 1:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by Engineer Spike
With the private corporate structure, railroads tend to trade locomotives around. Sometimes one company will lease a class for 15-20 years. When that lease expires, sometimes the whole class will get picked up elsewhere. A good example is the B&M 200 class, which went to KCS. Other times they go to lease fleets. A midwestern line might rent them for extra traffic at harvest time. Now that class may have numbered 20. XYZ shortline now calls and wants to buy 5, the ABC buys 15....Eventually they get scattered like dust in the wind.

There is a magazine called Diesel Era. They often have articles about one class of locomotive on one railroad, such as one that I have about Burlington Northern SD40-2. Sometimes the articles are more about one type.

I’ve had some fun in yr country riding mainline steam, and riding persevered lines. I’m due for a trip, but this time to visit my ancestral home in East Anglia.
  by Moleyuk
Hi Spike,

Thanks for the input. It all sounds very complicated! Lol. I’ll do my best to keep up.

Before I came to the States, I lived for 15 years in Ipswich, which is in East Anglia. There’s a lot of good rail lines and museums in the area but I would definitely recommend the museum at Bressingham near Diss in Norfolk as they have a lot of classic mainline steam locos restored. Also, the North Norfolk railine in Sheringham is also worth a visit.

Have fun on your trip and let us all know how it goes.
  by [email protected]
Hi Moleyuk,nice to know that I'm not the only ex-pat Brit on here.I moved to the US about 9 1/2yrs ago and now living in Cleveland Ohio,anyway to answer your original question have you tried the locomotive Directory books that might still be available.I know NS,BNSF and maybe CSX had one.I've included a link to the NS book.Take care and please feel free to PM me....

https://www.ronsbooks.com/NORFOLK-SOUTH ... 18103.html
  by Moleyuk
Hey Basher!!

Thanks so much for the info, it looks very interesting and I’ll have to follow up on it. It’ll be good to have something with which to cross refer all my engine sightings.

In the meantime, happy train spotting and try not to get too tired of being called an Australian. Lol
  by electricron
You are asking for a lot, just look at the number of locomotives with the Class I railroads today!
UP = 8,185 locomotives (2013), 32,100 miles of rail
BNSF = over 8,000 locomotives, 32,500 miles of rail
CSX = over 4,000 locomotives, 21,000 miles of rail
NS = over 4,100 locomootives, 21,500 miles of rail
CN = 1,548 locomotives (2007), 20,400 miles of rail
CP = 1,563 locomotives, 12,500 miles of rail
KCS = around 400 locomotives, 3,400 miles of rail
Remember, this is just the Class I freight railroads, not including all the freight shortlines and passenger train agencies.
Subtotal = 27,796 freight locomotives.

Using college ruled paper with 30 lines, and, listing 10 train numbers per line, which would be 300 locomotives per page, your spiral notebook would have to have 93 pages to list these 27,800 freight locomotives.
Math = 278/3 = 92.6667, rounded up to 93 pages.

Your typical Mead college rule spiral notebook you can buy in the USA has 70 or 100 pages. You are going to have to buy the thicker one with a $1 higher price. :)

You will have to buy another to list all the passenger trains and shortline freights.
Good luck!

There's just too many locomotives in the USA to even think one could list them all. Every company uses their own number scheme, so you will have to multiple listings on 1-10,000.
In the UK, there is only one train in the entire country with number 158001. In the USA, there could be 5 locomotives numbered as 2001.
  by Moleyuk
Hi electricron,

Thanks for taking the time to reply to my original post and for quantifying the problem. I am somewhat relieved to hear that I will only need two books to record all the numbers. I was worried it might take three, the cost of which would render the project totally impossible. Lol

Seriously though, I’m grateful to you for putting some hard numbers on the problem. It certainly is a daunting task but, call me stupid or stubborn (I’m sure most will), I still see it as a feasible, albeit long term, project.

As for the problem of duplicated numbers, I agree that spotters in the UK are spoilt with the BR numbering system. However, prior to unification and nationalisation, the same problem could have existed with the GWR, Southern, LMS, LNER etc. issuing similar numbers. However, just as those spotters were likely to have known the difference between the various companies, I’m hopeful that the spotters of today would know the difference between a black Norfolk and Southern, an orange BNSF or a blue CSX even if they have the same number. If there arises a confusion between two similar numbers, that’s where the network of spotters could step in to assist and, to my mind, would make the whole hobby more intriguing.

Anyway, this may still remain an impossible retirement dream but wouldn’t it be fun if it came to fruition?

Thanks again for the feedback and for taking the time and trouble to comment.