Here is a wonderful short documentary done in 1959, logged in the National Film Board of Canada, documenting a small window panning across the middle of the last days of steam locomotive dominance in Canada in the late 50s to early 60s.
By 1960, all but preserved tourist locomotives were gone in the United States. But in Canada, a few steam locomotives were in service in the 60s.
In the UK and most of Europe and Japan, a few mainline steam trains were operating through the 60s and into the early to mid-70s. It is also true that in North America, trains in general, were becoming less important as the automobile and airline industries worked hard to push the railroad out of public consciousness (and did not succeed in many ways).
In Europe and Japan, for instance, the railroads have continued to play a major role. The nostalgic emotions for steam locomotives are still a major aspect of most cultures around the world. This beautiful documentary uses interviews and the lives of those who had worked intimately with steam trains, to portray loss, change, and the contradictions of the passing of steam locomotives into the category of ‘relic.’ However, train travel in North America is again on the rise. The railroads also understand the steam locomotive to be strong central figures in the bedrock of most modern societies and reminders of colonial and imperial might and industrial-technological advancement and and nation-building itself. The steam locomotive will most likely not go away from human consciousness completely.
This documentary is certainly worth a quiet 30 minutes of our time with a hot drink along with our deepest connections to our histories and where we are headed as humans.
End of the Line by Terence Macartney-Filgate, 30 minutes, 1959.
This is a superb short film for any steam and/or railroad fan or historian/anthropologist.
Some of the most beautiful scenes of vintage European steam in film were crafted in French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s 1938 film entitled La Bête humaine (English: The Human Beast; and in the UK released also as Judas Was a Woman).
The film centers on an express train engineer who discovers his wife was seduced by a wealthy godfather and plots their murder. This murder is witnessed by a co-railway worker. The plot complexifies further with the ramifications of this murderous path.
The express steam train pulled by French steam type 231 plays a major star role in the movie throughout, representing and symbolizing the human journeys, with beautiful photography and atmosphere.
Read more here:
Here are some clips:
Often, unknowing people only see toy trains and tour trains that travel slowly, making the people of today have unrealistic memories and images of how steam travel was. Although I can say that in Europe, many steam excursion trains run at speed, sometimes, most of the steam trains in Japan and the United States travel at slower speeds than what it would have been like in the days when steam was everyday normal.
These videos give a glimpse of what some of the “at-speed” speeds were like. Most of the express passenger trains pulled by steam locomotives in the 1930s through the early 50s, traveled at speeds exceeding 80 mph and the best of them traveled at over 100 mph.
Today, the fastest electric and magnet-driven trains can go over 300 mph. In the United States, this has not been seen yet. The United States, at the moment, does not seem to care too much about rail travel, even as more and more people are returning to the joys of train travel today, becoming tired of the monopoly of air, bus and car long-distance travel.
Below, from 1995, is a clip from a PSOV DVD, of the Princess Elizabeth #46203 locomotive speeding by at over 60 mph, and at 80 mph at stations.
In the United States, in 1926, rail passenger travel was in its glory years. That year, the New York Central Railroad, one of the most prestigious, powerful, and largest railroad corporations in the world at the time, wanted a faster and stronger locomotive to pull the longer and heavier passenger trains required by the increase in passenger travel in the United States.
That year, although the elegant and mightily Pacific steam locomotives had been handling the bulk of the fastest and longest passenger lines in the United States by most of the first world national railroad companies, the New York Central ordered the mighty 4-6-4 wheel arrangement “Hudson” locomotives, as they were to be called by the New York Central Railroads.
The Hudsons were popularized in the US American public via an intense publicity campaign. Television ads, new movies, billboard signs and magazine articles abound. Model trains pushed the “Hudson” as the epitome of the beautiful, grimy, energetic and powerful passenger steam locomotive that was constructed in the social imaginary during these times.
Later, the Hudson locomotive was re-designed on the exterior with a silver and gray streamlined body, which were assigned to the famous passenger trains: The 20th Century Limited and the Empire State Express.
Even later, as Diesel locomotives began erasing steam locomotives off their roster and into their garbage heaps, a stronger, faster and more efficient locomotive was to enter the New York Central Railroad’s roster–the Niagara. I will cover this locomotive more in detail later.
If I were to be asked what is my most favorite of favorite locomotives of all time and I had to begrudgingly decide, it would have to be the NIAGARA. But i am off-topic here. Here I cover the Hudson locomotive, which dutifully and proudly served the New York Central from 1927 to the demise of steam in the mid-to-late 50s in the US. Versions of the Hudson remained popular throughout the world however, into the 70s.
More reading: http://www.steamlocomotive.com/hudson/
One of the largest and strongest railroad conglomerates in the United States, from 1838 through the Golden Age of Railroads in the US, was the Norfolk & Western Railroad (NW or N&W).
Through the years, as all large and powerful corporations do, the company bought out smaller and medium-sized rail companies as they all began losing business to the ever-increasing airline business and the automobile industries in the US. Unlike Europe and Asian, where rail companies continued to play an important role in community lives and transportation, the US chose to relegate rail to the carrying of freight. The NW merged with Southern Railway in 1982, to form the Norfolk Southern.
After the demise of steam in the late 1950s, certain rail companies continued to run excursion trips with steam locomotives, which were a large part of the steam and rail preservation consciousness. The Norfolk Southern steam excursion program was one of the most beloved by fans. Its main locomotives included the N&W 611 and the N&W 1218 which are now displayed in museums but not running. The excursion program ran its final steam excursion in 1994 . . . . . . . . until NOW!!
In 2010, the Norfolk Southern announced its plans to run steam excursions to celebrate its 30th Anniversary, working closely with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
In August-September 2011, the Southern Railway (SR) 630 was the first steam locomotive to kick-off the program, called: 21st Century Steam.
The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society announced that is big and popular locomotive, Nickel Plate (NKP) 765 is also slated to run (photo above, and last video). The NKP 765 video is of an earlier trip for you to enjoy, anticipating the upcoming excursion.
Locomotive WP 7161 is a Chittranjan Locomotive Works built engine, beginning runs in 1965. This locomotive was re-built and brought back for a special run in 2012.
Most of the locomotives in India, during the reign of steam, were built, of course by the colonial British that ruled India. Since then, American-built locomotives were also used.
This locomotive is one of the bullet-nosed streamlined designs that gained royal favor with the Royal Indian government and gave service on some of the more elite express train service across the Indian continent.