Historic Rail News & Notes

Amtrak repainted one of its locomotives to help celebrate Operation Lifesaver's 50th anniversary and to promote safety around railroad tracks and crossings. Photo courtesy of Amtrak

Operation Lifesaver observes 50th anniversary

Operation Lifesaver turns 50 this year. In honor of the celebration, Amtrak has repainted one of its locomotives to promote safety around tracks and draw attention to the organization’s long-standing partnership with the passenger service.

Railfans are encouraged to be on the lookout for the brightly colored locomotive, which Amtrak says will be in service at various points throughout the country on the passenger service’s network.

Operation Lifesaver is the largest rail safety organization in the United States. It was started by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1972 as a means of providing public education programs on how motorists and pedestrians can stay safe around railroad crossings and tracks. The program began in Idaho, and after that state’s crossing-related fatalities declined that year by 43 percent, other states began adopting the program. In a decade, Operation Lifesaver was active nationwide.

For more information, visit oli.org.


New book traces Georgia railway's history

A new book by Todd DeFeo, founder of The DeFeo Groupe and the editor of Railfanning.org, focuses on the Atlanta Northern Railway, marking the first complete standalone history of the interurban line.

The rail line connected Atlanta and Marietta, starting in July 1905 until it ceased operations in early 1947. A predecessor of Georgia Power owned and operated the line for much of its history.

“The Atlanta Northern helped shape the region and provided an invaluable transportation link for residents living in the region,” DeFeo said. “Like so much of railroad history, the Atlanta Northern’s story has been largely overlooked and forgotten over the years. I hope this work helps keep the railroad’s story alive for current and future students of history.”

The interurban line more or less paralleled the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a state-owned line that connected Atlanta and Chattanooga, TN. The new book features rare photos, details about the line’s operations and anecdotes and stories rarely published and nearly forgotten by history.

Using newspaper accounts, rarely seen historical documents and other research, DeFeo weaves together the story of this interesting line, which passed through Smyrna and other smaller communities between Atlanta and Marietta.

An award-winning journalist and marketer, DeFeo has previously published books on the Western & Atlantic, the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville and the Indiana, Alabama & Texas railroads. He has also published books on streetcars in Clarksville, Tennessee, and the Northeast Corridor.

The DeFeo Groupe published the book Jan. 31, 2022, the 75th anniversary of the final Atlanta Northern run. The book is available for purchase on the Railfanning.org store and other retailers. For more about the history of the Atlanta Northern Railway, visit Railfanning.org.


This rendering shows the new gondola design developed by The Greenbrier Companies in partnership with Norfolk Southern and U.S. Steel. The railroad has committed to add up to 800 of the innovative railcars to its fleet. Photo courtesy of The Greenbrier Companies

Partners develop innovative railcar design

Railroad company Norfolk Southern Corp. will add as many as 800 gondola railcars based on an innovative design developed in partnership with The Greenbrier Companies and U.S. Steel Corp., the company announced.

The more sustainable steel freight car is fabricated from a high-strength, lighter weight steel from U.S. Steel which will reduce each car’s unloaded weight by up to 15,000 pounds. A stronger, more durable exterior finish also benefits the gondola’s body, thereby lowering maintenance costs, Norfolk Southern said.

The innovation comes at a time when the railroad and many others in the industry seek options for replacing an aging railcar fleet. U.S. Steel has responded by adapting its high-strength steel products used in the auto industry for rail applications.

Greenbrier, which provided the engineering for the gondola, designs, builds and markets freight railcars in North America, Brazil, and Europe. The company manages 444,000 railcars and provides management, regulatory compliance services, and railcar leasing to railroads and railcar owners.