Landmarks on the Steel Highway

Most of us are drawn trackside by the action, brute energy and speed of a passing train. No matter what era, the sight of train in motion at very least catches our attention and often makes a lasting impression that prompts photographers to stand trackside with camera in hand and modelers to try and replicate the railroad scene in miniature. Most of that attention is focused on locomotives and cars however the total scene and in particular, railroad structures should not be ignored by photographers and model railroaders.

The “Steel Highway” is rich with outstanding examples from various eras of the structures and facilities that railroads rely on to deliver their service and maintain their fleet of locomotives and rolling stock. The resurgence of the railroad industry in the past 40 years has accelerated the renewal of many railroad facilities and prompted the removal of older, obsolete structures. Fortunately for the model railroader a wealth of building kits, built-up models and almost an endless variety from all eras of scratch building materials makes replicating railroading structures a rewarding pursuit. This article will feature images of the changing railroad scene to illustrate the range of possibilities a model railroader can pursue.

Our railroads were developed to move freight and passenger service was clearly secondary. Accordingly, in the infancy of the industry, freight stations resembled commercial warehouses but had a small space within reserved for a passenger ticket office and waiting room. The original Frederick, MD terminal of the Baltimore & Ohio was once such structure. As traffic expanded, the logical separation of freight and passenger agencies occurred in midsize towns and larger cities. Several images of that transition up to the expansive and modern produce terminal designs are featured here. The traditional 40-foot boxcar and warehouse operation has given way to the intermodal freight and the expansive supporting yards that required.

Passenger service advanced quickly as well, and the small and cramped pioneer station facilities gave way to wide range of designs and sizes of passenger stations and terminals. The era of grand station building was ebbing by the late 1920s when railroads had matured but also displayed some signs of aging. The disaster of the Great Depression and the surge in automobiles, busses, and air travel cut deeply in rail passenger travel and accordingly the last grand union passenger terminals were completed at Buffalo in 1930, Cincinnati in 1933 and Los Angeles in 1939. Nothing much occurred with the development of newer passenger stations form that period until the 1970s after the formation of Amtrak in 1971. Older stations were remodeled and, in many cases, “right sized” to better support the skeleton passenger routes that remained. But recently newer suburban and large city designs have been completed.

Servicing facilities for steam and diesel offer and endless variety of options for the model railroader. Operationally and from a visual impact standpoint, roundhouses and turntables have continually fascinated many trackside observers. Larger back shops for locomotives and rolling stock and the newer diesel shops also hold much intrigue. Next to all of that, coaling facilities, water supply, sanding facilities and diesel fueling facilities likewise make replicating a locomotive terminal a worthwhile project.

January is the perfect time to take stock of the opportunities that exist on your own system and consider rebuilding or adding some new structures from our complete line of railroad structures and detailing supplies. No matter what era or size of operation you have, our selection and acclaimed rewards program can help make that project achievable. To help with that, you can save 10% on any building or structure on our store with promo code 10LANDMARK until Friday!

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FAW, MBK, Inc.