The Modern Era (1970-2021)

Following the Transitional Era, railroads were no longer the primary method for moving people and goods; they now had to adapt by shedding unprofitable services and aggressively embrace new freight car designs, partner with shippers to advance unit train operations and improve diesel-electric motive power designs. Working in concert with trucking companies, railroads developed trailer trains. Those trains would eventually evolve into intermodal trains, carrying containers transportable on trains, ships, and trucks. Intermodal operations are now the most prevalent form of freight on mainline rails, followed by bulk “unit” trains.

The merger movement resumed again in 1980 and produced CSX transportation, Norfolk Southern, Burlington-Northern- Santa Fe and a greatly expanded Union Pacific. Many aggressive short line railroad managers aggressively acquired cast-off routes that became excess to larger carriers during the mega-mergers. New high horse power, high adhesion locomotives now define the motive power fleets of the largest railroads.

Amtrak has attempted to protect integral routes from being closed while steadily upgrading key service lanes including the Northeast Corridor. Passenger railroading is today experiencing a tempered revival, with a network of long distance routes connecting regional lines across the country. These are primarily operated by Amtrak, with local routes being run by public commuter agencies.

Following the Transitional Era, the Modern Era is the second most popular era currently modeled. Replicating today is a challenge of it’s own if you wish to stay up to date with changing railroading technology and trends, however again, you’ll be in good company. One unique advantage to modeling modern railroading is the advent of tourist operations, which gained traction in the 1970s. Incorporating these on your layout allows for greater flexibility, as you can use them as an excuse to run equipment from any era.

No matter the complexity it involves, the choice of era comes down to which appeals to you the most. Model railroading has the unique ability to tangibly transport you to any time or place, even if that time or place never actually existed. As we in the business say, do what makes you happy, and it’ll probably turn out right!

Planning on modeling the Modern Era? Send us some photos of your railroad on social media, we’d love to see your work!