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Iron Trails Of North America, 1978-2008

Last revised: February 24, 2023

In Iron Trails Of North America, 1978-2008 by author Robert W. Burns you will see a classic assortment of railroads from the early Conrail era to today's BNSF Railway system and everything in between.

In particular, if you are not interested in much reading then you will especially enjoy the book because it is filled end to end with color photography!

Of course, main line railroads are not the only subject featured by Mr. Burns. Other topics covered include tourist railroads such as Cass Scenic, the defunct Knox & Kane, large steam locomotives once used on excursions, and remnants of notable fallen flags.

While there is not a lot of writing presented the title is nonetheless broken down amongst several different chapters, which mention what railroad or subject will be featured.

Not only are the images featured excellent but also, once again, Schiffer Publishing does a magnificent job in highlighting them through a hardcover book with large and vivid photography.

Iron Trails Of North America, 1978-2008 begins with a preface where the author offers insight into how he became interested in railroads in the first place.

He also briefly describes his family's history with the industry, although this did not necessarily influence his interest in trains. In the following introduction you will read about a brief history of the railroads followed by its resurgence in recent years.

As Mr. Burns explains much of this recovery has been the result of two primary factors:

  • First, the 1980 Staggers Act greatly deregulated the industry by allowing railroads to more easily abandon or sell unprofitable lines along with setting freight trains. 

  • Second, the efficiency of scale provided cannot be beat among any other mode of transportation (along with being more environmentally friendly).

Beginning in chapter one you will see photos of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and its predecessors.

To begin, Mr. Burns provides a brief history of the BNSF from the roads which make up the Class I to its present day operations.

As you might expect the images presented include shots of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in California and the Burlington Northern in Montana.

The author also offers views of the early BNSF era from 1995 through 2000, which includes its first paint schemes. Moving into chapter two you will head back east and look at the Norfolk Southern and Conrail era.

Once again a brief history of both lines is offered, particularly Conrail. Perhaps the most fascinating pictures in this section are that of Conrail's early years with former Erie Lackawanna and Penn Central units still in their original paint.

An important point to note is that with all of Mr. Burns' photos he offers wonderfully detailed captions.

For instance, in one photo depicting Alco RS3s in Conrail paint the author speaks of the upgrades these units received during their final years of service and how the new conglomerate was interested in selling or scrapping these unreliable (or worn out) units as soon as possible.

Remember, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Conrail was still seeing annual deficits and was trying almost anything to return to a level of profitability, which would not occur until the mid 1980s.

There are a few Norfolk & Western units seen in this chapter although it mostly focuses on Conrail at various stages of operations until its takeover by CSX Transportation and NS in 1999.

In chapter three an overview of CSX Transportation is presented. Most of the predecessor images of Chessie System and the Baltimore & Ohio are centered around western Pennsylvania prior to those lines being either sold or abandoned.

During chapter four you will see the mighty Union Pacific with most photos taken in the far west in either California, Nevada or Wyoming.

Additionally, the UP itself is almost universally presented with just a few scenes of predecessors like the Rio Grande and North Western (Chicago & North Western).

In chapter five Iron Trails Of North America, 1978-2008 changes course a bit and looks at one of our most popular tourist railroads, Cass Scenic in West Virginia.

If you want to see geared steam locomotives in service Cass is the place to be and Mr. Burns presents most of the fleet currently in service.

During chapter six you will head west to see the popular excursion trains of the Rocky Mountains such as the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic and Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge. Chapter eight is entitled "Here And There" and as it suggests provides a general cornucopia of scenes from around the country and even railroads in Australia. T

he rest of the book, so as to not simply repeat what has already been stated above, looks at more tourist lines, small short lines, and remnants of fallen flags no longer in operation.

Finally, in chapter fourteen the author again provides a mixture of photographs from Conrail to the Knox & Kane.

Overall, Iron Trails Of North America, 1978-2008 should appeal to almost any railfan or simply anyone interested in trains.

Since the earliest images date only to the late 1970s you will not be able to see many of the classic lines that were already gone by then such as the Pennsylvania, New York Central, Burlington, and others there are still plenty of fallen flags presented like those mentioned above.

Additionally, the book offers a nice blend of both steam and diesel locomotives in action, all of which are in color. 

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