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Reading & Northern acquires 11 ex-San Luis & Rio Grande cars

By Dan Cupper | July 23, 2021

Equipment will allow expansion of Reading & Northern excursion business

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Train with steam locomotive approaches through rock cut
Train with steam locomotive approaches through rock cut
A Reading & Northern excursion heads north at Glen Onoko, Pa., in the Lehigh Gorge State Park on July 11, 2021. Reading & Northern has added 11 passenger cars, which could allow expansion of its excursion operations. (Dan Cupper)

PORT CLINTON, Pa. — The Reading & Northern Railroad has purchased 11 passenger cars from the fleet formerly owned by the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, the Colorado operation of bankrupt Iowa Pacific Holdings. Among the cars bought at auction are several notables, including the former Southern Railway steam program open-air coach Lookout Mountain and the former Illinois Central streamlined observation-lounge car Mardi Gras.

These 11 cars will augment R&N’s fleet of some 30 passenger cars currently used in steam, diesel, and Budd Co. Rail Diesel Car excursion service over portions of the company’s 400-mile system in east-central Pennsylvania. Many of its runs operate to, or originate from, the tourist town of Jim Thorpe, Pa., with especially scenic trips running through the Lehigh Gorge State Park north of Jim Thorpe. R&N’s existing coach fleet is largely made up of former Jersey Central, Reading ex-MU and Lackawanna ex-MU cars.

Open-air observation car in brown and orange paint
Open-air observation car Lookout Mountain, shown at the San Luis & Rio Grande in 2018, is among the cars purchased by Reading & Northern. (Trains: David Lassen)

The additions – offering coach, parlor, dome, and lounge seating – will facilitate R&N owner Andy Muller Jr.’s intention to expand passenger service to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., area, a region that R&N now serves only with freight trains.

Now with more than 200 employees, R&N started life in 1983 as the 13-mile-long Blue Mountain & Reading Railroad. It has since grown into a major regional freight operator on former Reading, Jersey Central, Lehigh Valley, Lehigh & New England, and Pennsylvania Railroad trackage. In 2002, 2011, and 2015, the trade journal Railway Age named R&N as its Regional Railroad of the Year. Starting with BM&R, R&N has run passenger trains for 36 years, including with its former Reading Co. T-1-class 4-8-4 steam engine No. 2102, currently under restoration.

Cars have varied histories

Many of the San Luis & Rio Grande cars are well traveled, having been acquired from excursion operations, short lines, and tour operators nationwide. Here’s a rundown of the cars R&N purchased:

— Former SL&RG No. 59, a full-length “Super Dome” car built by Pullman-Standard in 1952 as part of a 10-car fleet for the Milwaukee Road’s Olympian Hiawatha and Twin Cities Hiawatha service. Built as Milwaukee No. 59, it will join another former Milwaukee full-length dome already on the roster, R&N No. 4, Lehigh Gorge, formerly Milwaukee 55. The newly acquired car will become R&N No. 5. It formerly ran on Amtrak trains as car No. 9383 and subsequently in tour-agency service. It differs from R&N No. 4 in that its appearance was modified with the addition of fluted-side skirting.

— Former SL&RG 1056, Lookout Mountain, ex-Southern Railway No. 1595, a 60-seat heavyweight coach rebuilt by Southern as a 44-seat open-air car for that railroad’s (and successor Norfolk Southern’s) steam program, which operated for 30 years, 1964-1994. It will become R&N No. 20.

Man standing in front of brown and orange passenger car as woman takes photo
A passenger poses with observation car Mardi Gras during a Rio Grande Scenic trip on a Trains Magazine trip in October 2018. (Trains: David Lassen)

— Former SL&RG No. 3305, Mardi Gras, a streamlined observation-lounge rebuilt in 1947 from Illinois Central 1916 heavyweight 88-seat coach 2188 to serve on the City of New Orleans, IC’s secondary intercity train on the Chicago-New Orleans route. This car has a long history in excursion service for the New Orleans and Roanoke chapters of the National Railway Historical Society. It will become R&N 7.

— Former SL&RG NO. 3378, Calumet Club, built by Pullman in 1918 as IC 88-seat coach No. 2211 and rebuilt in 1952 as a streamlined flat-end parlor-observation-lounge car. It will be renumbered R&N No. 6.

— Former SL&RG No. 2904, originally IC heavyweight coach No. 2221, will become R&N 450.

— Former SL&RG No. 1062, Chuchara Valley, formerly Canadian National heavyweight coach No. 5067. It will become R&N No. 1165.

— Former SL&RG No. 1066, a 46-seat heavyweight coach, originally Southern 60-seat coach No. 1649. To become R&N No. 451.

— Former SL&RG No. 1067, Gila Valley, a 46-seat heavyweight coach, originally Southern 60-seat coach No. 1670. Will become R&N No. 452.

— Former SL&RG No. 1068, San Luis Valley, a 46-seat heavyweight coach, originally Southern 60-seat coach No. 1668. Will be renumbered R&N No. 453.

— Former SL&RG No. 1125, Ellerslie, a streamlined sleeper, built by Pullman-Standard in 1954 for Canadian National and later operated by VIA Rail Canada. An eight-duplex-roomette, four-double-bedroom, four-roomette car, it will be renumbered to R&N No. 1125.

— Former SL&RG No. 448, originally New York Central diner No. 448 and later Penn Central No. 4548, and subsequently owned by the High Iron Co. excursion operation. A streamlined stainless-steel car built by the Budd Co. in 1947, it will become R&N No. 1166.

Earlier this year, R&N purchased a previously leased 19.5-mile line for $4.7 million that connects its Reading and Lehigh divisions, providing a seamless connection between Reading, Pa., and Scranton, Pa. [see “Digest: Reading & Northern owner plans to spend $4-5 million …,” Trains News Wire, May 10, 2021]. R&N passenger trains between Reading and Jim Thorpe have been using the line for some time.

9 thoughts on “Reading & Northern acquires 11 ex-San Luis & Rio Grande cars

  1. I escorted the Ellerslie from NY to Alamosa back in 2014 and the 448 all over the place including to the GCT centennial in 2013. Nice to see they will roll on.

  2. Can’t wait to ride it from Reading to Scranton. Already rode the RDC cars from Pottsville to Jim Thorpe (it’s still Mach Chunk to me), from Reading to Jim Thorpe and the Lehigh Gorge Scenic train. Congrats to Andy Mueller on a wise and prudent investment.

  3. I hope the RBMN, will keep the original names on the Southern , and I.C.R.R. cars. I spent many miles in Lookout Mountain, on Southern steam trips. The last time I saw it, was in 2013, in Alamosa. Never expected to see it again. I think NS, sold it after dismal swamp derailment. I am surprised TVRM, did not buy it. It would be at home there.

  4. Were SOU RR 1649, 1668, 1670 Jim Crow coach cars ? In the 1950s to end of SOU passenger service Heavy weights were numbered in the 1001 – 11xx series. At one time some real old SOU RR coaches were in the 12xx series. e

  5. The Super Dome acquired, before going to the Iowa Pacific stable, operated for many years as part of the “Spirit of Washington” dinner train out of Renton, WA.

    The “Lookout Mountain” and two of the three ex-SOU heavyweight coaches were part of the excursion fleet at the Mount Hood RR out of Hood River, OR, which had acquired them from Norfolk Southern when they were retired from the railroad’s steam program.

    When Iowa Pacific acquired the MHRR, it moved the three cars to its San Luis & Rio Grande line in Colorado.

  6. Outstanding! The only piece left is for Mr. Muller to form some sort of partnership with the Reading Company Technical & Historical Society–maybe free use of 5308, 5513, etc instead of them just wasting away.

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