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Ask Trains: Why do railroads create heritage locomotives?

By | July 24, 2019

Published: July 24, 2019

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Union Pacific SD70ACe No. 4141 letter for former President George H. W. Bush led Bush’s funeral train from Houston to College Station, Texas, in Dec. 2018.


Bradley Bates
Q: Painting locomotives is expensive. I’m curious to know why railroads would spend this kind of money painting heritage units? — David Berg, Minneapolis, Minn.

A: Locomotives are railroads’ most visible advertisements. Clean, freshly painted locomotives tend to be better public relations ambassadors than dirty locomotives.

Newly painted locomotives featuring new designs or ones inspired by the past are also an opportunity to celebrate an anniversary as Norfolk Southern did in 2012 for its 30th anniversary, with 20 heritage units. A heritage unit may also honor a public figure as Union Pacific did for President George H.W. Bush with its SD70ACe No. 4141 locomotive. NJ Transit is among the latest railroads to offer the public heritage equipment with six coaches that carry colors and lettering from familiar company’s in the commuter railroad’s past, including Conrail and the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Of course, if you look closely, you’re likely to find a railroad executive or board member who is also a railfan working to suggest to, convince, and cajole colleagues of the public relations value of heritage equipment. That internal support helps. — Trains staff

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