Union Pacific Railroad Museum: Highlighting technology through America’s locomotive historyOn February 22, 2020 by Raul Dinwiddie
Steve: We’re here with An old friend of mine, John Bromley, probably John would not agree with me, but one of the foremost railroad historians around today, so we are glad that John could take at least a minute or 2 to talk to us a little bit about the history of the railroad. We are here at the Union Pacific museum, which is a fascinating place, to say the least. You’ve been around railroads for, I won’t take a guess here, but more than a few years. John: More than a few years. Steve: What has technology done to make railroads more efficient, more environmentally friendly, just, you know…. John: Well, the main thing that is done is that the technology has helped us to improve productivity in just amazing ways, leaps and bounds. When I started with Union Pacific, we had some places where we had 6 man crews on trains. We had an engineer, a fireman, and a head brakeman on the locomotive. We had a rear brakeman, a conductor, and a flagman on the caboose, and, of course, today thanks to technology with the electronic scanning we use to monitor our trains, infrared devices to monitor passing trains, we have been able to reduce the crew sizes down, increase the length of the runs, and, of course, the modern locomotives can pull longer trains than they used to. Steve: Now, as a historian, what’s one thing that hasn’t changed in probably the 150 years that Union Pacific has been around? Is there one aspect of railroading that’s kind of always been a constant? John: Absolutely. The steel wheel and the steel rail, and that’s why we’re still in business because the actual point of physical contact between that wheel and that rail is the size of a dime. So, there is so little friction involved. Once you get a train moving, that’s the whole secret to our success, and that’s why we’re still in business. We haul more freight now, today, than we ever have in our history, and we’re able to do that because of the advances in technology and the advances in productivity and the fact that we still have steel wheel and steel rail with so little friction involved and we’re able to haul such long trains. Steve: So, some things have changed, the technology has changed a lot about how a railroad works, but somethings have never… John: The basic principles are the same. Steve: Have never changed. John: Right. Steve: That is perfect. John, great to see you. Thank you for letting us come by. Steve: My pleasure.