My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader

My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader

My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader

My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader


Named one of the "75 People You Should Know" by Trains Magazine, Jim McClellan was a railroading legend and one of the railroad industry's titans. An iconic and innovative executive, McClellan participated in the creation of both Amtrak and Conrail and worked for the Norfolk Southern, the New York Central, US Railway Association, and the Federal Railroad Administration. My Life with Trains combines a world-class photographer's love of railroading with the insights of a government and railroad official. The book provides a short historical overview of the changes in the industry, recounts McClellan's experience at various railroads, and offers personal reflections on a lifetime of working with and chasing trains. Expertly detailed with over 250 stunning color photographs, My Life with Trains covers sixty years as observed by a legendary railroad strategist.


I have been a railroader for more than four decades and a railfan for more than six decades. Riding trains, photographing trains, modeling trains—all were passions of mine at a very early age. During my railroad career I was involved in some of the major events of the past fifty years, so my experiences got a lot of attention in Rush Loving Jr.’s book The Men Who Loved Trains.

When I wrote this book, railroads were clearly on a roll: profits were up and it looked like clear sailing. Tony Hatch and others declared that it was a “rail renaissance.” Now, thanks to the decline in coal traffic, the future seems more uncertain. Railways are in great physical condition but they will need a new business model that is less dependent on coal. Perhaps the best assessment of where we are today comes from Jim Hagen, who, as the president of both the us Railway Association and later Conrail, was one of the heroes of the rail renaissance: “The railroads went through a long and difficult transition. the surviving railroads have prospered. But prosperity does not last. Certainly, coal traffic, an important source of both revenues and profits, is declining rapidly. the railroads need to develop a plan to focus on other markets and how to match their assets to a new reality.” the rail renaissance was real and it saved an important industry. But clearly the renaissance is taking a rest right now, and how things turn out will depend on a new team of railroad leaders.

That said, the prospects are far better than they were when I started railroading in 1962. With a few exceptions (most notably the Southern Railway, where I started my career), railroads were in decline and were written off as something akin to the wagon train—perhaps important at one time but irrelevant in a modern world. in a sense, I came to the party just as the lights were dimming for what most thought would be the last dance.

Still, I wanted to be a railroader. By high school my mind was set; I even wrote to several railroads seeking career advice. I went to Wharton to get a degree in transportation economics, served as a naval officer, and went on to work for a number of railroads and government agencies, including the Southern Railway, the New York Central, the Penn Central, the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration once again, the us Railway Association, and the Association of American Railroads. in 1978 I returned to Southern, which later became Norfolk Southern. There, my job focused on strategic planning, rail mergers and . . .

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