In a confirmation of fears that Precision Scheduled Railroading could adversely affect Union Pacific steam operations despite the recent revival of Big Boy UP 4014, the railroad has announced it will curtail its steam and heritage operations, citing PSR as the reason.
The statement released to UP Steam Club members on February 10 also reiterates a January announcement by steam program manager Ed Dickens that famed Alco 4-6-6-4 UP 3985 has been officially retired. A permanent display location for the Challenger remains to be determined.
The announcements have triggered much consternation and speculation in preservation and railfanning circles about the future of the entire steam and heritage program on UP, but the official statement includes at least some reason for optimism that the UP board of directors isn’t ready to let the acolytes of PSR dismantle its vaunted public relations program entirely.
It said all Union Pacific operations are being streamlined under PSR, but “While there’s no question these changes have impacted operations, the Cheyenne Steam Shop remains in operation, UP’s Heritage Fleet continues to be housed in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and planning is under way for 2020 steam activities.” The message closes with another reference to a steam trip in 2020.
No specific mention was made regarding the future of the railroad’s E9 set or EMD DDA40X “Centennial” UP 3639.
In his comments about 3985, Dickens noted that UP has been maintaining and operating two steam engines during the past three decades, and that this will continue to be the case with UP 844 and 4014.
The fact that UP 844 is the last stream engine purchased by the railroad and has never been retired makes it a unique point of pride for the railroad. No other Class One railroad can make such a claim.
The Challenger was the biggest operational steamer in the world while running, another point of pride. Its replacement by the even larger UP 4014 following a multi-million dollar rebuild might well be part of a swan song for the program as some claiming inside information have claimed, but even with PSR in place, it remains unknown when the last note of that song will fade.
–Eric Berger, Railfan & Railroad Magazine