Riding the Rails

Virginia Railway Express Boise Budds

LEnfant2 - Jon Bell 2001.jpg

Virginia Railway Express Boise Budds at the

L'Enfant Plaza VRE station in Washington, DC (Jon Bell) 

This picture holds special fondness for me, for I might well

have been in the crowd waiting to board that Budd rail car!

The Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail service in Northern Virginia, made its first run between Manassas, Virginia, and Washington, DC, on June 22, 1992. A month later, the VRE made its first run between Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Washington. It was a cause for celebration, for the creation of the commuter lines had taken many years and cooperation among numerous local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as the railroads that owned the tracks; namely, the Norfolk Southern Railway, CSX Transportation, and the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad.

The original plan was to have an all-new fleet of single-level Mafersa coaches; however, delivery fell short. With the first day of service fast approaching, the VRE acquired forty-year-old commuter rail cars from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which was selling its demotorized Budd Company rail diesel cars (RDCs). See a picture of one of the cars, still in its MBTA livery, at the Broad Run VRE rail yard (https://www.flickr.com/photos/8348059@N02/16423397082). 


Rail diesel cars are self-propelled and, when used as multiple units, do not need to be turned around to return to the originating station. Rather, the driver moves from one end cab to the other and sends the train going back to its origination point. As their name implies, they run on diesel-powered Detroit engines that sit under the car. The exhaust is vented through ducts in the center of the car and through fans to exterior dual vents on top of the car.










The vents can be seen atop these RDCs operated by VIA Rail Canada 

(Alasdair McLellan, Creative Commons license 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier, the MBTA had sent their RDCs to Morrison-Knudsen in Boise, Idaho, where the engines were removed and the cars were rebuilt as standard coaches for service in push-pull operations. The demotorized units became known as Boise Budds.


Boise Budds served the VRE for about ten years. They were noisy and cold, for they had almost no insulation. Even so, they were enormously popular with serious railfans, both for their history as Budd Streamliner derivatives and for the clearly audible clickety clack as the wheels rolled along the tracks. When word came that the VRE was going to sell them, a group of us protested. Sadly, we lost. The VRE phased out the Boise Budds in the early 2000s as they made the move to bi-level and gallery cars.




















The last Budd coach in VRE inventory is seen at the Broad

Run rail yard. Notice discoloration on the roof, where the

RDC vents once stood. (Photo provided by the VRE)



The Boise Budds were sold to Metro-North (New York), the Vermont Railway, and Caltrain. The cars that were sold to Metro-North served briefly before they were retired from service. Some saw service with other railroads. (See a former VRE Budd cab car on a Metro North train at 7:45 on the counter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-pVYVUOPhs&list=PLC43BDC591E3F5793.) Those that were sold to the Vermont Railway subsequently were sent to Canada, where they served on VIA Rail Canada's short-rail runs. As of five years ago, VIA  Rail was moving away from using RDCs in favor of newer rolling stock. Those that were sold to Caltrain were later sold to the Grand Canyon Railway, where they continue to serve to this day.

VIA Rail RDCs at Qualicum_Beach_Station_
Budd RDC on Grand Canyon Railway - Herma

Former VRE Budd coach on the Grand Canyon Railway. 

Note the discoloration where the RDC vents once stood atop the roof. (Hermann Luyken via Wikimedia Commons in the public domain)


The Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad in Newport, Rhode Island is an excursion railroad. They purchased two Budd RDCs from British Columbia, Canada, shipped them to Rhode Island, and restored them. Today, they give rides to visitors to the railroad. Read more about it: http://trainsri.com/about/

The Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad in Reading, Pennsylvania, is an excursion railroad. They own three Budd RDCs, which they use on a day-long trek through beautiful countryside to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylania. Read more about it: https://www.rbmnrr-passenger.com/


All Aboard!

(Provided by the VRE)

Many thanks to the Virginia Railway Express for many enjoyable rides aboard their Boise Budds and for digging long and hard to locate these photographs of the last Boise Budd in their inventory.  

Many thanks to Rapido Trains of Toronto, Ontario, for providing information about excursion railroads that offer rides on RDCs. Currently, most are closed for the winter. I'll post an update when they open for the new season.


Watch Rapido Trains' video "All About the RDC".  


It tells about RDCs and how Rapido Trains used laser technology to obtain the details needed to create life-like scale models. The video is excellently done! While you're on their YouTube page, scroll down for more RDC videos, both about VIA Rail's cars and the scale models that Rapido Trains created.