Length: 50 minutes
Time Period: 2008
Locations: Altoona, Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Horseshoe Curve, Juanita shops..
Host Matt Bown takes us on a tour of a Norfolk Southern coal train through the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania. 300 miles from Greene County, PA., to Washingtonville power plant. This program is a modernized style of production. It is very uptempo and has some metal guitar backing music. A fast paced, MTV style of quick edit shots, and an excited host , is what frames our railroad subject…. a unit coal train.
If you have some kids that you are trying to get interested in trains, your 5 year old will love it. For those that already know, what a helper set is, it’s pretty thin material. Still, there is always a nugget or two to be found in the 50 minutes. There is a good supply of information within the show. I was surprised to hear that NASCAR pit crews have viewed the changing of a freight cars wheelset. The job is under 5 minutes! The Nazi plot to blow up Horseshoe Curve is covered too.
Matt Bown is an enthusiastic host. He loves trains and is a conductor in real life. His energy really comes across the screen, as does his face. Although I didn’t measure the actual screentime, it seems that we see more of Matt, then the actual train images. I don’t find him unlikeable, quite the opposite in fact. He is bright and has a fun attitude. The issue is that I want to see the railroad! The aerial shots are nice, but like too much spice, overdone. As for actual shots of the train, you hardly see it. The MTV style presentation can be annoying. This will give many adult viewers a headache. Youngsters will like the cartoon style presentation.
Tangents are also in abundant supply. I found these better presented. The pace slowed and Matt would be in the background, where he belongs. A highlight of the show was viewing a huge Norfolk Southern locomotive being lifted and moved by a 200 ton crane.
Matt is a hands on type of host. He gets to handle the controls for a moment, loading a coal car. That’s an open top hopper for the rest of us. Sticks his hands in washed coal. He talks about the engineer running the train. Missed opportunity, it would have been interesting to hear the engineer discuss getting the train over the grades…
Like so many other things in life, it’s all about the presentation and the delivery. Any show with a title of ‘Coal Train’ ,is basic general subject matter. Geared for the general public, this does perform the basic task of informing what a coal does. As for the more serious railfan, this will be too simplistic in nature.
Usually, most programs require a second or sometimes even third viewings to get a nice detailed reviewed. One sitting is all I can watch of this type of presentation. It’s not bad, or poor quality: Coal Train, is just not geared for veteran railfans. Still, it will be fine for everyone else.
Rating: 3 Stars