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There’s No Shame in Being a Foamer

Whether you have a one-track mind or are simply off the rails, this quiz that will ascertain your true love of trains.

Are you a foamer? A railfan? An Amtrak pass-holding, trivia-spouting train geek? Are you the kind of person who delights in the very thought of luxurious sleeper cars? Do you find yourself hypnotized by the rhythmic chug of a diesel engine?


Trains have always inspired a special (and occasionally maniacal) fascination for a certain set of people. The term “foamer” dates back to the days when the big railroads were serving the logging industry. Pollutants from the timber mills mixed with the water from California’s Feather River, and, as a result, the shores were lined with foam along Western Pacific’s scenic route from Utah to the Golden State. But that didn’t stop enthusiasts from wading in thigh-deep to get better views of the passing trains. And that’s why, to this day, train lovers are called foamers. (Not because, as some people think, they have a tendency to foam at the mouth at the sight of trains.)

In the past, “foamer” has been used as a somewhat derogatory term, but we’re taking it back—it’s time to tell the world, “I’m a foamer, and I’m all right.” Do you have what it takes to be called a foamer? Take our quiz and find out:

1. What is the most widely ridden Amtrak route in the United States?

A. Northeast Regional

B. Acela

C. Hiawatha

D. California Zephyr

2. In what would later become Utah, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads were finally joined in 1869, completing the American Transcontinental Railroad. What ceremonial item was used to mark the occasion?

A. A replica of the two trains carved in ivory

B. A golden railroad spike

C. The Presidential train car

D. A silver shovel

3. What are the nicknames given to London’s subway system and Chicago’s elevated trains?

A. “The Underground” and “The Metro”

B. “The Metro” and “The Loop”

C. “The Subway” and “Muni”

D. “The Tube” “and the “L”

4. Detroit has a three-mile elevated monorail system. What is it called?

A. The People Mover

B. The Rapid

C. The Blue Line

D. M1 Rail

5. In which of these cities can you take a train directly into the airport?

A. New York

B. Los Angeles

C. Dallas

D. Indianapolis

6. The fastest passenger train in the world operates in

A. France

B. China

C. Singapore

D. United Arab Emirates

7. The first railroad open to the public in the U.S. was the

A. Baltimore and Ohio (B&O)

B. South Carolina & Canal

C. Columbia Railroad of Pennsylvania

D. Boston and Lowell

Answer Key:

1. A – The Northwest Regional

This route, serving, “the BosWash Megalopolis,” served more than eight million passengers and grossed more than half a billion dollars in 2012. Considered “higher-speed” rail, it maxes out at 125 miles per hour.

2. B - A golden railroad spike

The completion of the railroad shortened what was a six-month trip from New York to California into a manageable two-week journey. Around the country, people celebrated: America's "Manifest Destiny" had been realized.

3. D - “The Tube” and “the L”

The London Underground is known colloquially as “The Tube.” Chicago’s elevated rail system is known as the “L” and it converges at the core of the city known as “The Loop.”

4. A - The People Mover

Detroit’s “People Mover” was built in the late 1980s. Despite its catchy name, it only attracts about 5,000 riders a day. However, Detroit recently began construction on a second rail line, the three-mile “M1” system down Woodward Avenue that will connect to the People Mover, perhaps uniting it into a more functional, and hopefully popular, system.

5. C - Dallas

Dallas opened light rail service to its international airport this past August. The Big D’s DART transit system now has 90 miles of light rail, more than any other city in the country.

6. B – China

China's Shangai Maglev Train maxes out at 267 miles per hour and averages 156 miles per hour. Japan, meanwhile, has been testing a train that will run at speeds up to 310 miles per hour.

7. A - Baltimore and Ohio (B&O)

The B&O railroad opened its first 13 miles of track in 1830. By 1874 it stretched more than 800 miles to Chicago. Many of the lines are now owned by CSX Transportation.

6-7 correct – Bonafide foamer

4-5 – Railway aficionado

2-3 – Not even a train buff

0-1 – Do you even train?

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