2023 NMRA Convention – Texas Express in Dallas (by Jeff Hough)

This was my first national convention, so I don’t have any history as a backdrop to the Texas event. It looks like the local NMRA regions wherein the conference is hosted do a lot of event work like logistics, lead tours, event scheduling, registration tables, etc. As such, I think the
national conferences (moving from region to region each year) have a bit of variability in that regard, but the overall conference structure is consistent, year over year.  My overall impression was, “Wow, incredible, what an event!” I was really impressed with the quality of the clinics and the quality of the off-site events! The convention was basically nonstop activities starting on Sunday afternoon through the following Saturday, seven solid days of activities where you can opt into whatever interests you. And there is something for every interest.

The clinics are top notch! They start on Sunday afternoon and run pretty much continuously,  Monday – Friday 8am to 930pm, with a half-day on the final Saturday. There are 30-minute breaks between clinics with longer lunch and dinner breaks. The quality of the speakers is
excellent, and the range of topics is impressive, both local region presenters as well as company owners and industry professionals as presenters. For example, the owner of Bar Mills and the
publisher of MRH (Model Railroad Hobbyist) did several clinics each.
Most of the clinics are free but there are make-and-take clinics (extra cost) where you build something (think – structures, scenery, electronics) that you take home.  There were about 280 clinics in total. Yes, 280!

In addition to the clinics, there are also layout tours and off-site excursions (extra cost) both enthusiast-based (eg. BNSF Network Ops Center, industries, rail yards, depots, stations, and train rides) as well as off-site general interest (eg. museums, shopping, points of interest).
I did three off-site enthusiast events.   First up, the BNSF NOC (Network Operations Center). This tour was amazing! We visited the BNSF Headquarters and got a tour of their impressive art collection and then a view of their football field sized NOC where the dispatchers oversee the operations of basically the entire system, all in real time!   Photo below. From there we went to the BNSF Intermodal yard for a behind the scenes tour through the intermodal yard operations seeing the enter system running in real time.  Next up, I did the Saginaw Yards and TexRail shops tour. This included a visit through one of the largest the grain elevators in the country, witnessing both rail hoppers and trucks unloading in real-time. Then we up to the top of the elevators. Photo below. Finally we went on a tour of the TexRail shops (like BART).
Finally I took a ride on the Texas State Railroad, about an hour and a half, along with a tour of the Texas State Railroad shops. Got to see plenty of vintage locos and rolling stock, including some beautifully restored and fully operational equipment. Photo below.

The layout tours can be visited as self-guided (you drive and pick where you go) or you can pay extra for bus escorted tours. I think layout tours, both bus and self-guided, were available every day of the conference. Below is the layout “NEVADON” of Jim Packer, MMR, Interceptor pilot USAF, Airline Pilot, Architect Of his own home and Builder of his own home. Photos by Duncan Macdonald

On the tail end of the convention is the National Train Show. Conference attendees get early access on day one. This show is somewhat to NorCal shows (like IRF) but with a few key differences. There was not as much used gear for sale like we see at the local shows. But on the flip side, lots of global manufacturers are there with corporate representatives on hand! I visited Walters, Woodland Scenic, Peco, and Rapido, just to name a few.

The off-site events had minor glitches (eg. got behind schedule, bus driver got lost on one of the tours) so don’t schedule paid for events back-to-back for risk of missing the second event. But short of that, I really enjoyed all the off-site events. Seeing these industries running in real time and talking to the staff who run them, brings real world operations into focus and educates you for layout design considerations.
As already mentioned, the clinics were top notch.  The overall vibe of the en.re event is casual and fun. You’re with around a thousand enthusiasts, experts, master model railroaders and industry professionals. What could be better!  In addition to the content discussed here, there’s still more. SIG (Special Interest Groups) meetings, the big banquet, a big door prize raffle, Ops sessions, model contests, the list goes on!…
Would I do it again? YES! I’m already registered for 2024 in Long Beach. And 2025 will be in suburban Detroit. I’ve got a bunch of photos, videos, conference materials, etc. Duncan does too. Hit up either of us if you’re interested in seeing more.  

BNSF Network Operations Center

BNSF NOC (Network Operations Center)
The center does nationwide dispatching with that mighty impressive arc of giant monitors curving around the room. This tour was guided by the BNSF Director of Public Affairs.


Saginaw Grain Elevators
We traveled up the grain elevator, through the real-time operations, a train was unloaded while we were there, and got views from the exterior top platform.

Texas State Railroad shops

Texas State Railroad shops
Notice the big wheelsets in the foreground. These are for a steam loco on which they are doing a ground up rebuild and restoration. They basically let us wander around the shops, both inside and outside, snapping pics of whatever caught our eyes.   This equipment is fully operational. The train ride we took was led by a consist of one of these restored F7s and a vintage RS-4.