Andrew Kennedy follows his passion—and amasses content for his YouTube channel—through Penn State Altoona's Rail Transportation Engineering program.
By: Therese Boyd
Andrew Kennedy with the Union Pacific Big BOy
So often, young people are told to “follow your passion.” That’s not always easy to do, but Andrew Kennedy, a first-year student at Penn State Altoona, makes it look simple. A native of Dothan, Alabama, Kennedy grew up in Huntsville, AL, but came to the birthplace of the historic Horseshoe Curve to study rail transportation engineering. The location also gave him the opportunity to create more content for his YouTube channel—with nearly 5,000 subscribers and over a million views—focusing on his love of all things railroad.
Kennedy’s fascination started young, with Thomas the Tank Engine and playing with wooden trains, he says. That progressed into “learning about trains when I was 14.” In the short time since then, he has obviously learned quite a lot. What does one do with all that knowledge? Inspired in part by Christopher Kovacs’s YouTube work, Kennedy started his own YouTube channel, “Andrew Raila ’Bammers,” to share his knowledge and opinions.
The channel offers many options for experienced rail fans and novices alike. In addition to videos of trains—both stationary and on the move—he has train museum tours, histories of locomotives, Q&A sessions, train memes, and even model and toy train features. He notes historical moments such as Golden Spike Day, May 10, the day a golden spike was used to connect the eastern and western sections of the Central Pacific Railroad. Of course, the Horseshoe Curve is featured prominently in the videos, a benefit of being in Altoona.
The videos are self-narrated (including closed captioning) and richly detailed. He uses illustration and background music. He talks to the viewer as a friend and someone who is also interested in all things train. Kennedy is passionate about his subjects, and it shows. In one video, he comes across a train in an unconventional setting and says, “Nebraska loves Union Pacific so much they just had to put this caboose in the middle of the hardware store parking lot.”
Kennedy has put together a number of series, such as “The Engines of the Pere Marquette,” eight segments dedicated to engines run by the Pere Marquette Railway in the Great Lakes Region, including a Christmas episode that features the Pere Marquette 1225 engine, the inspiration for the children’s book The Polar Express. A two-part series explores “Top 10 Classes of Extinct American Steam Locomotives.”
Norfolk Southern's Savannah and Atlanta Heritage Unit at the Juniata Shops
His most popular series, he notes, “is called ‘Dead on Arrival,’ where I talk about unsuccessful locomotives.” He does more than just talk about those locomotives, though. He informs at the same time, he ridicules (if appropriate) whatever deficiencies brought the “death” of the featured locomotive. His enthusiasm is infectious. It’s easy to get caught up in rooting for a locomotive’s success when watching the videos.
Ask what his favorite engine is, and he doesn’t hesitate: “The Union Pacific Big Boy. It’s huge—an engineering marvel.” The video of his visit to Omaha, “Union Pacific Big Boy #4023 and DDA40X #6900 at Kenefick Park| 06-21-2021,” begins with his first sighting of the engine from the road, teasing his audience. He then builds suspense by recording his walk/run up the stairs at the site, pausing to look at figures in silhouette cut into the walls. The camera lingers briefly on detailed wall plaques and text appears that tells the viewer they can hit “pause” if they want to read the description. Kennedy finally reaches the train itself, his reaction audible as noted by his caption “That’s me reacting in awe to the Big Boy, and not just breathing.”
Of course Kennedy’s channel has a following. He says his fans “like my locomotive reviewing. It teaches interesting lessons in locomotive engineering—some flops, some foolish or funny,” and he acknowledges that “that’s when I can really get out some enthusiasm.”
That “enthusiasm” spills over into his coursework. When Kennedy was given a class assignment to do a PowerPoint presentation on an engineering disaster, it’s no surprise what he chose. “I did mine on the EMD SD50—a locomotive built to compete with GE’s Dash-7 line but, thanks to several careless blunders by EMD, was a complete disaster that permanently ruined their reputation and allowed GE to assert its dominance as the new top locomotive builder in North America.” He explains his reasoning: “I chose the SD50 because it wasn’t any bad locomotive. it’s among the most infamous stories in US railroad history—similar to the failure of Penn Central.”
Jennilyn Vallejera, assistant teaching professor in engineering, learned about Kennedy’s YouTube channel in her first-year seminar class when she asked the students to “tell me your hobbies.” She is impressed by his efforts. “I think it’s a unique thing for students to see that someone can be active in the outside world while still a student. He’s using current technology and sharing his interest successfully with the public.” No doubt Kennedy is educating his viewers and at the same time creating new rail fans.