Coal Train at Cassandra

Standing at the Railfan’s Overlook at Cassandra, Pennsylvania we could hear a heavy eastward train climbing the West Slope on Norfolk Southern’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line.

Kris and I had arrived at this famous photo location on our drive east from Illinois last month. It was Kris’s first time at Cassandra, and my first visit here in more than a decade.

Finally after several minutes a headlight appeared on the long tangent looking west toward Johnstown. A slow-moving loaded unit coal train was clawing up grade towards us.

As the train approached and passed us, I made this series of photos using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera fitted with a Z-series f2.8 70-200mm zoom lens. A pair of NS SD70ACUs were working at the back of the train.

Looking east at Cassandra as the helpers shove at the back of the eastward loaded coal train.

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Beware of Trains

In July 2003, I made this 2/14 inch sqaure black & white photo at Limerick Junction, Co. Tipperary using a Rollei Model-T twin lens reflex.

Working with a relatively slow shutter speed, I allowed the train to blur as it passed the signals at the Dublin-end of the platform.

At that time Limerick Junction was controlled by a mix of tradititional mechanical signals and more modern color lights.

The sign makes the photo.

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Steward Depot

The wee village of Steward, Illinois is located amongst a glade of trees where the old Burlington makes a sharp bend on its westward run between Aurora and Savanna—where the line reaches the Mississippi River.

Steward is just a few miles from the busy crossing at Rochelle, where the old Burlington crosses the very busy Union Pacific former Chicago & North Western east-west line between Chicago and the Omaha/Council Bluffs gateway.

Twenty-five years ago, I’d occasionally frequent Steward to photograph trains on Burlington Northern/BNSF.

A few weeks ago on our way east, Kris and I stopped briefly in the village of Steward to photograph the preserved former Burlington station there.

This was one of the railroad’s standard pattern stations, in other words a building using a standardized floor plan that was applied to many similar structures along the company’s lines.

It appears that the building was moved both across and away from the tracks since it last had served as the company’s station building at Steward. Notice the position of the bay window on the ‘wrong’ side of the building. As built, the bay window would have been on the track-side of most station buildings.

I made these images using my Lumix LX7 digital camera.

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At Par for Virgin.

Yes, you read the title correctly.

In July 2002, my Irish friends and I paid a visit to Cornwall in the west of England, to photograph long distance passenger trains on the old Great Western Railway main line.

To make a long story short; the car we were traveling in developed a ‘fault’ at Par, which invovled a delay to our travels, and resulted in a trip on a stink buggy ( a common bus) in order to reach the railway station.

Ultimately the automobile was repaired and so we visited myriad other destinations and locations in the south western regions of England, but in the meantine we made the best of being at the station at Par.

Using my Contax G2 rangefinder, I made this view of an approaching Virgin Cross Country ‘HST’ passenger train operating approaching Par on a bright overcast morning.

I was working with Fuji Neopan 400 black & white film that I later processed using my custom tailored recipe using Agfa Rodinal Special mixed about 1 to 60 with water. If anything, these negatives are too constrasty and required some post processing adjustment using Adobe Lightroom

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Idle Freight in an Austere Landscape.

At the train watching platform in Rochelle, Illinois, a scanner is perpetually broadcasting railroad radio chatter.

On our brief visit there a couple of weeks back, Kris and I overheard BNSF’s dispatcher discussing with unknown parties the status of an eastward unit tank train tied down near Steward.

Armed with this knowledge we drove railroad east through the sprawing industry and cornfields toward Steward, where we found the afforementioned freight. It was crew-less and its headlight extinguished.

I made these photos with my Nikon Z6 and 70-200mm Nikkor zoom lens.

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Southern Pacific at Bealville

In January 1991, I traveled with Southern Pacific Dispatcher JDS to the Tehachapis in Southern California.

Working with my Leica M2 loaded with Kodak 5063 (35mm Tri-X) black & white film, I made this photo of the helpers on the back of loaded unit coal train SNTA-C (Skyline Mine to Trona, California Coal) passing the signals at Bealville.

At the time, I was experimenting with Edwal FG7, a liquid developer that yielded high-contrast and fine grain while producing a deep black.

The other day, I scanned several rolls from this trip and others to Southern California and then processed the scans with Adobe Lightroom.

Below are two versions of the same image. The top is the unadjusted scan, the bottom reflects changes to contrast and exposure aimed a producing a more pleasing image.

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BNSF Antiques at Rochelle

In the 1980s a pair of SD40-2s was a common find.

Today these old locomotives seem noteworthy.

Kris and I visited Rochelle, Illinois two weeks ago and found this clean pair of BNSF SD40-2s in the siding east of the Union Pacific crossing. I made a few photos with my Lumix LX7 and Nikon Z6 digital cameras.

The light was dull, the landscape uninspiring, but the bright orange paint on the old diesels made for a photogenic subject.

I wonder if in my travels I had ever previously crossed paths with either of these two antique Electro-Motive diesels.

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Big Changes at Highway F!

Since my first visits to the Highway F bridge over the Wisconsin Central tracks at Byron, Wisconsin in 1994, the railroad here had been functionally transformed.

In the late 1990s, two main track (both lines signalled for bi-directional operation) replaced single main track, the old signal code lines were removed, while a modern highway bridge was installed in the place of the old span.

Canadian National acquired Wisconsin Central two decades ago, and today the freight trains are significantly longer than they were 25 years ago.

It was snowing hard when Kris and I paused to watch this southward CN double stack train ascending toward the summit of Byron. I thought back to Wisconsin Central days, and scanned the comparison view from 1994 made from a similar vantage point on the old bridge.

October 29, 1994. Highway F bridge near Byron, Wisconsin.

November 2021 view from approximately the same vantage point as the above photo.

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Santa’s Holiday Express

Yesterday, Friday November 26, 2021, Conway Scenic began operating its annual Santa’s Holiday Express.

It was a wet & dreary debut, but well attended.

I was focused on the details of the operation; the schedule, the decorations, and the narrations.

I traveled on the first run to Conway, and made photo of Santa’s arrival.

At Conway Scenic, Santa Claus rides in the caboose.

I’ll bet S. Kip Farrington would have something to say about that!

At Conway, I made photo of Santa waving from the railroad’s vintage former Central Vermont wooden body caboose using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm Z-series zoom lens.

After exposure, I modified the NEF RAW file using Adobe Lightroom.

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Two photos at Lost Arrow Road—1995 and 2021

Wisconsin Central’s Byron Hill grade south of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin was among my favorite place to photograph trains in the mid-1990s.

A few weeks ago, Kris and I revisited a few of my old locations.

At Lost Arrow Road, we caught a southward Canadian National double stack train on its ascent of the grade.

In February 1995, I’d pictured a Wisconsin Central loaded iron ore train with then new Southern Pacific DASH9-44CWs from almost the same angle.

In the interval between the photos, the railroad has been converted from one main track to two, the grade crossing protection has been upgraded with crossing arms, and the trees have grown.

Digital photograph exposed in November 2021 using a Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom.
Kodachrome 25 color slide exposed using a Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm telephoto lens. Slide scanned using an Epson V600 scanner.

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Holiday Decoration Work Extra.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving—November 24, 2021, Conway Scenic called a work train for the Conway Branch to put up decorations for upcoming Santa’s Holiday Express Christmas themed trains.

I was on-board to assist with decorating while documenting the run. It was a perfectly clear bright sunny morning.

At Moat Brook I organized a special photo stop. At Conway we held for the regularly scheduled Valley train that was operating with RDC #23 Millie.

I made all of these photos using my Lumix LX7 digital camera.

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Soo Line Side Show

The trappings and extras incorporated into November 14th’s Soo Line 1003 photo freight gave the whole experience a throw back feel.

In addition to period freight cars and Soo Line caboose, were some vintage automobiles posed at crossing in Burnett, Wisconsin, where a man played the roll of crossing tender.

Here I focused on the details and extras, making a few photos that appeared like those from more than six decades ago.

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Digital Monochrome—Soo 1003.

Often I’ve described the details of my black & white film techniques on Tracking the Light.

Today’s post features a digital photograph converted to monochrome in post processing using Adobe Lightroom.

This was a comparatively simple task. Working with the Lumix RAW file, I used the ‘Saturation’ slider control to eliminate all color from the image. Then, to increase drama and contrast, I implemened some dramatic changes using the ‘Clarity’ slider that intoduced a stark contrast curve before converting the image into the final JPG file displayed here.

Why not make this photo on film? All things being equal, I wish I had exposed a black & white negative, but in this instance I was traveling light: I kept my repitoire of cameras flexble and was working with just two digital bodies, and no film at all.

Perhaps next time, I’ll bring a single film camera with lens.

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Steam and Snow—Wisconsin Style

This timeless scene was made possible by the Trains Magazine steam photo charter on November 14, 2021.

I was among the dozens of photographers taking advantage of the time machine.

This was among the dozens of images I made that day using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera. It was snowing lightly, which added atmosphere and depth.

Soo Line 2-8-2 Mikdao 1003 with vintage photo freight at Red Cedar Road.

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Soo 1003 Teaser

Last Sunday (November 14, 2021), Kris and & I caught up with the Trains Magazine steam photo charter operated with preserved Soo Line 2-8-2 Mikado 1003.

The day was cold, cloudy and snowing lightly; conditions that made for some excellent steam locomotive photography.

The charter was working on the far reaches of the Wisconsin & Southern network north of Horicon, Wisconsin.

I exposed this view using my Panasonic Lumix LX7, and processed the RAW file in Adobe Lightroom.

More photos to come over the coming days.

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When Amtrak 2 leads No. Eight at Dusk.

I was afraid that if I called this post ‘Empire Builder Part 2’ it might get lost in the shuffle.

Last Saturday (November 13, 2021) Kris and I waited for Amtrak’s westward Empire Builder at Duplainville, Wisconsin.

I wanted to catch it passing the vintage GRS Searchlights that date from the Milwaukee Road era.

Dusk is one of the most effective time to photograph searchlights.

One of the great benefits of modern digital cameras is the ability to stop the action in low light. For these photos I had the ISO set to 1600, which allowed me a 1/640th second shutter speed.

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Empire Builder—Part 1

The light was fading.

No 8 was running late.

Kris and I arrived at Duplainville, Wisconsin where the Canadian National’s former Wisconsin Central crosses Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee Road. We were there just in time to see that the signals were cleared for an eastward train.

We got into position, post haste, to roll by Amtrak’s eastward Empire Builder—train No. 8.

Amtrak No.8, the Empire Builder rolls toward Brookfield Wisconsin.

As No. 8 blitzed by, I made these images working with my Nikon Z6 mirror-less digital camera. I processed the images in Lightroom to make the most of the NEF files recorded by the camera.

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Elkhart Interlude

On our way west a week ago, Kris and I paused at the old New York Central hub at Elkhart, Indiana.

This brief visit coincided with the passage of Amtrak’s westward Capitol Limited that was making its station stop on the way from Washington D.C. to Chicago.

We also visited the small railroad museum located opposite Norfolk Southern’s main line from the old New York Central station, where former NYC Mohawk 3001 is a prominent static display. 

Curiously, that evening when we checked into our hotel in Wisconsin, we were assigned room 3001.

I made this selection of photos using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera fitted with a Z-series f2.8 70-200mm zoom lens.

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Reading & Northern SW1500

I walked the trail along the Lehigh River in Jim Thorpe on frosty morning last week. This trail runs parallel to Reading & Northern’s former Central Railroad of New Jersey yard.

The yard was once a sprawling sea of track largely used to marshall coal cars moving to and from area mines.

Today, the remains of the yard is primarily a base of operations for R&N’s Lehigh Scenic Gorge Railway.

At the northend of the yard, I spied this R&N SW1500, which made for an interesting subject against the autumn leaves on the hillside. I made these images with my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera.

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CNJ Station—Jim Thorpe, PA

Last week Kris & I stayed overnight at Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I was up early and made a big walk around town.

The old Central Railroad of New Jersey station is situated a very short distance from down town.

This architectural gem is the focalpoint of Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway’s season excursion service.

I made these photos using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera.

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Reading & Northern Surprise at Tamaqua.

I was enjoying a prime rib sandwich at the Tamaqua Station Restaurant, taking in the well-preserved Victorian atmosphere with Kris, and marveling at the details, when I hear the unmistable sounds of an approaching train.

Lumix LX7 in hand, I headed for the door and arrived at the platform in time to make a sequence of photos of a Reading & Northern ‘hospital’ move of passenger equipment heading north on the old Reading Company.

I wasn’t expecting this unusual train, but delighted with the fortuity to catch it, and with nice autumn light and brilliant autumn foliage in the distance.

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Tamaqua Station

I work in the classic railroad station in North Conway, NH built in 1874 , and as it turns out the old Reading Company station at Tamaqua, Pennsylvania was built the same year!

On Thursday November 10, 2021, while on our way to Wisconsin, Kris and I stopped in at Tamaqua Station for lunch. My friend and fellow photographer Pat Yough recommended this station restaurant to us.

Several years ago Pat & I had visited Tamaqua but the station restaurant was closed for an event. At that time, I made seasonal Christmas photos of the station lit up for the season, and later used one in my book Railroad Depots, Stations & Terminals. I’ve been eager to return.

I exposed these most recent Lumix LX7 photos during our visit last Thursday.

While enjoying lunch we heard the rumble of EMD diesels . . .

Stay tuned!

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On This Day in 2009

November 13, 2009, I was experimenting with my then new Lumix LX3 digital camera.

Standing at ‘The Box’ at Islandbridge Junction, I exposed this sequence in RAW format using the 16×9 aspect ratio of passing Irish Rail trains.

Locomotive 175 worked a wagon transfer from Inchicore towing a pair of the 2001-built Talgo container pocket wagons (CPWs).

It was one of only a scant few photos that I made digitally of an Irish Rail Bo-Bo at work. Most had finsihed by the time, yet old 175 survived.

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Boston & Albany Sunset

On this day five years ago (November 12, 2016), I made this sunset view at CP64 in East Brookfield, Massachusetts with my first Panasonic Lumix LX7.

Tonight, I am scheduled to present My Conrail, a multimedia slide presentation of my Boston & Albany photography to the 25th Beecherfest in Milwaukee.

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Trams in Graz

In January 2012, I was visiting Graz, Austria with Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe.

I made this photo of trams meeting on a pedestrianized street in the ciry center using my Canon EOS 7D.

Below are two versions of the same image.

Camera jpg

The top image is the in-camera JPG, scaled for internet.

The bottom is my interpretation of the camera RAW file with adjustments to exposure, contrast, color temperature and color saturation implemented with Adobe Lightroom to improve the scene.

Interpreted RAW image adjusted in Lightroom.

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4×5 View at West Warren

In November 1987, I lugged my father’s Linhof 4×5 view camera down along the Quaboag River to photograph the old Boston & Albany arched bridge there.

Working with this cumbersome by extraordinarily powerful visual tool, I exposed this unusual black & white photo of an eastward Conrail freight crossing the bridge.

I’d leveled the camera and raised the front element in order to keep the perspective level while allowing the bridge and train to appear at the top of the frame.

I liked the composition of the river in the foreground.

I used an unsually agitation technique to help expand the tonal range. Unfortunately, I can find my notes from the day. Oddly, when I think of the Linhof camera, I can still smell the leather bellows.

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Window on Killarney

September 30, 2016, on the advice of Ken Fox, I traveled to Killarney for an unusual convergence.

Rail Tours Ireland’s Emerald Isle Explorer and the Belmond Grand Hibernian—Ireland’s only two high-end tour trains were both scheduled to arrive at Irish Rail’s Killarney on the same afternoon.

I made my photos and then returned to Dublin on-board Irish Rail’s regularly scheduled train that was worked with one of the common Hyundai-ROTEM Intercity Rail Cars (ICRs).

I made this view on board the ICR using my Canon EOS 3 with 40mm pancake lens loaded with Ilford HP5 processed.

I processed the film in Kodak HC110 mixed 1-64 with water at 68f for 4 mins. Later I toned the processed negatives in a Selenium solution mixed 1-9 for 9 minutes. This last step boosted the highlight detail to give a silvery glisten.

Negatives scanned with an Epson Perfection V600 flatbed scanner.

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From 203 to 255—GP38 at North Conway

The other morning I was up early to make daylight of photos of Conway Scenic Railroad’s latest arrival: former Vermont Railway System’s Clarendon & Pittsford GP38 203, originally Maine Central 255.

This heritage locomotive was deemed ideal for Conway Scenic because mechanically and electrically it perfectly matches the railroad’s GP38 number 252 . The two locomotive were part of the same order of GP38s from Electro-Motive Division back in autumn 1966.

CSRR will shortly renumber 203 back to 255. Initially it will operate in a modified version of the red and white livery pictured here.

As soon as it is practical to do so, the railroad will plan on applying green and gold paint to the locomotive to match 252.

I exposed these photos using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera.

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My Conrail

Next Friday evening, (November 12, 2021) I’ll be presenting a mulitmedia program titled; ‘My Conrail,’ to the 25th Anniversary Beecherfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is my tribute to the Boston & Albany with a selection of photography spanning nearly 30 years.

SEPA/PASE power in Palmer, Massachusetts in 1989. Kodachrome 25 exposed with a Leica M2 and 35mm Summicron.

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Blue Line at Aquarium

Two weeks ago, Kris and I visited the New England Aquarium before taking a spin on the Blue Line to Revere Beach.

I made this photo at Aquarium using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camara.

I exposed in ‘A’ (automatic) mode using RAW which produces an NEF file.

Scaled, but unadjusted NEF file converted to JPG for internet presentation.

Unadjusted, the NEF file appears dark. This is because the A mode metering compensates for the artifical lighting in an effort to hold detail in the highlights.

To make a pleasing photo, it is necessary to adjust the file in postprocessing to modify contrast, exposure and color balance/color temperature.

This shows the same NEF file following adjustments.

I have included a screen shot of the Adobe Lightroom work-window to demonstrate where I moved the slide controls to make the necessary adjustments.

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200mm Backlit of the Valley

Recently I bought a Nikkor f2.8 70-200mm Z-series lens for my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera.

After more than a year of experiementing with the Z6 by putting the camera through its paces, I decided I really needed a longer zoom to compliment the 24-70mm lens that I’d been using on the Z6.

The other day, I made this view of Conway Scenic Railroad’s Valley Train arriving at North Conway from Conway, New Hampshire using the new lens.

The lighting was strongly backlit, which helped illuminate the late-season autumn foliage, but made for some harsh shadows.

To compensate in the photo displayed here, I worked with the Nikon NEF RAW file in Adobe Light room to lighten the shadow areas and darken the highlights to help reduce the contrast in the over all image.

I also warmed the color balance and slightly increased the saturation, and made a very slight crop at the lower lef to remove a visual distraction.

Compare the modified photo above with the version below. The lower photo is from the same file but without modification (except for scaling necessary for internet presentation) so that you can see effect of my changes.

Enlarged section of the NEF RAW file.

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Green Line Government Center

On our travels around Boston two weeks ago, Kris and I changed trains at MBTA’s Government Center station.

40 years ago I photographed MBTA’s PCCs squeeling through these subterranean tunnels. Those cars are largely a memory, as are the Boeing-Vertol ‘LRVs’ that replaced them.

So on the most recent visit to MBTA’s Green Line, I made these photos of more modern trolleys in the arificial light of the subway tunnels using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera.

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NEW ENGLAND’s Railroad Brigadoon

When I was in high-school, the Monson (Mass) Summer Theater group rehearsed and performed the play Brigadoon that is based on a mythical Scottish village that only comes to life once a century.

Near the western extremities of Conway Scenic’s  former Maine Central Mountain Division route is a junction in the forest where the line running northward via Beecher Falls, Vermont to the Province of Quebec had deviated from the main stem to St Johnsbury.

A century ago Quebec Junction was a pretty important place on the Mountain Division.

This year some of our employees took it upon themselves to clear the undergrowth around Quebec Junction, New Hampshire, while the railroad’s Master Carpenter George Small restored the original shanty that had traditional stood here. The shanty had been privately owned and stored off railroad property for many years.

I worked with George and other members of the 470 Club to plan their annual outing over the Conway Scenic, and Quebec Junction was to be one of the highlights of the trip.

October 23, 2021
October 23, 2021
October 23, 2021

Working from photos that George had sent me and carefully gauging sun angles, I helped arrange for the train to arrive when the locomotives at the east end of the consist would be well lit by the sun. I also hoped to amply illuminate the long-disused diverging line to the left of the engines where speeder car TC 470, painted for Maine Central, was carefully positioned.

So for a few minutes, Quebec Junction was like Brigadoon.

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Tracking the Light—On Screen

Ten days ago, I presented my Power Point presentation titled ‘Tracking the Light’—named after this blog—to the Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts in the Pearl Street Station restaurant in Malden, Massachusetts.

I was allowed to open the back door which faced the Orange Line and former Boston & Maine commuter rail tracks.

Inside the station were paintings depicting how the station used to be.

Dave Brown of the Mass Bay RRE helped me work the computer that projected my pre-recorded program that featured 196 photographs.

Mass Bay RRE’s Dave Brown works the projection computer.
Mass Bay RRE’s Dave Brown works the projection computer.

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Railway photography by Brian Solomon

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