Brussels at Night; March 2013


When I was visiting Brussels last weekend, I made a series of nocturnal images of the city and its transport. Below are a few of my favorites.

Brussels Central Station
Brussels Central Station is largely below street level. Access to the platforms is via this modern ground level building. I exposed this image on the evening of March 22, 2013 using my Lumix LX3 set at ISO 80 in ‘A’ (aperture) mode with a +2/3 exposure over-ride (to compensate for the night sky and highlights from streetlights). The final exposure was f2.8 at 1 1/3 seconds.
Tram at night.
Sometimes it’s best to take an opportunistic approach to urban photography. I made this grab-shot with my Canon EOS 7D (fitted 28-135mm lens set at 5000 ISO) from the front seat of a Citroen Picasso paused at a set of traffic lights. Panning the tram using slow shutter speed minimizes the visual defects caused by shooting through a car window. The combination of twilight, streetlights, and motion make for a surrealistic image.
A Brussels PCC tram glides along at dusk on March 24, 2013. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D fitted with 28-135mm, set at ISO 5000 f3.5 1/30 second.
A Brussels PCC tram glides along at dusk on March 24, 2013. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D fitted with 28-135mm, set at ISO 5000 f3.5 1/30 second.
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Belgian Rail Freight— March 22, 2013


Making the most of a Belgian Rail-Freight Hotspot.

Mid-Morning on Friday March 22, 2013, I took a SNCB (Société National des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways)  local train from Antwerpen Centraal to a suburban station at Antwerpen Noorderdokken. This is an important junction north of central Antwerp, where routes toward Amsterdam diverge from the principal freight line to Antwerp Port.

Belgian Railways.
An SNCB InterCity train led by a Class 18 Electric (built by Siemens) passes the station at Antwerpen Noorderdokken on March 22, 2013. While something less than a garden-spot, this busy junction is a great place to watch and photograph trains. Canon EOS 7D.
Railway junction near Antwerpen, Belgium.
SNCB diesels working light-engine pass Antwerpen Noorderdokken on the morning of March 22, 2013. In the foreground is the link to the new Antwerp-Amsterdam high-speed line. Lumix LX3.

I was following the recommendation of a friend who had previously explored this junction. As one of Europe’s busiest ports, Antwerp is a large source of rail freight, and this route is famous for both its volume and variety of traffic.

An SNCF Fret (French National Railways Freight) diesel leads a grain train toward Antwerp port. Canon EOS 7D.
An SNCF Fret (French National Railways Freight) diesel leads a grain train toward Antwerp port. Canon EOS 7D.

Crossrail_freight_Antwerpen_Noorderdokken_IMG_2604 2 Crossrail_freight_Antwerpen_Noorderdokken_IMG_2609 2 SNCB-banking_into_curve_Antwerpen_Noorderdokken_IMG_2730 1

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In addition to SNCB’s freights, open access arrangements allow for a variety of private rail operators and other national railways to serve customers. In a little more than 4 hours, I witnessed nearly 35 freight moves (including light engines) under partly sunny skies. In addition I also photographed a dozen or so passenger trains.

SNCB passenger train at speed.
An SNCB Class 18 electric with double-deck push-pull train races through Antwerpen Noorderdokken. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens set at 120mm, 1/60 second at f25.0. ISO 200. Hand-held pan with image-stabilizer disabled.

My preferred locations were in a field about a 15 minute walk from the Antwerpen Noorderdokken station. Here, the freight line makes a sweeping ‘S-bend’ that allows for a variety of angles favoring the light.

After 4 hours of intense photography, I was cold and hungry, so I retraced my steps and headed back toward Brussels. In addition to digital images exposed with my Canon EOS 7D and Lumix LX3, I also made a number of color slides with my Canon EOS-3.

A pair of CFL (Luxembourg National Railways) electrics lead a train carrying structural steel.

Class66_w_containers_Antwerpen_Noorderdokken_IMG_2679 1 Class66_w_mineral_train_Antwerpen_Noorderdokken_IMG_2555 1 Container_train_Antwerpen_Noorderdokken_IMG_2563 2


SNCB Vossloh diesels work a mixed freight toward Antwerp port.
SNCB Vossloh diesels work a mixed freight toward Antwerp port.
SNCB local glides towards its station stop at Antwerpen Noorderdokken.
SNCB local glides towards its station stop at Antwerpen Noorderdokken.
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Railway Cathedral Antwerpen Centraal, March 22, 2013


Belgium’s jewel is among Europe’s most magnificent railway terminals.

Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Author Carroll Meeks (The Railroad Station, 1956), credits architect Louis de la Censerie with the station’s Art Nouveau style. Censerie’s ornate decoration and exceptional use of light makes Antwerpten Centraal one of Europe’s finest railway terminals. Photo exposed with a Panasonic Lumix LX-3.


On the morning of Friday March 22, 2013, I rode an SNCB (Société National des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways) train from Brussels to Antwerpen Centraal (Antwerp Central Station). It was bright and sunny, a real contrast to my experience in Dublin on the previous day where it was cloudy, windy and raining.

I first visited Antwerpen Centraal in May 1996. Since that time this classic stub-end terminal has been transformed into a three-level railway intermodal center. Tracks on the lowest level permit through services without the need for trains to reverse direction as was previously required.

Looking straight up at the domed roof in Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
Looking straight up at the domed roof in Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.

The station head-house is among the most opulent and best kept anywhere in Europe, while the steeply pitched balloon train shed makes for a wonderful venue to photograph trains, its glass windows acting as enormous soft-box.

On Friday March 22nd, I had about 45 minutes at Antwerpen Centraal between trains. I used my time to good advantage and exposed a variety of digital images with my Lumix LX-3, and some Fuji Provia 100F with my Canon EOS-3. The film will be processed at a later time.

New SNCB electric multple-unit at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
New SNCB electric multple-unit at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
Station at Antwerp, Belgium.
New SNCB electric multple-unit at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.

The terminal is well-suited to the city center and connected to myriad destinations through an excellent public transport system operated by De Lijn. This includes a 1000mm gauge tram network that still hosts vintage President Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars.

PCC Streetcar near Antwerpen Centraal on March 22, 2013.
PCC Streetcar near Antwerpen Centraal on March 22, 2013.


My layover at Antwerpen Centraal was a sideshow to my main effort: I was on my way to a location near Antwerp port where I was aiming to photograph freight trains. Keep your eye on this space for those images!

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Irish Rail’s IWT Liner passing Cherry Orchard— March 21, 2013

Class 071 Hauling Containers.


This time last week (Thursday March 21) I was getting ready to fly to Brussels. My bag was packed; my passport and tickets were organized. Then word came over the telegraph that an 071 was to work Irish Rail’s second Dublin-Ballina IWT Liner (International Warehousing and Transport)

As previously mentioned on Tracking the Light (see: Irish Rail at Clondalkin, February 21, 2013), Irish Rail runs a weekday container train between Dublin and Ballina. On Thursdays, traffic demands a second Dublin-Ballina train.

In recent months, Irish Rail has largely assigned its common 1994-1995 General Motors 201-Class diesels to this freight service, and the older General Motors 071-Class have only worked it infrequently. So, when I heard that Irish Rail 075 was on the train, I was keen to make some photos.

I had two hours before I needed to aim for Dublin Airport—plenty of time. On the downside, the weather wasn’t so cooperative. It was overcast, very windy, and spitting rain. Not my favorite conditions, but I’ll make photos in just about any circumstances. So, when my friend Colm O’Callaghan suggested we make the effort, I grabbed my travel bag and cameras and headed out the door.

This would require only a very short wait, or so we thought! When we arrived at Cherry Orchard, an industrial area in the west Dublin suburbs, the telegraph informed us that the second IWT was still in the yard at the North Wall. In other words, it hadn’t left yet, and was still at least 20 minutes away. An hour ticked by. In the mean time we caught the Ballina-Dublin ‘up IWT’ liner with a 201-class.

Then my phone rang; a client needed a photo immediately. A difficult proposition considering that the photo was buried on a hard-drive that I hadn’t planned to access for another week! My plans changed, I had to head home and address this request before making for the airport. My two-hour cushion had just been eroded. Still no IWT liner, and time was running out.

We gave up and were about to leave, when the telegraph came to life: the IWT had passed Islandbridge! It was on its way and not far off. Unfortunately, a clattering of passenger trains preceded it. Another 10 minutes gone. Finally, we heard the approaching roar of a 12-645 turbocharged diesel! Our perseverance paid off: 075 with the ‘down IWT’.


Irish Rail class 071 diesel.
Irish Rail 075 leads the 2nd IWT Liner at Cherry Orchard on Thursday March 21, 2013. Photo exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens, contrast and color balance adjusted in Photoshop.
Irish Rail 075 leads the 2nd IWT Liner at Cherry Orchard on Thursday March 21, 2013. Photo exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens, no post-processing adjustment, except for scaling.
Photo exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens, no post-processing adjustment, except for scaling.

I dashed home, sent off the requested photo, then made for Dublin Airport on the 747 Airport Bus. Stay tuned for my photographs of Belgian railways . . .

Trailing view of the 2nd IWT Liner at Cherry Orchard.
Trailing view of the 2nd IWT Liner at Cherry Orchard.

I’ll be presenting my illustrated talk “Ireland through American Eyes 1998-2008 My first Decade in Ireland” to the London area Irish Railway Record Society on April 18, 2013.

The program begins at 1900 (7pm) upstairs at the Exmouth Arms, 1 Starcross Street, LONDON NW1, (advertised as a 5 minute walk from London’s Euston station). A nominal donation of £3.50 is asked of non-IRRS members (members £2.50)

For more on the IRRS see:

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New GE’s Roll East on the former Erie at Canaseraga, New York

Conrail’s former Erie Route, April 1989.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 (PKM) with a Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron.

While on the topic of the former Erie Railroad, I thought I would post this unpublished view of brand new New York, Susquehanna & Western Dash8-40Bs working a Delaware & Hudson freight on Conrail’s former Erie route between Hornell and Buffalo, New York.

The new units were ordered by NYS&W during its brief court-ordered operation of D&H between 1988 and 1990.

I started following this train earlier in the day. It was a typical western New York morning, with fits of sun bursting through a deck of thick gray clouds.

That’s the reason for this unusual composition: for a moment the sun emerged to flush the front of the bright yellow GE’s. I made a spot decision to photograph the train more distant than I’d originally intended.

At that time, Conrail was only maintaining the old number 2 track (eastward mainline) for 10 mph. Most traffic was routed on the number 1 main (traditionally the westward track) that was in much better condition. However, by Spring of 1989, Conrail’s Erie route was bursting with traffic. To avoid congestion, Conrail’s dispatcher opted to keep this D&H train bumping along at 10mph, while westward traffic stayed on the faster track.

East of Canaseraga, the Erie line was in characteristic grade separated arrangement that probably dated from Underwood-era improvements in the early 20th century. If I write my book on the Erie, I’ll be finally able to confirm this fact.

In the early 1990s, Conrail reconfigured this portion of the Erie. It replaced the traditional directional double-track with a single-track main and centralized traffic control-style system. The change resulted in abandonment of the number 1 main at this location, and spelled the end for the steam-era Union Switch & Signal Style-S upper quadrant semaphores.

Just for the record, I made several closer views of this train.

For more on the former Erie Railroad, see my earlier posts including: Vestiges of the Erie Railroad near Kenton, OhioErie Code Lines—Horseheads, New York, October 5, 2009, and Erie October Morning.

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Vestige of the Erie Railroad, near Kenton, Ohio

Looking east toward oblivion.

Former Erie Railroad mainline east of Kenton, Ohio.  West of the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, the former Erie route was fragmented following the creation of Conrail in 1976.
Former Erie Railroad mainline east of Kenton, Ohio. West of the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, the former Erie route was fragmented following the creation of Conrail in 1976.

On June 14, 2010, I spent the day tracing the route of the old Erie Railroad between Marion, Ohio and the Ohio-Indiana state line. At Marion, the former Erie line is still active, albeit integrated with other routes. West of Marion, it’s largely abandoned. In some places the former double-track mainline is easy to follow, in others it has been ploughed under with virtually no evidence left to hint that it was ever there.

At Kenton, Ohio, I found this vestige of Erie double track, where the line crossed County Road 140, east of Main Street. I’m looking east, toward Marion. I can only imagine The Lake Cities (Jersey City-Chicago) racing west across this crossing, or one of Erie’s magnificent S-class Berkshires hitting the crossing with tonnage.

I was happy to find track in place to give me some sense of what the railroad was about. Who knows what I’ll find if I return in ten years time.

Exposed with my Lumix LX-3 digital camera.



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Conrail: End of Days, May 29 1999.

Morning at Fonda, New York.

On the eve of assumption of operations by Conrail in Spring 1976, my father and I had explored railway operations in the New York City area. Twenty-three years later, we spent a long weekend in New York’s Mohawk and Hudson Valleys photographing the last days of independent Conrail operations before the railway was divided between its new owners CSX and Norfolk Southern.

General Electric C32-8.
I exposed this on Fuji Astia (100 ISO) using a Canon Elan 7e with a 100-400mm lens (extended to its maximum focal length). Canon’s auto-focus and/or image-stabilization system were temporarily confounded the harsh morning light, resulting in unanticipated ‘fluttering’ as the camera tried to compensate for the circumstances. In the end, I made a split-second decision to switch off the auto-focus. I’ve made a few minor adjustments in Photoshop to correct color-balance and other nominal defects in the original slide.

On the morning of May 29, 1999, I made this dramatic image of a westward Conrail double-stack train blasting along the former New York Central Water Level Route at Fonda, New York.

Evidence of the old New York Central can be seen in the wide right of way left over from its four-track days, and the steam-era signal bridges with classic General Railway Signal searchlights. In the last few years, CSX has replaced most of the NYC-era signals with modern hardware.

Leading the train was one of Conrail’s ten C32-8s, a pre-production model built by General Electric in 1984, unique to Conrail (although nearly identical in appearance to the slightly more powerful C39-8, bought by Conrail and Norfolk Southern). This one was dressed in Conrail’s short-lived ‘Ballast Express’ livery.

A variation of this image was published by RailNews, shortly before that magazine concluded operations. Hard to believe that both Conrail and RailNews have been gone nearly 14 years.

Conrail is among the railroad covered in my book North American Locomotives available from the Qbookshop.

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Metra Electric; Chicago, Summer 1996.

Chicago, 1996.
Chicago, 1996.

I made this image of an outbound Metra-Electric multiple-unit in the summer of 1996. This heavily traveled former Illinois Central suburban line remains a rarely photographed operation. I’ve always thought it was odd that it’s so infrequently pictured. Often, photographers neglect the most common subjects. So, there’s a lesson on seeing the ordinary in interesting ways.

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METRA Sunset at Highlands, Illinois

Metra train at Sunset
Highlands, Illinois on February 25,1995

On February 25,1995, I made this atmospheric image of an inbound Metra train on the ‘Burlington Triple Track’ at Highlands, Illinois (Today a BNSF mainline). A mix of thin high clouds and smog has tinted the winter sun. A cropped version appeared on the cover of Passenger Train Journal issue 217. At the time, I was employed as an Associate Editor at Pentrex Publishing, including PTJ, and often contributed photograph to the Pentrex magazines.

Also see: yesterday’s post on Metra’s F40Cs.

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Locomotive Geometry Part 4; Chicago Metra’s F40C


Passenger Six-Motor.

Metra F40C number 611 in February 2003.
Metra F40C number 611 in February 2003.

Chicago suburban passenger railway, Metra operated the only fleet of Electro-Motive Division F40Cs a six-motor cowl-type passenger locomotive similar to Amtrak’s SDP40F, but equipped with HEP (headend power), and featured corrugated stainless-steel side paneling. The 5 EMD F40Cs, were acquired through Metra predecessor agency for service on Milwaukee Road. Numbered 600-614, the F40Cs were the last Metra heritage units in regular passenger service.

These were an unusual modern application of a six-motor diesel for passenger service. Since the mid-1970s, most passenger locomotives have been four-motor ‘B-B’ models.

They exhibit General Motors classic well-balanced utilitarian appearance, and are similar to other cowl models built from the late 1960s and mid-1970s.

METRA F40C 614 works west at A2 tower on June 22, 2004.

These were among the locomotives I featured in my popular book EMD Locomotives published in 2006. Available from my publish Voyageur Press or at Amazon. I also discuss their history in my recent North American Locomotives.

A pan photo of Metra 606 catches the evening glint near Tower A5.

I like to offer special thanks to Marshall Beecher for providing location assistance in Chicago.

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East Deerfield Yard, Sunrise March 20, 2012

Pan Am Railways at Daybreak:

One year ago today (March 20, 2012), I made this rosy sunrise image at Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield Yard (Massachusetts) using my Canon 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens. East Deerfield has long been a favorite place to begin or finish a day’s photography. Its curved east-west orientation makes it ideal for working with sunrise and sunset. Plus as an operations hub, there’s often something on the move, or at least getting ready. The morning of March 20, 2012 was quiet enough, giving me time to make some interpretive views of the yard.

Looking toward the rising sun at East Deerfield Yard. Canon 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens; ISO 200, f3.5 1/500th second.
Looking toward the rising sun at East Deerfield Yard. Canon 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens; ISO 200, f3.5 1/500th second.
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BNSF Eastbound Along The Mississippi River at Savannah, Illinois.

BNSF Eastbound Along The Mississippi River at Savannah, Illinois.

 A Commanding View of the Mississippi River.

On June 25, 2010, I used my Lumix LX-3 to expose this backlit image of an eastward BNSF intermodal train hugging the east bank of the Mississippi River near Savannah, Illinois. My vantage point is a limestone outcropping atop the bluffs in Illinois’ Mississippi Palisades State Park

This former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy double-track line is part of BNSF’s raceway between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

A BNSF intermodal train along the Mississippi River on June 25, 2010.
General Electric DASH9 locomotives lead a BNSF intermodal train along the Mississippi River on June 25, 2010.

I exposed the image in manual mode, using the camera meter to gauge exposure for the river to avoid blowing out the highlights in the water. I turned all the automatic features, (including the auto focus) ‘off’, thus giving me a virtually instantaneous shutter release that allowed me to neatly fill the frame.

One of the difficulties with many small cameras is a ‘shutter lag’—an undesirable delay from the time the shutter button is released and the actual moment the shutter opens. This unfortunate problem handicaps a photographer’s ability to capture the decisive moment and greatly limits the potential for railway action photography. For me one of great advantages of the Lumix LX-3 is the ability to disable automatic functions and thus obviate the problems associated with a delay. The other camera’s other great advantage is its Leica Vario-Summicron  lens, noted for remarkable sharpness and clarity.

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St Patrick’s Day Parade Dublin

Tracking the Light spent yesterday in Dublin photographing the St Patrick’s Day festivities.

Check out Tracking the Light’s Dublin Page for a sampling of images.


Also check out my eBook for Apple iPad: Dublin Unconquered

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Dublin

Wellington Testimonial viewed from Islandbridge Junction.


Irish Rail at night
I made this image the other night using my Canon 7D with f2.0 100mm lens mounted on a miniature Gitzo tripod positioned on the wall near Islandbridge Junction—west of Heuston Station.

Dublin has lit many of its most prominent architecture for St Patrick’s Day. The Wellington Testimonial in the Phoenix Park is believed to be the tallest obelisk in Europe. In the mid-19th century, when the railway line was built below the park, engineers were concerned that if the line  passed to near the monument, it might undermine the massive structure. As a result the Phoenix Park tunnel is ‘S’-shaped, and swings to the west of the obelisk’s base.

For more St. Patrick’s Day images click on Tracking the Light’s Dublin Page.


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Donner Pass Part 2

Amtrak’s California Zephyr

Amtrak number 5 in the Truckee River Canyon near Boca Dam.
Amtrak number 5 in the Truckee River Canyon near Boca Dam.

Amtrak’s scheduled daylight operation of its California Zephyr over Donner, makes this popular train by far the most photographed train on the pass. In November 2003, Amtrak number 5, passes the signal bridge near Boca Dam on its westward ascent of Donner. I featured this photo in my book The World’s Most Spectacular Railway Journeys.

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Donner Pass Part 1

SP’s Sierra Crossing.


Shortly after sunrise on June 7 1992, I made this silhouette of Denver & Rio Grande Western SD45 5318 leading SP’s westward 1UPOAM (Union Pacific to Oakland manifest) at Soda Springs, California. Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm lens and Kodachrome 25 slide film.
Shortly after sunrise on June 7 1992, I made this silhouette of Denver & Rio Grande Western SD45 5318 leading SP’s westward 1UPOAM (Union Pacific to Oakland manifest) at Soda Springs, California. Nikon F3T with f4.0 200mm lens and Kodachrome 25 slide film.

Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass crossing was one of my big projects. I’ve called this ‘the mother of all mountain grades,’ other authors have simply described it as ‘The Hill’.

I wrote in my Southern Pacific book:

“Where other SP mountain crossings can claim steeper grades, heavier traffic and more sinuous track arrangements than Donner, no other grade is as old or as formidable as this storied mountain crossing. Donner’s exceptionally long eastbound grade—96 miles—rising from near sea level in California’s Central Valley to a summit 7,000 feet high in the Sierra, would test the mettle of any railroader, but what places Donner in a class by itself, is exceptionally harsh, and often unpredictable, winter weather.”

I made my first trip over Donner in my white Toyota Corolla on the final leg of my drive to California, yet I was already well acquainted with the pass through the photos of Richard Steinheimer. In October 1989, I began exploring the pass.

At one point I phoned Steinheimer to ask his advice on making photographs of the pass. His kindness to me told me more about the man than his thousands of wonderful photographs. He spent a least an hour on the phone and inspired my efforts. In later years I occasionally encountered him working SP rails, and he always acknowledged me.

Fellow photographers aided my efforts: Brian Jennison, whom I met in the snow on Donner, and former SP dispatcher J.D. Schmid—known for his skilled use of light to expose Kodachrome slides.

While I’ve explored many of the difficult to reach locations on Donner, for this essay I’ve chosen a favorite image made at one of the most clichéd places, the easy-to-reach Soda Springs grade crossing.

I’d been up on the pass early; I found this westward train led by a Denver & Rio Grande Western SD45, complete with classic dual headlight arrangement. Soda Springs offered nice more ‘glint’, and the train is bathed in an ethereal blend its own exhaust and ground fog illuminated by the rising sun. The details make this image for me; the warm morning light provides atmosphere, while the searchlights on distant SP signal bridge mimic the vertical pattern of the SD45’s headlights.

Between 1989 and 1994, I made more than 50 trips to photograph Donner, and perhaps another dozen since then. Despite my many books, most of these Donner Pass photos remain unpublished. Stay tuned . . .

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Under Western Skies, September 1989

Transcending the Divide.

In September 1989, an eastward Denver & Rio Grande Western freight works toward the Moffat Tunnel where it will pass the Continental Divide.

Driving west across the United States, you reach a point beyond the Missouri River where the skies are truly clear—free from pollution and moisture—and the landscape reaches to seemingly endless horizons. At that point, you have transcended that abstract American frontier between ‘East’ and ‘West’. That was my take on it, when in September 1989, I made my first cross-country drive from Massachusetts to California. They write songs about that sort of thing.

In Tuesday’s post (March 12, 2013), I told of my misfortune caused when I lost the services provided by my Toyota’s alternator in the Utah desert and alluded to the photographs I made, despite this setback.

Amtrak California Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr rolls west on the Denver & Rio Grande Western through Gore Canyon, Colorado in September 1989. At the back of the train is privately owned former Lehigh Valley observation car 353. Ok, so the sky had a few fair weather clouds, but these dispersed as the day cooled. Leica M2 with Kodachrome 25.

Immediately prior to the alternator event, I’d spent a full day photographing the Denver & Rio Grande Western in the Colorado Rockies. Then, the next day, with the alternator light ‘on,’ I spent an equally productive morning on Utah’s Soldier Summit.

Feel the power; a pair of D&RGW SD45s in ‘run-8’ roar west on Soldiers Summit. In the distance, an eastward train approaches. I didn’t dare turn the car off, for fear it wouldn’t start again.

The railroad was alive with trains, the weather was fine, and I made good use of my Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25.

‘There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west . . .’  Although I was making photos, my drive West wasn’t really about photography. I was following old sage advice and was moving West to live. And I did, too. For five years I called California home.

There’s nothing like seeing someplace for the first time, and this trip west opened my eyes to railway photography, in ways I’d not previously experienced. Five years in California changed the way I looked at things and my photography evolved very quickly. When I came back to Colorado and Utah in later years, I was armed with new vision and a whole new set of equipment.

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Tracking the Light now features a Page on Dublin

Irish Photography: Focus on Dublin.


Georgian terrace houses, Dublin, Ireland.
Georgian architecture, Parnell Square, Dublin.

I’ve posted a variety of recent images of Dublin, Ireland to a special page on Tracking the Light. See: Recent Images of Dublin Ireland listed on the third tier in the header.

I intend to update this page regularly with fresh images of Ireland’s capital city!

While not strictly related to railways, this will occasionally feature images of Irish Rail, LUAS, Railways Preservation Society Ireland, views of the canals and other relevant topics.

Keep an eye out for St Patrick’s Day images, on or after the day!

Click HERE to see the Dublin page.

Looking up in the National Museum
Dome on the National Museum, Dublin. March 8, 2013
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, March 2013.
St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, March 2013.



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Gas Prices, Salt Lake City September 1989

Salt Lake City; Kodachrome 25 exposed with a Leica M2 and f2.0 50mm Summicron lens.
Salt Lake City; Kodachrome 25 exposed with a Leica M2 and f2.0 50mm Summicron lens.

Cross Country in a Toyota Corolla.

In September 1989, I drove my eight-year old Toyota Corolla across the United States to California, following railways most of the distance. Having spent the previous day on the Rio Grande in western Colorado, I had been pushing west toward Green River, Utah, when the car’s alternator failed just after sunset.

I took a cheap motel, then continued west on battery power. Despite the ailing Toyota, I chanced my arm, and used the morning to make photos on Soldier Summit. By afternoon, I arrived in Salt Lake City, where I located a mechanic to patch up the Toyota.

92 Cents A Gallon?

While waiting for repairs to be completed, I exposed this image of gasoline prices. I’ve forgotten what impressed me. Were the prices exceptionally low (as they might seem today) or were they extortionate?

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Searchlight Signal; Brookfield, Wisconsin

Searchlight signal at Brookfield, Wisconsin exposed with a Nikon F3T with f1.8 105mm lens on Fuji Provia 100 film.
Searchlight signal displays ‘Approach’ at Brookfield, Wisconsin; exposed with a Nikon F3T with f1.8 105mm lens on Fuji Provia 100 film.

In 1996, I was living in Waukesha, Wisconsin and working for Pentrex Publishing as the Editor of Pacific RailNews. One evening shortly before sunset, a heavy fog settled in. Twilight is my preferred time to make signaling images because lower light in the sky allows for greater emphasis of signaling aspects. Fog is an added attraction, especially for searchlight signals. This style of signal head was developed by the Hall Switch & Signal Company in the 1920s. The searchlight uses a miniature semaphore in front of a focused beam of light that allows for a very low powered lamp to be sighted at a great distance. This effect is most evident when the focused light beam illuminates water droplets comprising heavy fog.

I made a series of images of this General Railway Signal Company searchlight along CP Rail’s Soo Line former Milwaukee Road main line at Brookfield, Wisconsin. A variation of this image was selected for the cover of my book Railroad Signaling, published by MBI/ Voyageur Press.

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Something Old, Something New; Dwarf Signal, Palmer, Massachusetts, October 1984

railway signal
The Rollei’s viewfinder allowed me to shoot from the hip. The combination of the low angle and softer contrast and muted color balance allowed me to get this alternative view of Palmer and unlike those I tended to produce with my old Leica 3A. Compare this image with the 2002 Polish branch line view displayed yesterday’s post; Polish Time Machine.

Trying something different: in October 1984, I was taking a course in photography as part of my studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. This involved an introduction to color printing. For this exercise I exposed a few rolls of 120 Kodak professional color negative film rated at 160 ISO. This material appears to have been designed for low-contrast imagery, such as portraiture, and so had a very different color palate than the 35mm Kodachrome slide film I was used to.

Using my father’s Rollei Model T, I made a series of railway images around Palmer, Massachusetts. I made prints for my class, then I filed the negatives along with my other work and promptly forgot about them. A couple of years ago, I rediscovered them while digging through the archives. Color negatives tend to be less robust than either slide film or black & white, and my negatives had suffered from a variety of light abrasions that would have made conventional printing problematic. Through the magic of digital technology, I was able to easily scan them and then touch up the scratches in Photoshop.

Among the more interesting photographs is this view of the dwarf signal at the Palmer diamond, back when Conrail’s Boston & Albany line was still equipped with directional double track and traditional multiple-tier code lines. It was a crisp clear October afternoon with a light breeze, and the trees were approaching their autumnal peak.


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Polish Time Machine

Polish scene with horses and railway tracks.
A horse-drawn wagon crosses the line at Nowa Weis, Poland. The semaphores have ‘x’s’ on them indicating they are out of service. Exposed on 120 black & white film with a Rollei Model T.

One my favorite images from the April 2002 Polish adventure is this timeless scene of three middle-age men on a horse-drawn wagon crossing the line at Nowa Weis. I caught this on film shortly before sunset with my Rollei. It was on PKP’s (Polish National Railways) secondary line that runs southeast from Wolzstyn to Leszno across through unspoiled pastoral countryside. The largely steam operated and under-maintained railway, added to a rural charm that harked back to another generation. For me it was like stepping back a half century, or more.

See yesterday’s post:  Revenue Steam in Poland, April 2002 

Also: Derelict Steam Locomotive Poland, May 2000

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Revenue Steam in Poland, April 2002

Regularly scheduled revenue steam-powered passenger train in rural Poland in April 2002.
Regularly scheduled revenue steam-powered passenger train in rural Poland in April 2002.

As a follow up to yesterday’s view of a 2-10-0 on disused track, here’s a view of a regular revenue train from that same visit to Poland in April 2002. On a scheduled run from Poznan to Wolsztyn, PKP Ol69-111 passes German-style semaphores on approach to a rural station. At this time, several of the daily passenger Poznan-Wolzstyn trains routinely operated with steam, with Ol69 class 2-6-2s being the most common type on them. This was a secondary main line, and  although weedy, the track was in reasonably good shape. Chasing the trains on the road was a challenge.

I made this image with my Rollei Model T on 120 black & white film, hand processed using my preferred recipe. The combination of traditional subject matter and the classic camera with 75mm Zeiss Tessar lends to a timeless view. Only, the rake of East German-built double-deck passenger carriages might seem incongruous to un-trained eyes. In fact, these cars were standard in the late era and consistent with Polish passenger practice. In this picture they are dressed in a olive drab livery, however some were later painted in a dandelion yellow, which truly seems out of character behind steam.

Check Tracking the Light tomorrow for more on this theme!

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Polish Steam Working Disused Track

Steam Locomotive on disused track.
PKP Ty3-02 works grassy track at Kozuchow, Poland in April 2002. Exposed with a Nikon F3T and 105mm lens on Kodak Ektachrome Elite 100 slide film.

In April 2002, I made this image of a railfan’s excursion led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2 gingerly negotiating a disused line at Kozuchow. This trip covered a variety of closed lines southwest of the steam depot (shop) at Wolsztyn. For me, there is something romantic and compelling about old locomotives plying decaying infrastructure. Perhaps it’s a Byronesque inspiration, or an influence from 18th and 19th century art; paintings that depict vestiges of Roman ruins dotting pastoral landscapes which convey a nagging reminder of the great empire—centuries gone. Here we have the leviathan of another era, plying track barely visible through the grass.

Of course in Poland, there’s layers of complicated history behind such scenes. Railways in this part of western Poland are a legacy of the old Prussian state; while locomotives such as this one stem from 1940s German design. Following World War II, political boundaries were redrawn to reflect the desires of the victors, which placed this part of Germany back in Polish-territory. Cold war politics and economic stagnation combined with large supplies of Silesian coal, compelled Poland to sustain regular steam operations for decades later than most European railways. Following the collapse of Soviet control in the late-1980s, Poland re-adopted a capitalist system. As a result Poland’s railways, especially lightly used lines, such as the secondary route pictured here, suffered. Many lines fell into disuse. Like the fortresses, aqueducts, and amphitheatres of the old Roman Empire, disused Polish railways survived as vestiges of the earlier eras.

The process continues. While Poland has invested in its mainlines, its rural lines continue to fade. Recently, I learned that thousands of miles of lightly used Polish railways may be abandoned. I question the wisdom and shortsighted rational of such a transportation policy, but I cannot help but imagine the pictorial possibilities.

Watch this space for more Polish images!

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Irish Bog Railways—Part 3, March 2, 2013

Bord na Mona trains
A pair of Bord na Mona laden peat trains revese upgrade on temporary track near Annaghmore, County Longford. To maintain adhesion, sand is applied to the rails.

Saturday, March 2, 2013, some of my Dublin friends and I made another foray to County Longford to explore Bord na Mona’s Lanesborough/Mountdillon narrow gauge railway network. As I mentioned in Irish Bog Railways; Part 2, this is one of several extensive Bord na Mona narrow gauge railway systems. This one primarily serves the Lough Ree Power Station along the River Shannon. (Last autumn, we explored Bord na Mona’s network focused on the Edenderry Power plant, see Irish Bog Railways; Part 1)

Bord na Mona
A coupled pair of laden Bord na Mona trains struggles upgrade, laying sand down as they ascend a short steep grade on the run back toward Mountdillon. This is the same stretch of track pictured in Irish Bog Railways–Part 2.

Unlike Irish mainline railways, Bord na Mona operates on very lightly built track. Temporary spurs are laid out on the bog for loading trains with harvested turf. While these temporary tracks may only stay in place for weeks or months, Bord na Mona main trunks are well established, with some in place for five decades. Key routes are built with broadly spaced double-track The nature of the operation requires that trains are run cautiously, and rarely exceed 15 mph. Typically peat trains operate in pairs to assist with loading and reverse moves. At times these may be coupled together. In addition to trains of peat gather rakes, Bord na Mona also runs a host of maintenance trains, including fueling trains used to supply machines working in harvesting areas.

A bustle in the hedgerow; near Lanesborough on March 2, 2013.

The railway’s setting ranges from bucolic rolling woodlands to other-worldly landscapes consisting of heavily harvested bog lands. Trains announce their presence by a distinctive clattering that pierces the relative serenity of the bog. The combination of diminutive locomotives, track panels with steel sleepers, short trains and sections of hastily built temporary track, makes the whole operation seem like a vast, but delightful model railway.

Irish narrow gauge turf railway.
Gatekeeper gives a laden train a wave on March 2, 2013. Catching the flashing lights on the gates requires a bit of practice. Exposed with a Panasonic Lumix LX-3.

Saturday began dull and misty, but brightened toward the end of the day. I made several hundred images with my digital cameras, while exposing more than a roll of Fuji Provia 100F with my Canon EOS 7D. Our conversations with Bord na Mona staff, found them hospitable and knowledgeable. We returned to Dublin, happy with our day’s efforts while formulating plans for our next adventure on Ireland’s elusive 3-foot gauge railways.

Bord na Mona bridge at Mountdillon.
Bord na Mona bridge at Mountdillon.
Train driver holds recent issues of the Irish Railway Record Society Journal. This compact magazine covers contemporary and historical Irish railway topics including Bord na Mona operations. It is available through membership of the IRRS.
Train driver holds recent issues of the Irish Railway Record Society Journal. This compact magazine covers contemporary and historical Irish railway topics including Bord na Mona operations. It is available through membership of the IRRS. See Irish Railway Record Society
Bord na Mona
Empty train negotiates a tight curve on the double track Bord na Mona line between Lanesborough and Mountdillon on March 2, 2013. Exposed with a Canon 7D.
Lough Rea Power Station
An afternoon view finds soft light on the Lough Ree Power Station at Lanesborough, County Longford. Bord na Mona’s operations on its Lanesborough railway network are largely focused on delivering peat to this plant. Other activities include operation of an ash train that takes away waste ash from the plant.
Some blooming gorse adds a splash of color to a bleak landscape. Loading areas on the bog, offer open views of the trains in an austere otherworldly environment.
Some blooming gorse adds a splash of color to a bleak landscape. Loading areas on the bog, offer open views of the trains in an austere otherworldly environment.
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CSX Hopper Train, Keyser, West Virginia October 18 2002

Train with fog, West Virginia.
CSX westward hopper train approaches ‘Z’ Tower in Keyser, West Virginia.

This was the icon-image used to advertise my November 2008 Silver & Steel photographic exhibition. I’d exposed it six years earlier on a three-week autumnal photographic exercise that began in Vermont, and brought me as far west as Omaha. I returned east via Cincinnati, Roanoke and Washington D.C.

The photograph was among those made on the outward leg of the trip. I’d met some friends for a few days of photography on CSX’s Mountain Subdivision, the old Baltimore & Ohio ‘West End’—the original B&O mountain crossing. On the morning of October 18th, we found this westward empty hopper train working west through the fog covered Potomac River Valley. Getting ahead of the train, we exposed a sequence of images of it near ‘Z’ Tower at the west-end of Keyser Yard. The sun had begun to burn off the fog, some of which still clung to the river valley and surrounding hills making for a cosmic setting worthy of the old B&O.

Working in silhouette can be tricky; low light and fog helps. An image like this works when the main subject is clearly defined from the background. The ditch-lights on the leading locomotive are crucial to maintaining compositional balance both identifying a focal point and indicating action; without the lights the image takes on a completely different character.

I was working with my Nikon N90s and a Nikkor f2.8 180mm lens and Fujichrome Astia 100 film. Fuji introduced Astia in 1997, and supplied it concurrently with its Provia 100. Astia offered a slightly warmer color balance, and a rich black, remaking it an ideal medium for autumnal situations. Unfortunately, Astia was replaced with Astia 100F in 2003. While nominally sharper, I never found the Astia 100F as pleasing as the original Astia. Asked about this film choice, my friend Brian Jennison, once exclaimed, ‘Its nastia with Astia!’ Indeed it is!

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East Broad Top; September 1996

East Broad Top steam locomotive at work.
East Broad Top number 15. Nikon F3T with f4.0 200 mm lens with Fuji Provia 100 film.

East Broad Top’s Baldwin-built Mikado 15 works northward from Orbisonia, Pennsylvania in September 1996. This is another of my favorite railway images, I’ve used it in several books and it was among those I displayed in my Silver & Steel exhibit in November 2008. It captures the first excursion over the line in several days, and the engine is working rusted rail, which adds to the timeless aura of a bucolic scene. EBT is fantastic; the soft yet clear sounds of the locomotive exhaust coupled with a distant mournful whistle followed by a whiff of coal smoke will send you back to a simpler day.

East Broad Top is a treasure, a railway frozen in time. The railway was a relic of another era when it ceased common carrier operations in 1956. Resuscitated by the scrapper that took title to it in the mid-1950s, today it is among America’s most authentic historic railways. I’ve made hundreds of photographs on the line over the years. However, due to difficulties beyond my understanding, the line didn’t operate its regular excursions last year. I wonder; might it re-open this year?  Even without a locomotive under steam, EBT remains a compelling subject.

See my book Baldwin Locomotives for a host of classic Baldwin photographs and detailed information on East Broad Top’s Mikados among many other engines.

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