LUAS at the Red Cow April 2005

400mm View of an Alstom Citadis Tram.

LUAS tram
Dublin LUAS tram backlit near the Red Cow stop in April 2005. Exposed on Fujichrom Sensia 100 with a Nikon N90S fitted with a Tokina 400mm lens.

In April 2005, Dublin’s LUAS light rail system was still relatively new. Services on the Red Line service between Dublin Connolly Station and Tallagh had only commenced the previous September.

The Trams still had that ‘right out of the box’ quality. They were new and shiny and free from dents and day-to-day wear and tear. The yellow safety stripes were still in the future.

The Irish Railway Record Society was working on a special LUAS edition of their Journal and fellow IRRS members Stephen Hirsch, the late-Norman McAdams and myself spent a morning intensively photographing LUAS operations and its trams to help fill this publication.

The morning was bright but had a hazy diffused quality of light, typical of Irish April weather. I exposed this image with my Nikon N90S fitted with a Tokina 400mm lens.

However when I inspected the processed slide, it left me with something of quandary: While I was satisfied with the composition and the subtle backlit qualities, I’d felt that I’d misjudged the lighting and overexposed the image by about a stop. Worse, I didn’t manage to keep the camera level, so, by my normal standards of judgment, I felt the slide projected poorly.

Despite these flaws, I found the slide, scanned exceptionally well. In post processing I was easily able to correct for level, and the exposure looks fine on the computer screen without need for manipulation.

This just goes to show what doesn’t look good on film, may, in fact, produce a better than average final image in other media.

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SEPTA One Year Ago: June 29, 2012

This day last year (June 29, 2012), Pat Yough, my brother Sean and I, spent the evening photographing the final runs of SEPTA’s 50 year old Silverliner IIs and IIIs. These were working the short run on the former Pennsylvania Railroad line to Cynwyd.

A pair of SEPTA’s vintage Silverliners navigate the Cynwyd Line near Bala Station, Philadelphia on June 29, 2012. Exposed with a Canon 7D.

More than 50 years earlier, my father Richard Jay Solomon had photographed, similar and then new PRR Silverliners on the same line. Back then tracks and electrification continued across the Schuylkill River to Manayunk and beyond to Norristown. Today, SEPTA serves these locations by the former Reading Company line that ran largely parallel to the old PRR line.

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CSX at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, June 26, 2013


Ballast Train at Work

On the evening of June 26, 2013, I arrived at East Brookfield to find Dennis LeBeau observing CSX’s undercutting operations immediately east of CP64.

CSX ballast train.
CSX ballast train in the East Brookfield yard. Exposed with Canon 7D and 28-135mm lens. RAW file modified in post processing to adjust for contrast and exposure with mild sharpening.

Over the last few years, CSX has been improving its former Boston & Albany route between Selkirk Yards (near Albany, New York) and its Worcester, Massachusetts terminal.

Conrail improved clearances on the line in the mid-1980s and began running international containers on double-stack trains in 1989 (I first photographed an eastward Conrail double-stack in Spring 1989). However, CSX’s desire to run larger domestic containers on double stack trains has required further clearance improvement.

Once complete, the Boston & Albany route will be clearance compatible with most of CSX’s former Conrail mainline, which should allow for more traffic to be sent to Worcester. The clearance improvements are coincident with the recent closure of Beacon Park Yard at Alston, Massachusetts in favor of expanded facilities in Worcester.

On Wednesday evening, CSX had every track in East Brookfield occupied, as it cleared equipment from the mainline to allow east and westbound freight to pass (Amtrak had cancelled train 448 (Boston section of Lake Shore Limited). Once traffic had passed, work crews resumed their re-ballasting of the recently undercut mainline.

Three trains at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
On the evening of June 26, 2013, East Brookfield was a hot bed of railway activity. Dennis downplayed the scene, ‘I’ve seen it like this before . . .with Conrail in the 1980s!’. Canon 7D with 200mm lens.
CSX intermodal train.
A General Electric Evolution-series diesel leads an eastward intermodal freight through the work-zone east of CP64 in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Decades ago Boston & Albany had three main tracks between East Brookfield and Charlton. A tower near the location of today’s signals controlled the plant. Today, the line is dispatched remotely from Selkirk, New York. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
CSX Intermodal train East Brookfield_
Wide view: A General Electric Evolution-series diesel leads an eastward intermodal freight through the work-zone east of CP64 in East Brookfield, Massachusetts. The old B&A station once stood to the right of the mainline. This burned to the ground in 2010. Lumix LX3 photo.

I was one of a half-dozen civilians observing the activity. Late in the day, the sun emerged from a cloudbank to provide some soft lighting and I kept three cameras busy, documenting the changes.

East Brookfield, Mass.
Observing the on-going work at East Brookfield. Lumix LX3 photo.
Recording changes on CSX at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
Recording changes on CSX at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.


CSX's westward Q427 eases over freshly ballasted track at a walking pace as it approaches CP 64 at East Brookfield. The signals showed 'red over flashing green' —Limited Clear. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
CSX’s westward Q427 eases over freshly ballasted track at a walking pace as it approaches CP 64 at East Brookfield. The signals showed ‘red over flashing green’ —Limited Clear. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
East Brookfield, Mass.
Dennis LeBeau rolls by Q427. Lumix LX3 photo.


CSX ballast train at East Brookfield. Lumix LX3 photo.
CSX ballast train at East Brookfield. Lumix LX3 photo.
Ballast train at work.
Discharging ballast on the former Boston & Albany at East Brookfield. Lumix LX3 photo.
Ballast train at work.
Discharging ballast on the former Boston & Albany at East Brookfield. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
SD40-2 detail.
CSX SD40-2 8854 works at ballast train at East Brookfield. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
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Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, West Brookfield, Massachusetts

Playing with a Pentax.

A few weeks back, I traveled to West Brookfield to meet with my friend Dennis LeBeau—East Brookfield’s musical godfather and preeminent historian. Dennis had organized for me an informal tour of the former Boston & Albany station—now a local history museum.

Our timing was neatly suited to catch the passing Amtrak’s 449, the westward Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited.  A phone call to Amtrak’s Julie (the computerized information voice) advised us that the train was a few minutes late out of Worcester.

I was playing with a Pentax ZX-M 35mm camera fitted with an f1.4 50mm Pentax lens and loaded with Velvia 50 color slide film. While not my regular combination of equipment and media, I like to vary my approach and experiment with different types of cameras.

West Brookfield was once a place of great importance for Boston & Albany predecessor, Western Rail Road of Massachusetts. This was the mid-way point between Worcester and Springfield. Back in the 1830s and 1840s, all trains stopped here for water, while passenger trains also allowed time for a meal stop. It was a meeting point for local stage routes and so serving as an early transportation hub.

As late as the 1940s, water tanks were maintained east of the station and freights would often take water here after the long climb east from Palmer.

The original Western Rail Road station was replaced in the late 19th century with a stone building designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge (the architectural successors to the late H. H. Richardson who’s vision shaped station design on the B&A in the 1880s). The original station was relocated to the west side of the Long Hill Road crossing, and still stands today.

The brick building in the photograph on the far side of the tracks is the original Western Rail Road freight house, dating to the mid-19th century.

Today, the only functional track in West Brookfield is CSX’s mainline. There’s no switches, water tanks, or open railway stations. The surviving buildings are relics of an earlier age. No passenger train has called on West Brookfield since the early 1950s.

Just about 2pm, Amtrak 449 came into sight. I exposed two frames of Velvia. This is the closer of the two exposures. I scanned this with my Epson V600 scanner and adjusted the curve of the film to lighten mid tones and control contrast, and adjusted color balance. (Velvia 50 tends to shift red). Both corrected and raw scans are presented below.

Amtrak 449 at West Brookfield, Pentax ZX-M with f1.4 50mm lens; Velvia 50 corrected scan.


West Brookfield, Mass.
Amtrak 449 at West Brookfield, Pentax ZX-M with f1.4 50mm lens; Velvia 50 corrected scan.


Amtrak 449 at West Brookfield, Pentax ZX-M with f1.4 50mm lens; Velvia 50 raw ‘uncorrected’ scan.
Amtrak 449 at West Brookfield, Pentax ZX-M with f1.4 50mm lens; Velvia 50 raw ‘uncorrected’ scan.



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On the Road with Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited


Brian’s Trip on 448

Last week I rode from Chicago Union Station over the former New York Central Water Level route to Albany and then via the Boston & Albany to Worcester, Massachusetts.

Amtrak Timetable.
A contemporary work of fiction: Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited public timetable. Exposed with my Lumix LX3

A familiar run, I first made this trip in August of 1983 and I’ve done it many times since. However, both my first trip and most recent have a commonality: I began these trips with some photography on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy ‘Triple Track’ near Aurora, rode a ‘scoot’ into Chicago and changed for the Lake Shore at Union Station.

While I enjoy train travel, I’m not especially keen on really long runs. My usual limit is about 8 hours. I make exceptions for the Lake Shore. For me this is one of the most interesting American runs.

Amfleet carriage.
Amfleet II rolling east. Exposed with a Lumix LX-3

The queuing process at Chicago Union leaves much to be desired. It reminded me of a recent experience with jury duty. Yet once ensconced in my seat in an Amfleet II coach I was happy enough.

We departed Union Station 3 minutes after the advertised and gradually lost more time over the course of the run. I don’t mind this especially, after all the train’s long standing nick-name is, “The Late for Sure Limited.’

Gliding east in the darkness, I squinted to pick out familiar landmarks, as this trip is the thread that really ties my recent posts together.

At 9:37 pm we eased over the 21st Street Bridge; a few minutes later we clattered across the diamonds with the old Rock Island at Englewood, and at 9:58 we raced through Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. I noted where Chris Guss and I had stood a week earlier to photograph both an EJ&E freight and NS’s Interstate Heritage Unit.

Northern Indiana was alive with trains. We passed a CSX stack train at Curtis on the adjacent former Baltimore & Ohio. East of Michigan City we overtook a South Shore freight led by a pair of GP38s roaring along under wire like an apparition from another era. I heard the Doppler blast as the South Shore hit a crossing alongside of us. It was just a momentary glimpse in the night and not far from a spot where Mike Danneman made photos on an icy February afternoon some 18 years ago.

A seeming endless parade of Norfolk Southern freights greeted us on the Water Level Route. Every few minutes a low base roar would precede locomotives blasting by on an adjacent main track. Although Conrail has been gone 14 years, I still find it odd that Central’s old Water Level Route is now run by two separate railroads.

I dozed off, waking briefly at Toledo to watch an oil train roll east, and empty hoppers used to move fracking sand clatter west. Somewhere between Toledo and Berea, Ohio we lost about an hour.

Sunrise from the train.
A jet soars westward, as Amtrak 448 approaches Berea, Ohio. Lumix LX-3 photo.

Near Berea we met the rising sun and passed the old tower—sacred ground visited by my late friend Bob Buck and countless other fans over the years. This is the divide, from here east we were rode on CSX tracks.

Cleveland, Ohio sunrise.
Cleveland’s skyline features the Van Sweringen brothers’ famed Terminal Tower (center, near the apex of the lift bridge). Lumix LX-3 photo.

We paused for Cleveland, then Erie, and for many miles we ran parallel to the former Nickel Plate Road, which now carries Norfolk Southern freight east of Cleveland.  I was pleased to see many photographers line-side; my train’s journey was well documented!

At Buffalo, I had a pleasant surprise: instead of taking the normal route via CP Draw and CP FW, we were routed over the Compromise Branch that takes a more northerly (and slightly longer route) through Buffalo, rejoining the other line at CP 437 (the control point near the ghastly decaying remnants of Buffalo Central Terminal). Amtrak’s 48/448 serves the suburban Buffalo-Depew station instead of the old terminal.

Behind me a woman traveler was on the phone describing her trip on Amtrak from Oregon: “We live in such an amazing country! Crossing the plains I saw endless herds of wild Bison and red Indians on horseback! There were wagon trains crawling dusty trails against purple mountains and rainbows! And amber fields of grain! Is that wheat, do you think? And Chicago was like the emerald city, its towers scraping the sky. Such a skyline! And all through the Midwest big factories making the produce of America! It’s just wonderful!”

Indeed. Was she on number 8? Or perhaps one of those ‘Great Trains of the Continental Route’ as advertised in my August 1881 Travelers’ Official Guide?

At Rochester, my old friend Otto Vondrak came down for a brief visit. He and I share various Rochester-area experiences. Then eastward into ever more familiar territory.

Otto Vondrak
Otto Vondrak gives me a wave at Rochester, New York—home of Kodak. Lumix LX-3 photo.

At Schenectady, a Canadian Pacific freight overtook us on the Delaware & Hudson before we resumed our sprint to Albany-Rensselaer, where we then sat for an eternity waiting for station space. Here 48 and 448 are divided, with the latter continuing down the Hudson to New York City.

Amtrak seat.
My seat on the Lake Shore. Comfortable and relaxing. Certainly superior to flying, provided time isn’t an issue. With today’s technology, I can review photos I made of Metra’s train shortly before boarding the Lake Shore. I don’t have to wait days or weeks to see my results. Well, except for the Provia I exposed with my EOS3. (I like to keep the bases covered, as it were).

East of Rensselaer, I paid extra special attention to our progress. There are few railroads I know as well as the B&A.  At 4:38pm we met CSX’s Q283 (empty autoracks) at Chatham. We paused at CP171 (East Chatham) to let pass our westward counterpart, train 449. At Pittsfield, CSX’s Q423 (Worcester to Selkirk) was waiting for us.

Brian Solomon
Brian gives Q423 a roll by.
Self portrait with Lumix LX-3.
CSX GP40-2s at North Adams Junction in Pittsfield. It was here that Bob Buck photographed a Mohawk in the snow back in 1947. Lumix LX-3 photo.
CSX GP40-2s at North Adams Junction in Pittsfield. It was here that Bob Buck photographed a Mohawk in the snow back in 1947. Lumix LX-3 photo.

The highlight of the trip was the sinuous descent of Washington Hill’s west slope. There was test of the Westinghouse brakes near the deep rock cut east of Washington Station, and I continued my trip through time and space. Familiar places and landmarks blitzed by the glass; Lower Valley Road, Becket, Twin Ledges, old Middlefield Station, Whistler’s stone bridges along the valley of the Westfield’s west branch, the old helper station at Chester, and east through Huntington, Russell, and Woronoco.

'Twin Ledges'
Drifting downgrade at the famed ‘Twin Ledges’ (between Becket and Middlefield, Massachusetts). Lumix LX-3 photo.
Middlefield: where I've made many photos from that grassy knoll. Lumix LX-3.
Middlefield: where I’ve made many photos from that grassy knoll. Lumix LX-3.
Chester, Massachusetts
‘Chesta!’ (Chester, Massachusetts). Lumix LX-3. (Old Norvel C. Parker grew up here).

At West Springfield we passed the old Boston & Albany yard. Watching the parade of trains in evening at the west end of the yard were ghosts of departed members of the West Springfield Train Watchers; among them founding member Norvel C. Parker, Stuart Woolley—retired B&A fireman, Joseph Snopek—photographer and author, and of course, Bob Buck—B&A’s greatest fan and proprietor of Tucker’s Hobbies.  I waved and they waved back. (Hey, at least I wasn’t seeing herds of wild bison!)

Springfield, Massachusetts
‘Ah! Lovely Springfield, Massachusetts.’ Lumix, LX-3.

After a stop at Springfield Station, I was on my final leg of this journey. We rattled over the Palmer diamonds—where I’ve exposed countless photos over the years, and raced up the Quaboag River Valley, through West Warren, Warren, West Brookfield, Brookfield, and East Brookfield—where my friend Dennis LeBeau and his loyal dog, Wolfie, were line-side to salute my passage.

Palmer diamond as seen from 448.
Palmer, Massachusetts, looking railroad-south on New England Central. It is here, I’ve exposed countless hundreds of images since the 1970s. Home territory and all that. And it goes by in the blink of an eye on 448!
Lumix LX-3 photo.
West Warren.
West Warren, Massachusetts along the Quaboag River. Another favorite spot for railway photography. Lumix LX-3 photo.
Worcester Union Station
Worcester Union Station at sunset. Lumix LX-3 photo.
Worcester, Massachusetts
Boston & Albany carved in stone—Worcester, Massachusetts.

At Worcester, my father, Richard J. Solomon was poised to collect me. And so concluded my latest Lake Shore epic. And, yes, 448 was indeed late: 1 hour 15 minutes passed the advertised. Tsk!

Worcester, Massachusetts.
Worcester, Massachusetts.





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Indian Summer for the Irish Rail Class 121‑Part 3


General Motors Single Cab Diesels Wander Far and Wide in their Final Years.

Irish Rail container train.
In June 2006, Irish Rail 134 had been assigned to the Waterford-Ballina Norfolk Liner container trains. I featured it in this image exposed at Ballina, County Mayo. I used this photo in my book on Intermodal railroading, published by MBI. Fujichrome film exposed with my Nikon F3T and 180mm lens.

In their final few years of service, Irish Rail 124 and 134 worked a great variety of services. For me, simple knowing these two engines were out there, made photographing Irish Rail more interesting.

Sometimes I knew where they were, other times one would appear unexpectedly. Occasionally they’d get paired together and stay that way for a while, but more often than not, they’d be paired with one of the 141/181 class Bo-Bos.

All of my images of 121s at work were made on film (slide and black & white negative). By the time I’d acquired my first digital camera, old 124 and 134 were no longer active.

Sifting through my slides from their last five or six years, I’ve found numerous images of these engines. As I’ve mentioned previously, every time I saw one, I expected it to be the last time, so I made the most of every opportunity. Here’s a lesson: never expect that you’ll  see something again; so photograph to the best of you ability when you have the chance.

Irish Rail after the storm
The 29th of October 2005 was an exceptional wet, windy and dark autumn day. Irish Rail sugar beet train V252 with 124 and 163 had worked from Wellingtonbridge to Limerick Junction, where it reversed direction for the remainder of its journey to Mallow, County Cork. As driver Ken Fox was easing the train out of Limerick Junction Station there was a momentary burst of sun, making for a dramatic image. Sometimes it pays to go out on the worst days because they can result in the best photos. Although the 121 was trailing, this remains one of my favorite images of a 121 at work. Exposed with my Canon EOS-3 with 50mm lens on Fujichrome Velvia 100 film.


Irish Rail's General Motors diesels at Islandbridge Junction.
It helps to have an apartment near the line: in July 2005, I heard the pair of 121s rumble across Irish Rail’s bridge over the Liffey at Islandbridge. I sprinted up to Islandbridge Junction and made a series of photos of the pair with a late-running Dublin-Waterford Liner. Despite the rain, this is another favorite photo. The day didn’t end there, and by evening, thanks to some swift driving by David Hegarty, I had a nice selections of images of the pair of surviving 121s at work. Exposed with my Nikon F3 with 85mm lens on Fuji Sensia 100 slide film.
Irish Rail ballast train
On April 24, 2006, driver Eamon Jones was at the trottle of Irish Rail 166 working with 134 on a ballast train from Portlaoise destined for Waterford where it was based for the next few days. David Hegarty & I caught it passing Cherryville Junction as it slows to take the switch for the Waterford Line. Fujichrome Sensia 100 exposed with my Nikon F3T and 180mm lens.
Blooming gorse with train.
In April 2006, 166 and 134 are working toward Wellingtonbridge with a ballast train from Waterford. At this moment the train has paused to allow the guard to shut the gates behind the train. I opted to strongly feature the gorse that was in full bloom. The old South Wexford line was among my favorites in Ireland. Exposed with Nikon F3T with 24mm lens on Fuji Sensia 100.
Irish Rail 134 leads a laden sugar beet train at Carrick-on-Suir in December 2005. Exposed with a Nikon F3 with 180mm lens on Fujichrome Provia 100F.
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Indian Summer for the Irish Rail Class 121‑Part 2


General Motors Single Cab Diesels on the Beet.


Irish Rail sugar beet train
The S-bend at Nicholastown was among our favorite locations on the line, and I’ve made dozens of images here. Exposed with a Nikon F3T with f2.8 180mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

During sugar beet season Irish Rail was tight for motive power, as the six to seven extra laden trains per day, plus returning empties, tended to tax the railway’s small locomotive fleet to its limits.

Beet season was always a good time to make photographs. During the 2004 season I was fortunate to catch surviving class 121 diesels several times working laden trains. The tuned ear could always pick out the sound of a 121 over the other classes.

On November 22, 2004, David Hegarty and I caught this mixed pair with 124 in the lead, hauling a laden beet train just passed Nicholastown Gates between Clonmel and Cahir, County Tipperary.

It was a hard pull up the bank from Clonmel to Nicholastown, and just east of the gates the line leveled out. We could hear the pair clattering away in run-8 for several minutes before they appeared. The gates were manually operated, and would be closed well ahead of the train.

The S-bend at Nicholastown was among our favorite locations on the line; I’ve made dozens of images here.

Exposed with a Nikon F3T with f2.8 180mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

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Indian Summer for the Irish Rail Class 121s—Part 1


General Motors Single Cab Diesels

Irish Rail class 121
Irish Rail 124 with Mark 3 Push-pull at Oola with on 19 April 2003. Exposed with a Nikon F3T and Nikor 85mm lens on Fujichrome Slide Film.

My favorite Irish Rail diesels were the Class 121s. This single cab General Motors type was derived from the standard American switcher, as typified by the various NW and SW models.

However, unlike switchers built for North American railways, the 121’s were intended for road service and worked freight and passenger trains. The fifteen locomotives were delivered in 1961, and were not only the first La Grange built diesels in Ireland, but are understood to have been the first production-built diesels from La Grange to work in Western Europe.

I liked the way the looked and sounded as they reminded me of the locomotives I grew up with in the USA. Also, we have a Lionel O gauge NW2, which was among my favorite locomotives as a kid.

In early 2003, Irish Rail retired and scrapped most of the 121s. However two survived in service for another five years. Numbers 124 and 134 continued to work in a variety of services after all the others of their class. They had been fitted with multiple unit connections, so they could work as pairs with other ‘Bo-Bo’ General Motors types (the class 141s built in 1962, and class 181s built in 1966.)

In Spring 2003, David Hegarty and I made several trips to photograph the last surviving 121s. Number 124 was the easiest to find, as it was assigned to push-pull service on the Limerick to Limerick Junction shuttle. While these were by no means my final images of these locomotives, I considered myself fortunate every time I photographed them from that time onward. The 121s were clearly running on borrowed time.

Irish Rail Class 121
Irish Rail 124 near Dromkeen, County Limerick with Push Pull 19 April 2003. Exposed with a Nikon F3T with 105mm lens on Fujichrome Slide Film.

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MRSI Excursion at Ferrycarrig, County Wexford.


Irish Rail 080 leads preserved Mark II carriages.

Railway excursion in Ireland.
MRSI Excursion at Ferrycarrig, County Wexford. Exposed with my Nikon F3T and 180mm lens with Fujichrome slide film.

At noon on May 13, 2006, David Hegarty and I photographed this Modern Railway Society Ireland special exiting the tunnel at Ferrycarrig, County Wexford on the old Dublin & South Eastern Railway. The gorse lined tunnel made for an unusually scenic view. My notes from the day indicate that driver Ray Collins was at the throttle.

We followed the train, catching it again on the South Wexford line near Robbinstown, and later in the day between Waterford and Carrick-on-Suir at Fiddown, then one last time at Nicholastown Gates. It wasn’t the brightest day in Ireland, but that didn’t stop us for making some memorable images.‎


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South Station, Boston, January 1982.


Monochrome exposed with a Leica 3A.

Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.

Here’s an image from my early archives. I was wandering around Boston on a snowy day in January 1982. Among the other photos I made were views along the Green Line on Huntington Avenue. This one caught my eye the other day when I was reviewing my early work. It require a nominal crop. Many of my early photos tend to be off-level. This problem is easily fixed today.

South Station was the main passenger terminal for Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroads, and in the early years of the twentieth century was the busiest passenger station in the world (as measured in the number of daily train movements).


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Amtrak’s Springfield—New Haven Shuttle at Berlin, Connecticut


Two Years Ago Today, June 20, 2011.

Amtrak in Connecticut
Amtrak shuttle approaches Berlin. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens


Exactly two years ago, I delivered my brother Sean to the Amtrak station in Berlin, Connecticut. He was on his way back to Philadelphia after a brief visit to Massachusetts.  Amtrak’s Berlin agent, Bill Sample, is always very friendly and helpful,  so we prefer Berlin over some of the closer stations.

I made this image of the southward shuttle train using my Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens. There’s a lot of history in this simple photo. The train is led by a cab-control-car rebuilt from one of the old Budd-built Metroliner multiple units. Today’s single main track doesn’t tell much of a story, but Berlin was once a busy junction.

While Pan Am Southern’s route toward Plainville and Waterbury diverges here (at the left), this only sees about one round trip per week. Historically there was a diamond crossing here between New Haven Railroad lines. Also, one of New Haven Railroad’s earliest experimental electrified schemes reached Berlin, but I’m not sure if that would have been in this scene or not.

If all goes according to plan, the double track to Springfield, Massachusetts will someday be restored.

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Wisconsin & Southern at Lake Monona, June 18, 2013

In the last final minutes of the day’s sunlight.

John Gruber and I went over to Madison’s Lake Monona anticipating Wisconsin & Southern’s (WSOR) road freight heading to Janesville.  I’m working against a deadline, so I brought the laptop with me to read, write and edit, while waiting for the train thus making dual use of my time. John said, ‘You’re putting me to shame!’ All he brought was a camera.

After a 40 minute wait, we heard a horn sounding for a crossing. But it wasn’t coming Madison as we expected. This wasn’t the southward train, but the northward run! So 20 minutes from sundown a pair of SD40-2s crawled across the causeway. It was here that Bill Middleton made some iconic photos more than 60 years ago. John remembered, “His first published picture in Trains; it featured the Dakota 400 crossing the bay.”

Wisconsin & Southern at Madison, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin & Southern SD40-2 4010 eases across Lake Monona with a freight for Madison. Exposed with my Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm lens. ISO 200.
Wisconsin State Capitol building with freight train.
Wisconsin & Southern SD40-2 4010 catches the glint crossing Lake Monona in Madison. Exposed with my Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm lens. ISO 200.

I exposed a few slides with my Canon EOS 3, and a flurry of digital images with my EOS 7D. Then we drove over to WSOR’s Madison yard, where we found another freight ready to leave. I made a few photos with my Lumix LX-3 in the fading light.


Wisconsin & Southern's Madison Terminal. Lumix LX-3 exposed at f3.5 1/13 second.
Wisconsin & Southern’s Madison Terminal. Lumix LX-3 exposed at f3.5 1/13 second.
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Wisconsin & Southern on the old Milwaukee Road at Sun Prairie


Here the Atlantics Once Rolled.

Dick Gruber did the driving, John offered historical context, while I made notes. We all made photos. I was working with three cameras; my EOS-3 film camera loaded with Provia 100F slide film, my EOS 7D digital camera, and Lumix LX-3.

John Gruber, says as we inspect a grade crossing near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, ‘Passenger trains were allowed 75mph through here. The Hiawatha’s Atlantics worked here towards the end. It was probably the last regular trains they worked. When I saw them they were pretty dirty.’

Wisconsin & Southern
Wisconsin & Southern’s westward freight L464 hits the a highway crossing near Deansville, Wisconsin on June 1,4 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

Visions of high-speed service on this route were revived in recent years (as part of a Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route) then dashed again when political philosophy interfered with transport reality. Track speed is 10mph, and the only service is Wisconsin & Southern’s (WSOR) local freights.

WSOR freight
Wisconsin & Southern’s westward freight L464 near Sun Prairie. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.

We drove from DeForest, pausing for lunch near Sun Prairie, to a lightly used grade crossing near Deansville where we intercepted the WSOR local freight. This was hauled by a clean pair of GP38s clattering upgrade with a long string of ballast cars and mixed freight at the back.

WSOR’s burgundy and silver makes for a pleasant contrast with rural scenery. I can only imagine what it was like with a streamlined A1 Atlantic clipping along with light-weight passenger cars at speed. Different worlds.


Wisconsin & Southern
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin: Wisconsin & Southern’s westward freight L464 drops down the grade from Deansville. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
Wisconsin & Southern's westward freight L464 at Sun Prairie. Lumix LX-3.
Wisconsin & Southern’s westward freight L464 at Sun Prairie. Lumix LX-3.
WSOR GP38 number 3801
Detailed view of WSOR GP38 number 3801 at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Lumix LX3 photo.

See yesterday’s popular post on Wisconsin’s DeForest Station. 


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DeForest Station, June 14, 2013.

Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light post new material daily!

Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee Road M&P Branch.

Dick Gruber, John Gruber and I, explored some former Milwaukee Road lines near Madison, Wisconsin on June 14, 2013.

“You hear a lot about deforestation these days,” Dick says to me, “I quite like it. What’s wrong with DeForest Station anyway?”

DeForest station, Wisconsin.
DeForest station, as photographed with my Lumix LX-3 on June 14, 2013.

Having inspected the restored depot. We continued northward (timetable west) along Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee branch from Madison to Portage. We had good information that the weekday freight was working towards us. Since track speed is about 10 mph, there was little chance that we might miss the train.

However, we weren’t expecting to find a CP work extra with an SD40-2 and vintage Jordan Spreader doing ditching work. Another case of good luck on my part. I’ve said this before, but I often have good luck on the railroad.

A Canadian Pacific Jordan performs ditching work for improved drainage. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.

A few miles north of DeForest, I said to Dick, ‘Turn here, I think that road crosses the line, maybe there’s a photo op.” Sure enough! There we see the spreader working. While watching the works, I gave John a quick lesson on how to work his new Canon 7D. In the meantime, the weekday freight crept up and we made photos of the two trains together.

The Canadian Pacific Jordan has folded in its wings and prepares to get out of the way CP's weekday Portage to Madison local freight. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
The Canadian Pacific Jordan has folded in its wings and prepares to get out of the way CP’s weekday Portage to Madison local freight. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.

This local freight was led by a GP38 and one of the new ‘Eco’ GP20Cs built by Electro Motive. It was my first experience with these new units. Dick was appalled with the appearance of the GP20C,  “Ah! What do you call those engines? LODs! Lack of Design!”

CP Rail near DeForest, Wisconsin.
Canadian Pacific’s local consists of a GP38 and new GP20C leading a pair of tank cars. A Canadian Pacific Jordan performs ditching work for improved drainage. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm zoomm lens.
Eco 'GP20C'
Trailing view showing Canadian Pacific’s new ‘Eco’ GP20C which features a blocky adaptation of EMD’s road switcher body design.
Canadian Pacific's new 'Eco' GP20C
John Gruber inspects the new GP20C as it works industrial trackage near DeForest. Exposed with a Lumix LX3.

The local got around the spreader and did a bit switching at an industrial park then continued past the DeForest Station toward Madison.

DeForest station.
CP Rail approaching DeForest station. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
DeForest station.
DeForest station. Exposed with my Lumix LX3.

Soon we were heading toward Sun Prairie and Waterloo to intercept a Wisconsin & Southern freight working toward Madison. I’ll cover that in a future post.

Tracking the Light Posts Every Day!

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Rondout Tower, Illinois, June 12, 2013


Visions of Milwaukee Road Hiawatha

It’s impossible for me to visit Rondout Tower and not see the ghost of a streamlined F7 Hudson blasting by with the Hiawatha in tow. Ghosts only; I’m not nearly old enough to have witnessed such a spectacle.

On Wednesday 12, 2013, Chris Guss and I paused on the footbridge to have a late lunch and watch a couple trains. Nothing unusual, just an outbound Metra train for Fox Lake and Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder a few minutes later.

Rondout Tower
Metra F40PH 115 leads a Union Station-Fox Lake commuter train at Rondout Tower on June 12, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.


Rondout Tower
Amtrak number 7, the westward Empire Builder blasts by Rondout Tower on June 12, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.

Back when the Hiawatha raced between Chicago and Milwaukee, Milwaukee Road was operating the fastest regularly steam powered trains in the world and the famous for its order, ‘Slow to 100’ for the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern crossing at Rondout.

Today, maximum speed on the line is 79 mph. Occasionally someone mentions ‘progress’. For me this abstract concept has little meaning. Change, certainly.

Someday, change will mean that Rondout Tower, too, will only be a ghost.

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Chicago by Night

An Exercise In Using High ISO.

Chicago is well suited for night photographs. On the evening of June 11, 2013, Chris Guss and I took advantage of warm and windless weather to make a variety of railway images in the downtown area.

I employ a variety of techniques to make night photos. This evening, however, I emphasized my Canon EOS 7D and turned up the ISO to unusually high settings in order to stop the action.

Chicago at night
Union Station as viewed from Roosevelt Road. Exposed with my Canon EOS 7D with a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens at f2.8 1/40th second, ISO 6400 Camera was firmly mounted on a tripod.

Where color slide film essentially topped out at 400 ISO. My 7D allows me to dial in up to 6400 ISO. Does this offer the same clarity of ISO 100 or 200? No, of course not. But, it’s not so bad either. Is this high ISO technique the only  way to make night photos? Hardly, there are many good ways to go about exposing images at night and this is just one.

Night photo in Chicago.
An Amtrak train passes CP 21st at Chicago’s 21st Street Bridge. Handheld Canon EOS 7D with a 40mm pancake lens, 1/6th second at f.3.2 5000 ISO. It helps to have a rock steady hand.
21st Street Bridge, Chicago.
Chicago’s 21st Street Bridge looking south from the nearby  grade crossing. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens at 1.20th second at f2.8. ISO 5000. This image is a bit pixelated and not as sharp as I’d like, but not bad all things considered.

Today, I can make photos digitally, that would have been all but impossible with film. (Although, that’s never stopped me from exposing a few slides here and there anyway).

Lumix view of Chicago.
Another philosophy: low ISO with long exposure. This makes for a sharper and less pixilated image, but doesn’t allow for stop action of moving trains. In this case I used my Lumix LX3 on a miniature Gitzo tripod positioned on the railing of Roosevelt Road. Exposure: f3.5 at 3.2 seconds, ISO 80. (The camera was set in aperture-prioritiy ‘A’ mode, but I manually over exposed by 2/3s of a stop to compensate for the bright sodium vapor lights and dark sky which tends to cause the camera’s automatic metering to lean toward underexposure.)
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Interstate Interstate Chase.


In Pursuit of a Norfolk Southern GE Diesel dressed in Heritage Paint.

NS Interstate heritage unit.
NS Interstate heritage unit.

On the evening of Tuesday, June 2013, Chris Guss and I were exploring the convergence of railroad lines in northern Indiana. Here myriad routes aiming for Chicago traverse a heavily industrialized environment; tracks and trains are everywhere.

At Hammond-Whiting, Indiana the former Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), New York Central and Baltimore & Ohio routes run roughly adjacent to each other. Just east of the Amtrak station, Norfolk Southern’s (NS) former Conrail line moves from the old PRR alignment to that of the old New York Central. Immediately to the north is CSX’s former B&O line, while beyond that is Canadian National’s Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ&E) line.

An Elgin, Joliet & Eastern local works eastward at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. In the distance is a set of CSX locomotives on the old Baltimore & Ohio. Lumix LX-3, exposed at f4 1/100 ISO 80.

Earlier a thunderstorm had raged through the area, and this left behind tell-tail puddles. The setting sun was about to drop below a thin layer of clouds. We were following an EJ&E local, while keeping an eye open for Norfolk Southern’s 65R (empty oil train destined for BNSF Railway at Chicago and then to North Dakota).

We’d been expertly informed that NS’s Interstate Railroad painted heritage locomotive was leading.

It’s no secret that last year (2012) Norfolk Southern had 20 new six-motor diesels (both EMD and GE models) dressed in liveries to represent a variety of its predecessor railroads. See: and also; and;

A hint of chatter on the radio and then—THERE!—we saw 65R with the Interstate in the lead. It was paused on the mainline. We jumped into position just as the EJ&E local emerged and another NS train was racing eastward out of the sun with a Union Pacific SD70M in the lead.

Union Pacific SD70Ms
Union Pacific SD70Ms lead an eastward Norfolk Southern freight near Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens set at 1/250th second f4 ISO 200.

When it rains it pours! Any one of these three trains would be of interest, but having all three converge on us simultaneously with no time to properly assess the lay of the land presented a challenge.

Freight trains at meet.
Norfolk Southern freights meet in the fading light of evening. Lumix LX3 f2.8 at 1/640 second.
Norfolk Southern’s Interstate heritage unit catches the glint. Lumix LX3 f2.8 1/250th second.

Some much favored ‘drop under sun’ graced the landscape. In a flurry of activity, lenses were swapped, light readings made and pixels were exposed. The ‘creamsickle’—as the Interstate Railroad heritage repaint has been known (because of its distinctive livery), was all to soon on the move! A face-paced, but skillfully navigated chase ensued. Chris did all the work as I snapped photos from the window.

Oil train catches the glint.
Away we go into the sunset hot in pursuit of an oil train. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens set at f6.3 1/1000 second at ISO 200.

In the end, we followed the prize west across the state line to Illinois and made this selection of images.

NS Interstate Heritage Unit
Pace shot executed near the Indiana-Illinois line. The Interstate Railroad is a Virginia line that is a lesser-known component of Norfolk Southern. Lumix LX3 f2.8 at 1/125th second.


Norfolk Southern 8105 is a General Electric ES44AC diesel-electric.
Norfolk Southern 8105 is a General Electric ES44AC diesel-electric. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.


NS Interstate Heritage unit_on 65R South Chicago
Norfolk Southern 65R with led by the Interstate heritage locomotive at South Chicago, Illinois. Canon EOS 7D.

Related articles

NS Interstate heritage unit.
NS Interstate heritage unit.

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Chicago Medley, June 2013


Infrastructural Views Fresh From the Digital Cameras.


The other day, I landed at Midway where I was met by Chris Guss. We immediately set to work making images of America’s most railroad intensive city. It’s been nearly two years since I was last here; and nearly 30 years since my first visit. Time passes and much has changed, yet there are many vestiges of old railroads.

There’s always a wheel turning in Chicago, but these pictures are more about the railroad infrastructure than the trains themselves. There’s a book in this somewhere.

CTA train
Chicago Transit Authority Midway train catches the glint of the evening sun near Corwith. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
Old tracks Chicago.
DIsused former Grand Trunk Western near Corwith, Illinois. Canon EOS 7D with f2.0 100mm lens.
Level crossing at Brighton Park
Former Gulf Mobile & Ohio line at Brighton Park, Chicago, Illinois. . Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
Old switch levers.
Vestiges of the old lever frame at Brighton Park. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens.
Weeds along the tracks.
Weeds grow trackside at Brighton Park. . Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
Metra train with position light signals.
Metra Train rolls toward Union Station on the former Pennsylvania Railroad Panhandle route at Racine Avenue. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens.
Chicago Metra
Metra Train glides through Racine Avenue, Chicago. Lumix LX-3 handheld.
Train on grade crossing.
Norfolk Southern GP38 working a local freight at Racine Avenue. Lumix LX3 panned at f2.8 1 second.
Chicago at night
Norfolk Southern local at Racine Avenue, Chicago. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens, exposed for 1.6 seconds at f2.8 ISO200; camera on mini Gitzo tripod.

These are just a sample from my Canon EOS 7D and Lumix LX-3 cameras. More to come!




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Ayer Massachusetts, June 5, 2013


MBTA Surprise.

Boston’s two primary passenger terminals have no scheduled service between them. Historically, South Station served Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroad lines, while North Station served Boston & Maine’s. Both represented consolidations of older terminals. Today, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority provides suburban service, while Amtrak operates long distance trains from both stations.

To move equipment between North and South Stations (and their respective repair and maintenance facilities), MBTA normally uses the former B&A Grand Junction Branch which crosses the Charles River and passes through Cambridge, thus forming the only Boston-area link between North- and South-side networks.

Some months ago a problem was discovered with the Charles River Bridge. So now MBTA and Amtrak equipment transfers must travel a roundabout route via Worcester (from South Station over the old B&A mainline) then north via Clinton to Ayer, and eastward via the former B&M Fitchburg line toward North Station.

Equipment transfers operate as needed, and I’ve been fortunate to catch several of them over the last few months. On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, I got lucky and stumbled into position just in time to catch one without even trying!

Rich Reed and I had traveled to Ayer to photograph Pan Am Southern’s westward intermodal train 23K. After making successful images of the train, we drove back through Ayer and over the bridge just east of the Station, where I spotted a high-green (clear) signal at AY interlocking for an eastward movement.

I guessed  that since this is a controlled signal, it would only be lined if something was due and we set up on the bridge in anticipation. This was the exact location where we’d photographed Norfolk Southern GEs switching a week earlier. See last week’s post: Ayer, Massachusetts, Wednesday May 29, 2013.

MBTA Ayer Mass.

MBTA train 420 pauses for passengers at Ayer on June 5, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

As it turned out, the clear signal was for an eastward MBTA commuter train, which arrived shortly and paused for its Ayer station stop. As passengers were boarding we were surprised to spot a second MBTA train coming off the wye from Worcester! This was an equipment transfer, led by MBTA GenSet locomotive 3249 hauling avariety of locomotives and cars.

MBTA equipment train at Ayer.
An MBTA equipment move is coming off the Ayer wye on tit journey from South Station to North Station via Worcester, Clinton and Ayer. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.
MBTA trains at Ayer, Massachusetts. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

By shear dumb luck we just happened to be in precisely the right place at the right time.

Had we known this train was coming we’d probably picked a different location to intercept it. Sometimes not knowing what’s going on can earn you a better photo than knowing too much.

Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

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Rail Freight, Stockholm, May 7, 2010.



Green Cargo Rc2 Electric Leads a Container Train at Alvjso.

Swedish Rc2 electric
Green Cargo Rc2 rolling at Alvjso, Stockholm, Sweden. Exposed digitally with my Lumix LX-3

I was in Stockholm in Early May 2010 to visit a friend. I made some time to re-explore the railways, as it had been a dozen years since my last trip here. On my first afternoon, I noted a container train passing the suburban station at Alvjso just after 5pm. The next day, I was in place at precisely that time to make a photo. My observation and planning paid off, even if the weather didn’t fully cooperate.

Stockholm is a fascinating city with superb public transport and near perfect time-keeping. There’s multimodal connections at most major railway stations, with a well developed network of metro and tram lines.

The Swedish Rc electric locomotive is one of the most widely built types worldwide. Amtrak’s AEM-7 electric is an Rc derivative. See my post: Amtrak’s Mayflower at South Norwalk, Connecticut.

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Irish Rail April 2000, Sligo Line at Hill of Down


073 Leads the Afternoon Down Sligo Passenger

I made this pair of images of the daily afternoon Dublin Connolly to Sligo passenger train passing the long closed station at Hill of Down on the old Midland Great Western Railway mainline. Class 071 locomotive number 073 leads Mark II carriages.

Irish Rail passenger train in Meath.

Exposed using Nikon F3T with Nikkor 105mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.
Hill of Down, County Meath.


Irish Rail Sligo LIne

Exposed using Nikon F3T with Nikkor 105mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.

The old Midland follows the Royal Canal for many miles west of Dublin. This pastoral route was one of my favorite Irish rail subjects in the early 2000s. Although it wasn’t as busy as other routes, the combination of scenery, friendly signalmen and gatekeepers, and quaint old trains made for seemingly endless photographic possibilities.

At the time most trains were locomotive hauled with vintage General Motors diesels.

In additional to class 071 diesels working Mark II and Cravens passenger consists, the old classes 121, 141 and 181s regularly worked freight.

Today the line is exclusively run with diesel rail cars.

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Pelham Bay Park Part 2, January 1984.


A View From Grandma’s Terrace.

In yesterday’s post, I explained that my grandparents had a Coop City apartment in The Bronx. It was on the 19th floor of a 1970s-era tower block located at the periphery of New York City and the edge of Pelham Bay Park. Looking East, it offered a view of the Hutchinson River (with Goose Island in the middle) and of Amtrak’s former New Haven line to Penn-Station on the far shore.

The best part of the apartment was the terrace, which faced the river and the tracks. As young kids, my brother, Sean, and I would spend hours sending paper airplanes and bubbles, (and sometime heavier items) off the terrace to see how far they’d go. But for me the highlight of the apartment (apart from grandma and grandpa) was the regular passage of trains.

By age 10, I’d learned to calculate running times. Eastbound (northbound) trains running toward Boston would pass 17-20 minutes after leaving Penn-Station, while Westbound (Southbound) trains were less predictable, and sometimes wouldn’t show up until after they were scheduled to depart Penn-Station.

Until 1981, Amtrak would occasionally operate its elderly GG1 Electrics, and I’d keep my Leica handy for just such an event. On rare occasions, two trains would pass in front of the apartment.

I vividly recall a frenzied moment, when Sean shouted, “there’s two trains!” I panicked and in the 10-15 seconds I had to act, I failed to locate the camera. “You missed it! I can’t believe you missed it!” Eventually, the situation repeated itself, and a photograph resulted.

By 1984, freight had been diverted off the line, while most Amtrak trains to New Haven consisted of eight to ten Amfleet cars hauled by AEM-7 electrics. The one elusive train was Amtrak’s Night Owl that passed in the wee hours (as owls do) and this train carried sleeping cars. Even at night these cars looked different than the others.

In the relative silence of early morning, trains would make an audible clatter crossing the bascule drawbridge that was just out of sight from the terrace. We were visiting for New Year’s at the end of 1983. One night during that visit, my sixth sense for trains alerted me in my sleep that the southward Night Owl hadn’t gone by at its usual time (about 3 am).

By daybreak, the Night Owl still hadn’t gone by. So, I readied my old Leica 3A, and waited. Shortly after sunrise it rolled by, and I exposed several Ektachrome slides. These might have been better if I’d used a longer lens, yet, had I done that, then the photos wouldn’t have shown all the heritage equipment, including the train’s sleeping cars, that distinguished it from ordinary North East Corridor trains. While not my greatest effort, it’s not too bad considering I was half asleep and not yet skilled with the camera.

Amtrak at Sunrise
Night Owl at Pelham Bay Park January 1984.

I found this slide last month mixed in with some ‘3rds’ (my old term for slides that were not bad enough to throw away, yet neither good enough to give away—what I called 2nds, nor acceptable for slide shows—1sts). Time has move it up a couple of degrees. I’m not giving it away.


See: Pelham Bay Park Part I, andKid with a Camera Framingham, Massachusetts, 1982.

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Pelham Bay Park, December 1982.


Amtrak AEM7 Crosses The Hutchinson River in The Bronx

Coop City in The Bronx.
Amtrak’s Bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River in December 1982. Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar Lens.

Between 1973 and 1985, my paternal grandparents lived at Co-op City in The Bronx, New York City. They had a great view of Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line from New Rochelle to the Hell Gate Bridge, which carried all of Amtrak’s Boston-New York trains. Until about 1980, this route also hosted infrequent freights.

When I was younger, I’d keenly watch for trains from my grandparents 19th floor terrace, all the while hoping to see Amtrak’s aged former Pennsylvania GG1 electrics. By 1982, all of Amtrak’s GG1s had been retired.

I made this morning view of a Penn-Station bound Amtrak train approaching the bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River led by an AEM7 electric. The scene itself wasn’t remarkable at the time, but I’m glad I made the effort to put it on film. It fascinates me now and brings me back to another time. Although details, such as how to effectively work with backlighting eluded me, I managed to get my exposure pretty close anyway.

I was 16 at the time. I used my Leica 3A with f2.0 50mm Summitar—the camera I carried with me everywhere. A couple of years ago, I located some of my long-lost early negatives and made a project of scanning them. The miracle of modern scanning technology coupled with post-processing allowed me to finally make something of photos I’d made before I was technically competent to make decent prints.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post; “the view from grandma’s terrace.”

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South Station, Summer 1978.



How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Other kids would get assignments along the lines of: “Write a 500 word essay on how you spent your summer vacation.” I always wished for something like that. In 7th grade this would have read:

“We live on a boring road where nothing ever happens, so to keep me from driving my mother crazy, my father took me to Boston at least one day a week. My dad works near Harvard Square in a bright office with lots of computers. (That’s actually in Cambridge, not really Boston.)

“The first week he show me how to use the computer terminal and I played a game called ‘R Adventure’. The second week he showed me how to write a short program (that’s a bunch of lines and letters that tells the computer what to do). I wrote a program with a sneaky line called an ‘infinite loop’. This tells the computer to repeat the same line again and again. That was neat. I wrote ‘Brian Likes Trains.’ And this scrolled slowly over the CRT (that’s the computer screen that looks something like a TV but with green letters.)

“I figured I’d improve my program, so I added an exponent. When I ran the program the next time, the screen filled with ‘Brian Likes Trains’ faster and faster, soon the whole screen was rolling. Then it suddenly stopped. Actually the whole computer stopped. All the computers in the room stopped!

“A graduate student came in and spoke to my dad. Then my dad gave me a dollar and told me to go ride the subway or something. So I rode around and came back when it was time to drive back to Monson. Writing that program was like magic. Every time after that, my dad would give me a dollar and I’d ride around with my camera taking pictures.

“By August, I’d been on all the subway lines. So I went to the railroad station. South Station is a great place, it’s where they keep all the Budd Cars. Those are great because the engineers who run them let you ride up front and don’t charge you to ride.

This is South Station, that's where you can see the Budd Cars.
This is South Station, that’s where you can see the Budd Cars.

“The Budd cars go all over the place, but if you’re not careful you might not get back by the time to go home, so it’s really important to get a schedule.

“My dad sometimes gave me his ‘SUPER WIDE ANGLE lens’. This is much better than my ‘Normal’ lens because its comes with a viewfinder which is an extra part you put on top of the camera that helps you to see pictures. With my normal lens, you have to look through a little hole, and that makes it harder to find good pictures.

“He also gave me a light meter to measure the light and set the camera. I made lots of pictures. This is one of my favorite because it shows the Budd Cars and the old signals at South Station. I had to walk all the way from the subway stop to the parking lot to make this picture and it was really hot outside.

“Now summer’s over, and I can’t ride around on the subway or Budd Cars until next year. I hate school.”

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Kid with a Camera, Framingham, Massachusetts, 1982.


Lacking Skill but Enthusiastic

In1982, I was visiting my friend Dan Howard in Needham, Massachusetts. We’d made a day of riding bicycles to Framingham and back to photograph trains. (Neither of us were old enough to hold a valid driving license).

At the time, I was very enthusiastic about the railroad, and eager to capture it on film. Yet, I had very little conception of how to make photos. Furthermore, while I had a reasonably high quality camera, this was entirely dependant on my ability to set it properly (aperture, shutter speed, and focus)

I was using a 1930s-era Leica 3A with an f2.0 Summitar lens. This didn’t have the crutches provided with most cameras today: no auto focus, no auto exposure, no zoom-lens, and no instant response digital display window.

Simply getting film in the camera required the aid of a Swiss Army knife. While focusing the Leica using the rangefinder was a bit abstract. To gauge exposure, I used at Weston Master III light meter. With this camera I exposed  Kodachome slides, and black & white 35mm film that I processed in the kitchen sink.

Framinham, Mass.
Exposed with a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens on Kodak black & white negative film; scanned with an Epson V600, and processed digitally using PhotoShop (to enhance contrast, and remove blemishes.

To simply get a photo of any kind, I had base level camera-operating skills,  but no sense for how to make real railroad photos. I didn’t appreciate conventional angles, nor did I know what to crop out or what  to feature. I knew precious little about working with light or how to make optimum use of the film media. My chemical processing skills were rudimentary, at best.

I just really wanted to make railway pictures! And, honestly, it’s a miracle that I got any results at all.

Thankfully on that day, Dan & I met a friendly and helpful grade crossing gate keeper, who manually worked the gates where former Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroad lines crossed the main street. He chatted with us and shared knowledge about when trains were coming. (Incidentally, I made a color slide or two of him working the gates, which seemed like the thing to do).

Toward the end of the day, a Conrail local departed Framingham’s North Yard, heading across the street and over the diamonds with the B&A on its way toward the Attleboro and beyond. I made this image ‘against the light’ looking into the setting sun, with a GP15-1 leading the local (which is about to cross the street) and some MBTA Budd cars in front of the old station.

Sometimes raw and unchecked enthusiasm produces a more interesting image than one crafted by skill, but hampered by ambivalence (or over thinking the photographic process.) Modern photographic scanners allow for me to interpret what I captured more than 30 years ago on film, and compensate for my lack of technical skill.





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Croatian Railways Passenger Train West of Zagreb, August 16, 2003


Listening to the Sounds of a General Motors 645 diesel in Run 8.

On the afternoon of August 16, 2003, I was in suburban Zagreb making photos on Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice—properly spelled with a hooked accent over the ‘Z’, which I’m not using in order to avoid problems with text interpretation by different computers).

Croatian Railways
A Hrvatske Zeljeznice class 2044 diesel (General Motors export model GT22HW-2) works west of Zagreb. Exposed with an Nikon F3Ts with 105mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

Some local passenger trains, and long distance trains working the non-electrified line to Varazdin were hauled with General Motors diesels (built locally under license by Duro Dakovic). Many were still wearing the older Yugoslavian green and gold, but a few such this one (2044-002) were in the newer and attractive HZ blue and silver livery.

I also caught a few freights with Swedish designed Rc electrics HZ class 1141, similar to Amtrak’s AEM-7s.

Zagreb is a beautiful city with some wonderful old architecture a tram system. It’s as old as memory goes too. There were people living there when the Romans arrived some 2000 years ago.

Incidentally, precisely 20 years earlier, on the afternoon of August 16, 1983, Bob Buck and I caught a Boston & Maine freight leaving the yard in Springfield, Massachusetts with a Canadian National GP9 in consist. The CN GP had come down on the Montrealer the night before, pinch-hitting for a failed F40PH. Somehow, it seems relevant to mention that, it really ties the blog posts together.

A Hrvatske Zeljeznice class 2044 diesel (General Motors export model GT22HW-2) works west of Zagreb. Exposed with an Nikon F3Ts with 105mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

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Snapshot of Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice)

A View From the Train to Belgrade, 2003.

On August 17, 2003, I traveled by train from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia. This was a six-hour journey. While the train departed on time, it took a diversionary route around Zagreb to avoid track work on the mainline. On the way out of town, I noted a variety of stored General Motors diesels and a pair of 2-10-0s in a goods yard. Before long the train was 27 minutes behind schedule.

Croatian Railways
Exposed southeast of Zagreb, Croatia with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f2.8 24mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.

I made a number of photos, including this one, looking out the back of the train. Generally, Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice) maintained their track to excellent standards. Some HZ mainlines, such as this one, are electrified at 25 kV at 50 Hz, others with high voltage DC overhead, while many other lines are worked with diesels.

Approaching the Serbia frontier, the train was reduced to a crawl. This area was still showing the ravages of war.  Passing Vinkovci, I noted a large yard full of derelict freight wagons, but also saw that line-renewal was under way.

Serbia had just eliminated visa restrictions for American and EU passport holders, so I had no difficulties with the border inspection. The heat, on the other hand, was memorable!

Belgrade was fascinating, but I’ll save that adventure for some future post. Two years later (to the day), I was back in Croatia again, and on that trip explored the line to Rijeka.


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Palmer, Massachusetts, ‘CP83’ on Friday evening, May 31, 2013.


The “C” Light is Lit.

CP83 Palmer MA
This entire five image sequence was exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.

I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.

This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .

 Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit.  Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.

Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.

As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.

It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.

Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)

Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)

I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

To learn more about railroad signals, check out my book Railroad Signaling  available from Voyageur Press.

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Ayer, Massachusetts, Wednesday May 29, 2013


Three views of Norfolk Southern General Electric Dash-9s.

Often I look to put trains in their environment by trying to find angles that show context. Not every railway scene is scenic. And, in the North East, more often than not, the environment around the railway is pretty rough looking.  But that is the scene, isn’t it?

Street scene at Ayer, Massachusetts.
Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; exposed at 1/400th sec at f.5.6 ISO400, exposure set manually.

On Wednesday May 29, 2013, Rich Reed and I were making photos of trains on former Boston & Maine lines around Ayer, Massachusetts. Rich has lived in the area for many years and is well versed on the history of the area.

Among the trains we saw was this Pan Am Southern local switching a set of autoracks. In the 1970s, a GP9 would have often worked Boston & Maine’s Ayer local. Today, Pan Am Southern runs the railroad, and the local is a pair of Norfolk Southern GE six-motor DASH-9s working long hood first.

I made several images east of the Ayer station. One of my favorites is the view looking down the street that features a parked postal truck and cars with the train serving as background instead of the main subject. It’s an ordinary everyday scene, yet it’s part of the history, and someday it will be different. Everything changes.

Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CW 9647 at Ayer.
Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; exposed at 1/400th sec at f.5.6 ISO400, exposure set manually.
NS GE diesels in Ayer, Mass.
Exposed with a Lumix LX3 set on Aperture Priority Mode; f2.8 at 1/200th second, ISO 80.

Which of these images will be more memorable in 50 years time? Someone might wonder why the Post Office needed a delivery truck, or what all the wires were for. You just never know.

Learn more about Norfolk Southern diesels: see my book North American Locomotives.

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief east of Las Vegas, New Mexico, September 1998



General Electric Genesis Diesels and Style T Semaphores.

Railways can offer tremendous technological contrasts. Among my photographic themes is juxtaposition of the oldest technology along side the most modern. When I made this image, there was roughly 60 years between development of the signals and the locomotives.

Amtrak with Semaphore
Exposed with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f2.8 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film. I didn’t record my exposure, but the image was made at dusk, and I probably had the camera set to about 1/2 second at f2.8

I made this image during an exploration with Mel Patrick of the former Santa Fe mainline across northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado. At that time BNSF still maintained many of the old Union Switch & Signal Style T-2’s dating from the steam-era.

The Union Switch & Signal Style T-2 was featured in my book Railroad Signaling published by Voyageur Press. Here’s an except from my text: “US&S’s T-2 is a three-position upper quadrant type with a top of mast mechanism. Typical semaphore height measured 22 feet 6 inches from the ground to mechanism.”

Traffic on this line was relatively light, with only Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and a couple of BNSF freights daily. Then, as today, most of BNSF trans-con freight was routed via the Belen Cutoff (through Abo Canyon) to the south.


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