Cumbres & Toltec Scenic is one of America’s treasures. This timeless railway is always a joy to visit and photograph.
The combination of its sinuous and steeply graded line with stunning Rocky Mountain vistas and authentic Denver & Rio Grande Western Baldwin-built Mikados makes for endless opportunities for dramatic photographs.
I’ve used this image in several books and calendars.
My first visit to Cincinnati was brief and focused. I was driving from Madison, Wisconsin to Roanoke, Virginia and I stopped off with the specific purpose to photograph Fellheimer & Wagner’s Cincinnati Union Station.
During a low ebb of appreciation for architecture, this magnificent building nearly succumbed to the wrecking ball.
On this night it looked to me like a dark vision from a Batman comic.
I made a few photos with my Nikons in color. But my more successful images were exposed on Fuji Acros 100 using my Contax G2 rangefinder fitted with the super wide-angle flat-field 16mm Hologon.
That night I took a motel in Covington, Kentucky, where I watched television news reports about a horrific theater hostage situation in Russia.
Ok, so this was really a detour into County Roscommon.
After photographing Irish Rail’s Ballina Timber, Noel and I cut cross-country via Knock and Ballyhaunis, to Castlerea, County Roscommon, to intercept the train a second time.
I hadn’t paid a visit to Castlerea in several years, but I recalled a visit to the old signal cabin before the Mini-CTC was installed (in 2007). Back then, mechanical semaphores and electric train staff instruments had been the rule.
While waiting for the timber, Noel phoned Castlerea’s foremost railway enthusiast, Sean Browne. Sean’s Hell’s Kitchen railway themed pub is a local attraction.
Sean dropped down to Castlerea station and we caught up on old times. Then, following passage of the Ballina timber train, we went for an impromptu visit to Hell’s Kitchen that Sean opened specially for us.
This claims to be ‘the only pub with a train in the bar.’
This ‘train’ is, more precisely, a locomotive. Irish Rail’s A55—one of the surviving 1950s-era Metropolitan Vickers-built diesel electrics—is the Hell’s Kitchen center-piece display.
Sean has collected an impressive collection of railway memorabilia, most of it from Ireland. A Conrail hard hat on display impressed me! Every item of historical value comes with a story, so we had a good visit with Sean.
This was interrupted, when Noel learned that the IWT liner from Dublin to Ballina was getting close. We said farewell to Sean and went back trackside to find a suitable photo location! (As you do).
I’d arrived at Foxford, Co. Mayo having traveled from Dublin by train. Noel Enright collected me there, and we immediately began discussing a location to photograph the Ballina Timber that would depart the Ballina yard upon arrival of the 2800-series that I traveled on to Foxford. Got all that?
South of Foxford near Ballyvary, the Ballina branch runs along the base of some low hills. In previous years, I’d explored some of these location, and Noel had a spot in mind. If we could find it quickly.
Although it was overcast, I was keen on an elevated broadside view of this train in order to show its cargo. There isn’t much bulk rail freight on the move in Ireland, and the pair of weekly Ballina timber trains are well worth the effort. But they’re not as impressive head-on.
We found our hillside. And after a few minutes we could hear the 071-class General Motors diesel in the distance. Noel said, ‘It’s 078.’ Ah! That one. Over the years I’d made dozens of photos of this diesel. But this was the first time I seen it in its new grey livery.
Soon we spotted the headlight and the timber train came into view. I made a series of photos with three cameras.
Lincoln Park, Rochester, New York, January 8, 1986.
It was a cold afternoon with more than a foot of fresh snow on the ground. Soft wintery sun made for directional pastel lighting, ideal for railway photography.
I found this Baltimore & Ohio local freight working sidings adjacent to Conrail’s former New York Central mainline. At the time, what interested me was the GP30 still wearing B&O blue with the classic capitol dome on the nose, and the caboose. By that date both types of equipment were getting scarce.
Technically, CSX had been the umbrella over Chessie System (the marketing name for the affiliated B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, Western Maryland railroads) for several years. But this didn’t seem important to me. I was blissfully unaware of CSX, or that it planned to soon sell B&O’s former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh lines to Genesee & Wyoming.
In fact, by summer, B&O operations would be conveyed to G&W’s newly created Rochester & Southern, and two years later remaining BR&P lines to G&W’s Buffalo & Pittsburgh.
Even more dramatic, in 1987 CSX would meld B&O into its new CSX Transportation; a system-wide rebranding that would soon affect all of CSX’s railroads. Ironically, one of the first locomotives I photographed in CSXT paint was a former B&O GP30!
It’s always fun to play with a new piece of equipment. I’d just bought a 16mm flat field Hologon super wide angle lens for my Contax G2 and I used this to make some dramatic photos inside Washington Union.
This lens is specially corrected to eliminate barrel distortion (commonly associated with super wide lens design) but it must be kept completely level to avoid perspective convergence to vertical lines in the image. A bubble-level is provided in the clip-on viewfinder to aid with the leveling process.
For this image, rather than make any effort to keep the camera level, I happily embraced the effect of perspective convergence to make for a dramatic image of Washington Union’s magnificent barrel-vault ceiling.
On March 13, 2014, I bought a day-return from Dublin Heuston to Foxford, Co. Mayo, and traveled on the 7:35 am Galway train. My train was well patronized, but I had no difficulty finding a seat.
It was foggy in Dublin. Ensconced in my seat, I observed that my train departed Heuston precisely on time and soon was rolling down-road at track speed.
My train was a four-piece Rotem-built Intercity Rail Car, of the type that is now standard for most Irish Rail Intercity services.
Except for some rough spots west of Kildare, the ride quality was comfortable and smooth.
At Portarlington, we diverged from the Dublin-Cork mainline and traveled on the single track branch toward Athlone. At Clara we crossed (met) an uproad train.
I changed trains at Athone. Here another four piece ICR was waiting to continue the journey toward Co. Mayo. At Castlerea we met the Ballina-Dublin IWT liner, a train I’ve often photographed.
Upon reaching Manulla Junction, I again changed trains, this time for the 2800-series railcar that works the Ballina Branch. Years ago this would have been a single General Motors class 141/181 Bo-Bo diesel electric with a short Craven set.
When I arrived in Foxford I was met by my friend Noel Enright. We spent the rest of daylight photographing trains and visiting friends. I’ll post those adventures soon! Stay tuned.
A Nearly Literal Interpretation of the Southern Pacific Logo.
In January 1994, I spent several days photographing along Southern Pacific’s Tucumcari Line in central New Mexico.
One morning I made this image of the sun on the horizon with classic Union Switch & Signal Style B lower quadrant semaphores at Polly.
For me it is nearly the literal translation of SP’s safety logo with semaphores and the sun. The only difference is SP’s sun was setting (thus the ‘Sunset Route’) while mine is rising.
I’ve published variations of this image many places, including my original signals book titled Railroad Signaling. Presently, I’m working on its sequel, classic signaling which will focus on steam-era hardware.
A funny way to spend American Independence Day: I was on my way from London to Scotland, and I stopped over at York to intercept Britain’s most famous steam locomotive, engine 4472, better known as Flying Scotsman.
This was my first visit to York, and I was fascinated by the Victorian train shed. Using my Nikon N90S, I exposed a variety of images on Fujichrome.
Five months later, I returned with my Rolleiflex to document the shed on medium format film. Both those photos and the images of Flying Scotsman may be the topics of future posts.
A thick Spring fog blanketing the Canisteo Valley acted as a sound envelope. The combination of moisture and the valley’s walls produced an acoustic environment that enhanced the railroad experience. Making this special was the almost total void of other human made sounds.
The trickle of water from the nearby Canisteo and a light breeze through the trees was punctuated by the distant roar of an eastward train. Engine noise and the clatter of freight cars gradually swelled as it worked from Hornell down the valley on the former Erie Railroad.
I’d positioned myself at lightly used private crossing near westward signal 318 (measured in miles from Erie’s Jersey City terminus). A hint of blue in the sky marked the rising sun.
After more than ten minutes, I’d listened to the mournful warning blasted for the public crossing in the village of Adrian, two miles to the west. The roar grew louder. Then finally, there was a hint of headlight piercing the fog.
My college roommate had lent me his Canon A1 35mm SLR, which I’d loaded with professional Kodachrome 25 slide film. I had this tightly positioned on a tripod.
When the train began to illuminate the scene, I opened the shutter. This closed again moments before the headlight of the lead locomotive left the scene, leaving a truncated streak of light to represent the train’s passage.
Images like this one will help illustrate my new book; Classic Railroad Signals that I’m now assembling for publication later this year by Voyageur Press.
Ten years earlier in my Pacific RailNews days, I’d often photographed along the Wisconsin Central. By 2004, the railroad had been absorbed by CN, yet quite a few of WC’s old SD45s were still on the move.
It might surprise some regular readers, but photography wasn’t the prime reason for my visit. Rather, I was trying to make high-end audio recordings of the old SD45s working in multiple. As I’ve explained in other publications; the SD45’s 20-cylinder 645E3 produces a distinctive low-frequency sound when working in the mid- throttle positions. I wanted to preserve these sounds that had been so familiar to my earlier railroad experience.
So what does that have to do with this CN DASH 9?
Simple opportunity; that is all. I’ve never been one to squander a chance to make a photograph.
This CN General Electric was leading a southward freight toward the yards at North Fond du Lac, and I set up this image at Subway Road a little ways north of the yard.
Unfortunately, a thermal cloud covered the sun moments before the locomotive reached the optimum position. This would have been a greater problem if I’d been using Kodachrome. As it happened, I was exposing Fujichrome.
I’ve made a few minor post-processing adjustments to the slide scan designed to improve the contrast and color balance.
What about the audio recordings? I made most of those late at night when there was minimal interference from random noise, but that’s really the topic for another time.
On Saturday March 8, 2014, and Irish friend and I were exploring the extremities of the Bord na Mona network near Allenwood. My Ordinance Survey map showed a line with a lift bridge at the crossing of the Grand Canal, and I wondered if this was still in place.
A drive along the tow path revealed that the bridge was out of service (the lift span had been removed). On the far side of the canal an old wagon lay abandoned. Yet, the three foot gauge tracks remain—albeit buried in the muck.
Derelict railways always fascinate me. How long had it been since a Bord na Mona train last used this bridge?
I made several photos with my Lumix LX3, and a couple of colour slides with my Canon EOS-3.
Will this ruin still be there on my next visit? One never knows.
Sometimes Hollywood film makers have this trick where after rolling the credits they save one last scene that ties the whole picture together.
Ok, so after four tries to make a satisfactory photo of Dublin’s Heuston Station lit in the Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve finally achieved a more acceptable result.
On the previous two evenings, I’d walked to Heuston with intent of catching the station lit in green with a hit of dusk in the sky. I’d come prepared with my tripod, and stood around in the chill of evening waiting in vain for the lights to come on.
No joy there, I’m afraid. In both instances, while I made fine images of the station in the evening light, I wasn’t rewarded with the seasonal lighting.
On Thursday March 13, 2014, I arrived at Heuston by train having traveled by train from County Mayo. My train arrived after 9:30 pm and a wafting fog had settled over the city.
On exiting the station I noticed that it was bathed in green light. Finally!
I set about making photos, although I was hampered by the lack of a tripod. To brace the camera, I used various existing structures, propping it up with coins to get the desired angle.
Having previously found that automatic settings, even when adjusted for nominal over exposure, tended to result in an unacceptably dark image, I opted to set the camera manually. I made a series of images, of which this one offered the best exposure and the greatest sharpness.
All things being equal, I’d preferred to have had the camera on a tripod and a twilight quality in the western sky, but I was happy with my Paddy’s Day Heuston.
You see, I’m not so easily satisfied. Sure after four tries at this photo you’d think I’d be happy with what I just got. However, on March 15th I returned to Heuston Station one more time. I timed my arrived to allow for a hint of dusk in the western sky. And, I brought my tripod.
Saturday evening is a better time to make photos at Heuston. There’s less highway traffic and fewer people to get in the way.
I had my spots all picked out by now. I just had to go and execute the photos with the station bathed in green light. Significantly these photos are unmodified camera Jpgs. All I’ve done is scale them for presentation. It helps to have the light just right.
The other evening I made this opportunistic photo of Dublin’s Heuston Station. I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee, when I noticed that the station was seasonally bathed in coloured light. I made a couple of quick photos with my Lumix.
I set the over-exposure for +1/3 and allowed the camera to set the exposure using the ‘A’ (aperture-priority) setting (set for f2.0).
Unfortunately, the exposure was still too dark for my liking. While the front of the station is properly exposed, the rest of the scene was unacceptably dark.
I compensated with some post-processing contrast/exposure adjustment. Yet, I still feel this photo is too dark. But, since I’m walking distance from Heuston, I can return and try this again! As they say on the radio, ‘stay tuned!’
London’s termini are fascinating places to make photographs. A constant parade of trains and continual bustle of urban activity combined with a blend of classic and modern architecture allow for endless visual opportunity and juxtapositions.
In July 2000, I was photographing at Victoria while waiting for a friend to arrive. I made this view from the steps that lead to an elevated shopping area above the platforms.
What caught my eye were the antique slam door carriages that were slated to soon be withdrawn. These commuter cars had doors for each set of seats that allowed for rapid loading and unloading at busy stations, yet required passengers to open and close doors using an outside handle reached through a window.
While the essential door design had been a standard feature for generations of British trains, the modern health and safety regime in the United Kingdom frowned upon such primitive appliances and discouraged their continued use. It was only a matter of time before scenes like this one would be history.
As it turned out, the classic “slam door” BR era electric multiple units out-lasted ill fated train operator Connex South Eastern. In 2003, Connex lost the South Eastern Passenger Rail Franchise (that served some routes to Victoria among other London termini).
The revolving door of British railway franchises makes for a seemingly unending tapestry of modern railway names. The days of Connex’s London operations have been largely forgotten, yet some of the old BR slam door EMUs have been preserved. I saw some at Clapham Junction on a visit in July 2013.
Today, Deutsche Bahn’s locomotive fleet is largely dressed in red paint with very light gray lettering, while Intercity carriages and ICE train sets wear an inverse arrangement. (Admittedly, the light gray looks nearly white.)
During a visit to the Köln Hauptbahnhof (Cologne Main Station) in August 1998, I counted no less than eight different DB locomotive liveries. Passenger carriages were equally colorful.
I made this slide at the west side of the Hauptbahnhof of an inbound regional express. One of the common class 110 electrics leads this train. Back then, this was the normal arrangement. By contrast, recent trips to Germany’s Rhein has found that regional express and local trains tend to be operated by local operators using modern electric multiple units/railcars. So much for traditional locomotive hauled stopping passenger trains.
Scenes like this one are now largely in the realm of slide collections.
On March 6, 2014, I was poised to make an image of Irish Rail 085 (in relatively fresh grey paint) using my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm lens. Before the train arrived, I made my requisite test exposure.
I always do this. A test exposure insures the camera is working and is set properly. It also allows me to fine tune my settings to optimize the amount of information captured.
In this case, I realized that to obtain the best exposure and retain sky detail, I would necessarily need to allow the ground and primary subject to be bit dark. However, since I can adjust this in post processing, I opted for the darker exposure.
I could have simply used the ‘levels’ or ‘curves’ feature in Photoshop to lighten the image. This is my normal quick adjustment. However, I thought I’d experiment. So I made series of localize contrast adjustments using the ‘Magnetic Lasso’ tool.
My aim was to even out the relative exposure of various areas, and specifically to reduce the extreme contrast between the sky and the train’s shadow areas, with an ultimate goal of presenting the scene in the final image as it appeared to me at the time of exposure.
I had no intention of exaggerating or distorting the effect of the overcast morning, but rather to correct for some of the inherent limitations of the camera system.
Below are a series of images that illustrate the steps of my contrast adjustment. I’ve intentionally grossly exaggerated adjusted areas as to make the process more obvious. My actual adjustments were relatively subtle. It is my feeling that if the process becomes obvious, the end result will seem artificial.
We could hear a freight dropping downgrade toward Fitchburg on the old Boston & Maine mainline. I was traveling with Rich Reed and Paul Goewey. We had limited time to select a photo location.
Complicating matters, Pan Am’s dispatcher came on the radio and told the train it would be working at Fitchburg Yard.
The implication to this seemingly innocuous instruction was that it might be hours before we saw the train east of the yard. We needed to pick a location west of the yard as it might be our only chance to catch this train.
We drove into Fitchburg, and overtook the slow moving freight. After inspection of a few ground level locations, we decided to try the top of the parking garage near the MBTA station.
This offered a superb elevated view. And we arrived in time to check out several angles, before settling on the southeast corner.
I made a series of photos using my Canon EOS 7D with 100mm telephoto and Lumix LX3. One of my favorite images is the unconventional down-on view of the old SD45-2 (now effectively converted to an SD40-2, having had its 3,600 hp 20-cylinder 645E3 replaced with the 3,000 hp 16 cylinder version of this engine). This angle shows the great length of the locomotive.
We made a wise choice. Not only did Pan Am Railway’s eastward EDPO pick up at Fitchburg yard take more than two hours, but the crew finished before the train could continue east. At 1pm, it was still sitting in the yard.
There’s a certain thrill to photographing in California’s Feather River Canyon. This massive cleft in the Sierra offers numerous vistas with ever changing light around each bend in the river.
It’s easy to follow the railroad west from Keddie (location of the famous Keddie Wye) to beyond Pulga (in the deep lower reaches of the canyon.
The morning of May 23, 1993 was clear and bright; a radiant blue dome capped the canyon walls as the occasional ray of sun penetrated the shadows.
I’d picked up a Union Pacific westbound and followed it on Highway 70. There’s a pull off near Rich Bar where the sun had illuminated a retaining wall, where I made this broadside view with my Nikon F3T on Kodachrome film.
The afternoon of July 26, 1993 was one of those lucky times when everything falls into place.
Fellow photographer TSH and I had hired a Chevy van at the San Francisco airport and drove to the shore of the Great Salt Lake, then worked our way back following Union Pacific’s Western Pacific route across Nevada.
Near Wendover (on the Utah-Nevada line) we came across a struggling westward coal train. One of its locomotives had failed, and it was making poor progress. It had three manifest trains stacked up behind it.
Armed with this knowledge, and having the best light of the day ahead of us, we drove west to the famed Arnold Loop, where Western Pacific’s engineers had designed a sweeping curve to maintain steady elevation. (Running west from the Nevada-Utah line the railroad ascends a continuous 35-mile 1 percent grade, and crests at 5,907 feet above sea level, 15 miles beyond Silver Zone Pass.)
While not a complete circle, such as that used further west at the Williams Loop near Blairsden, California, this loop arrangement is an excellent place to photograph trains.
To the east is the wide expanse of desert punctuated by Pilot Peak some ten miles distant.
We got ourselves in position; cameras loaded with Kodachrome 25 and planted on tripods, and a clear blue dome above us. To the east we could make out the four trains in the distance, seeming to crawl over the landscape like tiny worms. Soon the first of the trains was upon us. These followed every ten minutes or so for the next 45 minutes.
I’ve used my images from this day in several books and calendars. This one slide is well published.
We were spoiled by the experience. The next day on the Western Pacific wasn’t as productive. Such is the luck of desert railroading!
Sculpting with Light: CSXT Eastbound Freight Emerges from the Cut at Charlton, Massachusetts.
I thought I’d follow up on theme of yesterday’s post: sometimes the infrastructure is more interesting than the train.
On the morning of February 22, 2014, I met Paul Goewey in Palmer, Massachusetts. We were on our way to Fitchburg. He tells me; “An eastbound train came through about ten minutes ago.”
“We’ll get that. Hop in.”
I know that from many years of photographing on the Boston & Albany route, it is easy enough to catch an eastbound after it’s passed Palmer. The railroad loops north through the Quaboag Valley to Warren. And after passing the Brookfields, it climbs over Charlton Hill.
By contrast, the Mass-Turnpike and Route 20 offer a much faster and more direct route. So we drove to Charlton posthaste.
I have a long favored location east of CP57 at milepost 57 (pardon any sense of gratuitous redundancy) where the line exits the rock cut constructed in the 1830s. In 2011, a new road bridge was built here to improve clearances on the railroad to allow for operation of taller double-stacked container trains.
A window of morning sun on the tracks was nicely illuminating the new bridge while leaving a good spot to feature the leading locomotive.
We could hear CSXT’s Q436 (Selkirk, New York to Framingham, Massachusetts) climbing Charlton Hill when we arrived. For ten minutes we listened to modern General Electric Evolution-Series diesels chug up the old railroad grade.
Then a headlight came into view. As the train exited the cut, I used my pair of digital cameras to expose a sequence of images featuring the new bridge.
This was among the negatives lost for most of the last 30 years. Today, it interests me for several reasons.
In 1984-1985, I went through a phase where I made a lot of night photos. I employed a variety of techniques, and made hundreds of black & white images (and a few color slides too).
This image depicts Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited (train 449) passing beneath the bridge at West Warren, Massachusetts on the Boston & Albany route.
I only vaguely recall making the photograph above. Today, it is more like looking at someone else’s work than my own. I like it because it features the highway bridge over the tracks while allowing the train to be just an incidental streak of light. The famous mill dam water fall (featured in many West Warren photos) is clearly evident at the right.
It is one of the few photos I have at West Warren that shows the double-track. Conrail discontinued the directional double track arrangement between Palmer and East Brookfield in 1986, two years after I exposed this photo.
Over the years I’ve made many photos at West Warren, and regular viewers of Tracking the Light should find the name familiar. Yet, this view is the only one I’ve come across from this angle. It puts a new perspective on the place. Would this viewpoint be conducive to a modern daylight image?
Compare with the photo I made in January 2014 from the bridge (and featured in an earlier post).
On the morning of February 16, 2014, I anticipated a photo of a westward CSXT empty intermodal train on the former Boston & Albany at the Massachusetts-New York State Line.
Where B&A’s Lima 2-8-4 Berkshires once hauled freight, now CSXT’s modern GE Evolution-Series diesels do the job.
Today Stateline is just a wide spot on a curve, but there’s a lot of history here.
A trackside concrete marker identifies the border. B&A’s one-time multiple track mainline is now a single main track. A vestige of the old eastward main is buried beneath the snow.
New Haven had maintained an interchange with New York Central here; this was a carryover from the early years, when no less than four railroads operated to Stateline to interchange traffic. Their convergence on this spot was no coincidence as the state border defined original operating charters.
Waiting in my car near the grade crossing on this cold windy morning, I knew this train was close, so when the warning lights began to flash, I jumped into position.
During a visit with John Gruber at the old Omaha Union Station, where we met with the late-Bill Kratville, I made a series of photographs with my Contax G2 on Fuji 100 Acros black & white film.
The station is an art deco gem and well suited to the tonality of black & white photography.
I worked with my 16mm Hologon and 45mm Zeiss Planar and processed the film in Dublin using my customized formula for Agfa Rodinal Special developer (not to be confused for the more common Agfa Rodinal).
Recently, I scanned these negatives using my Epson V600 flatbed scanner, then scaled the image-files for presentation here.
I exposed this image of Pan Am Railways GP40 310 leading MOED on the afternoon of February 17, 2014. By any measure this scene posed a difficult exposure.
The locomotive is a dark blue, while the scene posed a full range of tones from bright white snow to deep shadows. The train was moving, and there was little time for exposure bracketing.
Using the camera’s histogram, I’d made a test exposure before the train came into the scene, and then made a series of images focused on the composition.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D, I always expose simultaneous Jps and Camera RAW files. Most of the time the in Camera hi-res Jpg proves acceptable, and simply archive the RAW files for the future.
However, in this instance when I got home, I found that the in-camera Jpg appears to bright to my eye. I re-checked the camera’s histogram for that file and confirmed that the image was exposed correctly.
In previous posts I’ve explained that with modern digital imaging old-school film-based assessments of ‘under’ (too dark) and ‘over’ (too light) exposure do not allow for the most accurate way of selecting exposure. (see: Snow Exposure—Part 1)
Instead of using the image at the back of the camera, or even the photo on my home computer screen, to judge exposure, I use the histogram. This graph allows me to select an exposure that maximizes the amount of information captured by the camera on-site.
In this case, although the Camera processed Jpeg seemed too bright (over exposed), the camera RAW file was perfect. Since the problem was in the camera’s translation of the RAW to Jpeg, the solution was simple:
I converted the RAW to a Jpeg manually, which produced a result that matched the scene. This retained excellent highlight detail in the snow, produced a pleasing exposure for the side of the locomotive and hills beyond, while retaining good shadow detail in the tree at the left.