It was a glorious bright Spring day in April 2003. For years, a single Irish Rail class 121 had worked a short push-pull Mark 3 set on the Limerick-Limerick Junction shuttle. But when I made this photograph the set was on borrowed time.
Earlier in 2003, Irish Rail had suddenly withdrawn most of the 121 class, and most were quickly reduced to scrap. Only two remained in service and it was rumored they might soon go the way of the others.
As it turned out, the 121 with Mark 3 set didn’t last much longer Limerick Junction shuttle and this was among my last photos of in that service. However, the locomotives struggled on much longer than I anticipated. I last photographed them in permanent way service in Dublin in early 2008, nearly five years later. Not that I’m complaining.
I arrived back in Dublin aware that LUAS had a couple of trams working the Red Line in colourful advertising liveries. As I was on the 747 bus passing the city centre from the airport, I noted one of these working its way toward the Docklands.
Although I’ve been gone a few months, my memory of LUAS timings had the wheels turning in my head as the bus wandered its circuitous path through Dublin’s inner city.
By the time the bus arrived a Heuston Station, where it terminates its airport run, I calculated that the brightly coloured Citadis couldn’t be more than a few minutes away. So, with my luggage in tow, I marched toward my preferred morning location.
Just then it came into view.
Thankfully, it made a prolonged stop at Heuston, giving me time to dig out my LX-7 from the camera bag and reset it. I’d last been making multiple exposure HDR images of real 747s at Logan!
Trains crossing vast western vistas make for compelling images, yet, back in 1989 I also made an effort to document western railroads in ordinary urban environments.
in December 1989, this Southern Pacific eastward freight was easing up to the east end of Roseville Yard, preparing to depart for its run over Donner Pass. Its EMD diesels with 20-cylinder 645E3 engines pulsed their dynamic sounds of power.
I framed it up in the trees and featured a non-descript donut shop that was part of the scene. Also, I placed my car in the photo. Soon, I was rolling east on I-80, thinking about where to catch the freight on the grade.
Exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Leica M2 with f2.0 50mm lens.
Union Pacific’s Encina Hill in eastern Oregon on June 12, 1993.
Pleasant Valley siding on Union Pacific’s mainline in eastern Oregon is aptly named. I made this image on Kodachrome 25 while traveling with Brian Jennison.
We’d driven up from Nevada to intercept Union Pacific’s Challenger, locomotive 3985, that was running trips toward Portland. The weather was excellent and this was a good excuse to photograph this remote but scenic section of heavily traveled steeply graded mainline.
I remember the scent of sage and the wide open skies and the relative quiet; qualities I associate with the great American west.
We were waiting for Pan Am Southern’s westward empty autorack, train 206. This was just the gravy: Earlier Mike Gardner, Brian Jennison and I, had already had a productive summer’s day following the Mass-Central and caught Amtrak’s Vermonter in perfect light at Millers Falls.
As we waited for 205, Pan Am’s dispatcher routed its eastward counterpart, loaded autorack train 206 (destined for Ayer, Massachusetts), through the yard at East Deerfield to get it around a track gang.
This was an unexpected bonus! The train was led by a colorful consist of General Electric diesels. A Union Pacific Evolution-series was up front, followed by a curious former Conrail and/or LMS DASH8-40CW lettered for Canadian National and sublettered for CN’s subsidiary Illinois Central. Trailing was a common Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CW.
It’s just as well I shot this as a digital image and not as a color slide. I couldn’t have fit all this information on the slide mount! (Although I did exposed a frame of black & white film).
We never saw Pan Am’s 205 that day.
Nor did we catch the following unit grain train with BNSF locomotives leading. You can’t win all the prizes.
Here are a few views I made with my Rolleiflex Model T of Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany branch on July 10, 2014.
Why black & white? Why film? Why in 2014?
There’s no question, digital photography is easier. If I desire a square black & white image, all I have to do is set my Lumix LX7 to a 1:1 aspect ratio using a switch on the camera, and set the ‘photo style’ to ‘monochrome’ using the function button.
This set up procedure takes just a few seconds, and I can switch back to color quickly and easily whenever I choose.
Working with the Rolleiflex is more cumbersome; the camera is klutzy to load, it only makes 12 frames per roll of film, and the film takes about an hour to process in the darkroom (dry to dry). Then I need to cut and sleeve the negatives and then scan them for presentation here.
Yet, I still do this. Not for every photograph, not on every outing, but I still go through the motions of using black & white film.
Why? I have five reasons:
1) I like it.
2) It gives me a subtle ‘retro’ quality that I can’t really get from digital.
3) It allows me visual continuity: I’ve been making black & white railroad photos since the 1970s. Why stop now?
4) I can still do it: I have the cameras, the film, the darkroom and the skills to get great results.
5) The B&W film medium is known to be archival. I process my film using a two bath fixer, permawash and rinse for 15 minutes in clean running water. They are stored in archival sleeves. Barring the unforeseen, the negatives I processed should still be in good condition for viewing in 50 to 100 years, maybe longer. They will need no extra attention regarding ‘back up’, except to store them in a safe dry place.
This last point is not true with digital photos. I make three backup copies of every digital image and store them in separate locations, but digital remains an ephemeral media. Hard drives, DVDs and all other existing means of commercially-available digital storage will, in time, go bad. Hard drives can fail, suddenly, completely and without warning. The information will be lost. The photos will vanish. Like the tide coming in on a child’s sandcastle, the images in their digital form will be washed away, forever.
In April 1988, I was exploring locations along Conrail’s former New York Central ‘Water Level Route’ west of Dunkirk, New York. Parallel to this line was the old Nickel Plate Road.
Where the former New York Central Line was a highly engineered grade-level route and crossed the terrain on high earthen fills, Nickel Plate was built to a lighter standard and used plate girder viaducts over the valleys of rivers and streams.
Lighter engineering often results in more interesting photographs.
I caught this Norfolk Southern freight working toward Buffalo over a tower-supported plate-girder trestle near Westfield, New York.
At the time, Norfolk Southern had recently purchased a fleet of General Electric C39-8s and tended to work these long hood first. I found this arrangement fascinating and so I made a variety of images of the big GE diesels working ‘hammer head’ style.
Twenty-eight years ago I made this photo. It was the day after Conrail began single-tracking the Boston & Albany route. On July 21, 1986, track forces had cut in CP83 at Palmer, and CP92 in Springfield, removing the old number 1 (westward) track from service.
The remains of the second diamond crossing with Central Vermont are in the foreground. A westward empty autorack is taking the new switch at CP83 in front of the Palmer Union Station.
Trying to see the railroad differently; I’ve been photographing the former Boston & Albany Ware River branch for more than 30 years, so finding new angles is a bit of a challenge.
On July 10, 2014, I met Mike Gardner, Paul Goewey and Brian Jennison in Palmer with the expressed goal of following Mass-Central’s daily freight northbound.
It was a bright morning following a night of heavy rain and mist still clung to the valleys. Mass-Central was working with GP38 1751, one of two locomotives acquired last year and custom painted into a variation of the 1950s-era Boston & Maine ‘Bluebird’ livery.
After the train passed Thorndike, (a few miles from Palmer yard), it slowed to a craw then stopped unexpectedly. Trees had fallen on the line. This delayed it while crews cut the trees with chain saws. In the mean time, Paul showed me an angle near Forest Lake that I’d never seen before.
Track speed on the line is a casual 10 mph. The trick isn’t trying to keep up with the train, it’s trying to stay focused on the subject. In addition to the slow running, Mass-Central spends a lot of time switching freight cars, and often in places that aren’t conducive to summer-time photography.
South Barre is as far as the Mass-Central goes. Beyond that the old B&A branch is abandoned. Having done well with the northward run, we opted for lunch, then moved on to other lines.
I worked with three cameras; my Lumix LX7 and Canon 7D, plus my old Rolleiflex Model T. (This isn’t the same old Rollei, that I used back in the 1980s, but one similar to it.) Unfortunately, it wasn’t functioning perfectly in the morning, and I missed a few photos before I got it working. Now, to process the film!
On evening July 2, 2014, my brother Sean and I returned to Overbrook. I wanted to get there a bit earlier to focus on SEPTA’s electric locomotive-hauled rush hour services, including the named ‘Great Valley Flyer.’ Also, I wished to feature the signaling more closely. Those vintage Pennsylvania Railroad position lights won’t be around forever.
The lighting was more diffused than the previous day, but this offered different opportunities.
Often it helps to revisit locations several days in a row. Becoming more familiar with a place, helps to find different ways to photograph it.
Yet, with familiarity comes the risk of complacency. When a subject becomes so familiar that you stop seeing it in new ways, have you lost the edge? Is finding a new place the best time to make a photo, or at least perceive an opportunity?
Overbrook is hardly a new place for me, yet it is also one I’ve yet to master.
Visual Quandaries in a Fascinating Place—July 1, 2014
Overbrook retains much of its Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line heritage. Not only is it a surviving portion of four track line, but it retains an active tower, traditional PRR position light signaling, plus its old station buildings and historic signage.
It remains a busy place with a regular interval SEPTA suburban service and Amtrak Keystone trains.
Curiously, it features track-work dating to an earlier era of railroad engineering. It is located on a sweeping curve with a full set of crossovers set in and around the station and low-level platforms.
Without getting into a detailed discussion on modern railroad engineering, let me just say, that there’s no way an interlocking and station would be situated like this today.
Yet, for all this historic railroad interest, Overbrook is a challenging place to make photographs. The curvature which adds so much character to the place, also makes it difficult to find a satisfactory photographic angle. While there is lots of antique infrastructure, it’s hard to find way to include it in balanced compositions.
Further difficulties are caused by nearby trees and a large overhead arched bridge that cast shadows on the line.
On successive evenings, July 1st and July 2nd, 2014, my brother Sean and I visited Overbrook to watch the evening parade of trains. Working with my Lumix LX-7 and Canon EOS 7D, I exposed images from a variety of angles. I was particular interested in featuring the old Pennsylvania signaling.
On June 30, 2014, Pat Yough and I arrived at SEPTA’s Wayne Station minutes before sunset. We’d already spent a productive afternoon and evening catching the evening rush-hour on the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line.
I was interested by the ‘around the corner’ light effect west of Wayne. The nearest eastward SEPTA train was half an hour away. Thankfully, this Amtrak Keystone arrived before the sunset.
For this image, I’ve cropped the leading former Metroliner cab car, and focused on the trailing AEM-7 and Amfleet coaches. The AEM-7s are running on borrowed time and I was happy to make this simple graphic image of one of the old electrics.
Calculating exposure wasn’t easy. My initial guess for exposure was about a stop too bright. I manually dialed the f-stop downward as the train entered the frame and the glinting sun reflected back towards me.
I’ve made many images like this on slide film. Kodachrome was a particular good means of capturing the glint effect. Its combination of a black & white film base (using a traditional silver halide grain structure) plus a wide exposure latitude tended to produce excellent results.
This day, Pat exposed a slide on Fujichrome, but I was limited to using my digital cameras.
It was a bright afternoon on June 30, 2014, when Pat Yough & I arrived at Bryn Mawr. We’d been photographing the former Pennsylvania Main Line west of Philadelphia.
Bryn Mawr is a Welsh name. Pronunciation is tricky. It’s a great place to photograph the evening rush hour. The station is relatively open. The tracks come up a slight ascending grade, and since there’s a set of crossovers, there’s no fences between tracks that make for unobstructed images of westward trains.
To the west of the station is the old Pennsylvania Railroad interlocking tower. It’s in sad shape, but survives as a reminder of the old order.
We spent about an hour here in nice light before working further west.
There’s something fascinating about a branch line. A single meandering track, often built for the single purpose of linking an important town or industry with the mainline. Branch lines are simple railroads; light appendages; feeder lines.
Once upon a time branch line passenger trains were part of the fabric of American transportation. A single engine and coach might traverse the line several times daily to meet through trains on the mainline. The conductor on the branch was a friendly chap who may have worked the line for years.
New Jersey Transit’s Princeton Branch is the shortest regular scheduled branch passenger train in the United States. A pair of electric EMU’s scuttle back and forth on the train to connect with the Northeast Corridor at Princeton Junction.
Until a few months ago, the branch served a handsome old station in Princeton. But the ever wise transportation visionaries decided this was too good to continue and forced a trimming of the line, moving its terminus further from downtown. It’s an old story, new again.
Someone said something about it being cheaper to run a bus? Better than an electric train?
Might the Princeton Dinky join the hundreds of other branch American services that once dotted the pages of the official guide? There’s always that nefarious illusion of ‘progress’ often offered as the explanation for ill-minded change.
The former Pennsylvania Railroad at Princeton Junction is on an exceptionally long level tangent and on fast track. A headlight appears as a twinkle. Minutes pass. The rails begin to sing and the catenary starts to resonate. Then a train blasts by at more than 100 mph!
It was here that my father captured the United Aircraft TurboTrain on trial at speed back in the 1960s.
Princeton Junction is also where you can switch to the ‘Dinky’, which traverses NJ Transit’s shortest branch (recently made even shorter) to Princeton.
Tomorrow, Tracking the Light takes a spin on the Dinky!
On the first anniversary of his final run, retired locomotive engineer George W. Kowanski holds a photo that I made of him in front of his locomotive at Grand Central Terminal minutes before he took the throttle for the last time.
Once upon a time, long long ago, Pennsylvania Railroad’s New York City terminal was among the world’s greatest railway stations.
Its architecturally enlightened design cleverly blended classical motifs and modern engineering on a colossal scale. Electrified lines brought long distance trains directly into the station. It was beautiful and functional.
Fifty one years ago the wrecking balls put an end to the fairy tale. Although, from what I’m told, in its last years the old Penn-Station was a tired, tatty vestige of its earlier days. Yet, New Yorkers were justly disgusted when the Pennsylvania Railroad ruined its once-glorious gateway to the city.
In its place, PRR built the present uninspired maze of passageways and escalators. I find it more confusing than Heathrow Airport. It looks something like mall, feels a bit like an overgrown bus terminal, and seems to have very little to do with railways until you descend into its bowels to hastily board a train.
In June, I decided I’d try to make some photos of the place. After all, it is Amtrak’s busiest station, thus noteworthy.
I was making my way from Grand Central toward Penn-Station and took a few minutes to photograph New York City’s famous Times Square Shuttle using a Lumix LX-7.
Although I’ve been making subterranean photos since the 1970s, I find that the digital photographic medium makes the process much easier, and my results generally are better.
In the 1990s, I made many New York City subway photos using a Nikon F3T with Ektachrome 200 and various filter combinations to compensate for artificial light conditions.
Calculating exposure was difficult, and despite the filtration my color balance was never 100 percent.
For these images, I set the camera for 400 ISO, selected the ‘A’-mode (Aperture priority) and set the aperture to f2.0, dialed in +1/3 exposure compensation (my standard override for interior photos), and allowed the camera’s auto-white balance take care of the artificial light.
America’s most famous station, New York Central’s crown jewel, and in 2014, a great place to photograph; that’s Grand Central Terminal. It was also my gateway to Manhattan in late June.
I’d taken Metro-North from New Haven.
When I arrived, I had a few minutes to re-explore the station and make a few photographs. I wasn’t alone in that regard. It seemed like everywhere I turned there were people aiming iPhones, or staring through the viewfinder of cameras.
The vast space of Grand Central’s main concourse with its trademark information desk and celestial ceiling makes for a compelling urban scene. It’s makes for complete contrast to New York Penn-Station’s maze of uninspired passageways that looks more like a run-down 1970s-era shopping mall or bus terminal. I was heading there next, by subway.