My time in Charleroi had come to a close. My next destination was La Hulpe in the suburbs south of Brussels. While I anticipated taking an Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) train to Brussels and changing trains there, the ticket seller convinced me to try another option.
“It’s cheaper and faster to travel to Ottignies.” Ok, why not.
When I went up to platform 3A at Charleroi Sud, what appeared to be the oldest train in Belgium rattled in to collect me. I ended up riding a line I previously didn’t even have on my map (this turns out to be line 140).
While the train’s inside was nicely refurbished, it retained openable windows, a rare treat in today’s world of train travel.
No sooner than I boarded the train and the rain began, again. But after a while the sun came out and so I made a series of images using my Lumix LX7, which I was able to hold out the window at arms-length while keeping a sharp eye on the rear display screen.
Among the Lumix LX7s features are a built in neutral density filter and image stabilizer. This allowed me to make relatively long exposures in bright daylight while keeping the camera steady.
SNCB’s track is flawless, and the heavy aged train provided a solid, nearly vibration-free ride, allowing me to expose a series photos using long shutter speeds intended to blur the tracks and countryside while keeping the train sharp.
Sometimes I stumble into the past. Although I was keen to explore Charleroi by tram, I wasn’t expecting the vestige of roadside interurban operation on the long line to Anderlues.
Frequency on this line is only about every half hour, and I nearly gave up on this leg of my journey while waiting for a delayed outbound tram at the dark and dire brown-tile transfer station called Piges in western Charleroi.
Much of the route features modern construction on concrete elevated structures and subway, a creation of the Charleroi Metro. However, once beyond a turn-back station at the end of this infrastructure intensive right of way, trams operate on a vestige of the old Vicinal network (once the operator an extensive system of Belgium’s interurban tram lines).
This includes side-of-road operation with long sections of single track, passing sidings and brick-lined streets. I was astounded. I checked my calendar, and it confirmed that it really was August 2014, not sometime in the mid-twentieth century.
However, as is too often the case, I was on short-time and only had a few hours to explore this fascinating railway.
Having explored Manchester’s modern Metrolink tram system, I traveled by heavy-rail directly to Manchester Airport (which will soon enjoy a Metrolink extension as well), and flew via Ryan Air to Charleroi in Belgium.
Charleroi, like Manchester, is a city that once dependant on heavy industry that suffered from industrial declines. Another similarity is Charleroi’s approach toward rail transit. Like Manchester, it had grand plans for a modern tram network.
However, where Manchester’s Metrolink is a shining example of a modern tram system; Charleroi’s ‘pre-metro ‘doesn’t get top marks for progress, but it has moved slowly forward with expansion plans, and was interesting to ride and photograph.
Planning for the Charleroi Metro began in the 1970s, and while construction has been very slow, in the last few years it has finally opened extensions and now operates nearly 22 miles of light rail/pre-metro.
I was unfortunate to arrive at Charleroi too late to properly avail of public transport (of the rubber tired variety) and resorted to a taxi to my hotel in Charleroi Sud. However, I was lucky to have a room in the Ibis Hotel that faced the railway station and looked out on a portion of the tram loop through the city center. This allowed me to get an early start to my photography, despite my late arrival.
Compared with Manchester Metrolink’s slick very modern trams and stations. Charleroi’s pre-metro reminded me more of contemporary transit efforts I’ve found in the old Eastern Bloc; it is characterized by Spartan boxy-looking trams and cavernous underground stations with vast amounts of poured concrete. Above ground things are brighter.
While functional and enjoyable to ride, it lacks the glitz and polish of many modern tram systems, especially those in France, and on a whole the system seemed a bit rough around the edges (as is the city and its suburbs.) On the plus side many of the stations are decorated with commissioned modern art, which adds a bit of charm.
Yet, photographically, Charleroi offered fascinating contrasts, making it far more interesting to me than I’d though it would be. Definitely worth a return visit someday!
I’m saving the best for last: stay tuned tomorrow for street running and a photographic foray on old interurban trackage to Anderlues!
Metrolink is a popular name used by modern urban passenger rail systems.
As a follow-up from yesterday’s post, I’ve included more images from my Manchester visit earlier this month (August 2014).
The present Metrolink colour scheme on the cars is a contrast from the 1990s-era trams that I experienced on my visit in 2000. Those were painted off-white with black and aqua-green stripes. While on this visit, I saw a few of the first generation trams stored at a depot, these no longer appeared to be in service. Too bad, it would be interesting to get photos of the old and new side by side.
I found Manchester Metrolink convenient to travel on and easy to photograph. Tram frequencies were very good and for the most part the trams were well patronized, but not overly crowded.
In my photography I tried to include the environment around Metrolink and not just focus on the railway. Among the more interesting places to make images was in the city centre where the trams run in the streets that were crowded with pedestrians.
Here the Lumix LX7 is an ideal tool. The camera is inconspicuous and allowed me to get some dramatic angles without difficulty. A mix of bright sun and sluicing rain made for dramatic changes in the quality of light.
I had the opportunity to travel and photograph two tram systems in two similar cities in two very different countries, with just a short plane ride and an overnight stay between my experiences. To compare and contrast; to ride, travel, and make photographs.
Manchester is a large city that was at the heart of its industrial revolution. It was an early railway centre and an inland port. Declining industry changed the place. But since the 1990s, Manchester has developed a modern tram network called Metrolink that appears to have greatly contributed to a revitalization of the city centre.
I first visited Manchester in the year 2000 when Metrolink was still relatively new and only in its infant stages of development. In the intervening years from then to now, the system has been improved and much expanded. The older trams appear to be out of service and a new fleet is now plying the rails. More lines are planned or under construction.
The system has re-used portions of old railway and integrated historic railway alignments with modern construction. During my most recent visit I found the trams clean, well patronized and well run.
This visit was in mid-August 2014 and the weather was changeable; pouring rain one minute and sunny the next; conditions that are challenging for photography while providing dramatic lighting effects. Although I made a few colour slides with my Canon EOS 3, most of the images I exposed were using my Lumix LX7.
Stay tuned with more views of Manchester tomorrow!
The attraction of California Western is the gargantuan trees along the line. The railway winds along the Noyo River passing trees reaching hundreds of feet into the sky.
One of the spooky parts of this experience is the realization that these massive trees are second growth. The much larger original redwoods were cut down a century ago. All that remains of those leviathans is the occasional stump, some of which are more than a dozen feet in diameter.
My intent of this image was to show a simple juxtaposition between C&NW GP9 4153 and the steam-era coaling tower in the distance.
By this late date, steam was four decades gone, and C&NW was already part of the Union Pacific system, having been absorbed just a few months earlier. Yet, despite UP being the operating company; in Adams, Wisconsin things still appeared to be business as usual on old C&NW.
To put the GP9 and coaling tower in relative perspective, I used my Nikon F3T fitted with a 200mm lens, and found a suitable angle at a distance from both subjects. My aim was to minimize extraneous elements and focus on the railroad interest.
Since the locomotive was static, I used the opportunity to make photos from a variety of other angles. Some of these photos appeared in my book on EMD F-units published by Specialty Press about 2005.
One of two functioning railway terminals in Manchester, United Kingdom. The third, Manchester Central Station has a vast balloon shed but neither tracks nor trains, and is a lot like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal now.
I spent a few minutes at Manchester Piccadilly wandering around making photos. There’s a constant unceasing flow of passengers and trains. Many trains serve stub-end tracks below the shed, which a few serve through tracks on the west side of the station.
The contrast between the shed and its cast iron columns and the humming multicolored self-propelled trains below makes for interesting images. But what to focus on?
On August 23, 1989, twenty five years ago today in Warsaw, Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-communist prime minister of a Warsaw pact nation. This symbolic event is credited as a landmark moment in the crumbling of the post World War II totalitarian grip on Eastern Europe.
On several occasions, more than decade after the momentous events of 1989, I traveled to Poland to photograph railways.
If Poland had remained under the old regime, I think it would have been far less likely that I would made these trips. The freedom to cross borders and wander around unhindered remains an important consideration in my travels.
I made this view of Warsaw Central Station on May 1, 2002, having arrived by overnight sleeper from Dresden, Germany.
One of the highlights of the S&C route is the often photographed curved 24 arch Batty Moss Viaduct at Ribblehead. Some stunning views of this bridge can be made right off the main road, while the more intrepid photographers may brave the winds and rain by hiking around the massive bridge.
Although TSH and I waited with great patience for many hours, the mythical freight we had hope to see never materialized during our visit. As I wrote yesterday, bad luck. You can’t win all the battles, after all.
Britain’s famed Settle & Carlisle is among the great railway lines. Its superb engineering and stunning natural settings, combined with a history of dramatic lighting effects as a result of the surrounding topography have long made this a popular setting for railway photographers.
Many years ago I rode over the line on a trip from Haworth to Arnside via Carlisle, but until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never properly photographed the railway.
My old buddy and fellow railroad photographer, TSH and I used a hired car to explore this fascinating section of railway line. We started near Garsdale and worked our way back toward Settle.
I’ve often heard that this line carried a bit of freight, and my investigations prior to arriving there indicated we should have seen about 6-7 freights during the course of the day. We saw one EWS coal train. That was all. Thankfully, the regular passenger service operated about every two hours, so at least there was some movement over the line. Bad luck, as they say.
The scenery and engineering was sufficiently impressive to compensate for the comparative dearth of traffic and I made dozens of photographs using film and digital photography.
Back in July 2000, I changed trains here. That brief visit left me with a vague impression of a bouncy rail car in a bay platform. Back then, I was on my way to Brontë Country for a weekend on the Keighley & Worth Valley.
Fourteen Years seems like a long time. On this more recent visit, I had time to more thoroughly experience Leeds and its railway terminal. While not a Victorian throwback like London’s great terminals at Paddington or Liverpool Street, Leeds is a busy place with constant parade of trains.
There’s good variety too. In addition to a multitude of diesel and electric multiple units, there’s a fair few HSTs and Class 90 electrics on long distance trains. In the evenings, a the occasional freight rolls through.
In addition from platform views, I found some stunning vistas from the nearby Double Tree Hotel that overlooks the Manchester-end of the station.
Curiously, the bouncy railcars are still aplenty in Leeds, albeit painted differently than I remember from last time around.
Britain enjoyed an extensive canal network before its railways were built. In many places the canals survive, although today they are primarily corridors for pleasure craft.
South of the Leeds railway station, the historic Granary Wharf canal boat harbour has been incorporated into a revitalized area of tourism and commerce, where shops, hotels, restaurants and pubs occupy buildings and space one used for warehousing and industry.
On a cool damp August 2014 evening, I made these photos of a canal boat being lowered through a lock on the old Leeds-Liverpool Canal.
A few days ago, I flew from Dublin to Manchester, then hopped on the First TransPennine Express at Manchester Airport for Leeds.
It had been a while since I last made this journey, and in that time the trains and the train operators have changed.
The service is frequent, but not so cheap.
Ensconced on the class 185 DMU, I gazed out the window as the train arrived at under the shed at Manchester Piccadilly. Here the 185 reversed direction for Leeds and we crossed the services namesake hills. We ran parallel to an old canal for a while, and everywhere the landscape shows scars of industrialization.
The train didn’t hang around and ran a steady clip, only pausing at Huddersfield before arriving at Leeds. On my arrival the skies opened up and rain cascaded down. So be it.
Canadian National had acquired WCL a few years earlier, and while many through freights were operating with CN locomotives a few trains out of Fond du Lac were still assigned WCL SD45s.
I’d made a project out of recording the sounds of these 20 cylinder dinosaurs, while using choice moments to make photos.
This freight had struggled up from Valley siding, where its lead unit had warranted attention from the mechanical department before ascending the five-mile grade to Byron.
The freight was paused short of the grade crossing at Byron, and I exposed this view in the last throes of daylight using my Nikon F3 with Fujichrome slide film mounted on a Bogen tripod.
As regular viewers of Tracking the Light might recognize, I’ve made a variety of photos at Byron, Wisconsin over the years. Key to this composition is my positioning of the codeline, which conveniently switches from one side of the tracks to the other just shy of the grade crossing.
In yesterday’s Tracking the Light post, I extolled the virtues of Kodachrome film as a medium for capturing trains on the move in the fading light tinted by atmospheric pollution.
I’ve made many fine glinty photos on Fujichrome films as well. And speaking of Fujichrome and air-pollution, what better way to combine these topics than to illustrate them with this image I made of a Yamanote Loop train in Tokyo.
The sun was out, but a thick layer of smog was choking the Japanese capital, and what a wonderful filter it was too!
Look, it’s not my job to defend the planet against particulates, CO2, and etc, I have good friends that take care of that! (You know who you are). I just use the tools at hand, and a nice thick layer of air pollution can really add color to a photograph!
On the evening of November 23, 1992, I was poised to photograph the action on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at Grace interlocking at Havre de Grace, Maryland.
I was interested in this angle specifically to use the glint light shortly before sunset. Kodachrome film had an exceptional ability to capture detail in the extreme contrast of sunset situations.
Although it had been a clear day, there was plenty of particulates in the air from tens of thousands of automobiles driving I-95 and adjacent roads. Almost invisible to the eye, this pollution acts as a reddish orange filter and changing the quality of sunlight toward the long end of the spectrum. Kodachrome with its red-bias amplified this effect while its great dynamic range maintained excellent detail in highlight areas.
Working with my Nikon F3T and f1.8 105mm Nikkor lens, I had only a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the trees at the right.
Moments before the light changed, a late-running Florida train bound to Penn Station, New York glided into the scene with a 1970s-era E60CH electric in the lead. Perfect!
I’d followed this GP7 down from East Deerfield Yard. At South Deerfield, the local stopped to switch and I made several Kodachrome slides with my Leica M2 and a few 120 size black & white negatives with my dad’s Rollei Model T.
While these images aren’t too bad, I can’t recommend waiting a full 25 years to process the film.
On Christmas morning 1979, I’d flown on a Eastern Airlines Lockeed L1011 from Kennedy Airport to Mexico City. There my uncle Mark met me for a week of travels.
Several days later we were staying in Cuernavaca. We walked from our hotel to the railway station in Cuernavaca, where for the price of about two pesos each, we bought tickets to ride the train to Iguala through the Rio Balsas valley.
At that time the passenger service only ran about once a week.
I made this view of a Frisco 50 foot gondola in the National Railways of Mexico yards near the station. At the time the old Frisco was about to be merged with Burlington Northern. I wonder if this car ever made it back to the United States?
The train ride was one of the most memorable events of my trip. Most of my photos from the train were exposed on Kodachrome film. I only made a few photos of the train itself, as it carried a intimidating armed guard in every car.
Memory is an indefinite media: I remember making these photos, I just don’t remember exactly when. I think it was the summer of 1978 . . .
My father had a meeting with someone in an office in or near the old mills occupied by the Lyman Outlet in Chicopee. To get away from the monotony of a kid’s life in Monson, I traveled with him.
He spent about an hour in the meeting. I wandered around the old mills making photos with my Leica 3A, mostly using a 21mm Super Angulon, but also with a 50mm collapsible Summitar that was my stable lens of the period.
To calculate exposure I used an old Weston Master III, which by modern standards wasn’t especially accurate, especially in the hands of an eleven year old.
The sidings along the side of the old mills interested me, although there was no sign of activity that day. I was equally intrigued by the brick smokestack and made a number of photographs of this, many of them using a skyward vertigo-inducing perspective.
While 1978, it seemed like completely normal activity for an 11 year old to wander around alone photographing century-old mill buildings with a Leica, now I’m not so sure.
These photos, like many from my early years, remained latent for more than three decades. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally got around to processing this film. By then, I’d developed a complicated multiple step chemical process to get decent negatives from old film.
Ironically, I probably ended up with better negatives than if I’d tried to process these at the time. My processing abilities from the 1970s were handicapped by inadequate understanding of the chemical processes and a tendency to keep using chemistry even after it was exhausted. My resulting negatives were often too thin to print.
I scanned these using my Epson V600 scanner. Until now, no one except me has ever seen them.
Most weekdays, Irish Rail’s IWT Liner works between Dublin’s North Wall and Ballina carrying intermodal freight. Class 201 General Motors diesels are most common, although Class 071 diesels work it occasionally.
In the last week of July, locomotive 206 dressed in the Enterprise livery for work on the Dublin-Belfast express passenger service, made several trips on the IWT Liner.
This offered a refreshing visual change, from the relatively monotonous parade of trains out of Dublin on the Cork line. On several occasions, I intercepted 206 in its freight duties. Making exposures with my Canon EOS 7D and Lumix LX7.
Since arriving back in Dublin, I’ve had good luck catching one of the two advertsting trams wandering the Red Line. Without much effort on my part, the ‘Join Me’ painted tram, has appeared at all the right moments, and I’d made several representative views of it—as featured in earlier Tracking the Light posts.
By contrast, I’ve found more colourful ‘HB ice cream’ tram, has been elusive and difficult to photograph. This seems to zip by whenever my back is turned, or when I’m walking with a mission in the opposite direction.
My fortunes changed on July 31, 2014, when the HB tram glided down Benburb Street and stopped in front of me for about four minutes while waiting to reach its Heuston stop (which, lucky for me, was occupied by the car in front of it).
This was just enough time to make a variety of images from different angles. Which is exactly what I’d been hoping to do, since every section of the tram is painted differently. It’s arguably the most colorful LUAS vehicle to prowl the system to date.
All these views were made with my Lumix LX7, a camera I tend to carry with me everywhere I go.
On a pleasant summer day ten years ago, Doug Eisele and I were following a westward Norfolk Southern empty coal train on the former Erie Railroad mainline west of Hornell, New York.
I’ve been fascinated by the old Erie route for a long time. And I’ve always enjoyed exploring the line in western New York.
We caught up with Mike Zollitch who was also photographing the train, and it was Mike who showed us this angle on the old Erie station at Salamanca.
In its heyday, this was a hub of activity on the railroad, located at the east end of the yard. Those days were long gone by 2004, but the railroad was again open to through traffic after a hiatus of more than a dozen years.
I exposed photos from several angles, but only had a few minutes before the coal empties arrived into view. As it passed we continued west looking for more angles.
On July 29, 2014, a little more than ten years after I made this photo, the old Erie station was destroyed by fire. I read this sad news via Facebook in Dublin, Ireland. One more vestige of the Erie is forever gone.
Please share this post and links to Tracking the Light with anyone who may be interested in the Erie Railroad and the old station at Salamanca.
Rob McGonigal has reviewed my book The Twilight of Steam in his magazine Classic Trains. He gives special kudos to John E. Pickett’s excellent photography, while mentioning many of the contributing photographers including George C. Corey, John Gruber, Jim Shaughnessy, Ron Wright, and my late friend Robert A. Buck.
If you haven’t seen the book, check it out! I think it is my finest effort to date. All black & white and superbly reproduced. I’d examined thousands of period black & white photos and selected a choice few for inclusion. Not to be overlooked are the skilled efforts of Fred Matthews, Gordon Roth, Bill Vigrass, and Phil Weibler, who were all in the enviable position of being there when steam worked the rails.
One of the premises for the book is that the majority of the photographs were made when steam was still in regular revenue service. While there’s a few views of special trips, all the photos were made in the steam era. I’ve let a few diesels in too, albeit often off in the distance.
When I was growing up there were always stacks of old TRAINS Magazines piled around the house. I’d page through issues from the 1950s and 1960s and soak in the black & white photo stories and short essays by editor David P. Morgan.
In July 2004, I was working on a book on Electro-Motive Division F-unit diesels for Specialty Press and organized a cab ride on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad from Utica to Thendara, New York.
It was an especially damp day. At times, torrential rain reduced visibility to an ephemeral blurred view like some pictorialist tapestry. The speedometer registered 10mph, the wheel slip light was flashing as the windshield wipers banged back and forth. Each passing mile was a new view for me, as I anticipated every bend in the tracks. Yet expert eyes and steady hand on the throttle keep us moving safely over the road.
Word came over the ‘telegraph’ that an Irish Rail HOBS (high output ballast system) train was on its way over to Islandbridge Junction to run around.
I’ve photographed the HOBS on previous occasions, but its one of the more unusual trains to catch on the move. This time, I thought I’d try a slightly different perspective from my standard location.
Using my Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens, I framed the line up in a tight vertical view prominently featuring the Wellington Testimonial. This massive obelisk rises high above the Phoenix Park. It is claimed to be Europe’s largest, and it can be seen from all around Dublin.
I made several views . Unfortunately, while there was a big patch of blue sky behind me, the sun wasn’t fully out when the train arrived. So I had to do my best to work with what I had.
It didn’t take long for locomotive 088 to run around. Yet, I walked quickly, and I made and series of images of the train heading back into the Phoenix Park Tunnel.