Tracking the Light presents three photos: a Classic station and a short freight.
Pat Yough and I arrived at the grade crossing in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania just as the gates came down. Lucky me! My goal was to photograph the old Reading Company station for a new book I’m putting together. This was a bonus.
Acting quickly, I positioned myself for a few images. Since, I’d never been to Tamaqua before, I didn’t have much time to find photographic angles. Luckily the train stopped, which gave us time to expose a few more photos.
After the short freight departed we waited for dusk to make night shots of the station, which was my original plan.
Here’s a diverse selection of images: December 29, 2014 saw the first public operation of Amtrak’s Vermonter on the traditional Connecticut River Line via Northampton and Greenfield, Massachusetts.
The trains were totally sold out in both directions. I made a host of digital photos and color slides of the event.
From Monday forward, the Vermonter will serve this more direct route, thus ending 25 years of passenger service on the Central Vermont/New England Central line via Amherst, Massachusetts. Back in July 1989, I made photos of the first Montrealer arriving in Amherst. Both days were historic, and preserved for posterity.
I was not alone; lots of cameras whirred away trackside!
Today (December 29, 2014) was Amtrak’s first day of public operation on the new ‘Knowledge Corridor’ (B&M Conn River Line to traditionalists). The train was sold out in both directions and hundreds of people came out to watch history in the making.
I had the opportunity to make a round trip on the line from Greenfield to Springfield. I met lots of old friends and met many new faces! Although I’m sad to see the train off the old Central Vermont route, I’m equally happy to be able to ride over the B&M Conn River once again!
This is just a preview of a photographically intense afternoon. (More to follow, soon!)
On December 17, 2014, I rode the Vermonter to Amherst. This gave me the opportunity to scope the line for photo locations. Although I’ve traveled this route on various occasions, I wanted one last look at it from an Amtrak train before service is moved to the ‘Knowledge Corridor’ at the end of this month.
North of Barretts is Canal Junction, a little known location where the Boston & Maine’s Central Massachusetts line once joined the Central Vermont route. Originally, B&M had its own line that ran parallel to CVs and this old right of way is now a cycle path.
North of the Old Springfield Road grade crossing, I noticed a swampy clearing that looked like a good place for a photo. So, on December 19th, my dad and I investigated this location.
Earlier in the day we had photographed a Knowledge Corridor test run (covered in an earlier post), and I thought this would make an ideal opportunity to capture Amtrak moves on both lines on the same day.
We arrived at Old Springfield Road, and walked a short distance on the old B&M right of way. I’d gone back to the car to retrieve a lens and make a phone call, when I heard what sounded like a heavy freight coming.
Sure enough it was! New England Central’s southward manifest freight from Brattleboro to Palmer had stalled climbing Belchertown Hill, and had just got moving again. Amtrak was only a few miles behind.
We caught the freight, and about 10-15 minutes later got Amtrak train 55 (southward Vermonter), then proceeded to Three Rivers where we caught the Vermonter a second time.
It was a comparatively busy morning in early October 2014. I’d taken the LUAS Red Line tram to Spencer Dock and walked over to the East Road Bridge. I was joined shortly by fellow photographers, Colm O’Callaghan and John Cleary.
It’s been more than a decade since Irish Rail rationalized their freight yards at Dublin’s North Wall. Much of the site is unrecognizable compared with former times. Modern Celtic tiger-era multistory housing blocks occupy the space once used by freights.
Yet, the old Graneries yard remains, and if you’ re at the North Wall at the right time, Irish Rail may still entertain you with a few trains.
On this October day, Irish Rail 074 arrived in with a permanent way spoil train. This was the real prize for me. Although I’d seen spoil trains, I’d not properly photographed on the move, so to catch one in full sun made me pretty happy.
The icing on the cake came a little while later, when 088 (now officially 0117088 with the European numbering) arrived with the laden Tara Mines zinc ore train. Pretty good for the time invested!
Many times I’ve photographed Amtrak’s Vermonter in Palmer; so here are some recent photographs of Palmer as seen from the train. I thought one last ride on this ‘temporary routing’ would be in order.
Keep in mind the Vermonter operated via Palmer for just under 20 years; a span of time only slightly less than the famous Burlington-Rio Grande-Western Pacific California Zephyr on its run from Chicago to Oakland. The two trains had virtually no commonality except the span of time operated.
The Vermonter’s route via Palmer and Amherst is in its final days. See the following previous posts for details:
Way back in August 1980, my father, brother Sean and I visited Philadelphia and stayed in a hotel near the 36th Street portal for SEPTA’s number 10 surface-subway streetcar. Today this is the Sheraton Hotel, I can’t remember what it was back then.
So, on a hot summer’s afternoon, I was on the corner of 36th and Market Street and exposed a Kodachrome slide of an outbound PCC working the number 10 route. PCC’s were my favorite types of streetcars, and I was glad to have caught one on film.
I sent the Kodachrome to Fairlawn, New Jersey. The slides came back in a yellow cardboard box. I labeled this one ‘SEPTA PCC’ and filed it away. Later, trailing views of PCC’s didn’t make my “A-list,” and so for many years I left the photograph un-attended and un-projected.
Moving forward: In 1997, Sean moved to Philadelphia. And, during the last 34 years the area along the Route 10 streetcar line has evolved. In early November 2014, while searching for something else, I came across the old slide, which I scanned with my Epson V600 scanner. What was once mundane, now seemed historic.
In mid-December, Sean and I revisited 36th Street. While, I’ve taken the trolley in recent years, this was the first time since 1980 that I made photographs at this location.
I still have the old Leica, but Kodachrome has gone the way of the Dodo.
Perhaps next summer, we’ll go back to the exact spot and make a proper ‘now and then’ image in the right light.
Tracking the Light Presents a classic railway station.
New Hope & Ivyland’s station at New Hope, Pennsylvania at the end of a former Reading Company branch; I exposed this view as part of sequence for a book on railway stations that I’m working on for Voyageur Press.
In the last few months, I’ve sampled several mirror-less cameras. I played with a Panasonic Lumix LX7, and bought one. Thanks to Eric Rosenthal, I put a brand new Lumix LX100 through its paces. Thanks to Pat Yough, I’ve experimented with both the Fuji X-E2 and X-T1.
Where the Lumix LX7 and LX100 both use a permanently attached zoom lenses, the Fuji X-E2 and X-T1 use Fuji interchangeable lenses.
I view these types cameras as augmenting one another rather than competing for space on my roster of equipment.
To make an analogy, back in the 1950s when a railroad dieselized, it often bought different types of locomotives for various assigned services.
For me the Panasonic Lumix LX7 is like a 1,000hp switcher; the LX100 is a 1,350hp switcher with road trucks; but the two Fuji’s are like 1,600 hp road switchers—jacks of all trades—with enough power to work heavy road trains in tandem with other equipment.
My goal is to supplement my Canon EOS7D and/or replace it when traveling without a car.
As regular viewers of Tracking the Light are aware, I often travel on public transport (trains, trams, planes & whatnot). When I travel, I carry my cameras plus a laptop in a backpack. Every ounce counts. Since my Canon’s are relatively heavy, I’ve been looking for a lighter option.
I’ve determined that the Fuji mirror-less cameras will allow me to significantly reduce the weight in my bag, while simultaneously upgrade to a new generation of equipment.
I like the Fuji lenses because they are exceptionally sharp and offer a very desirable color palate.
Of the two Fuji cameras, I’ve come to favor the X-T1 over the X-E2. Both camera’s use the same lenses, and while the X-E2 is slightly lighter, I found the X-T1 easier to use. It has a superior digital viewfinder. (Also it seemed to have a superior auto focus system, but I can’t confirm that.) Both are excellent cameras, but Given a choice of the two, I’d reach for the X-T1.
Another potential benefit of the Fuji system is that I can buy lens adaptors that will allow me to use both my older Nikon and Leica lenses with the Fuji digital cameras. This will offer a level of redundancy when I choose to bring a film body. If I carry my old Nikon F3, I’ll be able to take advance of the Nikon lenses in event of a Fuji lens failure or if the Nikon glass offers a pictorial advantage.
I’ll still plan to carry the LX7 as my ‘everywhere camera’, and I may someday upgrade to the LX100. My Canons will also remain active. Regarding my steam fleet (that would be my film cameras), YES, these will all remain active too—although they see less service now than they did back in the day. Each tool has its place.
I’ve been fascinated by Fuji’s mirror-less cameras for a while. Pat Yough has a couple of them. In my previous post, I wrote of my fleeting experience with Pat’s X-T1. The other day, Pat gave me his X-E2 to play with.
Previously, I’d experimented with the X-E2 at the Streamliners at Spencer event last summer in North Carolina. On that occasion, I’d used the camera with a pancake lens and tried to match scenes using a Lumix LX7 as a side by side comparison.
I quickly found that making these type of comparisons obviated the inherent operating advantages of each camera system. This is an important point for me, and one too often ignored by professional camera reviewers.
For me the way a camera handles and its ease of use are crucial functional considerations. I make different types of images with different equipment.
So, what can a Fuji X-E2 do for me?
Picking up any unfamiliar camera and charging into the image-making process has its fair share of challenges. This is acerbated by the inherent complexity of many modern digital cameras. To simply get the camera meter mode and focus point where I’d expect them, requires layers of menu surfing.
It took more than a few minutes to get a handle on the X-E2. On Thursday December 11, 2014, we explored the New Hope & Ivyland’s tourist train operations.
This was a perfect opportunity to put the camera through its paces; I wasn’t pressured by the need to document the operation, since I can come back anytime and photograph it again. Also, poor and changeable weather conditions allowed me to push the X-E2 and see what it can do in lousy light. I also made a few comparisons with my Lumix LX-7.
In other circumstances, I kept the Lumix handy. When push came to shove, I’d grab my familiar camera to ensure that I got results. I don’t want to be fighting with a camera when the action is unfolding. Equipment familiarity is key to consistently making good images.
The photos here have been scaled for internet presentation, but otherwise unaltered.
An ideal test of new equipment might include a thorough tutorial, followed by a gradual immersion into the camera’s distinct features in order to be operationally confident prior to making any serious photos.
I didn’t do any of that. It was a sunny day in Philadelphia. Pat Yough and I were following SEPTA’s Route 15 streetcar line (famous for its use of ‘retro’ PCC cars).
“Here’s my X-T1, try that.”
This was initially fitted with an older Fuji 55-200 zoom lens. I made a few photos of a static PCC car, but found the lens slow to focus. In back lit situations it didn’t seem to grab a focus point at all and hunted incessantly.
“This doesn’t like glint,” I said, “What other lenses do you have?”
“Try the 18-55mm kit lens”
This worked vastly better. It focused quickly. And I was soon snapping away.
We drove around Philadelphia, finishing daylight along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at Prospect Park, Pennsylvania. By the time the sun had set I’d exposed 15 GB of photos!
The X-T1 is a mirror-less camera formatted similar to a SLR but without the ‘reflex’. The viewfinder is digital. The camera has an excellent ergonomic shape—I found it comfortable to hold and easy to use.
On the down side, there’s a lever on the left-hand side of the body beneath the dial to set the ISO, which I kept inadvertently knocking with my thumb. This adjusts the motor-drive and introduces such novel features as ‘autobracket’ and an in-camera filter set.
The details of these features must be programmed by scrolling through fields of menus and making some intelligent selections. All very well, except I didn’t know how to do any of that at first, and suddenly found I was getting bursts of photos everytime I released the shutter.
At one point Pat joined a queue at Tony Luke’s Philly Cheese Steak to procure lunch, while I fiddled with the X-T1’s menu options. This allowed me to finally, tune, and then exit the bracket mode.
Along the Northeast Corridor, I was able to test the camera’s ability to work in low light and stop the action at its higher ISO settings.
The rapid fire motor drive is a real boon when picturing Amtrak’s Acela Express at speed. I was able to wind up the ISO to 6400, which impressed me. At lower ISOs, I was able to pull off some creative pans and photographs that incorporated movement.
I walked away from my brief time with the X-T1, very impressed by the camera. It can output both a Jpg and RAW files simultaneously and has an impressive dynamic range. It has color profiles designed to emulate some of my favorite Fuji slide films, and has excellent high ISO response and output.
Pity about the slow focusing zoom, but Pat indicated there’s other options for longer lenses, and I hope to explore that at a later date.
All the X-T1 photos displayed here have been scaled for internet presentation, but are otherwise unaltered. I have not sharpened, cropped, or enhanced the files.
Today (Dec 19, 2014) Amtrak operated a test train north from Springfield, Massachusetts on Pan Am Southern’s recently rehabilitated Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line in preparation for re-routed Vermonter service (expected to begin at the end of this month).
My father and I went out to document this special move, then went over to the New England Central route to photograph the Vermonter on its present route.
Tracking the Light presents a few views at this busy location.
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is in transition as the old battle-worn AEM-7s are being phased out and the new Siemens ACS-64 ‘City Sprinter’ locomotives gradually assume their duties.
Fellow photographer Pat Yough and I were out to make good use of the sunlight. We’d caught Amtrak 600 the ‘David L. Gunn’ (recently named for Amtrak’s former president 2002-2005) working a Harrisburg-New York Penn Station Keystone on the Main Line and were aiming for another photograph of this unique locomotive.
Back on November 14, 1959, my dad photographed Reading Company T-1 2124 charging through Oak Lane station on Kodachrome.
But where is Oak Lane? Obviously this is in suburban Philadelphia. However, when I consulted a modern day SEPTA rail map, I couldn’t find it.
A puzzle. I called my dad. But he didn’t specifically remember making the photo, nor anything about the station. “I chased a lot of the Reading trips. I don’t know which one that was.”
Perhaps the station had been closed?
Finally, after a bit of research, I concluded that Oak Lane had been renamed Melrose Park. Armed with that knowledge, my brother Sean and I traveled to Melrose Park on SEPTA on Friday December 5, 2014.
Surprisingly, the station isn’t radically different. The old building still serves as a railway station, and the old canopy on the outbound side of the tracks still looks as it did in 1959.
Two big changes were installation of high-level platforms and removal of the center track.
I attempted to emulate the angle and perspective of the 1959 photo as closely as possible. My father was using a Kodak Retina 3C, probably fitted with a 50mm lens, although he also had a 35mm. So using my Lumix LX7, I adjusted the Vario Summilux to about the 45-50mm range. Both photos were made in late-autumn on overcast days.
The other big change is the equipment. Where in 1959, Reading’s class T-1 4-8-4 number 2124 was the star attraction, on December 5, 2014 we had to settle for a 1970s-vintage Silverliner IV multiple unit.
Keep in mind that at the time of the 1959 photo, the steam locomotive was only a dozen years old at the time. Happily, the 2124 is preserved at Steamtown in Scranton.
Today’s (December 17, 2014) views from Amtrak’s Vermonter en route from Philadelphia to Amherst, Massachusetts. Posted live from the train!
I write from the relative comfort of an Amfleet coach on Amtrak number 56, the Vermonter. Below are some views exposed today with my Lumix LX7.
I thought I’d take the opportunity to use the Amherst Station while I still can.
Amtrak is due to shift the Vermonter to the ‘Knowledge Corridor’ route at the end of this month. This will result in a restoration of Amtrak service to the former Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line, and the first regularly scheduled passenger trains on the line since Amtrak suspended its Montrealer north of Springfield in the mid-1980s
In July 1989, Amtrak’s Washington D.C,- Montreal Montrealer was restored using a Central Vermont (CV) routing via New London, Palmer and Amherst.
Then, beginning in early 1995, shortly after New England Central assumed operations of the old CV, the daytime Vermonter (DC-St. Albans) replaced the nocturnal Montrealer schedule.
However, this new train used a revised routing via Hartford, Springfield and over the former Boston & Albany to Palmer, then up New England Central’s former CV line to East Northfield.
Soon Palmer to East Northfield will be freight only!
SEPTA’s Independence Pass offers great value for the $12 price and more importantly gives you the freedom to jump from train to train and one mode to another without worrying about buying individual tickets.
My brother Sean set out on a wandering tour that included SEPTA’s commuter rail, Broad Street Subway and Market-Frankford rapid transit, and light rail lines.
Part of our quest was to find the elusive Oak Lane station on the former Reading Company lines.
Modern maps won’t show this station, and I had a special interest in finding it, which I’ll explain in tomorrow’s post! Stay tuned!
Tracking the Light presents 14 recent images—a work in progress.
Not any old mainline, but The Main Line—the former Pennsylvania Railroad west of Philadelphia. This is hallowed ground in the eyes of PRR enthusiasts.
My brother and I spent several hours examining various locations from Overbook to Bryn Mawr.
We were rewarded by a training special operating in midday with SEPTA AEM-7 2306 and a push-pull train. These trains are typically only used at rush hours, so it was nice to catch one off peak.
The Main Line is a throwback to another time. The line still retains many of its visual cues from year’s gone by, including classic Pennsylvania Railroad position light signal hardware.
Among the challenges to photographing this line is the proliferation of trees along the right of way. While these can make for nice props, they also cast shadows which complicate photography.
From an operations standpoint, I would think that having so many line-side trees would be a serious problem. Not only will these cause wheel-slip in the autumn that will result in difficulties for suburban trains trying to meet tight schedules, but falling branches and trunks will interfere with the catenary.
Would the PRR have tolerated so many trees along its primary east-west trunk?