Back in 1991, my brother Sean and I explored the former Pennsylvania Railroad electrified mainline between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia. I recalled from that visit that the long tangent at Marcus Hook offered some interesting views and the potential for evening glint.
Earlier this month (January 2015) we returned to this location. SEPTA maintains a ground level station that provides easy access.
I like the location for several reasons: it is open, which allows late sun to reach rail level; there’s a long tangent and signals, that provide advance warning for trains; Amtrak’s trains can travel at top speeds; and it is relatively easy to get around obstructions such as poles and wires than might interfere with photography.
We arrived in time for a flurry of activity just as the sun was setting. These images were exposed using my Canon EOS 7D, but I also made a few images on Fuji Provia 100F using my old Canon EOS 3.
On January 16, 2015, my brother and I risked the perils of Interstate-95 and drove to Wilmington, Delaware so that I could make a few photos of the former Pennsylvania Railroad station.
I’d been working on a book on railway station architecture, and I wanted to make a few views of this iconic building credited to Frank Furness. Somewhere I’d seen a photo from the parking garage across the street that made me curious.
Thanks to Sean’s navigation, we easily found the station and the parking garage. I drove to the top level and made my photos. As is often the situation on exploratory trips, I decided this might make a better image at another time of day. At some point, perhaps I’ll return on an August evening and try again.
While on the top of the garage, I photographed a northbound train. This was led by a General Electric P42 diesel-electric, which is not the Amtrak motive power I’d expect to see here in electrified territory!
It was a brief visit to Delaware. Getting back to I-95 proved more difficult than finding the station, but in the end we were on our way. The light was getting good and I had visions of a sunset glint location . . .
It’s hard to beat steam in the glint light! Dick Gruber and I spent the weekend of August 17, 1996, photographing Northern Pacific 4-6-0 328 working Wisconsin Central trackage in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.
While we made many fine images on that trip, for me the money-shot was this one I exposed of the locomotive steaming up at Dresser, Wisconsin as the sun rose.
There’s an old adage among photographers: ‘f5.6 and be there!’
I’ve said before, and it’s true. The best way to get great photos is to be there when it happens. And that’s the real secret.
NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail has been on my photo list for more than a decade. It’s one of those things that is close enough to be just out of reach.
When an operation is under threat, time is made—found—to photograph it. You know, before its gone. But when something isn’t going anywhere, its often easy to ignore.
Such was my failings in photographing the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. Thanks to a detailed tour with Jack May on January 15, 2015, I’ve finally explored of this interesting operation.
This compact modern passenger railway operates on a selection of former heavy-rail railroad rights of way, including through the old New York, West Shore & Buffalo tunnel at Weekhawken.
The day was ideal; sunny and bright with clear skies. We first rode north from Hoboken to Tonnelle Avenue, then worked our way back south through Jersey City to Bayonne visiting a variety of stations along the way.
Much of the route passed through places that I recalled from adventures with my father in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Jersey waterfront was different place back then.
What had been rotting wharves, badly maintained freight trackage, and post-industrial squalor is now all up-scale housing, modern office towers, and otherwise new construction. It was familiar, yet different—like some weird vision of the future.
In addition to these digital photos made with my Canon EOS 7D, I also exposed many color slides on Provia 100F with my EOS 3 for review at later date.
My new book Railway Depots, Stations & Terminals will feature New Jersey’s Hoboken Terminal. This will be published by Voyageur Press in a few months time. Below is an excerpt of my text along with a few photos I exposed with Jack May on January 15, 2015.
William H. Truesdale assumed control of the anthracite hauling Delaware, Lackawanna & Western in 1899. During the early twentieth century he transformed DL&W into a modern railroad with state of the art infrastructure. His skillful management and massive capital improvements were designed to lower the railroad’s costs and make it more competitive. During this Lackawanna renaissance Kenneth M. Murchison was hired to design the railroad’s finest passenger facilities. Murchison, was a respected New York architect who earned several important commissions for railroad stations in the early twentieth century. Murchison had studied in Paris and made prominent use of the Beaux-Arts style in his railway architecture. Among his significant early projects was Delaware, Lackawanna & Western’s new Hoboken Terminal on the west shore of the Hudson River across from New York City.
Five photos of an Architectural Gem on the old Lackawanna.
On January 15, 2015, Jack May and I visited this grand old railroad station on our exploration of NJ Transit lines in the area.
The station building was designed by DL&W’s Frank J. Niles and completed in 1903.
Although the days when long distance trains paused here on their way to and from Buffalo have long since past, the triple track former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western mainline was alive with suburban traffic.
On going maintenance on track 1 improved our photographs of inbound trains, but confused passengers as to which platform to stand on.
I’ve just completed text for a book on railroad stations to be published by Voyageur Press. This among the many stations that I may choose to illustrate.
Was it January 11th 2015, when word came over the wire?
Fellow photographer Pat Yough said to me, and I repeat, ‘the Golden Swoosh has been sighted at Buffalo and is heading this way.’
‘The what?’ said I.
‘The Golden Swoosh! It’s all the rage. Something about the black swoosh is yellow on one of the BNSF GE’s.’
‘Whoa. Back the trolley up. What’s all this about?’
So far as I can determine, sometime ago a four-lettered shoe company produced a special runner (that’s an ‘athletic shoe’ in American parlence). And, this deluxe edition shoe carried a yellow tinted zinger on the side and was known as ‘the Golden Swoosh’.
This curious term, it seems, was then transferred to a BNSF Railway General Electric Evolution-Series locomotive painted in a one of a kind variation of the company’s livery.
Instead of black lettering with angled underline (a ‘swoosh’ as it were), the ‘BNSF’ lettering and corporate underline logo was painted yellow thus creating a unique adaptation of the BNSF image on locomotive 7695.
And this curious painted variation was eastbound on CSX leading a laden oil train destined for Philadelphia.
The wire was live with reports. It was seen south of Selkirk and rolling down along the Hudson on CSX’s River Line.
But then, just as it seemed that this locomotive note-worthy for its yellow underline, was nearly upon us, word came in that it was at Kearny Yard where it was tied down and without a crew.
And so, another day passed, swooshless.
Finally, after long last, on the evening of January 13th the famed ‘golden swoosh’ was again on the move.
The weather was cold and the sky was dark. Pat and I visited Neshaminy Falls on the old Reading Company. No swoosh. Then to Langhorne where CSX’s Q417 passed in the gloom (144 axles led by engines CSX 8768 and 8836). This was followed by CSX’s Q191 led by 5359 and 509 followed by containers.
In the end we went to Woodbourne: finally a headlight appeared on the horizon. The catenary glistened. and the low chug of a GE engine shook the ground.
And there, leading a mighty train of oil, was the ‘Golden Swoosh.’
I racked up the ISO to make some effort to mark its passing.
‘There it is!’
And there it goes.
Sort of reminded me of the time Britain’s Queen Elizabeth waved to me on one of her trips through Dublin in 2011.
It was a dark and rainy night on January 2015. Pat Yough and I were watching the railroad roll. I made these views of CSX freights moving along the Trenton Line (former Reading) at Neshaminy Falls, Pennsylvania.
I exposed these images handheld using my Canon EOS 7D set at high ISO for greater sensitivity in low light. The images have a gritty high-noise look to them. Let’s just say, it wasn’t Kodachrome weather. But then, there isn’t any Kodachrome anymore.
Along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor south (west) of Philadelphia, SEPTA’s Prospect Park station features a classic former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station building complete with landscaped grounds on its south east side.
Its canopies and low level platforms are a throwback to another era.
Long ago I noticed that the curve of the line and angle of the winter setting sun at Westport, Connecticut can make for some nice glint light.
It helps to have a very cold day with a clear sky above. New York City produces ample pollution to give the evening light a rosy tint.
Although I’ve found that glint photos tend to look more effective on slide film, I made these digitally. I also exposed a few slides, but we’ll need to wait to see the results.
Exposing for glint takes a bit of practice. My general rule of thumb is that the exposure for a front lit photo is approximately the same as glint at the same location. However, if a a reflective surface kicks back the sun, it will be necessary to stop down a little (probably a half to a full stop).
On the afternoon of January 10, 2015, Pat Yough and I set up east of Branford, Connecticut to photograph Shore Line East passenger train 3637 working west toward New Haven on its namesake route.
It was clear and sunny, but exceptionally brisk (it was all of about 15 degrees F) . We braved the temperatures and after a while could hear the characteristic sounds of an EMD 645 diesel. I exposed a series of digital and film images. My favorite is the trailing view passing the old Atlantic Wire Company.
Success! And now time for a bowl of hot chili and an extra large cup of hot tea.
There’s something catchy about certain engine numbers. Norfolk & Western’s streamlined J-Class 4-8-4 611 is world famous.
A few months back I featured Chicago Metra’s 611, which is an EMD F40C diesel-electric.
So how about an electric with the number 611. Here’s one of Amtrak’s shiny new Siemens-built ACS-64 electrics, number 611, with train 161 at Branford, Connecticut.
It was noon at the Shore Line East station on January 10, 2015 when I exposed a rapid sequence of this modern locomotive.
The tricky part of making the photo was selecting the correct exposure for the window of sun between the overhead bridge and the platform. The sun was bright, but lighting from the side. I made several test photos before the train burst into the scene.
Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens; f4.5 1/1000th of a second, ISO 200.
Germany’s Rhein valley is one of my favorite places to make railway photographs. The combination of great scenery, a fantastic variety of locations, the historic architecture, and a continuous parade of freight and passenger trains on both sides of the river make it hard to beat.
And, at the end of the day (in the most literal use of the cliché), the beer is great!
It helps to be at the right place at the right time. Even on the busy Philadelphia-Washington D.C. Northeast Corridor there can be long gaps between trains..
After 20 minutes or half and hour between trains, you might wonder why the line even has four tracks!
And then ever thing seems converge upon you at once.
Pat Yough and I were at Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania on the evening of January 11, 2015. We didn’t spend much time trackside before we had two running meets a few minutes apart.
Was this synchronicity? Or just luck? I don’t know. In the case of the two Amtrak trains both were running a few minutes late, so that was luck. It would have been cool to see all four pass at the same time, but unless we were phenomenally lucky, it is doubtful that such an event would have produced good photos.
On May 7, 1989, I awoke to find more than 6 inches of snow on the ground at Scottsville, New York. The previous day, people had been mowing lawns.
By 11:42 am, I’d caught up with Delaware & Hudson’s DHT-4, a double stack train that was working its way east from Buffalo on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad mainline
At the time New York, Susquehanna & Western was D&H’s designated operator.
More to the point, the late season snow had contributed to a signal failure, and the freight was stopped at red signal near Warsaw, and awaiting instructions from the dispatcher. I made this photograph using my Leica M2 loaded with Kodachrome 25. I had the camera fitted with a Visoflex and 200mm Telyt (which was a combination I was using a lot back then).
Since DHT-4 wasn’t moving, I opted to play around with some non-standard compositions. This slide was in my ‘Seconds box’ (not to be projected to an audience) for 25 years. I also have some more conventional views as well.
I made this selection of images with my old Panasonic Lumix LX3 at the Sao Bento Station in Porto, Portugal on April 5, 2014.
To the untrained eye, the railway station seems to be located in an improbable place in the center of Porto. Tracks arrived via a very old, but highly engineered line, that passes through cuttings, over a shelf along a cliff-side and finally a through long tunnel which opens directly into a classic Victorian-era train shed.
Most intriguing is the highly decorated entrance way and waiting rooms where detailed murals made from painted blue tiles make for pictorial allegories.
Looking back, I’ve found that 1997 was an extraordinarily busy year for me photographically. I spent a lot of time traveling and exposed more than 500 rolls of slide film. That’s a lot of slides
This image was made on one of several of my week-long trips to Pennsylvania. On this day I’d followed the old Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division. The railroad was busy and there were lots of opportunity to make photos.
I exposed this vertical view of a westward Conrail freight near the Spruce Creek tunnels using my N90S with an f1.8 105mm lens.
Here’s some suggestions for better photos on dull days: try to work from locations with elevation and crop the sky (as much as possible). Also, if you pan a little, it helps to set the train/locomotive apart from the background and has the effect of improving depth and minimizing the effect of low contrast lighting.
On a blustery winter morning I find it nice to look through photos made on warm summer afternoons.
In June 2010, I had just bought my Canon EOS 7D DSLR (digital single lens reflex) and made an extended drive around the Midwest to visit friends, gather materials for a book, and test the camera. This went on for several weeks.
On the afternoon of June 24th, I revisited familiar territory along the Mississippi River at Savanna. Not yet fully trusting the digital camera, I exposed a number of slides from the top of the bluff.
I made this pair of images from river level of an eastward BNSF double stack was headed toward Chicago.
Of the two, I much prefer the second photo. For me this better portrays the railroad in its environment with a variety of secondary subjects to add interest.
And, just in case you’re wondering: no I did not drop the filter in the puddle.
Early Spring can be an interesting time to make photos in New England. Warmer days and melting snow can result in a muddy sloppy mess, especially around railroad yards. However, the days are longer and the trees are still without leaves, so it can be a good time to explore.
On March 8, 1987, my friends and I visited Boston & Maine’s Lawrence Yard in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. Honestly, this can be an ugly place even on the nicest days.
I found this Boston & Maine GP9 and made several images. At the time, a blue and white B&M GP9 seemed like a fairly prosaic piece of equipment. Yet, I decided to make the most what I had to work with.
Using my father’s Rollei Model T with super-slide (645 size) insert, I exposed this view by holding the camera sideways. The puddle in the yard allowed for a nice reflection. To compensate for the inaccurate tonal rendition of blue by my choice of black & white film, I used an yellow filter. This allowed for superior tonality in the sky and placed the B&M shade of blue more in line with its expected black & white tonality. Without the filter B&M blue tended to appear too light.
Now, nearly 28 years later, a few old B&M GP9s are still working for Pan Am Railways. I saw one the other day dressed in Maine Central green and gold as the ‘Maine Central heritage locomotive.’
After WinterRail 1997, Mel Patrick, John Gruber and I spent a day photographing the Amador Central, a short line that was rumored to be making one of its final revenue runs.
I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide using my Nikon F3T. It was a clear Spring day in the Sierra foothills and a nice time to be outside making photographs. For me K25 and California sun were always a winning combination.
I made this square-format black & white photograph on the morning of November 6, 1988 using my father’s old Rollei Model T.
At the time, I was traveling with Pete Swanson in his 1980s-era Renault Encore. We’d driven down from the Rochester area, and at 11:11 am we intercepted Conrail’s ELOI (Elkhart, Indiana to Oak Island freight) working east on the former Erie Railroad mainline west of Salamanca.
Track conditions made this a fairly easy chase, and we made several images around Salamanca, New York.
A few weeks earlier, I’d made some photo copies of USGS topo maps for the Salamanca area, and on a previous trip scoped out this location, located between Carrollton and Allegany, New York.
Although only a short distance from old highway 17 (at that time I don’t think the grade separate Route 17 had been completed), this location require a little fore-knowledge as it wasn’t obvious from the road.
Conrail had recently performed some work along this section of old Erie route which opened up photo locations such as this one. Today, the line is operated by the Western New York & Pennsylvania.
The other day I was at the old ‘waste too much film’ bridge at Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard near Greenfield, Massachusetts. An eastward freight was about to proceed into the yard when a hawk landed atop the code lines.
Here was an opportunity for an interesting image of the bird and a train in the distance. My intention was make a visual juxtaposition between the two subjects. An interesting concept, but one fraught with technical difficulties.
I faced several problems. The bird was too distant to make for a substantial subject using my longest lens. Furthermore there was too great a distance between the bird and the train to allow both to be in relative focus when using my 200mm telephoto lens. (An even longer lens would have acerbated this problem).
To allow for greater depth of field (relative focus) I upped the ISO on my Canon 7D to 800, which allowed me to set a smaller aperture (f11).
The larger f-number indicates a smaller aperture opening, while this lets in less light to sensor, it increases the depth of field (thus my need to increase the ISO to allow using a relative quick shutter speed to minimize camera shake). Often when photographing trains I want to use a smaller f-number to help offset the train from the background, but not in this case.
Also, some clouds obscured the sun. This had the dual unfortunate effects of flattening the light and allowing the bird blend into its background, while reducing the amount light on the scene to make an already difficult exposure more problematic.
There were several other problems. Most notably was the effect of the under-growth along the code lines that visually obscured the locomotives in the distance. If I moved to the left to get around the brush, the bird and train no longer had a workable juxtaposition.
Ideally, If I could have been about 10-15 feet higher, I might have been able to make this concept work, but there was no way to gain elevation. In this case I simply exposed the photo with the brush and hoped for the best.
Another difficulty was getting the bird to cooperate. I’m not fluent in Hawkese. But I wanted the bird to turn its head, otherwise it might just seem like a feathered blob, so I made some ‘tsking’ sounds to attract its attention.
Then the locomotive engineer throttled up and the dull roar of dual EMD 16-645E3 diesels startled the bird (or otherwise annoyed it) and it flew away. In the meantime I repositioned to make a series of more conventional photos of the freight train.
On the plus side, as the freight approached, the sun came out making for some photographic possibilities. The train was moving slowly, allowing me to change lenses and exposed a sequence of both digital and film photographs.
We’ve all seen photos of the French TGV, and the German ICE. Yet, Spain also operates a high-speed railway network. While it’s AVE system uses the European gauge, its rarely photographed Euromed rolls along on Iberian broad gauge tracks.
Back in September 2001, I was traveling in eastern Spain with Denis McCabe and we made a project of seeking out this curious and elusive speedster.
I made this image of the Euromed westbound at Sagunt, where it was overtaking a local all-stops train. Before I made photographs of the EuroMed, I’d never before seen an image of the train in print. Even today I’d argue it is Europe’s least photographed high-speed train! Any wagers?
Pennsylvania Railroad’s chief signal engineer A.H. Rudd developed the position light signal during the World War I years and the railroad refined the type into its classic form in the 1920s. There after, the railroad installed large numbers of this unusual type of signal along its lines.
While in recent years this type of hardware has fallen out of favor, or been adapted into a form of colored position light, there are a few places where classic PRR-style position lights survive.
The former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line west of Philadelphia is one of the last bastions for these traditional signals.
In December, Pat Yough and I spent several evenings photographing the old PRR position lights at work.
I made this sequence of images near the now-closed tower at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Interested in learning more about signals? My book, Railroad Signaling is available from Voyageur Press. My new book, Classic Railroad Signals is anticipated for publication later this year.
In January 1980, I made my first photographs of Amtrak AEM-7s. They were then brand new. I didn’t much care for them then because the represented the end for my favorite GG1s. Nothing lasts forever, and now Amtrak AEM-7s are rolling off their final miles.
I made this photo of Amtrak 945 at South Station last year on the day before the first official run of Amtrak ACS-64 number 600. The new ACS-64 are locomotives that will ultimately supplant the AEM-7s on the North East Corridor.
And what of my first AEM-7 photos? I processed my film using oxidized Microdol-X and the negatives were exceptionally thin. (under processed). Perhaps, if I can locate them, I can fix them in post-processing, but that’s a project for another day.