Long View: Tara Mines Zinc Ore Train at Malahide.

On the morning of 25 August 2017, David Hegarty and I were in position at Malahide looking toward the old Great Northern Railway causeway to photograph a laden Tara Mines Zinc Ore Train led by Irish Rail class 071 locomotive number 077.

I liked this location because it allowed me to picture the whole train in a scenic setting. As you can see the Tara Mines train is very short as demonstrated in this  broad-side view (if you are viewing on FB you may need to click on Tracking the Light for the full photo).

Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 fitted with an f2.0 90mm fixed telephoto.

To make this work I used a medium telephoto and then in post processing cropped the extraneous portions of the sky and water at top and bottom of the image.

I also altered contrast, colour balance and colour saturation.

I’m not fully satisfied though, because the dark locomotive and dull wagons with relatively flat lighting tend to get lost in the overall scene.

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Steam in the Rain: RPSI Steam & Jazz at Lisburn—25 August, 2017.

Lisburn is a surviving gem among old Great Northern Railway stations in Northern Ireland.

RPSI’s steam crew apologized for the weather, but there was no need. Steam locomotives make for excellent subjects when photographed at dusk in the rain.

This was my reunion with Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s engine 85, a Great Northern compound 4-4-0.

Great Northern Railway (of Ireland) engine 85 is named Merlin. It was one of five V-class compounds, all of which were named for birds of prey.

Honer Travers arranged my visit to Lisburn to witness the arrival of the scheduled Steam & Jazz special from Belfast, and introduced me to members of the crew (some of whom I’d met on previous occasions).

Working with three cameras, I made dozens of atmospheric images in the course of about 15 minutes. These photos were made digitally with my FujiFilm XT1 and Panasonic Lumic LX7. In addition, I exposed a handful of black & white photos using a Nikon loaded with Fomapan Classic.

RPSI’s Steam & Jazz excursion arrives from Belfast in a steadily drizzling rain.
Cold, windy, wet and dark, but great for atmospheric photos. It helps to have a FAST lens, in this case an f2.0 90mm Fujinon telephoto.
Number 85 runs around at Lisburn. Fuji XT1 photo.
Exposed with a FujiFilm XT1, notice the effect of shallow depth of field and selective focus.
Lumix LX7 photo at Lisburn.

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Belmond in the Gullet; Navy Blue Train as viewed with Lumix and Fuji Digital.

Three photos:

Belmond is a high-end tour train operator that since 2016 has served Ireland with its Grand Hibernian sleeping car train.

This has been a popular topic for railway photographers as it represented a return of the Mark 3 carriage to Irish rails and makes for a decidedly different passenger train in contrast with Irish Rail’s regularly scheduled services.

Yet, as previously mentioned on Tracking the Light, the train itself is challenging to capture in images owing to its largely unbroken dark navy-blue paint.

In dull light this looks nearly black.

I’ve found that the most effective photographs of the Belmond Grand Hibernian are made in bright sunlight.

These views were exposed at ‘the Gullet’ west of Dublin’s Heuston Station. One was made with my Lumix LX7 with the Vivid colour profile; the other two with my FujiFilm X-T1 using the Velvia colour profile.

Belmond’s Grand Hibernian exposed using a FujIFilm X-T1 digital camera with fixed 90mm lens.
A view of the same train exposed moments later with my Panasonic Lumix LX7.
On Saturdays the Belmond train is shunted in the Gullet in order to move it from Heuston Station to Dublin Connolly. This requires another locomotive to couple to the back of the train and haul it via the Phoenix Park Tunnel. Notice the changeable lighting conditions and how that affects the appearance of the navy-blue paint. Exposed using a FujIFilm X-T1 digital camera with fixed 90mm lens.

Files were scaled in Lightroom for internet presentation, but were not altered in post processing in regards to exposure, colour balance, colour temperature or contrast.

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When at Station isn’t a Station: Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Derry Station.

Four Photos:

The old Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Derry Station is adjacent to the contemporary Translink/NI Railways’ station.

Where the modern station is a functional utilitarian facility with all the charm of a small town bus station, the old station sits as an elegant vestige of former times when a railway station was viewed as a city gateway and endowed with suitable architecture.

Maybe someday the old station building will be a station again?

I made these photos using my Lumix LX7.

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On the Roll to Derry on NI Railways.

It had been a long time since I’d last traveled NIR’s Belfast to Derry railway line (in the original version of this post, I’d described this as the ‘Derry Road’ but several readers wrote into correct me, as the phrase ‘Derry Road’ refers to the long abandoned GNR route to Derry and not the present NIR line), and while I’ve been over the whole line between Derry and Belfast in stages, I’d never before actually traveled all the way from Belfast to Derry.

So, two weeks ago, Honer Travers and I organized a day out to Derry. We began our rail journey at Lisburn and traveled to Belfast Great Victoria Street where we changed trains.

After a wander in Derry, we returned by rail the way we had come.

I made these photos using my Lumix LX7.

Interior view of a 4000-series CAF train.
Holding the Lumix above my head I made this interior view.
Interior view of a 4000-series CAF train.
Rolling toward Derry, Northern Ireland.
Interior view of a 4000-series CAF train. Although only moderately busy when we departed Belfast, by the time the train arrived at Derry it was packed.
Outside NI Railways’ Derry station.
An NI-Railways train rolls along the Foyle on its return trip to Belfast. In the distance is Derry’s Peace Bridge.
View of the line along the Foyle looking toward Derry’s station from the Peace Bridge. Would this be a better photo with a train?
A panoramic composite photo exposed with my Lumix LX7 from the platform at Derry.

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Up Close with Irish Rail 215 in Fresh Paint-Five New Photos.

Irish Rail’s class 201 General Motors-built diesel-electric number 215 (now technically 92 60 02 10215-6) was recently repainted in fresh green and silver paint.

Over the last few days I had several opportunities to photograph this locomotive up-close, allowing for some detailed images.

Here’s a selection of Lumix LX7 views.

Irish Rail 215 works the back of a Mark 4 set on approach to Heuston Station Dublin.
Irish Rail 215 at Dublin’s Heuston Station. Lumix LX7 digital photo.
Irish Rail 215 at Dublin’s Heuston Station. Lumix LX7 digital photo.
Irish Rail 215 at Kent Station, Cork. Lumix LX7 digital photo.
Irish Rail 215 at Kent Station, Cork. Lumix LX7 digital photo. Contrast and saturation adjusted in post processing.

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NI Railways on the Roll—Panned Views Crossing the Lagan.

A few weeks back on a trip to Belfast, I exposed these views of NI Railway’s CAF-built diesel railcars crossing the River Lagan.

To convey a sense of motion I panned the trains using a relatively slow shutter speed with a medium telephoto lens. By using an even panning motion I was able to keep the train sharp with the background is blurred.

Exposed at f 22 for 1/60th of a second. 135mm focal length.
Exposed at f20 for 1/60th of a second.

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Irish Rail 220 with IWT Liner at Islandbridge Junction on 17 August 2017.

Clear blue dome. Nice view. Short walk.

Islandbridge Junction near Heuston Station in Dublin.

I exposed this photo of Irish Rail’s IWT Liner (Dublin North Wall to Ballina, Co. Mayo) on the morning of 17 August 2017 using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 27mm pancake lens.

Exposed at f9 1/500th of a second at ISO 400 using a 27mm pancake lens (provides an angle of view equivalent to a 41mm lens on a full-frame 35mm film camera).

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NI Railways at Adelaide Depot, Belfast.

The other day I made this view of a CAF-built NI Railways train at the railway’s Adelaide Depot in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Exposed using a Panasonic Lumix LX7 digital camera.

Sometimes its hard to resist perfect three-quarter lighting. The elevation helps too!

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LUAS on Trial: Cross City Line test, finally! Ten Photos.

I found it fascinating to finally see a tram negotiating Dublin Cross City trackage having followed the construction of the line over the last few years.

This my third post showing LUAS tram trial on 18 August 2017.

These photos were exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens. That’s right: fixed focal length (no zoom).

Never mind the camera, what amazed me was how completely oblivious most passers by were to the tram. What does it take these days to catch notice?

Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a Fujinon 27mm lens at Parnell Street.
Marlborough Street in Dublin on 18 August 2017.
The soon to be Marlborough LUAS stop.
Crossing Abbey Street at the Abbey Theatre.
College Green, soon to be Trinity LUAS stop.
College Green, Trinity LUAS stop (future).
LUAS trial in the rain near Grafton Street shopping.
St. Stephens Green.

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Tram on O’Connell Street in Dublin: LUAS Cross City Trackage Trial

On Friday August 18, 2017, Mark Healy and I met to document a LUAS 5000-series tram trial on new Cross City trackage.

This was my first experience seeing a tram working recently completed Cross City trackage.

Mark and I have been documenting LUAS Cross City progress for more than two years.

Working with Lumix LX7 RAW file, I lightened shadows and adjusted contrast. In the distance is Dublin’s famous Spire.
I made this view using my Lumix LX7s HDR (high dynamic range) mode that digitally combines several images in-camera to allow for better shadow and highlight detail.
The trailing tram takes the points at the top of O’Connell Street to use the turn back loop to reach the southbound line on Parnell Street. Is this the first time a tram has negotiated this trackage? First time I’ve seen it anyway.

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Belmond’s Grand Hibernian at Cabra.

A couple weeks ago, I met fellow photographer Jay Monaghan in Cabra to document the passing of Belmond’s luxury tour train that was making it’s scheduled move to Dublin’s Connolly Station.

Using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera, I opted for this portrait-oriented (vertical) telephoto view to accentuate the Dublin Mountains. In contrast to my view, Jay executed a very nice wide-angle photograph that better shows the cutting and the length of Belmond’s train.

Working with the camera-RAW file in post processing, I adjusted contrast and lightened shadow areas slightly to lessen the effects of midday-sun.

The Grand Hibernian uses 10 custom refurbished former Irish Rail Mark3 carriages, making it the longest regularly scheduled passenger train in Ireland.

In this instance an Irish Rail class 071 diesel is working the train, but for most moves Irish Rail 216 specially painted in Belmond navy-blue is assigned to it.

In season, Belmond’s high-end excursion train makes tours of Irish railways.

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Tracking the Light EXTRA: LUAS Cross City Trial Blocked by an automobile on Parnell Street!

This afternoon Mark Healy and I were in the Dublin city centre to observe a LUAS tram trial on new Cross City trackage.

The trial was delayed when the tram was blocked by what appeared to be an illegally parked white Toyota Prius occupying the tracks on Parnell Street.

Lumix LX7 photo showing a white Toyota Prius apparently illegally parked on Parnell Street in Dublin on 19 August 2017.
Lumix LX7 photo showing a white Toyota Prius apparently illegally parked on Parnell Street in Dublin on 19 August 2017.

Eventually the driver of the automobile arrived to remove it from the tracks and the tram resumed testing.

I’ll post more LUAS Cross City  trial photos in the coming days.

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Exploring Repurposed Railway Vestiges in County Down; 8 new photos.

Here’s another instance where I was working with two cameras and two very different photographic media.

My Lumix LX7 is an easy tool to capture images digitally, while the Leica IIIa I carry requires a bit more work and yields a very different result using traditional 35mm black & white film.

Newcastle, County Down is a classic sea-side resort on the Irish Sea at Dundrum Bay.

It’s been many years since the old Belfast & County Down Railway branch line saw activity, yet the station-building survives.

Exposed on Kodak Tri-X using a Leica IIIa with 35mm screw mount Nikkor lens. Film processed in Agfa-mix Rodinal Special mixed with water at a ratio of 1 to 31 at 68F for 3 minutes. Negatives scanned with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
Colour view exposed digitally using a Lumix LX7. Notice how the Lidl logos jump out at you in the colour views.
Flowers work better in colour than in black & white.
A sidelight view of the old station building showing old railway fencing. Exposed on Kodak Tri-X using a Leica IIIa with 35mm screw mount Nikkor lens. Film processed in Agfa-mix Rodinal Special mixed with water at a ratio of 1 to 31 at 68F for 3 minutes. Negatives scanned with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.

A couple of weeks ago, Honer Travers brought me on a tour of rural County Down and was keen to point out the old Newcastle Station and nearby railway hotel.

Today, the old station has been repurposed to house a Lidl market, while the old railway hotel remains as a resort hotel (sans railway traffic).

Exposed on Kodak Tri-X using a Leica IIIa with 35mm screw mount Nikkor lens. Film processed in Agfa-mix Rodinal Special mixed with water at a ratio of 1 to 31 at 68F for 3 minutes. Negatives scanned with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
Does this colour view work better?
The automobiles are part of the scene. Lumix LX7 view.
The old station as seen in context with the surrounding buildings and streets.

My intent was to document these historic structures in their present roles.


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Lisburn Station in Black & White.

It was raining.

I had the Leica IIIa fitted with a vintage Nikkor f3.5 35mm screw-mount lens and loaded with Kodak Tri-X.

And yes, I had a digital camera with me. Two, really. And I also made some colour views. I’ll tend to cover my bases when at a special location.

Honer Travers and I traveled down from Dublin on the Enterprise, having changed at Portadown to an NIR (Northern Ireland Railways) 4000-series CAF built railcar. Arriving at Lisburn, I paused to make these two black & photos of our train.

Fine grain in the rain. Lisburn station exposed on black & white film.
This a view from the footbridge. Both images were exposed with a Leica fitted with a vintage f3.5 Nikkor 35mm wide-angle lens.

In Dublin, I processed the film using Agfa-mix Rodinal Special (not to be confused for bog-standard Agfa-mix Rodinal) mixed with water 1 to 31 at 68F for 3 minutes.

I like to play with developer to see what I can get with different combinations of chemistry. Agfa Rodinal Special with short development time allows for fine grain and a metallic tonality. While not as rich as Kodak HC110 (dilution B), the grain appears finer with Rodinal Special.

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Enterprise on the Move.

The Dublin-Belfast Enterprise service is a joint effort of NI Railways-Translink and Irish Rail.

I’d bought my tickets on-line from Irish Rail’s website.

It was a rainy weekday at Dublin’s Connolly Station when Honer Travers and I boarded the train for Portadown.

After arrival at Portadown we changed for a NI Railways local train.

I exposed these photographs using my Lumix LX7.

Ticket barriers at Dublin’s Connolly Station, exposed with a Lumix LX7 digital camera.
The Enterprise uses specially appointed equipment dedicated to the service.
First Class features 1 x 2 seating.
My Lumix LX7 is an excellent tool for making interior views of railway carriages.
Drizzly weather on the way north.
Cross-platform transfer at Portadown.
An NI Railways CAF-built 4000-series diesel railcar at Portadown. This was a very well-patronized local train.

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Dusk in the Gullet; Illustration of Digital Sunset in 5 variations.

What? Not another of those InterCity Railcars?!


I made these views from the St. John’s Road Roundabout bridge at Killmainham/Islandbridge in Dublin.

The light was fading, the train was shadowed and the situation routine: Irish Rail’s ICR pass this spot dozens of times daily. In fact, these trains rumble up and down all day long.

Unmodified Lumix camera RAW file (except for scaling). I’ve exposed for the sky.

What initially caught my interest was the sunset glow in the north-west sky.

I made these photos using my Lumix LX7, which exposes a RAW file.

After the fact, I made some heavy handed adjustments to exposure, contrast, colour balance and colour saturation to show what is possible with post processing.

Here’s my first adjusted file; working with the RAW I’ve made a variety of alterations.

In addition to enhancing the sky, I lightened the train and cutting while making a variety of localize adjustments, such as to the flowers at lower left.

I’m using the same essential approach that I used to apply to my black & white photography when making prints in the darkroom, except its now done digitally on the computer.

Unmodified camera RAW (scaled as a JPG for internet presentation).
My first modified RAW image (presented as scaled JPG).

The graffiti at lower right is bit of an annoyance. In my final version, I’ve darkened the area around the graffiti to minimize it.

My second modified RAW where I’ve tried to minimize the graffiti under the bridge.

My first modified RAW image (presented as scaled JPG).

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Irish Rail InterCity Railcars pass Islandbridge Junction.

It was a bright morning. I was out for the down IWT Liner (International Warehousing and Transport container train that runs almost daily from Dublin’s Northwall to Ballina, County Mayo).

While I was waiting this Irish Rail ICR (InterCity Railcar) came up road on it approach to Dublin’s Heuston Station.

Sometimes its nice to catch an ordinary train in great morning light.

Lumix LX-7 photo.

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Two Too Many Twos at Connolly?

Sometimes a number catches my attention.

The other day I made two photos of Irish Rail 02 22222 arriving at Connolly Station, Dublin.

If I hadn’t had my Lumix LX7 with me and ready to go, I might have been too late to make this photo. And that would have been too bad.

Irish Rail 02 22222 at platform 5, Dublin’s Connolly Station. Lumix LX7 photo.

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From the Negative File: CSX’s former Boston & Albany.

On July 22, 2017, I made this unusual view of CSX Intermodal train Q012 on the old Boston & Albany mainline at West Warren, Massachusetts.

July 22, 2017; CSX at West Warren, Massachusetts, exposed on Kodak Tri-X.

What’s unusual about it?

Not only was it made on Kodak Tri-X black & white film using an 80-year old Leica camera body fitted with a 21mm Super Angulon lens, but my processing was non-standard.

After a pre-soak with a miniscule amount of developer, I gave the film it’s primary development in Ilford Perceptol stock mixed with water 1-1 for 8 min 30 seconds at 69 F. Following development, stop, fix1, fix2, and thorough rinse, I treated the still wet film in selenium toner mixed 1 to 9 with water for 8 minutes.

The selenium toner gives the negatives a slightly lavender hue while increasing the highlight density to provide a silvery sheen. This involves an ion-exchange with the silver halide in the film which offers a secondary benefit of greater long term stability.

After toning, I re-wash negatives for at least 10 minutes.

For internet presentation here, I scanned the dried negatives on an Epson V750 flatbed scanner at high-resolution TIF files, then imported the files to Lightroom for final adjustment, dust removal and scaling. (My TIF files are far too large to upload on Word Press for internet).

Instead of scanning the negatives in black & white, I scanned them in color which retains the purple tint of the selenium toner for effect.

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Lena, Illinois Follow Up: Mysteries and Questions Resolved.

My twin posts focused on Lena, Illinois drew considerable interest and answers.

Regarding the monster eastward Canadian National freight; the actual number of cars carried on this one train was 280 (plus three leading locomotives and a lone DPU). That’s a real whopper at 1,144 axles (24 are the locomotives)!

A number of Tracking the Light readers wrote to me about the unusual GREX drawbar connected maintenance train. I’ve compiled these below into a brief essay.

Dusk view of the GREX Slot Train at Lena, Illinois.

The curious maintenance train was built by Georgetown Industries (a spinoff of Texas-based Georgetown Railroad), which uses the GREX reporting marks. This train is described by the manufacturer as a Self-Powered SlotMachine® and commonly as ‘slot train’ which is designed to distribute materials. Instead of conventional gondolas, this is in effect a string of permanently connected articulated gondolas with the ends removed.

Since there are no bulkheads between cars an excavator can be used to traverse the entire length to load or unload material. The train is especially useful when a railroad is faced with limited track access time or locations that are inaccessible by road. One application is to dump ballast between the rails on ‘skeletonized’ track.

Articulated gons behind the locomotive.

One flaw with the train is that the solid draw bar and articulated connections between cars make it impossible to set out a car in case of defect.

The Slot train’s power is a relatively new creation and appears to be based on LORAM’S boxy power unit.  Georgetown has several Slot train sets that work at various places around the country, the machinery is still being evaluated or leased an as of yet, these trains are a rare sight on American rails.

Dusk view of the GREX Slot Train at Lena, Illinois.

Another Georgetown creation is its Dump Train, which is a series of drawbar-connected hoppers featuring a conveyor belt running under the length of the train and a swing out conveyor belt at the unloading end to deliver aggregate line-side. The style of construction gives the train a nearly European appearance.

Meet with the odd-maintainance train..

Orcuttville in the Fog, New England Central 608 on the Roll.

A thick layer of fog in Stafford, Connecticut made for an excellent environment for dramatic photos.

New England Central 608 (Willimantic – Palmer way freight) was on its northward leg, when I caught it approaching Connecticut Route 319 at Orcuttville.

A lone GP38 was at work this day with more than 20 cars in tow.

Exposed using a FujiFilm XT1. The tricky part of this photo was balancing the exposure of the headlight/ditchlights with ambient light. I prefer the overall exposure slightly on the darkside for greater drama. Compare with the Lumix LX7 image below.
New England Central 608 with GP38 3845 approaches the crossing at Orcuttville. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.

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Early Bird Gets the Worm or, as the case may be, the New England Central local freight!

During the long days of July, I made a point of being up and OUT as early as there was light in the sky.

Those trains that go bump in the night in Winter have a bit of light on them in July.

I made this view before 6 am of the New England Central local crossing the Palmer diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant is located in the old Palmer, Massachusetts Union Station station at left.

Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm X-T1 with f2.0 90mm lens.

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Vestige of the Chicago & North Western.

In July (2017), John Gruber and I visited the old Chicago & North Western at Jefferson Junction, Wisconsin. I was surprised to find that the railroad’s old mailbox remained.

It has been more than 22 years since the old C&NW was absorbed by Union Pacific. In 1995 at the end of C&NW’s independent operations I’d made photos of this same mailbox, which for me served as a symbol of the railroad.

Now it’s a faded vestige of another era. More than just the paint has changed.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with 18-135mm lens.
Lumix LX7 photo at Jefferson Junction, Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin’s East Troy Electric, Revisited—July 2017.

Back in the 1990s, Pentrax Publishing’s Paul Hammond and I focused on the East Troy Electric for an article in Locomotive & Railway Preservation magazine. At the time I was the Editor of Pacific RailNews, and he of L&RP.

We worked with the railway to produce some unusual and compelling photographs, including a high-impact view of one of their electric locomotives in motion that was used as the cover of the magazine.

For that effort, California-based railway photographic legend Richard Steinheimer paid me a personal compliment.

Three weeks ago, John Gruber, TRAINS Brian Schmidt and I spent a sunny afternoon re-exploring the East Troy Electric.

It was the first time I’d made digital images of this colorful Wisconsin preserved railway. I’ve included a selection below.

East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.
Elegant Farmer, Mukwonago, Wisconsin. Lumix LX7 photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.
Mukwonago, Wisconsin, FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.
East Troy Electric. FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.
East Troy, Wisconsin, Lumix LX7 photo.

Thanks to East Troy Electric’s Tom Fleming for his hospitality.

See: http://www.easttroyrr.org

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Surprise at Lena; Canadian National Monster Freight—How many cars??

As noted in yesterday’s post, I’d been inspecting a maintenance train parked on the siding at Lena, when lo and behold, the signal cleared to green.

I alerted John Gruber and we took positions to make photographs.

So there we were along the old Illinois Central at Lena, Illinois in the fading glow of the evening sun. This had been IC’s line from Chicago via Dubuque to Council Bluffs, Iowa and Back in the mid-1990s it had been operated as a regional called the Chicago, Central & Pacific, before being re-incorporated into Illinois Central on the eve of IC being absorbed by Canadian National.

Looking west on the old Illinois Central. Fuji film X-T1 photo.
John Gruber (at left) is poised to capture the action.

A headlight twinkled into view, and I could see that a freight was coming, but not very fast.

As it grew closer I had the innate sense that it was a really huge train.

Finally it roared by with CN SD70M-2 in the lead. Many cars into the train was a lone CN DASH8-40C employed as a DPU (distributed power unit, modern railroad lingo for a radio controlled remote.)

This was a real monster! A land-barge. Just simply huge. Eastbound at Lena, Illinois in the fading evening light.
Meet with the odd-maintainance train feature in yesterday’s Tracking the Light.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I counted the cars. And do you know what? This was the largest/longest train I’d ever seen on the move. That’s with more than 40 years of watching trains. Any guesses as to how many cars? Trust me, it was a doosie!

(To those of you that I’ve told about this already, please keep the correct answer under your hat. And if anyone was working this monster, perhaps you have greater appreciation for its size than I do.)

The answers will be revealed in an up-coming post!

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Surprise at Lena—I wasn’t expecting this (and more!).

A few weeks back, John Gruber and I were on our way back to Madison, Wisconsin from the Mississippi River Valley. We’d followed the old Milwaukee Road up to Lanark, Illinois, then cut northward on Illinois State highways.

The sun was a golden globe in the western sky above rolling corn fields.

At Lena we intersected Canadian National’s former Illinois Central east-west line that connects Chicago with Council Bluffs, Iowa. I noticed that the signals were lit red and that there was something unusual in the siding.

Unusual indeed! It was a self-propelled draw-bar connected train of articulated flatcars for maintenance service. I’d never seen anything like it.

I’d love to tell you all about it, except I know precious little, except that the ‘locomotive’ had EMD Blomberg trucks and the whole machinery carried GREX reporting marks. Perhaps if I do another book on railroad maintenance equipment, I’ll have the opportunity to research this train more thoroughly.

This is one curious looking train. Exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Look ma, no couplers! That’s a straight drawbar connection between the locomotive and cars. Unusual in American railroad practice.
Articulated gons behind the locomotive.
Trailing view of the locomotive. Look! There’s a headlight on the horizon. . . .

While I was studying this unusual railway machine, the eastward signals at the end of the siding changed aspects; the cleared from all red to ‘green over red.’ A train had been lined! Hooray!

Stay tuned!

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Seven Retro-views on Retropan: West Trenton, New Jersey.

On one level the name of the film sounds a bit silly; ‘Retropan.’ This is actually a relatively new emulsion that aims to fulfill a classic aesthetic.

It is a soft, slightly grainy black & white negative film that provides a sensibility that reminds me of photos taken in the 1960s and 1970s.

As far as I’m concern this is a limited application film, but it has it’s place. I’ve documented my experiments with Foma’s Retropan previously over the last year. See:

Retropan 320—My First Experiment.

Retropan on the Rails; Experiments with My second Roll of Foma’s 320 ISO Black & White film.

I made these most recent Retropan photos at along the SEPTA/CSX former Reading Company tracks at West Trenton, New Jersey using a Nikon F3 with 24mm Nikkor lens.

But, yes I also made a few digital color photographs at the same location.

Working with multiple cameras and multiple types of media, allows me to take different visual approaches at the same time.

The old Reading Company station building at West Trenton has been adapted for other applications. In other words the station isn’t a station any more. Confusing matters is that it’s still at the station. Got it?
It’s been a very long time since this old stainless steel electric was the latest thing on steel wheels. These day it’s among SEPTA’s rolling antiques.
Wide-angle views with grainy black & white film screams late 1960s to me.
The ‘smart’ phone bursts the illusion in this view. Obviously not ‘back in the day’.

Well, except all the trains not at this station!

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Looking Down on BNSF—Savanna, Illinois, July 2017.

A long long time ago, back in the 1990s, I’d travel with Mike and Tom Danneman (and others) to the Mississippi River Valley to photograph the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy route to the Twin Cities.

Among our favorite vantage points were river-side bluffs in the Mississippi Palisades State Park north of Savanna, Illinois.

The line on the east bank was Burlington Northern back then. Today it is BNSF Railway (reflecting the 1995 merger between Burlington Northern and Santa Fe).

On a bright afternoon in July, John Gruber and I returned to this old haunt and put ourselves in position to make a few photographs.

As hoped, BNSF operated several trains, and we exposed views from the tops of the bluffs. I made these with my FujiFilm X-T1.

Any favorites?

Looking timetable east toward Savanna.
You can hear eastbound whistle for a crossing a mile or so before they come into view.
A little glint off the river makes for nice atmosphere.
Is this train carrying  oil or ethanol? From this height I wasn’t sure.
Like many trains in the West, this unit tank train had a DPU at the back. (Distributed power unit, railroad lingo for a radio-controlled remotely operated locomotive).
A westward intermodal train races up-river toward the Twin Cities from Chicago. I remember when seeing a double stack train was a BIG deal.
Look an old fashioned car load train!

Tracking the Light posts daily!



Mississippi River: View from a Speed Boat

A couple of weeks back, John Gruber organized a speed-boat trip on the Mississippi River geared at watching trains.

I learned a few things and found the experience exhilarating.

Here’s one of the views made of a BNSF train from the river near the Illinois- Wisconsin state line at East Dubuque, Illinois.

Thanks to Sam Weber.

Exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!


Eastward at Merrimac on the old North Western—lighting challenge; one file and four results.

Here’s a lighting challenge: A freight train crossing a big bridge against an overcast sky.

Expose for the train and the sky gets washed out (loss of detail). Expose for the sky and the train is too dark.

So what do you do?

I expose for the sky and then adjust the file in post processing.

Why? Because it is easy enough to lighten slightly underexposed areas, but once highlight detail is lost through over exposure it cannot be recovered.

To balance the exposure in post processing, I lightened the shadow areas globally. This took all of about 30 seconds to accomplish in Lightroom. I also made minor adjustments to overall color balance and saturation. Afterwards, I played with the file to make some outlandish versions for point of comparison.

Of the four, the second from the top is the only image I’d normally present. The bottom of the four is intended to be a little absurd.

This is an unadjusted JPG scaled from the camera RAW file. In other words, I did not interpret the data, assign color profile, or otherwise alter the appearance of the image.
Wisconsin Southern’s Reedsburg-Madison freight at the Lake Wisconsin Bridge at Merrimac. This is my adjusted file; using Lightroom, I’ve made nominal adjustments to lighten shadows and improve color balance and saturation in order to make for a more realistic and appealing photograph.
For the giggles I made more dramatic alterations to the camera RAW file in this example. Without consideration for realism, I’ve darkened the sky using a digitally applied graduated neutral density filter, pumped up the color saturation and wildly altered the color balance using various controls in Lightroom. This sort of extreme effect is often applied to photos appearing on the net. I’m not a huge fan of candy-cane coloring, but it certainly seems popular and it is easy enough to accomplish.
Here I’ve pushed the limits a little further. All in the name of distorting the image. Incidently, while the original RAW file remains unchanged, the effect of these extreme changes to the JPG output has the effect of compressing the image and results in loss of data that may make the JPG difficult to print the image in a book or magazine. Also the way this appears on your screen may be very different from how I see the image on mine.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.