Square view of the Balcombe Viaduct

This ancient viaduct spans the Ouse Valley in Sussex, England.

I photographed the bridge for a book project on my visit there in June 2001.

This evening view was exposed with a Rolleiflex Model T, loaded with Kodak Tri-X—film that I later processed using a customize mix of Ilfotec HC liquid developer.

This high constrast developer yielded a very tight grain structure with excellent shadow detail, but tended to leave the sky a bit too dense. This flaw was easily corrected with Lightroom, where sky mask feature made for a clean fix.

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Boston & Maine 202 westbound at Greenfield

On November 10, 1985, I had my father’s Rollei loaded with Verichrome Pan black & white 120-size roll film.

Using the camera with the 645-size insert, I photographed Boston & Maine GP38-2 201 leading one of Maine Central’s former Rock Island U25Bs on a westward freight working the Fitchburg route at Greenfield, Massachusetts.

I scanned the negative with my Epson V600 flatbed scanner, then imported the scan into Adobe Lightroom to make a series of contrast and exposure adjustments, while elimintating dusk specs to improve the negative.

I liked the stark quality of Verichrome that made it well suited to November in New England

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Evening Plow Extra at Glen

Yesterday evening Conway Scenic Railroad operated a work extra with GP38 252 and the company’s vintage Russell snow plow.

I wrote the orders for the train, then went out along the line to make some photos with my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera.

Low pastel sunlight made for some beautiful snowy scenes.

I caught the plow extra at Glen, NH, not far from the Ellis River crossing.

Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Z-series zoom lens.

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Crossing a Vestige of the old New Haven Railroad

I made this unusual view at East Deerfield, Massachusetts where Boston & Maine’s Fitchburg route mainline crossed over the former New Haven Railroad line to Turners Falls. This was one of several grade seaparations in the Greenfield area.

120-size roll film negative on Verichrome Pan (125 Iso).

By the time I made this photo in late 1985, the track on the Turners Falls line had been abandoned, but remained largely intact and undisturbed below the weeds.

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Big DIesels at West Springfield.

On a session of the West Springfield Train Watchers, I made this view of four BIG Conrail diesels at the west end of the yard.

It was the evening of July 19, 1983.

I traveled there with Bob Buck in his green Ford van.

As dusk settled, I set up my Leica 3A on a tripod, carefully keeping the yard lights at the edge of the frame. I opened the shutter using the ‘T’ setting and illuminated the train with a Metz strobe to compensate for the inky shadows of the summer evening.

I was keen on making the most of the Conrail C30-7s and SD45-2s leading the evening westbound. These were rare locomotives and worthy of my attention at the time. On the recommendation of my friend and fellow photographer Doug Moore, I’d wrapped the head of the strobe in a white garbage bag to soften and diffuse the light.

Looking back this photo, what strikes me is the relative sophistication my composition. Yet, for years this image sat dormant because of its poor technical qualities. I over processed the film, leading to coarse grain and excessive contrast.

Conrail C30-7s and SD45-2s at West Springfield, Massachusetts on July 19, 1983.

I asked Kris why my early photos benefit from great composition despite their poor technical quality. She suggested that this was because I was making photo for joy of the subject without too much concern for technique.

Over the years my overall techique improved, but as my technical qualities were refined my compositions grew less innovative. Eventually my improved techniques resulted in superior images, but I still look back at my early efforts trying to see what I saw.

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South Monson—1983 & 2018

I’ve had a special request from a regular Tracking the Light subscriber for more Central Vermont. So here we go! Read on . . .

I grew up less three miles from the South Monson crossing, where the Central Vermont Railway crosses Route 32 near the sand & gravel company.

On July 21, 1983, I made one of my earliest solo train chases by car. (Previously, I chased on a ten-speed).

I’d followed a northward CV freight from Stateline toward Palmer, where this met a southward freight led by GP9 4442.

Old 4442 was my favorite of CV’s GP9s. It was my favorite for no other reason than it always seemed to lead the freight coming through Monson, and was almost always in Palmer during my forays there.

I made this view of 4442 southbound crossing Route 32.

Fast forward to August 7, 2018. I’d stepped out of Monson Savings Bank in time to see New England Central GP38 3850 work through town with the Federal Railroad Administration inspection train.

My first point of interception was at the South Monson Crossing.

Digital photo of NECR 3850 leading a southward FRA inspection train at South Monson.
This is nearly the same angle that I’d taken back in 1983.

In the intervening years between these two trains, the trees and line-side foliage have grown!

Also, I notice that my youthful enthusiasm for catching the train in motion seems to have resulted in a more successful photographic composition than my more skilled efforts.

This last point is a topic I plan to explore in great depth in upcoming Tracking the Light posts.

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Black & White SD80MAC at South Fork, Pennsylvania.

Nearly 21 years ago, back in March 2001, photographer Mike Gardner and I photographed this former Conrail SD80MAC leading an empty coal train by the old PRR SO tower at South Fork, Pennsylvania.

I made this medium format black & white photo using a classic Speed Graphic with roll-film back borrowed from regular Tracking the Light reader Doug Moore.

Last week I scanned this 6×9 120 negative using my Epson V600 flatbed scanner and adjusted the RAW file with Adobe Lightroom.

Tri-X.

I have numerous photos of the SD80MACs on Conrail when they were painted in blue and white and working in pairs on the Boston Line. However, I have relatively few images of these BIG 20-cylinder diesels in black & white Norfolk Southern paint.

The SD80MAC was not a common type. Only Conrail received them new frome EMD. Today, they are near extinct. The last I heard, there were just four left.

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Remembering the PRR

Fifty-Four years gone: The late great Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was America’s largest, busiest, and most intensive railroad.

On our trip to Pennsylvania in November we experienced plenty of action along the rails of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. But we also saw several examples of Pennsylvania Railroad freight equipment preserved for display.

I made these digital images of restored PRR equipment as it appeared to me in November 2021.

PRR GP9 7048 at Horseshoe Curve—Altoona, PA.
PRR GP9 7048 at Horseshoe Curve—Altoona, PA.
PRR F30A flatcar at Horseshoe Curve.
PRR N5C caboose at Gallitzin, PA.
PRR-X31A boxcar at Hollidaysburg, PA.
PRR-X31A boxcar at Hollidaysburg, PA.
PRR-X31A boxcar at Hollidaysburg, PA.

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Central Vermont at the Diamond.

September 23, 1984; crisp autumn sunlight made for some nice light to capture a southward Central Vermont freight crossing the Boston & Albany at Palmer, Massachusetts.

I was working with Kodak Tri-X, which I was learning to process in D-76, rather than Microdol-X. D-76 offered broader tonality, but resulted in somewhat coarser grain. Complicating matters, my process time was a bit longer than necessary and I tended to over agitate, which resulted in denser negatives than I’d like.

A comparatively rare Central Vemont lash-up; GP9 4551 and GP18 3602. The former Rock Island GP18 was relatively short lived on CV.
Palmer Union Station at left.

Despite the minor processing flaws, I scanned the negatives last week and made minor corrections in post processing to yield better results.

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Plow Extra!

Yesterday, January 20, 2022 (01-20-2022), Conway Scenic Railroad operated its first plow extra of the season.

This resulted in the vintage Russell Plow being readied for the service it was built for. The extra was needed help clear flangeways of snow and ice accumulation, push back mounds of hardened snow, and to serve as an equipment refresher and training excercise for our crews.

I made this series of photos of the plow and GP35 216 using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera with 24-70mm zoom lens. For this I set the exposure mode to ‘A’ (for automatic/aperture priority), manually dialed in ‘+1/3 stops’ to help compensate for the bright snow, and controlled the aperture manually.

The bright snow conditions tend to result in underexposed railroad images because the camera meter treats the snow as gray rather than white. Thus the need for slight overexposure.

I made some nominal corrections to the camera’s NEF files using Lightroom and converted to moderate size JPGs for internet presentation here.

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Amtrak 50th Anniversary Unit

Last Novemeber, Kris & I timed our visit to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania to coincide with the passage of train 42, the eastward Pennsylvanian, which was led by General Electric Genesis P42 No. 108 painted for the passenger operator’s 50th Anniversary (1971 to 2021).

I made these views of the specially painted diesel using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.

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Reading Vista from the Vista Cruiser.

In August 1981, my family and I were on a loosely mapped vacation in Pennsylvania.

On the second day of our trip, we were driving from Hazelton to Strasburg to visit the famous Strasburg Rail Road.

Fast forward 41 years: yesterday, if you’d asked me if I’d ever photographed Conrail running freight on the old Reading Company, I’d have been hard pressed to come up with an answer.

And, yet here is a Conrail caboose crossing PA 501 near Prescott, PA exposed on the move from the rear window of our 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser!

Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens-Kodak 5063 (Tri-X) processed in Microdol-X developer.

I scanned the negative a little while ago. Unsure as to the location, I enlarged the photo. Thinking back, I recalled a train crossing over us enroute, but as a teenager wasn’t good with my Pennsylvania geography. Looking a the photo, I noticed the Route 501 sign, which gave me the needed clue.

A quick Google search placed this location near Prescott (where 501 ducks under the former Reading Company Crossline route). Looking a Google Earth, I’ve nearly confirmed the location.

Ironically, the next few frames on the roll show static cabooses at Strasburg’s The Red Caboose caboose-themed motel. Ironic, because in 1981, cabooses (of all colors) were still common on most America freight trains.

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T-6 Square

This is not a problem.

In 2007 while working on my book Railroads of Pennsylvania, I visited the Middletown & Hummelstown, a short line operating a short section of the former Reading Company.

I made this 2 1/4 inch square Fujichrome transparency using my Rolleiflex Model T.

The focus of the image was the Alco Products builder’s plate on the model T-6 switcher.

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Conrail at Milepost 119

Here’s a photo from my black & white archives that I’d completely dismissed. I’d exposed it at Huntington, Massachusetts in March 1985.

There were a few of problems with this image that irked me.

The first was cosmic. Moments before I release the shutter, a cloud coverd the front of the train. That sort of thing used to drive me nuts.

The second was strategic. I’d released the shutter a little earlier than I’d like, leaving the train just a bit distant. I didn’t have a motor drive in those days, and typically would wait for the decisive moment to take my photo.

The third was a chronic failing from my Leica 3 days. I tended to photograph slightly off level, leaving most of my photos annoyingly tilted.

All of these flaws are now easily overcome using Adobe Lightroom.

I altered the exposure and contrast to correct for the obscured sun, while bringing in sky detail partially lost to over exposure. I cropped the photo to minimize the foreground, and this pleasantly altered the composition to feature the code lines to the right of the locomotives and milepost 119 on the left. Lastly, I leveled the image, a task that take now about 2 seconds.

Looking at this photo now, I find that I’m very pleased with it. It has aged very well. The minor flaws don’t bother me, since these were easily corrected, while the overall subject fascinates me. It is the time machine I needed today.

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Here’s the original, unaltered image for comparison.

Back End of an Odd Locomotive

Electro-Motive Division’s BL2 was one of the strangest looking diesels of the mid-20th century.

On my visit to Bangor & Aroostook’s Northern Maine Junction yard (near Bangor, Maine) in July 1983, I made a variety of photos of stored diesels.

At the time, most of Bangor & Aroostook’s BL2 and F3 fleet was out of service. I was fascinated by these antiques.

Working with my Leica 3A, I made this study of the rear-end of BL2 number 55 surrounded by other stored diesels.

Although bizarre in appearance, EMD’s BL2 was mechanically and electrically very similar to the model F3,

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Norfolk Southern Local at Hunt

It was a warm November morning, when Kris and I visited Huntingdon, Pennsylvania on the old Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division.

Years ago, my old pal TSH and I would visit his grandmother who lived in Huntingdon. Kris and I drove around the village and I located the row house where Gram H. once lived. Then we proceeded to the Amtrak station to wait for the eastward Pennsylvanian.

Norfolk Southern fielded a few freights ahead of Amtrak, including this short local frieght led by a lone SD70ACU. Back in the old days, a pair of GP38-2s would have been standard on the local.

Norfolk Southern local freight passes HUNT tower in Huntingdon, PA.

Photos exposed using my Nikon Z6 with f2.8 70-200mm zoom lens.

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Springfield Monochrome

March 1985: working with Ilford FP4 black & white film, I made this view of Amtrak’s Charter Oak paused for its station stop at Springfield Union Station, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Amtrak F40PH 228 leads the westward Charter Oak at Springfield Union Station in March 1985.

I processed the film in Kodak D76.

As was too often the case back in the mid-1980s, I over processed my film which resulted in excessively contrasty negatives. This is easily corrected with today’s technology.

Last week I scanned the 37-year old negative using my Epson V600 flatbed scanner. I made some nominal adjustments to exposure and contrast using Adobe Lightroom.

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Tunnel Inn View

In mid-November , this was the view looking west from our room at Gallitzin’s Tunnel Inn located adjacent to Norfolk Southern’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line near the tunnels under the Allegheny Divide.

I made this photo with my Nikon Z6 with f4.0 24-70mm zoom lens.

Kris & I spent two days and two nights at this excellent railroad themed bed & breakfast while exploring the old Main Line & environs.

I was impressed that some of my titles were on the shelf!

Neat place.

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Alcos at Dublin Street

On January 27, 1984, I made a few photos of Central Vermont Alco RS-11s switching at Dublin Street in Palmer, Massachusetts.

Locomotive 3608 was a rare bird on CV’s Palmer Subdivision. I only caught it in daylight on a few occasions. This RS-11 was distinctive for its boxy chopped nose on its short hood.

I scanned this negative a few days ago using my Epson V600 flatbed scanner and made some very minor post-processing adjustments to contrast using Adobe Lightroom.

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Ten Years ago in Austria

On this day ten years ago (January 11, 2012), I spent an afternoon with my Irish friends Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe around Werfen, Austria, photographing the ÖBB in action .

I made this selection of photos with my Canon EOS-7D—a camera that I still own, and still occasionally use.

I love the Canon color palatte, and this really shows in these digital photos in the snowy landscape along the river Salzach.

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Crossing Tender Bangor, Maine

During a week-long vacation to coastal Maine in July 1983 to visit my grand parents, I was given the keys to the family Ford for the day. On the recommendation of my friend Bob Buck, I visited a host of interesting railroad locations in Maine.

My forth stop was at Bangor, where I photographed the Maine Central yard and a local freight switching there using my Leica 3A.

The negative for this black & white image had resided in a marked envelope until last week when I finally scanned it.

In 1983, my photographic processing abilities were rudimentary, and frankly I wasn’t very good at developing black & white film. Only recently, I was able to overcome some of the technical failings in this image by adjusting the scan I made using Adobe Lightroom.

Adjusted and altered scan at Bangor Yard. Photo expsoed in July 1983.
Version ‘B’ with additional adjustments.

Unlike some of my photos displayed on Tracking the Light that only receive minor corrections to tweak contrast or exposure, in this image I needed to make some fairly substantial corrections to contrast and exposure, while eliminating a host of spots.

There’s virtually nothing in this scene remaining today, and now manned crossings are nearly extinct.

Just for comparison, this is an un-modified version of the same scan (scaled for internet presentation). Hard midday backlighting made for a difficult photo, poor processing on my part made it worse. Yet, the subject matter is interesting.

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Sun, Snow and Shadows at Attitash.

Yesterday, I was up early to help prepare for Conway Scenic Railroad’s first Snow Trains of the season.

I’d arranged a two-hourly interval schedule, based on a 930am boarding for the first train at North Conway.

It was clear and cold with a blue polarized sky.

I traveled with the head-end crew on the first two trains, and used the layover at Attitash as an opportunity to make photographs.

Since there is no run around track at the Attitash Whistle Stop, Conway Scenic Railroad operates the train ‘top and tailed’ (to borrow a British phrase) with locomotives at each end of the train. GP38 252 was positioned at the westend, GP38 255 at the east. The locomotives are not operated in multiple.

After arrival at Attitash, the head-end crew cuts out the westward locomotive, then sets up the engine at the eastend.

My visual challenge is the high contrast situation at Attitash caused by bright sun on fresh snow and inky shadows. Complicating matter was slight back lighting.

Fortunately, my Nikon Z6 has great exposure latitude, which facilitates post processing adjustment to help mitigate the harsh lighting situation.

I made more conventional images of the east end of the train at North Conway.

First 2022 Snow Train at Attitash.
First 2022 Snow Train at Attitash.
First 2022 Snow Train at Attitash.
Mascot fireman.
GP38 255 on the Snow Train at North Conway.
GP38 252 on the Snow Train at North Conway.

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Snow Train Advertisement

In my capacity as Manager of Marketing & Events at Conway Scenic Railroad, I’ve launched a cross-media advertising campaign to promote the railroad’s winter season Snow Trains that run from the North Conway, New Hampshire Station to the Attitash Whistle Stop near the village of Bartlett.

This service begins today (January 8, 2022) and runs weekends through March 6, plus holidays and vacation weeks.

I exposed the original photograph of GP7 573 on the Snow Train during the 2021 Snow Train season using my Fujifilm XT1 fitted with a 12mm Zeiss Tuoit.

This image is featured in Conway Scenic billboard advertising as well as print ads in the Conway Daily Sun, Vibe magazine, Union Leader, Portland Magazine, among other area publications.

Photos by Brian Solomon, ad design by Silverline Graphics.

In addition to advertising the train, I’ve worked closely with Conway Scenic Railroad Train Master, Mike Lacey in refining numerous details of Snow Train operation. This has included working out running times, drafting the operating timetable, producing public schedules, etc.

I plan to travel on the first Snow Trains this morning! (Saturday January 8, 2022)

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Norfolk Southern at Hollidaysburg.

On our way east on Route 22 last November, Kris and I overtook a Norfolk Southern local freight with a GP40-2 slug set that was switching on a vestige of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Hollidaysburg, PA.

I made these digital photos working with my Nikon Z6 and 24-70 and 70-200mm zoom lenses.

The stone retaining wall along the road caught my attention.

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White River Junction

On the way home from Christmas, Kris & I stopped in at White River Junction, Vermont.

I made these photos of New England Central GP38 3857 using my Lumix LX7.

This locomotive is now among the last in the railroad’s classic navy and gold paint scheme that debuted with the railroad at its start-up in 1995.

I made some nominal adjustments to contrast and color saturation using Adobe Lightroom.

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Palmer Yard—Spring 1985

Another choice image from my recently scanned roll of Ilford FP4 exposed in Spring 1985.

I made this view with a 50mm lens looking timetable west at the west end of Conrail’s old Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, Massachusetts. I had driven in behind Howlett’s Lumber to photograph a Sperry rail defect detection car that was stored near the B&A freight house.

Just about everything in this scene has changed. The freight house was demolished in Janaury 1989. The large building at right beyond burned down some years later. The code lines were removed after the B&A was re-signaled in 1986-1987.

I’ve posted two versions of this photo. The top is my unaltered and uncorrected scan. The bottom reflects a series of nominal adjustments using Adobe Lightroom.

Unadjusted sca&W negative. Back in the day, I suffered from a propensity to tilt my camera to the right, leaving many fine photos flawed by being off-level. I also had a tendency to over process my negatives, which led to ‘white skies’ and excessive highlight contrast.

In this view, I leveled the image by rotating it about 2 degrees clockwise. I then adjusted sky density and contrast and make overall changes to image contrast and density to improve tonality and detail..

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Amtrak 321 leading train 448 Eastbound at West Brookfield.

I scribbled locations and dates on an envelope back in the Spring of 1985, when ‘d processed this roll of Ilford FP4.

I’d bulk-rolled the film myself, thus allowing 39 frames on one roll of film, which I then exposed with a Leica 3A between March 31 and April 6 (my notes say April 5) 1985.

I recall the day, which was a Sunday. I started photographing in Palmer, Massachusetts, where I met Mike Tylick and his young son. I then followed Conrail’s former Boston & Albany route east in pursuit of a slow moving freight.

At West Brookfield, Massachusetts I caught up with my friend Bob Buck, who was train watching while reading his Sunday newspaper.

In this photograph, I’ve posed Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited, train 448, led by F40PH-2 #321, by the 1840s-era Western Railroad passenger station, which is among the oldest surviving railroad buildings in New England.

I’d borrowed my parent’s Chevy Impala (seen at the left) as I didn’t yet have my own car. The front of Bob’s green Ford van can be seen at the right.

Conrail’s B&A was still directional double track under rule 251 that governed movements in the current of traffic by signal indication.

My photo skills weren’t fantastic, but rapidly improving.

Last night I scanned this image using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner, and adjusted the RAW file from the scanner using Adobe Lightroom. This included cropping of the top of the frame to limit the amount of sky and the bottom of the frame to minimize foreground clutter.

The actual date of the photo confounds me. I know it was a Sunday, which was either March 31 or April 6. Somewhere I have a small six-ring orange notebook filled with my photo notes from 1985. This will likely solve my date quandary. But does anyone really care?

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GP38s lead New Year’s Special.

Former Maine Central GP38s 252 and 255, led Conway Scenic’s New Years Special trip to Sawyer River on January 2, 2022.

I made this photo using my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm zoom lens.

For dramatic effect, I set my zoom to a relatively long focal length and placed the camera on level plane with the rail for this ‘low angle’ view.

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EXTRA!! The Engine that Saved Itself.


LUCKY BREAK!

This morning (January 2, 2022) a fire started in the cab of Conway Scenic Railroad’s steam locomotive 7470.

At this point the cause is believed to have stemmed from a fault with the engine radio. The fire damaged a spring in the whistle valve that set off the engine whistle. The shrieking whistle alerted our steam locomotive mechanic who called 911.

I was called shortly after 6am and proceeded to the roundhouse where I made these photos in my capacity as Manager of Marketing & Events for Conway Scenic Railroad.


While there is minor damage to engine 7470’s cab and minimal damage to the 1874-built roundhouse, the situation could have been much worse. You could write a story: ‘The engine that saved itself!”
Thanks to the North Conway Fire Department and everyone that assisted in preventing spread of the fire.


Conway Scenic’s ‘New Year’s Special to Sawyer River’ will proceed as advertised. Motive power will be former Maine Central diesels.
Boarding is at 12 noon today (January 2, 2022).

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Noctunal Views from the Tunnel Inn.

Among the features of staying at the Tunnel Inn in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania is the porch at the back of the building that over looks the Main Line.

This is equipped with lights designed to illuminate the railroad to aid in the views of passing freights.

On our second evening at the Tunnel Inn back in mid-November (2021), I exposed this sequence of eastward Norfolk Southern freight 36A (Conway Yard to Edgemore, Delaware).

This was an enormous freight. In addition to head-end power, there were both mid-train and tail-end distributed power units (remote control diesels).

I made all these photos using my Nikon Z6.

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Manulla Junction—May 2002

2002 was a productive year for my photographic adventures.

Working with my Contax G2, I exposed this sequence of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X at Irish Rail’s Manulla Junction in County Mayo.

This isolated station served as the transfer point for passengers traveling on the Ballina Branch.

In the the long view, the Ballina branch train can be seen to the right, with the Westport-Dublin train on the left.

Leading the Dublin train is Irish Rail Class 201 #215.

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