Category Archives: railroads

By Goves—Take Two.

Yesterday (September 13, 2022) I returned to Goves, where the old Maine Central Mountain Division ducks under Route 302 east of Bartlett, NH, to again photograph Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer on its westward run to Crawford Notch.

The other day in my Tracking the Light Post, ‘Poles and Wires Conundrum,’ I described my compositional frustrations with this location.

Working with my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens, I selected a slightly lower position that was a bit closer to the tracks.

On this attempt, the Mountaineer had two units and seven cars, which made for a more photogenic train. Also, it was brightly overcast, which helped to minimize the poles and wires, and I opted for a tight crop.

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Amtrak California Zephyr

I love to gaze across the great expanse of the desert. On the morning of September 4, 1996, we climbed atop one of the ‘mud mounds’ at Floy in the Utah desert east of Green River and waited for Amtrak No.6—the California Zephyr.

I made this trailing view on Fujichrome Velvia slide film with my Nikon F3T fitted with a Nikkor f4.0 200mm prime telephoto.

Amtrak’s long distance trains were in the transition between the 1970s-era F40PH-2s and the mid-1990s era General Electric GENESIS™ P40s and in this view of the California Zephyr featured one of each locomotives.

At the back of the train was a private car with its single red light marking the rear.

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Compare: RAW versus Camera-Profiled JPG

On August 28, 2014, I made this photo of a down InterCity Railcar on Irish Rail’s Quad Track near Clondalkin in west suburban Dublin.

I was photographing with my Canon EOS7D fitted with a prime f2.8 200mm lens.

I had the camera set up to simultaneously expose a Hi-Res RAW and a color-profiled JPG file using the Canon pre-programed ‘Standard’ setting. (Recorded to the file as ‘sRGB IEC61966-2.1’)

Normally, I’d make adjustments to the RAW file.

In this case, I’ve opted to display the two files without adjustment for point of comparison.

Canon JPG with camera ‘Standard’ color profile: ‘sRGB IEC61966-2.1’
Canon camera RAW (CR2 file).

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August 28, 2012

Ten years ago (August 28, 2012), I made this photo from my standard location overlooking Islandbridge Junction in Dublin of the morning’s down IWT Liner, led by Irish Rail Class 071 number 073.

Working with a zoom lens, I made vertical and horizontal images of the freight as it worked around the bend this was facilitated by my ability to change focal lengths quickly.

My question is: does the ability to change focal lengths rapidly allow for better photos or does it make the photographer lazy?

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BNSF Switcher in Seattle, Washington.

On our way back from Tokyo in April 1997, my dad and I stopped over in Seattle, Washington.

Although I was in a haze of Jet lag from the long flight, we rented a car and drove around . Near the downtown, we set up to make photos of the waterfront trolley line, which at that time served Seattle. The trolley tracks were parallel to BNSF tracks. While waiting for the trolley, this BNSF switcher and caboose came by.

The switcher, according to published rosters, was a former Great Northern EMD SW1200 built in Spring 1957. So at the time of the photo, the locomotive was 40 years old. I wonder what became of it?

The slides sat in the little green Fujichrome box until this morning, when I opened it up and scanned this image.

After scanning a hi-res TIF image, I imported the file into Adobe Lightroom and made some adjustements to improve color balance, exposure and contrast.

The top image is my scaled by unadjusted scan, the bottom image reflects my adjustments.

Scaled, but unmodified scan.
Adjusted scans

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Something Random and Familiar

I was looking for something else and I found a box of Fujichrome slides: on it was written ‘VRS’. Nothing more.

Inside are a bunch of gems from early 1998. Photographer Mike Gardner and I had made a trip to Rutland, Vermont where we photographed a Vermont Rail System local freight that worked a Clarendon & Pittsford job to a quarry.

This was just a few weeks before I made my first trip to England and Ireland. Months later when I returned from across the Atlantic, this box of slides sat on my desk. I don’t think I ever look at it. None of the slides are labled and they are all in numerical order.

Today, it has special significance to me. Leading the train is Clarendon & Pittsford GP38 number 203.

That’s former Maine Central 255, now Conway Scenic 255. It is the locomotive I see almost every day! Back then it was just another red VRS EMD diesel.

I scanned the slide using a Nikon LS5000 scanner driven by VueScan software. I scanned as a high-res TIF file then imported into Adobe Lightroom for some minor adjustments.

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Union Pacific Station-Caliente, Nevada.

I made this photo of the old Union Pacific station at Caliente, Nevada in March 1997. Photographer Mel Patrick and I had been following the Los Angeles & Salt Lake route west from Utah.

Not far from Caliente we’d discovered one of the tires had developed a serious defect. It wasn’t flat, but it was about to be!

We arrived in town too late to visit the local mechanic, so stayed overnight across from the station. Before sunrise, I went over to the railroad and exposed a series of Fujichrome slides of the UP station using my Nikon F3T that I’d fitted with Mel’s 16mm full-frame fisheye.

This unusual lens lent itself to photos like this one.

I’ve only visited Caliente once in my life.

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Valley Crew Portraits

Recently, Conway Scenic Railroad invested in new employee uniforms.

Yesterday, I made a few portraits of the Valley crew on the platform of the North Conway station, shortly before the train was ready to board for Sawyers River.

These photos were exposed as NEF Raw files using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm zoom, and processed in Adobe Lightroom to adjuste highlight and shadow detail, over all color temperature, and sky detail.

The advantage of the Nikon NEF Raw is that it captures an enormous volume of data.

I posted versions of these photos to the company’s social media to help promote the railroad.

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Pacer Crosses the Canal in Leeds

A Northern Rail Pacer style railbus crosses an old canal off the River Aire near the Leeds Railway Station on August 11, 2014.

I made this image from the rooftop of the Doubletree Hotel using my Canon EOS7D with an f2.0 100mm prime lens. The wink of sun on an otherwise dull day made for some wonderful light.

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Union Pacific SD70ACe-the Dark Side.

Over the last few days I’ve been reviewing thousands of my photos of Union Pacific trains for consideration in a book that I’m completing on the railroad. Consider the photo below:

Six years ago, I was poised at Woodford, California along the former Southern Pacific in the Tehachapis to photograph an ascending Union Pacific freight heading toward Tehachapi Summit.

Leading was a clean SD70ACe with UP’s bold wings painted on the front.

I made a sequence of images as the train passed. This one caught my eye because it really shows the sharp angles of this powerful diesel-electric at work.

The contrast between the sunlit locomotive nose and the inky shadows along the side the locomotive combined with a little telephoto compression helped make for a more dramatic image.

Exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 with a Fujinon X-series 18-135mm lens.

Would an evenly lit photo have the same effect?

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DPU at Tunnel 2-August 6, 2016

Hot dry California sun on the afternoon of August 6, 2016.

We were in that Mecca of train watching places: California’s Tehachapi Pass.

A Union Pacific freight with Tier4 GE’s was working its way timetable east, ascending through Tunnel 2 near Bealville.

At the back of the train was this nearly new unit working as a radio controlled distributed power unit.

JPG exposed using my FujiFilm XT1.

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Railroad Details

Yesterday, I wandered around the station at North Conway seeking detail images of the property to post to social media to help promote Conway Scenic Railroad.

The ‘station’ being more than just the building, but the whole property where the railroad conducts its business.

Photos made with a Nikon Z6 digital camera.

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Lumix and the Locomotive

Does equipment make a difference?

When I started producing Tracking the Light a decade ago, my thought was to offer very detailed essays focused on photographic technique, processes, and how to make the most of specific pieces of equipment.

My format has since morphed into something less detailed and more visual.

I often carry my Lumix LX7 digital camera because it is compact, lightweight and yet has the ability to make exceptionally sharp photos that I can use in books and magazines.

Yesterday, I made these images with the LX7 of Conway Scenic steam locomotive 7470. I used some photos for the company Facebook page and hope to use them in advertising.

Although these photos were scaled, what you see here are the in-Camera JPGs without significant alteration to color, contrast, exposure or sharpness.

If I were working with a different digital camera system, how might that have changed my results?

Yesterday, I also exposed some Ektachrome of 7470 using my 30-year old Nikon F3 with f1.8 105mm lens.

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Amtrak 449 on the eve of Change

May 4, 1997: I exposed this Fujichrome slide of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited (Boston section), train 449 rolling down the Quaboag River Valley near the former Boston & Albany station at West Brimfield, Massachusetts.

This was at a time when the train was carrying a fair amount of freight and mail on the head and tail ends of the passenger consist, and shortly before Amtrak replaced the old EMD F40PHs with new Genesis P42 diesels.

It was just about two years before Conail’s class 1 operations were divided and the old Boston & Albany was conveyed to CSX.

Exposed using a Nikon N90S with 80-200mm Nikon zoom.

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Late Number 5 at Gold Run.

Back in 1990, Amtrak’s westward California Zephyr, train No.5, typically traversed Donner Pass midday.

On this July 1990 afternoon, the train was several hours behind the advertised. I pictured it near Gold Run, California on the west slope of Donner.

I’ve been going through my Southern Pacific and Union Pacific photos searching for material for my next book on Union Pacific and its component railroads.


Although this is an old favorite photo, I’ll likely defer to images that show SP or UP freight trains for the final book selections.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25  using a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC (perspective control) lens.

Scanned with a Nikon LS 5000 slide scanner. Multipass scan.

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Holding Back the Best

Yesterday, I was discussing photography with my Fiancée, Kris as we drove through rural western Maine.

I explained that I rarely display the photos that I feel are my finest work.

Why? The reason is very simple. I made the best photos for me, and I can be selfish. I put a huge amount of work into some of these images and I’m holding them back for just the right moment.

In 1994, I spent months photographing Southern Pacific. One of my favorite lines was SP’s remote Modoc Line, especially the section built on the old Nevada-California-Oregon three-foot gauge alignment across the Modoc Plateau between Wendel and Alturas, California.

At the end of the day on May 21, 1994, I was poised near Indian Camp, waiting beneath a desert sky with chocolate clouds as a Wendel-bound freight worked across the desert floor. Beyond, the railroad twisted and turned through the Likely Loop and up toward the sinuous Indian Camp Loop.

For more than half and hour, I could hear the low harmonic pulsating exhaust of EMD 20-cylinder diesels as the train gradually drew closer.

Working with my Nikon F3T loaded with K25 slide film, I exposed a series of silhouettes as the long freight growled through Indian Camp.

In 1999, I published one of these images on page 11 of my book titled Narrow Gauge Locomotives.

The rest remain sequestered.

The best way to perceive this image is to view it projected from the original Kodachrome slide upon a reflective screen in a darkened room.

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Workin’ on the railroad; Ballasting the Mountain

A few weeks ago, I accompanied the Conway Scenic Railroad ballast train on its journey up the Mountain.

I had multiple things on my agenda: we needed a accurate accessment of where ballast was needed for future trips; I wanted to inspect the limits of some recent slow orders; I’m looking to rework the company Timetable and was checking various aspects of the right-of-way; and I wanted to photograph the ballast train crew at work.

Many years ago, I traveled with a branch line ballast train in Ireland, where the locomotive driver said to me, “My crew, they’re allergic to work!”

Nothing could further from the truth with Conway Scenic’s work train crew. Dumping stone is a physically taxing job and not for the faint of heart. Our guys put 110 percent of effort into the job and earn every dime of their pay.

By contrast, all I had to do was run along with the train, make notes and expose digital photos—a few of which I’ve posted here.

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Eastbound Pigs at Dawn

I like allusive titles . . . 

At 6:38am on March 15, 1997 near Sagers, Utah, photographer Mel Patrick & I were set up to photograph this Burlington Northern Santa Fe container-on-flatcar/trailer-on-flatcar train as it worked east behind a pair of former Burlington Northern SD40-2s.

I exposed this color slide on Fujichrome film using my Nikon N90S with 80-200 zoom lens. Although this image appeared in print many years ago, I opted to scan it last night using an Nikon  LS-5000 scanner for presentation here.

I find it hard to believe I made the photo more than 25 years ago!

I like the pink sky, I feel it goes well with my mixed-metaphorical Pink Floyd title reference.

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Northern Pacific Semaphores, Montana

In July 1994, I was on a grand adventure driving from California to Wisconsin to begin a new job at Pentrex Publishing.

I had several weeks to make the drive and plotted a course designed to inspect and photograph railways along the way.

Three years earlier my pal TSH and I had visited the Montana Rail Link where were spent a morning making photos on Winston Hill east of Helena. Movements on this former Northern Pacific line was still protected by General Railway Signal upper quadrant semaphores.

So on July 10, 1994, I revisited Montana’s Winston Hill. Among my photos that day was this one made as part of a sequence showing a westward BN freight descending toward Helena.

I was working with my Nikon F3T loaded with Kodachorme 25 and fitted with a Nikkor 35mm PC (perspective control lens) and a circular polarizing filter.

At the time, I would apply the polarizer to better balance the contrast between shadows and highlights in back-lit situations on bright sunny days. Notice the effects of the clouds and back lit foreground flowers.

Among the challanges of this arrangment is that it reduced the working ISO of the film from 25 to about 8 (which is extremely slow. Today, I typically work with ISO 200 or higher in digital format).

In this situation a motion blur benefits my illustration, as it shows a ‘clear’ signal ahead of the westward train.

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Secaucus

For today’s Tracking the Light, I was looking for a photo I made on June 27, 1983 at Secaucus.

Instead, I found this photo at Secaucus, exposed nearly 32 years later.

In the interval, Secaucus had been completely transformed.

It was a hazy summer morning on June 26, 2015, when I exposed this view of a New Jersey Transit train on the former Erie using my first Lumix LX7. I had traveled on this train from Suffern. The engine is at the back of a push-pull set.

The photo I was looking for was of a former PRR GG1 crossing over the Erie. This one is more technically competent, if not as interesting. I’ll need to find my old Kodachrome slide.

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June 21, 2011-Crew Change at Palmer, Mass.

Eleven years ago, I made this end of daylight view on the longest day of the year at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.

CSX’s westward freight Q423 had stopped to change crews. In those days, Q423 ran from Worcester, Mass., to Selkirk, NY. I cannot recall why the crew was on short time.

I made the exposure using my Canon EOS-7D at 6400 ISO at 1/3 second, f3.5 using a prime 28mm lens.

The Canon 7D is an excellent camera. I’ve had mine for a dozen years and exposed thousands of digital photos with it. It’s higher ISO settings are weak compared with modern cameras. Here the 6400 ISO setting appears relatively pixelated. Yet at the time I was delighted to the ability to use such a fast ISO setting at the twist of a dial.

File adjusted in Lightroom from the Canon 7D camera RAW file. Color, contrast and exposure were modified during post processing.

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Starlight at Tarratine!

On our last evening at Moosehead Lake, Kris and I made a strategic drive to Tarratine, Maine hoping to intercept Canadian Pacific’s westbound freight, #223, at the grade crossing with Route 6.

Within five minutes of our arrival, we could hear a whistle far to the east. Gradually the chug of General Electric diesels grew louder and more pronounced.

Kris set up her FujiFilm XT4, while I positioned my Nikon Z6 on my ancient Bogen tripod.

The moon was rising and the stars were glistening above. The time was approaching 11pm.

I made this sequence with the Z6 fitted with my 24-70mm zoom. The camera was set to ISO 400 and my exposures varied from 2.5 seconds to 30 seconds at f4.

After exposure, I made nominal adjustments to color and exposure in Adobe Lightroom.

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Tarratine—by Day!

A week ago Kris and I visited the crossing at Tarratine, west of Rockwood, Maine where we waited for the eastward Canadian Pacific freight number 132.

This remote crossing bisects the track in a sweeping curve in the forest. We waited here for quite some time. Finally, I heard the distant sound of laboring General Electric diesels. And then, finally, a distant whistle.

I set up with my Nikon Z6 fitted with a f2.8 70-200mm Z-series zoom. When the train came into view, I exposed a series of digital images and made a pair of color slides on Ektachrome.

The slides remain latent (unprocessed), but here are a few of my digital images.

Some my regular viewers on Tracking the Light have expressed interest in seeing more photos of the freight cars behind the locomotives. So I’ve included a few of those images too.

Later that night, Kris and I returned to this same crossing where we made a series of night photographs of the westward freight. Those will be featured in another posting.

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Fortuity at Brownville Junction.

Until Kris and I visited last week during our survey of Canadian Pacific’s Moosehead Sub, I had last made photos at Brownville Junction, Maine in 1997.

We arrived just in time to see a set of three nicely painted leased GATX Locomotive Group GP40s getting ready to depart the east end of the yard. These were operated by Irving Transportation’s NBM Railways, which runs the former Canadian Pacific east from Brownville Junction toward St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.

When I spotted these engines departing the yard, I acted quickly and pulled off to the side of the road, and framed up a view of the engines crossing a deck bridge.

Interestingly, it seems that GATX 3050 was originally Baltimore & Ohio GP40 3717. In 1984, on a visit to Brownville Junction with my late friend Robert A. Buck, we photographed a B&O GP40 in a consist on an eastward CP Rail freight at time the railroad had leased locomotives from Chessie System. Wouldn’t that be cool if this was the very same GP40! (I’ll need to find my photos from 1984 and check it out).

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The Sun Shines at East Outlet 

On Wednesday (June 7, 2022), I walked from our lake-side cabin at Moosehead, Maine to Canadian Pacific’s East Outlet Bridge with the hope of catching the eastward 132 freight.

Not long after I arrived, the skies opened to a light drizzle. Gradually drizzle turned to a steady rain. The rain stirred up Maine’s famous mosquitoes. So after more than an hour of waiting under a tree, I was beginning to question my intentions. Yet having stood out in the elements, I decided to wait a while longer.

Finally, off to the west, I heard a distant train whistle! Hooray, it had to be CP’s 132! (Normally the railroad only operates one train east and one west every 24 hours.)

After another seven minutes, the sky brightened and a headlight came into view. By the time the train reached the East Outlet Bridge at Moosehead, the sun was out and shining brightly!

My perseverance was rewarded! Walking back to the cabin, I claimed this effort as a success.

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New Brunswick, NJ-April 1978

I rarely used color negative film.

One notable exception was during the Winter-Spring 1978, when I exposed two rolls of Kodacolor II that had been given to me during the previous winter holidays as a gift.

On a bright April day, my father brought me along the Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to photograph the passing trains, where I made the most of the second of two 36-exposure rolls.

Working with a Leica fitted with 200mm Telyt lens using a Visoflex (reflex attachment), I made this view at New Brunswick, New Jersey of a southward Amtrak train led by a relatively new General Electric E60CH crossing the Raritan River.

In 2016, I scanned my old negatives, which despite being stored in glassine envelopes had withstood the passage of time reasonably well.

Kodacolor film had a distinctive color palate.

All things being equal, I wish I’d made the photo on Kodachrome slide film, but considering I was only 11 years old, I did pretty well!

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Ballast Train at Girders

There’s a certain satisfaction in repetition with a variation on a theme.

On October 1, 2021, I posted a view of Conway Scenic’s Mountaineer crossing the Girders Bridge at Crawford Notch, NH. See: http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/2021/10/01/mountaineer-at-the-girders/

On Monday, May 30, 2022, I photographed the company ballast train at almost precisely the same place. In these views Conway Scenic GP35 216 works upgrade with three loaded ballast cars plus rider coach 6743.

I made these recent photos using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens. Working with the camera RAW files, I made adjustments to color and contrast using Adobe Lightroom.

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Inchicore in the Details

Last month I was invited on an official tour of Irish Rail’s Inchicore Works. I joined a small group of journalists preparing a feature on the upcoming 175th Anniversary open house that occured about 10 days later (after I returned to the USA).

On my casual walk-around I had the opportunity to chat with a variety of Irish Rail employees and retirees.

In addition to some photos of locomotives and railcars, I made numerous vignettes of the shops and the details thereof using my Lumix LX7.

In a future post, I’ll include some more of the locomotive photos.

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Vermonter at White River Junction

On Thursday, May 12, 2022, Kris and I stopped by the railroad station at White River Junction, Vermont to catch train 55, the southward Vermonter.

It was a clear bright morning and pleasantly warm.

I made this pair of photos using my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm Nikkor Z-series zoom.

I recalled to Kris my first visit to this station back in May 1985 when my pal T.S. Hoover and I had driven over night to witness the crew change on the northward Montrealer. An event that occurred in the wee hours shortly before sunrise.

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Three Trains at Islandbridge Junction.

Toward the end of April, for the second morning in a row, I was in position at ‘the box’ on St Johns Road in Dublin to witness the passing of Irish Rail’s down IWT liner.

It was a cosmic alignment. The sun came out just as three trains converged upon Islandbridge Junction. The first was an ICR that emerged from the Phoenix Park Tunnel and stopped across from Platform 10. The second was an ICR heading toward the tunnel.

Then the down IWT liner emerged from the tunnel weaved around both ICRs on its way through the junction.

Sometimes, it helps to be in place at the best spot and just wait out the action.

Exposed in April 2022 using a Lumix LX7 digital camera.

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Six Lumix Views of Branch Ballast Extra

Yesterday, Thursday May 5, 2022 was a beautiful bright day in Conway, New Hampshire.

I traveled with the ballast train, which was the only train moving over the Conway Scenic Railroad.

Since the train made a number of stops to drop stone, I had ample opportunity to make photographs.

I exposed these views with my Lumix LX7, but also made a few photos of the lads working the train using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera. I’m saving the Z6 photos for a later post.

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Work Extra at Puddin’ Pond

Another in my ballast train series.

Yesterday, April 22, 2022, Conway Scenic Railroad operated a Work Extra on the Redstone Line to Pudding Pond to dump ballast.

I traveled with the train and used my Panasonice Lumix LX7 to document the work.

This was the first time since the railroad acquired former Maine Central GP38 255 that it worked out the Redstone Branch as far east as Pudding Pond.

The significance of this foray east was that old 255 would have routinely worked Maine Central freights on this same section of track between the late 1960s and the early 1980s.

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Thalys at Gare du Nord—1999.

In the Spring of 1999, I traveled on the Thalys highspeed service from Brussels Midi to Paris Gare du Nord.

Shortly after my arrival in Paris, I made this view of Thalys trainsets on the platform of the station using my Nikon fitted with a 24mm lens.

At the time I was working with my old Nikon F3T loaded with Fujichrome Sensia II (100 ISO).

I had the film processed by A&I lab in California.

This was one of many illustrations that appeared in my book Bullet Trains published by MBI in the year 2000.

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Rock train at Frankenstein

Yesterday, April 12, 2022, Conway Scenic operated a loaded ballast train on the former Maine Central Mountain Division.

Leading the train was former Maine Central GP38 255 acquired by CSRR last October.

I arranged to be in position at the west end of the Frankenstein Bridge to catch the up-hill move, and exposed this sequence of digital photographs using my Nikon Z6 mirror-less camera with 24-70mm Z-series zoom.

Although overcast, the lighting was well suited to a red locomotive with black ballast cars.

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Rockville Bridge

I wrote about Pennsylvania Railroad’s Rockville Bridge in my book Railway Masterpieces published in 2002.

“The third bridge at Rockville was started in 1900, and opened to traffic in 1902. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Rail Facts and Figures, as ‘the world’s largest stone arch railway bridge over a river’. It consists of 48 stone arch spans.”

Last month Kris and I paid a visit to the Rockville Bridge. As we approached this magnificent viaduct a westward Norfolk Southern freight was crawling across, yet we had arrived too late to catch the head end of the train on the bridge.

We decided to wait a little while to see if another freight would come along.

Finally after about 45 minutes, I could hear a GE diesel chugging away on the far side of the Susquehanna. As the train started across the bridge, the evening sun emerged from the clouds, producing some very fine light to photograph the train.

I exposed these photos with my Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens firmly mounted on my mid-1990s vintage Bogen tripod.

Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens set at 170mm, f5.0 1/500th of a second, ISO 200.
Nikon Z6 with 70-200mm lens set at 76mm, f5.0 1/500th of a second, ISO 200.

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