Although only partially related to my photographic work, I thought that Tracking the Light readers might be interested to learn that I’m conducting a series of audio podcasts with Trains Magazine.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be interviewing and discussing railroads with a variety of knowledgeable and interesting people, including active and retired railroaders, tourist railroad operators, railroad activists, and a few well known railroad enthusiasts and railroad publishing professionals.
Among my first conversations was with John Gruber about his latest book: Beebe & Clegg—Their Enduring Legacy.
My hope is to allow my guests expertise and perspectives to entertain and inform my listeners and enable all of us a great appreciation and understand of railroad topics ranging from freight cars and locomotives, signals, stations and short lines to how to avoid snakes while making photos.
A new Podcast will be released every two weeks. My aim is to keep these to between 16 and 20 minutes.
Earlier this week it was organized for me to travel on the footplate of Great Northern Railway of Ireland 85.
The thrill of experiencing a steam locomotive cab on the main line is a rare privilege.
My job was to make photographs and stay out of the way.
Locomotive 85 is a three cylinder compound 4-4-0, a 1932 product of Beyer Peacock.
The compound arrangement is what intrigued me, but like the low droning throb sounding from the 20 cylinder diesel powering an EMD SD45, this element of the steam equipment is beyond my ability to picture.
Instead, I had to settle for making images of the crew at work and the locomotive in motion.
The footplate offers a rough ride, while swirling coal dust and locomotive exhaust complicate photography and the handling of sensitive equipment. The lighting is at best difficult. Staying out of the way often means that I wasn’t always able to get the angle I really wanted and needed to make due with where I was able to stand.
Special thanks to everyone at the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) and at Irish Rail for making my locomotive journeys possible.
For details about the RPSI and scheduled steam and diesel trips see:
On Sunday’s an Irish Rail class 071 works Belmond’s luxury cruise train, the 10-car Grand Hibernian, on its run from Dublin Connolly to Waterford.
Although slightly back lit, I found the famed ‘Gullet’ offers a good place to catch this train at work.
This cutting dates from the 1840s and features three tracks.
In this instance, Irish Rail 082 was accelerating down the middle road with the posh-looking train. (‘Down’ refers to traveling away from Dublin, and doesn’t reflect the gradient, which in this situation is actually rising).
Working with both my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto and Lumix LX7, I made two sets of digital photos.
The locomotive sound was impressive as on this particular Sunday a couple weeks back the roads in the area were shut for a foot race and there was very little ambient noise compared with a typical day in Dublin. Perhaps, I should have made a recording!
In the mid-1930s, Milwaukee Road introduced its high-speed streamlined Hiawatha on its Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities route where elegant purpose-built shrouded 4-4-2 and 4-6-4 Alco steam locomotives whisked trains along in excess of 110mph.
Today, Amtrak’s Hiawathas have Siemens Chargers on the Milwaukee end, and former F40PH Control-Cab/baggage cars, known as ‘Cabbages’ on the Chicago-end.
While Amtrak provides an excellent corridor service, today top speed is just 79mph.
I can’t help but think that as a nation we’ve lost the plot on this one.
We went from elegant, fast steam streamliners to this?
On July 1, 2010, I exposed this sunrise glint view of an eastward Norfolk Southern freight led by an Evolution-Series General Electric diesel-electric at the Railfan’s Overlook in Cassandra, Pennsylvania.
I adjusted the file using Lightroom to balance the contrast between highlights and shadows and make for a more pleasing image.
Notice the effect of the backlit leaves and grass.
A lone loaded auto-rack was spotted in CSX’s Palmer Yard.
CSX’s local freight B740 had arrived from West Springfield Yard.
B740’s crew discussed arrangements with the dispatcher to reverse out of the yard (westward) with the auto-rack on the interchange track and then pull forward onto the controlled siding at CP83.
The reason for this was to avoid using the normal freight connection from the controlled siding into the yard because of the length of the auto rack was at risk of derailing over the tight switches.
The crossover at CP83 from the interchange track to the controlled siding was installed in 1995 to facilitate Amtrak’s Vermonter, which was then operating via Palmer and changed directions here to go between CSX and New England Central’s route on its Springfield, Massachusetts-St Albans, Vermont portion of the run.
The passenger crossover at CP83 has been rarely used, since Amtrak’s Vermont returned to the more direct routing in December 2014 (running north of Springfield on the Boston & Maine Connecticut River line via Greenfield to East Northfield).
It was a fortuitous situation to catch this rare move in nice morning sun.
B740 then continued east to East Brookfield, where CSX autoracks are unloaded on the East Brookfield & Spencer.
On November 15, 1987, I followed a loaded PLMT coal train east from Buffalo, New York. This train had operated with Pittsburgh & Lake Erie locomotives and was being handled by Guilford’s Delaware & Hudson via trackage rights over Conrail’s former Erie Railroad.
Try to fit all that on the slide mount!
At the time these coal trains operated about once a week, and while it wasn’t uncommon to find P&LE locomotives, catching the trains on film was challenging.
I made this view on Kodachrome 25 with my Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron Lens. It’s a badly under exposed long pan (about 1/8 of a second) from a hillside off the Canisteo River Road, in the valley of that name, a few miles east of Adrian.
The original slide was made at the very end of daylight, and the slow speed ISO25 film didn’t give me the needed sensitivity to capture the scene with adequate exposure.
That’s a long way of saying; it was dark and I underexposed the film.
Thankfully, I didn’t through the slide away.
I scanned it using VueScan 9×64 (edition 9.6.09) software and a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 slide scanner. It opted for manual controls; I selected 4000 dpi input, under ‘color’ I used the Kodachrome K14 color profile, and while output was set at 4000 dpi as a TIF file.
I then imported the TIF into Lightroom for color, exposure and contrast adjustment, necessary to compensate for my extreme underexposure. To hold sky detail, I applied a digital graduated neutral density filter.
Although slightly grainy, the results are much improved over the original and captures my intended effect of the train rolling at speed through the Canisteo Valley at dusk.
There’s little left to remind you of the historic building that once served passengers at Berlin, Connecticut.
In December 2016, during construction of the modern building, the historic New Haven Railroad station was suspiciously destroyed in a fire.
Last weekend was my first visit to the new station. This features some impressive looking architecture, elevators and a high glass enclosed footbridge.
However, it seems to be notably lacking a proper waiting room where passengers can get out of the elements, and features only a ‘portapot’ in place of proper toilets.
In place of our friendly ticket agent, there’s a modern CT rail ticket machine to dispense tickets. You can buy your Amtrak ticket on-line, over the phone, or using an App on your smart-phone.
Also on the ‘plus side’ the station is well suited to photography and will make for a nice place to board and photograph trains. Also, with the expanded Amtrak service and new CT rail Hartford Line trains, there’s more service than there has been in many years.
Irish Rail 215. Is this my least favorite of the 201 class locomotives?
It’s probably my most photographed.
My first recognition of the 215-effect was on a trip to Galway many years ago. Friends were visiting from America and we were traveling on the Mark3 International set.
Soon after departing Dublin Heuston, it was evident that the train was in trouble. We weren’t making track speed. When we got to Hazelhatch, our train took the loop. Old 215 had failed. We waited there for about 40 minutes until 203 was summoned for a rescue.
Some months later, I returned from Boston to Dublin, and on the front page of the papers was 215 at Heuston Station—on its side! It had derailed.
And which loco worked the very first publically scheduled Mark IV set from Dublin to Cork?
Out for the down train, take a guess which loco I’m most likely to catch!
Uh! There it is again. Damn thing is a like a shadow.
It was a lucky shot. I was changing trains at the Köln Hauptbahnhof in 1999, when I made this photo from the platforms at the east side of the station.
A DB Class 120 electric had been specially painted by or for Märklin model trains to commemorate the 70thanniversary of Disney’s Mickey Mouse.
One of the great things about exploring German railways is a tremendous variety of trains complete with unexpected surprises in the form of specially painted locomotives, antiques on the roll, and special trains.
I rolled down the passenger-side window of my friend’s Golf, and exposed a series of photos with my Lumix.
I’ve described this technique previously; I adjusted the f-stop (aperture control) manually to its smallest opening (f8), my ISO was at its slowest setting (80), and I put the camera to aperture priority.
I intended this combination of settings to automatically select the appropriate shutter speed for ideal exposure, while using the slowest setting to allow for the effect of motion blur.
I kept the camera aimed at the locomotive while allowing for ample foreground to blur by for the effect of speed.
This works especially well to show the large diesel working long-hood forward, which is not its usual position.
This pair of photos depict Irish Rail class 201, engine number 214 at work on passenger and freight.
The top photo was exposed in July 2005. I wanted to make a photo of the 0700 (7am) Dublin-Cork passenger train departing Dublin Heuston, before the service was changed to one of the new Mark4 sets.
My theory was that this service was rarely photographed leaving Dublin owing to the early hour and backlit sun. I had months left to do this, but by July the days were getting shorter, and by the following summer the Mark 4s would be in traffic. (It pays to think ahead).
So I went to my favorite spot on the St. John’s Road, and used my Contax G2 with 28mm lens and exposed a few frames of Fujichrome Sensia (100).
The bottom photo was exposed at Mallow on 18 July, 2003 at 0622 (6:22am). I’d gone out for another train, but instead caught this late running cement that was carrying some containers at the front. The train paused for three minutes at Mallow to change crews.
These are part of my continuing series on the Irish Rail 201 class locomotives aimed to mark my 20 years of railway photography in Ireland (1998-2018).
It was three years ago that Pat Yough and I traveled to Manassas, Virginia, where we were joined by our friends Vic and Becky Stone, and spent several days with Norfolk & Western J-Class locomotive 611 under steam.
Although I largely worked with digital cameras, I also exposed some color slides to capture the spirit of the event.
These images were made using Fujichrome Provia 100F with my Canon EOS-3, I scanned the slides yesterday (June 5, 2018) using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 using VueScan software.
After intercepting Amtrak’s southward Vermonter on the Connecticut River Line, I drove to Pan Am’s East Deerfield yard(near Greenfield, Massachusetts) to see if anything was moving.
Fortuity and patience combined enabled me to make photos of Pan Am Railways POED crossing the Connecticut River Bridge (immediately east of the yard).
In the lead was 7552, one of two (soon to be three) former CSX DASH8-40Cs wearing Pan Am Railways paint, plus one of the railroad’s last remaining 600-series six motor EMDs (619, that began its career as a Southern Pacific SD45) still in traffic.
Catching this pair of locomotives together is a coup. I’ve always found transition periods make for interesting photographs; during the last year, these second-hand GE’s have sidelined many of Pan Am’s older locomotives.
Will this be the last time I catch one of the 1980s era GEs working together with a 1960s era six-motor EMDs in Pan Am blue paint?
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm zoom lens, I exposed this view of Pan Am Railway’s symbol freight EDBF (East Deerfield to Bellows Falls) working the Connecticut River line at Bernardston, Massachusetts.
I like the technological and geometrical contrasts of boxy General Electric diesels on the 19thcentury stone arch viaduct.
It was just after 8am on May 27, 1988, when I exposed this portrait (vertical) view of Conrail BAL013 stopped at CP123 east of Chester, Massachusetts.
The sun was perfect and I used this opportunity to make several photos of the train as it held for westward Conrail intermodal freight TV9, which passed CP123 at 8:13am
This is a Kodachrome 25 slide (using the professional PKM emulsion) exposed using a Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron lens.
I calculated my exposure using a Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter, and set the camera at f6.3 (half way between the marks for f5.6 and f8) at 1/125thof a second. This was equivalent to my standard exposure for ‘full sun’.
I learned when I moved west that ‘full sun’ is brighter in the Western states than in New England. A bright day in the Nevada desert is a full stop difference than in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
My author’s advanced copy of the July 2018 Trains has been eagerly awaited.
In addition to my monthly column, I authored and illustrated two large feature articles.
The first is a detailed nuts and bolts discussion on Positive Train Control signaling, the second a travel guide to one of my favorite places: Germany’s Rhein.
I’m extremely pleased with how both stories turned out. Special thanks to my hosts at SEPTA for allowing me to better understand the intricacies of their modern signaling. And thanks to everyone at Trains Magazine for bringing these stories to print!
Bad timing, poor exposures, lousy composition and blurred images can all result in missed opportunities.
Was it human error or an equipment malfunction? You got to the tracks in time but your camera didn’t perform as expected. Is there something wrong with your camera, or was it simply set the wrong way.
There’s the moment of frustration when you press the shutter release and nothing happens, or the auto focus goes haywire, or you realize the camera is in a ‘mode’ and not the right one for making railway pictures—All well and good if you have time to resolve the problem, but if a train is passing at speed, you might end up with regrets rather than results.
Even if you are an experienced railroad photographer, you should take the time to learn the peculiarities of your equipment and double check the exposure and focus settings BEFORE you expect a train to enter the scene.
Earlier, were you using the self-timer? Be sure to turn it off again before you expect to use the camera for making action photos.
Why was the camera set to manual? AND why was it a f22 at 1/8000 of a second?
If you don’t know why, that’s going to be a problem. So step back and go over the basics. Or rely on ‘automatic’ modes until you have the time to cover that properly
Locomotive headlights can confuse camera autofocus systems. The result may be that at the very moment you need to rely on autofocus, it fails you.
One potential solution, if the autofocus starts hunting wildly quickly point the camera away from the headlights and allow it to find a focus point, then point it back at your subject.
Another solution: before the train arrives in the scene, auto focus on a preset point, then switch the autofocus off so that it won’t attempt to refocus at the last minute.
Autofocus problems tend to be more acute on dull days and in low light.
I’ve been making photos at the Junction at East Northfield since the 1980s.
The other day, on the third visit in two weeks to this iconic New England location (where New England Central’s line connects with Pan Am Railway’s Conn River route), I had a reckoning.
It occurred to me that railroad timetable ‘East Northfield’ is actually north and west of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts.
How is this possible?
Some Highway maps show railroad ‘East Northfield’ in West Northfield.
This timetable location has been called ‘East Northfield’ since the steam era, and the present NECR sign reflects this historic geographic incongruity.
No doubt at some point in the future, the geography will be retro-actively re-written to accommodate this oversight on the part of historic railroad timetable writers. What will they make of my captions!