DeForest Station, June 14, 2013.


Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee Road M&P Branch.

Dick Gruber, John Gruber and I, explored some former Milwaukee Road lines near Madison, Wisconsin on June 14, 2013.

“You hear a lot about deforestation these days,” Dick says to me, “I quite like it. What’s wrong with DeForest Station anyway?”

DeForest station, Wisconsin.
DeForest station, as photographed with my Lumix LX-3 on June 14, 2013.

Having inspected the restored depot. We continued northward (timetable west) along Canadian Pacific’s former Milwaukee branch from Madison to Portage. We had good information that the weekday freight was working towards us. Since track speed is about 10 mph, there was little chance that we might miss the train.

However, we weren’t expecting to find a CP work extra with an SD40-2 and vintage Jordan Spreader doing ditching work. Another case of good luck on my part. I’ve said this before, but I often have good luck on the railroad.

A Canadian Pacific Jordan performs ditching work for improved drainage. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.

A few miles north of DeForest, I said to Dick, ‘Turn here, I think that road crosses the line, maybe there’s a photo op.” Sure enough! There we see the spreader working. While watching the works, I gave John a quick lesson on how to work his new Canon 7D. In the meantime, the weekday freight crept up and we made photos of the two trains together.

The Canadian Pacific Jordan has folded in its wings and prepares to get out of the way CP's weekday Portage to Madison local freight. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
The Canadian Pacific Jordan has folded in its wings and prepares to get out of the way CP’s weekday Portage to Madison local freight. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.

This local freight was led by a GP38 and one of the new ‘Eco’ GP20Cs built by Electro Motive. It was my first experience with these new units. Dick was appalled with the appearance of the GP20C,  “Ah! What do you call those engines? LODs! Lack of Design!”

CP Rail near DeForest, Wisconsin.
Canadian Pacific’s local consists of a GP38 and new GP20C leading a pair of tank cars. A Canadian Pacific Jordan performs ditching work for improved drainage. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm zoomm lens.
Eco 'GP20C'
Trailing view showing Canadian Pacific’s new ‘Eco’ GP20C which features a blocky adaptation of EMD’s road switcher body design.
Canadian Pacific's new 'Eco' GP20C
John Gruber inspects the new GP20C as it works industrial trackage near DeForest. Exposed with a Lumix LX3.

The local got around the spreader and did a bit switching at an industrial park then continued past the DeForest Station toward Madison.

DeForest station.
CP Rail approaching DeForest station. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
DeForest station.
DeForest station. Exposed with my Lumix LX3.

Soon we were heading toward Sun Prairie and Waterloo to intercept a Wisconsin & Southern freight working toward Madison. I’ll cover that in a future post.



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Rondout Tower, Illinois, June 12, 2013


Visions of Milwaukee Road Hiawatha

It’s impossible for me to visit Rondout Tower and not see the ghost of a streamlined F7 Hudson blasting by with the Hiawatha in tow. Ghosts only; I’m not nearly old enough to have witnessed such a spectacle.

On Wednesday 12, 2013, Chris Guss and I paused on the footbridge to have a late lunch and watch a couple trains. Nothing unusual, just an outbound Metra train for Fox Lake and Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder a few minutes later.

Rondout Tower
Metra F40PH 115 leads a Union Station-Fox Lake commuter train at Rondout Tower on June 12, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.


Rondout Tower
Amtrak number 7, the westward Empire Builder blasts by Rondout Tower on June 12, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.

Back when the Hiawatha raced between Chicago and Milwaukee, Milwaukee Road was operating the fastest regularly steam powered trains in the world and the famous for its order, ‘Slow to 100’ for the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern crossing at Rondout.

Today, maximum speed on the line is 79 mph. Occasionally someone mentions ‘progress’. For me this abstract concept has little meaning. Change, certainly.

Someday, change will mean that Rondout Tower, too, will only be a ghost.

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Chicago by Night

An Exercise In Using High ISO.

Chicago is well suited for night photographs. On the evening of June 11, 2013, Chris Guss and I took advantage of warm and windless weather to make a variety of railway images in the downtown area.

I employ a variety of techniques to make night photos. This evening, however, I emphasized my Canon EOS 7D and turned up the ISO to unusually high settings in order to stop the action.

Chicago at night
Union Station as viewed from Roosevelt Road. Exposed with my Canon EOS 7D with a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens at f2.8 1/40th second, ISO 6400 Camera was firmly mounted on a tripod.

Where color slide film essentially topped out at 400 ISO. My 7D allows me to dial in up to 6400 ISO. Does this offer the same clarity of ISO 100 or 200? No, of course not. But, it’s not so bad either. Is this high ISO technique the only  way to make night photos? Hardly, there are many good ways to go about exposing images at night and this is just one.

Night photo in Chicago.
An Amtrak train passes CP 21st at Chicago’s 21st Street Bridge. Handheld Canon EOS 7D with a 40mm pancake lens, 1/6th second at f.3.2 5000 ISO. It helps to have a rock steady hand.
21st Street Bridge, Chicago.
Chicago’s 21st Street Bridge looking south from the nearby  grade crossing. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens at 1.20th second at f2.8. ISO 5000. This image is a bit pixelated and not as sharp as I’d like, but not bad all things considered.

Today, I can make photos digitally, that would have been all but impossible with film. (Although, that’s never stopped me from exposing a few slides here and there anyway).

Lumix view of Chicago.
Another philosophy: low ISO with long exposure. This makes for a sharper and less pixilated image, but doesn’t allow for stop action of moving trains. In this case I used my Lumix LX3 on a miniature Gitzo tripod positioned on the railing of Roosevelt Road. Exposure: f3.5 at 3.2 seconds, ISO 80. (The camera was set in aperture-prioritiy ‘A’ mode, but I manually over exposed by 2/3s of a stop to compensate for the bright sodium vapor lights and dark sky which tends to cause the camera’s automatic metering to lean toward underexposure.)
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Interstate Interstate Chase.


In Pursuit of a Norfolk Southern GE Diesel dressed in Heritage Paint.

NS Interstate heritage unit.
NS Interstate heritage unit.

On the evening of Tuesday, June 2013, Chris Guss and I were exploring the convergence of railroad lines in northern Indiana. Here myriad routes aiming for Chicago traverse a heavily industrialized environment; tracks and trains are everywhere.

At Hammond-Whiting, Indiana the former Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), New York Central and Baltimore & Ohio routes run roughly adjacent to each other. Just east of the Amtrak station, Norfolk Southern’s (NS) former Conrail line moves from the old PRR alignment to that of the old New York Central. Immediately to the north is CSX’s former B&O line, while beyond that is Canadian National’s Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ&E) line.

An Elgin, Joliet & Eastern local works eastward at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. In the distance is a set of CSX locomotives on the old Baltimore & Ohio. Lumix LX-3, exposed at f4 1/100 ISO 80.

Earlier a thunderstorm had raged through the area, and this left behind tell-tail puddles. The setting sun was about to drop below a thin layer of clouds. We were following an EJ&E local, while keeping an eye open for Norfolk Southern’s 65R (empty oil train destined for BNSF Railway at Chicago and then to North Dakota).

We’d been expertly informed that NS’s Interstate Railroad painted heritage locomotive was leading.

It’s no secret that last year (2012) Norfolk Southern had 20 new six-motor diesels (both EMD and GE models) dressed in liveries to represent a variety of its predecessor railroads. See: and also; and;

A hint of chatter on the radio and then—THERE!—we saw 65R with the Interstate in the lead. It was paused on the mainline. We jumped into position just as the EJ&E local emerged and another NS train was racing eastward out of the sun with a Union Pacific SD70M in the lead.

Union Pacific SD70Ms
Union Pacific SD70Ms lead an eastward Norfolk Southern freight near Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens set at 1/250th second f4 ISO 200.

When it rains it pours! Any one of these three trains would be of interest, but having all three converge on us simultaneously with no time to properly assess the lay of the land presented a challenge.

Freight trains at meet.
Norfolk Southern freights meet in the fading light of evening. Lumix LX3 f2.8 at 1/640 second.
Norfolk Southern’s Interstate heritage unit catches the glint. Lumix LX3 f2.8 1/250th second.

Some much favored ‘drop under sun’ graced the landscape. In a flurry of activity, lenses were swapped, light readings made and pixels were exposed. The ‘creamsickle’—as the Interstate Railroad heritage repaint has been known (because of its distinctive livery), was all to soon on the move! A face-paced, but skillfully navigated chase ensued. Chris did all the work as I snapped photos from the window.

Oil train catches the glint.
Away we go into the sunset hot in pursuit of an oil train. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens set at f6.3 1/1000 second at ISO 200.

In the end, we followed the prize west across the state line to Illinois and made this selection of images.

NS Interstate Heritage Unit
Pace shot executed near the Indiana-Illinois line. The Interstate Railroad is a Virginia line that is a lesser-known component of Norfolk Southern. Lumix LX3 f2.8 at 1/125th second.


Norfolk Southern 8105 is a General Electric ES44AC diesel-electric.
Norfolk Southern 8105 is a General Electric ES44AC diesel-electric. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.


NS Interstate Heritage unit_on 65R South Chicago
Norfolk Southern 65R with led by the Interstate heritage locomotive at South Chicago, Illinois. Canon EOS 7D.

Related articles

NS Interstate heritage unit.
NS Interstate heritage unit.

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Chicago Medley, June 2013


Infrastructural Views Fresh From the Digital Cameras.


The other day, I landed at Midway where I was met by Chris Guss. We immediately set to work making images of America’s most railroad intensive city. It’s been nearly two years since I was last here; and nearly 30 years since my first visit. Time passes and much has changed, yet there are many vestiges of old railroads.

There’s always a wheel turning in Chicago, but these pictures are more about the railroad infrastructure than the trains themselves. There’s a book in this somewhere.

CTA train
Chicago Transit Authority Midway train catches the glint of the evening sun near Corwith. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
Old tracks Chicago.
DIsused former Grand Trunk Western near Corwith, Illinois. Canon EOS 7D with f2.0 100mm lens.
Level crossing at Brighton Park
Former Gulf Mobile & Ohio line at Brighton Park, Chicago, Illinois. . Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
Old switch levers.
Vestiges of the old lever frame at Brighton Park. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens.
Weeds along the tracks.
Weeds grow trackside at Brighton Park. . Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens.
Metra train with position light signals.
Metra Train rolls toward Union Station on the former Pennsylvania Railroad Panhandle route at Racine Avenue. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens.
Chicago Metra
Metra Train glides through Racine Avenue, Chicago. Lumix LX-3 handheld.
Train on grade crossing.
Norfolk Southern GP38 working a local freight at Racine Avenue. Lumix LX3 panned at f2.8 1 second.
Chicago at night
Norfolk Southern local at Racine Avenue, Chicago. Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens, exposed for 1.6 seconds at f2.8 ISO200; camera on mini Gitzo tripod.

These are just a sample from my Canon EOS 7D and Lumix LX-3 cameras. More to come!




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Ayer Massachusetts, June 5, 2013


MBTA Surprise.

Boston’s two primary passenger terminals have no scheduled service between them. Historically, South Station served Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroad lines, while North Station served Boston & Maine’s. Both represented consolidations of older terminals. Today, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority provides suburban service, while Amtrak operates long distance trains from both stations.

To move equipment between North and South Stations (and their respective repair and maintenance facilities), MBTA normally uses the former B&A Grand Junction Branch which crosses the Charles River and passes through Cambridge, thus forming the only Boston-area link between North- and South-side networks.

Some months ago a problem was discovered with the Charles River Bridge. So now MBTA and Amtrak equipment transfers must travel a roundabout route via Worcester (from South Station over the old B&A mainline) then north via Clinton to Ayer, and eastward via the former B&M Fitchburg line toward North Station.

Equipment transfers operate as needed, and I’ve been fortunate to catch several of them over the last few months. On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, I got lucky and stumbled into position just in time to catch one without even trying!

Rich Reed and I had traveled to Ayer to photograph Pan Am Southern’s westward intermodal train 23K. After making successful images of the train, we drove back through Ayer and over the bridge just east of the Station, where I spotted a high-green (clear) signal at AY interlocking for an eastward movement.

I guessed  that since this is a controlled signal, it would only be lined if something was due and we set up on the bridge in anticipation. This was the exact location where we’d photographed Norfolk Southern GEs switching a week earlier. See last week’s post: Ayer, Massachusetts, Wednesday May 29, 2013.

MBTA Ayer Mass.

MBTA train 420 pauses for passengers at Ayer on June 5, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

As it turned out, the clear signal was for an eastward MBTA commuter train, which arrived shortly and paused for its Ayer station stop. As passengers were boarding we were surprised to spot a second MBTA train coming off the wye from Worcester! This was an equipment transfer, led by MBTA GenSet locomotive 3249 hauling avariety of locomotives and cars.

MBTA equipment train at Ayer.
An MBTA equipment move is coming off the Ayer wye on tit journey from South Station to North Station via Worcester, Clinton and Ayer. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.
MBTA trains at Ayer, Massachusetts. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

By shear dumb luck we just happened to be in precisely the right place at the right time.

Had we known this train was coming we’d probably picked a different location to intercept it. Sometimes not knowing what’s going on can earn you a better photo than knowing too much.

Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

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Rail Freight, Stockholm, May 7, 2010.



Green Cargo Rc2 Electric Leads a Container Train at Alvjso.

Swedish Rc2 electric
Green Cargo Rc2 rolling at Alvjso, Stockholm, Sweden. Exposed digitally with my Lumix LX-3

I was in Stockholm in Early May 2010 to visit a friend. I made some time to re-explore the railways, as it had been a dozen years since my last trip here. On my first afternoon, I noted a container train passing the suburban station at Alvjso just after 5pm. The next day, I was in place at precisely that time to make a photo. My observation and planning paid off, even if the weather didn’t fully cooperate.

Stockholm is a fascinating city with superb public transport and near perfect time-keeping. There’s multimodal connections at most major railway stations, with a well developed network of metro and tram lines.

The Swedish Rc electric locomotive is one of the most widely built types worldwide. Amtrak’s AEM-7 electric is an Rc derivative. See my post: Amtrak’s Mayflower at South Norwalk, Connecticut.

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Irish Rail April 2000, Sligo Line at Hill of Down


073 Leads the Afternoon Down Sligo Passenger

I made this pair of images of the daily afternoon Dublin Connolly to Sligo passenger train passing the long closed station at Hill of Down on the old Midland Great Western Railway mainline. Class 071 locomotive number 073 leads Mark II carriages.

Irish Rail passenger train in Meath.

Exposed using Nikon F3T with Nikkor 105mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.
Hill of Down, County Meath.


Irish Rail Sligo LIne

Exposed using Nikon F3T with Nikkor 105mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.

The old Midland follows the Royal Canal for many miles west of Dublin. This pastoral route was one of my favorite Irish rail subjects in the early 2000s. Although it wasn’t as busy as other routes, the combination of scenery, friendly signalmen and gatekeepers, and quaint old trains made for seemingly endless photographic possibilities.

At the time most trains were locomotive hauled with vintage General Motors diesels.

In additional to class 071 diesels working Mark II and Cravens passenger consists, the old classes 121, 141 and 181s regularly worked freight.

Today the line is exclusively run with diesel rail cars.

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Pelham Bay Park Part 2, January 1984.


A View From Grandma’s Terrace.

In yesterday’s post, I explained that my grandparents had a Coop City apartment in The Bronx. It was on the 19th floor of a 1970s-era tower block located at the periphery of New York City and the edge of Pelham Bay Park. Looking East, it offered a view of the Hutchinson River (with Goose Island in the middle) and of Amtrak’s former New Haven line to Penn-Station on the far shore.

The best part of the apartment was the terrace, which faced the river and the tracks. As young kids, my brother, Sean, and I would spend hours sending paper airplanes and bubbles, (and sometime heavier items) off the terrace to see how far they’d go. But for me the highlight of the apartment (apart from grandma and grandpa) was the regular passage of trains.

By age 10, I’d learned to calculate running times. Eastbound (northbound) trains running toward Boston would pass 17-20 minutes after leaving Penn-Station, while Westbound (Southbound) trains were less predictable, and sometimes wouldn’t show up until after they were scheduled to depart Penn-Station.

Until 1981, Amtrak would occasionally operate its elderly GG1 Electrics, and I’d keep my Leica handy for just such an event. On rare occasions, two trains would pass in front of the apartment.

I vividly recall a frenzied moment, when Sean shouted, “there’s two trains!” I panicked and in the 10-15 seconds I had to act, I failed to locate the camera. “You missed it! I can’t believe you missed it!” Eventually, the situation repeated itself, and a photograph resulted.

By 1984, freight had been diverted off the line, while most Amtrak trains to New Haven consisted of eight to ten Amfleet cars hauled by AEM-7 electrics. The one elusive train was Amtrak’s Night Owl that passed in the wee hours (as owls do) and this train carried sleeping cars. Even at night these cars looked different than the others.

In the relative silence of early morning, trains would make an audible clatter crossing the bascule drawbridge that was just out of sight from the terrace. We were visiting for New Year’s at the end of 1983. One night during that visit, my sixth sense for trains alerted me in my sleep that the southward Night Owl hadn’t gone by at its usual time (about 3 am).

By daybreak, the Night Owl still hadn’t gone by. So, I readied my old Leica 3A, and waited. Shortly after sunrise it rolled by, and I exposed several Ektachrome slides. These might have been better if I’d used a longer lens, yet, had I done that, then the photos wouldn’t have shown all the heritage equipment, including the train’s sleeping cars, that distinguished it from ordinary North East Corridor trains. While not my greatest effort, it’s not too bad considering I was half asleep and not yet skilled with the camera.

Amtrak at Sunrise
Night Owl at Pelham Bay Park January 1984.

I found this slide last month mixed in with some ‘3rds’ (my old term for slides that were not bad enough to throw away, yet neither good enough to give away—what I called 2nds, nor acceptable for slide shows—1sts). Time has move it up a couple of degrees. I’m not giving it away.


See: Pelham Bay Park Part I, andKid with a Camera Framingham, Massachusetts, 1982.

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Pelham Bay Park, December 1982.


Amtrak AEM7 Crosses The Hutchinson River in The Bronx

Coop City in The Bronx.
Amtrak’s Bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River in December 1982. Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar Lens.

Between 1973 and 1985, my paternal grandparents lived at Co-op City in The Bronx, New York City. They had a great view of Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line from New Rochelle to the Hell Gate Bridge, which carried all of Amtrak’s Boston-New York trains. Until about 1980, this route also hosted infrequent freights.

When I was younger, I’d keenly watch for trains from my grandparents 19th floor terrace, all the while hoping to see Amtrak’s aged former Pennsylvania GG1 electrics. By 1982, all of Amtrak’s GG1s had been retired.

I made this morning view of a Penn-Station bound Amtrak train approaching the bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River led by an AEM7 electric. The scene itself wasn’t remarkable at the time, but I’m glad I made the effort to put it on film. It fascinates me now and brings me back to another time. Although details, such as how to effectively work with backlighting eluded me, I managed to get my exposure pretty close anyway.

I was 16 at the time. I used my Leica 3A with f2.0 50mm Summitar—the camera I carried with me everywhere. A couple of years ago, I located some of my long-lost early negatives and made a project of scanning them. The miracle of modern scanning technology coupled with post-processing allowed me to finally make something of photos I’d made before I was technically competent to make decent prints.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post; “the view from grandma’s terrace.”

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South Station, Summer 1978.



How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Other kids would get assignments along the lines of: “Write a 500 word essay on how you spent your summer vacation.” I always wished for something like that. In 7th grade this would have read:

“We live on a boring road where nothing ever happens, so to keep me from driving my mother crazy, my father took me to Boston at least one day a week. My dad works near Harvard Square in a bright office with lots of computers. (That’s actually in Cambridge, not really Boston.)

“The first week he show me how to use the computer terminal and I played a game called ‘R Adventure’. The second week he showed me how to write a short program (that’s a bunch of lines and letters that tells the computer what to do). I wrote a program with a sneaky line called an ‘infinite loop’. This tells the computer to repeat the same line again and again. That was neat. I wrote ‘Brian Likes Trains.’ And this scrolled slowly over the CRT (that’s the computer screen that looks something like a TV but with green letters.)

“I figured I’d improve my program, so I added an exponent. When I ran the program the next time, the screen filled with ‘Brian Likes Trains’ faster and faster, soon the whole screen was rolling. Then it suddenly stopped. Actually the whole computer stopped. All the computers in the room stopped!

“A graduate student came in and spoke to my dad. Then my dad gave me a dollar and told me to go ride the subway or something. So I rode around and came back when it was time to drive back to Monson. Writing that program was like magic. Every time after that, my dad would give me a dollar and I’d ride around with my camera taking pictures.

“By August, I’d been on all the subway lines. So I went to the railroad station. South Station is a great place, it’s where they keep all the Budd Cars. Those are great because the engineers who run them let you ride up front and don’t charge you to ride.

This is South Station, that's where you can see the Budd Cars.
This is South Station, that’s where you can see the Budd Cars.

“The Budd cars go all over the place, but if you’re not careful you might not get back by the time to go home, so it’s really important to get a schedule.

“My dad sometimes gave me his ‘SUPER WIDE ANGLE lens’. This is much better than my ‘Normal’ lens because its comes with a viewfinder which is an extra part you put on top of the camera that helps you to see pictures. With my normal lens, you have to look through a little hole, and that makes it harder to find good pictures.

“He also gave me a light meter to measure the light and set the camera. I made lots of pictures. This is one of my favorite because it shows the Budd Cars and the old signals at South Station. I had to walk all the way from the subway stop to the parking lot to make this picture and it was really hot outside.

“Now summer’s over, and I can’t ride around on the subway or Budd Cars until next year. I hate school.”

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Kid with a Camera, Framingham, Massachusetts, 1982.


Lacking Skill but Enthusiastic

In1982, I was visiting my friend Dan Howard in Needham, Massachusetts. We’d made a day of riding bicycles to Framingham and back to photograph trains. (Neither of us were old enough to hold a valid driving license).

At the time, I was very enthusiastic about the railroad, and eager to capture it on film. Yet, I had very little conception of how to make photos. Furthermore, while I had a reasonably high quality camera, this was entirely dependant on my ability to set it properly (aperture, shutter speed, and focus)

I was using a 1930s-era Leica 3A with an f2.0 Summitar lens. This didn’t have the crutches provided with most cameras today: no auto focus, no auto exposure, no zoom-lens, and no instant response digital display window.

Simply getting film in the camera required the aid of a Swiss Army knife. While focusing the Leica using the rangefinder was a bit abstract. To gauge exposure, I used at Weston Master III light meter. With this camera I exposed  Kodachome slides, and black & white 35mm film that I processed in the kitchen sink.

Framinham, Mass.
Exposed with a Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens on Kodak black & white negative film; scanned with an Epson V600, and processed digitally using PhotoShop (to enhance contrast, and remove blemishes.

To simply get a photo of any kind, I had base level camera-operating skills,  but no sense for how to make real railroad photos. I didn’t appreciate conventional angles, nor did I know what to crop out or what  to feature. I knew precious little about working with light or how to make optimum use of the film media. My chemical processing skills were rudimentary, at best.

I just really wanted to make railway pictures! And, honestly, it’s a miracle that I got any results at all.

Thankfully on that day, Dan & I met a friendly and helpful grade crossing gate keeper, who manually worked the gates where former Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroad lines crossed the main street. He chatted with us and shared knowledge about when trains were coming. (Incidentally, I made a color slide or two of him working the gates, which seemed like the thing to do).

Toward the end of the day, a Conrail local departed Framingham’s North Yard, heading across the street and over the diamonds with the B&A on its way toward the Attleboro and beyond. I made this image ‘against the light’ looking into the setting sun, with a GP15-1 leading the local (which is about to cross the street) and some MBTA Budd cars in front of the old station.

Sometimes raw and unchecked enthusiasm produces a more interesting image than one crafted by skill, but hampered by ambivalence (or over thinking the photographic process.) Modern photographic scanners allow for me to interpret what I captured more than 30 years ago on film, and compensate for my lack of technical skill.





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Croatian Railways Passenger Train West of Zagreb, August 16, 2003


Listening to the Sounds of a General Motors 645 diesel in Run 8.

On the afternoon of August 16, 2003, I was in suburban Zagreb making photos on Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice—properly spelled with a hooked accent over the ‘Z’, which I’m not using in order to avoid problems with text interpretation by different computers).

Croatian Railways
A Hrvatske Zeljeznice class 2044 diesel (General Motors export model GT22HW-2) works west of Zagreb. Exposed with an Nikon F3Ts with 105mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

Some local passenger trains, and long distance trains working the non-electrified line to Varazdin were hauled with General Motors diesels (built locally under license by Duro Dakovic). Many were still wearing the older Yugoslavian green and gold, but a few such this one (2044-002) were in the newer and attractive HZ blue and silver livery.

I also caught a few freights with Swedish designed Rc electrics HZ class 1141, similar to Amtrak’s AEM-7s.

Zagreb is a beautiful city with some wonderful old architecture a tram system. It’s as old as memory goes too. There were people living there when the Romans arrived some 2000 years ago.

Incidentally, precisely 20 years earlier, on the afternoon of August 16, 1983, Bob Buck and I caught a Boston & Maine freight leaving the yard in Springfield, Massachusetts with a Canadian National GP9 in consist. The CN GP had come down on the Montrealer the night before, pinch-hitting for a failed F40PH. Somehow, it seems relevant to mention that, it really ties the blog posts together.

A Hrvatske Zeljeznice class 2044 diesel (General Motors export model GT22HW-2) works west of Zagreb. Exposed with an Nikon F3Ts with 105mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

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Snapshot of Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice)

A View From the Train to Belgrade, 2003.

On August 17, 2003, I traveled by train from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia. This was a six-hour journey. While the train departed on time, it took a diversionary route around Zagreb to avoid track work on the mainline. On the way out of town, I noted a variety of stored General Motors diesels and a pair of 2-10-0s in a goods yard. Before long the train was 27 minutes behind schedule.

Croatian Railways
Exposed southeast of Zagreb, Croatia with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f2.8 24mm lens on Fujichrome Sensia 100 slide film.

I made a number of photos, including this one, looking out the back of the train. Generally, Croatian Railways (Hrvatske Zeljeznice) maintained their track to excellent standards. Some HZ mainlines, such as this one, are electrified at 25 kV at 50 Hz, others with high voltage DC overhead, while many other lines are worked with diesels.

Approaching the Serbia frontier, the train was reduced to a crawl. This area was still showing the ravages of war.  Passing Vinkovci, I noted a large yard full of derelict freight wagons, but also saw that line-renewal was under way.

Serbia had just eliminated visa restrictions for American and EU passport holders, so I had no difficulties with the border inspection. The heat, on the other hand, was memorable!

Belgrade was fascinating, but I’ll save that adventure for some future post. Two years later (to the day), I was back in Croatia again, and on that trip explored the line to Rijeka.


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Palmer, Massachusetts, ‘CP83’ on Friday evening, May 31, 2013.


The “C” Light is Lit.

CP83 Palmer MA
This entire five image sequence was exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.

I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.

This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .

 Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit.  Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.

Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.

As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.

It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.

Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)

Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)

I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.

To learn more about railroad signals, check out my book Railroad Signaling  available from Voyageur Press.

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Ayer, Massachusetts, Wednesday May 29, 2013


Three views of Norfolk Southern General Electric Dash-9s.

Often I look to put trains in their environment by trying to find angles that show context. Not every railway scene is scenic. And, in the North East, more often than not, the environment around the railway is pretty rough looking.  But that is the scene, isn’t it?

Street scene at Ayer, Massachusetts.
Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; exposed at 1/400th sec at f.5.6 ISO400, exposure set manually.

On Wednesday May 29, 2013, Rich Reed and I were making photos of trains on former Boston & Maine lines around Ayer, Massachusetts. Rich has lived in the area for many years and is well versed on the history of the area.

Among the trains we saw was this Pan Am Southern local switching a set of autoracks. In the 1970s, a GP9 would have often worked Boston & Maine’s Ayer local. Today, Pan Am Southern runs the railroad, and the local is a pair of Norfolk Southern GE six-motor DASH-9s working long hood first.

I made several images east of the Ayer station. One of my favorites is the view looking down the street that features a parked postal truck and cars with the train serving as background instead of the main subject. It’s an ordinary everyday scene, yet it’s part of the history, and someday it will be different. Everything changes.

Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CW 9647 at Ayer.
Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; exposed at 1/400th sec at f.5.6 ISO400, exposure set manually.
NS GE diesels in Ayer, Mass.
Exposed with a Lumix LX3 set on Aperture Priority Mode; f2.8 at 1/200th second, ISO 80.

Which of these images will be more memorable in 50 years time? Someone might wonder why the Post Office needed a delivery truck, or what all the wires were for. You just never know.

Learn more about Norfolk Southern diesels: see my book North American Locomotives.

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Amtrak’s Southwest Chief east of Las Vegas, New Mexico, September 1998



General Electric Genesis Diesels and Style T Semaphores.

Railways can offer tremendous technological contrasts. Among my photographic themes is juxtaposition of the oldest technology along side the most modern. When I made this image, there was roughly 60 years between development of the signals and the locomotives.

Amtrak with Semaphore
Exposed with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f2.8 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film. I didn’t record my exposure, but the image was made at dusk, and I probably had the camera set to about 1/2 second at f2.8

I made this image during an exploration with Mel Patrick of the former Santa Fe mainline across northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado. At that time BNSF still maintained many of the old Union Switch & Signal Style T-2’s dating from the steam-era.

The Union Switch & Signal Style T-2 was featured in my book Railroad Signaling published by Voyageur Press. Here’s an except from my text: “US&S’s T-2 is a three-position upper quadrant type with a top of mast mechanism. Typical semaphore height measured 22 feet 6 inches from the ground to mechanism.”

Traffic on this line was relatively light, with only Amtrak’s Southwest Chief and a couple of BNSF freights daily. Then, as today, most of BNSF trans-con freight was routed via the Belen Cutoff (through Abo Canyon) to the south.


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Amtrak’s Mayflower at South Norwalk, Connecticut, November 16, 1992.


Amtrak AEM-7 911 on the Northeast Corridor.

At 11:11 am on November 16, 1992, I made this image of double-headed AEM-7s leading train 169 The Mayflower passing the interlocking at South Norwalk on the former New Haven Railroad mainline.

Amtrak 911
Amtrak train 169 led by AEM-7 number 911 at South Norwalk; exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Nikon F3T fitted with a Tokina f5.6 400mm telephoto lens.

This was a routine event. I don’t recall anything unusual or noteworthy about the train itself. I was playing with a Tokina f5.6 400mm lens I’d recently purchased secondhand. I made this photo with that lens attached to my Nikon F3T on Kodachrome 25.

My exposure-notes indicate that the lens was at its widest aperture and the camera at 1/125 of a second. I probably had the camera on my Bogen 3021 tripod as I doubt I would have tried to hand hold the 400mm lens at 1/125th of second.

Telephoto lens compression with truss-bridges under the old New Haven catenary makes for a tunnel-like effect, while giving context to the crossovers.

At that time, Amtrak’s AEM-7s were still in their ‘as delivered’ condition with their original paint scheme. These powerful little locomotives have been the backbone of Amtrak’s electrified operations for more than three decades. Their day in the sun will soon end; replacements are on their way.


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A View From Breakneck Ridge, Cold Spring, New York, August 1989


Amtrak Turbotrain Races Southward Along the Hudson

Amtrak turbotrain
An Amtrak Turbotrain works along the east shore of the Hudson River approaching the Breakneck Ridge tunnels at Cold Spring, New York on August 1989. The historic Bannerman Castle makes for a Rhein-like prop in the distance.

I made this view from a hiking trail on Breakneck Ridge along the Hudson River in August 1989. At the time my standard camera was a Leica M2 that I tended to use with Kodachrome 25. Turbotrains were standard equipment on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains making for common sights along the Hudson.

While common on this route, Amtrak’s Turbotrains were an anomaly in American operating practice, making them an unusual and worthy subject for photography. These reminded me of the original streamlined trains of the 1930s such as Burlington’s Zephyrs, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and New Haven Railroad’s Comet. 

Today I’m happy to have a nice selection of these trains at work, but I regret not having traveled on them. I was always puzzled when my fellow photographers opted not to make photos of  them. Perhaps Turbotrains seemed too common?


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Tracking the Light in Review


Light, Camera, Philosophy . . .Action! (Hopefully).

Kodachrome slide of a Central Vermont freight train at Windsor, Vermont.
Central Vermont Railway at Windsor, Vermont. Originally posted with Installment 1 on July 19, 2012.

About 10 months ago (July 2012), I started Tracking the Light. In the short time span since then I’ve had about 19,000 hits. While small numbers compared with Gangnam Style’s viral You-Tube dance video (with more than 1.7 billion hits), it’s a gratifying start. (BTW, there are some train scenes in Gangnam Style,  so it isn’t a completely random reference).


Reading Terminal clock
Reading Terminal clock on Market Street, Philadelphia. Exposed with a Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens. Originally posted on January 4, 2013.

In my introductory post, I offered a bit of my background with a taste of my philosophy on the subject of railway photography; ‘There is no ‘correct way’ to make photographs, although there are techniques that, once mastered, tend to yield pleasing results. I hope to expand upon those themes in these Internet essays by telling the stories behind the pictures, as well as sharing the pictures themselves.’

Irish Rail trains
Irish Rail Intercity Rail Cars converge on Islandbridge Junction, May 2013. Lumix LX3 photo. I routinely post images of Irish railways. Check regularly for updates. Also, I have a special page on Dublin that is more than railway images. For more Irish Rail click here!
Irish Rail empty timber train.
An empty timber from Waterford near Donamon, County Roscommon, Ireland. Canon 7D with 100mm f2.0 lens.

What began as an infrequent opportunity to share work via the Internet has evolved into a nearly daily exercise. In the interval, I’ve learned a bit what makes for an interesting post, while working with a variety of themes to keep the topic interesting.

TTC Streetcar Toronto.
TTC Streetcar at corner of King and Queen Streets, Sunnyside, Toronto, February 8, 2010.
Lumix LX-3 set at ISO 80. Originally Posted February 8, 2013

Regular viewers may have observed common threads and topics. While I’ve made a concerted effort to vary the subject matter considered ‘railway photography,’ I regularly return to my favorite subjects and often I’ll post sequences with a common theme.

Occasionally I get questions. Someone innocently asked was I worried about running out of material! Unlikely, if not completely improbable; Not only do I have an archive of more than 270,000 images plus tens of thousands of my father’s photos, but I try to make new photos everyday. My conservative rate of posting is rapidly outpaced by my prolific camera efforts.

New England Central GP38 3850 leads train 608 at Stafford Springs on January 25, 2013. A series of difficult crossings in Stafford Springs is the primary reason for a 10 mph slow order through town. Especially difficult is this crossing, where the view of the tracks is blocked by a brick-building. Protection is offered by a combination of grade crossing flashers and traffic lights. Canon 7D with 40mm Pancake Lens; ISO 400 1/500th second at f8.0. In camera JPG modified with slight cropping to correct level and scaling for web. A RAW image was exposed simultaneously with the Jpg.
New England Central GP38 3850 leads train 608 at Stafford Springs on January 25, 2013. A series of difficult crossings in Stafford Springs is the primary reason for a 10 mph slow order through town. Especially difficult is this crossing, where the view of the tracks is blocked by a brick-building. Protection is offered by a combination of grade crossing flashers and traffic lights. Canon 7D with 40mm Pancake Lens; ISO 400 1/500th second at f8.0. In camera JPG modified with slight cropping to correct level and scaling for web. A RAW image was exposed simultaneously with the Jpg. Originally posted on January 26, 2013.

Someone else wondered if all my photos were ‘good’. I can’t answer that properly. I don’t judge photography as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Certainly, some of my images have earned degrees of success, while others have failed to live up to my expectations (It helps to take the lens cap ‘off’). Tracking the Light is less about my success rate and more about my process of making images.

Bord na Mona
A couple pair of laden Bord na Mona trains struggle upgrade, laying sand down as they ascend a short steep grade on the run back toward Mountdillon. This is the same stretch of track pictured in Irish Bog Railways–Part 2. Originally posted on March 4, 2013

I’m always trying new techniques, exploring new angles, while playing with different (if not new) equipment.

The most common questions regarding my photography are; ‘What kind of camera do you use?’ and ‘Have you switched to digital?’ I can supply neither the expected nor straight-forward responses. But, in short, I work with a variety of equipment and recording media. I aim to capture what I see and preserve it for the future. I try to have a nice time and I hope to entertain my friends.


Learn my secrets, click here. This image was made in Spring 2012 on Fuji Acros 100 film exposed with a Leica 3a and 21mm lens and processed for scanning.
Learn my secrets, click here. This image was made in Spring 2012 on Fuji Acros 100 film exposed with a Leica 3a and 21mm lens and specially processed for scanning.
Eastward Delaware & Hudson symbol freight 'Jet1' passes semaphores at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) east of Adrian, New York on May 14, 1988.
Semaphores are one of my themes. See my post from September 23, 2012. Eastward Delaware & Hudson symbol freight ‘Jet1’ passes semaphores at milepost 320 (measured from Jersey City) east of Adrian, New York on May 14, 1988.

Stay tuned for the details!

Thank you for your support!

By the way: If you know of anyone that might enjoy Tracking the Light, please share with them this site:

Railroads at night in Palmer, Massachusetts.
Originally posted on December 1, 2013. CSX Q427 rolls through Palmer, Massachusetts, at 11:01 pm on November 30, 2012.
Notice the photographer’s shadow superimposed on the blur of the train. Single exposure with Panasonic Lumix LX-3 with Leitz Summicron lens, zoom set to 5.1mm, ISO 200, exposed in ‘A’ mode with +2/3 over-ride, f2.2 at 7 seconds.
Entirely exposed with existing light; no flash.


CSX General Electric Evolution-series diesels work west at Palmer, Massachusetts on May 17, 2013. Exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D.
CSX General Electric Evolution-series diesels work west at Palmer, Massachusetts on May 17, 2013. Exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D.


CSX Q264 at West Warren, Massachusetts.
CSX Q264 at West Warren, Massachusetts.


Martinez, California, as viewed from Carquinez Scenic Drive. Canon EOS 3 with 100-400 mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
Martinez, California, as viewed from Carquinez Scenic Drive. Canon EOS 3 with 100-400 mm lens, Fujichrome slide film.
The number plate on a smoke box door catches the hint of a blue sky beyond. Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.
The number plate on a smoke box door catches the hint of a blue sky beyond. Canon EOS7D with 28-135mm lens.



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PKP Class SU45 at Sunrise, Chojnów, Poland, April 29, 2002.


Early Morning Sun on a Classic Diesel.

In April 2002, I was on my way from Zagan, Poland to Dresden, Germany with John Gruber and some other friends. Shortly after sunrise, we changed trains at Chojnów, where rich low sun allowed for some dramatic images of PKP (Polish National Railways) trains. PKP was operating a variety of interesting locomotives, and I’m partial to the distinctive shape of the SU45 diesel.

Polish diesel locomotive.
Exposed with my Nikon F3T fitted with Nikkor 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

My journal entry at Chojnów made at 6:34 am on that day includes this observation: “We awoke at 3:30 am to catch the 4:49 am [train] from Zagan—beautiful morning light [at Chojnów], but the station is decayed and graffiti covered.”

After I made this photo, we boarded a train destined for Gorlitz (and Dresden). Breakfast in the WARS dining car was memorable: “The girl at the counter cooked us scrambled eggs in a frying pan—class act!”

Exposed with my Nikon F3T fitted with Nikkor 24mm lens on Fujichrome slide film.

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New England Central at Stafford Springs, Connecticut on May 21, 2013.


Brian’s Milk Run.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 was a clear bright morning. I heard New England Central’s 608 climbing State Line Hill through Monson. I dithered briefly about heading out to photograph it. I’ve only photographed New England Central’s trains about a thousand times (metaphorically).

When I went to make myself a cup of tea I discovered to my horror that there wasn’t any milk! Poor show. So, I made the most of both problems. I drove to Stafford Springs, where I waited all of five minutes to score a few nice bright shots of a pair of New England Central GP38s. (I made a couple of slides too—just for ‘the record). Then stopped in at the shop in Stafford Hollow for milk before heading home again.

New England Central GP38s
New England Central freight 608 crawls through Stafford Springs, Connecticut on May 21, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens; exposed at f8 1/500 ISO 200.

What I find interesting is that, 16 years ago I made similar images of the same GP38s in the same location! A lot has changed in that time. Back then New England Central was part of RailTex. Now, after a dozen years as a RailAmerica road, it’s a Genesee & Wyoming property.

Somehow, I doubt that in another 16 years I’ll still be able to make images just like these. But you never know. It’s nice having an interesting railway nearby.

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Drowning the Light



Something a Bit Darker:  Enigmatic or just playing around?

Palmer in Gloom and Rain, May 24, 2013.

Friday evening May 24, 2013 wasn’t the driest night in recent days. I was in Palmer, Massachusetts to meet some friends for dinner. On the way in, I timed my arrival to intercept CSX’s westward Q437 (Worcester, Massachusetts to Selkirk, New York). I’d learned that one of the specially painted ‘Diversity in Motion’ AC4400CWs was leading.

The day was in its final moments with just a hint of blue in the sky. The signals at CP 83 (dispatchers control point, measuring 83 miles from South Station, Boston) lit up moments after I arrived. That gave me about six minutes to think up a photo solution. Since the car-park (parking lot) at Steaming Tender was comparatively empty, I opted for a broadside pan. All I had to work with was my Lumix LX3.

Pan photo of CSX.
CSX Q437 rolls through CP83, Palmer, Massachusetts. Lumix LX3 photo.

I set the LX3 for 200 ISO, switched ‘off’ the image stabilizer (I’ve found this tends to interfere with long pans), and selected ‘aperture priority’ with f2.6 and +1/3 exposure compensation. Then I set the focus manually and waited. There’s a slow order through Palmer, and Q437 passed traveling not faster than 30mph. I made a long pan and the camera selected a shutter speed of 1/3.2 seconds. A long exposure, but not long enough. I still needed to lighten the image in post processing using the program’s ‘curve’s’ feature.

After dinner, it was raining steadily. Rich Reed, Bill Keay & I returned to CP 83 to observe the arrival of a southward New England Central freight. I made a couple of more long pans in the gloom of night. Then, I placed the camera on an old railroad tie to make one final exposure of the train in the rain.

New England Central freight arrives at Palmer yard. Lumix LX3 ISO 200 set at f2.6 1.3 seconds, panned hand held in the rain.
New England Central freight arrives at Palmer yard. Lumix LX3 ISO 200 set at f2.6 1.3 seconds, panned hand held in the rain.
New England Central freight arrives at Palmer yard. Lumix LX3 ISO 200 set at f2.6 1.6 seconds, panned hand held in the rain.
I grabbed a second pan shot, as with the previous image, this one was with the Lumix LX3 ISO 200 set at f2.6. Slightly longer exposure: 1.6 seconds, also panned hand held in the rain.
Rain at Palmer yard. May 24, 2013. New England Central freight . Lumix LX3 ISO 200 set at f2.5 1/1.6 seconds.
Rain at Palmer yard. May 24, 2013. New England Central freight . Lumix LX3 ISO 200 set at f2.5 1/1.6 seconds.

Something a bit different anyway and it cost me nothing but a few moments of my time (and suffering some gratuitous dampness.)

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CSX Moves Fuel.

Tank Trains Rolling at Guilderland, New York.




On Saturday, May 18, 2013, CSX had four eastward unit oil trains working the Water Level route between Buffalo and Selkirk, New York. Mike Gardner and I were in place to catch two of these monsters. Mile-plus long strings of black heavily-laden tank cars hauled by colorful variety of locomotives.

These were only part of the show and mixed in with CSX’s seemingly endless parade of intermodal trains and mixed freight. While waiting for first of the oil train to reach us, we experience the highlight of the day. To the east I heard the classic roar of EMD 16-645 engines.

What could be making such a racket? This is a railroad dominated by the muffled sound of modern GE four-stroke diesels and the occasion EMD 710. By contrast this sound sent me back 20 years . . .

CP Rail SD40-2 leads an empty ethanol train.
SD40-2s lead CSX symbol freight K4091 (a westward empty ethanol train) on the old West Shore. The line on the right is the traditional eastward track built to fly over the westward main near French’s Hollow. Three SD40-2s on the Water Level Route, not bad! Canon EOS 7D with f2.0 100mm lens.

Working west in run-8 were three SD40-2s (one Canadian Pacific and two painted for Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern/Iowa, Chicago & Eastern) with empty ethanol train in tow. The crew was enthusiastic and passed us with a friendly blast of the horn and bells ringing. It was just about the coolest train I’ve seen on CSX in several years!

Empty ethanol train.
Trailing view of CSX K4091, the receding sounds of 16-645E3 engines brightening my day. Canon EOS 7D with f2.0 100mm lens.

After it passed we caught the first two unit oil trains, one right after the other, followed more ordinary traffic. This oil business is a new phenomenon and seems to be growing. I expect I’ll see more liquid energy on the move.

First of four eastward unit oil trains; CSX K040 with a mix of CSX, KCS, and BNSF locomotives.
CSX GE number 860 leading K048, the second of four oil trains on May 18, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with f4.0 200mm lens.
CSX GE number 860 leading K048, the second of four oil trains on May 18, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with f4.0 200mm lens.
Oil train
Rolling pipeline; trailing view of CSX K048—the second of four oil trains on May 18, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with f4.0 200mm lens.
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West Shore Bridges, French’s Hollow, Guilderland, New York.


Morning of May 18, 2013.

CSX on bridge.
We only had a few minutes to wait after arrival before we heard this westward train approaching French’s Hollow. One of CSX‘s SD70MACs leads. The train is on the older (and closer) of the two bridges. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens set at 75mm. Exposed at ISO 200 f5.6 1/1000th of a second. (I chose a very fast shutter speed because of my broadside angle to the train).

CSX’s Selkirk Branch, the old West Shore Railroad (New York, West Shore & Buffalo), is part of the busiest rail-freight corridor in the Albany area. This line is the primary westward link from the sprawling Selkirk yard; freight to and from Boston Line (old Boston & Albany), River Line (former West Shore to northern, New Jersey), and Hudson Line (former New York Central Hudson Division) plus Albany-area terminal traffic all uses this route.

Saturday, May 18th promised to be a bright day, so Mike Gardner and I aimed for French’s Hollow, where the old West Shore crosses Norman Kill. This section of line features a New York Central-era grade separation, built to allow the traditional eastward main to fly over the westward main, thus minimizing the need for conflicting movements of freights coming in and out of Selkirk.

Graffiti on railway car.
Decorated auto rack passes over Norman Kill. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

In a wet season, Norman Kill can be a raging torrent making for nice waterfall below the twin bridges. However, it’s been unseasonably dry, and the waterfall was little more than a trickle.

The north-south orientation of the Selkirk Branch and broadside view of the bridges is well suited to photographing westward trains in the morning. Our location was from a closed road bridge, now a hiking trail, immediately compass east of the railroad bridges.

Freight train crosses bridge at Frenchs Hollow, New York.
This was the second of several westward freights to cross the bridge at French’s Hollow. Old topo maps show this location as ‘French Mills’, so presumably there was once some sort of mill on Norman Kill. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens set at 30mm; ISO 200 f5.6 1/1000th of a second.

CSX performed more or less as anticipated; between 8 am and about 9:30 am we had a steady parade of westward trains, and at least one eastward train. This proved an excellent beginning to a very productive day photographing CSX freight west of Selkirk. In addition to more than a hundred digital images, I also exposed a couple of rolls of slide film during the course of the day. I’ve displayed just a few of the French’s Hollow images here.

GE diesels on Selkirk Branch.
There was a time when ‘foreign power’ (off line locomotives) running on the Water Level Route would generate a bit of excitement. Today, it isn’t unusual to see BNSF or Union Pacific locomotives leading train on CSX wet of Selkirk. A pair of BSNF Evolution Series GE six motor diesels glide across the bridge at Frenchs Hollow on May 18, 2013. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D fitted with a Canon 40mm Pancake lens.

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Amtrak Along the Hudson at Stuyvesant, New York, May 17, 2013.

Visions of the Great Steel Fleet.


On Friday, May 17, 2013, John Pickett and I went for lunch at the Riverview Cafe at Stuyvesant, New York. This is one of John’s favorite places to eat, as it offers a view of both the former New York Central Water Level Route and the Hudson River, and sits a short walk from the old Stuyvesant railway station.

I was visiting John to review some black & white negatives for upcoming book projects. John has a wonderful collection of steam-era photographs, many that he exposed with his own lens, and I’ve published a number of these in recent books, including North American Locomotives published by Voyageur Press.

I enjoy perusing John’s files and finding hidden gems among his images.

One of the photos he made shows a New York Central streamlined J3a Hudson racing west through Palentine Bridge in 1946. John grew up in Canajoharie on the opposite side of the Mohawk River from Palentine Bridge and he has great memories of watching trains in the glory days of the New York Central.

Before we sat down for lunch, John consulted his Amtrak schedule and worked out the times for train 238 running south from Albany and train 281working north from New York City. It was a toss up as he figured they were both due about the same time. ‘How exciting! I wonder which will get here first?’

Amtrak along the Hudson River
Amtrak train 238 crawls by the old New York Central station at Stuyvesant, New York. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.

As it turned out, 238 came first, but rolled through at a crawl. Soon after it passed us, we could here 281 blasting north. John passed the train a friendly wave, and, to our delight, we saw that it had a classic New York Central round-end observation at the back! ‘That was Babbling Brook!’. Neat to see a vestige of the Great Steel Fleet (what New York Central called its Water Level route passenger service) still rolling along at speed.


Amtrak along Hudson River.
John Pickett waves to Amtrak train 281 led by dual-mode General Electric locomotive 702 at Stuyvesant, New York on May 17, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
Observation car on Amtrak 281.
New York Central observation Babbling Brook passes Stuyvesant, New York. Today, the former New York Central Hudson Division has just two main tracks at Stuyvesant; the days of 4-6-4 Hudson-types, 4-8-2 Mohawks, and 4-8-4 Niagaras on the great four track main line are just a memory. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
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CSX Freights on the former Boston & Albany in New York State.

Clear Blue Dome on May 17, 2013.

When possible I combine trips to take care of both business and errands, while leaving appropriate intervals for photography. Ideally, I’ll organizing my time so I can conduct business during the heat of the day, while leaving the mornings and evening free to make photos when light is the best.

Last Friday May 17, 2013 was a perfect execution of this philosophy. I’d arranged to meet my friend and fellow railway photographer, John Pickett at 10:30 am to review some material for up coming book projects. John lives near Albany, so I departed Massachusetts in the early hours and aimed to work the far-west end of CSX’s former B&A route west of the Massachusetts-New York State line.

My first location was State Line itself. This is conveniently accessed by a grade crossing within sight of the railroad’s state-line marker. I’d made a nice photograph of a Conrail eastbound here 25 years ago, and I wanted to repeat the effort with a CSX freight.

Mass Line
The former Boston & Albany mainline at the historic location on the Massachusetts-New York State Line on the morning of May 17, 2013.

Patience rewarded me with an eastward CSX intermodal freight, probably train Q022 (Columbus, Ohio to Worcester, Massachusetts), lead by former Conrail SD60M 8774. Since the line is a single main at this location, I moved west to Chatham, New York to wait for the westward Q019 (carries freight from Worcester to Chicago), and intermodal train that typically passes in the mid-morning. Along the way, I reviewed known locations, checking for places to photograph in the afternoon.

I was happy to catch this Conrail-era EMD SD60M leading at State Line. Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm lens.
CSX freight
Trailing view of the eastward freight passing the old State Line marker. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
Chatham, NY.
CSX Q019 passes the former Boston & Albany passenger station at Chatham, New York on May 17, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.


Old B&A railroad station
Old Boston & Albany station at Chatham, New York. Lumix LX3 photo.


After 5pm, having finished my business with John (which incidentally included some photography along the Hudson River that will be featured in a later post), I returned to Chatham, picking a favorite location mid-way along the dispatchers controlled siding that extends east of town to the old ‘Bottleneck Bridge’ where the line crosses the New York State Thruway Extension. Here, I waited for the westward Q423 (Worcester to CSX’s yard at Selkirk, New York), which passed shortly after 6 pm.

An SD70ACe leads CSX’s Q423 at milepost QB173.7 east of Chatham, New York on May 17, 2013. Canon EOS 7D w 28-135mm lens set at 105mm. Exposed manually: ISO 200 f7.1 at 1/500th sec.

I consider myself very fortunate that in this situation my past experiences combined with an appreciation for CSX’s contemporary operations actually produced results. Not every effort yields ideal results; so despite planning and knowledge, I may have been skunked if trains didn’t show up when I anticipated them.


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Mass-Central, Monday May 13, 2013.


Blue GP15-2 and Spring Greenery.

Detail of the GATX GP15-2 operating on Mass-Central. The GP15 model features an unusual airflow pattern. Canon 7D.

My brief encounter with Mass-Central’s borrowed GP15-2 on May 10, 2013 (see Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013  encouraged me to seek out this locomotive and spend some more time photographing it on the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.

This branch is one of my longest running projects. Back in 1981, I rode my 10-speed bicycle from Monson to Ware to make photographs of Mass-Central’s recently acquired EMD NW5, number 2100. Now, more than 30 years later, that old engine is still on the property, and I’ve been up and down the line by road (and rail) dozens of times.

Despite this familiarity, at least once a year (if not once a season) I’ll take a photo-trip along the line. So, having a nice freshly painted locomotive against fresh spring leaves is a good excuse to get out and the exercise cameras.

Northward Mass-Central freight near Creamery on May 13, 2013. Canon 7D with 20mm lens.
Mass-Central crosses Rt 67 at Barre, Massachusetts on May 13, 2013. Lumix LX-3 photo.
Mass-Central crosses Rt 67 at Barre, Massachusetts on May 13, 2013. Lumix LX-3 photo.
Mass Central at Barre, Massachusetts on May 13, 2013. Lumix LX3 photo.

Much of the line is on a southwest-northeast angled alignment; and since trains tend depart northbound in the morning from Palmer  and return after midday, I’ve found that the southward return chase can be the most productive for making clean locomotive images.

On Monday May 13th, I spent the morning writing and running errands. Then in late morning, I followed Mass-Central’s line up to Gilbertville where I waited for the weekday freight to pass on its northbound run. (Just to clarify; the weekday freight is all I’d ever expect to see. The days of Boston & Albany’s steam hauled mixed train and milk specials have long since passed!)

Albany station at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on May 13, 2013.
Former Boston & Albany station at Gilbertville, Massachusetts on May 13, 2013.

My timing was good, and after a little while the GP15-2 rolled through northbound with two cars. Not much of a train, but it collected a few more cars near Creamery and continued to South Barre where it worked for about an hour delivering and collecting freight cars.

As expected, the southward chase offered better angles and nicer train. Not only did the southward train have a decent consist of cars, but the sun made some well-timed appearances.

Mass-Central working the spur at South Barre. This light industrial branch diverges near the end of track on Mass-Central's line at South Barre.
Mass-Central working the spur at South Barre. This light industrial branch diverges near the end of track on Mass-Central’s line at South Barre. Canon 7D.
Mass-Central freight
Mass-Central freight near Barre, Massachusetts on May 13, 2013. Canon 7D with 20mm lens.

I made photos with both film and digital Canon bodies as well as my Lumix LX-3, while following all the way south to Palmer  (where Mass-Central interchanges with both CSX and New England Central).

Canon 7D.
Canon 7D.
Mass-Central crossing Rt 32 near Creamery, Massachusetts.
Mass-Central crossing Rt 32 near Creamery, Massachusetts.
Canon 7D.
Mass-Central catches the sun at the Rt 181
Mass-Central catches the sun at the Rt 181 crossing near Palmer, Massachusetts. Canon 7D with 28-135 lens.

I’ve learned to take advantage of unusual or new motive power on the branch, as things can (and do) change quickly. To use a cliché; it’s best to strike when the iron is hot! I was pleased with my results featuring the GP15-2 and I wonder what motive power I’ll find next time I follow the line?

CP 83 Palmer, Massachusetts. Canon 7D photo.
CP 83 Palmer, Massachusetts. Canon 7D photo.