New England Central January 10, 2013

New England Central GP38 3850
Southward New England Central freight along Plains Road, near Sweetheart Lake, south of Stafford, Connecticut shortly after sunrise on January 13, 2013. Canon 7D with 40mm ‘Pancake’ lens; ISO 200 f4.5 at 1.500th second—intentionally ‘underexposed’ and adjusted in post processing using Photoshop to maintain desired detail and balance in highlight and shadow areas.

One of the benefits of my visits to Monson, Massachusetts, is being within ear-shot of the former Central Vermont Railway, now operated by New England Central (NECR). Yesterday morning (January 10, 2013), I awoke to the sounds of a southward freight clawing its way up Stateline Hill (so-named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line). NECR freights take their time ascending the grade and on a clear day I can hear them climbing from about the time they depart the Palmer Yard. As a kid I’d count the crossings: CV’s GP9s whistling a sequence of mournful blasts for each one. Yesterday morning I dithered for a few minutes. Should I go after this train? Or, should I keep my nose to grindstone, writing? Clear skies forced the answer: GO!

My hesitation caused me to miss the opportunity for a photograph in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. This was blessing in disguise, since I’ve often caught the train here and then broke off the chase before getting deeper into Connecticut. Having missed Stafford Springs, I pursued further south, and caught the train four times at various points between Stafford and Willimantic. This a relatively easy chase, as Route 32 runs roughly parallel to the line.

Three elements made yesterday’s chase a satisfying exercise:

1) The train was operating at a suitable time of the morning for southward daylight photography (lately, NECR’s trains seem to have headed south either way too early or too late in the day for my photographic preferences—I’ve been photographing this line for more than 30 years, first chasing it with my Dad in the early 1980s, so I can be unusually choosy).

2) It was a ‘clear blue dome’—sunny, bright, and cloudless, always a great time to make morning photographs.

3) As it turned out, one of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s was leading. As I’ve mentioned previously, while this was once NECR’s standard locomotive, in recent years the type has become comparatively scarce on NECR, with many of the locomotives working the line wearing paint of former operators (Conrail, Union Pacific, Florida East Coast, and others).

I was also eager for a clear day to test some recently acquired equipment, especially my new Canon 40mm Pancake Lens, which arrived on Monday. I’ll make this lens the detailed topic of future posts.

New England Central GP38 3850.
New England Central’s southward freight approaches Mansfield Depot, Connecticut. Canon 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; ISO f5.6 at 1/1000 second, ‘Landscape’ ‘picture style’ (no adjustments except for scaling).

After abandoning NECR at Willimantic, I made a few photographs of the town, which still has some wonderful old mill buildings, then continued south to New London where I focused on Amtrak for a while.

Since New England Central is among properties recently acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, I’m anticipating change and wondering when I’ll photograph the first orange & black locomotives

See my recent published book North American Locomotives for more information on New England Central’s and Genesee & Wyoming locomotives.

Railroad at Willimantic Connecticut
New England Central at Willimantic Yard as viewed from the famous footbridge (must be famous, it has its own plaque). NECR shares this yard with Providence & Worcester with which it interchanges traffic. Canon 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; ISO f8 at 1/640 second, ‘Landscape’ ‘picture style’ (no adjustments except for scaling).
Willimantic, Connecticut.
Old thread mills at Willimantic, Connecticut. Exposed using Canon 7D with 40mm ‘Pancake’ lens; f9.0 at 1/500th second, no adjustments except for scaling.




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Featured in Springfield Republican’s METRO EAST January 9, 2013

Today's (January 9, 2013) Metro East. See the Springfield Republican for full story and photos!
Today’s (January 9, 2013) Metro East. See the Springfield Republican for full story and photos!

There’s a front page write up about my Irish photography and my Ebook for Apple iPad Dublin Unconquered in today’s Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican’s Metro East section. Pretty neat! I wasn’t expecting that!



‘Ireland Through a Magic Lens’—coming up! January 16, 2013 at 7 pm Warren, Massachusetts Senior Center


Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland.
Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90s.

Ireland Through a Magic Lens is the title of my upcoming illustrated talk sponsored by the Warren, Massachusetts Public Library. This will be presented at 7pm on Wednesday January 16, 2013 at the Warren Senior Center in West Warren, Massachusetts.

Address: 2252 Main Street (Rt 67), West Warren, MA 01092.

Senior Center Phone: 1-413-436-5662.

Warren Library: 413-436-7690

For an article on my my talk see page 3 of the January  3, 2013  Quaboag Current.
Click here for a PDF of this issue.

I’ll be presenting some of my finest color work exposed in Ireland. I hope to see you there!


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Trains of Yesteryear: Stateline Tower, January 7, 1996

On this day in 1996, I was on a whirlwind tour of Chicagoland with the late Mike Abalos. We began our photography at Santa Fe’s Willow Springs yard and worked our way east through the industrial areas south of the Loop. My primary interest was photographing the myriad varieties of signaling active in the Chicago area, and Mike was just the man to get me to all the right places. This image was made near the end of daylight at State Line Tower. Throughout the day I was primarily using Kodachrome 25,working with my Nikon F3T, so this hastily composed photo was no exception. I was more interested in capturing the old Baltimore & Ohio Color Position Light signal than the CP Rail train about to pass it.

Color Position Light Signal
A Canadian Pacific SD40 (former Soo Line) receives a ‘Medium Clear’ on CSX’s old Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal line at State Line Tower on the evening of January 7, 1996. Nikon F3T with a Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens; K25 slide film.

B&O’s unusual Color Position Light signals use a single-head to display all aspects. Key to interpreting the signal is the position of the white light that modifies the basic aspect. A ‘clear’ aspect is represented with two green lights in a vertical pattern (mimicking an upper quadrant semaphore) with a white light directly above them; when the white light is directly below the two greens, the aspect is ‘medium clear.’ With conventional color light signals a ‘medium clear’ may be represented with a three-head signal by red-over-green-over-red, or on a high two-head signal as red-over-green. The essential difference between ‘clear’ and ‘medium clear’ is the maximum speed allowed through an interlocking. A ‘clear’ aspect permits maximum track speed while a ‘medium clear’ limits speed typically to 30 mph. While fading light isn’t the best time to photograph moving trains, it is however a great time to photograph signals (because the signal lights appear brighter in comparison with ambient conditions). Thank you Mike!

Interested in railroad signals? See my book Railroad Signaling available from Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing

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DAILY POST: Fascinating American Town in Decline

Random Slide Number 22.


Norfolk Southern SD70 2561 leads the westward empty Mt. Tom coal train at Hoosic Falls, New York on October 13, 2001. Exposed on Fujichrome Sensia 100 with an F3T with 24mm Nikkor lens. Shortly before the train entered the scene, a cloud diffused the sun. . . . Hey Tim, what was that you said just then?


Picking photos for Tracking the Light can be a challenge. Everyday since March 2013 I’ve posted original photos to this site. That means, come rain or shine, I’ve selected photos and put words to them.

For this post, I though I’d try something a bit different. Rather than work from my semi-organized labeled material, I selected a random box of raw and unsorted slides and just plucked out a photo randomly.

While not the best picture in the box, frame 22 isn’t a bad photo.

I made it on the afternoon of October 13, 2001. Mike Gardner, Tim Doherty and I had been following an empty Mt Tom coal train since it left the plant near Northampton, Massachusetts. We caught it a multitude of locations on Guilford Rail System’s former Boston & Maine.

The last place we photographed this train was at Hoosic Falls, New York. My notes from the day read: “Hoosic Falls in a fascinating little American town—once prosperous, but on a decline . . . certainly worth some photography.”

And so there you go! Random Slide Number 22, displayed and explained.

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SEPTA Wanderings in Early January 2013


Detail of SEPTA Silverliner IV.
Detail of SEPTA Silverliner IV. Lumix LX3.

South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority provides public transportation in the Philadelphia area and is one of the most eclectic and historically diverse transit systems in the USA. In addition to former Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Company suburban railway services, it also operates two street car/light rail systems, several third-rail rapid transit subway/elevated services, the former Philadelphia & Western interurban third rail electric line (100 route), and myriad bus and electric (trolley) bus routes. Despite the variety of former operators, today’s SEPTA is reasonably well integrated and offers a variety of interface points between different transport modes. From my experience the transit vehicles appear clean and well maintained and the stations, many of which retain a classic appearance are also generally well appointed. The trains typically operate a regular interval service, with most heavy rail routes offering at least an hourly frequency, with express or extra services at peak times.

Over the years, my brother Sean and I have explored SEPTA as part of a greater urban experience, and I’ve gradually accumulated a considerable body of work depicting the network. SEPTA’s mix of modern and historic equipment combined with Philadelphia’s patchwork urbanity offers seemingly endless opportunities for image making.

Collected here are a few of my most recent efforts that were exposed over the last few days since the New Year. Significantly, these were largely made while using SEPTA as transport, thus integrating my photography with my transportation—an age-old tradition in urban-rail image making. I’ve found that SEPTA’s $11 Independence Pass is great value for such exercises. When possible, Sean and I will ride at the front of a vehicle, which both provides picture possibilities and allows for a better understanding of operations.

A vision of modern transit: SEPTA’s new Silverliner V at Market East Station. Lumix LX3.


SEPTA's offices at Market Street, Philadelphia on January 2, 2013. Canon 7D w 28-135mm lens. SEPTA’s offices on Market Street, Philadelphia. Canon 7D w 28-135mm lens.
Norristown, Pennsylvania
Under and over at Norristown: on January 3, 2013 a Silverliner V running on the old Reading Company passes below the Route 100 terminus. Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens.




Norristown Viaduct.
Wier and Schuylkill River Bridge at Norristown with Route 100 car. Nothing lasts forever, and this bridge may be reaching the end of its life.
Schuylkill River Bridge at Norristown with Route 100 car. Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens.
Former Pennsylvania Railroad tower at sunset; viewed from the front of an Elwyn bound train. This reminds me of Edward Hopper‘s 1929-oil painting “Railroad Sunset”, that also features a signal tower silhouette with rosy glow. Lumix LX3; set in ‘Vivid’ film mode.
Train arriving at Suburban Station. Lumix LX3.
Railway photography benefits from a bit of humor, don’t you think? Lumix LX3.
Detailed view of a vintage Silverliner IV multiple-unit at Suburban Station. Lumix LX3.
Meet on the Reading near North Philadelphia. Lumix LX3.
Our SEPTA Independence Passes, which by definition offer freedom and liberty of travel! Yea! Lumix LX3.
Back in the day many American towns hosted a single-track trolley line. Today, Media, Pennsylvania is one of the last such places in North America. On January 3, 2013 SEPTA’s 101 car crosses Olive Street. Lumix LX3.
View from the floor of an Market-Frankford Elevated train. That’s my soiled shoe at left, suffering from a slip in the mud along the Schuylkill earlier in the day. Poor form. Lumix LX3.
Market-Frankford El in the Subway at 16th and Market. Lumix LX3.
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Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Revisited

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

On Wednesday January 2, 2013, I revisited Philadelphia’s old Reading Terminal with my brother Sean and Michael Scherer. It was still a functioning passenger terminal when I first visited this iconic railroad facility in the late 1970s with my family. In 2007, I covered its history in my book Railroads of Pennsylvania. Here’s an excerpt of my text:

In the 1890s, Philadelphia & Reading invested its anthracite wealth in construction of one of Pennsylvania’s most ornately decorated company headquarters and passenger terminals. Facing Philadelphia’s Market Street, one of downtown’s main thoroughfares, Reading Terminal represented an ostentatious display of success, but one that now has benefited citizens and visitors to Philadelphia for more than a century.Like many large railway terminals of its time, Reading Terminal followed the architectural pattern established in Britain, perfected at London’s St. Pancras station. This pattern features two distinct structures for the head house and train shed. The Reading station architect, F. H. Kimball, designed the head house to rise nine stories above the street and its façade is made of pink and white granite, decorated with terra cotta trimmings. Behind the head house is the functional part of the station, an enormous balloon-style train shed—the last surviving North American example—designed and built by Philadelphia’s Wilson Brothers.  The terminal closed as a result of consolidation of Philadelphia’s suburban services on November 6, 1984. Its modern underground replacement­—SEPTA’s Market East Station—is nearby.

Philadelphia & Reading’s crown jewel was its immense, opulent railroad terminal and office building on Market Street in Philadelphia. Its corporate imperialism was spelled out in an Italian Renaissance revival style, with this corner office specially designed for the president of the company. Exposed with a Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens.
Reading Terminal Market's logo reflects that of the old Reading Company, which like many coal hauling railroads symbolically used the diamond (inferring black diamonds)
Reading Terminal Market’s logo reflects that of the old Reading Company— like many coal hauling railroads symbolically used the diamond (inferring black diamonds). Exposed with a Lumix LX3.
This large mural inside Reading Terminal conveys a sense of what the shed was like in the late 1930s. Exposed with a Lumix LX3.
It has been nearly three decades since the last train departed the shed at Reading Terminal. Today the classic balloon shed covers part of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Lumix LX3 photo.

Designed by Philadelphia’s Wilson Brothers and built by Charles McCall, Reading Terminal’s vast balloon shed is the last surviving example of its type in the United States.


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View from Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, January 2, 2013

Schuylkill River Bridge, Laurel Hill
Canon 7D with 28-135mm AF lens set at 135mm; ISO 200 f6.3 1/640 second. Image was adjusted slightly in Photoshop to increase saturation.

For several years I’ve been eyeing the view from Laurel Hill Cemetery as a place to make a railway photograph of the former Reading Company bridges over the Schuylkill. I was intrigued by combination elevation and the complexity of the scene. My brother Sean and I scoped this out last winter, but the light was dull and trees blocked the angle I wanted for a southward train. Recently the view was improved as a result of extensive tree removal around the river-side of the cemetery. Yesterday, Sean, Mike Scherer and I investigated photographic views from Laurel Hill. Our timing was right; I made this image of CSX’s symbol freight Q439 rolling across the bridge at 2:22 pm. I’m pleased with this effort, since catching a train here has been a challenge and the angle is a new one for me, yet I see room for improvement. Finding a train here an hour or two earlier in the day might offer better light on the side of the locomotives, while a slightly longer lens would tighten my composition.

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SEPTA’s Broad Street Subway, January 1, 2013

Yesterday evening (January 1, 2013), on the way back from Philadelphia’s parade, I made this lone image of SEPTA’s Broad Street Subway at the Ellsworth-Federal station.


Broad Street Subway Philadelphia
On the way back from Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade I made this lone image of SEPTA’s Broad Street Subway at the Ellsworth-Federal station. Lumix LX-3 at ISO 80 f3.2 1/13th second hand-held (with camera resting against post to minimize movement); camera set in ‘A’ (aperture priority mode) at + 1/3 (to compensate for the dark ceiling with bright lights, a situation that tends to result in underexposure).
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Burlington Northern at Sunset, Whitefish, Montana July 5, 1994

Sunset at Whitefish, Montana
This is a favorite photo: it appeared in Rails West 1995 (a Pacific RailNews Annual published by Pentrex Publishing), and ten years later in my book Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway published by MBI.

Happy New Years from Tracking the Light!

July 5, 1994, was a very productive day for me; I’d been photographing from dawn to dusk in western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle. I concluded my efforts with this image at Burlington Northern’s yard along the old Great Northern main line at Whitefish. This was my first visit to the town and I arrived about an hour before sunset. I made this image in the final moments of sunlight—just after 10pm. I used my Nikon F3T fitted with an f4.0 200mm lens loaded with Kodachrome 25. I opted to silhouette the engine. This caught the sunlight through the cab, and illuminated the engineer—who appears anonymously with a halo flare around him. Although not readily visible to the naked eye, the sky was laden with particulate matter (possibly smoke from forest fires?) that made for an especially reddish effect on Kodachrome. I’m partial to the monochromatic effect of low red sun, so Kodachrome was a choice material to work with in this regard. While the film made for a deep black, it had an ability to retain detail in extreme areas of the image. Both highlight and shadows retain a high level of detail and sharpness. I find this type of image difficult to make with digital cameras. This scan was made directly from the original slide and is unmodified except for scaling. The locomotive is prominent but not overbearing. Reflective rails—shining in the light—emphasize this as a railway image while providing a natural frame; they add interest while keeping the eye from getting lost in the inky foreground. The silhouette in the cab provides a human element. The subtle detail of the trees and hills beyond the locomotive give a sense of place without offering specifics. The ability of the film to maintain a sharp edge in an extremely contrasty situation help identify the locomotive—for those who are interested—as an Electro-Motive end-cab switcher (model SW1500). The locomotive’s wheels touch the rails tie the scene together while maintaining an abstract quality. We can enjoy this image as a frame in time, although in reality it existed only for an instant.

Diagrammed BN photo©Brian Solomon


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Irish Rail—Cherryville Junction, 6 December 2003

In 2003, Irish Rail operated its sugar beet trains via Kildare because the normal routing between Waterford and Limerick Junction was closed as result of a bridge collapse at Cahir, County Tipperary. On December 6, 2003, I was in place at Cherryville Junction (where the Waterford Road joins the Cork Road—a few miles west of Kildare Station) to catch a laden sugar beet train on its way from Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford to Mallow, County Cork. (Since there is no direct chord at Cherryville to allow a movement from the Waterford Road onto the Cork Road in the down direction, this sugar beet train would continue up to Kildare where the locomotive would run around, thus allowing the train to reverse direction for its onward journey to Mallow.)


General Motors diesel locomotive in Ireland
Irish Rail laden sugar beet train at Cherryville, Junction 6 December 2003.
That same day, I was also fortunate to intercept locomotive 124 and a three-piece Mark3 push-pull, normally assigned to the Limerick-Limerick Junction shuttle, on its way to Dublin for servicing.
That same day, I was also fortunate to intercept locomotive 124 and a three-piece Mark3 push-pull, normally assigned to the Limerick-Limerick Junction shuttle, returning from Dublin after working a ‘relief’ from Limerick Junction. 

It was a characteristically dull day. I was working with a Rollei Model T (120 size roll film fitted with a f3.5 Zeiss Tessar) and Fuji Neopan™ 400 film. Key to obtaining the desired tonality was my process. For developer I used Agfa Rodinal Special™ 1:32 with water for 7 minutes, then after dual fixing baths, Perma Wash™ for 3 minutes, and 10 minutes in running water, I toned the negatives in selenium solution (mixed 1:9 with water) for 9 minutes, then re-washed for 20 minutes in running water. (Warning: selenium is poisonous and should be handled with extreme care in a well-ventilated room). See: Installment 6: Black & White revisited; Old Tech for a New Era part 2—Secrets Revealed!.

For comparison, I’ve scanned the entire 120 size negative strip. This is in color, unmodified during scanning. The slightly purple tone is a result of the selenium toner. The two primary benefits from toning negatives with selenium solution are improved highlight density and better archival quality. While the effect is subtle, it adds snap to photographs exposed on a dull day.
For comparison, I’ve scanned the entire 120 size negative strip. This is in color and unmodified during scanning. The slightly purple tone is a result of the selenium toner. The two primary benefits from toning negatives with selenium solution are improved highlight density and better archival quality. While the effect is subtle, it adds snap to photographs exposed on a dull day.


Cherryville Junction
Irish Rail class 141 diesels 160 and 148 lead empty beet wagons at Cherryville Junction on 6 December 2003. The train has taken the switch and is headed toward Waterford.
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Santa Fe at Christie, California, March 18, 1993.

Santa Fe Railway in Franklin Canyon
: In the 1990s, Santa Fe’s line through California’s Franklin Canyon featured jointed rail, searchlight block signals, and traditional code lines strung from poles along the right-of-way. The sun sets on the track at the west switch at Christie. Exposed with Nikormat FT3 and 105mm f1.8 lens on Fujichrome 100 slide film.

In the mid-1990s, I often photographed Santa Fe in the bucolic splendor of Franklin Canyon. While I made many images of Santa Fe’s trains, for me this atmospheric image captures the wonderful quality of the place and I featured it in my big book on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway published by MBI Publishing in 2005. (Out of print)

Dublin’s Harcourt Street at Dusk

Dublin's Harcourt Street
Harcourt Street looking north on a rainy March 1998 evening; Nikon F3T with 50mm Nikkor Lens, Fujichrome 64T slide film. Exposed manually with aid of a Sekonic Studio Deluxe hand-held light meter. This image appears on pages 184-185 of my book Dublin, published by Compendium in 2008.

There are very few places where I my memory predates the railway. However, Dublin‘s LUAS tram system (opened in 2004) offers one example. I made my first photos of Harcourt Street in March 1998. It was a rainy evening, and I was experimenting with some tungsten balanced Fujichrome to enhance the blue twilight glow.

LUAS on Harcourt St IMG_0887©Brian Solomon
On November 3, 2010, a LUAS Green Line Tram bound for St. Stephens Green navigates Dublin’s Harcourt Street. Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens set at 130mm, ISO 1250 1/40th sec f5.7.

Moving a dozen years forward, on November 3, 2010 I was interested in replicating the effect of my earlier efforts (without any attempt at precisely recreating the scene; my 1998 photo was made from the south-end of the street looking north, while the 2010 image was from the north-end, looking south). The image of the tram was made with my Canon 7D with the 28-135mm lens. Here, the tungsten color balance was accomplished in-camera using the ‘light bulb’ white balance setting. (See: Steam at Dusk, December 15, 2012) . This image was made during the final glow of daylight, and rather than neutralize the bluish light by using the auto white balance setting, I opted to enhance the effect while offering adequate compensation for the warm-balance street lamps. I was particularly drawn to reflections in the street and the repeating window frame patterns in the Georgian buildings above the tram. The pedestrian silhouettes seem apropos for the time of year; here past meets present.



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Christmas Cat on the Track Video

I filmed this lite video Christmas morning using my Lumix LX3 and Canon 7D. Check it out on  YouTube: Christmas Cat on the Track Video



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Red Locomotives in the Snow; Mt Holly, Vermont

Vermont Rail System freight 263 led by former Texas Mexican GP60 381 works on Green Mountain Railroad’s former Rutland grade near Mt Holly, Vermont on February 18, 2002. Fresh powder, a clear blue dome combined with red locomotives and tonnage make for an irresistible combination. Cross-lighting the scene adds a bit of contrast and drama. Yet the snow minimizes the effect of deep shadows. Exposing in snow takes a bit of practice. Most metering systems will tend to render the snow too dark resulting in an underexposed image. A good rule of thumb: close down one full stop from normal sunlit daylight exposure. With 100 speed slide film as used here; instead of f6.3 1/500th, I’d recommend about f9 1/500th. An advantage of working with a digital camera in snow is the ability to check exposure on site, and not have to wait until after the action has passed to find out that the photos are exposed incorrectly.

Vermont Railway GP60 at Mount Holly

Nikon F3hp with Nikkor f2.8 180mm lens, Fujichrome Provia 100F.

Photographs from my day following Vermont Railway GP60 381 in the snow have appeared in a variety of publications. I used this image on page 35 of my 2003 book TRAINS—A Photographic Tour of American Railways, published by Gramercy. The book’s cover features a broadside view of this locomotive near Chester, Vermont.

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Christmas Day 1982; Warren, Massachusetts

Amtrak Christmas Day
On this Christmas Day 1982, after a ritual of opening presents, my father, Richard Jay Solomon, brought my brother and me trackside to watch trains. Before Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited passed Warren, a set of Conrail GP40-2s rolled west on what was then a double track railway. As it was a holiday, Tucker’s Hobbies (Warren’s primary attraction) was closed for business. Leica IIIA with f2.0 Summitar and Kodachrome 64 film; scan full-frame;  adjusted in Photoshop to balance color and modify exposure.

Merry Christmas from Brian Solomon!

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Cuernavaca, Mexico, December 1979

Logo of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar
Logo of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On Christmas Day 1979, I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Mexico City on an Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. At Mexico City airport I met my uncle and we spent a week wandering around. Among our adventures was a visit to Cuernavaca where I met an elderly survivor of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire. My uncle and I rode National Railways of Mexico local train from Cuernavaca to Iguala behind an imported General Motors G16 diesel-electric. The fare was 8 pesos each—not much money, even in 1979! Throughout these wanderings I made good use of my Leica IIIA and Summitar lens. I exposed black & white and color slide film with mixed results. Despite some dodgy exposures (my light meter wasn’t the greatest) and considering I was only 13 at the time, I managed to take some memorable images.

Railway Station Mexico
An early morning view of National Railways of Mexico’s Cuernavaca station where I recall chickens running around on the tracks—just like in Conrail’s Palmer Yard!
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Erie Railroad’s Portage Bridge; May 12, 2007

Railroad viaduct at Letchworth Gorge, New York
Norfolk Southern freight 309 eases over the former Erie Railroad Portage Viaduct on May 12, 2007. Exposed with a Rollei Model T (f3.5 75mm Zeiss Tessar) on 120 size Fujichrome Veliva 100—RVP100.

During the second week of May 2007, I was in western New York to photograph for my book The Railroad Never Sleeps.  This project involved coordinating 37 photographers across North America who produced railroad images on May 10th — the anniversary of the completion of the first trans-continental railroad in 1869. The concept was one full day of railroad photography organized chronologically. Each photographer picked their own topics and techniques. I opted to work my old territory from college, which included a cab ride (by prior arrangement) on Genesee Valley Transportation’s Falls Road Railroad. While the book featured the best of the photography on May 10th, I continued to make images over the next few days traveling with fellow railroad photographer Hal Reiser.

The old Erie Railroad is one of my favorites, and on the morning of May 12th we were poised at Letchworth State Park near Portage, New York to photograph the famous viaduct over Genesee Upper Falls in Letchworth Gorge. At 8:17 am, Norfolk Southern’s detector at mp 359 (near old River Junction) sounded alerting us to a westward train. The roar of the falls can make it difficult to hear a train approaching and it is helpful to have some advanced warning. A few minutes later NS freight 309 inched across the trestle with now-rare C39-8 ‘Classic’ 8554 in the lead. I made a series of color photographs with my Canon EOS-3 and Rollei model T. One of the telephoto vertical views appeared on page 13 of my 2011-title Modern Diesel Power published by Voyageur press.

To learn more about the significance of Erie’s Portage Viaduct see my detailed and illustrated response in ‘Ask TRAINS,’ page 64 of the February 2013 issue (on stands soon!). For this article, I show the bridge with a westward Delaware & Hudson freight exposed on Kodachrome almost 19 years earlier (May 14, 1988).

Tower supported trestle at Letchworth Gorge.
Norfolk Southern C39-8 crosses Erie’s Portage Viaduct on May 12, 2008. Exposed on Fujichrome Provia 100F with Canon EOS-3 with 200mm f2.8 lens.

See an independent review of Modern Diesel Power at

For more post on the Erie Railroad route see: Erie October MorningCuriously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Erie Semaphores Revisited.

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Railway Preservation Society Ireland 461 Follow Up

As a follow up to my November 7, 2012 post Irish Rail in November Light , I thought I’d post a scan of a slide I made the same day as the digital photos. RPSI 461 was its way back to Dublin as part a trial run on November 6, 2012. I exposed this image with a Canon EOS-3 on Fujichrome Provia 100F. I intentionally aimed into the sun to silhouette the locomotive as it crossed the open lands of the Curragh. My feelings on the photo are mixed. While I captured the essence of the scene and the photo is razor sharp, it isn’t precisely what I’d hope for. The sky lacks the texture and color I remember, and I’m not comfortable with the angle. Not every image works perfectly.

Railway Preservation Society Ireland 4-6-0 number 461 crosses the Curragh, County Kildare on November 6, 2012.
Railway Preservation Society Ireland 4-6-0 number 461 crosses the Curragh, County Kildare on November 6, 2012.

Locomotive Geometry Part 2; Wisconsin & Southern’s Electro-Motive diesels

Locomotive study.
Detailed study of an EMD’s rear hood shows radiator air-intakes, engine compartment doors, handrails, and the engine water level sight-glass that helps distinguish Dash-2 models from their earlier counterparts. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.

Finding static locomotives in nice light offers an opportunity to make studies of the equipment. Wisconsin & Southern operated a fleet of clean, well-maintained second-hand General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) diesels. These were representative of the classic models built at La Grange, Illinois, during the mid-20th century and dressed in a handsome red and silver livery. For me they were prime examples of GM’s finest American diesels, yet at the time I was photographing them, these locomotives were past their prime and harked back to an earlier era. General Motors locomotives, even their more utilitarian models, were characterized by well-balanced aesthetic designs, while their classic postwar streamlined locomotives are icons of American railroading. These images are a small selection focused on the locomotives.

GP9 from rail level
Wisconsin & Southern GP9 4491 was leading a train on the line to Prairie du Chein; the crew had tied down the locomotive, so the lights are on but there’s nobody home. This low view at a grade crossing captures the long hood with ditch-lights and headlights blaring. Exposed with a Nikon F3T and f1.8 105mm lens on Kodachrome 25 slide film. Key to making this image was ability to detach the F3T’s viewing prism, thus allowing a view ‘from the hip’ (or in this case from ‘the rail’).
Wisconsin & Southern GP9 study.
Detail of Wisconsin & Southern GP9 4491 showing the battery box door and company logo. Nikon F3T and f1.8 105mm lens on Kodachrome 25 slide film
WSOR_SD40-2_Janesville_WI_Jul2005_©Brian Solomon
Wisconsin & Southern SD40-2s are ‘blue flagged’ at the Janesville, Wisconsin roundhouse. The SD40-2 was the most common locomotive of the 1970s, a powerful, reliable 3,000 hp six-motor freight hauler, and in their day, one of the best-liked engines by crews. Although in their prime they were so common as to be barely worth a second glance, today they are American classics. Exposed with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens on Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.


Locomotives at rest.
SD40-2s in light and shade. Clean balanced design was among the admirable external characteristics of EMD diesels. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film
Locomotive truck detail
The initials ‘EMD’ was General Motors’ signature on its locomotives.
HT-C truck detail
Detailed view of EMD’s very successful HT-C truck ‘High-Traction’ with ‘C’ for three-motors that was standard equipment on its SD40-2.
WSOR_E9_detail_Jul2005_Brian_Solomon_444120©Brian Solomon
Wisconsin & Southern operated former Milwaukee Road streamlined E9s on its business train.
Model E9 was EMD’s last E-unit. This nose detail of Wisconsin & Southern E9 10C shows the engine’s dual headlight arrangement, the top headlight is an oscilating light, the bottom light is fixed. While oscillating lights are commonly known as ‘Mars light’, in this situation both headlights are Mars products. Among the classic EMD equipment on this locomotive are the grab irons and nose-door handle. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.
Model E9 was EMD’s last E-unit. This nose detail of Wisconsin & Southern E9 10C shows the engine’s dual headlight arrangement, the top headlight is an oscillating light, the bottom light is fixed. While oscillating lights are commonly known as ‘Mars light’, in this situation both headlights are Mars products. Among the classic EMD equipment on this locomotive are the grab irons and nose-door handle. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.
SD40-2s at work.
Wisconsin & Southern SD40-2s at work: a freight growls over a highway crossing at Avalon, Wisconsin on August 20, 2011. Canon EOS-3 with f2.8 24mm lens on Fuji Provia 100F slide film.
Not a 'pure' EMD creation; Wisconsin & Southerns' 'SD20s' were a hybrid model built by Illinois Central Gulf at Paducah, Kentucky using the core of a former Union Pacific cab-less SD24. Wisconsin & Southern 2051 displays a patriotic sticker in 2002.
Not a ‘pure’ EMD creation; Wisconsin & Southern ‘SD20s’ were a hybrid models built by Illinois Central Gulf at Paducah, Kentucky. This one was originally a Union Pacific cab-less SD24. Wisconsin & Southern 2051 displays a patriotic sticker in 2002.

See: Locomotive Geometry Part 1

Also, for more information on EMD’s see my book EMD Locomotives.

Iconic San Francisco Silhouette

San Francisco cable car on Washington Street
Light and shade on Washington Street, San Francisco; a cable car begins its steep descent. Exposed with Canon EOS 3, f2.8 200mm lens on Ektachrome Elite 100 (EB3), approximate exposure f11 at 1/500 second.

On the afternoon of August 21, 2009, I worked San Francisco’s famous hills aiming to make images of Muni’s cable cars, arguably one of America’s most pictured railway operations. I set the exposure manually using the camera’s spot meter to base my judgment. I sample the sky and street and aimed for texture in the highlight areas, allowing the shadows to go dark. My choice of film was Kodak Ektachrome Elite 100 (EB3) which offered an ideal color-balance for such a silhouette. San Francisco’s many above ground wires added a geometric framing to the image.


Amtrak Acela Express passes Niantic Beach October 2002

Amtrak Acela Express
A grungy sunset greets America’s fastest train at Niantic Beach, Connecticut in October 2002. Twenty of these distinctive high-speed trains entered service between Boston and Washington D.C. in December 2000. Exposed with a Contax G2 rangefinder fitted with 45mm Zeiss Planar lens on Fujichrome slide film.

Main Line Position Lights on Borrowed Time

Anticipating change is key to documenting the railroad. In nearly three decades of photography along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, I’ve tuned my images to clues of this route’s past. While the PRR vanished into Penn Central in 1968, key PRR infrastructure has allowed necessary visual cues that retain elements of the old railroad. Among these are PRR’s iconic Position Light style signals that date to the steam era, and have survive the decades of change. However, a wise photographer will have noted that this style of signal hardware is out of favor. While Norfolk Southern has been gradually replacing its PRR era signals with color lights, I’ve learned that a recent NS application with the Federal Railroad Administration includes elimination of most remaining wayside signals from its former PRR Main Line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.


PRR signals at Lilly, PA
The morning of July 1, 2010, was clear and bright. I set up on the outside of a curve near Lilly, Pennsylvania, to get a good view of the automatic (intermediate) signals at 254.7. Here NS maintains three main tracks with the center track signaled in both directions. This arrangement stems from a Conrail-era modification in the 1980s, when it converted the line from PRR’s directional four-track system (the two south tracks were for eastward trains and two north tracks reserved for westward trains). In this view of NS freight 12G, I used a 100-400mm Canon zoom with my Canon 7D mounted on a Bogen tripod. The lens is set at 285mm; image exposed at ISO200 f/9.0 1/250th second (camera RAW adjusted in Photoshop). By using a long focal length aimed directly at the signals I’ve maximized the effect of the position light arrangement.
Lilly, Pennsylvania
Norfolk Southern 12G is crawling upgrade, which gives ample time to expose many images. This one offers a more dramatic angle on the leading General Electric DASH9-40CW while keeping the signals in view. I’ve adjusted the 100-400m lens to 180mm, and closed the aperture slightly to f/10.0. (Camera Jpg, unmodified).

The writing is on the wall for these signals. Among those to go are favorites on the ‘west slope’ (between Gallitzin and Johnstown, Pennsylvania). I worked this area intensively in summer 2010, making an effort to capture trains passing former PRR Position Lights. Be forewarned: the signals that protected trains hauled by PRR’s magnificent K4s and M1b steam locomotives and have survived these long decades will soon pass from the scene.

Former PRR main line.
In this June 30, 2010, view. I’m looking downgrade (west) from the ‘Railfan’s Overlook’ at Cassandra, Pennsylvania. I’ve set the 100-400mm at its maximum focal length to capture a set of light helpers drifting west toward the signal bridge near Portage. In the distance an eastward train is climbing. While the signals are incidental, they offer a touch of PRR heritage. A wink of sun improves the composition. The exposure was at ISO200 f/5.6 1/500th second with Canon 7D.

I researched the development of PRR’s Position Light signals for my book Railroad Signaling. Here’s an excerpt:

PRR’s first position lights were installed in 1915 along the Main Line between Overbrook and Paoli, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with its new 11,000-olt AC overhead electrification. Early position light signals featured large background shields to protect the view from effects of harsh backlighting. Aspects mimicked those of upper quadrant semaphores by using rows of four lamps. After a few years of service these position lights were deemed successful. However, before PRR adopted the signal for widespread application, the form of the position light signal head was refined: Each head used rows of three lights oriented around a common center lamp with the outer lamps forming a circle. Lamps were mounted on bars with a circular background panel affixed over the lamps and shades to prevent backlighting. Traditionally this panel was made of Armco iron, measuring 4 feet 4 inches in diameter, with 7-3/4 inch holes punched in it for the lamps. Each single head can display several basic aspects: ‘clear’, represented by three vertical lights; ‘approach’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 1:30 clock position to the 7:30 clock position; ‘restricting’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 10:30 clock position to the 4:30 clock position; and ‘stop’ (or ‘stop’ and proceed) by three lights running horizontally. An individual signal head is only provided with lamps for the aspects it is expected to display and unnecessary holes are covered over. The lower of two heads, tended to use a slightly different shape for the shield panel. By using two heads, a great variety of speed signal aspects mimicking those of two and three head semaphores are possible. Slow speed aspects are provided by dwarf position signals that use a slightly different light pattern.

Signals at Summer Hill, Pennsylvania
On June 30, 2010, an NS SD40E helper set (rebuilt from SD50s) drifts down at Summerhill, Pennsylvania. These signals are easily accessible from the village. By design, position light signals are meant to be viewed head on, which makes it difficult to capture their aspects in photographs in bright daylight. Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens set a 70mm, ISO200 f/5.0 1/800.

Locomotive Geometry: Part 1

Alco diesel detail
This image appears on page 49 of my book Vintage Diesel Power published by Voyageur Press in 2010. I exposed it on October 13, 2008, courtesy of Genesee Valley Transportation. GVT was operating the locomotive on its Falls Road Railroad between Lockport and Brockport, New York. This is a relatively rare Alco RS-32 built for New York Central. It often operated on the Falls Road for New York Central and later Penn Central. The photo was exposed with a Canon EOS-3 and 20mm f2.8 lens on Fujichrome film.

Locomotives have long been the subjects of photographic study. The earliest images are believed to be Daguerreotypes from the early 1850s. As early as the 1860s, locomotive manufacturers routinely photographed locomotives to document their construction and to help interest prospective buyers. The nature of the steam locomotive meant that a great deal about the machine could be gleaned by studying it from the outside. Railway enthusiasts were enamored with locomotives from the very beginning; sketches and drawings of engines date to the earliest days of railroading, while railway enthusiast photography certainly dates to at least the 1890s, if not earlier. While I’ve always been fascinated by railways, I didn’t routinely examine locomotives on film until I was about ten. My earliest railway photography tended to feature signals. If there were any locomotives in my pictures, these seemed to appear on the horizon in the form of a looming headlight. Later, I made a great many images of locomotives, sometime picturing them at work, other times resting between jobs, and often I examined them on a macro level; in other words, up-close and in detail. I’ve written a number of books on locomotives, and these chronicle their evolution and development, intended application and service, and performance. My body of locomotive photography has aided in illustration of these efforts. This selection of images is intended as the first installment in Tracking the Light of my exploration of locomotive geometry: the shapes of the machines. Later installments will focus on specific railway fleets, individual types, and perhaps some individual machines.

Rare Electro-Motive model NW5 at Palmer, Massachusetts.
Mass-Central NW5 2100 is an old favorite. Built for Southern Railway in 1947 to work the New Orleans Union Station, it found its way to Massachusetts when I was in junior high school. On the afternoon of October 18, 1983, my late friend Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren phoned to say that Mass-Central was on its way to Palmer to collect interchange from Conrail. I caught the antique Electro-Motive engine by the old Boston & Albany freight house. Exposed with Leica IIIA with Summitar f2.0 50mm lens on Kodachrome 64 slide film
Central Vermont GP9s.
I grew up to the sounds of Central Vermont GP9s roaring away in run-8 as they clawed their way up State Line Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. I often photographed these locomotives in my youth. By the time I made this photo on December 23, 1986, I had begun my photographic studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, and was back for Christmas Break. Old 4442 was a favorite machine. It is climbing State Line as it had countless times before. Leica IIIA fitted with a Leica Visoflex II and 65mm Elmar Lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.


New England Central GP38s.
In February, 1995, New England Central Railroad (NECR) assumed operations of the former Central Vermont Railway. By that time, CV’s GP9s had been gone a few years. NECR’s first locomotives (and the only ones painted for the line) were a fleet of handsome GP38s. By the late 1990s, these were an equivalent age as had been CV’s GPs when I knew them a decade earlier, yet somehow they didn’t seem so ancient. After all, age is largely perception. NECR GP38s rest in the afternoon sun at Palmer Yard in March, 1997. Nikon F3T with Nikon 24mm f2.8 Lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.
Former Boston & Maine Alco S4 1271 was on a siding at Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1987. Warm afternoon sun was ideal for a study with Kodachrome, so I put my recently purchased Leica M2 and 50mm Leitz Summicron to work.
Former Boston & Maine Alco S4 1271 was on a siding at Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1987. Warm afternoon sun was ideal for a study with Kodachrome, so I put my recently purchased Leica M2 and 50mm Leitz Summicron to work.
Baltimore & Ohio GP9 battery box door detail.
Baltimore & Ohio GP9 6145 worked on Rochester & Southern’s former B&O Brooks Avenue Yard in Rochester while I was studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I made many photographs of this Electro-Motive diesel; this image exposed on October 22, 1987. with my Leica M2, 50mm Summicron and Kodachrome 25 slide film. If I knew why it was called “The Mighty Jumbo”, I’ve forgotten now.


See: Vintage Diesel Power by Brian Solomon at Voyageur Press.

Preserved Western Pacific diesels
Preserved Western Pacific diesels at Portola, California, on May 10, 2008 capture the spirit of another era. This image appeared in my 2009 title Railroads of California published by Voyageur Press. The photo was exposed on Fuji Velvia 100 slide film using a Canon EOS-3 and 100mm f2.0 lens. WP 608 is an Electro-Motive Corporation model NW2 built in 1940 for Union Pacific, and later acquired by WP. While WP 707 is a GP7 bought new by the railroad.
I’ve always enjoyed intense sound produced by Electro-Motive’s 20-cylinder 645 diesel engine. That doesn’t translate to photography, except that I have a disproportionate number of images of diesels powered by that engine. On May 4, 1996, I made this photo inside Wisconsin Central F45 6656 to feature the big prime mover. Exposed using a Nikormat FT3 with Nikon 28mm AF lens, Fujichrome Provia 100 slide film, exposed manually.

See: EMD Locomotives by Brian Solomon at Voyageur Press.

Steam at Dusk, December 15, 2012

Mikado at Dusk
Valley Railroad 3025 at Essex, Connecticut on December 15, 2012.
Tracking the Light now posts new material every morning!


Last night (December 15, 2012) I made this atmospheric image of Valley Railroad 3025 at Essex, Connecticut before it departed with one of the railroad’s popular North Pole Express excursions. I felt that evening twilight and the crescent moon added a timeless quality to the scene. The locomotive is a 1989-product of China’s Tangshan Locomotive Works and was cosmetically modified to resemble a New Haven Railroad J-1 class Mikado. I worked with my Canon 7D fitted with a 28-135mm lens ( at 38mm) on a Gitzo tripod; camera set at ISO 200 with an exposure of 0.8 seconds at f5.6. To enhance the hue of the sky and balance the headlight, I set the camera’s white balance to tungsten (indicated by a light bulb in the WB menu). I chose the exposure manually and deliberately silhouetted the locomotive boiler while retaining subtle detail in the moon and number board. This image is present full frame, although it might be later tidied up with some selective cropping—photographer’s prerogative.

Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.

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Amtrak P42 Number 1 Panned at Speed

P42 number 1 at speed.
Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited crosses a stone arch bridge over the Quaboag River near West Warren, Massachusetts in October 2000.

This image was part of a sequence aimed to fulfill a commission by Mark Hemphill when he was Editor of TRAINS Magazine. While one of the other images in the sequence eventually appeared in the magazine, a tightly cropped version of this photo appeared on page 160 of my book Modern Locomotives—High-Horsepower Diesels 1966-2000, published by MBI in 2002. My MBI caption reads: “Amtrak road No. 1 is a P42 GENESIS™ built by General Electric at Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1996. In October, 2000, it led Amtrak No. 449, the westbound Boston section of the Lakeshore Limited, at West Warren, Massachusetts. The locomotive wears Amtrak’s short-lived Northeast Direct livery that was discontinued with the introduction of the Acela livery in 2000.” It was exposed with Nikon N90S fitted with 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. I selected a relatively slow shutter speed, probably 1/60th second, and panned the front of the locomotive as it rolled by. Track speed is 60mph for passenger trains, so there was plenty of movement to allow for background blurring.

Visit Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing for my latest railway books.


Contax G2 with Agfa Scala Transparency Film

New England Central Monson Massachusetts October 2001.
New England Central GP38 3850 shoves on the back of southward freight number 608 crossing Route 32 in South Monson. Contax G2 with Zeiss 28mm Biogon lens, Agfa Scala black & white reversal film.

I often make interesting images when I’m just playing around. Between 2001 and 2007 I regularly worked with a Contax G2 rangefinder and I typically used it to expose either Fuji color slide film or black & white negatives. One day, in autumn 2001 I loaded the camera with Agfa Scala, a distinctive black & white reversal film that when processed offered high-contrast monochrome slides. Among my subjects was New England Central which runs right through Monson, Massachusetts. This day, the southward freight required a helper out of Palmer Yard to assist its ascent of State Line Hill. While not unheard of, New England Central doesn’t use helpers every day. I caught the train several times with my G2, then waited an eternity for the slides to come back. No fault of the lab: after I sent them in, I’d returned to Dublin, and so it was about three months from the time I exposed the photos to when I finally examined them. Interesting! That was eleven years ago now.

New England Central’s 608 Monson, Massachusetts
New England Central’s 608 climbing State Line Hill approaches Smith Bridge (Stafford Hollow Road). This was a favorite spot of my late friend, Robert A. Buck of Warren, Massachusetts, and on many occasions he photographed Central Vermont’s 2-8-0s here laboring up the grade. There were fewer trees back then. (And even more in 2012 than in 2001!) Contax G2 with 28mm Zeiss Biogon lens, Agfa Scala black & white reversal film.
Coal elevator at Squires Lumber & Hardware in Monson, Massachusetts
The old coal elevator at Squires Lumber & Hardware in Monson, Massachusetts. This classic structure was dismantled a few years after I made this photo. Contax G2 with 45mm Zeiss Planar lens, Agfa Scala black & white reversal film.

Agfa Scala exposed with Contax G2 Rangefinder.

Railroad in a Modern Environment?

Yesterday (Wednesday Dec 12, 2012) I made productive use of winter light while photographing between Ayer, Fitchburg and Gardner, Massachusetts. Where many of my images focused on the railroad, delineating it from its surroundings, on reviewing my work, this scene at Gardner caught my eye. Here, almost lost in a modern setting, is the hood of a GP40-2L with only ‘Rail System’ helping to identify this transportation hardware in virtual visual geometric patchwork quilt. Is this how most of the world perceives railways? I wonder.

Canon 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; ISO 400, f6.3 at 1/1000 second.
Canon 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; ISO 400, f6.3 at 1/1000 second.

Out on ‘the beet’—turning muck into gold

One of my favorite late-season projects was documenting Irish Rail’s annual sugar-beet campaign. This combined many of my railway interests in one action-intensive activity. Sugar beet was delivered to the station at Wellingtonbridge County, Wexford and loaded into antique purpose-built four-wheel freight wagons. Trains typically weighed 775-Tonnes, and were hauled using Irish Rail’s General Motors diesels to a processing plant at Mallow, County Cork.

Wellingtonbridge was a quiet place most of the year, except in beet season when it was a hotbed of railway activity. A signal cabin at the west end of the platform controlled movements using a network of rods and wires to move points and set semaphore signals. The single-line between Wellingtonbridge and Waterford was governed using a traditional electric train staff system, and was often at the limits of capacity. As soon as an empty train would arrive, a laden train would take the staff and head west toward Waterford. Leaving Wellingtonbridge the line climbed sharply up Taylorstown Bank, and here GM diesels would roar away in Run-8 (maximum throttle) for several minutes to keep moving. Irish Rail prohibits sanding the rail, and on damp days (which are common to Ireland) the diesel’s would slip. While most of the time they’d make the grade, there were some hairy moments.

Beet season taxed Irish Rail’s diesel fleet to its limits and in the 2005-2006 season Northern Ireland Railways 112 was borrowed to help out. On this November 2005 morning it roars up Taylorstown Bank on its way to Waterford with a train-load of freshly harvested sugar beet. Nikons and Fujichrome captured this scene—forever gone.
On November 20, 2004, as the last light of a dull day fades, the signalman at Wellingtonbridge cabin is hard at work. The slap of levers against the clopping sounds of beet being loaded was the sounds of Wellingtonbridge in beet season. Nikon F3T with Fujichrome slide film.
Wellingtonbridge was a bee hive of activity during beet season. In December 2005, locomotive 072 waits for a signal to reverse onto a laden train.

In 1999, I began photographing ‘the beet’—as my Irish friends called it, and continued my work until January 2006. Every season was threatened to be the last, and so it was little surprise when the operation finally ended after the 2005-2006 season. The reasons for this were complex, but were directly related to a withdrawal of European Union subsidy. The wagons were cut up as were many of the locomotives that hauled them. A few years after the beet finished, the South Wexford Line’s (Waterford-Wellingtonbridge-Rosslare) sole daily passenger service was suspended, leaving the tracks empty. Today the railway at Wellingtonbridge is dormant, so I have no regrets making pilgrimages to stand in frosty damp mucky fields on dark days, hoping for a bright moment as 645 diesels roared my way. I’d be there now doing the same if I had the chance.

Erie October Morning

Western New York & Pennsylvania HNME growls westward toward Columbus, Pennsylvania, shortly before sunrise on October 8, 2009. This was one of several locations where Erie maintained separate alignments for eastward and westward tracks. Conrail abandoned one of the lines in the 1980s, and today only one track remains.

Since the mid-1980s, I’ve made a project out of the former Erie Railroad. (See posts:  Curiously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Erie Semaphores Revisited). For more than two decades, I’ve examined the old Erie route on film, exploring its lines across its old network. While the Erie has been gone for more than half a century, the context of this historic property lends continuity to my photography, despite a variety of different modern operators. In addition to photos of moving trains, I’ve documented structures, bridges, as well as both active and abandoned lines. I spent a week in October 2009 photographing along the Erie between Hornell, New York, and central Ohio. On the morning of October 8, 2009, I followed Western New York & Pennsylvania’s westward freight HNME (Hornell to Meadville) from Niobe Junction to its terminus at the former Erie yard in Meadville, Pennsylvania. It passed Niobe Junction at 6:45 am, and my first photos that day were made in the early twilight. Speed restrictions on the line made for ample opportunities to photograph the freight as the sun brightened the sky. Changeable October conditions lent for a cosmic mix of low light and ground fog. Working with my Canon EOS 3s and color slide film I produced a variety of satisfying images that fit in well with my greater body of Erie photography.

Alco's in the fog.
At 8:14 am, Western New York & Pennsylvania M-636 637 (a former Quebec Cartier locomotive) and C-430 430 lead 17 cars west of Union City, Pennsylvania. Ground fog make for a stunning morning silhouette. This image appeared on page 70 of my book Vintage Diesel Power published by Voyageur Press in 2010.

Visit: Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing for my latest railway books.



Sunset at Bonn, Germany, August 1998

Deutche Bahn InterCity train 522 Berchtesgadener Land (Berchtesgaden—Hamburg) catches the glint of the setting sun at Bonn, Germany. Compare this view with that of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited catches the glint at Palmer, May 28, 1986 (posted December 7, 2012). Exposed on Fuji Sensia II (ISO 100) slide film using a Nikon F3T fitted with f2.8 135mm lens. Exposure calculated manually with a handheld Sekonic Studio deluxe light meter (approximately f8 1/500 sec).

In August 1998, I was visiting a friend in Bonn, Germany. I’d wandered down the Rhein by train with a promise to return by dinner at 8 in the evening. At Mainz, I bought a ticket for an IC (Intercity) train that scheduled to arrive in Bonn that would have just barely got me back in time. However, EC (Euro City) train 8 Tiziano (Milano Centrale—Hannover) arrived on the platform six minutes ahead of the IC train. I boarded this instead (and was required to pay a 7 DM supplement for the privilege) and after being whisked up the Rhein’s left bank arrived at Bonn with a few minutes spare. I was immediately distracted by the amazing red sunset that illuminated trains heading out of the station toward Köln. I decided to wait on the IC train that I would have taken.  Working with my Nikon F3T and Fuji Sensia II (100 ISO) I made a sequence of glint photos from the platforms and I over stayed my time at the railway station and so arrived a few minutes late. Not a problem: Understanding too well my predilection for low-light photography my host had anticipated my delay; she smiled, “Oh, when I saw the nice light, I assumed you’d be late.”


New England Central at Millers Falls, Massachusetts, December 9, 2012

New England Central at Millers Falls, Massachusetts.
New England Central SD40-2 722 pauses on the former Central Vermont Railway bridge over the Millers River at Millers Falls, Massachusetts on December 9, 2012. Canon 7D 28-135mm lens at 135mm, ISO 200, f5.6 1/400th second.

This morning (December 9, 2012), New England Central 603 worked north from Palmer, Massachusetts to the Pan Am Railways interchange at Millers Falls. To pick up and drop cars, the train worked a north-facing switch that required it to pull out onto the high bridge over the Millers River. The span is classic; a pin-connected Pratt deck truss built in 1905 by the American Bridge Company of New York. The contrast of New England Central’s former Union Pacific SD40-2 on the 107 year old truss looks more like a model railroad diorama than a scene typical of modern American freight railroading. Here the soft early-afternoon sun accentuates the diesel’s details, while offering a stark view of the bridge structure against the backdrop of late-autumn trees. In the summer fully foliated trees tend to minimize the impact of the bridge’s cross members.

I’m mindful of pending change. New England Central is a Rail America railroad, and if the Surface Transportation Board approves Genesee & Wyoming’s bid to acquire Rail America, New England Central’s operations and locomotive colors may soon be different. The implications for photography are impossible to gauge, but the wise photographer will capture the scene as it is today and make the most of every opportunity, for each may be the last.

Derelict Steam Locomotive Poland, May 2000

I made my first trip to Poland in May 2000; while part of my quest was to experience steam in revenue service, among the most compelling images I made were of derelict engines such as this one in Silesia. I worked with both 35mm slide film and 120 black & white, the latter exposed with my Rolleiflex Model T.

Drive wheel of a disused PKP steam locomotive in Silesia, May 2000. Exposed with a Rolleiflex Model T twin lens reflex with Zeiss f3.5 Tessar.

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited catches the glint at Palmer, May 28, 1986.

On this warm May evening in 1986, I exposed a trailing view of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited as it hits the Central Vermont diamond at Palmer. The train radiates the glint of the setting sun. Between eastward and westward main-tracks, Conrail has installed the dispatcher controlled switch that in July 1986 became ‘CP83’ and resulted in the removal of the old westward main track on the Boston & Albany route between Palmer and Springfield (CP92). [The numbers of the control points signify the approximate distance from Boston’s South Station.] At the left is the canopy on Palmer’s Union Station which Conrail removed in November of 1986. Today the old station has been restored inside and serves as the popular Steaming Tender railroad-themed restaurant.

Amtrak at Palmer, Massachusetts.
At 7:13pm on May 28, 1986, Amtak 449, Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited clatters across the Palmer diamond on Conrail’s former Boston & Albany mainline. At Albany-Rensselaer this will join with the New York section for the journey over the Water Level Route to Chicago. Exposed on 120 B&W film with a Rolleiflex Model T twin-lens reflex fitted with 75mm f3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens. This camera was not fitted with a prismatic view finder. Thus the finder image was a mirror of reality which made composition of moving trains challenging. Nor did this camera have a meter, so exposure was calculated using a hand-held meter and the photographer’s experience. In truth, bright sun shining off the stainless-steel passenger cars resulted in an overexposed negative that was adjusted with Photoshop after scanning.


Opportunity at the Willows, December 5, 2012

Every so often trains converge and pause, presenting opportunities to make interesting and dramatic images. Such was the case yesterday, December 5, 2012, at the junction known as ‘the Willows’ east of Ayer, Massachusetts (where the former Boston & Maine Fitchburg Mainline meets the B&M Stony Brook line). Where the Fitchburgh continues toward Boston, and now used by MBTA commuter trains, the Stony Brook serves as part of Pan Am Railway’s primary freight route. A pair of freights had come west over the Stony Brook and were waiting to continue over the Fitchburg line to Ayer, (where they would diverge and head southward on the former Boston & Maine line to Worcester).

Modern locomotives at the Willows
Overcast conditions combined with the bright headlight and ditch lights on CSX 8747 made for a challenging set of circumstances. Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm zoom set at 135mm, ISO 400 f5.6 1/500 second.

On the left is Pan Am Railways’ POSE (Portland, Maine to Selkirk) with CSX (former Conrail) SD60M 8747 leading. (At Worcester this will become CSX Q427 for its journey over the former Boston & Albany toward CSX’s Selkirk Yard, see post Palmer, Massachusetts 11:01pm November 30, 2012). On the right is an empty coal train returning from the generating station at Bow, New Hampshire to the Providence & Worcester. This was led by a mix of P&W General Electric diesels, leading is former Santa Fe DASH8-40BW 582 in BNSF paint with P&W lettering. Both trains were waiting for an MBTA equipment move coming from Worcester (MBTA has been detouring equipment using the Worcester-Clinton-Ayer route as to bypass a damaged bridge on Boston’s Grand Junction Branch—which normally handles transfers between South-side and North-side operations.)

There’s nothing like a bit of sun to brighten your day. By changing my angle to the locomotives I minimized the objectionable effect of headlight flare. Canon 7D and 28-135mm zoom set at 122mm, ISO 200 f8 1/500 second.

My friend Rich Reed and I arrived at the Willows to catch the unusual MBTA move with the hope of also seeing the pair of freights. This easily accessibly junction is split by a public grade crossing. When we found the two freights side by side this became the main photographic event. The day offered a changeable mix of sun and clouds and so my initial exposures were made under overcast conditions. Complicating my exposures were headlights and ditch lights on CSX 8747 which when photographed straight-on flared and proved too bright relative to the rest of the scene. To compensate I waited for the sun to come out (thanks sun!) and then made a few views off axis to minimize the effect of the ditch lights while taking advantage of the better quality of light. While this solved the difficulty of the flared lights, it wasn’t as dramatic as the head-on view and didn’t show the freight cars, just the locomotives.

Moving back from the trains and using a longer lens increased the drama offered by a pair of freights ‘coming at you’. However, the sun had going in again, and the result amplified the effect of the light flare. Canon 7D fitted with 200mm lens, ISO 400 at f5.0 1/500 second.

Switching from a 28-135mm zoom to a 200mm fixed lens proved part of the solution by offering a more dramatic angle, but ,if anything, this exacerbated the difficulty of the engine lights. The longer lens forced me to move back from the locomotives in order to fill the frame. I made some test pictures, and analyzed them on-site while I waited for a moment when clouds partially diffused the sun. This allowed for bright light on the front of the locomotives, not only increasing the drama, but it offered the necessary compromise condition to better cope with locomotive lights (making them less objectionable). Another trick, I adjusted the white-balance in-camera for a slightly warmed tone (by setting the WB to ‘overcast’—pictured with a puffy cloud). After about 10 minutes, I could hear the MBTA special approaching from the West and shifted the focus of my photography. Soon after this passed, the coal train received a signal to proceed westward, and the whole scene changed.

With this view, the sun is slightly softened by light cloud, yet bright enough to help balance for the lights. The lighting is rich and warm, while the angle is dramatic. On both trains, the angle reveals freight cars behind the locomotives which tells part of the story; these are freight trains and not just modern locomotives posed side by side. Canon 7D with 200mm lens, ISO 400 at f6.3 1/1000 second.
I always check focus by enlarging a selected portion of the image. This detail of the P&W GE displays a high degree of sharpness. I’ve cropped a portion of the Camera RAW file in Photoshop for display here.

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Dublin’s Heuston Station, February 2003.

Here are a few photos from a roll of 35mm B&W film that for all intents and purposes has never seen the light of day until now. Why? Back when I exposed them, the trains pictured were the most mundane-sort to be seen in Ireland. Really, it was just the routine parade of passenger trains that arrived and departed Dublin’s Heuston Station every day. The light wasn’t especially good, and at the time I was primarily experimenting with my Nikons using some telephoto lenses. I was just playing around, and I didn’t deem the pictures sufficiently interesting to print. After processing, they went directly into the file without second thought. I came across them only today while searching for some views I made in Dublin on Christmas Day 1999 for use as a Christmas card. In the interval, over the last ten years, the Irish Rail passenger scene in Ireland has completely changed, so what were dull and routine now look pretty interesting to my eye. I’ve scanned some choice images on my Epson V600 for presentation here.

Looking toward platforms 6, 7, and 8—opened in September 2002—with the Heuston Station headhouse making for a distant backdrop in this February 2003 view. I was playing with a Tokina 400mm f5.6 lens fitted to my Nikon N90S (equivalent to the F90X sold in Europe and Japan).
The Guinness sidings west of Heuston Station were used to load kegs of beer from the St. James Gate Brewery. This traffic left the railway in 2006, and today beer is road-hauled around the country. These sidings are now used to store passenger trains and per-way (maintenance of way) equipment.
Irish Rail 2700-series DMUS
Irish Rail’s 2700-series diesel multiple-units were built by Alstom and delivered in 1999. In recent years they largely worked branch line services in the west of Ireland, but back in 2003 some were assigned to Dublin suburban service. This entire class of equipment was withdrawn in mid-2012 and is now stored out of service.
Irish Rail class 201 diesel
Irish Rail class 201 number 213 leading Mark3 carriages on approach to Heuston Station in February 2003.
Class 141 number 154.
This is one of my only images of Irish Rail 154 at work. While I have thousands of images of the 141 class ‘Bo-Bos’, old 154 was among the most elusive. I’m glad I captured it this day working as the Heuston pilot, seen here shunting Mark II carriages toward the station platforms.
Irish Rail 202 departs platform 8 in a cloud of its own exhaust. 400mm view.
Irish Rail’s General Motors-built Class 201 diesel-electrics were standard on most passenger intercity runs in 2003. Today, they are only used from Heuston passenger services with push-pull Mark IV trains to Cork. (However, they are also assigned to Dublin Connolly—Belfast Central Enterprise trains, and some freight services.)
Irish Rail’s General Motors-built 071 class diesel-electrics were still regularly used in passenger service; while most of these rugged locomotives remain in traffic in 2012, they are largely relegated to freight and per-way services.

My choice of film was Fuji Neopan 400, which I processed in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with ordinary Afga Rodinal) which was a highly active developer sold in liquid form, difficult to obtain  in the U.S. When working with this developer I tended to use a relatively dilute solution that allowed me a 3.5 minute development time with the film rated as recommended by the manufacturer.

Railway photography by Brian Solomon

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