Earlier this month, I traveled with some friends to Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland to photograph the Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge operations.
Working with Kodak Tri-X in a Nikon F3 with 105mm lens, I made this view of a laden train crossing the River Shannon.
I processed the film using a twin-stage (split development) process: presoaked in Kodak HC110 mixed 1-200 for 5 minutes; then Ilford ID1 mixed 1 to 1 for 7 minutes 15 seconds at 68F with gentle agitation every minute for 10 seconds. After stop bath (30 seconds), twin fixer baths of 3 minutes each and extensive rinsing, I toned the still wet negative using a Selenium batch mixed 1-9 for 8 minutes 30 seconds.
In addition to this traditional black & white photo, I also exposed digital photos using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 cameras. Color and black & white, film and digital, yes I have most of formats covered.
Friday, it was officially announced that Ireland’s Electrical Supply Board (ESB) intends to close the Lough Ree and Shannonbridge power stations at the end of 2020.
This doesn’t bode well for the Bord na Mona narrow gauge systems that exist largely to supply these stations with fuel.
A couple of weeks ago on a visit to the Lanesborough system I made this sunset view of an empty train returning to the bog for reloading.
I’ve made dozens of trips over the years to photograph Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge railways. While in recent years, it’s been understood that these railways were on borrowed time, I still find sad that they will soon be without their primary traffic.
These are fascinating and wonderful railways with lots of charm and photographic potential.
In 2020, I hope to continue photographing the systems around Lanesborough and Shannonbridge, as well as some of the other Bord na Mona narrow gauge railways.
Tuesday last week, my arrival at Sallins, County Kildare by Irish Rail suburban train was merely a jumping off for a much more productive photographic endeavor.
See yesterday’s post, SUBURBAN TRAINS PASS AT SALLINS.
So Tuesday last week, I met fellow photographer Aiden McDonald outside Sallins and traveled by road for another visit to Bord na Mona’s Lanesborough narrow gauge network. This was my fourth foray in 2019 photographing on this wonderful industrial railway, and my second in less than a week.
My first visit to Lanesborough was more than six years ago and of all the Bord na Mona systems, it is my favorite.
We lucked out and met the empty ash train immediately on crossing the line near Derraghan More, County Longford.
It was bright and sunny and followed the train all the way back toward the Lough Ree Generating Station.
This was just the warm up and for the next six hours we were treated to almost non-stop action on one of Ireland’s coolest little railways.
Sadly this is an Indian Summer for the system, both literally and metaphorically. Word to the wise: time is running short.
Brilliant sunny skies in County Longford made for an auspicious foray into Bord na Mona country.
Finding narrow gauge trains is part of the challenge.
Last week I was traveling with Mark Healy and Aiden McDonald . I was acting as navigator, and worked with my iPhone and my collection of annotated Ordinance Survey maps as we scoured the bog lands looking for movement.
While the first couple of locations were quiet, when we arrived at this overhead bridge near the Lough Ree Power Station in Lanesborough, I spotted a laden train.
Within a minute, we could hear trains coming from both directions and were afforded a running meet! Neat!
I exposed these views using my Lumix LX7. Working in Lightroom, I adjusted contrast and exposure to compensate for the extremes between light and dark.
A week ago, Friday 8 March 2019, toward the end of our exploration of Bord na Mona’s Lough Rea narrow gauge network near Lanesborough Co. Longford, the sky grew textured and glowed with evening magnificence.
I made this view of an empty Bord na Mona train crossing the bog on its way to reload.
The trick making this photo work was to expose for the sky while letting the train go relatively dark. I was working with Ilford HP5 black & white film, and during processing, I used two developers followed by selenium toning of the negatives to extract the maximum shadow detail.
My intent was a moody and stark view of the train against the textured sky.
On Friday, 15 February 2019, during my visit with Stephen Hirsch and Denis McCabe to Bord na Mona’s operations at Lanesborough, I worked with three cameras to document operations.
My FujiFilm XT1 and Lumix LX7 were for exposing colour digital photos, while I employed a Nikon F3 to make classic 35mm black & white images.
I processed the film yesterday using custom tailored formulas.
The first roll was Ilford HP5 that I’d bought a couple of days earlier at John Gunn’s Camera on Wexford Street in Dublin. I processed this using a two stage development, starting with an extremely dilute solution of Kodak HC110 (roughly 1 part developer to 250 parts water) which used as presoak. The weak developer helps activate the chemical reaction and improves shadow detail without overdeveloping highlight areas.
The second stage of development involved Ilford Perceptol mixed 1-1 with water and heated to 71F. Based on past experience, I left the film in the developer for 12 minutes, then stop bath, 1stfixer, 2ndfixer, pre-wash, hypoclear, main wash (10 minutes) and final rinse in distilled water.
After drying, I scanned the negatives with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner and touched up the scans using Lightroom.
Last Friday, Denis McCabe, Stephen Hirsch and I paid a visit to Bord na Mona’s (Peat Board) three-foot gauge industrial railway feeding the Lough Rea Power Station at Lanesboroughin County Longford.
My first visit to Lanesborough portion of the extensive Irish Bord na Mona network was back in 2013. This is my favorite Bord na Mona operation for a variety for a reasons. It’s the most accessible by road, by far the most scenic (as bog railways go), and has great variety.
On this day six years ago, Denis McCabe and I were on an exploration of Ireland’s narrow gauge Bord na Mona (Peat Board) operations radiating from the Edenderry generating station located near the village of Clonbullogue, Co. Offaly, when we discovered this view from overhead bridge over the double track narrow gauge line.
I exposed my photo using a Canon EOS7D with 200mm prime lens. Nominal overexposure resulted in a slightly washed out image.
Six years after the fact, I worked with the RAW File in Lightroom, to bring back some of the sky detail not apparent in the camera-produced Jpg, while aiming to improve colour saturation and colour balance.
Five alternative views of Ireland’s Bord na Mona railway.
Here I’m trying something different: Working with an old Leica IIIa fitted with an ancient screw-mount Nikkor 35mm lens, I exposed some Fomapan 100 black & white film.
Instead of my normal process, I opted to soup the film in Ilford Perceptol. I mixed the stock solution from powder. Recommended development time was 8 minutes, but I cut this to 6 minutes, then after complete processing (stop, fix, hypo-clear and wash) I toned the negatives with a 1-9 Selenium solution to boost highlights (and then rewashed).
It was my first time working with Perceptol; overall I was pleased with the results, which yielded fine grain, broad tonality and a somewhat softer over-all image than what I’d been getting using ID-11.
This camera-lens-film-developer combination seems to have worked well with the rustic Bord na Mona narrow gauge industrial railway. I’ve opted to display a handful of the dozen or so monochrome images I exposed that day.
Tracking the Light takes a different approach today.
Bord na Mona (Irish peat board) operates an extensive network of narrow gauge industrial railways in the Irish midlands.
It has been nearly two years since I last explored this fascinating diminutive railway in action.
It helps to have the sun to photograph Bord na Mona, as the bog can be outright dreary on a dull wet day.
The sun seemed to have emerged from the lingering blanket of dampness that lately has prevailed across Ireland, so Denis McCabe and I made a foray to Shannonbridge, County Offaly location of the busiest Bord na Mona railway operation.
Bord na Mona trains come clattering along, often running in pairs or groups, but patience is often needed to find trains on the move.
Check out Tracking the Light’s archives for previous posts on the Bord na Mona.
There are only a few places where the narrow gauge Bord na Mona crosses Irish Rail’s broad gauge lines.
If you ride from Dublin to Cork, you might catch a glimpse of the three-foot gauge tracks ducking under the mainline a ways west of the ‘Laoise Traincar Depot’ (where Irish Rail maintains its Intercity Railcar fleet).
Making successful photos of trains here is tricky. They sail along at 90mph and owing to the angle of the lines, there’s very little time to position the front of the train at the crossing point.
I set my Fuji X-T1 to ‘CH’ (continuous high), which automatically exposes a burst of images in rapid succession.
Owing to infrequent operations on the narrow gauge, it will be a challenge to try to score an ‘under-and-over’ image here. But at least that’s a goal for another day.
In summary: After a decade of my relative neglect, in the last two years I’ve made a dozen or so excursions to explore and photograph Ireland’s Bord na Mona railways.
These consists of several rather extensive three-foot gauge networks largely focused on the delivery of milled peat to electrical generating stations in Ireland’s midlands counties.
The largest and busiest network is that focused on the Shannonbridge power plant along the River Shannon. Although this network demands the most amount of turf and in theory runs the most number of trains, it is one the more difficult systems to photograph.
This is partly a function of the bogs served by the railway, which are largely inaccessible by road. Also, some of the trains cross the Shannon by a bridge, and there is no comparable road bridge, so it makes following these trains very difficult.
However, I’ve found that using good maps and remaining patient pays off. On this September afternoon about a month ago, Denis McCabe, Colm O’Callaghan and I visited several locations on the Shannonbridge system.
Based on previous experiences, we aimed for known good locations. While we only found a few trains moving, the photography was successful. This a sampling of my recent results.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
We followed a pair of empties from Shannonbridge, eastward toward Ferbane. Access is limited, owing to the nature of the bogs. Toward the end of the day, we set up at the N62 highway overpass, where the Bord na Mona’s line climbs away from the River Blackwater.
My challenge was making the most of the backlit scene. The sun was setting almost immediately behind the train. I opted for my 200mm lens in order to compress the perspective, eliminate the sky, and minimize the effects of flare. I positioned myself near post on the side of the road to help shade the front element of my lens.
Here the effects of backlighting combined with the long telephoto lens make for a cinematic look; the exhaust of the locomotive is more pronounced, the wavy condition of the tracks are exaggerated, and the pastoral scene made more impressive.
I particularly like the silhouette of the train driver in the cab, which emphasizes the human element.
My only disappointment with the photos is that the following train hadn’t effectively enter the scene. (Often Bord na Mona trains working in pairs follow one right after the other. In this situation, the following train was just around the bend.) But, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to make images with two or more Bord na Mona trains, so I’ll settle for this one of a lone train.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
By virtue of its operations, Bord na Mona peat trains tend to operate in pairs. This suits both loading and switching, since trains often need to reverse into or out of temporary loading spurs.
So, when one train appears, its ‘buddy’ is usually close at hand. Sometimes these operate very closely, often only a few yards apart, other times they might separated by five or ten minutes.
Mid-morning, laden trains return toward Lanesborough while empty train prepare to head out to loading areas in the surrounding bogs. The result is that a parade of trains tend to converge on double track sections near the Lough Rea Power Station.
Once the loads are in and the empties have gone out, the line is again quiet, although maintenance trains will occasionally appear during these lulls. After lunch the whole sequence repeats.
For the photographer the bursts of intense action is both opportunity and a challenge. Everything seems to happen at once, making for chances to catch two or more trains in a photo. However, if you are out of position, you could miss everything.
Headlights are often not illuminated in daytime and sometimes it is the sound of a train that gives you advanced notice.
The bogs are quiet enough. Listen for the sounds of Wagon Master locomotive roaring along with a syncopated clatter of wagons. The trains don’t travel very fast, but you need to be ready for when they arrive.
See yesterday’s post for more on Bord na Mona’s Lanesborough netwrok:
Close Ups, Details and Alternate Views: A Look Beyond the Obvious.
While photographing Ireland’s Bord na Mona narrow gauge last week, I was looking for different angles. I’ve made nearly a dozen trips to the Bord na Mona in the last year and I wanted to capture the essence of the operation up close.
This is a gloss free industrial railway. It’s like a big beat-up tin plate train set that has seen lots of use, and doesn’t adhere to prototype railroading in any normal conventions.
Tracks are laid down here and there. Curvature is very tight, in many places there’s no ballast. Junctions appear with little notice. And the trains bounce along at a grinding amble.
See previous posts for more views on the Bord na Mona:
A Busy, Bright and Clear Day Visiting Irish Narrow Gauge.
Last week, Mark Healy and I made another venture to photograph Bord na Mona’s (Peat Board) three-foot gauge industrial railway. This time we chose the network focused on feeding the Lough Rea Power Station at Lanesborough in County Longford.
Although we departed Dublin under cloudy skies, by the time we reached the Midlands, the clouds parted and we enjoyed most clear sunny weather for the remainder of the day.
From past experience, I’ve found that clear days are by far the best time to photograph Bord na Mona’s trains at work. The heavily harvested moon-like landscape of the peat bogs doesn’t translate as well on dull days. Also, the brown and cream livery on the locomotives and aluminum peat wagons look best with sun on them.
Finding a clear day in the Irish Midlands isn’t so easy. The weather is famously dull and changeable. On more than one occasion I’ve found that a forecast for fine weather proved overly optimistic.
For this excursion, I brought four cameras. Yes, four. In addition to the two digital cameras (Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D), I had my Canon EOS-3 and a Rollei Model T 120-size camera both loaded with Fujichrome Provia 100F.
There’s certain types of images that I still like to put on film. Also, while I expose a lot of digital images (and make multiple back-ups of each and every file) I’m very reluctant to trust digital imaging for long term applications.
So, in the event of a digital apocalypse, I’d like to have a few Bord na Mona photos on color transparency film for posterity.
My film has yet to be processed, so here are a few of my recent digital results.
Tune in tomorrow for more highlights from this most recent Bord na Mona adventure!
Last week, Mark Healy and I made a foray into Irish bog lands searching for narrow gauge peat trains operated by Bord na Móna (Peat Board). We’d been watching the weather closely and tried to time our visit for a bright clear day.
We got it wrong. Despite a rosy sunrise in Dublin and generally good forecast, we faced fog, cloudy and just general overcast in County Offaly.
After more than a half dozen visits to this rarely photographed industrial railway, I thought I was beginning to have an understanding of their operations.
I got that wrong too! While, we’d photographed a dozen trains by the end of the day, actual operations were quite different than what I expected.
Initially we worked the lines radiating out from Shannonbridge. Our first train was the ever-elusive ash train. That was a bonus for us. After about five hours, having photographed several loaded and empty trains, we decided to head east toward Edenderry, which is the focus of another of Bord na Móna’s networks.
On the way we stumbled upon an obscure Bord na Mónaoperation. Driving east on highway R357 east of Cloghan, Mark noticed a level crossing. “Hey! There’s a pair of trains.” I mistook these for trains heading to Shannonbridge
My error was corrected when we chatted to one of the drivers. Turns out these were empty trains heading out loading to bring peat to the Derrinlough briquette factory. Just dumb luck to catch this operation.
We finished the day inspecting operations near Mt Lucas and Edenderry. Pity about the lack of sun.
I’ve dealt with Bord na Móna several times in previous posts.
Summer offers more pleasant temperatures and longer days, but also brings more foliage, taller grass and other challenges that I didn’t experience in February!
I think its safe to say that I didn’t get bored with Bord na Mona. From the first moment trackside, the railway seemed to be buzzing with trains. The section of double track running east from Lanesborough toward Mountdillon was especially busy.
I even had another opportunity to catch one of the ash trains on the move. (See: Bord na Mona’s Ash Train). Perhaps my bold proclamation of its elusivity has tipped the scales in my favor—a sort of reverse jinx, as it were.
Or maybe, its my persistence. It’s nice to get a lucky catch, but likewise, the more time spent trackside, the better the odds of seeing the unusual, as well as the elusive, the rare, and the obscure. Having a better sense for when trains run helps too!
For me anyway! On Saturday, August 3, 2013, I scored a few photographs of Bord na Mona’s ash train on the move near Shannonbridge, County Offaly. (Yes, and by the way, that’s ash train, and not ASH TRAY. Just to clarify.)
Now, someone at Bord na Mona might read this and say, “Elusive ash train? Why that’s scheduled to run every day at 2 pm.” Or, perhaps, it is scheduled to run every third Saturday after the first full moon on months that don’t end in ‘R’. (But, none-the-less, scheduled).
Irregardless, so far as I was concerned, photographing the ash train on the move was a real coup! In the last year, I’ve made a half dozen ventures to photograph Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge lines, this was the first time I’d seen an ash train on the move. Certainly, I’ve seen them before, just not rolling along out on the road.
Yet, I’d call it elusive! It’s all a matter of perspective. More on elusive (or at least unusual trains) in future posts.
Incidentally, unlike elusive trains, Tracking the Light regularly posts new material almost every day! So, to use an obsolete cliché, stay tuned!
In a follow up to yesterday’s post, here’s a few more images from my early August adventure with Ireland’s Bord na Mona narrow gauge. I was working with three cameras: my Lumix LX3, my Canon EOS 7D digital SLR (single lens reflex) and my Canon EOS 3 35mm SLR.
Since it will be a while before the slides are processed, all the images here are from the digital cameras.
I’ve found my visits to photograph the Bord na Mona railways exceptionally rewarding and productive and I look forward to more photography trips in coming months.
It was fifteen years ago that I made my first acquaintance with Ireland’s bog railway, a narrow gauge network operated by Bord na Mona (peat board). At that time, a tourist train run as the Clonmacnoise & West Offaly made regularly scheduled trips from the Blackwater depot near Shannonbridge in County Offaly.
As I recall, it was an oppressively damp day. Having arrived under swollen skies, I checked in at the booking office, skeptical if the line was even in operation, only to learn that not only was it running, but that the first couple of trains were sold out!
Using the time between tourist trains, I made some black & white photos of the peat trains, then returned to ride the line.
On another occasion two years later, I returned with my father, and family friend Tom Hargadon, and made another spin out on the bog. Since that time, the Clonmacnoise & West Offaly excursion has been discontinued.
A Busy Irish Narrow Gauge Industrial Railway.
In early August 2013, I reacquainted myself with Bord na Mona’s Blackwater network, having explored other of Bord na Mona’s railway operations in recent months. See earlier posts:
Blackwater is from my experience, by far the busiest of Bord na Mona’s operations, as the West Offaly power station at Shannon Bridge has the most voracious appetite of the peat burning plants served by Bord na Mona narrow gauge railways. Quite simply there were trains crawling everywhere I went.
The day featured a rapidly changing sky. This made for some wonderful lighting and visual effects, but also resulted in me getting unexpectedly soaked when the sky suddenly opened up. One minute it was sunny, the next there was near horizontal rain! On my next visit I’ll bring plastic bags and a jumper!
See tomorrow’s post for more Irish Bog Railway photos!
Unlike Irish mainline railways, Bord na Mona operates on very lightly built track. Temporary spurs are laid out on the bog for loading trains with harvested turf. While these temporary tracks may only stay in place for weeks or months, Bord na Mona main trunks are well established, with some in place for five decades. Key routes are built with broadly spaced double-track The nature of the operation requires that trains are run cautiously, and rarely exceed 15 mph. Typically peat trains operate in pairs to assist with loading and reverse moves. At times these may be coupled together. In addition to trains of peat gather rakes, Bord na Mona also runs a host of maintenance trains, including fueling trains used to supply machines working in harvesting areas.
The railway’s setting ranges from bucolic rolling woodlands to other-worldly landscapes consisting of heavily harvested bog lands. Trains announce their presence by a distinctive clattering that pierces the relative serenity of the bog. The combination of diminutive locomotives, track panels with steel sleepers, short trains and sections of hastily built temporary track, makes the whole operation seem like a vast, but delightful model railway.