Toward the end of June 2019, I visited New England Central’s yard at Brattleboro, Vermont.
It was the first time in many months that I used my old Canon EOS-7D, which I’d fitted with a 200mm telephoto lens.
As the 611 crew was getting organized to take Brattleboro to Palmer turn south, I made these photos.
I’ve always like the Canon color palate, which I believe is a function of their lenses and sensor. This is decidedly different than the digital photos I make with either my FujiFilm XT1 or Lumix LX7. Playing with a long telephoto is always fun, although in recent years I’ve shied away from very long lenses, as I’ve found that they tend to be overused.
Here we have an instance where everything came together nicely.
On Friday January 24, 2014, I’d got word that Amtrak’s heritage locomotive number 822 was working the westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449
This was the second time in a ten-day span that I’d be alerted to a heritage locomotive on this run. As noted in my January 18, 2014 post, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, the weather wasn’t cooperative on my previous attempt at catching an Amtrak heritage locomotive.
By contrast on January 24th it was clear but very cold. I opted to make the photo at West Warren, where it’s nice and open and there’s a distinctive landscape.
Normally, Amtrak 449 passes East Brookfield at 1:30pm, and Palmer about 1:50pm. West Warren is roughly halfway between them, so I aimed to be there no later than 1:35pm
As it happened, 449 was delayed on Charlton Hill and passed more than 15 minutes later than I’d anticipated. Other than resulting in my nose getting a bit cold, this delay produced little effect on the photograph.
I opted for a traditional angle because I wanted to feature the locomotive as the primary subject this scenic setting. I picked a spot on the road bridge over the Quaboag River where I could make a view that included the old mills and waterfall, as well as a side view as the train got closer.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with a 40mm pancake lens, I set the motor drive to its fastest setting, and exposed three bursts of images as the train rolled east on CSXT’s former Boston & Albany mainline.
Since the camera’s buffer will quickly become saturated when making multiple photos in rapid succession, I was careful to wait until the train was nearly where I wanted it in each of the three sets.
For me, SEPTA is one of the most photogenic American big city transit systems. Sure, other cities have their charms, but Philadelphia has a lot going for it; variety, accessibility, interval services on most routes, real time displays at stations, visual cues to its heritage, interesting and varied equipment and etc.
On January 16, 2014, my brother Sean and I, spent an afternoon and evening wandering on SEPTA’s rail systems making photographs. I had a minor agenda to ride a few pieces of the network I’d not yet traveled on.
I worked with two cameras; Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D, but traveled relatively light (no film body or big telephotos)
All of the lines we traveled were well patronized (some at standing room only) and yet everything seem to run to time. SEPTA’s staff were friendly and helpful. (Especially when we were running for trains).
Amtrak 449, in sun and rain; one day and the next. Last week, I was over in East Brookfield visiting the LeBeaus to do some videography for a music video. Dennis LeBeau lives a block from the Boston & Albany (CSXT’s Boston Line).
I said to Dennis, “I’m just going to nip down to the bridge to catch 449. It should be getting close.”
“Passes here every day at one-thirty. I’ll join you in a minute.”
I phoned Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent: 1-800-USA-RAIL) to find out if 449 as on time out of Worcester. As it turns out, it departed Worcester Union Station 4 minutes late.
Worcester is at CP45, East Brookfield is CP64. It takes 449 about 25-30 minutes to run the 19 miles.
Since it was nice bright afternoon, I opted for a broadside view that shows a few of the houses in town. At 1:39, Dennis shouted to me from the road bridge, “He’s around the bend.” I was poised to made my photograph with my Lumix LX3.
This can be tricky since there’s really only a split second to get the train in the right place. If the camera isn’t cued up, all I’ll get is a photo of the baggage car. But I was ready, and put the train precisely where I wanted it.
The train glided through town. I turned to make a few going away views with my Canon, and said to Dennis, “You know that never gets old. I’ve been photographing that train since the 1970s.”
Dennis said to me, “I’ve been watching it since it was the New England States Limited, with New York Central E8s!”
A day later, I was in Palmer (CP83). The word was out that Amtrak 145 (one of the Genesis P42s in heritage paint) was working 449. The weather was foul, but since I was in town anyway, I figured I’d give the train a roll by.
It was stabbed at CP83 by a southward New England Central freight going into the yard, which allowed ample time for photos. Such a contrast in days. Pity the heritage P42 hadn’t worked west a day sooner.
Tracking the Light takes a diverging route: Cats, Lionel, Beer, and Rock and Roll. Take a look at my most recent production. I’ve filmed and edited a short music video.
The soundtrack is the song Rock and Roll Panic performed by The Big Gunz of East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Popular for their evening entertainment at Dunny’s Tavern, the Big Gunz are a classic trio consisting of Paul, Tommy, and Dennis LeBeau.
Rock and Roll Panic third rail mix was filmed with my Canon Eos 7D and Lumix LX3 cameras, and has a train in almost every scene!
I exposed this image on the evening of August 20, 2010 of a westward CSX stack train at CP431 in Depew, New York. What makes this photo interesting to me is the former New York Central signal bridge and searchlight signals.
Since I made this photograph, CSX has replaced many of the searchlights on the Water Level Route with modern color light hardware. While I’m sorry to see the old signals go, I’m not surprised.
Back in the 1990s, I wrote an editorial in Pacific RailNews (when I was editor of that magazine) warning enthusiasts that searchlights were on their way out, and explained why. At the time, searchlights were very common.
The photo is timely. This year I’ll be authoring a book tentatively titled Classic Railroad Signals to be published by Voyageur Press. It will be a follow up to Railroad Signaling, that I wrote several years ago, and will feature a variety of classic American signal hardware:
Semaphores, Searchlights, Positional Lights and Towers, of all varieties.
This will be a great book. I’ve been researching and photographing the subject for many years!
Here, a potpourri of images illuminated the net; covering everything from unit oil trains to obscure eastern European transit. So, looking back, 2013 has been a productive and busy time for Tracking the Light.
My original intention with Tracking the Light was to disseminate detailed information about railway photographic technique. Over time this concept has evolved and I’ve used this as a venue for many of my tens of thousands of images.
Among the themes of the images I post; signaling, EMD 20-cylinder diesels, Irish Railways, photos made in tricky (difficult) lighting, elusive trains, weedy tracks and steam locomotives are my favorites.
Since March, I’ve posted new material daily. I’ve tried to vary the posts while largely sticking to the essential theme of railway images. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and will tell your friends about this site! There’s more to come in 2014!
Southbound CN Stacks work the old Soo Line, November 8, 2013.
Between July 1994 and October 1996, I lived within walking distance of the former Soo Line station at Waukesha, Wisconsin.
At that time the railroad was owned and operated by Ed Burkhardt’s Wisconsin Central Limited (a 1980s regional carved from the old Soo Line after Soo Line merged with the largely parallel Milwaukee Road)
I’ve long since moved to new horizons and in the meantime, the ever-expanding Canadian National empire assimilated the WCL. The line through Waukesha that had once been part of the Canadian Pacific family is now a CN route.
Today’s CN has a very different operating style than that of WCL in mid-1990s.
Where WCL ran a tightly scheduled railroad with frequent but relatively short freights connecting Shops Yard at North Fond du Lac with various Chicago-land terminals, CN leans toward enormous rolling land-barges, many of which now take an Elgin, Joliet & Eastern routing around Chicago to reach the former Illinois Central or other connections.
Like the WCL, EJ&E and IC are now part of the CN empire.
On November 8, 2013, Chris Guss, Pat Yough and I photographed CN’s southward intermodal train symbol Q11651-04 led by SD70M-2 8800 passing the old Waukesha Soo Line station. At the back of the train was a modern General Electric working as a ‘distributed power unit’ (a radio-controlled remote locomotive controlled from the head-end).
This is a big change from the pairs of SD45 leading strings of 50 foot box cars or Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range ore jennies that I regularly saw in the 1990s. And, by the way, DM&IR is also another of CN’s railroads.
Autumn Color and Mirror-Like River Make for a Diorama-Like Setting.
The rugged unsettled Quaboag Valley between Palmer and West Warren is a beautiful place, but difficult to work with photographically. Access is limited and the narrow valley combined with heavy overgrowth shadows the line much of the day.
My favorite vantage-point is this twin stone-arch bridge near West Warren. Since my last visit, logging efforts have opened the vista a bit more, allowing a slightly higher view of the tracks.
On October 23, 2013, I learned that CSX’s Q022 (eastward Intermodal container train destined for Worcester) was about an hour away, so I put myself in position to make a photograph.
The season’s leaves were just past peak, which is my preferred time to make autumn images of trains. Why? I’ve found that when almost all the trees are orange, brown and yellow, with hints of red, images seem more autumnal than when some trees are their most brilliant shades of red and orange but others remain green.
A stroke of luck was the very still day: there was virtually no wind while relatively low water-levels in the Quaboag allowed for a mirror like reflection of the bridge and train. This effect is much harder to achieve when the sun is out causing light breezes that tend blur the surface of the water.
Boston gets some great light and evening can be one of the best times to make photographs.
Sunday October 27th was clear in the morning, but clouded up a bit during midday. Towards evening the clouds melted away and a rich golden light prevailed.
Tim Doherty and I photographed operations out of North Station as well as the north end of the Orange Line rapid transit, then went toward Boston College, where the Commonwealth Avenue branch of the Green Line crosses over the former Boston & Albany mainline.
The fading light of evening made for a dramatic skyline. I didn’t have my tripod with me, so instead racked up the ISO on my digital cameras. With my 7D I can work with a 4000 ISO rating and still get some very presentable images.
My memories of the Commonwealth Avenue line extend back more than 40 years, and my photography of the line nearly that long.
In the late-1970s, I made a point of exposed Kodachrome slides of the PCC’s that were then waning on that route. I never could have guessed than in 2013 some PCC’s would survive in daily service on the Mattapan-Ashmont line.
Trains Converge on Palmer; 2 Hours of Non-stop Action.
In the 1980s, Trains Magazine occasionally ran articles that featured ‘hot spots’ illustrated by sequences of photos showing different trains passing the same place over the course of hours.
These always caught my attention. While the individual images ranged from pedestrian to interpretive, the collective effect produced an understanding of how a busy spot worked.
Trains tend to arrive in clusters. Hours may pass where nothing goes by except a track car, then trains arrive from every direction. The astute photographer has learned when to make the most of these situations.
Palmer, Massachusetts can be a busy place, if you’re there at the right time. CSX’s east-west former Boston & Albany mainline crosses New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line at grade. An interchange track connects the two routes and serves as connection to the former B&A Ware River Branch operated by Massachusetts Central.
Afternoon tends to be busy. Among the moves through Palmer are Amtrak’s Vermonters that use CSX’s line between Springfield and Palmer, and NECR’s line north of Palmer toward Vermont. There isn’t a direct connection to allow an eastward train on the CSX route to directly access the NECR’s line.
To compensate for this, Amtrak’s trains must use CSX’s controlled siding to access the interchange track, and this to reach the NECR. This requires trains to reverse direction. As a result, Amtrak trains either have locomotives on each end or run with a push-pull cab control car.
On the afternoon of October 17, 2013, the interchange track proved one of the busiest lines in Palmer and was used by a succession of NECR, Mass-Central, and Amtrak trains.
Complicating matters was Amtrak 57 (southward Vermonter) which was running more than an hour behind its scheduled time, and so met its northward counterpart at Palmer. New England Central was also busy with no less than three trains working around Palmer about the same time.
I’ve put the following photos in sequence with the approximate times of exposure. I stress ‘approximate’, since my digital camera’s clocks not only didn’t agree on the minutes passed the hour, but were set for different time zones as a function of recent travel.
It was a nice bright day too. Patrons at Palmer’s ever popular Steaming Tender restaurant (located in the restored former Palmer Union Station) were entertained with a succession of trains passing on both sides of the building.
Not bad for one afternoon! Yet, not a CSX train in sight. These days much of CSX’s business passes Palmer in darkness.
On the morning of October 14, 2011, I crossed the Berkshires on the Mass-Pike as I drove west to meet with accomplished railway photographer John Pickett.
I had a few hours before our meeting, so despite low cloud and mist, I exited the highway at the Massachusetts-New York state line and drove toward Boston & Albany’s State Line Tunnel. While on Tunnel Hill Road in Canaan, New York, I noticed this colorful scene from the road side.
As I got out of the car, I heard the unmistakable sound of a train roaring west. I had just enough time to get out my Canon EOS 7 and make a test image before the train passed.
Another case of just being at the right place at the right time, and being ready to act.
Every so often the sun shines in Ireland. When it does, it helps to be in position to make photographs. As it happened, on Friday September 27, 2013, Colm O’Callaghan and I were at Stacumny Bridge, near Hazelhatch in suburban Dublin.
Our aim was to photograph the down IWT (International Warehousing and Transport) liner which had an 071 class diesel leading. Stacumny Bridge is a favorite location to catch down-road trains mid-morning because of the broad open view of the tracks and favorable sun angle. I’ve post photos from this location on previous occasions.
While waiting for the liner, we got word of an up road wagon transfer. And caught that a few minutes before the liner came down. Then we heard that there was a permanent way department (PWD or ‘Per way’) ballast train coming up road as well. This was one of the elusive high output ballast trains (HOBS) I’ve mentioned in other posts.
Although an annoying small cloud softened the light at Stacumny when the HOBS roared up road. We pursued the train up to Dublin and caught it again reversing into the old Guinness sidings at Heuston Station.
For the all hours scouring the countryside for photos on dull days, it’s rewarding to catch a clattering of interesting action in just over an hour on a bright day. This is down to watching the weather, combined with patience and persistence and a good bit of luck.
Tomorrow: Tracking the Light looks back 13 years at Stacumny Bridge. What a change!
Tracking the Light posts new material on a daily basis.
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.
I exposed this image of a Thalys at speed crossing a arched bridge over Hollands Diep minutes before the fading orange ball of the sun melted into North Sea coastal fog.
Thalys is an international high-speed train branding applied to services connecting Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris, and Köln-Brussels-Paris. Technologically speaking the train is a French-built TGV, but specially painted and decorated for Thalys services.
This was an evening run from Amsterdam to Paris. Hollands Diep is the coastal estuary fed by Rhein and Meuse Rivers. This bridge features a pronounced sweep up and over the water. Beyond it is an older (and busier) truss that has two main tracks for ordinary rail services (freight and passenger).
I panned this train with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with f2.8 200mm fixed telephoto. The light was fading rapidly, so I set the ISO to 800, adjusted the white balance manually and pre-focused in anticipation of the fast moving train. My exposure was f4 at 1/250 of a second.
Earlier in the evening I’d seen a Thalys fly across the bridge and I recognized that the structure of the bridge mimicked the paint scheme on the train, so I released the shutter to allow for an arching visual flow between train and bridge. This is accentuated by the low light.
Views from the East Side of the Rhein—September 2013.
For me the Right Bank (east side) of the Rhein has always been more challenging and more intriguing. This side has more freight, but the vistas are more difficult to access. Certainly getting the viewpoints that I envision take a little more work.
On this trip, with the help of maps and some advice from local photographers, I found several satisfactory spots to work from.
Where the Left Bank (west side) remains dominated by passenger traffic (with the occasional freight slotted in), the Right Bank is primarily a freight route, with the requisite hourly (half-hourly at peak times) stopping passenger train.
Since my last visit to the Right Bank in 2010, the passenger service has been upgraded with modern Stadler three and four piece Flirt-model railcars. The tide of freight ebbs and flows, but its not difficult to get four or five freights at one location in a relatively short span of time.
It seems that no sooner than one train has clattered out of sight when the next is on its way. If action on the east side ebbs too much, there are plenty of boats and barges on the Rhein as well as trains on the left side. Regardless of what happens, I find it easy to expose lots of images.
Traveling by special train allows unusual perspectives of otherwise ordinary operations. It allows for images of technological contrasts and angles not normally possible.
The RPSI’s vintage Cravens are ideal rolling platforms from which to make photos because the windows open. Also, since the train travels at more conservative speeds, you have more time to absorb and record the passing scenes.
I’ll often work with a zoom lens and fast shutter speed (1/500th of a second or higher) as to quickly frame an image and stop the action.
Other opportunity for photos are when the train stops for water, to collect or discharge passengers, and other long pauses at station platforms. All of these images were exposed during the The Marble City express excursion on August 25, 2013.
As is often the case this time of year in Ireland, it was a largely gray day. Steam locomotives present a difficult subject on warm dull days. As a result, I opted to travel on the train, rather than stake out a spot in the countryside to try for the one ‘master shot’.
This gave me ample opportunity to make close-ups of the locomotive, its crew, and friends traveling with the train. As well as pictures from the window.
I’d intended to bring my trusty old Nikon F3 to make a few color slides, but on the previous evening, I’d been making time exposures of Dublin and the trusty old battery in the F3 gave up the ghost. Failing to follow my own advice, I didn’t have a spare. (Although I have plenty of spare cameras).
As a result all of my images of “The Marble City” trip were exposed digitally. Some with my Lumix LX3, others with my Canon EOS 7D with 28-135 zoom. Check Tracking the Light over the next few days to view some of my results.
On the morning of August 16, 2013, I was changing trains at Ottignies, a suburban station south of Brussels on the line toward Luxembourg. I had just under an hour to explore and make photos.
For many ordinary passengers, I expect that changing trains is a purgatorial experience, but I’ve always found that is a great time to make photos and helps break up the journey. Such was the case this day.
The sky was bright and blue, and Ottignies was entirely new to me. The station has several platforms, and at regular intervals trains converge to allow passengers to change from one train to another. In addition it serves the local population.
I made this pair of photographs of a northward express train led by a SNCB (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways) class 13 electric. What impressed me about this location was the slight jog in the track on approach to the station and the immense proportions of the overhead footbridge, which combined give the image greater depth.
My quandary in editing is deciding which of the two photos I prefer. The first offers a view with signals and more of the footbridge, while the second is more focused on the locomotive and train.
Both were exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D and 100mm lens. The train was moving swiftly and I had only moments to make my composition before it blitzed the platforms.
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 many years Kingscote was effectively Bluebell’s northern terminus. That changed this year when the extension to East Grinstead was finally opened along with the direct connection to Network Rail.
Now, as a quiet mid-point on the Bluebell line, it embodies all the qualities of a small town passenger station from a time long ago. Adding to the rural solitude is a ban on visitor automobiles in the car park. (Railway riders are encourage to use other stations on the line).
The facilities are faithfully decorated to convey the spirit of long ago. I appreciated a lack of modern intrusions. Not so much as an electronic beep could be heard during my brief visit. (I turned off the various sounds uttered by my digital cameras!). I should have brought my Rollei Model T for effect.
During my hour visit at Kingscote, I was rewarded with the arrive of a wedding special hauled by a diminutive locomotive named ‘Bluebell’ and decorated appropriately.