It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, when I made this view at 9:38pm on December 31st looking west toward CP64.
The signal had just changed from all red (stop) to red over flashing green (Limited Clear) on the main track.
I exposed the photograph with my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens with the camera mounted on a Gitzo tripod.
Using the ‘A’ mode with aperture set to f2.8, the exposure value boosted by about 2/3rds of a stop, and ISO set to 400, my effective shutter speed was about 5 seconds. A length of time that seems like forever when you are standing alone in the dark with an icy wind in your face.
I checked my exposure and focus and thought to myself ‘good enough’. Which means that if it were warmer, I’d make another image.
CSX’s Q007 was lined west. But opted not to wait for it.
Yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, I arrived in Palmer at about 5am. Although there was clear blue dome above me, a blanket of mist had filled the Quaboag Valley. This was just beginning to clear, when I heard CSX’s westward freight Q427 (Portland, Maine to Selkirk, New York) approaching.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I exposed several bursts of digital images as the train rolled by the old Palmer Union Station (now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant).
Consider that this is a lesson in lighting: even when you photograph trains at the same location, at the same time of day (but on different days) the results can be significantly different as result of ever changing lighting conditions.
Last May (2016), I made this view of an eastward CSX stack train descending the old Boston & Albany grade over Washington Hill.
I was just east of the old Middlefield Station (long defunct), where my late friend Bob Buck had exposed some classic images of B&A’s A1 Berkshires.
A hill behind me blocks the rising sun, until after 6:30am in May. I could hear the train descending as the first rays of sun tickled the iron. Morning clouds waft across the sky making for inky shadows.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light is on auto pilot.
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The long days of June offer distinct lighting. In the morning the sun rises earlier and further north than the other times of the year, and this makes for photographic opportunity if you know where to look.
These days much of the Boston & Albany route east of Palmer is a tree tunnel, but West Warren has a nice vista with characteristic 19th century New England mill buildings complete with a mill-dam on the Quaboag River.
As long as I’ve been making photos on the old Boston & Albany mainline, there’s been a westward intermodal train that passes through the Quaboag Valley early in the morning.
In Conrail times it was symbol TV9 (TV=Trailvan; Boston to Chicago). With the transition to CSX operations this became Q119. Now with revised intermodal terminals and changes to train symbols, I think this morning train carries the Q019 symbol (which runs from Worcester, Massachusetts since the closure of Boston’s Beacon Park yard a few years ago).
In the 1990s, I’d identified West Warren as a place to catch this train on the long days; where the sun rises on the north side of the tracks for about 10-20 minutes. This only occurs over a span of about three weeks, and provides the backlit glint effect that offers a distinct view at this classic location.
The other day, all the pieces came together. The weather was perfect; I was in place at my location with cameras at the ready at the moment the sun illuminated the north-side of the tracks; and CSX’s westward intermodal train passed at precisely the right moment.
I’d learned via Facebook that it was Railroad Illustrated’s annual ‘Day in North America.’ The day dawned cloudless and bright, and while I had a full schedule of events for the day, I opted to make the most of the first part of the morning.
I’d stopped into Palmer, where I’d found a couple of New England Central locomotives in the yard. Then opted to travel up the Quaboag River Valley.
This landed me at my familiar spot in the old Warren, Massachusetts yard. My knowledge goes back a good long time. While there’s not been a switch in the Warren ‘yard’ in my lifetime, although I can recall when the line was double track, and the old Warren Crossovers were around the corner to the east.
Way back in the day (and that day was more than 60 years ago) Warren was served by a local freight. Go back even further and there was really quite the complex of tracks at Warren.
Now a carwash occupies part of the property. Yet the old passenger and freight stations survive, and someone has put some effort into fixing up the windows in the passenger station.
I contemplated all of these things while patiently waiting for a wheel to turn.
Then the phone rang . . .
Doug Moore, a loyal Tracking the Light reader (and sometimes proofreader and fact checker) said to me, “there’s an eastbound piggyback train through West Warren, it should be to you shortly! I’d seen your car parked there by the station.”
Hooray for good information! (Thanks Doug).
Without a moment to waste, I sprung into action, made my test photos, when the train roared into view, I exposed these photos with my Fuji X-T1 (and also a super-wideangle view on Provia with my EOS 3).
The Boston & Albany yard may be gone, but the mainline lives on.
The other day, I was on Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts near the Day and Night Diner (where I’d just finished breakfast), when I saw an eastward CSX intermodal train approaching the Palmer diamond.
In the lead was a 4700-series SD70MAC. Since in recent times, CSX’s safety-cab General Electric locomotives have dominated the scene on the old Boston & Albany route, I was keen to make a photo of this comparatively unusual leader.
Now, I’d been away for a while, so for all I knew, the 4700s had been leading every day for the last month. Or, it may have been the first time over the line since I was here last. Hard to know, but why take a chance. Plus it was as good as excuse as I needed for a time-honored chase up the Quaboag River Valley.
But would I make it? Intermodal trains can be nimble and tend to have a high horsepower per ton rating. There’s a speed restriction across the diamond, and I thought, if I moved quickly, I might be able to zip east toward Warren for a photograph.
First I had to navigate three traffic lights in Palmer. The first two I made without problems, but the third stabbed me. Soon, I was heading out of town on Route 20, but reasons beyond my understanding, the car in front of me dawdled.
I was even with the locomotives and gaining quickly by the time I’d reached ‘Electric Light Hill’ (where the right of way of the projected Grand Trunk line to Providence was graded to cross the B&A—a point so known for the nearby electric substation opposite the tracks).
At this point, the engineer should have opened the throttle to ‘run-8’ and been charging for the grade up the valley. By rights, I would have lost the race at that stage, unless I was willing to ignore the posted limit.
As it turned out, there was no need to consider such transgression of highway safety. The eastward train had begun to slow down. I surmised that it might be stopping at CP79 for a meet with a westbound.
Kudos to the dispatcher in Selkirk! It was a very tight meet. At the field near CP79 (where the long controlled siding that began at CP83 ends), I spotted a westward train and caught a photo of it from across the freshly greened fields. Yet, my primary subject never had to stop.
This meet gave me the extra couple of minutes I needed to reach Warren with ample time to park, adjust and set my camera and compose my images.
It’s a chase I’ve done many times over the last three decades. It helps to know the railroad. All was quiet in Warren that day, save for the roar of the train.
It was an even zero degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about -18 Celsius) when I arrived at the top of State Line Tunnel. A heavy blanket of snow covered the ground and I could hear a heavy CSX eastward train climbing.
The twin-bore State Line Tunnel is the only true tunnel on the old Boston & Albany. The older of the two bores was abandoned in late 1988 when Conrail single-tracked the line.
Driving east on the New York State Thruway, I’d noted the eastward freight crossing ‘Bottleneck Bridge’ east of the interchange with Taconic State Parkway. I knew then, that if I didn’t dally, I could get to the top of State Line in time to roll the train by.
I recalled a chase many years ago with Bob Buck in the twilight hour. When we arrived at this favorite location, I insisted on making black & white photos with my old Leica and ignored Bob’s advice to, ‘Save your film for a sunny day.’
Back to the present. Despite the cold, I set up my Bogen tripod and attached my Lumix LX7. The train whistled for the grade crossing west of the tunnel. Not much time. I made a test shot at 8 seconds. Too dark. Switching to manual mode, I set the camera for 20 seconds. I made an exposure just as the headlights were illuminating the curve.
The view of the train in the photo with the Lumix was blasted by the headlights and isn’t very effective.
However, I had my brand new Fuji X-T1, but I hadn’t the time to figure out how to set it for long time exposures, I did make a few hand-held views at ISO 1250.
Then I exposed a view with the Lumix of the freight cars rolling below me.
Working with my old Leica 3A—a camera I’ve been using on and off for some thirty-odd years—I made this image of CSX’s westward Q293 at Palmer, Massachusetts on the morning of October 5, 2011.
My lens of choice was a 21mm Super Angulon, which tends to vignette a little in the corners. I processed the film using my customized chemical formula that makes the negatives easy to scan. This image received virtually no post-processing after scanning, except to remove a few dust specs and to scale for internet presentation.
Sometimes the old cameras yield the most satisfying results. Some of my earliest photos were made with this same camera-lens combination.
The other evening, on my way over to visit Dennis LeBeau in East Brookfield, I checked CP64, where there’s a set of controlled signals on CSX’s Boston Line. There I found a pair of GE Evolution-Series diesel waiting with a westward empty autorack train. While the engines were shadowed, I thought if this train got the signal to go west, there would be some nice angles.
I met Dennis, and we had a few errands to run. Afterwards he suggested, ‘Ring Julie, and see how the Lake Shore is doing.’
I phoned Amtrak’s automated agent, and learned that train 448 was expected about four hours late into Springfield. Since that is about an hour to the west, it meant the train wouldn’t pass until well after dark. Besides, Dennis was playing a gig, and that was the main reason I’d come out this way.
‘No joy,’ I said. But as we returned to East Brookfield, we saw that the westward autoracks were on the move. ‘We can catch that, no problem!’ And we reversed, and sped along Route 67 out to an open location near milepost 66 in Brookfield. (I’d photographed a CSX empty ethanol train here last October. (Click to see: CSX Empty Ethanol Train Catches the Light at Brookfield.)
After a short wait, the train pulled up and then stopped. We learned that it was waiting for it conductor. This was most likely CSX’s Q283, an empty autorack train that runs from the unloading facility in East Brookfield west toward Selkirk, New York and beyond.
Once the conductor was on board, Dennis and moved west about a mile to the Route 148 Bridge near the old station location at Brookfield. I’d made several photos here last autumn, and was keen to try this spot in June, when the sun swings around. Afternoons in October are more shadowed and didn’t offer a clean view. (See: Boston & Albany Milepost 67, Brookfield, Massachusetts.)
We didn’t have to wait long, and the pair of GE’s came chugging along with about two miles of autoracks in tow. There was great evening light and it was a nice setting. Not bad for a few minutes effort. It is situations like this one that justifies always carrying a camera!
I’d called up to Tucker’s Hobbies at closing time. Bob Buck met me at the door. “The CSX Business train passed Worcester westbound more than 20 minutes ago!”
We made a hasty departure for Palmer. And halfway down the Quaboag River Valley between West Warren and Palmer, I hear CSX’s dragging equipment detector at West Warren report, ‘no defects’.
“It’s about 3 minutes behind us,” I said, as I accelerated the car.
We pulled into the yard at Palmer, near the site of the old freight house. It was wet, the light was fading. I prepped my Lumix as the train came into view, and popped off a few pan photos as it raced west. Bob was delighted! I made a few prints for him.
Sculpting with Light: CSXT Eastbound Freight Emerges from the Cut at Charlton, Massachusetts.
I thought I’d follow up on theme of yesterday’s post: sometimes the infrastructure is more interesting than the train.
On the morning of February 22, 2014, I met Paul Goewey in Palmer, Massachusetts. We were on our way to Fitchburg. He tells me; “An eastbound train came through about ten minutes ago.”
“We’ll get that. Hop in.”
I know that from many years of photographing on the Boston & Albany route, it is easy enough to catch an eastbound after it’s passed Palmer. The railroad loops north through the Quaboag Valley to Warren. And after passing the Brookfields, it climbs over Charlton Hill.
By contrast, the Mass-Turnpike and Route 20 offer a much faster and more direct route. So we drove to Charlton posthaste.
I have a long favored location east of CP57 at milepost 57 (pardon any sense of gratuitous redundancy) where the line exits the rock cut constructed in the 1830s. In 2011, a new road bridge was built here to improve clearances on the railroad to allow for operation of taller double-stacked container trains.
A window of morning sun on the tracks was nicely illuminating the new bridge while leaving a good spot to feature the leading locomotive.
We could hear CSXT’s Q436 (Selkirk, New York to Framingham, Massachusetts) climbing Charlton Hill when we arrived. For ten minutes we listened to modern General Electric Evolution-Series diesels chug up the old railroad grade.
Then a headlight came into view. As the train exited the cut, I used my pair of digital cameras to expose a sequence of images featuring the new bridge.
On the morning of February 16, 2014, I anticipated a photo of a westward CSXT empty intermodal train on the former Boston & Albany at the Massachusetts-New York State Line.
Where B&A’s Lima 2-8-4 Berkshires once hauled freight, now CSXT’s modern GE Evolution-Series diesels do the job.
Today Stateline is just a wide spot on a curve, but there’s a lot of history here.
A trackside concrete marker identifies the border. B&A’s one-time multiple track mainline is now a single main track. A vestige of the old eastward main is buried beneath the snow.
New Haven had maintained an interchange with New York Central here; this was a carryover from the early years, when no less than four railroads operated to Stateline to interchange traffic. Their convergence on this spot was no coincidence as the state border defined original operating charters.
Waiting in my car near the grade crossing on this cold windy morning, I knew this train was close, so when the warning lights began to flash, I jumped into position.
Fifty years ago, it would have been pretty neat to see a Burlington GP30 at Pennsylvania Railroad’s Enola Yard. Yet for the context of that photo to be fully appreciated, it would help to have the location of the locomotive implied in the image.
A few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I were driving by Norfolk Southern’s Enola Yard and spotted this SD70ACE. These days, BNSF locomotives on Norfolk Southern and CSX are not unusual occurrences. Not in Pennsylvania anyway.
After a tight image of the locomotive, I stood back and made a few views intended to convey location.
It’s not what you see, but the images made of what you see.
For me the old Boston & Albany West end is hallowed ground. This was the first true mountain mainline in the modern sense. The line was surveyed in the mid 1830s and by 1839 trains were working over Washington Summit.
Over the last 30 years I’ve made countless trips to photograph this line and it remains one of my favorites. Yet, I rarely come up here in the winter.
On Friday, February 7, 2014, my father and I went up to Huntington to catch Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449. Not far behind was CSX’s Q427.
This freight runs daily between Portland, Maine and Selkirk, New York via Ayer and Worcester, Massachusetts. This day it had a pair of General Electric Evolution-Series diesels of the type that have come to characterize modern freight operations on the Boston & Albany route.
Since the train wasn’t making great speed, we pursued it on Route 20, stopping to make photos at opportune locations. At CP 123 (where the line goes from single track to two-main track) Q427 met an eastward freight holding at the signal. We continued upgrade ahead of the train.
I remembered that there’s a gap in the hills at Chester which allows for a window of sun on the line that lasts late in the day. So we zipped ahead of the train.
At Chester, Pop set up his tripod to make a hi-resolution video of the train climbing. I positioned myself with my Canon EOS 7D with a telephoto lens to make use of the window of sun against a dark background.
As the train grew closer I also exposed more conventional views with my Lumix LX3. The heavy train took more than two minutes to pass.
Difficulties of Photographing in the Spring and Summer.
That’s just what you want to read about right now, isn’t it!. Gosh, those awful warm months with the long days, soft sunlight and thick foliage.
Well, here I have two views, both made at about the same location off Route 67 in West Warren, Massachusetts at approximately the same time of the morning. Both views show a CSX eastward freight.
The first was exposed on July 31, 2010; the second two views were made on May 10, 2013. While I’ve used one of these views in a previous post (see: Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 ), I thought these made for an interesting contrast with the earlier image.
The primary difference is that in the interval between 2010 and 2013 CSXT cut the brush along the Boston line and performed undercutting work at West Warren. This is just one of many locations that benefited visually from such improvements.
A secondary difficulty about photographing when foliage is at its summer peak is selecting the optimum exposure. In the 2010 image, I took a test photo and allowed for some nominal overexposure of the locomotive front in order to retain detail in the foliage. I then made a nominal correction in Photoshop during post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
Amherst Railway Society‘s Big Railroad Hobby Show show is pure sensory overload. Everywhere you look there’s something or someone that seizes your interest. An old friend, an F-unit, a trolley buzzing underwire, video of a steam locomotive, the sounds of trains.
I exposed several hundred photos in a few hours, but after a while my mind began to numb. Railways of all kinds in all directions.
Old Pointless Arrow and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Ah Springfield! Probably best known because of the Simpson’s cartoon set in a mythical city of that name. Could be Springfield, Massachusetts, or Illinois, any of a couple dozen other cities with this common name.
On April 5, 2004, I met Tim Doherty for lunch and we made a few photos in Springfield.
A visit to Union Station found a westward CSX freight with a Conrail blue General Electric DASH8-40CW rolling through.
Later, we went down to an footbridge near the Basketball Hall of Fame to catch Guilford Rail System’s elusive EDPL (East Deerfield to Plainville, Connecticut) freight.
In 1982, Boston & Maine bought several Connecticut-based former New Haven Railroad operations from Conrail, and EDPL was one the only remnants of that transaction. At the time, the freight ran once a week. Catching it was a matter of planning and good luck.
I exposed these photos on Fujichrome Velvia 100F (RVP100F) color slide film using my Contax G2 rangefinder with a 28mm Biogon lens. The film was processed locally in Springfield at ComColor, which back then offered a 2-hour turn-around time for E6 films (processed and mounted).
In 2008, ComColor ceased processing E6 film. At the time, I was told my rolls were ‘the last run.’
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!
The other night in Palmer, Massachusetts an arctic breeze was blowing, but that didn’t stop me from making time exposures to capture the holiday spirit.
I exposed these photos despite numb hands and cold feet. I used my Lumix LX-3 (choice night camera in cold weather) fitted to a large Bogen tripod.
Years ago, I fitted plastic-foam pipe insulation to the tripod legs (as per recommendation by experienced cold-weather photographer Mike Gardner). This makes it easier to handle the tripod when it’s very cold.
My exposures varied from about 1.6 seconds at f2.8 (ISO 200) to 25 seconds at f4.0 (ISO80). I set the camera manually using the histogram from test exposures to gauge my settings.
Christmas lights on dark nights make for exceptionally difficult contrast. If you overexpose to allow good shadow detail the lights get blown out (losing their color[s] as a result). Underexpose to feature the lights and the sky and shadows turn to an inky black.
Somewhere in between is a compromised setting. Rather than ponder the subtleties of the histogram as the blood in my toes congealed, I opted to take a series of images, one after the other, and select the best of the bunch in a warm environment later on.
In early summer 1986, Conrail was weeks away from converting the Boston & Albany route from a traditional directional double track mainline to a single-track line under the control of CTC-style signals with cab-signal. The first section to be cut-over to the new control system was between Palmer to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Among the results of this change was the abandonment and eventual lifting of the old westward main train west of Palmer.
I was well aware of this pending change and had been documenting Conrail’s work in the area over the preceding months.
On the evening of June 17, 1986, I focused on the westward main track at the Quaboag River bridge just west of the Palmer diamond as Conrail’s eastward SEBO-B dropped down the short grade toward the Palmer yard.
While the train adds interest to the scene; my main focus was the track in the foreground that would soon be gone. I made a variety of images in this area on the weeks up to Conrail’s cut-over day.
Photographing directly into the clear summer sun produced a painterly abstraction. I’ve allowed some flare to hit the camera’s lens which obscures shadow detail and makes for a dream-like quality.
Years after I exposed this frame, I moved to California where I met photographers that had perfected this photographic technique. Interestingly, railroad photographers had been using backlighting to good advantage for a long time. In searching through archives I’ve come across fine examples of Fred Jukes’ and Otto Perry’s works with similar backlighting effects.
Early morning is a great time to make scenes with tracks. Here at West Warren a bit of mist off the Quaboag River adds atmosphere to a classic New England scene. Although I’ve made dozens of photographs from this location, I keep coming back to it.
I’m often asked, “How do I find trains to photograph?”
The short (and not especially enlightening answer) is that I pay close attention to the railway. (Whichever railway I’m photographing). Here are some basic tips:
1) Always pay attention.
2) Carefully study the details of the operation you wish to photograph: Learn when crews are called, how far they normally work, and what is expected of them en route. How long does it take to make a brake test? How long to make a station stop? How long to make a set-out or pick-up? Where are passing sidings and what are the distances between them. Learn about train weights, locomotive performance, and rates of acceleration and braking. Learn grade profiles and how these can affect train speeds. Find out about slow orders (both temporary and those in the timetable). Keep in mind, a scanner can only help you when you understand the information it provides.
3) Use these details to find out how they may affect when trains run.
4) Learn to distinguish good information from poor information.
5) Never assume anything without good solid information.
6) Don’t assume that everyday is the same (but always learn from the passage of trains, make careful notes as to the times trains pass and how long it takes for them to get between stations, and why.).
7) When interpreting schedules, find out how a specific schedule is to be used by the railway in question.
8) Know what questions to ask, and find the right people to ask.
9) Don’t assume that because someone works for a railroad that they are up to date on operations. Railroaders are like photographers, if three of them answer a question, you’ll get four answers.
10) Don’t expect railroaders to: ‘tell you when the train is coming.’ (see number 9).
11) Remember: on a railway plans will change, trains may be delayed, and no day is ever exactly the same (except in Switzerland).
12) Never assume there isn’t a train coming; you’ll be surprised.
13) When a train passes take the time to learn about it. Was it a regularly scheduled move? Was it an unscheduled extra? Was it running to schedule or was it hours late? Is it scheduled to run daily, three times a week or once a year? IF it runs daily, is it scheduled for the same time every day? If it doesn’t run at the same time, find out why.
14) When nearby a railway always use your ears. LISTEN! One of the best tip-offs that a train is approaching are the sounds it makes. Listen for whistles, engines working upgrade, as well as the sounds of braking, and cars clattering. Listen for switch points being moved or other tips that something may be about to happen.
15) Learn a railroad’s signaling and how its signals are expected to normally work. No two signaling systems are exactly the same. Learn when ‘red’ means a train is coming and ‘green’ means one is not (and vice versa!) Also, when ‘yellow’ means you just missed the train you were hoping to see.
16) Remember, a train is coming (but so is Christmas).
17) Put all of the pieces to puzzle into play.
18) Be patient.
19) Be persistent.
20) Take notes.
21) Accept that everyday is a learning experience.
More on finding Passenger and Freight trains in future posts.
Over the last few posts, I’ve alluded to this location at milepost 67. On the morning of October 26, 2013, I was up early. Before 8 am, I photographed at New England Central local at Palmer, and I suspected a CSX eastward intermodal train was getting close.
My feeling was confirmed when I heard that CSX Q012 was at CP 109 (near Westfield, Massachusetts). This was at least 40 minutes away, and I didn’t want to photograph this train at Palmer so I began driving east.
I looked a few old standby locations on my way toward Brookfield, but I was really intend on my location at milepost 67. Why?
On October 25, 2007, I’d caught CSX’s eastward autorack train (symbol Q264) at the Route 148 Bridge at milepost 67. This was a good angle and foliage was just how I like it, but the light was dull.
Move forward six years and the day was clear and bright and the rusty reddish leaves were clinging to selected trees making for a perfect autumn morning.
After a half and hour in the cold, which I used to make some test photos and vignettes of the old Boston & Albany line, I could hear the sound of General Electric diesels working eastbound. In short order the hot Q012 intermodal train came into view with relatively new Evolution-Series diesels.
I’ll tick that off in the ‘success’ category. Since the next eastward train hadn’t reached Pittsfield, I decided to get some writing done and called it a day.
Acting fast, I made the most of an extra move. Earlier in the day, I’d stopped in to Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren, Massachusetts on Friday afternoon October 25, 2013. I was there to visit with Rich Reed who was working the counter.
Back in the day, I’d made many Friday trips to Tucker’s to visit with my old friend Bob Buck, proprietor of the hobby shop (and premier Boston & Albany railroad enthusiast). It’s been a little more than two years since Bob took the final train home, but his spirit still smiles on Warren.
I inquired if Rich had seen much on the mainline (CSX’s former B&A route), which passes within sight of Tucker’s. “No, there’s been nothing except the Lake Shore (Amtrak 449 Boston to Chicago).”
These days, east of Springfield, CSX can be very quiet in daylight. There’s a couple of eastward intermodal trains destined for Worcester (symbol freights Q012 and Q022) that make it over the line in the morning, and recently I’ve occasionally seen trains running to Pan-Am Railways via Worcester and Ayer (Q426 eastbound and Q427 westbound).
Departing Warren for East Brookfield, I turned on my old scanner, just in case.
Driving east on Route 9, I’d just passed the State Police Barracks, when the radio crackled, and I heard a key snippet of information, ‘ . . . clear signal CP64, main to main westbound’ (or something along those lines).
I was just east of milepost 67, and now I knew that train was heading west across the Brookfield flats at milepost 64. But the sun was near the horizon and I had to act quickly if I hoped to make a photograph.
Initially, I thought, ‘I’ll head to the Route 148 Bridge at milepost 67’, but I quickly changed my mind because I realized that the tracks swing slightly to the north before reaching milepost 67, and at the late hour in October, the line might be shadowed. I didn’t want to risk it.
Instead, I pulled off of Route 9, near the old Clam Box road-side restaurant. Here, CSX had cleared the right of way of bushes and trees (during recent upgrading and undercutting work to improve clearances.)
Within a couple of minutes the train came into view. It was an extra westward empty Ethanol train, the first I’d seen in many months on CSX. I exposed several digital photos and made a few images with my father’s Leica M4.
It had been exactly four years to the day, since I made the photos of East Brookfield Station that appeared in my post on October 25, 2013. See: East Brookfield Station, October 25, 2009 Coincidence? Not really. I know the foliage and light angles favor the Brookfields at this time of year.
See tomorrow’s post for action shots at milepost 67.
A Broadside Pan of Modern Locomotives with Autumn Foliage.
Early in the morning of October 22, 2013, I noticed that CSX’s Q422-22 was working the east end of Palmer yard. It was too dark to make a conventional image, and the location of the train not suited to make a night photograph, so I headed east.
CSX’s Q422 is not a train I often see. This is a carload train that runs from Selkirk Yard (near Albany) over the former Boston & Albany main line to Worcester. It is one of many symbol freights on the B&A route that tends to be nocturnal.
When I was photographing in the 1980s, Conrail operated a similar train which carried the symbol SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester). This tended to run in the mid-morning and normally followed the intermodal parade.
I made many images of the old SEPW, which back in 1984 typically operated with sets of four GE B23-7s (rated at 2,250 hp each).
Memories of those days flashed through my mind as I drove east toward daylight. I followed the line up the Quaboag River Valley, as I have many times in the past. At West Warren, there was a glow in the eastern sky, but it was still pretty dark, so after a few test shots I continued eastward.
I considered a favorite location at Brookfield, near milepost 67, but decided against it because it was too head on (stay tuned for an image at this location in an upcoming post).
I’ve found that in very low light, it helps to photograph trains off-axis to minimize the effect of locomotive headlights. When ambient light levels are low (at dawn, dusk, and very dull days) the relative brightness of headlights can result in undesirable flare which can be especially annoying with digital photography.
Recent undercutting work at East Brookfield resulted in clearing of a small hill that has made for a great broad-side photo location. This is set back from the tracks and provides good elevation. Here, I set up and waited.
Before long I could here the chug of General Electric diesels across the Brookfield flats and then my scanner chirped something to the effect of: “CSXT Q422-22, Clear Signal CP64.”
To get the effect of speed and set the locomotives off from the background foliage, I exposed this image at 1/125th of a second at f2.8, ISO 800.
As CSX’s Q422 ascended Charlton Hill on it last leg of the trip to Worcester, I headed in a north-westerly direction toward Millers Falls. I’ve learned that make the most of a New England autumn, it helps to keep moving.
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.
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.
This was a favorite location of mine on the old Boston & Albany west end. The curve and cutting were built as part of a line relocation in 1912 aimed at reducing curvature and easing the westward climb toward the summit at Washington, Massachusetts.
There are several commanding views from the south side of the rock cutting near milepost 129, west of Chester, Massachusetts. My friend Bob Buck had showed me these locations back in the early 1980s, and I’ve made annual pilgrimages ever since.
Conrail was still going strong in 1996, although the forces were already in play that would see the line divided between CSX and Norfolk Southern. In less than three years time, this route would become part of the CSX network, and has remained so to the present day.
Conrail’s SD80MAC were new locomotives and several pairs were routinely assigned to the B&A grades east of New York’s Selkirk yard.
What makes this image work for me is that the foliage has just begun to turn and has that rusty look. Also, the train is descending on the old westward main track, which allows for a better angle.
After Conrail reworked the B&A route in the mid-1980s, bi-directional signaling on this section allowed them to operate trains in either direction on either track on signal indication. The result is that moves such as this don’t require unusual attention on the part of either dispatchers or train crews.
This photo appeared in my article on Conrail’s SD80MACs that was published in RailNews magazine about 1997.
Exposed on Kodachrome 25 color slide film using a Nikon F3T with 28mm Nikkor lens.
Old General Railway Signal Semaphores In Corn Country.
CSX’s former Monon was among the last bastions of semaphores in automatic block territory in the United States. I made this image on the morning of June 24, 2004. While the line only saw a few trains in daylight, there were enough moves to keep the signals busy.
I wrote about this signal installation in my 2003 book, Railroad Signaling, published by MBI. This has since been reprinted as a softcover book. See: Quayside Press.