I have a zillion photographs in Palmer, Massachusetts.
‘Zillion’ inferring an undetermined non-specific large quantity.
So why chase CSX’s Q263 down the Valley?
We arrived at the site of the old Boston & Albany freight house at the west end of Palmer yard just in time to catch Q263 (empty autorack train from East Brookfield) passing Mass-Central’s local freight.
Mike Gardner and I had photographed CSX’s loaded autorack train Q264-21 (as featured with ‘DPU’ the other day on Tracking the Light) and were waiting for the crew to take the empty autorack Q263-23 west.
For more than an hour we waited at milepost 67 in Brookfield, Massachusetts.
As recommended, I made several test shots with my Fujifilm XT1 as the lighting conditions changed.
Then finally Mike announced ‘HEADLIGHT!’
I exposed a test burst of photos CSX Q263-3 in the distance and then . . .
[insert expletive here]
With a 32GB card, I can store hundreds of images. So many that I forget to even check how many I have left. And so at this critical moment, I’m left pixel-less.
Well, thankfully I had my Lumix LX7 around my neck and so managed a close-up photograph anyway. But there’s a lesson for you in this story. And for me too!
In recent months CSX has adopted the practice of using distributed power on the former Boston & Albany.
Distributed power is essentially the application of radio-remote controlled locomotives positioned deep in a freight train and/or at its end to reduce drawbar stress and improve starting and braking characteristics with very long/heavy trains.
The concept dates to the 1960s, but much improved radio-controlled remote technology was introduced by GE-Harris in the 1990s where it has become standard operating practice, and the remote locomotives being known as distributed power units (DPUs)
Still, to me it seems like a novelty on the Boston & Albany route.
Yesterday (May 23, 2019), I made my first photographs of a CSX train with a DPU working east of Palmer.
Mike Gardner and I caught Q-264 (the loaded autorack train destined to East Brookfield) from the field of Route 67 near CP79.
By B&A standards, this was an enormous train for just two modern GE diesels.
I exposed these photographs using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm f2.0 lens.
A week ago, on Wednesday February 6, 2019, Paul Goewey and I caught CSX’s Q-264 rolling through CP64, the interlocking at East Brookfield near the train’s terminus on the East Brookfield & Spencer Railroad (the local short line switching railroad that unloads the autoracks for regional distribution).
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 90mm lens, I exposed this view at ISO 800.
Some weeks ago, I had a few minutes before running an errand. I stopped in at CP83 near the old Palmer Union Station.
My timing was nearly perfect. Not long after I arrived, I heard a familiar roar to the west.
The air was clear, and the sounds of EMD 645 diesels were resonating as they worked eastbound.
I thought, ‘must be the B740’ (the CSX local freight that typically arrives in Palmer about mid-morning to work the interchange.)
I walked up to the South Main Street bridge. As the train approached Palmer, it enters a short down grade, so the roar quieted. This change in pitch might confuse a novice visitor, who might become discouraged at the very moment a train is about to pass.
Sure enough, after a couple of minutes, CSX B740 rolled into view and took the switch at CP83 onto the controlled siding.
Perfect low and clear December sun over my left shoulder made for a calendar scene.
Here’s an archived digital view I made in the summer of 2011 at Smithton, Pennsylvania along CSX’s former Baltimore & Ohio mainline.
Bad luck, just as this eastward freight came into view, a fair weather cloud muted the afternoon sun. I made a sequence of photos with my Canon EOS 7D.
Working with Lightroom, I re-worked the image starting with the camera RAW file. Unlike the camera Jpg which is compressed, the RAW file contains greater amounts of information than maybe immediately evident.
By making nominal adjustments in post processing, I was able to create a more pleasing photograph. I worked on the sky, locally bringing in highlight details in the clouds by moving the highlight slider control to the left, which scales back the relative brightness of the highlight areas.
On a global level (for the whole file), I brightened shadows, warmed the color balance, increased saturation and adjusted contrast.
Lastly, I focused on the train and made very slight (subtle) adjustments to the exposure by lightening and changing contrast.
For comparison, I’ve included both the unaltered in-camera JPG and two versions of the altered camera RAW file.
I was running a few final errands before heading to the airport.
CSX had been working on making CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts compliant with positive train control requirements, which has coincided with commissioning new signal hardware.
By the time I return, the old signals will likely have been retired and the new system up and working.
Crossing the South Main Street bridge in Palmer, I spotted a New England Central local working the diamond, and a CSX intermodal train (Q022) waiting to the west.
This gave me enough time to set up and made a few final photos of the transitional arrangement at CP83 in Palmer.
Changeable lighting made for patches of direction sun under a partial blanket of cloud. I tried to use these sunny spots to my best advantage since the train was moving slowly through the interlocking.
Saturday evening I used my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit to photograph CSX’s westward Q437 (Framingham, Massachusetts to Selkirk, New York) at Palmer, Massachusetts passing the new signals at CP83.
They’ve yet to be activated and the new signals are in place alongside the Conrail-era signals installed in 1986.
It was dusk and the light was fading fast. I pushed the camera ISO to 2500, and exposed this action shot at 1/250th of a second at f2.8.
This summer Amtrak 448/449, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, is the onlysection of the Lake Shore Limited!
Construction at Penn-Station New York has encouraged Amtrak to cancel the New York section of this popular train, and reassign its Viewliner sleeps to the Boston section.
A clear afternoon had me searching for locations. My first choice was the Tennyville Bridge in Palmer (Rt 32 bridge), but a large quantity of freight cars in Palmer yard discouraged me. My next choice was the field east of Palmer off Rt 67, but I vetoed this place because of excessive brush.
Brush and trees are real problem this time of year along the old Boston & Albany. Not only do the obstruct views of the tracks, but they cast impenetrable dark shadows.
So, I ended up at my standard fall back location at West Warren. Although, I’ve photographed Amtrak 449 here dozens of times, it had several advantages.
It’s a relatively short drive; it has elevation and an unobstructed view of the line from both sides of the tracks; its east-west orientation makes for nice early afternoon lighting; and the waterfall and mills make for an iconic and readily identifiable backdrop.
So, West Warren it was. Again.
I made this sequence with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm pancake lens.
Two difficulties; the nosy angle of the sun made it difficult to get an acceptable broad side angle on the train, so the three sleepers at the back are visually marginalized. Secondly, the wedge angle of the Amtrak P42 front-end kicked back the sun with harsh ‘nose glint’.
A lone loaded auto-rack was spotted in CSX’s Palmer Yard.
CSX’s local freight B740 had arrived from West Springfield Yard.
B740’s crew discussed arrangements with the dispatcher to reverse out of the yard (westward) with the auto-rack on the interchange track and then pull forward onto the controlled siding at CP83.
The reason for this was to avoid using the normal freight connection from the controlled siding into the yard because of the length of the auto rack was at risk of derailing over the tight switches.
The crossover at CP83 from the interchange track to the controlled siding was installed in 1995 to facilitate Amtrak’s Vermonter, which was then operating via Palmer and changed directions here to go between CSX and New England Central’s route on its Springfield, Massachusetts-St Albans, Vermont portion of the run.
The passenger crossover at CP83 has been rarely used, since Amtrak’s Vermont returned to the more direct routing in December 2014 (running north of Springfield on the Boston & Maine Connecticut River line via Greenfield to East Northfield).
It was a fortuitous situation to catch this rare move in nice morning sun.
B740 then continued east to East Brookfield, where CSX autoracks are unloaded on the East Brookfield & Spencer.
The day dawned clear and bright. I spent an hour at CP83 in Palmer making good use of the light. The railroads cooperated and supplied a parade of eastward trains, and these favored the sun for classic views.
I’ve made countless thousands of photos at Palmer, Massachusetts, but it’s always nice to keep the files fresh.
Soon the scene is likely to change since CSX is installing new equipment for its positive train control signaling, and this will likely result in new signal hardware in place of the Conrail-era signals installed during single-tracking in 1986-1987.
Then something unexpected happened, and by shear luck I caught a rare move! Stay tuned for Part 2.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.
On my way through Palmer, Massachusetts, I noticed New England Central’s northward 608 blocked at the diamond crossing with CSX’s Boston Line.
That was a good indication that a CSX train might be close.
After a very short wait this eastward CSX intermodal train came into view. It was probably Q012;‑one of several daily trains that runs to Worcester for unloading.
The trees are still bare, but the sun was bright. In just a few more days the trees will begin to leaf, the grass will become green, and Spring will be in the air.
Exposed digitally with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 90mm Fujinon telephoto. I’ve composed the image to take in the old Union Station, now Palmer’s Steaming Tender restaurant, while positioning the lead locomotive between the control signals at CP83, and keeping the horizon in view.
Just an ordinary winter’s day at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts last month.
I made this view of CSX’s B740 using my Lumix LX7 .
One of the advantages of digital photography is the ability to check the exposure on-site. Although this scene had a tricky exposure, I was able to gauge my result at the time of exposure.
Consider the dynamic range of exposure in the this image: note the headlights on the locomotive (which appear brighter than the snow on the ground) and the sky (which is slightly darker than the snow).
On this visit to Mine Dock Park along New York’s Hudson River, I focused on a southward CSX doublestack container train. In the wide-angle view I made use of ice floes in the river as a compositional aid.
It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)
All were made from the same vantage point.
I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.
The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.
I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.
Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.
So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.
I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.
Back in the early 1980s, Conrail routinely assigned GP40-2s to road freights on the Boston & Albany. Back then I ignorantly dismissed the GP40-2s as ‘boring’. (But, I made photos anyway).
Today, being older and wiser and having a greater appreciation for locomotives of all kinds, I look back fondly on those olden times.
Luckily, I don’t have to go too far to find GP40s on the move. CSX still assigns vintage GP40-2s (albeit modernized) to the Palmer, Massachusetts local freight, symbol B740. (On the old Boston & Albany).
I see these locomotives as classics, yet still earning their keep, and wearing modern paint.
Last week when I exposed these views of CSX B740 at CP83 near the old Palmer Station, it was bright, but partly overcast midday with diffused high sun. Snow on the ground helps lighten the shadows—Decent, if not perfect, conditions for photographing locomotives.
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.
Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
I made these views of a CSX freight operating on the former Reading Company in Philadelphia. My vantage point was from the sidewalk on the road bridge near the Strawberry Mansion Bridge over the Schuylkill.
The day was bright, but partially overcast, which benefitted my photography since bright sun would have resulted in a difficult and unflattering high-contrast situation.
This northward freight was moving slowly, allowing me to work with two digital cameras and expose a series of images as it went by.
On July 22, 2017, I made this unusual view of CSX Intermodal train Q012 on the old Boston & Albany mainline at West Warren, Massachusetts.
What’s unusual about it?
Not only was it made on Kodak Tri-X black & white film using an 80-year old Leica camera body fitted with a 21mm Super Angulon lens, but my processing was non-standard.
After a pre-soak with a miniscule amount of developer, I gave the film it’s primary development in Ilford Perceptol stock mixed with water 1-1 for 8 min 30 seconds at 69 F. Following development, stop, fix1, fix2, and thorough rinse, I treated the still wet film in selenium toner mixed 1 to 9 with water for 8 minutes.
The selenium toner gives the negatives a slightly lavender hue while increasing the highlight density to provide a silvery sheen. This involves an ion-exchange with the silver halide in the film which offers a secondary benefit of greater long term stability.
After toning, I re-wash negatives for at least 10 minutes.
For internet presentation here, I scanned the dried negatives on an Epson V750 flatbed scanner at high-resolution TIF files, then imported the files to Lightroom for final adjustment, dust removal and scaling. (My TIF files are far too large to upload on Word Press for internet).
Instead of scanning the negatives in black & white, I scanned them in color which retains the purple tint of the selenium toner for effect.
During the long days of July, I made a point of being up and OUT as early as there was light in the sky.
Those trains that go bump in the night in Winter have a bit of light on them in July.
I made this view before 6 am of the New England Central local crossing the Palmer diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant is located in the old Palmer, Massachusetts Union Station station at left.
All to often I find myself in Palmer, Massachusetts.
It’s probably not what you think though.
Yes, I make railway photos there.
By often I arrive at CP83 only because I’m passing through. I might be on the way to the bank, or to get a haircut, or maybe do a bit of shopping.
In the daylight instance pictured I was about to cross the South Main Street Bridge with a financial transaction in mind, when I spotted a railway enthusiast poised with camera in hand.
I had my Lumix LX7 with me, so made a quick diversion. It was nearly 11am, and about the time that CSX’s Q022 often rolls east. Stepping out of the car, I immediately sensed that my guess was correct. I could hear the freight approaching the home signal for the Palmer diamond at CP83. Need I describe what happened next?
Some hours later, I’d met Rich and Joyce Reed for dinner in Palmer, and as per a long standing Friday night tradition we reconvened after the meal at CP83. How different this place looks at night!
After a little while the signals cleared and CSX’s Q007 came into view. I made these time exposures of the westward Q007 passing the signals at CP83.
A week ago, July 7, 2017, Pat Yough and I were photographing at West Trenton, New Jersey. I made this view with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm Pancake lens.
This is compact, lightweight lens designed for the Fuji X-series mirror-less digital cameras. With the sensor on my X-T1 the 27mm lens has the equivalent field of view offered by a 41mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera.
In other words it offers a slightly wide-angle perspective that is comparable to the natural field of view of the human eye.
I caught CSX symbol freight Q-301 rolling toward Philadelphia on the old Reading Company. My exposure was f4 1/1000th of a second at ISO200.
On June 28, 2017, I made a sequence of digital photos of CSX’s Worcester, Massachusetts-bound intermodal freight symbol Q012 passing CP64 (dispatcher’s control-point 64 miles west of Boston) at East Brookfield.
This was one of several exposures made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
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.
These days most of CSX’s scheduled through car-load freights tend to traverse the east end of the old Boston & Albany during darkness.
True, there’s a couple of intermodal trains, and Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited during the day, but if you want to see an old-school freight train in daylight you’ll have a long wait.
Early in the morning of June 23, 2017, I went over to CP83 (control point 83 miles from South Station) on spec to see if I could catch some freight on the move.
I have a sixth sense or really good hearing (or both), because I stepped out of the car, and I could hear a distant freight with GE diesels laboring toward Palmer.
I fitted my FujiFilm X-T1 with my fast (f2.0) 90mm lens and walked up to the South Main Street bridge, where I’ve made hundreds of photos over the years.
As the train approached, I realized that it wasn’t an intermodal train, as I expected, but a carload freight. It was CSX’s Q422 (Selkirk, New York to Worcester, Massachusetts).
At 5:29am I made these photos with my camera set to ISO 800, f2.2 1/250 second handheld. The ability to raise the ISO to a faster (more sensitive) setting combined with my fast telephoto lens allows for photos like this one.
In my old Kodachrome 25 days, my exposure with my Nikon F3 and f2.8 135mm lens (offering an equivalent focal length to the 90mm with the small sensor on the X-T1) would have been: f3.5 at ¼ second. The resulting image of this moving train would have been dramatically different.
Since 1986, the interlocking east of Palmer at the east-end of the dispatcher’s controlled siding has been known on the railroad as ‘CP79’ which describes it as a ‘control point (remote control power switches and signals) 79-miles west of Boston’.
Friday, morning (June 22, 2017), I anticipated a westward freight just after sunrise, and set up looking across the farmer’s field west of CP79, looking toward the rising sun.
Working with an external graduated neutral density filter, I carefully exposed a sequence of photos, including pictures with the train. Then working with the camera RAW files in Lightroom, I manipulated contrast, exposure, color temperature and color balance, to make for better balanced more pleasing photos.
With extreme lighting conditions I find that post processing is a necessary, if tedious, part of the photographic process.