On cool winter afternoon, three CSX General Electric diesels idle at CP64 in East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
These locomotive had worked an eastward Q264 and are waiting to return with its westward counterpart, working westward across the Boston Line to New York’s Selkirk Yards and beyond.
I exposed these digital images using a Lumix LX7. Working with the camera-RAW files in Lightroom, I lightened the shadow areas improved the contrast and made a slight enhancement to the overall saturation.
CSX Q264 is a unit autorack train that terminates at East Brookfield, Massachusetts.
On Tuesday, November 26, 2019, I was waiting at CP83 in Palmer for fellow photographer Mike Gardner to arrive. To the west, I could hear the distant roar of a heavy eastward train.
Long ago I learned to use my ear. Listening, and knowing what you are hearing can make the difference between finding a train and missing one.
Mike pulled in and I signaled to him there was in eastbound on the diamond (crossing at Palmer between New England Central and CSX’s Boston Line).
I was delighted because low rich November sun illuminated CP83 and there weren’t any automobiles in the parking lot in front of the Steaming Tender restaurant (that occupies that the old Palmer Union Station).
As Q264 rolled through, I said to Mike, “quick, jump in! The train is limited to 30mph at the diamond, we’ll get him down the line.”
And we were off in hot pursuit!
Up to West Warren, a recent and long-time favorite location of mine for railroad photography. We pulled over where the Boston Line is adjacent to Route 67, and I exposed another sequence of photos.
That was two trains, on two lines in less than two hours, but it was only going to get better! Tuesday was a very good day!
More to come!
Tracking the Light Posts Every Day, sometimes twice!
Yesterday I met fellow photographer Mike Gardner at the Steaming Tender restaurant in the old Palmer Union Station for lunch.
I had iced tea and the Reuben.
Except for the New England Central switching all was quiet for the first couple of hours.
Just after 2 pm, I said “Let’s head outside, I have a feeling it’s all about to happen.”
Luck, intuition or experience, call it what you like.
At first the trains didn’t favor the light. A New England Central local crossed the diamond northbound. CSX B740 was working deep in the old Boston & Albany yard. The Mass-Central came down from Ware long-hood first. Then everything stalled.
“I’ll bet everything is waiting for the Lake Shore.”
At 3pm Amtrak 449, the westward Lake Shore Limited appeared at the east end of the long tangent on the old Boston & Albany. On queue Mike announced, ‘Headlight!’
I made a series of photos of enthusiasts on the old station platform rolling the train by.
After the Lake Shore, the illusion of a lull continued, and most everyone else got bored and left. CSX B740 had pulled up and was poised waiting for signal. Mike and I decided to hold on. And sure enough 15 minutes behind the Lake Shore was a westward CSX freight—Q427.
After this passed, B740 pulled ahead through CP83 and then reverse back into the yard, meanwhile the Mass-Central was getting ready to head back north again.
All in all in was a very successful day in Palmer. But the keys to our success were timing and patience. If you left after the Lake Shore rolled west, you missed most of the show.
Monday afternoon, August 19, 2019 was hot and humid as I rambled through Massachusetts’ Quaboag Valley completing errands.
Driving west on Route 20, I reached the flying junction with Route 67, where I saw the head-end of CSX Q264 roar below me with two modern GEs in the lead.
The train had a good roll-on, so I knew it was making a run for the grade up through Warren. I diverted from my path west, and drove post haste east on Route 67 to find a location to picture this eastward freight.
In the afternoon there aren’t a lot of options. The old B&A has become unpleasantly overgrown with brush, and the back lit summer sun doesn’t offer a flattering portrayal of modern GE diesels.
I opted for the overhead bridge at West Warren, where I made these views with my Lumix LX7.
Although it was still sunny, I could see the storm approaching from the west. Shortly after I arrived home there was lightning, thunder and a violent deluge.
Knowing I had a few minutes while east and westward trains made their meet at CP79 east of Palmer, I explored locations at Warren and West Brookfield. I concluded that summer-time brush along the line made many of my traditional photo locations un-workable.
So, I went over to East Brookfield, where the overhead bridge offered a clean view of the tracks. One photo was exposed using a FujiFilm XT1 the other with a Lumix LX7.
Last Tuesday, June 25, 2019, I’d photographed an eastward CSX intermodal train at Palmer, Massachusetts that took the controlled siding at CP83 and then eased up to the east end of the siding at CP79.
I took a chance and drove expeditiously to West Warren in anticipation of a westward freight. I was rewarded for my efforts.
The lighting was tricky but colorful. The sunrise was heavily tempered by clouds rolling in from the west.
To make the most of the contrasty scene, I used a Lee graduated neutral density filter over the front of my lens to reduce exposure in the sky, and then underexposed the entire scene by about two thirds of a stop. I used the in-camera histogram to gauge my exposure by aiming to obtain minimal loss of detail in highlight and shadow areas. To the eye, my RAW files seem a little dark, but this is by intent.
In post processing, I lightened shadow areas while controlling highlights in an effort to replicate scene as I saw it.
Such are the challenges with modern photography. With black and white film, I would have exposed for the shadows and printed for the highlights, but that technique won’t work with digital photography. Where black & white film could hold great detail in dense highlights, but suffered from thin and detail-less shadow regions, digital sensors have the opposite sensitivity range.
Tuesday Morning (June 25 2019), I made my way to Palmer, Massachusetts to see how fared the old Boston & Albany.
Not long after I arrived at the old freight house location (the building was unceremoniously demolished by Conrail 30 years ago), I heard ‘Limited Clear CP83’ on my scanner. This transmission indicated that a train was about to take the controlled siding.
Modern six-motor GEs (an Evolution and a Tier IV—standard CSX road power on the Boston Line) rolled east with a short intermodal train, probably Q012 or Q022.
The trailing locomotive was CSX’s Louisville & Nashville heritage locomotive, identified by a tiny L&N logo on the cab and ‘Spirit of Ravenna’ in script. Lucky bonus to catch that in Palmer!
I made my photos at the west end of the yard, working with a FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto lens and my Lumix LX7.
This was just the beginning of the morning’s photography.
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.