Tag Archives: general railway signal

Searchlight Sunset at Athol, Massachusetts.

Here are some views I made the other evening at Tyters interlocking, west of Athol, Massachusetts, where the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg goes from two to one track westbound.

Intermodal train symbol 23K from Ayer, Massachusetts was heading into the sun.

Over the last few years Pan Am Railways/Pan Am Southern has replaced many of its old General Railway Signal searchlight heads with modern signal hardware. Yet some of the old signals survive, for now.

Image exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with 18-135mm set at 66mm, (making this equivalent to a 100mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera)
Searchlight hardware has been out of favor since the 1990s and in recent years have been replaced at rapid rates. I’d composed an editorial on this subject for Pacific RailNews back in 1996.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily!



DAILY POST: Winston Hill, Montana, 1994.

Semaphores and Double Stacks.

I love technological contrasts and parallel compositions. This simple photograph works with both motifs.

What makes this photo work for me, isn’t just the technological contrasts and functional symmetry, but also the textured sky. This was difficult to exposure for properly, but serves an important visual element. If it was overexposed, it would represent a defect that would distract from the signals, while if it had been a blue dome, it would have dramatically altered the visual contrast of the image.


A westward Burlington Northern double-stack container train rolls downgrade on Montana Rail Link’s former Northern Pacific mainline over Winston Hill, east of Helena.

I used a relatively short shutter speed to allow a little bit of motion blur, while waiting for an appropriate gab between the stack wells to show both eastward- and westward-facing semaphores.

These upper quadrant blades were powered by General Railway Signal Type 2A base of mast mechanisms, a standard type of signal hardware installed by Northern Pacific in the steam era.

By the early 1990s, double stack container traffic was new and growing, while semaphore signals were relics from an earlier era and rapidly being replaced.

What will be the 2014 equivalent of this photograph? A state-of-the-art LNG-fueled locomotive passing a classic searchlight?

Interested in railway signaling? See my book Railroad Signaling available from Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing

Also See: Erie Mainline RevisitedCuriously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Susquehanna SD45 and an Erie Semaphore, Canaseraga, New York.

Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.

Please spread the word and share Tracking the Light with anyone who may enjoy seeing it!


Enhanced by Zemanta

Boston & Maine at North Walpole, New Hampshire, October 21, 1997.

Autumnal Scene, 16 Years Ago Today.

It was 16 years ago that Mike Gardner and I drove to New Hampshire to photograph Guilford Rail System’s WJED (White River Junction, Vt., to East Deerfield, Mass.) freight. It was a clear October day and the foliage was nearing its peak.

EMD GP40 diesel
Boston & Maine 340 leads WJED at North Walpole, New Hampshire on October 21, 1997. Exposed with an Nikon N90S with f1.4 50mm lens. Slight back lighting accentuates the autumn leaves and nicely illuminates the side of the locomotive.

We found the train near Claremont Junction and followed it south to North Walpole, where I exposed this color slide.

Leading the train was GP40 340 lettered for Guilford’s Boston & Maine component. I like this trailing view because the color of the tree above the train mimics the orange band on the engine. Also the three-head General Railway Signal searchlight at the left offers a hint of the Boston & Maine from an earlier era.

Here, Autumn offers multiple connotations. At one time the White River Junction to Springfield, Massachusetts Connecticut River Line was a busy Boston & Maine route, handling more than a half dozen passenger moves and several freights daily, plus those of Central Vermont Railway. By 1997, Guilford’s operations on was limited to just a few weekly trains.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Conrail: End of Days, May 29 1999.

Morning at Fonda, New York.

On the eve of assumption of operations by Conrail in Spring 1976, my father and I had explored railway operations in the New York City area. Twenty-three years later, we spent a long weekend in New York’s Mohawk and Hudson Valleys photographing the last days of independent Conrail operations before the railway was divided between its new owners CSX and Norfolk Southern.

General Electric C32-8.
I exposed this on Fuji Astia (100 ISO) using a Canon Elan 7e with a 100-400mm lens (extended to its maximum focal length). Canon’s auto-focus and/or image-stabilization system were temporarily confounded the harsh morning light, resulting in unanticipated ‘fluttering’ as the camera tried to compensate for the circumstances. In the end, I made a split-second decision to switch off the auto-focus. I’ve made a few minor adjustments in Photoshop to correct color-balance and other nominal defects in the original slide.

On the morning of May 29, 1999, I made this dramatic image of a westward Conrail double-stack train blasting along the former New York Central Water Level Route at Fonda, New York.

Evidence of the old New York Central can be seen in the wide right of way left over from its four-track days, and the steam-era signal bridges with classic General Railway Signal searchlights. In the last few years, CSX has replaced most of the NYC-era signals with modern hardware.

Leading the train was one of Conrail’s ten C32-8s, a pre-production model built by General Electric in 1984, unique to Conrail (although nearly identical in appearance to the slightly more powerful C39-8, bought by Conrail and Norfolk Southern). This one was dressed in Conrail’s short-lived ‘Ballast Express’ livery.

A variation of this image was published by RailNews, shortly before that magazine concluded operations. Hard to believe that both Conrail and RailNews have been gone nearly 14 years.

Conrail is among the railroad covered in my book North American Locomotives available from the Qbookshop.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Searchlight Signal; Brookfield, Wisconsin

Searchlight signal at Brookfield, Wisconsin exposed with a Nikon F3T with f1.8 105mm lens on Fuji Provia 100 film.
Searchlight signal displays ‘Approach’ at Brookfield, Wisconsin; exposed with a Nikon F3T with f1.8 105mm lens on Fuji Provia 100 film.

In 1996, I was living in Waukesha, Wisconsin and working for Pentrex Publishing as the Editor of Pacific RailNews. One evening shortly before sunset, a heavy fog settled in. Twilight is my preferred time to make signaling images because lower light in the sky allows for greater emphasis of signaling aspects. Fog is an added attraction, especially for searchlight signals. This style of signal head was developed by the Hall Switch & Signal Company in the 1920s. The searchlight uses a miniature semaphore in front of a focused beam of light that allows for a very low powered lamp to be sighted at a great distance. This effect is most evident when the focused light beam illuminates water droplets comprising heavy fog.

I made a series of images of this General Railway Signal Company searchlight along CP Rail’s Soo Line former Milwaukee Road main line at Brookfield, Wisconsin. A variation of this image was selected for the cover of my book Railroad Signaling, published by MBI/ Voyageur Press.

Enhanced by Zemanta