Tag Archives: MBTA

MBTA Glinty Green Line at Coolidge Corner.

At the end of the day (no, really, like the sun was setting and everything) photographers Pat Yough, Tim Doherty and I set up at Coolidge Corner on MBTA’s Green Line Beacon Street route.

Soft golden glint made for some nice light.

I made these images with my Lumix LX7 in RAW format, imported the files into Lightroom where I made adjustments to lighten the shadow areas and soften the contrast, then exported as small Jpg files for internet presentation here.

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MBTA Green Line at Cleveland Circle.


Last Saturday evening (May 11, 2019), I exposed these digital photographs of Boston’s MBTA Green Line.

At this location three routes effectively converge which makes it an ideal location for shops and car storage.

Decades ago I’d photograph MBTA’s classic PCCs here. With in a few years of my making those images the PCCs were all but banished to the Red Line Mattapan-Ashmont extension. The PCC’s have since become an icon of that route.

Soon MBTA’s streetcar fleet will undergo another transition that will make last week’s photos seem historic.

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Last Saturday evening (May 11, 2019), I exposed these digital photographs of Boston’s MBTA Green Line.

Newton Centre—Revisited.

Lumix LX7 photo.
FujiFilm XT1 photo.

Lumix LX7 photo.
FujiFilm XT1 photo.
FujiFilm XT1 photo.
FujiFilm XT1 photo.


When I was a young child my family lived in Newton Centre, an historic suburb of Boston located on the old Boston & Albany Highlands Branch, a railroad that had been converted into a trolley line in 1960.

As a five year old, I’d watch MBTA’s PCC cars pass though, typically operated in multiple sets of two and three cars.

The old B&A railroad station was a relic from former times.

On Saturday, May 11, 2019, after dropping my father on the Logan Express bus for a trip to Portugal, I met some fellow photographers and we visited MBTA’s Newton Centre station on the Green Line.

This was the first stop on our photography of MBTA’s trolley car system.

It was a rare sunny day, and I made these digital photos of the trolley cars as they rolled between Boston and Riverside.

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Bus Meet on Digital Black & White.

Here’s something different. I had my FujiFilm X-T1 set up to record monochrome with a digitally applied red filter to alter the tonality.  Working with a Zeiss 12mm lens, I made this view at Arlington, Massachusetts of two MBTA buses passing on Massachusetts Avenue.

This digital black & white image is unaltered from the camera-produced JPG except for scaling for internet presentation.

How does this black & white compare with film?

It is a lot easier, but is it better?

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Memory and MBTA at Middleborough.

It had been a very long time since my last visit to Middleborough, Massachusetts— decades.

I made these views of an outbound MBTA from the Route 28 overpass south (west?) of the old New Haven Yard.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 90mm telephoto.

Dull summer overcast lighting is just as I remembered it, but the scene is so much changed there was little else to correlate this view with that in my memory, except for the old New Haven Railroad freight house in the distance (upper left).

I wonder if that will be there next time?

This tighter view focuses on the MBTA train.

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MBTA HSP-46s Not So New Now.

I still think of MBTA’s HSP-46 diesel-electrics a brand new locomotives. In fact, these have been on the roll since 2014.

Would you think of a four-year old car as being ‘new’?

The HSP-46s are certainly newerthan MBTA’s other locomotives.

Built by Wabtec’s MotivePower Industries with General Electric components, these distinctive looking machines are unique to MBTA.

FujiFilm X-T1 with 90mm telephoto lens.

In late June, I exposed this view of MBTA 2016 leading southbound train 817 as it approached its station stop at Mansfield, Massachusetts.

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Lost Archives: DARK, RAW, and Minimal.

A couple of weeks ago five cartons of slides were discovered in a closet.

These contained photos I exposed in the 1970s and early 1980s that I’d later rejected as ‘unsuitable for presentation.’

Sometimes the ‘rejects’ prove more interesting than the ‘keepers’.

When I was a teenager, I had a different vision than I did in later years. Although I grew up in a rural area, I was fascinated by urban settings.

SEPTA 69th Street, Media trolley. 1980.

Media, Pennsylvania. 1980.

Media, Pennsylvania. 1980.

My visual inspiration came from slide shows with family friend (and now regular Tracking the Light reader) Emile Tobenfeld, who specialized in innovative and creative urban abstract images. Other inspiration included Donald Duke’s book Night Train (published in 1961), and various main-stream media, including the film 2001.

By intent, I made color slides that were dark and minimalistic. These are raw images made by a kid with a Leica who could see, but who had very little technical prowess. They were intended for projection in dark room.

Newark City Subway, December 1981.

Later when I learned more about photography, I was discouraged from this sort of raw minimalism. Instead I was urged to photograph to capture greater detail, where sharpness was prized among other qualities. My photography adopted qualities that were ‘better suited for publication and commercial application’.

Although my vision continued to embrace some of the same compositional threads that I’d worked with in my earlier years, by the mid-1980s I rejected these early efforts because they were raw and unrefined. Today, I find them fascinating.

PATH Station at Exchange Place, Jersey City circa 1982.

Penn-Station, New York. December 1979.

MBTA Green Line, Boston, 1983.

MBTA Green Line, Boston, 1983.

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BNSF C4s Where?!

This is about location and something unusual.

A week ago, Rich Reed, Paul Goewey and I were making a survey of Pan Am/MBTA operations around Fitchburg, Massachusetts, when we came across intermodal freight 22K stopped east of Fitchburg yard.

Driving up to the head-end, we were surprise to find that the train was led by three BNSF Railway GE diesels, with one of the ‘C4’ (model ES44C4; a six-axle/four-motor riding on a variation of the A1A truck) in the lead.

The train was stopped just west of MBTA’s North Leominster platforms to allow the morning commuter rush to pass unimpeded. This gave us ample opportunity to make photographs.

I was keen to show these BNSF locomotives (nearly 1,000 miles from home rails) operating in Boston suburban territory.

Simply photographing the train/engines really wasn’t good enough, since without some geographically identifying feature, these images could be anywhere.

While I made some close photos of the engines for the record, but I also made a point of exposing images that included station signs and other features to positively identify where we were.

Morning sun on Pan Am Southern intermodal freight 22K at North Leominster on April 20, 2018.

The big GE diesels weren’t the only thing displaying the BNSF logo in North Leominster!

Not the most graceful composition, but it shows where we are.

MBTA 406 heading to Boston’s North Station overtakes 22K at North Leominster.

As MBTA 406 accelerated away from the station, I made a photo of the trailing locomotive with the BNSF GEs beyond. MBTA operates its trains in push-pull mode (locomotive only at one end, cab control car at the other).

One the commuter rush cleared, 22K got permission to proceed and continued east toward its terminus at Ayer, Massachusetts, leading to more photographic opportunities. Stay tuned!

Admittedly not the most scenic location, but this view from the North Leominster parking garage identifies where we are.

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MBTA Gritty in Ayer.

One of MBTA’s HSP-46 diesels leads a mid-morning westward commuter train approaching its station stop in Ayer.

Making effective Midday backlit shots requires challenging photographic techniques.

In this instance, I took an elevated view, slightly over exposed Kodak Tri-X to allow for greater shadow detail while completely cropping the sky to avoid the visual distraction from excessive highlight brightness.

Image exposed on Kodak Tri-X black & white film using a Nikon F3 with f1.4 50mm lens and custom processed to allow for maximum tonality.

Processing the film was my key for achieving better balance and rich tonality.

Working with Ilford ID-11, I used a  1 to 1 mix with water and lowered the recommended process time for Tri-X  from 11 minutes to 7 minutes 45 seconds (at 68.5 degrees F). This lowered the contrast and prevented excessive processing in the highlight areas.

After processing, I toned the negatives with a selenium solution, which give the highlights a slight silvery snap, just enough to make for richer tonality without blowing out all the detail.

My goal was to make the most of the reflections off the rails and the top of the train.

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Puzzle Revealed: MBTA at South Station.

The other day I posted:

An Unusual Scene: MBTA at South Station, Boston December 2017.

 

With a photo similar to the one below.

What makes this ‘unusual’?

On MBTA, the normal operating practice is have push-pull train-sets with the locomotive on outward end of the train. Thus the locomotives should face away from Boston. This has been the standard practice since the 1990s.

In my photo a locomotive is facing South Station, and that is unusual. While not necessarily unheard of, nor ‘rare’, this is not the usual practice.

I’m not an every day visitor to South Station, but this is the first time I recall seeing an MBTA road-locomotive facing the station since the early 1980s.

What isn’t evident from my photo is that there are actually locomotives on BOTH ends of the train. Which is also unusual. The bottom photo shows the same train set at Worcester, and focuses on the outward facing locomotive.

Quite a few Tracking the Light readers guessed my puzzle correctly. One reader asked why the locomotive is facing the station. I’ll be honest, I don’t know why. However, I can guess. Maybe you can too.

Worcester, Massachusetts.

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An Unusual Scene: MBTA at South Station, Boston December 2017.

I made this night photo at South Station with my Lumix LX7.

Recently I was looking through a MENSA puzzle book that contains nearly impossible puzzles. It inspired me to post this image.

This is an unusual scene for Boston. Keen observers of MBTA operations should be able to spot what makes this an uncommon view. What’s at my back is an important clue.

Do you know what makes this an uncommon photo?

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MBTA in the Summer; a Lesson in Midday High-Light.

For the discerning photographer, summer midday high-light presents difficulties with contrast and deep shadows.

In my Kodachrome days, I’d put the camera away from 10 am to after 2 pm during June-July. Kodachrome’s palate and contrast didn’t work with midday high-light and the slides would suffer from inky shadows, exceptionally harsh contrast, and bleached highlights.

Using digital photography and post processing, I can overcome some of the difficulties presented by summer high sun by adjusting color temperature and carefully controlling highlight and shadow detail.

Another tool is the external graduated neutral density filter. By attaching one of these filters to the front of the lens, I can darken the sky to better hold highlight detail and color saturation, while lightening the lower portions of the image area to make for a better balanced exposure and increasing the relative amount of data captured.

Final adjustment is still required in post processing to lighten shadows.

MBTA train 1403 from North Station, Boston passes Shirley, Massachusetts. I’ve lightened the shadows and controlled the highlights to make for a better balanced image. The lighting is still straight up, but the effect is less objectionable.

In both this view an the above image, I’ve used a graduated neutral density filter to hold sky detail and color saturation.

In this view high clouds have slight softened the sun at MBTA’s Wachesett Station.

This scene would have been a nightmare with Kodachrome. Bright whites in the foreground, dark green trees at the sides and noon time sun! Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm X-T1.

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June Morning Sun at Ayer.

June can be a challenging time to make photographs. There can be wonderful rich sun for couple of hours in the morning, and again in the evening, while during the day high-light presents difficulties with contrast and deep shadows. (Topics for future posts)

Last week, Rich Reed, Paul Goewey, Felix Legere and I arrived at Ayer, Massachusetts in good morning light.

MBTA and Pan Am Railways kept us busy for a little while. And I made these images using my FujiFilm X-T1.

I gauge my digital exposure using the camera’s histogram (a graph displayed in-camera that shows pixel distribution), and as a result I aim to capture the maximum amount of data by balancing the highlight and shadow areas.

If need be I can then adjust the exposure and contrast in post processing to make for the most visually appealing image without sacrificing the amount data captured

I’ve listed my exposures below each photo to provide a frame of reference.

The old Boston & Maine Ayer Tower is a relic of former times. The containers at left comprise the water train that comes down on Pan Am from Maine. ISO 400 exposed at f7.1 at 1/500.

MBTA train 1400 from Wachusett approaches its station stop at Ayer. ISO 400 exposed at f9.0 at 1/500. I’ve stopped down (reduced the exposure) by 1/2 stop to compensate for the reflective surface at the front of the MBTA train.

MBTA train 1400 is back lit at Ayer. Locomotive 2000, an HSP46, works at the back of the consist. Exposed at ISO 400 f9.0 1/500. Working with the camera RAW file, I’ve adjusted highlight and shadows in post processing to make for a better balanced image. (Lightened shadow areas and darkened highlights within the control  parameters as necessary to prevent a lost of data in the final image; excessive changes to the exposure will clip highlight or shadow areas and result in less information being displayed in the processed image).

Pan Am Railways is operating some former CSX GE-Built DASH8-40Cs in road freight service. A pair of these locomotives lead symbol freight EDPO (East Deerfield to Portland) out of Ayer’s Hill Yard on the east leg of the Ayer wye. The light gray building to the left of the train and the shadow it creates makes for a difficult exposure situation. ISO 400 f10 at 1/500th of a second.

ISO 400 f10 at 1/500th of a second. Although this image is a scaled version of the in-camera JPG, by working with the RAW file, I could have lightened the shadow area to the left of the locomotive to reveal more detail. I’ve opted not to do this however.

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Beacon Street, Boston MBTA’s Green Line, May 2017.

On May 6, 2017, I made a few rainy afternoon photos of Boston’s Green Line streetcars along Beacon Street.

These were exposed old school; a Leica IIIa loaded with Ilford HP5, exposure calculated using a hand-held Minolta Mark IV light meter.

In these views, I’ve divided up my frame to account for the white sky and the effect of contrast and tonality. Do you think these photos would work in color?

Beacon Street, Boston MBTA’s Green Line, May 2017. Ilford HP5 processed in Perceptol (mixed 1-1) at 70 F for 13 and one half minutes plus 6 minutes in selenium toner (diluted 1 to 9 with water).

Ilford HP5 processed in Perceptol (mixed 1-1) at 70 F for 13 and one half minutes plus 6 minutes in selenium toner (diluted 1 to 9 with water).

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MBTA Gone Retro—Looking Back at Park Street.

Yesterday’s post featured contemporary views of MBTA’s Park Street Station in Boston. See: http://wp.me/p2BVuC-4Pk

Today’s post goes back in time.

I made this view of an Arborway-bound PCC car about 1980. I’d exposed the photo using my old Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar, probably on Tri-X processed in Microdol-X.

I  scanned this from a print I made back in the day. During that period (1978-1982) I often traveled with my father to Boston and I made a lot of photos of MBTA transit operations. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep precise notes on this print.

Here’s one of the photos displayed yesterday for comparison.

Green Line streetcars use the upper level at Park Street.

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Lumix Underground; MBTA Park Street—Boston, Massachusetts.

Earlier in the month, I changed from the Red Line to the Green Line at Park Street, reminding me of visits to Boston decades earlier.

I don’t ride the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) subway often anymore so it’s something of a novelty when I visit.

These photos were exposed using my Lumix LX7 with the white balance set to ‘auto’ (key to help balancing the variety of artificial light in the station).

Lumix set at 80 ISO.

Green Line streetcars use the upper level at Park Street.

There are not many subways where you are allowed to cross the tracks at grade.

Waiting for a southbound Red Line train.

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South Station, Boston, Massachusetts—in B&W and Color.

I rarely travel with just one camera.

These days, I typically have at least one digital camera and a film camera loaded with either black & white or color slide film, plus a back-up instant photo capture/transmitter that subs as a portable telegraph, mobile map, music box, and portable phone.

On my May 6, 2017 visit to South Station with the New York Central System Historical Society, I made a variety of color photos using my Lumix LX7, and traditional black & white photos with an old Leica IIIa loaded with Ilford HP5.

So! Do you have any favorite photos from this selection? Which camera do you feel better captures Boston’s South Station?

Lumix LX7 photo.

Lumix LX7 photo.

Lumix LX7 photo.

Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

Lumix LX7 photo.

Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

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This old PCC—memories of another time.

In October 2014, I photographed this old MBTA (Boston) PCC car at the Connecticut Trolley Museum at East Windsor, Connecticut.

Just a rusty old ruin; but the car and its Kenmore destination board, brought me back to the early 1970s when my family lived a few blocks from MBTA’s Riverside Line at Newton Centre.

This route had been the  Boston & Albany Highlands Branch, and was converted to a trolley line in 1960.

As young child, I was permitted freedom to wander around the neighborhood. My fascination with railways naturally brought me to the trolley line.

One afternoon, I’d been watching the PCC’s coming and going in front of the old B&A station. I’d often traveled on the cars with my parents, and I understood how the system worked.

Taking a chance, I quietly boarded one of the cars through the back door. I rode to Kenmore Square, where I boarded another car and returned to Newton Centre. I might have been five at the time. More than 40 years passed before I told anyone of this adventure. 🙂

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Cleveland Circle-A Moment in Time.

In March 1982, I exposed these photographs of MBTA Green Line PCCs taking the corner at Boston’s Cleveland Circle.

The relative proximity of three Green Line trolley routes at Cleveland Circle made this an ideal place to photograph streetcars since there was lots of trackage and variety of action.

The streetcars pictured had just finished their run and were turning into the storage/staging area at the end of Green Line’s ‘C’ route.

By this time MBTA’s old PCC cars were nearing the end of their regular service on Green Line routes, which made them an added attraction for me. The cars were tired and battered from decades of hard service yet soldiered on.

A tired old Presidents’ Conference Committee car has just finished its outbound run.

Check out the ad at the back of the trolley.

Today, it’s the period signs that make the photos interesting. Look at the ad for ‘Peoples Express’ on the back of one of the streetcars. Also, the cinema is advertising ‘Chariots of Fire’ among other films from 35 years ago.

Here’s an enlargement of the above photo that better shows the cinema sign.

I exposed these images on Ilford HP5 using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar. Unfortunately, I processed the film in Kodak Microdol-X. This developer offered very fine grain, but at the expense of tonality. It was tricky to get the timing right, and in this case I left the film in the developer too long. The result is that negatives display excessive contrast and blocked up highlights.

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Is this the Slowest Light Rail Line in North America?

My father and I were surprised at the glacial speed of MBTA’s Commonwealth Avenue line when we rode from Park Street to Boston College and back last May.

Must Boston’s streetcars travel so slowly? By comparison take Prague’s nimble trams that whisk passengers through the city’s streets. There’s a lesson to be learned.

Pedestrians observe MBTA streetcars near the Boston College terminus in June 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.
Pedestrians observe MBTA streetcars near the Boston College terminus in June 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.

prague_12_oct_2016brian_solomon_331698
Tata Tram in Prague, Czech Republic, October 2016. Exposed on Ilford HP5 (ISO 400) using a Canon EOS-3 with 40mm pancake lens.

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MBTA at Dusk, South Station, Boston 1978.

On an evening in 1978 my father and I visited South Station, Boston.

It was very different then; much quieter, low level platforms, no electrification, mechanical semaphores controlled movements on the approach to platforms.

I’d fitted my dad’s 21mm Super Angulon to my Leica 3A. I exposed several Kodachrome slides by resting the camera on something solid and making a 1 second exposure (or so).

I didn’t understand the concept of reciprocity failure, and so even though I’d taken the light reading of the hand-held Weston Master V literally, most of the slides were underexposed (too dark).

This one was the best of the lot, and in my early years was among my favorite railway photos.

In the interval since I made this image, I’ve perfected my night photography technique.

mbta_1004_south_station_1978_kr_21mm_briansolomon589779
MBTA F40PH 1004 was nearly new at the time of this 1978 photograph. I’ve lightened the shadows a little bit for improved presentation here. This slide projects well despite its age, and my formative understanding of the peculiarities of exposing Kodachrome in low light.

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Worcester, Gone Retro.

It was dull mid-August day at Worcester, Massachusetts. I had my Leica 3A loaded with Ilford Pan F (ISO 50) and made a few exposures.

This hasn’t been my usual film choice. More typically, when working in black & white, I’d use Ilford HP5 or Fuji Acros 100.

I’ve found that difficult light can be a better measure of materials than clear bright morning. And flat summer light is about as difficult as it gets.

For this trial, I processed the film using a Jobo with Ilford Ilfosol 3 developer.

This was a crap shoot, as I’d only used this film/developer combination once before.

Exposed using a Leica 3A fitted with a Nikkor 35mm lens.
Exposed using a Leica 3A fitted with a Nikkor 35mm lens.

I opted for a 1:9 dilution, but scaled back my process time from the recommended amount to just 3 minutes 45 seconds. As is often the situation, I intentionally over-expose my black & white film and then under-process to obtain a greater range of tonality.

Once processed my negatives looked pretty good, but these still required a bit of contrast control using Lightroom. While my end results look ok, I’ll need to refine my chemical process for Ilford Pan F (ISO 50) if I expect this film to perform as well as Fuji Acros 100.

Also, I was hoping that the Pan F would approach the results I used to get with Kodak Panatomic X (ISO 32) back in the 1980s, but so far I’ve not achieved that goal.

Exposed using a Leica 3A fitted with a Nikkor 35mm lens.
Exposed using a Leica 3A fitted with a Nikkor 35mm lens.

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Boston Green Line Déjà vu.

After a long interval (33 years), I took a spin out the full length of MBTA’s Commonwealth Avenue Line.

On this most recent trip, my father and I rode from Park Street to the end of the line, made a few photos and returned to Copley.

The trip was longer than I remember; did the trolleys always crawl along the way they do now?

Here are two views from the front of the cars, exposed 33 years and a couple of blocks apart.

View from the front of a Boeing-Vertol LRV on June 19, 1983. Exposed on Ektachrome using a Leica 3A.
View from the front of a Boeing-Vertol LRV on June 19, 1983. Exposed on Ektachrome using a Leica 3A.

View at Boston College on June 25, 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.
View at Boston College on June 25, 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.

Hmm.

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MBTA at Mansfield; Photographing LED displays—five images.

The MBTA platforms at Mansfield, Massachusetts feature modern information displays.

As with many modern signs used by passenger railways these use light emitting diodes (LEDs).

You may have noticed that although LED displays seem clear to the eye, in many instances they do not photograph well and appear in your pictures as random spots rather than full letters and words.

This occurs because many LED systems pulse on and off at a rapid rate. You eye cannot detect this pulsing and so you see a steady light, but when a photograph is made at higher shutter speeds, the exposure may capture an LED during the ‘off’ portion of the pulse sequence.

Since the LEDs may not be synchronized with each other, the result sometimes appears as a random collection of spots (each is an individual LED) or if they are synced the pulse may be coupled with a scanning effect that results wide gaps of LEDs in the ‘off’ portion of the sequence. (Such is the case at Mansfield).

This unfortunate effect is especially pronounced when the message is scrolling laterally.

One effective way to expose images of LED displays is to set your camera to a slower shutter speed. This will allow the shutter to stay open for a full pulse cycle.

I’ve found that shutter settings of 1/60th of a second or less will usually work effectively. (It helps to test this, as display pulse rates vary).

Below is a sequence of images that I made at various shutter speeds to demonstrate the effectiveness of slower shutter speeds in regards to the LED display. In each situation I’ve used an equivalent shutter speed/aperture combinations to allow for uniform exposure between images.

Exposed at 1/250th of a second. Notice the black line as the result of high frequency on-off pulse combined with a scan effect.
Exposed at 1/250th of a second. Notice the black line as the result of high frequency on-off pulse combined with a scan effect.

At 1/125th of a second the effect is less pronounced but still annoying.
At 1/125th of a second the effect is less pronounced but still annoying. Please note that the bottom part of the message is scrolling from left to right.

1/60th of a second works well instance.
1/60th of a second works well in this instance.

This final view was exposed at 1/30th of a second.
This final view was exposed at 1/30th of a second during an interval when the scrolling bottom line of the message was not displayed.

In this instance the MBTA train was stationary as it discharged passengers.

Obviously, using slow shutter speeds with rapidly moving trains will present other problems. No solution is perfect.

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MBTA—Milton, Massachusetts, Now and Then.

A few weeks ago I posted some vintage Ektachrome slides of MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont trolley line that I made with my old Leica 3A when I was 12 years old.

Among these was this view at the Milton station that showed Conrail’s former New Haven Railroad tracks in addition to MBTA’s trolley line.

I might not have known what I was doing, but I was visionary. I was fascinated by the 'heavy rail' tracks on both sides of the trolley line. Here is evidence that Conrail was still serving the former New Haven branch as far as Milton. There's virtually no evidence of the freight operation today, and it takes a bit of imagination to figure out where the tracks were. Notice that I didn't allow a PCC to interfere with the scene: this was about the PFE refers!
My 1979 Ektachrome view:  I was fascinated by the ‘heavy rail’ tracks on both sides of the trolley line. Here is evidence that Conrail was still serving the former New Haven branch as far as Milton. There’s virtually no evidence of the freight operation today, and it takes a bit of imagination to figure out where the tracks were. Notice that I didn’t allow a PCC to interfere with the scene: this was about the PFE refers!

The trolley line had been adapted to use part of the railroad right of way, and yet it was still necessary to serve freight customers, so tracks from both operations had co-existed for decades.

Milton from approximately the same angle as the 1979 view above. More than just the tracks have changed. I exposed this with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera at the end of January 2016.
Milton from approximately the same angle as the 1979 view above. More than just the tracks have changed. I exposed this with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera at the end of January 2016.

Today, the freight railroad at Milton is but a memory. (And, if news reports prove correct, the trolley may soon vanish too!). Take nothing for granted.

This is a slight tighter view of Milton as it now looks. No PFE refers here, nor tracks for them to rest upon. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
This is a slightly tighter view of Milton as it now looks. No PFE refers here, nor tracks for them to rest upon. This focal length more closely mimics the 50mm Leica Sumitar lens that  I used in 1979.

I made these Now and Then views from approximately the same place looking in the same direction, but nearly 37 years apart.

An of course, I waited for a PCC. On Sunday's trolleys operate about every 8 minutes in both directions. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
An of course, I waited for a PCC. On Sunday’s trolleys operate about every 8 minutes in both directions. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.

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Grand Opening: MBTA’s New Station, South Acton, Massachusetts.

It had been a few years since I last visited the old Boston & Maine station on the Fitchburg Line at South Acton, Massachusetts.

Pat Yough and I stopped in on Sunday, just a day or so after MBTA’s Grand Opening.

South_Acton_Grand_Opening_DSCF0521

The new facility features long high-level platforms, a massive footbridge, and modern signaling.

A young woman waiting for a train to Leominster told me that she was very excited about the new station but found the signage confusing. “It’s traumatic when the train comes in on the other platform and you miss it!”

MBTA_2404_at_South_Acton_Grand_Opening_DSCF0525

Pat and I waited for an outbound MBTA train destined for Fitchburg. High clouds made for diffused lighting that was ideal to show the new station at South Acton.

MBTA_2404_at_South_Acton_Grand_Opening_DSCF0527

Last time I’d visited South Acton, there was a ‘blue- bird’ GP9 with a caboose working a local freight. Didn’t see that on Sunday!

Photos exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.

South_Acton_Grand_Opening_DSCF0520

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MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont PCCs in the Digital Era.

 

As a follow-up to Wednesday’s Tracking the Light post featuring vintage Ektachrome slides of Boston’s MBTA Mattapan-Ashmont PCCs from the late 1970s, I thought I’d present some of the images of this classic transit operation that I’ve made in the digital era.

I’ve featured this colorful trolley line about a once a year in Tracking the Light, but since the topic is timely as operation of the historic cars now appears to be under threat, I thought a Mattapan-Ashmont PCC review might be of interest.

Looking toward Ashmont from Cedar Grove. The Mattapab-Ashmont trolley line serves as an extension of MBTA's Red Line. Exposed with a Canon EOS7D with 200mm lens.
Looking toward Ashmont from Cedar Grove. The Mattapab-Ashmont trolley line serves as an extension of MBTA’s Red Line. Exposed with a Canon EOS7D with 200mm lens.

A classically painted PCC approaches Cedar Grove. Lumix LX3 photo, contrast adjusted in post processing.
A classically painted PCC approaches Cedar Grove. Lumix LX3 photo, contrast adjusted in post processing.

Milton was the station I featured in Wednesday's post showing the old trackage arrangement. This showed some PFE refrigerator cars delivered by Conrail on freight trackage that is now just a memory. Canon EOS7D with 40mm Pancake lens.
Milton was the station I featured in Wednesday’s post showing the old trackage arrangement. The 1979 view showed some PFE refrigerator cars delivered by Conrail on freight trackage that is now just a memory. Canon EOS7D with 40mm Pancake lens.

A Mattapan bound car approaches Central Avenue. Exposed with a Canon EOS7D with 200mm lens.
A Mattapan bound car approaches Central Avenue. Exposed with a Canon EOS7D with 200mm lens.

On an overcast May day, an MBTA PCC crosses Central Avenue. I like the contrast between the six decades old streetcar with modern automobiles. How much longer will scenes like this be possible on MBTA? Lumix LX7 photo.
On an overcast May day, an MBTA PCC crosses Central Avenue. I like the contrast between the six decades old streetcar with modern automobiles. How much longer will scenes like this be possible on MBTA? Lumix LX7 photo.

Careful inspection will reveal vestiges of the old New Haven Railroad freight trackage that ran parallel to the trolley line. Lumix LX7 photo.
Careful inspection will reveal vestiges of the old New Haven Railroad freight trackage that ran parallel to the trolley line. Lumix LX7 photo.

Mattapan is on the Red Line, served via vintage PCCs—at least for now.
Mattapan is on the Red Line, served via vintage PCCs—at least for now. Lumix LX7 photo.

It's an era steeped in history, so it will be shame to see the old cars go. This is Boston's equivalent of San Francisco's Cable Cars—antique streetcars maintained for a modern application. LX7 photo.
It’s an era steeped in history, so it will be shame to see the old cars go. This is Boston’s equivalent of San Francisco’s Cable Cars—antique streetcars maintained for a modern application. LX7 photo.

Also see:

Boston’s Time Machine. Step back 30, 40, 50 years!

MBTA-Boston: Traction Orange PCCs.

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PCCs on MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley—Looking Back.

Recently, the TRAINS Newswire published a story on MBTA’s Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley line warning of the possible demise of the historic PCC cars and possibly of the trolley line itself. (The ‘bus’ word was uttered!)

So, the word is out, if Mattapan-Ashmont Trolley is something you want to see, DON’T Wait.

I recalled an early visit to this line with my father on a May Sunday in 1979. This was back when former Dallas double-ended PCCs dominated operations on the line, and the cars were largely painted red to reflect their operation as an extension of the Red Line.

Today, I find it fascinating to look back on these photos. I couldn’t have anticipated back then that more than 36 years later, old PCCs would still be working the line, albeit with different cars.

This old Type 3 car caught my attention. I'd seen these on the Green Line years earlier and always want to inspect one up close.
This old Type 3 car caught my attention. I’d seen these on the Green Line years earlier and always want to inspect one up close.

Since my 1979 visit MBTA eliminated the classic trolley shelter at Mattapan and sent many of the double-ended cars to the scrapper.
Since my 1979 visit MBTA eliminated the classic trolley shelter at Mattapan and sent many of the double-ended cars to the scrapper.

However, from strictly a photographic point of view, what is now most interesting to me is that I knew virtually nothing of the ‘rules of photography’ , other than a rudimentary understanding of how to work my father’s Weston Master III light meter and translate the settings it offered to my Leica 3A.

No one had ever told me about three-quarter angles, or where the sun was ‘supposed to be’. Front-lighting, back-lighting, and side-lighting were foreign words. I was blind as to the relative importance of foreground and background, and I didn’t known that ‘good’ photos were only made with Kodachrome, and I knew nothing about the compositional ratios of 2/3s, or any of the other stuff that later influenced my photography.

Here were trolley cars and lots of them. What's that Green car doing back there I wondered?
Here were trolley cars and lots of them. What’s that Green car doing back there I wondered?

Honestly, as record of the scene, my raw unfettered, uninformed approach has a great appeal to me today. Had I known those things, I may have exposed less interesting images.

What you see here are the inspired views of an enthusiastic 12-year old exposed using a Leica with a 50mm Summitar lens on Ektachrome film.

Another view of the snow plow. Too much foreground? Lighting all 'wrong', just pitch this one in the bin.
Another view of the snow plow. Too much foreground? Lighting all ‘wrong’, just pitch this one in the bin.

If the cars were double-ended, why do they spin them around on a loop. I couldn't make heads or tails of this.
If the cars are double-ended, why do they spin them around on a loop. I couldn’t make heads or tails of this.

I might not have known what I was doing, but I was visionary. I was fascinated by the 'heavy rail' tracks on both sides of the trolley line. Here is evidence that Conrail was still serving the former New Haven branch as far as Milton. There's virtually no evidence of the freight operation today, and it takes a bit of imagination to figure out where the tracks were. Notice that I didn't allow a PCC to interfere with the scene: this was about the PFE refers!
I might not have known what I was doing, but I was visionary. I was fascinated by the ‘heavy rail’ tracks on both sides of the trolley line. Here is evidence that Conrail was still serving the former New Haven branch as far as Milton. There’s virtually no evidence of the freight operation today, and it takes a bit of imagination to figure out where the tracks were. Notice that I didn’t allow a PCC to interfere with the scene: this was about the PFE refers!

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Railroad Photography Lesson: Making Modern Ugliness Interesting—Take a Pan photo.

Railroad photography isn’t necessarily aided by a windswept empty car park, a host lighting poles, catenary masts, fences, not to mention the metal monstrosity posing as a footbridge.

This was the scene at Readville, Massachusetts on Sunday, Morning, December 6, 2015.

An MBTA train heading for Boston was due shortly. Since locomotives operate on the south-end of consists, I set up for a trailing pan photo. I focused on the new engine and allowed the setting to settle into a sea of blur.

Readville, Massachusetts on Sunday December 6, 2015.
An MBTA HSP46 passes Readville, Massachusetts on Sunday December 6, 2015.

This is one means of making the ugliness more interesting.

Exposed at 1/60th of a second using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera. Contrast controlled in post processing using Lightroom.
Exposed at 1/60th of a second using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera. Contrast controlled in post processing using Lightroom.

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Searchlights on the Wane (But I warned you).

Back in my Pentrex Publishing days (in the mid 1990s) I wrote an editorial about the ultimate demise of the searchlight signal.

Even then, this style of hardware was out of favor for new installations, yet thousands of the old signals still remained.

Today they are fast disappearing, and at many installations they are already gone.

Old searchlights west of Ayer, Massachusetts. Once common, this style of signal has been out of favor for decades and are now rapidly being replaced.
Old searchlights west of Ayer, Massachusetts. Once common, this style of signal has been out of favor for decades and are now rapidly being replaced.

Two weeks ago, when traveling with Bob Arnold and Paul Goewey, we opted to photograph an outbound MBTA train passing these General Railway Signal searchlights on the old Boston & Maine west of Ayer, Massachusetts

MBTA train 453AM works west of Ayer. How long will this new diesel and these old signals co-exist? Bets anyone? The replacement signals are already in place at Shirley.
MBTA train 453AM works west of Ayer with HSP46 2027 in the lead.. How long will this new diesel and these old signals co-exist? Bets anyone? The replacement signals are already in place at Shirley, a mile or so to the west.

I wanted to feature one of the new HSP-46 diesels passing the vintage signals to show the contrast in technology. The window for making this type of photograph is rapidly narrowing, as these searchlight’s replacements are in place and will soon be cut in.

My book Classic Railroad Signals, published by Voyageur Press, details many varieties of older signal hardware and tells the story of American signaling with stunning photographs and detailed historical information. Get your copy today!

See: http://www.quartoknows.com/books/9780760346921/Classic-Railroad-Signals.html

Also see January 2016 TRAINS Magazine for my 10-page article on how to read signals.

Tracking the Light Posts Original Photographs.

Worcester, Massachusetts July 6, 2015

Elevation is often the key to better railway photographs. That was certainly the case on the morning of July 6, 2015, when Paul Goewey and I inspected the view from the parking garage opposite Worcester Union Station.

We were lucky to catch new MBTA HSP46 2027 leading an outbound train from Boston. These locomotives are unique to MBTA, and in long-standing tradition have large road numbers painted on their roofs. (atop the cab in yellow numerals).

MBTA_2027_arriving_Worcester_Union_StationP1270232
Exposed with my Lumix LX7.

MBTA_HSP_46_2027_front_Worcester_DSCF1832
FujiFilm X-T1 digital photograph.

Tracking the Light posts original content on a daily basis!

An Evening At Mansfield—Low Light and High Speed—10 Photos.

Friday nights trackside represents a tradition going back more than three decades. Back in the day, Bob Buck would hold court at his Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren, Massachusetts, then we’d head down to Palmer for dinner and afterwards convene at the old railroad station to watch trains pass in the night.

I’d make photographs.

A group of us have maintained the tradition and still meet in Palmer some Fridays. However, a few weeks back Rich Reed offered a suggestion, “Lets do something different. How about we meet in Worcester, and I’ll drive everyone to Mansfield where we can watch the Acela blast by at 150mph.”

We opted for one of the long days of June, and proceeded to plan.

Mansfield, Massachusetts has a long history with the railroad. This mural features a classic 4-4-0. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Mansfield, Massachusetts has a long history with the railroad. This mural features a classic 4-4-0. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

Nearing its top speed Amtrak's Acela Express, train 2166, races toward Boston. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. Shutter set at 1/1000th of second.
Nearing its top speed Amtrak’s Acela Express, train 2166, races toward Boston. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. Shutter set at 1/1000th of second.

Panoramic composite of the MBTA station at Mansfield, Massachusetts. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Panoramic composite of the MBTA station at Mansfield, Massachusetts. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

As we all recalled later on, even this idea had originated with Bob Buck. Back in the 1980s, Bob would take a summer evening and drive a group of us to the old New Haven Shoreline route.

Sometimes Bob would bring us to Readville, other times Mansfield, or Attleboro. We’d variously meet with locals, including Dave Clinton and Bob Karambelas, who’d show us new locations and share railway information. On at least one occasion we visited Edaville and traveled on the narrow gauge.

In the glow of dusk, a Boston-bound MBTA accelerates away from the station at Mansfield. The locomotive is one of the new HSP-46 diesels built by MPI at Boise, Idaho and features GE major components. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
In the glow of dusk, a Boston-bound MBTA accelerates away from the station at Mansfield. The locomotive is one of the new HSP-46 diesels built by MPI at Boise, Idaho and features GE major components. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, photo altered digitally in post processing to balance contrast.

Our group has been watching trains on Friday evenings since the 1980s (perhaps earlier). This day we opted for Mansfield, rather than Palmer. Something new, something different. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Our group has been watching trains on Friday evenings since the 1980s (perhaps earlier). This day we opted for Mansfield, rather than Palmer. Something new, something different. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

The automated voice came on: 'Please stand behind the yellow line'. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
The automated voice came on: ‘Please stand behind the yellow line’. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

MBTA train 828 arrives at Mansfield. Lumix LX7 photo.
MBTA train 828 arrives at Mansfield. Lumix LX7 photo.

MBTA engine 1126 pauses at Mansfield with train 828. LX7 photo.
MBTA engine 1126 pauses at Mansfield with train 828. LX7 photo.

Overhead catenary at Mansfield. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Overhead catenary at Mansfield. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

MBTA 825 arrives at Mansfield. LX7 Photo.
MBTA 825 arrives at Mansfield. LX7 Photo.

At the end of this June 2015 evening we made a toast to the memory Bob Buck—the man who brought us all together and for years shared the railroad with us.

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Boston’s Coolidge Corner—Sunday Afternoon in mid-May.

MBTA’s Beacon Street line to Cleveland Circle is a classic median running trolley route. Coolidge Corner is situated on a gradient and a gentle curve with a traditional traction shelter and lots of trees that help make it a cool place to photograph.

On our whirlwind tour of Boston transit a few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I spent a little while making photos here. The streetcars pass often, so in a relatively short period of time we were able to make a variety of angles.

An outbound MBTA Green Line train on the Beacon Street line near Coolidge Corner. Lumix LX7 photo.
An outbound MBTA Green Line train on the Beacon Street line near Coolidge Corner. Lumix LX7 photo.

Coolidge Corner. Lumix LX7 photo.
Coolidge Corner. Lumix LX7 photo.

This is one of the Green Line routes and some of the cars are in the 1970s-era green and white livery, while others are in a more modern teal and silver. I find the older livery photographs better.

Personally, I preferred the days when the PCC’s ruled this route, but those days are long gone. It’s still an interesting place to experiment with different camera-lens combinations.

Using my Lumix LX7 I made this very low-angle view of an outbound streetcar. The Lumix offers great depth of field, which allows for photos like this.
Using my Lumix LX7 I made this very low-angle view of an outbound streetcar. The Lumix LX7 offers great depth of field, which allows for photos like this. I like the blade of grass at the far lower right.

Vertical view of an outbound car exposed with my Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Vertical view of an outbound car exposed with my Fujifilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.

The classic transit shelter provides added interest and a bit of historical context. This isn't a modern light rail line, but rather a traditional trolley route operating modern cars. Fujifilm X-T1 photo.
The classic transit shelter provides added interest and a bit of historical context. This isn’t a modern light rail line, but rather a traditional trolley route operating modern cars. Fujifilm X-T1 photo.

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MBTA Green Line Revisited.

Some of my earliest memories of the Green Line and the Boston Museum of Science

Much has changed since the days when I used to stare in wonder at Boston & Maine 3713 on display out front of the museum while trains of 2-3 old PCCs hummed along the elevated structure across the street.

In mid-May 2015, Pat Yough and I went for a Green Line spin to Lechmere and back, stopping over at the Science Park station for a few photographs.

Boston's Science Museum is on the left. Exposed digitally with a Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon 18-135mm lens
Boston’s Museum of Science is on the left. Exposed digitally with a Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon 18-135mm lens

In-bound Green Line train near the Science Park station. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. 18-135mm lens.
In-bound Green Line train near the Science Park station. Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. 18-135mm lens.

Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera with Pat Yough's 32mm Carl Zeiss lens with Fuji X-mount. Sharp!
Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera with Pat Yough’s 32mm Carl Zeiss lens with Fuji X-mount. Sharp!

Roughly the same angle of an outbound Green Line train exposed with my Lumix LX7.
Roughly the same angle of an outbound Green Line train exposed with my Lumix LX7 with offers a wider view than the 32mm Zeiss lens.

The steel-girder elevated that once extended toward North Station was replaced years ago by a new tunnel with a steep ramp up to the concrete-faced elevated that still passes the museum.

Lechmere looks much the way that I remember it.

Some places never seem to change . . . and then one day all of sudden they are unrecognizable . That day may be soon approaching. Afterward memories fill the gap where photographs leave off.

LX7 photo at Lechmere.
LX7 photo at Lechmere.

Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. 18-135mm lens.
Exposed with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 32mm Carl Zeiss lens with Fuji X-mount.

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Battle of the Lenses! Zeiss versus Fujinon; with an MBTA PCC as Test Subject.

Now, is this a fair comparison? Pat Yough lent me his Carl Zeiss Touit f1.8 32mm lens to test on my Fuji X-T1. So I made two similar photographs at the same spot of successive MBTA PCCs at Cedar Grove (first stop west of Ashmont).

A more conventional comparison would have taken a more scientific approach by perhaps mounting the camera on a tripod and photographing a static subject with constant light.

And that would be a good test, its true. But that’s not what I was going to do.

Lens in hand (or more precisely, attached to my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera), I wanted to see what the lens could do as a working tool. How does it handle? How quickly does it focus? What is the color like? Does it seem sharp?

I was comparing it against my ‘catch all’ Fujinon Super EBC XF 18-135mm zoom. At the moment this is the only lens I have for my Fuji X-T1 and I’ve been using it for just about all the photos I’ve made with the camera.

First I used my Fujinon lens of PCC 3262; then 8-minutes later the Zeiss of PCC 3260.

Exposed using my Fujifilm XT-1 with the Fujinon 18-135mm zoom lens set at 25mm. Exposure f5.6 at 1/500th of a second.
Exposed using my Fujifilm XT-1 with the Fujinon 18-135mm zoom lens set at 25mm. Exposure f5.6 at 1/500th of a second. ISO 800.

This is the view with the same camera, but using testing Pat Yough's Carl Zeiss Touit 32mm lens (with Fuji X-mount). Exposure f3.5 at 1/500th of a second.
This is the view with the same camera, but using testing Pat Yough’s Carl Zeiss Touit 32mm lens (with Fuji X-mount). Exposure f3.5 at 1/500th of a second. ISO 250 (Notice that was was able to use a much lower ISO with the Zeiss lens, which in theory allows for better image quality, although at this small size, it would impossible to tell.)

While the 18-135mm is a great lens, it has two drawbacks. It’s bulky and relatively slow (f3.5 –f5.6 depending on the focal length). The Zeiss lens by contrast is lightweight and very fast.

But the really important point of this exercise is the end photos. Which is better overall?

The Fujinon image was made with a slightly wider focal length. Well that’s the advantage of a zoom-lens, right, the ability to adjust the focal length on the spot.

However, one of the unspoken advantages of a prime lens (a fixed focal length lens, such as this Zeiss 32mm) is that it forces the photographer to work within the limits of the given angle of view. Sometimes this makes the photographer (me) work a little harder when composing the photograph.

I found the Zeiss to be fast-focusing, very sharp and it provides excellent clean color. On the downside, the field of view is slightly narrower than I like.

Using the Zeiss 32mm on the Fuji camera reminds me a lot of my old 50mm Leica Summicron (which owing to my use of it with a traditional 35mm-film Leica M, provided nearly the same field of view as does the Zeiss on my X-T1.). The 50mm Summicron always seemed a bit too narrow, but the results I got from the lens have really stood the test of time.

What do you think?

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