It was a gray December 1997 day when I exposed this telephoto view of a Washington DC Metro train and Union Station’s Tower K using my Nikon N90s with f2.8 80-200 Nikon zoom lens.
Really it was the rows of colored position light signals displaying ‘stop’ that caught my attention.
Although the f2.8 8-200 lens offered convenience, and was both fast and sharp, it had its failings. When used wide open it tended to vignette slightly (darker exposure in the corners), but more serious was that it made me visually lazy. Instead of seeking the best vantage point and an optimal composition, I could get a pretty good angle by merely adjusting the focal length of the zoom.
The other day I posted a photo of the Los Angeles Metro Rail Blue Line and noted that I’d photographed many rail transit systems but ‘lost track’ after 50.
A regular Tracking the Light reader wrote in that he was close to 90 light- rail/streetcar systems, which made me wonder how many systems I’ve photographed over the years. So the other day, while the rain fell outside the window in North Conway, I made a list of every city/rail transit system that I’d photographed.
For this exercise I included both light-rail/streetcar and heavy-rail metro rail transit systems. I excluded purely interurban lines where the frequency and service pattern doesn’t fit ‘rail transit’.
All of the systems are electric, rail-based transit, although I included rubber-tire/tyre metros such as Montreal, since rails and electricity are involved.
Fine print: I’ve excluded trolley bus operations (in most cases cities that I’ve photographed trolley buses also have some form of rail transit. However, this qualification excluded Chernivtsi, Ukraine—and yes I have a photo of an electric bus there). I’ve also excluded cities where I may have seen rail-transit but not photographed it. As may be inferred, cities with more than one mode (light rail and heavy rail metro for example) get counted only once. However, in situations where disconnected systems serve adjacent cities get counted individually. So I’ve counted the Newark City Subway and Jersey City-Hoboken light rail as two systems. Non-electric systems are not on my list. German cities with interurban interconnections, such as Bonn and Köln get counted twice. Systems with long extensions into adjacent communities such as Charleroi in Belgium and the Belgium coastal tram get counted once. (I realize that some viewers my take exception to my counting the Belgian coastal tram, and not including some Swiss interurban electric lines.) Systems that I photographed under construction or out of service without vehicles, will not be included (that leaves out Florence, Italy, and San Juan, Puerto Rico from my total).
So as of January 2020, my list of photographed subway, metros, light-rail, streetcars, monorail, and rail-based cable car (aka San Francisco) systems total 100.
My challenge now will be locating original images from each and every of these systems. Mexico City was recently covered, so we’ll leave that one out.
Also, I may remember another system, presently off my list, and if so I’ll make note of that later.
Since North Conway doesn’t have electric rail transit, I can only wistfully look back on my photos.
Incidentally, while I have extensive photographic coverage of some cities such as Dublin, Boston and San Francisco, in others I may only have a handful of images. Kansas City, being one recent example, which I photographed from the dutch-door window of Budd dome Silver Splendor (now Rhonda Lee) while traveling East on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in 2018.
This might take a while! (And no, I won’t be limiting my daily posts to rail transit, but will be including archive photos in the mix of other subjects).
My memories of riding the Metro City Metro with my uncle Mark 40 years ago contrast sharply with these photos that I made during that same visit.
Having grown up traveling on the New York City and Boston subways, I was astounded by the crush-loading in Mexico City.
I recall being swept along a platform holding my uncles hand as tightly as I could as we squeezed into an already sardine capacity train.
In reality, those conditions weren’t conducive for a 13 year-old Gringo to make photographs.
In retrospect, I’m amazed that I got anything at all.
Apologies for the relatively poor condition of these images. My negatives were hand processed without concern for archival concerns and stored in a paper envelope in an attic for the better part of four decades. I scanned them last month.