Check out my most recent TRAINS Podcast—Conversations with Brian Solomon, where I engage in a lively spontaneous discussion with Trains Magazine editors Angela Pusztai-Pasternak. We talk about Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, CSX and other topics, often taking unexpected tangents.
Norfolk Southern’s Water Level Route is among the busiest freight routes in the East.
It features a continual parade of trains; long freights led by common modern diesels.
Here a cookie-cutter General Electric Evolution-series works east with a double stack train, ducking under the South Shore line at CP485 near Burns Harbor, Indiana.
Isn’t this freight the modern day equivalent of a New York Central freight led by F7s; or a generation earlier by a common Central H-10 Mikado?
But does it matter that I exposed this image? Where does it fit in the BIG picture?
I was pleased when I made this view. Chris Guss and I had enough time to set up, but didn’t wait long. I recalled a photo made more than 20 years ago in this same territory; Mike Danneman and I spent a snowy February morning photographing Conrail. Those photos are looking better all the time.
At 1133am on July 22, 1988, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide east of Norwalk, Ohio.
This was part of a big adventure; my old pal TSH and I were spending two weeks on the road photographing trains.
We were driving my 1975 Dodge Dart, and had plenty of Kodachrome. (And I had some 120 T-Max 400 for the Rolleiflex too).
An early morning start on the old B&O west of Fostoria was pure excitement. Several hours later we visited the big yard at Bellevue, Ohio on the old Nickel Plate Road. When we saw this freight departing to the east we made chase.
Neither of us has a clue as to where we were going, our maps were inadequate, but we embraced the spirit of the chase and found this overhead bridge.
The freight was working the old Wheeling & Lake Erie route and the diesels labored hard in the summer heat. My notes indicate this was Hartland Hill.
The freight was at a crawl and we chased on, catching it several more times before we made a wrong turn and lost track of it near Wellington.
I can still feel the thrill of that blind chase 30 years ago today. TSH and I are still pals and we still make trips together.
Here’s another case of dumb luck. The other day, when Mike Gardner and I headed for Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine at East Deerfield, we had vague notions that we’d follow one of their trains.
As with many of our photographic adventures, our plan was little more than a loose agreement that we’d explore and make photos. Mike does the driving, I help with the navigation and interpreting the scanner.
I’d brought a wide selection of cameras, including two Nikon film cameras and my old Rollei Model T for black & white work.
Early in our day we bumped into some fellow photographers who tipped us off on the westward approach of empty autorack train 287 led by Norfolk Southern 1069 painted to honor the old Virginian.
The Virginian is long before my time. It was melded into Norfolk & Western 7 years before I was born. However, I was familiar with the line through my father’s color slides.
As the day unfolded we learned that we had a pair of westward trains to work with. As noted in yesterday’s post, Pan Am’s EDRJ was working with recently acquired former CSX DASH8-40Cs. Initially, it was 287 with the Virginian painted locomotive that caught our attention.
Horace Greeley’s advice played out well that day! (But we aren’t as young as we were once).
Norfolk Southern helpers are in ‘run-8’ working at the back of a loaded coal train at Cassandra, Pennsylvania on the famed ‘West Slope’—the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line grade over the Alleghenies.
Morning glint illuminates the tops of the locomotives and accentuates the exhaust smoke for added drama. The train was working upgrade at a crawl.
A few weeks ago, my friends and I met to explore recent changes to the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg Route (Pan Am Southern’s main line) including re-signaling and trackage upgrades.
Among the first places on our tour was Gardner, Massachusetts, where we found Norfolk Southern 66N, which is a loaded Ethanol train destined for the Port of Providence.
This was led by four Norfolk Southern DASH9-40CWs that were followed by an idler car and 80 cars of ethanol. The train was waiting on Pan Am rails for a Providence & Worcester crew to take it south from Gardner.
Among the recent changes was the installation of a crossover at the Gardner yard that makes it easier to make a progressive move from the old eastward B&M mainline track to the P&W, which facilitates operation of unit trains such as the 66N. This is a low-tech solution, as the switches are operated manually (of the ‘hand-throw’ type).
I made this series of images featuring the 66N with my FujiFilm X-T1.
Static and slow moving freights offer many opportunities for photography.
When we arrived the morning was clear and sunny, but over the next hour, clouds rolled in from the west and softened the light.
Thanks to Rich Reed, Paul Goewey and Felix Legere.
This Kodachrome slide has always resonated with me.
In North American practice, cabooses and stack trains were equipment from different eras that just barely overlapped.
During the mid-1980s, most class 1 freight carriers banished cabooses to operational backwaters. True, cabooses held out in rare instances (some can still be found), but they had been made redundant by technological changes and their once-standard operation finally came to an end as a side-effect of deregulation.
Another effect of deregulation was a more progressive environment that favored double-stacked container trains.
So, as cabooses were rapidly sidetracked, stack trains were becoming common on principal trunk lines. Since intermodal operations tended to run from terminal to terminal, these trains were among the first to lose cabooses.
I can count the number of caboose-ended double-stack trains I photographed on one hand.
I especially like this view in a snow squall of a Norfolk Southern train carrying an Norfolk & Western caboose on the back of a Maersk stack train that had just come east over the old Nickel Plate route.
The background is the colossal and completely abandoned Buffalo Central Terminal, designed by Fellheimer & Wagner, and constructed by the New York Central during the false optimism of the roaring 1920s, only to open on the eve of the Great Depression.
If I captioned this post, ‘23K passes Shirley’, would you have looked any way?
The other day when Paul Goewey, Bob Arnold and I were photographing trains at Shirley, Massachusetts, I exposed these views of the daily westward intermodal train symbol 23K that originates a few miles to the east at Ayer.
The Lovely Trees: These two massive trunks have fascinated me for years, and make for an excellent means to frame up a photo. Here, in the first view the intermodal train is almost incidental to the scene.
Which of these views of Norfolk Southern/Pan Am Southern’s 23K do you prefer?
‘Something about Norfolk Southern’s 24K, sorry didn’t catch the details,’ I replied.
A call was made; the angle of sun was inspected and Pat made a decision.
‘We can get breakfast, then catch the 24K before it arrives at Morrisville.’
Back in the days of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, the Trenton Cutoff was an electrified freight route used by freights as a shortcut around Philadelphia, that also served to avoid grades and minimize interference between through freight and passenger operations.
This late-era heavily engineered line is comparatively difficult to photograph these days.
Under Norfolk Southern’s modern operations, the Trenton Cutoff no longer functions as it had under PRR.
Conrail discontinued the electrification on the line in the early 1980s; today, the old PRR Main Line east of Harrisburg is largely void of through freight (as it primarily serves as a passenger route for Amtrak Keystones and SEPTA suburban trains).
However, today a few NS symbol freights are routed via old Reading Company lines to Norristown then via a Conrail-era connection to the Trenton Cutoff, thus avoiding the old Main Line. Got that?
Anyway, our quarry, intermodal freight 24K, terminated at yard near Morrisville, Pennsylvania opposite the Delaware River from Trenton. We set up near the yard.
First we scored our breakfast, then we scored photos of the 24K, before moving on to other projects.
This is an old favorite location with a great name. How can you go wrong with a street called Wisdom Way? Much better than Losers Lane.
The other day, Norfolk Southern/Pan Am Southern symbol freight 14R was on its way east. I was struggling to find a suitable place to make a photograph, and the best I could come up with was old Wisdom Way.
The light was ‘wrong’ (is that possible?). So I opted for an unusual angle.
Notice that I’ve made the most of the vertical framing by allowing the length of the freight to run diagonally from the top right of the photo to the bottom of the image. This culminates with Norfolk Southern’s emblematic horse and ditch lights on the point of the common General Electric wide-nose cab diesel.
While the locomotive is dominant, my down-on angle emphasizes the machine’s angular shapes from a decidedly different perspective yet includes the freight behind it. Where does your eye fall first?
My aim is to show the power of the machine, the length of the train, and yet capture the atmosphere of the autumnal scene. Notice the dead track to the left, that’s the old eastward main, long out of service.
Would this have worked as well if I was at ground and level with the train using classic ‘over the shoulder’ three-quarter lighting and common centered composition?
The other day I had my first encounter with one of Norfolk Southern’s SD60E diesel-electrics, which features a modified cab.
Since today’s North American freight railroading tends to be dominated by cookie cutter wide-nose safety cab six-motor diesels, I find any variation in cab style noteworthy.
The beetle-brow look on this engine certainly caught my attention. And since it was paused on an eastward freight near Lake Pleasant, east of East Deerfield, I took the opportunity to make a few detail photos that emphasize the unusual cab shape.
I wonder what the engine crews think of this innovation?
I’d spotted the Heron standing on the old Southern Railway lift-bridge at Richmond’s Great Ship Lock Park, before I heard the low throb of the 645 diesel.
“There’s a train coming.”
Doug Riddell was giving Pat Yough and me a thorough tour of the area, and we were looking for an angle to photograph Amtrak 67 on the nearby Chesapeake & Ohio viaduct.
I focused on the bird. Would it stay still long enough to catch it with the locomotive?
Here my zoom lens was invaluable. I made tight angle of the heron, and then pulled back to include the scene.
The SD40-2 eased around the bend. I kept my eye on the bird. How long would it stand there? Finally as the train drew closer the bird raised its wings and with a squawk took flight. I exposed a short burst of images. The tightest is a cropped view.
June 3, 2015 was a lucky day. I’d traveled to Harrisburg on Amtrak’s Keystone to visit Kurt Bell at the Pennsylvania State Archives to research for a book. I don’t make it Harrisburg very often, and while there are lots of interesting items in the archives, all study and no photography makes Brian dull and edgy. (pardon the referring myself in the 3rd person but it was a necessary allusion.
So afterwards, I wandered around the city, took a look at the Susquehanna River Bridges, then up to explore the view from the bridge over the old Pennsylvania Railroad west of the Amtrak station.
As it happens this is good in both directions. And in the course of just a few minutes I had trains east and then west.
I was surprised by the westward train. ‘What’s this?’ I thought when the locomotives came around the corner by the station shed. ‘That’s not an ordinary Norfolk Southern locomotive.’ Hardly.
My good fortune! It was locomotive 1065 painted for Southern Railway affiliate Savanna & Atlanta. Hooray! Well, that makes up last week’s trip to the Hoosac Tunnel
I’m glad I didn’t waste too much time looking at the Susquehanna, I might have missed this! After the train went by, I rang my friend Paul Goewey in Massachusetts to check the internet to find out what train I’d seen. (My scanner was in Philadelphia, good place for it, right?) Later he got back to me with the details: symbol freight 15J.
There are places that I’ve visited repeatedly over the years, where I’ve made hundreds, if not thousands of images, and explored from every angle and at all times of day and night.
Then there are the places I’ve visited just once, and rather briefly.
On August 12, 2011, Pat Yough and I were driving across south central Ohio on our way to the annual Summerail convention in Cincinnati. We started the morning in West Virginia, and on our way visited many places new to me.
We paused at Circleville where Norfolk Southern and CSX north-south mainlines run parallel. Three southward NS trains were heading toward us, so in a relatively short span of time, I made several interesting images of trains on the move.
Back in the day, this was a Pennsylvania Railroad town, and the old station still stood. Many the years since a scheduled train last stopped at the old depot.
That was all. Just a few photos and we were on our way! Most of my trips across Ohio have been like that.
Norfolk Southern 18M lead by SD70 2501 rolls through Circleville, Ohio on August 12, 2011. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens.
As a photographer working from the ground (as opposed from the locomotive cab), finding situations that illustrate some of the less common aspects in the rule book can take lots patience.
Study this image, there’s a lot going on here: Norfolk Southern’s westward symbol freight 23K holds the mainline at Rock Glen, New York where it will meet the eastward 38T. The dispatcher has lined 38T through the siding, and as a result the home signal displays a red-over-yellow-over-green aspect—‘Medium Approach Medium’ (rule 283a).
The ‘Medium Approach Medium’ aspect effectively tells the engineer of train 38T, that the train is lined and has a favorable signal (clear) for both this crossover as well as the next crossover, and that both are ‘medium speed’ (not exceeding 30mph) crossovers.
At the far left is the old Erie milepost that tells use we are 371 miles from Jersey City (the traditional eastern end of the line). The named location on the timetable conveniently coincides with the map and so the western end of the siding is called ‘Rock Glen’ for the western New York town of the same name. On many modern railroads, the timetable might simply refer to this control point as ‘CP371’.
At one time this was a traditional double track mainline with directional running in the current of traffic. Erie converted the route to single track with passing sidings and centralized traffic control-style signaling.
I don’t know for certain, but based on the current siding arrangement that is slewed around the home signal, I would guess that at some point after the time of original installation the siding was lengthened. Take note of the siding signal.
Among the peculiarities of Erie’s CTC style signaling was the use of home signals at sidings with the lower head located much lower than the top head. In effect this is an exaggerated arrangement that omits the center light featured on signals with three lights, such as on the signal on the right.
Erie wasn’t alone in this style of signaling, Southern Pacific also used low signals like this, although unlike the Erie, SP didn’t assign speed aspects.
In modern times, re-signaling by Conrail and Norfolk Southern has resulted in changes to traditional signaling practices. In some locations the lower light was raised to a point just below the main light. While more recent re-signaling has resulted in the outright replacement of searchlight hardware with modern color lights.
When I made this view, Rock Glen was among last places on the west end of the old Erie route that still featured this classic signaling arrangement. I was eager to make an image that featured the signals set up for a meet.
Presently I’m working on a book called ‘Classic Railroad Signaling’ (to be published by Voyageur Press) that will focus on traditional hardware including semaphores, searchlights, position lights & etc. This is a work in progress and comments are welcome!
Click below to see previous signaling posts including:
Fifty years ago, it would have been pretty neat to see a Burlington GP30 at Pennsylvania Railroad’s Enola Yard. Yet for the context of that photo to be fully appreciated, it would help to have the location of the locomotive implied in the image.
A few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I were driving by Norfolk Southern’s Enola Yard and spotted this SD70ACE. These days, BNSF locomotives on Norfolk Southern and CSX are not unusual occurrences. Not in Pennsylvania anyway.
After a tight image of the locomotive, I stood back and made a few views intended to convey location.
It’s not what you see, but the images made of what you see.
In contrast from the iced grip of winter, these photographs were made on June 30, 2010. This was a gorgeous warm summer’s morning; birds twittered the tree branches as the sun light streamed through a gauzy haze to burn away the dew.
I arrived early at the famed ‘Railfan’s Overlook’ to make photographs in the early light of day. In the distance, I could hear the thunder of a heavy train climbing east toward the Allegheny Divide at Gallitzin.
Norfolk Southern’s busy former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline rarely disappoints, and this morning it was alive with trains.
Using my Canon EOS 7D, I worked the glinting sun to its best advantage as an eastward Pennsylvania Power & Light coal train clawed into view. As it worked the grade, a westward RoadRailer led by former Conrail locomotive glided down grade.
At the back of the coal train were a pair of freshly painted SD40Es making a classic EMD-roar as they worked in run-8 (maximum throttle).
How I wish I was enjoying a warm June morning on the West Slope right now!
Contrasting Views of Indiana Railway Lines, June 2004.
In a world of railway mergers and consolidation, we can divide railway routes into groups; survivors and losers. Some lines have prevailed while others have been abandoned and ripped up.
Of course, we can further divide surviving lines. There are lines that continue to function as busy corridors, while others may only exist in fragmented form, or as downgraded local routes. Often fragments have been sown together and so now old railway line serve routes that may be very different than as originally intended.
Putting these concepts on film presents a puzzle and a challenge.
In June 2004, I was exploring western Indiana with Pete Ruesch and with his help I exposed these two photographs. The ‘winner’ is a sunset view of Norfolk Southern’s former Wabash mainline at Marshfield, which serves as a heavily-traveled long-distance freight corridor. The ‘loser’ was a recently abandoned vestige of New York Central’s Egyptian Line at the Indiana-Illinois state line.
Both were exposed with Nikon cameras on Fuji color slide film.
On Sunday August 22, 2010, fellow photographer Pat Yough and I were making photos in western New York south of Rochester, when we got word of an unusual train on Norfolk Southern’s former Erie Route. Having worked this territory for more than 25 years, I navigated a course cross country to intercept our mystery train south of Silver Springs at Castile, New York. We were both curious to see what this was. As it turned out it was a single SD60M leading a portion of the James E. Strates Show train. We made our photo at Castile near the remains of old Erie Railroad water tower, then chased eastward. We followed it to Swain, Canaseraga, Arkport, and to Hornell, New York, then into the Canisteo River Valley. Among the locations we chose was at West Cameron, New York, a spot on the inside of curve, where in the 1980s I’d often photographed Conrail and Delaware & Hudson trains passing a former Erie Railroad Style-S upper quadrant semaphore (see Curiously Seeking Erie Semaphores posted on September 23). Conrail had single-tracked the old Erie route through the Canisteo Valley in 1993-1994, so it had been a long time since the semaphore came down, yet a portion of the old westward main was retained at West Cameron for use as a setout track, so despite changes, this location didn’t look substantially different to me than it had ‘back in the day’ .
Afterwards, I searched back over my 120-size black & white negatives, and located this view made with my old Rollei model T of Conrail’s BUOI in 1988. Compare these two photographs made at virtually the same location, at approximately the same time of day, yet more than 22 years apart. There are many advantages to working the same territory repeatedly over the years. While familiarity may lead to boredom, it can likewise lead a photographer to make interesting comparisons.
A lesson: keep making photographs despite changes that appear to make the railway less interesting.
This was a favorite location of mine on the old Boston & Albany west end. The curve and cutting were built as part of a line relocation in 1912 aimed at reducing curvature and easing the westward climb toward the summit at Washington, Massachusetts.
There are several commanding views from the south side of the rock cutting near milepost 129, west of Chester, Massachusetts. My friend Bob Buck had showed me these locations back in the early 1980s, and I’ve made annual pilgrimages ever since.
Conrail was still going strong in 1996, although the forces were already in play that would see the line divided between CSX and Norfolk Southern. In less than three years time, this route would become part of the CSX network, and has remained so to the present day.
Conrail’s SD80MAC were new locomotives and several pairs were routinely assigned to the B&A grades east of New York’s Selkirk yard.
What makes this image work for me is that the foliage has just begun to turn and has that rusty look. Also, the train is descending on the old westward main track, which allows for a better angle.
After Conrail reworked the B&A route in the mid-1980s, bi-directional signaling on this section allowed them to operate trains in either direction on either track on signal indication. The result is that moves such as this don’t require unusual attention on the part of either dispatchers or train crews.
This photo appeared in my article on Conrail’s SD80MACs that was published in RailNews magazine about 1997.
Exposed on Kodachrome 25 color slide film using a Nikon F3T with 28mm Nikkor lens.
In October 2001, I was working on my book Railroad Masterpieces (Published by Krause Publications in 2002). Among the featured ‘masterpieces’ was Erie Railroad’s magnificent Starrucca Viaduct at Lanesboro, Pennsylvania. A classic Jim Shaughnessy under and over view was used on the book cover.
Posting photos on Tracking the Light yesterday of Lanesborough, County Longford, reminded me of this image at another Lanesboro (albeit a different spelling) many miles and an ocean away.
On October 21, 2001, Tim Doherty and I drove to Lanesborough so I could photograph Starrucca. At the time Norfolk Southern was operating the line and very little traffic was traversing the bridge. We didn’t expect to find a train and as it happened, we didn’t see any that morning.
Later, we photographed the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Tunkhannock Viaduct and former Pennsylvania Railroad Rockville Bridge. All three bridges were covered in the same section of the book, and I thought it would be neat to visit all of them in one day.
A black & white variation of this image appeared in the book, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the color version published. I’ve always liked the tree shadow on the inside of the 4th arch.
Often I look to put trains in their environment by trying to find angles that show context. Not every railway scene is scenic. And, in the North East, more often than not, the environment around the railway is pretty rough looking. But that is the scene, isn’t it?
On Wednesday May 29, 2013, Rich Reed and I were making photos of trains on former Boston & Maine lines around Ayer, Massachusetts. Rich has lived in the area for many years and is well versed on the history of the area.
Among the trains we saw was this Pan Am Southern local switching a set of autoracks. In the 1970s, a GP9 would have often worked Boston & Maine’s Ayer local. Today, Pan Am Southern runs the railroad, and the local is a pair of Norfolk Southern GE six-motor DASH-9s working long hood first.
I made several images east of the Ayer station. One of my favorites is the view looking down the street that features a parked postal truck and cars with the train serving as background instead of the main subject. It’s an ordinary everyday scene, yet it’s part of the history, and someday it will be different. Everything changes.
Which of these images will be more memorable in 50 years time? Someone might wonder why the Post Office needed a delivery truck, or what all the wires were for. You just never know.
This image of rear-end helpers on the back of a loaded Norfolk Southern autorack train was part of a sequence of photos I made at this location shortly after sunrise on November 3, 2001. My friend Mike Gardner and I were on a weeklong photo-pilgrimage in central Pennsylvania.
The location is a classic and there’s a lot of history here: I’m looking from Tunnel Hill in Gallitzin railroad-direction east toward Bennington Curve on the former Pennsylvania Railroad. If you look carefully, you can see more of the train winding through the curve in the distance. The line descends along Sugar Run. A short while after I made this image, the train looped around the famous Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Just below the last autorack, ahead of the helpers, is a bridge that once crossed the old line that went around the Muleshoe Curve. Conrail lifted that route in the early 1980s. In the 1960s, my father made photos from ground level at this location with PRR trains coming off the Muleshoe line.
Because of the weight of the train, the helpers were needed for dynamic braking to keep train speed at a safe crawl down this unusually steep mainline railroad. Although Conrail was two-years gone when I made this image, the SD40-2 helpers based at Cresson were still largely dressed in Conrail blue. The whine of their dynamic braking rounded across the valley on this crisp clear morning.