Twenty eight years ago on this day, my brother Sean and I made a survey of the former PRR electrified mainline south (timetable west) of Philadelphia.
Rather than literal interpretations, I was aiming for something more interpretive.
I’d bought a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 160 slide film. This featured a ‘tungsten balance’ designed to work with incandescent lamps and so featured a very cool color temperature, which accentuates the effect of dusk.
My notes from the day are nearly 4,000 miles away, so I can’t tell you which suburban platform on which we were standing when I made this time exposure of a rapidly approaching Amtrak train in the blue glow of the evening.
What I remember most from that evening was a sky filled with migratory birds, chirping, singing and squawking as they flew by.
Tracking the Light Posts Everyday, sometimes more than once!
It was a warm April afternoon in 1978 when my father and I arrived at Jersey Avenue to make photos.
For me this was a thrill. The long tangent in both directions seemed to reach to the horizon, and the trains passed at tremendous speed.
It was also one of my earliest experiences working with a long telephoto lens.
Pop had fitted his 200mm Leitz Telyt with Visoflex to my Leica 3A.
The Visoflex provided me with an equivalent to an SLR (single lens reflex) arrangement for a rangefinder camera by using a mirror with prism to see through the lens.
Where I was well used to the peculiarities of Leica’s pre-war rangefinder arrangement, using the Visoflex offered a new set of challenges, especially in regards to focusing.
Fast forward to December 2016. Pat Yough and I were exploring locations on Amtrak’s North East Corridor. I suggested Jersey Avenue because I was curious to see if that was where Pop and I had made those photos so many years ago. (Back in 1978, my photo notes were a bit thin).
Indeed it was. So we made a few photos from approximately the same spot before investigating other locations. Compare my December 2016 views with my much earlier attempts.
Consult your schedules, watch the signals, listen for the hum of the rail, and stay poised.
This is the heart of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, a raceway for passenger action. In between the fast flying Acela Express runs and Amtrak Regional trains are hourly all-stops SEPTA local runs.
Trains Under Wire.
On the morning of December 19, 2015, Pat Yough and I visited SEPTA stations north (east) of Philadelphia on the former Pennsylvania Railroad electrified four-track line. No GG1s today, but we did catch two old AEM-7s.
Tips of the day: stay sharp and remember that the long distance trains (Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Crescent, etc) are not listed in the Northeast Corridor schedule and can run ahead of the posted station times as listed in their respective schedules in the Amtrak National Timetable.
It helps to be at the right place at the right time. Even on the busy Philadelphia-Washington D.C. Northeast Corridor there can be long gaps between trains..
After 20 minutes or half and hour between trains, you might wonder why the line even has four tracks!
And then ever thing seems converge upon you at once.
Pat Yough and I were at Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania on the evening of January 11, 2015. We didn’t spend much time trackside before we had two running meets a few minutes apart.
Was this synchronicity? Or just luck? I don’t know. In the case of the two Amtrak trains both were running a few minutes late, so that was luck. It would have been cool to see all four pass at the same time, but unless we were phenomenally lucky, it is doubtful that such an event would have produced good photos.
The former Pennsylvania Railroad at Princeton Junction is on an exceptionally long level tangent and on fast track. A headlight appears as a twinkle. Minutes pass. The rails begin to sing and the catenary starts to resonate. Then a train blasts by at more than 100 mph!
It was here that my father captured the United Aircraft TurboTrain on trial at speed back in the 1960s.
Princeton Junction is also where you can switch to the ‘Dinky’, which traverses NJ Transit’s shortest branch (recently made even shorter) to Princeton.
Tomorrow, Tracking the Light takes a spin on the Dinky!
Yesterday (February 7, 2014), after several months of testing, Amtrak’s new ACS-64 Siemens built ‘Cities Sprinter’ locomotive 600 made its first revenue run on Amtrak train 171 (Boston to Washington).
My dad and I went to Milford, Connecticut on the North East Corridor to catch the new electric. Pop made some B&W photos with his Leica M3 from the east end of the platform. I worked the curve at the west end with my Canons.
I popped off a couple of slides with the EOS 3 with a 100mm telephoto, and exposed two bursts of digital images using the Canon 7D with 20mm lens.
By the way the 20mm on the 7D has a field of view equal to about a 35mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera.
The new electric sure looked nice! I’ll be keen to see the B&W photos and slides when they are processed.
After 171 passed, I made a few photos of a Metro-North local, then Pop and I went over to inspect the recently opened Metro-North station at West Haven, where we made a few photos of passing trains.
I used my trip on Amtrak 475/175 as an opportunity to make a few photographs. While I had some bigger cameras in my bag, I exposed all of these images with my Lumix LX3.
I boarded shuttle train 475 at Berlin, Connecticut just as the sun was setting. By the time I arrived in New Haven, only a faint blue glow remained of daylight.
I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I used the station signs and other available flat surfaces on the platform to steady the camera. To avoid camera shake, after composing my image, I set the self timer to 2 seconds and press the shutter button.
Also, I overexposed each image by 1/3 to 2/3s of a stop to compensate for the prevailing darkness.
The trip was uneventful. Amtrak is my preferred means for navigating between cities in the Northeastern USA.
Broadside View of the Old New Haven Railroad Bridge.
What better than a bright sunny Sunday afternoon to execute a classic image of a big bridge.
Amtrak operates the former New Haven Railroad line between Springfield, Massachusetts and its namesake Connecticut city as a branch off its primary North East Corridor route.
In addition to shuttle trains running between Springfield and New Haven, the Washington D.C. to St Albans, Vermont, Vermonter travels this line daily. Infrequent freight services are operated by Connecticut Southern (sister operation to New England Central) and Pan Am Southern/Pan Am Railways.
Although much of the line is scenically challenged as it runs through built up suburban and urban areas of central Connecticut, it does have a few garden spots. I think the scenic highlight is this crossing of the Connecticut River near Windsor Locks.
I’ve made various views of this bridge over the years, and last Sunday (October 20, 2013) I thought I’d look for something a little different. There’s a lightly used road that follows the east bank of the Connecticut south of the bridge, and here I found a safe place to park and walk to the river,
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) revealed the northward Vermonter was operating about 9 minutes behind its scheduled time. I was in position a good 20 minutes before the train and so had ample time to make test shots to pick the best angle and exposure.
I made this photograph with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens. The train rolled across the bridge at a restricted speed so it was easy to pick off several frames. The bigger challenge will be to catch one of the freights on this bridge. It’s been a good few years since I’ve succeeded in that mission.
On the afternoon of October 20, 2013, Amtrak train 54, the Sunday Vermonter crosses the Connecticut river on a 107 year old former New Haven Railroad span. Canon EOS 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens.
The best part of the apartment was the terrace, which faced the river and the tracks. As young kids, my brother, Sean, and I would spend hours sending paper airplanes and bubbles, (and sometime heavier items) off the terrace to see how far they’d go. But for me the highlight of the apartment (apart from grandma and grandpa) was the regular passage of trains.
By age 10, I’d learned to calculate running times. Eastbound (northbound) trains running toward Boston would pass 17-20 minutes after leaving Penn-Station, while Westbound (Southbound) trains were less predictable, and sometimes wouldn’t show up until after they were scheduled to depart Penn-Station.
Until 1981, Amtrak would occasionally operate its elderly GG1 Electrics, and I’d keep my Leica handy for just such an event. On rare occasions, two trains would pass in front of the apartment.
I vividly recall a frenzied moment, when Sean shouted, “there’s two trains!” I panicked and in the 10-15 seconds I had to act, I failed to locate the camera. “You missed it! I can’t believe you missed it!” Eventually, the situation repeated itself, and a photograph resulted.
By 1984, freight had been diverted off the line, while most Amtrak trains to New Haven consisted of eight to ten Amfleet cars hauled by AEM-7 electrics. The one elusive train was Amtrak’s Night Owl that passed in the wee hours (as owls do) and this train carried sleeping cars. Even at night these cars looked different than the others.
In the relative silence of early morning, trains would make an audible clatter crossing the bascule drawbridge that was just out of sight from the terrace. We were visiting for New Year’s at the end of 1983. One night during that visit, my sixth sense for trains alerted me in my sleep that the southward Night Owl hadn’t gone by at its usual time (about 3 am).
By daybreak, the Night Owl still hadn’t gone by. So, I readied my old Leica 3A, and waited. Shortly after sunrise it rolled by, and I exposed several Ektachrome slides. These might have been better if I’d used a longer lens, yet, had I done that, then the photos wouldn’t have shown all the heritage equipment, including the train’s sleeping cars, that distinguished it from ordinary North East Corridor trains. While not my greatest effort, it’s not too bad considering I was half asleep and not yet skilled with the camera.
I found this slide last month mixed in with some ‘3rds’ (my old term for slides that were not bad enough to throw away, yet neither good enough to give away—what I called 2nds, nor acceptable for slide shows—1sts). Time has move it up a couple of degrees. I’m not giving it away.
At 11:11 am on November 16, 1992, I made this image of double-headed AEM-7s leading train 169 The Mayflower passing the interlocking at South Norwalk on the former New Haven Railroad mainline.
This was a routine event. I don’t recall anything unusual or noteworthy about the train itself. I was playing with a Tokina f5.6 400mm lens I’d recently purchased secondhand. I made this photo with that lens attached to my Nikon F3T on Kodachrome 25.
My exposure-notes indicate that the lens was at its widest aperture and the camera at 1/125 of a second. I probably had the camera on my Bogen 3021 tripod as I doubt I would have tried to hand hold the 400mm lens at 1/125th of second.
Telephoto lens compression with truss-bridges under the old New Haven catenary makes for a tunnel-like effect, while giving context to the crossovers.
At that time, Amtrak’s AEM-7s were still in their ‘as delivered’ condition with their original paint scheme. These powerful little locomotives have been the backbone of Amtrak’s electrified operations for more than three decades. Their day in the sun will soon end; replacements are on their way.
On the morning of August 12, 2009, I used my Canon EOS 3 with a 100-400 mm Canon image stabilization lens to expose this image of an Amtrak California Capitols train crossing the former Southern Pacific Carquinez Straits Bridge at Martinez, California. (Amtrak’s Capitol Corridorderives its name from California’s old and new capital cities, San Jose and Sacramento)
When this bridge was completed in 1930, it was the largest double track railway bridge west of the Mississippi. Today it carries Amtrak and Union Pacific trains.
Coastal fog softened the morning sun making for a cosmic effect. Making photographs of the bridge is complicated by the enormous Interstate 680 bridges that flank it on both sides. I’ve found that a broadside silhouette is the most effective way of capturing the scale of the bridges.