On January 15, 1953, Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric number 4876 leading the Federal Express from Boston lost its airbrake and careened out of control on approach to Washington Union Station.
The train crashed most spectacularly and old 4876 sunk through the floor of the station concourse. It made national news and photos of the GG1 in the debris of the station was seen on most major papers across the country.
That wasn’t the end of 4876. The locomotive’s remains were remanufactured by the Pennsylvania Railroad and 4876 was restored to traffic. It operated for another 30 years.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, my family and I made a project of photographing 4876. At that time it was operated by NJDOT the precursor to today’s NJ Transit.
Last April (2017) in Basel, Switzerland, I saw a model of the famous GG1 in a shop window.
Less than a month later (May 2017), I photographed New England Central 608 at State Line crossing in Monson, Massachusetts; and this photo’s camera’s pre-assigned sequential file number was . . . (oh just take a wild guess—first four digit number that comes to mind).
This spectacular train wreck, on the eve of Eisenhower’s inauguration, made headlines in every major newspaper across the country.
Thirty four years ago, GG1 4876—then operated by NJ Transit remained in daily service and routinely worked New York & Long Branch trains between Penn Station and South Amboy, New Jersey .
My father and I intercepted this infamous electric on various occasions in its final years of service.
Here are few 4876 views from my lost negative file; They were exposed in June 1983 with my battle-worn Leica IIIA from my High School days. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using Kodak Microdol-X.
‘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.
It was on the afternoon of August 26, 2010 at Three Rivers, Massachusetts, that my father and I made photographs of a pair of restored Pennsylvania Railroad passenger cars that were being hauled by Amtrak 56 the northward Vermonter.
These were en route for use on a special excursion for a political candidate running for Vermont office. Two days later, we drove to the Georgia Highbridge south of St. Albans, Vermont and followed the special southward.
Tracking the Light presents 14 recent images—a work in progress.
Not any old mainline, but The Main Line—the former Pennsylvania Railroad west of Philadelphia. This is hallowed ground in the eyes of PRR enthusiasts.
My brother and I spent several hours examining various locations from Overbook to Bryn Mawr.
We were rewarded by a training special operating in midday with SEPTA AEM-7 2306 and a push-pull train. These trains are typically only used at rush hours, so it was nice to catch one off peak.
The Main Line is a throwback to another time. The line still retains many of its visual cues from year’s gone by, including classic Pennsylvania Railroad position light signal hardware.
Among the challenges to photographing this line is the proliferation of trees along the right of way. While these can make for nice props, they also cast shadows which complicate photography.
From an operations standpoint, I would think that having so many line-side trees would be a serious problem. Not only will these cause wheel-slip in the autumn that will result in difficulties for suburban trains trying to meet tight schedules, but falling branches and trunks will interfere with the catenary.
Would the PRR have tolerated so many trees along its primary east-west trunk?
This features some of best known works of black & white photographic giants David Plowden, Jim Shaughnessy, Mel Patrick and Ron Wright as well as more recent work by Mike Froio himself, and his contemporaries including Scott Lothes, John Sanderson, and Travis Dewitz, along with Pennsylvania Railroad poster art from the Bennnett Levin collection.
These are some memorable railway images well worthy of display!
The former Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division is one of the busiest freight routes in the eastern United States. On November 5, 2001, Mike Gardner and I spent the afternoon on Middle Division photographing Norfolk Southern freights.
The combination of pastoral Pennsylvania scenery, low November sun, and steady parade of freights made for lots of opportunity to make interesting railway images.
I’m always looking for a new angle. Here I worked with light and shade to sculpt scenes that captured the character of the place as well as the trains passing through it. I exposed these images using my Nikon F3 with Fuji Provia 100F.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
On evening July 2, 2014, my brother Sean and I returned to Overbrook. I wanted to get there a bit earlier to focus on SEPTA’s electric locomotive-hauled rush hour services, including the named ‘Great Valley Flyer.’ Also, I wished to feature the signaling more closely. Those vintage Pennsylvania Railroad position lights won’t be around forever.
The lighting was more diffused than the previous day, but this offered different opportunities.
Often it helps to revisit locations several days in a row. Becoming more familiar with a place, helps to find different ways to photograph it.
Yet, with familiarity comes the risk of complacency. When a subject becomes so familiar that you stop seeing it in new ways, have you lost the edge? Is finding a new place the best time to make a photo, or at least perceive an opportunity?
Overbrook is hardly a new place for me, yet it is also one I’ve yet to master.
Visual Quandaries in a Fascinating Place—July 1, 2014
Overbrook retains much of its Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line heritage. Not only is it a surviving portion of four track line, but it retains an active tower, traditional PRR position light signaling, plus its old station buildings and historic signage.
It remains a busy place with a regular interval SEPTA suburban service and Amtrak Keystone trains.
Curiously, it features track-work dating to an earlier era of railroad engineering. It is located on a sweeping curve with a full set of crossovers set in and around the station and low-level platforms.
Without getting into a detailed discussion on modern railroad engineering, let me just say, that there’s no way an interlocking and station would be situated like this today.
Yet, for all this historic railroad interest, Overbrook is a challenging place to make photographs. The curvature which adds so much character to the place, also makes it difficult to find a satisfactory photographic angle. While there is lots of antique infrastructure, it’s hard to find way to include it in balanced compositions.
Further difficulties are caused by nearby trees and a large overhead arched bridge that cast shadows on the line.
On successive evenings, July 1st and July 2nd, 2014, my brother Sean and I visited Overbrook to watch the evening parade of trains. Working with my Lumix LX-7 and Canon EOS 7D, I exposed images from a variety of angles. I was particular interested in featuring the old Pennsylvania signaling.
It was a bright afternoon on June 30, 2014, when Pat Yough & I arrived at Bryn Mawr. We’d been photographing the former Pennsylvania Main Line west of Philadelphia.
Bryn Mawr is a Welsh name. Pronunciation is tricky. It’s a great place to photograph the evening rush hour. The station is relatively open. The tracks come up a slight ascending grade, and since there’s a set of crossovers, there’s no fences between tracks that make for unobstructed images of westward trains.
To the west of the station is the old Pennsylvania Railroad interlocking tower. It’s in sad shape, but survives as a reminder of the old order.
We spent about an hour here in nice light before working further west.
This is one of my favorite classic locations. The abutments for the old Route 53 overpass across the former Pennsylvania Railroad between Gallitzin and Cresson offered a great vista for westward train in the afternoon.
I exposed this view four years ago today using my Lumix LX3. I’d set the camera’s aspect ratio to 16:9 which gives a slightly more panoramic view when held horizontal. One of the advantages of the Panasonic Lumix LX series cameras is the ability to adjust the aspect ratio.
I’ve found this a great compositional tool because it allows me to frame photographs differently with the touch of a switch. This is almost like having a whole new camera system without all the complications.
You might ask, ‘why not just use the camera full-frame and then crop the image later?’ My answer is simple: When I compose an image, I’m taking into consideration the relative placement of all the elements and lighting. I find this is most effective when done on site, and not after the fact.
Here’s a pair of opportunistic images. I’d not gone out to make photographs, but while at dinner near Ardmore, Pennsylvania, I noted that Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad four-track Main Line ran adjacent to the car park.
After dinner, I wandered up to the tracks to investigate the potential for photography. At the edge of the car park was a sign post that I co-opted to use an impromptu camera support (I’d call this a ‘tripod’ but in fact it really was just a post), and placed my Lumix LX3 on the post.
The prevailing darkness and extreme contrast combined made for a tricky exposure. Instead of relying on the camera’s internal meter. I first made a test photo, then using that as a gauging point, set the camera to ‘over expose’ by about a full stop for each angle.
To avoid camera shake, I set the self-timer for 2 seconds, pressed the shutter button and stepped back. These are my results. It was cold, and I didn’t believe that any train movements were very close, so I didn’t opt to wait for a train.
Would have a train improved the scene?
See my earlier posts on night photography for suggestions and guidelines:
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 mid-July 1984, I heard the distinctive roar of EMD 20-cylinder engines working an eastward train on the west slope of Washngton Hill. My friends and I were positioned at the summit of the Boston & Albany route, as marked by a sign.
We often spent Sunday afternoons here. Rather than work the more conventional location on the south (west) side of the tracks, I opted to cross the mainline and feature the summit sign.
As the freight came into view, I was delighted to see that it was led by a set of Conrail’s former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2s! While these locomotives were more commonly assigned to helper duties at Cresson, Pennsylvania on the former PRR, during the Summer of 1984, all 13 of the monsters worked the Boston & Albany.
I have a number of photos of these machines, both on the B&A and PRR routes. However this image of engine 6666 never made my cut. Back lighting and hazy afternoon light had resulted in a difficult negative. My preferred processing techniques of the period didn’t aid the end result, and at the time I dismissed the photograph as ‘unsuitable’.
The other day I rediscovered this unprinted view and decided to make a project of it. Now, 30 years later, I felt it was worth the effort. I scanned the negative and after about 30 minutes of manipulation using Adobe Photoshop, I produced a satisfactory image.
I made a variety of small and subtle changes by locally adjusting contrast and sharpness. These adjustments would have been difficult and time consuming to implement using conventional printing techniques, but are relatively painless to make digitally. I’m really pretty happy with the end result.
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!
On a recent ride out to Elwyn on a SEPTA suburban train, my brother Sean and I noted several large viaducts on this former Pennsylvania Railroad route.
The Elwyn route is one of several SEPTA lines that has been under threat of closure. The bridges on the route have been reported to be suffering from deferred maintenance which has made them candidates for replacement.
This bridge piqued our curiosity. So on Monday, January 20, 2014 we decided to investigate the Crum Creek Viaduct which is easily accessed via The Scott Arboretum trails (near Swarthmore College).
An impressive viaduct, it spans the heavily wooded Crum Creek valley, looming above the tree tops like an ancient relic of another age. It reminded me of Milwaukee Road’s trestles on St Paul Pass in the Bitteroot Mountains of the Idaho panhandle.
This is a double-track tower-supported plate girder viaduct, of the type of construction common to many late-19th and early 20th century railway bridges. It dates to the mid-1890s.
Photographically, the Crum Creek viaduct presents a challenge. The surrounding trees tend to obscure the bridge. While the most graphic images of the bridge are made near is base, yet working close to the bridge makes it difficult to adequately capture a train crossing the bridge. As we moved further away both train and structure tend to blend with the forest.
Since this bridge is in jeopardy of either replacement or abandonment, I thought it a worthy project to photograph it as functioning infrastructure. I tried panning an outbound train in an effort to show a train on the bridge.
What will become of this bridge? Will it be restored, abandoned or replaced?
Below are some recent links that make references to the viaduct.
Philadelphia was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s headquarters city. Despite multitudes of change in the industry since PRR merged with New York Central in 1968, there’s still plenty of Pennsy cues around Philly.
For me this is like finding hints of a long lost empire.
The Industrial Designer Famed for his Steamlined Locomotives was Born November 5, 1893.
I’ve rearranged my postings to honor Raymond Loewy, whose streamlined industrial designs greatly impressed me during my formative days in railway photography.
As a youngster, I was thrilled by former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1s and made many photographs of these electrics in service on Amtrak and NJ Transit.
Today, I’ve chosen a relatively modern image of preserved and beautifully restored PRR Electric 4935 that is displayed at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. I exposed this photograph in June 2007 while working on my book Railroads of Pennsylvania.
Among Loewy’s early assignments for Pennsylvania Railroad was to refine the styling on its new GG1 electric. Loewy suggest using a welded body instead of a traditional riveted design, while providing the classic ‘cat’s whiskers’ livery and tidying up marker light housings, cab windows and other body details.
The GG1 remains one of Loewy’s best known designs and an American classic.
Just over 30 years ago, on October 29, 1983, I was among the faithful that rode New Jersey Transit’s ‘Farewell to the GG1’ excursion.
Thanks to Stephen Hirsch for reminding me of today’s significance!
Philadelphia area transit is provided by SEPTA. The city’s eclectic collection of routes and modes has its origins in the 19th Century. In Philadelphia’s heyday, a myriad of railways laced the city and pulsed with passengers. One hundred years ago, 500 million fares were collected annually on Philly’s streetcars alone.
Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Company vied for suburban fares, and both railroads electrified key routes in the early decades of the 20th century. This foresight continues to benefit Philadelphia to the present.
Sadly, while Philadelphia once enjoyed one of the most extensive streetcar networks in the world, much of this was gradually dismantled during the second half of the 20th century. Yet, a few key streetcar routes survive. Here and there tracks tell of past glory.
I visited my brother Sean in Philadelphia in early July, giving me ample opportunity to experience SEPTA and its buses, streetcars, subways, and railroad operations.
Center City is what Philadelphians call ‘down town’. While SEPTA’s operations reach myriad points across the region, Center City is the focus of most public transport.
Here are a collection of views of Philadelphia and its public transport.
This day last year (June 29, 2012), Pat Yough, my brother Sean and I, spent the evening photographing the final runs of SEPTA’s 50 year old Silverliner IIs and IIIs. These were working the short run on the former Pennsylvania Railroad line to Cynwyd.
More than 50 years earlier, my father Richard Jay Solomon had photographed, similar and then new PRR Silverliners on the same line. Back then tracks and electrification continued across the Schuylkill River to Manayunk and beyond to Norristown. Today, SEPTA serves these locations by the former Reading Company line that ran largely parallel to the old PRR line.
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.
Here’s a panned view of an Irish Rail intercity railcar near Islandbridge, Dublin that I exposed a little while ago (February 18, 2013). A pan of a 22K-series ICR? No, this isn’t a litany of complaint regarding the common Rotem-built Irish Rail intercity vehicle. Rather, it’s an example of one of my favorite techniques for showing motion. I learned to pan from my father, who used the technique to compensate for slow speed Kodachrome film. In the early 1960s, he made some stunning rainy-day images of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Baldwin ‘Sharknose’ diesels working the New York & Long Branch. Check my Vintage Diesel Power by Voyageur Press to view some of these photos.
The trick to making a successful pan is to manually select a moderately slow shutter speed (1/15th to 1/60th of a second), then follow a train with the camera, gently releasing the shutter at an appropriate moment. I find that pivoting my whole body helps makes for smoother motion. Key to this exercise is planning to continue the panning motion after the shutter is released. Stopping too soon may result in unplanned blurring of the main subject. Also, I usually pick a fixed point in the frame to follow the front of the train. My Canon 7D has lines on the viewfinder screen that aids this effort. I’ll discuss the panning technique in greater detail in a future post.
January 15th, a day of significance: while best known as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, it is less well known for the anniversary of the 1953 Washington Union Terminal crash, when Pennsylvania Railroad’s Federal Express lost its brakes and GG1 Electric 4876 careened into the lobby of the terminal. This spectacular train wreck, on the eve of Eisenhower’s inauguration, made headlines in every major newspaper across the country.
That was 60 years ago today! However, thirty years ago, GG1 4876—then operated by NJ Transit, was still in daily service. It routinely worked between Penn Station and South Amboy on New York & Long Branch trains. I intercepted this infamous electric on various occasions in its final years of service. I’d hoped to make a photo on the anniversary of its infamy. And I went so far as to write NJ Transit to find out which trains it would be working, to which they kindly replied in detail. However a snowstorm on eve of 4876’s 30th anniversary precluded my travel, so my intended images from that day never happened. What I’ve posted here are few of my black & white images scanned from 1980s-era prints. They were exposed with my battle-worn Leica IIIA from my High School days. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using a weak mix of Kodak Microdol-X.
Anticipating change is key to documenting the railroad. In nearly three decades of photography along the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line, I’ve tuned my images to clues of this route’s past. While the PRR vanished into Penn Central in 1968, key PRR infrastructure has allowed necessary visual cues that retain elements of the old railroad. Among these are PRR’s iconic Position Light style signals that date to the steam era, and have survive the decades of change. However, a wise photographer will have noted that this style of signal hardware is out of favor. While Norfolk Southern has been gradually replacing its PRR era signals with color lights, I’ve learned that a recent NS application with the Federal Railroad Administration includes elimination of most remaining wayside signals from its former PRR Main Line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
The writing is on the wall for these signals. Among those to go are favorites on the ‘west slope’ (between Gallitzin and Johnstown, Pennsylvania). I worked this area intensively in summer 2010, making an effort to capture trains passing former PRR Position Lights. Be forewarned: the signals that protected trains hauled by PRR’s magnificent K4s and M1b steam locomotives and have survived these long decades will soon pass from the scene.
I researched the development of PRR’s Position Light signals for my book Railroad Signaling. Here’s an excerpt:
PRR’s first position lights were installed in 1915 along the Main Line between Overbrook and Paoli, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with its new 11,000-olt AC overhead electrification. Early position light signals featured large background shields to protect the view from effects of harsh backlighting. Aspects mimicked those of upper quadrant semaphores by using rows of four lamps. After a few years of service these position lights were deemed successful. However, before PRR adopted the signal for widespread application, the form of the position light signal head was refined: Each head used rows of three lights oriented around a common center lamp with the outer lamps forming a circle. Lamps were mounted on bars with a circular background panel affixed over the lamps and shades to prevent backlighting. Traditionally this panel was made of Armco iron, measuring 4 feet 4 inches in diameter, with 7-3/4 inch holes punched in it for the lamps. Each single head can display several basic aspects: ‘clear’, represented by three vertical lights; ‘approach’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 1:30 clock position to the 7:30 clock position; ‘restricting’ by diagonal lights at a 45 degree angle running from the 10:30 clock position to the 4:30 clock position; and ‘stop’ (or ‘stop’ and proceed) by three lights running horizontally. An individual signal head is only provided with lamps for the aspects it is expected to display and unnecessary holes are covered over. The lower of two heads, tended to use a slightly different shape for the shield panel. By using two heads, a great variety of speed signal aspects mimicking those of two and three head semaphores are possible. Slow speed aspects are provided by dwarf position signals that use a slightly different light pattern.