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!
Less often photographed than the famous Horseshoe Curve, is Bennington Curve further up the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line grade toward Gallitzin, Pennsylvania.
Back in July 1987, my pal TSH and I camped near the curve. I was kept awake by the roar of uphill diesels and the ear-piercing flange squeal of wheels in the curve. At sunrise I was track side to photograph the action.
One of my first images of the morning was this black & white view of a light helper set returning down grade toward Altoona to assist a westward freight.
At that time Conrail routinely assigned its 13 former Erie-Lackawanna SD45-2s as helpers based at Cresson near the top of the hill on the West Slope.
It was Conrail’s 12thbirthday! And that was many years ago.
My old pal TSH and I were exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division and visited Spruce Creek where we photographed this eastward freight.
The old heavy-weight sleeping car converted for Penn-Central/Conrail maintenance of way (work equipment) makes the photograph fascinating. I’d never seen cars like this in revenue service and simply having relics like it on the move connected me to an earlier era.
Seeing this Kodachrome 25 slide makes me yearn for the days when we’d be trackside on Conrail and never know what might pass. It seemed a like endless adventure and every train brought something new and unexpected.
The weather? Not great, but I’d stand there now without complaint.
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is one of my favorite American railway museums both because of its great collection of Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Company, Conrail and Amtrak equipment, and for its stunning interior presentation that makes railroad equipment compelling to look at.
I exposed these photos on a visit in mid-November 2017 with Pat Yough having spent the afternoon photographing the nearby Strasburg Railroad at work.
Among the fascinating aspects of the museum’s static collection are the numerous vintage freight cars that span a century of service. Too often the common freight car—the backbone of American railroad freight transport—is overshadowed in preservation by more glamorous equipment.
Dusk is a mystical time to photograph; highlights are subdued, shadows are deep, while the prevailing light is soft and cool. Window light is equivalent to the outdoors, and railroad signal light seems more intense.
The short SEPTA line to Cynwyd in the northwestern Philadelphia suburbs is a vestige of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Schuylkill Valley line that once reached northward into anthracite country.
Today Cynwyd is the end of the line.
Until last week, it was one of the last segments of SEPTA’s Regional Rail network left for me to travel.
I arrived at dusk, and in that ‘blue hour’ and I made these photographs using my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm XT1 digital cameras.
All things being equal I would have used a tripod, but I didn’t have one so with the XT1, I boosted the ISO to unusually high levels to compensate for the dim conditions.
Not just any old ‘mainline,’ but the famous Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Main Line— so called because it was built as the ‘Main Line of Public Works’ in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
I made this view of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian taking the curve at Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Where most of the trains on this line draw power from the high-voltage AC catenary, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian changes from an electric to a diesel locomotive at 30th Street to avoid the need to change at Harrisburg.
This is Amtrak’s only service on the former PRR west of Harrisburg. The lone long distance train on what was once a premier passenger route, and unusual on the electrified portion of the line.
I exposed this sequence at Berwyn using my FujiFilm XT1 and 18-135mm zoom lens.
To make the most of the curve and autumn color, I positioned myself on the outside of the curve at Berwyn. The chug of Amtrak’s P42 diesel alerted me to the approach of this westward train.
Would you read this if I titled it; ‘The photographic benefits of filtered sunlight‘?
The other day, Pat Yough and I made a joint venture of exploring Pennsylvania’s West Chester Railroad. This is a tourist line that runs on the vestige of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Wawa Branch (also called the West Chester Branch), formerly an electrified suburban line connecting West Chester with Philadelphia via Media.
SEPTA discontinued scheduled passenger service 30 years ago, although some its old platforms and signs survive as a reminder.
West Chester Railroad was operating its annual Santa Trains using a push-pull set comprised of a former Conrail GP38, a PRR baggage car and some converted former Reading Company multiple units.
Although the classic ‘clear blue dome’ is a favorite of many photographers, bright polarized light is often limiting on a line hemmed in by foliage.
Our late season photography benefitted from high clouds that diffused the afternoon sun. This made for seasonal pastel light that made photographs of the tree-lined railway more pleasing.
As a contrast to this morning’s frosty portrait view of a tightly cropped SEPTA Silverliner reflecting the snow on its inbound journey over former Pennsylvania Railroad rails, I thought I offer this summer evening’s view.
Like the earlier photo along the old Main Line (so-called because from the old ‘Main Line of Public Works) this depicts a Silverliner heading toward Philadelphia 30th Street.
However, this was a glorious summer’s evening with warm low sun in the western sky and fresh green leaves on the trees.
The camera and lens combination were also similar. This morning’s tightly cropped image was exposed with my Canon EOS7D with a 200mm telephoto, while this view used the same camera body but with a 100mm telephoto.
Anyway, if the weather today has you longing for the warmer months, here’s something for which you may look forward!
This is another of my ‘Then and Now’ attempts from last week’s exploration of Jersey City.
As previously mentioned: my fascination with Pennsylvania Railroad’s Jersey City waterfront terminal at Exchange Place, inspired a family trip to look for vestiges in February 1983. This is my window back in time.
Both my dad and I made a few photos. At the time I was trying to get a sense for how things looked decades earlier. (Pop, had made views of PRR MP54s by day and by night at the old terminal, which by 1983 was long gone.)
Fast forward another 32-33 years, and I find that Jersey City has been completely transformed. Most traces of Conrail’s waterfront track have been replaced by modern development, while NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail now winds through the city.
Working from my 1983 view at Exchange Place, on my recent visit I spent an hour walking around in concentric circles trying to figure out where I’d made the old photo. How hard could this be?
Complicating matters, I’d only been there once, my father was driving, and my memories from this one visit are a bit hazy.
Yes, I remember the day, and I recall making the photos, but how the various locations related to one another remained a bit sketchy. This was especially difficult because today the setting has been so completely changed that many of the landmarks in my old image are gone.
I’d all but given up. I went for a spin on the Light Rail, and my way back north towards Hoboken, I recognized the setting for my 1983 image.
Now then, how could I have known that my 1983 Exchange Place view was indeed at today’s NJ Transit Exchange Place light rail station!
Construction on the bank building made for a difficult comparison view, as does the Light Rail’s supporting infrastructure: awnings, ticket machines, catenary poles, etc, which precluded standing in the exact same spot.
Actually, the bank building on the left is just about the only common anchor between my two images. Almost all the other buildings in the 1983, including the Colgate-Palmolive building in the distance, have been replaced by newer structures.
And, while there are tracks in both views, these are on different alignments and serve entire different purposes.
I consulted my notes from that year, and found that I’d photographed extensively on that day! (Hooray for my old notebook!)
At the time I was about a week away from completing my course work at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA in Photographic Illustration, and I was making good use of the fine Spring weather in Western New York State.
That day I began my photography on the Water Level Route at East Rochester, and worked my way eastward toward Lyons, New York.
I was particularly fascinated by the abandoned truss bridge over the old New York Central west of Newark, New York. This had carried the Newark & Marion, which had served as part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. [See: AbandonedRails.com for more about this line. ]
On an earlier trip, I’d photographed this bridge on a dull day using a 4×5 camera.
On May 13th, I worked with my Leica M2 exposing Kodachrome 25 color slides, and featured Conrail trains passing below the bridge.At that time SD50s were standard locomotives on many of the railroad’s carload trains.
Later, I explored other vantage points along the busy Conrail east-west mainline.
Thanks to Ciarán for encouraging this foray into my slide archive!
In February 2010, I was traveling with Chris Guss and Pat Yough when I exposed this Fujichrome slide of Western New York & Pennsylvania’s Driftwood Turn (known as ‘the DFT’) on its northward ascent of the former Pennsylvania Railroad grade over Keating Summit.
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.
I’m always looking for an angle. A family outing on the Schuylkill River in September 2007 provided this opportunity. A SEPTA Silverliner IV glides across the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Connecting Railway bridge.
In 1914, this massive arch over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia replaced the original 1867 double-track bridge made of stone arches and a metal truss span. Today it carries Amtrak’s North East Corridor. Although it resembles the stone arches it replaced, it is actually a reinforced concrete arch faced with sandstone.
Along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor south (west) of Philadelphia, SEPTA’s Prospect Park station features a classic former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station building complete with landscaped grounds on its south east side.
Its canopies and low level platforms are a throwback to another era.
Richard has been photographing railways for decades and brought me on many of my earliest railway excursions, including a trip on the Flushing Line in Queens way back in the day.
Richard has worked with Leicas, a Rolleiflex, and a Linhof 4×5 view camera. Today has also a few digital cameras to play with including a Lumix LX7.
Many years ago he gave me my first camera, and after I wrecked that one, he gave me another, and finally a Leica model 3A. I continue to wear them out.
Regular viewers of Tracking the Light will recognize the subjects and locations. Together, Richard and I have years of continuous photographic record of railways in the United States and around the world. His photographs have appeared in many of my books.
I returned to the same street in Charleroi last month and made similar views of trams. I actually went to almost the same spot as the above photo, but exposed a couple of colour slides, which remain latent. Perhaps at some point I’ll do a ‘now and then’ comparison. (Film and film).
New England Central at Montpelier Junction, Vermont.
A freshly scrubbed GP38 led a pair of Pennsy passenger cars in a classic old-school whistle-stop campaign tour of Vermont.
On August 28, 2010, my dad and I drove to the Georgia high bridge (near St. Albans, Vermont) to intercept a New England Central special train hired by gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie.
It was a sunny warm summer’s day, and we made numerous photos of the special as it worked its way south.
This pair of images was exposed at Montpelier Junction, where the train made a stop for the candidate to make a speech to his supporters. Traditionally, this was where Central Vermont met the Montpelier & Barre.
I used a telephoto for these views in order to emphasize the bunting and flags that marked the train’s distinctive qualities. Several of my photographs of the train appeared in Private Varnish.
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.
For me, SEPTA is one of the most photogenic American big city transit systems. Sure, other cities have their charms, but Philadelphia has a lot going for it; variety, accessibility, interval services on most routes, real time displays at stations, visual cues to its heritage, interesting and varied equipment and etc.
On January 16, 2014, my brother Sean and I, spent an afternoon and evening wandering on SEPTA’s rail systems making photographs. I had a minor agenda to ride a few pieces of the network I’d not yet traveled on.
I worked with two cameras; Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D, but traveled relatively light (no film body or big telephotos)
All of the lines we traveled were well patronized (some at standing room only) and yet everything seem to run to time. SEPTA’s staff were friendly and helpful. (Especially when we were running for trains).
I was visiting Philadelphia for the holiday season. I’d just got my Lumix back from Panasonic following a warranty-repair and I was happy to make some photos with it.
A wander around Center City on December 30, 2010 with my family made for ample opportunities to exercise the shutter. Sometimes the ordinary scenes make for interesting photos, and over time these tend to age well; witness below.
This view was exposed on the platforms of SEPTA’s Market East station (the 1980s replacement for Philadelphia & Reading’s Victorian train-temple, Reading Terminal—today a convention center, sans tracks).
Here I found a pair of 1960s vintage Silverliners working the R3 service. These elegant classics were nearing the end of their working careers. After nearly five decades, the last of these machines were withdrawn in June 2012.
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!
On my external hard drive I have a file of photos called ‘Miscellaneous US Railroads’. I picked this photo at random. I thought it’s a neat image. Only after, I selected it, did I learn the the owner of the railroad, R.J. Corman himself, had very recently passed away. Odd how that works.
Back in September 1997, Mike Gardner and I were on one of our many “PA Trips”. (In case you didn’t know, ‘PA’ is the postcode for Pennsylvania). While we would usually head to the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line for a ‘traffic fix’, often we’d then take time to suss out less-traveled lines.
On this day we called into Clearfield (the base for RJ Corman operations on former Conrail branches known as the ‘Clearfield Cluster’) , where we had a chat with some railroaders. They told us that a crew was called to take set of engines up to the Conrail connection at Keating to collect an empty coal train.
So armed with this knowledge we made a day (or at least a morning) of following RJ Corman’s former New York Central Beech Creek line. This traverses some very remote territory and access to the tracks is limited.
I made this photo a few miles south of Keating of the returning train. It was one of the few times I caught an RJ Corman train on the move.