Tag Archives: South Station

Puzzle Revealed: MBTA at South Station.

The other day I posted:

An Unusual Scene: MBTA at South Station, Boston December 2017.


With a photo similar to the one below.

What makes this ‘unusual’?

On MBTA, the normal operating practice is have push-pull train-sets with the locomotive on outward end of the train. Thus the locomotives should face away from Boston. This has been the standard practice since the 1990s.

In my photo a locomotive is facing South Station, and that is unusual. While not necessarily unheard of, nor ‘rare’, this is not the usual practice.

I’m not an every day visitor to South Station, but this is the first time I recall seeing an MBTA road-locomotive facing the station since the early 1980s.

What isn’t evident from my photo is that there are actually locomotives on BOTH ends of the train. Which is also unusual. The bottom photo shows the same train set at Worcester, and focuses on the outward facing locomotive.

Quite a few Tracking the Light readers guessed my puzzle correctly. One reader asked why the locomotive is facing the station. I’ll be honest, I don’t know why. However, I can guess. Maybe you can too.

Worcester, Massachusetts.

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An Unusual Scene: MBTA at South Station, Boston December 2017.

I made this night photo at South Station with my Lumix LX7.

Recently I was looking through a MENSA puzzle book that contains nearly impossible puzzles. It inspired me to post this image.

This is an unusual scene for Boston. Keen observers of MBTA operations should be able to spot what makes this an uncommon view. What’s at my back is an important clue.

Do you know what makes this an uncommon photo?

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Nocturnal View—South Station on Atlantic Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts.

The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.

Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.

I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).

In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.

Boston’s South Station facing Atlantic Avenue.
Here’s a screen shot of my reduced Jpg with the EXIF data. This shows how the camera was set. Notice ISO, f-stop, shutter speed, and white balance fields.

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South Station, Boston, Massachusetts—in B&W and Color.

I rarely travel with just one camera.

These days, I typically have at least one digital camera and a film camera loaded with either black & white or color slide film, plus a back-up instant photo capture/transmitter that subs as a portable telegraph, mobile map, music box, and portable phone.

On my May 6, 2017 visit to South Station with the New York Central System Historical Society, I made a variety of color photos using my Lumix LX7, and traditional black & white photos with an old Leica IIIa loaded with Ilford HP5.

So! Do you have any favorite photos from this selection? Which camera do you feel better captures Boston’s South Station?

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.
Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.
Lumix LX7 photo.
Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.
Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.
Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.
Leica IIIa photo on Ilford HP5.

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MBTA at Dusk, South Station, Boston 1978.

On an evening in 1978 my father and I visited South Station, Boston.

It was very different then; much quieter, low level platforms, no electrification, mechanical semaphores controlled movements on the approach to platforms.

I’d fitted my dad’s 21mm Super Angulon to my Leica 3A. I exposed several Kodachrome slides by resting the camera on something solid and making a 1 second exposure (or so).

I didn’t understand the concept of reciprocity failure, and so even though I’d taken the light reading of the hand-held Weston Master V literally, most of the slides were underexposed (too dark).

This one was the best of the lot, and in my early years was among my favorite railway photos.

In the interval since I made this image, I’ve perfected my night photography technique.

MBTA F40PH 1004 was nearly new at the time of this 1978 photograph. I’ve lightened the shadows a little bit for improved presentation here. This slide projects well despite its age, and my formative understanding of the peculiarities of exposing Kodachrome in low light.

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Tracking the Light Veterans Day Special Post—Three Photos!

South Station, Boston.
South Station, Boston.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has specially painted cab-control car 1528 in honor of Massachusetts Fallen heroes.

I made these photographs of this car the other day at Boston South Station using my Lumix LX7.

South Station, Boston.
South Station, Boston.
South Station, Boston.
South Station, Boston.

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35 Years for the AEM-7

In January 1980, I made my first photographs of Amtrak AEM-7s. They were then brand new. I didn’t much care for them then because the represented the end for my favorite GG1s. Nothing lasts forever, and now Amtrak AEM-7s are rolling off their final miles.

I made this photo of Amtrak 945 at South Station last year on the day before the first official run of Amtrak ACS-64 number 600. The new ACS-64 are locomotives that will ultimately supplant the AEM-7s on the North East Corridor.

Amtrak AEM-7 945 at South Station, Boston. Exposed on Fuji Acros 100 black & white film using a Leica M3 with 21mm Super Angulon. Processed in Kodak HC100.
Amtrak AEM-7 945 at South Station, Boston. Exposed on Fuji Acros 100 black & white film using a Leica M3 with 21mm Super Angulon. Processed in Kodak HC110.

And what of my first AEM-7 photos? I processed my film using oxidized Microdol-X and the negatives were exceptionally thin. (under processed). Perhaps, if I can locate them, I can fix them in post-processing, but that’s a project for another day.

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Departing South Station, Boston.

November 1991.

It was a windy rainy afternoon when Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited departed South Station. I was riding on the rear platform of private car Caritas with Clark Johnson Jr. and my father.

My dad and I were only traveling to Springfield, Clark was going further.

I exposed this on Kodachrome 25 using my Nikon F3T with 35mmPC (perspective control—shift lens). By adjusting the front element, I maintained the verticals on the skyscrapers in the distance. I like the effect of motion; a train traveling through time.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25 using my Nikon F3T with 35mmPC (perspective control—shift lens). By adjusting the front element, I maintained the verticals on the skyscrapers in the distance. I like the effect of motion; a train traveling through time.

Today, South Station is much different. Not only was a bus station built over the tracks, but the lines have been electrified for North East Corridor services.

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South Station, Boston, January 1982.


Monochrome exposed with a Leica 3A.

Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar lens.

Here’s an image from my early archives. I was wandering around Boston on a snowy day in January 1982. Among the other photos I made were views along the Green Line on Huntington Avenue. This one caught my eye the other day when I was reviewing my early work. It require a nominal crop. Many of my early photos tend to be off-level. This problem is easily fixed today.

South Station was the main passenger terminal for Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroads, and in the early years of the twentieth century was the busiest passenger station in the world (as measured in the number of daily train movements).


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Ayer Massachusetts, June 5, 2013


MBTA Surprise.

Boston’s two primary passenger terminals have no scheduled service between them. Historically, South Station served Boston & Albany and New Haven Railroad lines, while North Station served Boston & Maine’s. Both represented consolidations of older terminals. Today, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority provides suburban service, while Amtrak operates long distance trains from both stations.

To move equipment between North and South Stations (and their respective repair and maintenance facilities), MBTA normally uses the former B&A Grand Junction Branch which crosses the Charles River and passes through Cambridge, thus forming the only Boston-area link between North- and South-side networks.

Some months ago a problem was discovered with the Charles River Bridge. So now MBTA and Amtrak equipment transfers must travel a roundabout route via Worcester (from South Station over the old B&A mainline) then north via Clinton to Ayer, and eastward via the former B&M Fitchburg line toward North Station.

Equipment transfers operate as needed, and I’ve been fortunate to catch several of them over the last few months. On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, I got lucky and stumbled into position just in time to catch one without even trying!

Rich Reed and I had traveled to Ayer to photograph Pan Am Southern’s westward intermodal train 23K. After making successful images of the train, we drove back through Ayer and over the bridge just east of the Station, where I spotted a high-green (clear) signal at AY interlocking for an eastward movement.

I guessed  that since this is a controlled signal, it would only be lined if something was due and we set up on the bridge in anticipation. This was the exact location where we’d photographed Norfolk Southern GEs switching a week earlier. See last week’s post: Ayer, Massachusetts, Wednesday May 29, 2013.

MBTA Ayer Mass.

MBTA train 420 pauses for passengers at Ayer on June 5, 2013. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

As it turned out, the clear signal was for an eastward MBTA commuter train, which arrived shortly and paused for its Ayer station stop. As passengers were boarding we were surprised to spot a second MBTA train coming off the wye from Worcester! This was an equipment transfer, led by MBTA GenSet locomotive 3249 hauling avariety of locomotives and cars.

MBTA equipment train at Ayer.
An MBTA equipment move is coming off the Ayer wye on tit journey from South Station to North Station via Worcester, Clinton and Ayer. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.
MBTA trains at Ayer, Massachusetts. Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

By shear dumb luck we just happened to be in precisely the right place at the right time.

Had we known this train was coming we’d probably picked a different location to intercept it. Sometimes not knowing what’s going on can earn you a better photo than knowing too much.

Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 200mm set at f8.0 at 1/500 second at ISO 200.

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South Station, Summer 1978.



How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Other kids would get assignments along the lines of: “Write a 500 word essay on how you spent your summer vacation.” I always wished for something like that. In 7th grade this would have read:

“We live on a boring road where nothing ever happens, so to keep me from driving my mother crazy, my father took me to Boston at least one day a week. My dad works near Harvard Square in a bright office with lots of computers. (That’s actually in Cambridge, not really Boston.)

“The first week he show me how to use the computer terminal and I played a game called ‘R Adventure’. The second week he showed me how to write a short program (that’s a bunch of lines and letters that tells the computer what to do). I wrote a program with a sneaky line called an ‘infinite loop’. This tells the computer to repeat the same line again and again. That was neat. I wrote ‘Brian Likes Trains.’ And this scrolled slowly over the CRT (that’s the computer screen that looks something like a TV but with green letters.)

“I figured I’d improve my program, so I added an exponent. When I ran the program the next time, the screen filled with ‘Brian Likes Trains’ faster and faster, soon the whole screen was rolling. Then it suddenly stopped. Actually the whole computer stopped. All the computers in the room stopped!

“A graduate student came in and spoke to my dad. Then my dad gave me a dollar and told me to go ride the subway or something. So I rode around and came back when it was time to drive back to Monson. Writing that program was like magic. Every time after that, my dad would give me a dollar and I’d ride around with my camera taking pictures.

“By August, I’d been on all the subway lines. So I went to the railroad station. South Station is a great place, it’s where they keep all the Budd Cars. Those are great because the engineers who run them let you ride up front and don’t charge you to ride.

This is South Station, that's where you can see the Budd Cars.
This is South Station, that’s where you can see the Budd Cars.

“The Budd cars go all over the place, but if you’re not careful you might not get back by the time to go home, so it’s really important to get a schedule.

“My dad sometimes gave me his ‘SUPER WIDE ANGLE lens’. This is much better than my ‘Normal’ lens because its comes with a viewfinder which is an extra part you put on top of the camera that helps you to see pictures. With my normal lens, you have to look through a little hole, and that makes it harder to find good pictures.

“He also gave me a light meter to measure the light and set the camera. I made lots of pictures. This is one of my favorite because it shows the Budd Cars and the old signals at South Station. I had to walk all the way from the subway stop to the parking lot to make this picture and it was really hot outside.

“Now summer’s over, and I can’t ride around on the subway or Budd Cars until next year. I hate school.”

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South Station Reflections November 23, 1988.


Stainless Steel Budd-Rail Diesel Car Catches the Light.

Rail Diesel Car.
Unmodified scan of a Kodachrome slide. MBTA RDC at South Station Boston, Massachusetts, November 23, 1988.


On November 23, 1988, I exposed this Kodachrome slide of a former Boston & Maine (B&M) Budd RDC on the platforms at South Station. At one time this had been a self-propelled unit, but by this time, Boston-based Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was hauling trains of old RDC’s with locomotives.

The classic welded stainless steel fluting was a trademark of Budd railcars. Polished stainless steel made for some beautiful trains, although this one was clearly showing its age. The Boston & Maine lettering was a remnant of B&M’s ownership of the car, which MBTA had acquired in the mid-1970s.

Look carefully and you’ll see another Budd-built product reflecting the in the window: one of Amtrak’s Amfleet cars built in the 1970s.

Kodachrome 25 slide film was an ideal material for capturing high-contrast scenes like this one. Look at the great detail in the highlights areas. I used my Leica M2 with f2.0 50mm Summicron. Today, I’d probably try to capture this with my Lumix LX3.

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