Three elements of this image interested me when I exposed it on April 7, 1989.
The Union & Switch & Signal Style S upper quadrant former Erie Railroad semaphore; New York, Susquehanna & Western’s former Burlington Northern SD45; and the unusual grade separated mainline, where the eastward track is on a higher level than the westward line.
I could write in detail about anyone of these three things. And someday I will. But not now.
Instead, I’ll examine the composition in a effort to offer a lesson on observing change.
The reason I made this photo in the way I did was specifically to juxtapose the signal with the locomotive. The grade separation not only offered added interest, but facilitated the over all composition because it allowed the locomotive to be relatively higher in the frame while enabling me to include the entire signal (complete with base of mast mechanism and subsidiary boxes/equipment) without producing an unbalanced image.
Today, none of the main elements in the photo are in place. If you were to visit Canaseraga, New York (located about 10 miles railroad-west of Hornell on the former Erie Buffalo mainline) you would find that the semaphore is gone; as is the old eastward main track. If by chance there’s an SD45 in the photo (unlikely, but not inconceivable) it would be on the close track.
In other words, the essential components of the image have changed to such a degree that there is little reason to consider making a photo at this location. And that’s the point!
When photographers (myself included) make railway images, they consciously and unconsciously include (and exclude) line side infrastructure which helps define and structure the photographs.
Changes to railway infrastructure alter the way we see the railroad, and thus the very way we compose and plan photographs. By anticipating change, we can make more interesting images and preserve the way things look for future viewers.
When trackside make careful consideration for those elements you may include or deliberately exclude. Might you be missing a potentially great image by trying to avoid some wires or litter along the line? Is an old fence potentially a graphic element that not only will help located the photo in the future but also key to a dramatic composition?
It is these types of thoughts than can make the difference when trying to compose great (or at least, relevant) railway photos.
While on the topic of the former Erie Railroad, I thought I would post this unpublished view of brand new New York, Susquehanna & Western Dash8-40Bs working a Delaware & Hudson freight on Conrail’s former Erie route between Hornell and Buffalo, New York.
The new units were ordered by NYS&W during its brief court-ordered operation of D&H between 1988 and 1990.
I started following this train earlier in the day. It was a typical western New York morning, with fits of sun bursting through a deck of thick gray clouds.
That’s the reason for this unusual composition: for a moment the sun emerged to flush the front of the bright yellow GE’s. I made a spot decision to photograph the train more distant than I’d originally intended.
At that time, Conrail was only maintaining the old number 2 track (eastward mainline) for 10 mph. Most traffic was routed on the number 1 main (traditionally the westward track) that was in much better condition. However, by Spring of 1989, Conrail’s Erie route was bursting with traffic. To avoid congestion, Conrail’s dispatcher opted to keep this D&H train bumping along at 10mph, while westward traffic stayed on the faster track.
East of Canaseraga, the Erie line was in characteristic grade separated arrangement that probably dated from Underwood-era improvements in the early 20th century. If I write my book on the Erie, I’ll be finally able to confirm this fact.
In the early 1990s, Conrail reconfigured this portion of the Erie. It replaced the traditional directional double-track with a single-track main and centralized traffic control-style system. The change resulted in abandonment of the number 1 main at this location, and spelled the end for the steam-era Union Switch & Signal Style-S upper quadrant semaphores.
Just for the record, I made several closer views of this train.