Yesterday, August 19, 2019, I received my author’s advance copy of the October Trains Magazine that features my column titled ‘Getting on board with rail transit.’
Is it ironic that today I’m scheduled to get new tires for my automobile?
To illustrate my column, I selected a digital photo that I exposed in May 2010 using my old Lumix LX3—my first digital camera.
To view the image that I chose, you will need to obtain a copy of the magazine. However, here I’ve included a few of the other railroad images exposed at the same essential location that same evening.
At the time a volcanic eruption in Iceland had filled northern skies with fine layers of ash. While this brought havoc to European air travel (I was waiting in Stockholm for a friend to arrive from Addis Abiba who had been delayed by more than 24 hours because of the ash cloud), the ash produced some stunning sunsets owing to the greater high altitude light refraction.
I was just learning to make use of digital photography. Luckily, my Lumix LX3 had a superb lens and lent itself to making great low light photographs.
In this most recent podcast, I discuss railroad photography with Trains Associate Editor Brian Schmidt and Digital Editor Steve Sweeney. What do the editors see as overplayed in the genre? How can you get your photos in Trains Magazine? Listen in today and learn!
Although only partially related to my photographic work, I thought that Tracking the Light readers might be interested to learn that I’m conducting a series of audio podcasts with Trains Magazine.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be interviewing and discussing railroads with a variety of knowledgeable and interesting people, including active and retired railroaders, tourist railroad operators, railroad activists, and a few well known railroad enthusiasts and railroad publishing professionals.
Among my first conversations was with John Gruber about his latest book: Beebe & Clegg—Their Enduring Legacy.
My hope is to allow my guests expertise and perspectives to entertain and inform my listeners and enable all of us a great appreciation and understand of railroad topics ranging from freight cars and locomotives, signals, stations and short lines to how to avoid snakes while making photos.
A new Podcast will be released every two weeks. My aim is to keep these to between 16 and 20 minutes.
My author’s advanced copy of the July 2018 Trains has been eagerly awaited.
In addition to my monthly column, I authored and illustrated two large feature articles.
The first is a detailed nuts and bolts discussion on Positive Train Control signaling, the second a travel guide to one of my favorite places: Germany’s Rhein.
I’m extremely pleased with how both stories turned out. Special thanks to my hosts at SEPTA for allowing me to better understand the intricacies of their modern signaling. And thanks to everyone at Trains Magazine for bringing these stories to print!
A couple of weeks ago I made these views of some colorful Trenitalia trains at Roma Termini.
Bright Mediterranean light is pleasant to work with. In this situation I’ve taken the classic approach with the sun over my left shoulder. It was nice to have some interesting, yet static subjects to work with.
I made several digital views with my Lumix LX7, but also exposed some 35mm color slides on Fujichrome Provia.
These are the digital images. We’ll need to wait to see how the slides turned out.
Check out pages 16-17 of the August 2017 Trains Magazine. I take a look at Italian Railways. Notice that the Italian State Railways ridership is nearly 20 times that of Amtrak! And they are aiming to grow their business and market share through massive investment.
Ride a line once, and it’s an adventure! Ride the line every day and it can become drudgery.
In June, I made an adventure of riding NJ Transit.
My trip was thoroughly pleasant and without incident, except for my brief conversation with an unnecessarily surly NJT conductress at Secaucus, “The SIGN is over THERE!” (Gosh! Forgive me for neither knowing the routine nor how to interpret NJT’s train color coding on platform B).
Ok ok, after all there’s a reputation to be maintained here, I understand.
But, perhaps NJ Transit could take a few tips from the Belgian national railways when it comes to employee uniforms, customer service, and timetable planning. (All top marks for the SNCB based on my experiences).
Tracking the Light posts new and original content daily!
The word was out that Norfolk Southern’s Pennsylvania Railroad painted heritage locomotive was to work a detoured stack train over CSX’s Trenton Subdivision to avoid a scheduled engineering project at Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Pat Yough and I planted ourselves at the West Trenton, New Jersey SEPTA station in anticipation. A number of other enthusiasts had similar plans, so there was plenty of company.
The former Reading station building at West Trenton is now privately owned (and serves a non-railroad function), while the platforms remain active for SEPTA’s regularly scheduled passenger trains to Philadelphia.
When we arrived, morning clouds were giving way to sun. A pair of westward CSX trains was holding just west of the electrified zone and the radio was alive with activity.
In a little more than an hour we caught three SEPTA trains and four freights. This kept me and my three cameras pretty busy. My goal was not just to photograph the trains, but to capture these trains in this classic railroad environment.
Mount Shasta looms more than 90 miles to north, as Southern Pacific’s most famous locomotives races railroad west through along Hooker Creek (near Cottonwood, California).
I exposed this image on September 2, 1991. Southern Pacific had organized the historic streamlined engine to make a public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture following a serious derailment at the Cantera Loop which spilled toxins into the river above Dunsmuir. The railroad had hired me for two days to make photographs of the PR event.
Brian Jennison provided transport, and the two of us spent a long weekend making numerous images of SP 4449 with the matching Daylight train. I borrowed Brian’s 300mm Nikkor telephoto for this dramatic image. SP ran one of my photos in their company magazine, Southern Pacific Bulletin.
While SP’s public runs ran from Redding to Dunsmuir and beyond to Black Butte, after the train returned to Dunsmuir, it would run light to the wye at Tehama for turning. It was on this portion of the journey(s) that I made some of the most dramatic photos because they occurred in the evening when the lighting was most pleasing.
I’d chosen this angle to feature Mt. Shasta. Unfortunately, owing to the time of year, the famous volcanic cone wasn’t covered with snow in its higher regions.
This photo has appeared in books, and I’ve used many of the images from the trip in publications. SP 4449 remains one of my favorite locomotives.
The other night in Palmer, Massachusetts an arctic breeze was blowing, but that didn’t stop me from making time exposures to capture the holiday spirit.
I exposed these photos despite numb hands and cold feet. I used my Lumix LX-3 (choice night camera in cold weather) fitted to a large Bogen tripod.
Years ago, I fitted plastic-foam pipe insulation to the tripod legs (as per recommendation by experienced cold-weather photographer Mike Gardner). This makes it easier to handle the tripod when it’s very cold.
My exposures varied from about 1.6 seconds at f2.8 (ISO 200) to 25 seconds at f4.0 (ISO80). I set the camera manually using the histogram from test exposures to gauge my settings.
Christmas lights on dark nights make for exceptionally difficult contrast. If you overexpose to allow good shadow detail the lights get blown out (losing their color[s] as a result). Underexpose to feature the lights and the sky and shadows turn to an inky black.
Somewhere in between is a compromised setting. Rather than ponder the subtleties of the histogram as the blood in my toes congealed, I opted to take a series of images, one after the other, and select the best of the bunch in a warm environment later on.
Villach is in southern Austria near the Slovenia-border. Here the Tauern and Semmering routes converge; there’s several yards, a handsome old passenger station, some stunning scenery. To the south, lines again divide, with one route heading southwest toward Italy, and another south into Slovenia.
There’s no shortage of trains.
This is a good thing, because while standing out on a freezing January 2006 morning, I was beginning to question the wisdom of making railway photographs.
After several hours in the cold, I noticed the Austrian equivalent of a convenience store near tracks and this seemed inviting. Inside it was immaculately clean, warm, nicely decorated, and (most importantly) it was serving piping hot cups of chocolate and freshly baked pastries. Hooray!
There was plenty of time to witness and photograph the Austrian Federal Railways after a thaw.
I’ve always liked to make macro views of railways. Examining the texture, colors, and shape of the equipment, track and structures allows for better appreciation of the subject.
One of the best times to make close ups and detail photographs is under dramatic lighting; low sun or stormy light, where richer qualities make for more pleasing tones. Even the most mundane and ordinary subjects seem more interesting with great light.
Yet, detailed views can also make use of dull days when by focusing on texture and using extreme focus can compensate for flat lighting.
Irish Rail made for an especially good subject for detailed images, in part because there was so much antique equipment to photograph. Well-worn infrastructure is inherently fascinating. Here out in the open metal has been doing a job for decades and often it shows the scars from years of hard work, like an old weaver’s time weathered hands.
I’ve made hundreds of Irish Rail close-ups over the years. Here a just a few. Look around railways near you and see what you find! Sometimes the most interesting photographs can be made while waiting for trains.
Thinking up new ideas everyday takes a lot of effort, so today, I’ll rely on clichés and old ideas with a new twist to fill the gap.
Back in the day, in the 1980s, I’d wander up to the Boston & Maine at East Deerfield where I’d photograph trains on well-worn rights-of-way led by first and second generation EMDs. I was thrilled to find freight trains on the move!
The poor ‘ol B&M had seen better days. New England had been in industrial decline since World War I. It was my understanding that the old phrase ‘it’s gone south,’—meaning ‘it’s gone to the dogs’—originated when New England’s textile industries began closing and heading to the Carolinas and Georgia. (Never mind Southeast Asia, China and what not).
Guilford Transportation came about and melded Maine Central with B&M and briefly with D&H. For a few years the railroad was really busy. Traffic was on the upswing, new intermodal trains were introduced, and run-through locomotives from D&H, Maine Central, as well as Norfolk & Western/Norfolk Southern became common.
Then a souring passed over the scene. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, as they say (paraphrasing an English poet), and the well-trodden paths to the Hoosac Tunnel and along the Connecticut quieted for a time.
Things changed again with the dissolution of Conrail. Now Guilford is Pan American Railways and Pan Am Southern. Metallic blue paint has begun to replace charcoal and orange. And traffic is on the rise.
Yet to me, while there’s been some changes, the old B&M is a throwback to another time.
Yes, there’s a few new signals, some new welded rail here and there, and some nice fresh ties. Many of the old searchlight signals and signal bridges are gone and here and there the tracks have been trimmed back. But the B&M has the appearance of retro railroad. It’s like classic rock with spin.
Last week, on November 21, 2013, my old friend Paul Goewey and I went up to East Deerfield. It was like old times. First and second generation EMD diesels were moving freight in every direction while decaying vestiges of New England industry could still be found at every turn.
Just sayin’ it seems to me that at the end of the day, it is what it is, and MORE!
Last week, John Gruber and I called into TRAINS Magazine for a social visit.
John has been a regular visitor at TRAINS since David P. Morgan was editor. I’ve been calling by since 1994.
We pre-arranged for the visit during a conversation at Beecherfest. TRAINS’ Matt Van Hattem met us inside Kalmbach’s glassy office building and we spent an hour chatting with the magazine’s editors.
Editor in chief, Jim Wrinn was away on assignment in California where he was on a live-feed covering the pending movement of Union Pacific Big Boy 4014.
For me, railway photography has always been more than just images of tracks and trains, and I brought my Lumix into this inner publishing sanctum to make a few photos of the people that produce America’s most popular railway magazines.
Trains Converge on Palmer; 2 Hours of Non-stop Action.
In the 1980s, Trains Magazine occasionally ran articles that featured ‘hot spots’ illustrated by sequences of photos showing different trains passing the same place over the course of hours.
These always caught my attention. While the individual images ranged from pedestrian to interpretive, the collective effect produced an understanding of how a busy spot worked.
Trains tend to arrive in clusters. Hours may pass where nothing goes by except a track car, then trains arrive from every direction. The astute photographer has learned when to make the most of these situations.
Palmer, Massachusetts can be a busy place, if you’re there at the right time. CSX’s east-west former Boston & Albany mainline crosses New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line at grade. An interchange track connects the two routes and serves as connection to the former B&A Ware River Branch operated by Massachusetts Central.
Afternoon tends to be busy. Among the moves through Palmer are Amtrak’s Vermonters that use CSX’s line between Springfield and Palmer, and NECR’s line north of Palmer toward Vermont. There isn’t a direct connection to allow an eastward train on the CSX route to directly access the NECR’s line.
To compensate for this, Amtrak’s trains must use CSX’s controlled siding to access the interchange track, and this to reach the NECR. This requires trains to reverse direction. As a result, Amtrak trains either have locomotives on each end or run with a push-pull cab control car.
On the afternoon of October 17, 2013, the interchange track proved one of the busiest lines in Palmer and was used by a succession of NECR, Mass-Central, and Amtrak trains.
Complicating matters was Amtrak 57 (southward Vermonter) which was running more than an hour behind its scheduled time, and so met its northward counterpart at Palmer. New England Central was also busy with no less than three trains working around Palmer about the same time.
I’ve put the following photos in sequence with the approximate times of exposure. I stress ‘approximate’, since my digital camera’s clocks not only didn’t agree on the minutes passed the hour, but were set for different time zones as a function of recent travel.
It was a nice bright day too. Patrons at Palmer’s ever popular Steaming Tender restaurant (located in the restored former Palmer Union Station) were entertained with a succession of trains passing on both sides of the building.
Not bad for one afternoon! Yet, not a CSX train in sight. These days much of CSX’s business passes Palmer in darkness.
In the late 1980s only a few active semaphores remained in New England. One of the best places to see them was at the crossing of former New Haven Railroad lines in Walpole, Massachusetts.
I made this photo of a new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority F40PH-2 leading an outward train on the Franklin Line on the afternoon of March 2, 1988. The attraction for me was the contrast between the new locomotive and the ancient signal.
A variation of this image appeared in TRAINS Magazine some years ago. I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 using my Leica M2 with a f2.0 35mm Summicron.The combination of clear New England light, Leica optics, and K25 film enhanced the scene.
For many years Kingscote was effectively Bluebell’s northern terminus. That changed this year when the extension to East Grinstead was finally opened along with the direct connection to Network Rail.
Now, as a quiet mid-point on the Bluebell line, it embodies all the qualities of a small town passenger station from a time long ago. Adding to the rural solitude is a ban on visitor automobiles in the car park. (Railway riders are encourage to use other stations on the line).
The facilities are faithfully decorated to convey the spirit of long ago. I appreciated a lack of modern intrusions. Not so much as an electronic beep could be heard during my brief visit. (I turned off the various sounds uttered by my digital cameras!). I should have brought my Rollei Model T for effect.
During my hour visit at Kingscote, I was rewarded with the arrive of a wedding special hauled by a diminutive locomotive named ‘Bluebell’ and decorated appropriately.
Orange Engine at Stafford Springs, Ct., and Irish Rail’s IWT Liner in Dublin.
Last week I made these photos, nearly exactly 24 hours apart (one in the morning, the other in the afternoon).
The first image shows New England Central’s freshly painted GP402-L 3015 leading a southward freight at Stafford Springs, Connecticut. I was delighted to finally get this elusive orange engine operating on a road-freight in daylight.
The next image was made in Dublin, after a trans Atlantic crossing courtesy of Aer Lingus. This shows locomotive 073 struggling along with the second IWT Liner at Islandbridge Junction near Heuston Station in Dublin, Ireland.
Later, I heard through the grapevine that 073 failed a few miles down the line and require assistance.
Both images were made with my Canon EOS 7D. Also both feature 1970s-era General Motors diesels singly hauling freight under bright sunny skies.
Although Palmer is a relatively small town, it has long been the focus of railway activity. Today, it hosts yards for both New England Central and CSX, as well as nominal terminal facilities for Mass-Central.
CSX has a four-mile dispatchers controlled siding the runs from CP79 to CP83 (the numbers are based loosely interpret mileage from South Station, Boston). Just past the west switch at CP83 is the level crossing with New England Central—colloquially known as the Palmer Diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant occupies the old Union Station between the two lines.
After 10pm, trains converged on CP83. A CSX westbound on the main track met an eastward freight running via the controlled siding, as New England Central’s northward job 606 was looking to cross CSX to double its train together before heading toward Vermont.
The awkward nature of the former Central Vermont yard at Palmer complicates operations over the CSX diamond. Not only is the yard too short to hold long trains, but the yard was built on a grade which crests at the CSX (former Boston & Albany crossing).
Challenges for railroaders produce opportunities for photography, especially in the evening hours. As the railroads weaved their trains through Palmer, I made a series of photos.
However, time was catching me up: I’d had a long day and by 11pm, I needed a bit of that elusive commodity—sleep. As Bob Buck would have said, I was the ‘hero’, and departed as more trains were focused on Palmer. The approach lit signals at CP83 were still lit when I hit the road. The regular gang can report on what I missed!
I made this image during my senior year of high school. I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but on that day I’d followed Central Vermont Railway’s southward freight from Palmer to Stafford. I made photos of it south of downtown Monson off Route 32, and at the Massachusetts-Connecticut State Line.
This view in downtown Stafford Springs has always intrigued me. The railroad runs tight to a row of buildings along the main street in town. Today, the brick building featured in the photograph hosts a trendy coffee shop where I sometimes meet my friend Roger Ingraham to wait for trains to pass and discuss photography.
In 2013, New England Central operates the railroad, but the scene hasn’t changed all that much. I still make photos here from time to time.
I exposed this image with my old Leica 3A and 50mm Summitar lens, and used a Weston Master 3 light meter to assist in exposure calculation. I processed the film myself in Microdol-X. Typically, I used a weak formula to save money. By doing so, I inadvertently avoided over developing my negatives (which was a flawed inclination of mine at the time).
I made a few minor contrast modifications in post processing and cleaned up a few small spots and scratches on this nearly 30 year-old 35mm negative.
Fifteen years ago today, I exposed this image of Irish Rail’s empty Ammonia train at on the South Eastern route Bray Head (former Dublin & South Eastern Railway, nee Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway).
At that time, there were three daily ammonia trains between Marino Point, County Cork and Shelton Abbey near Arklow, County Wicklow. The trains operated to tight schedules and were among the most predictable freight trains on the Irish Rail network.
For me the Ammonia was a bonus. I was actually out for a Railway Preservation Society Ireland (RPSI) steam special running with engine 461. To make the most of the morning, I taken the first southward Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) run from Pearse Station (Dublin) to Bray, then walked roughly two miles to this location in anticipation of catching the regular passenger trains and the empty Ammonia.
The line itself was in transition. If you look carefully, you’ll see the electrification masts along the line, as Irish Rail was preparing for extension of DART services to Greystones (the next station south of Bray).
The run around Bray Head is one of the most scenic on Irish Rail. Here the line clings to cliff and passes through several tunnels all the while in view of the vast expanse of the Irish Sea.
It was my first July 4th outside of North America. Irish Rail’s ammonia traffic ceased in 2002, when the fertilizer factory at Shelton Abbey closed. Today there’s no regular freight traffic on the South Eastern route.
Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.
I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.
This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .
The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit. Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.
Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.
As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.
It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.
CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.
Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)
Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)
I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.
All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
Often I look to put trains in their environment by trying to find angles that show context. Not every railway scene is scenic. And, in the North East, more often than not, the environment around the railway is pretty rough looking. But that is the scene, isn’t it?
On Wednesday May 29, 2013, Rich Reed and I were making photos of trains on former Boston & Maine lines around Ayer, Massachusetts. Rich has lived in the area for many years and is well versed on the history of the area.
Among the trains we saw was this Pan Am Southern local switching a set of autoracks. In the 1970s, a GP9 would have often worked Boston & Maine’s Ayer local. Today, Pan Am Southern runs the railroad, and the local is a pair of Norfolk Southern GE six-motor DASH-9s working long hood first.
I made several images east of the Ayer station. One of my favorites is the view looking down the street that features a parked postal truck and cars with the train serving as background instead of the main subject. It’s an ordinary everyday scene, yet it’s part of the history, and someday it will be different. Everything changes.