On our rambles on Friday July 5, 2019, we paused at the trackside grave yard in West Northfield, Massachusetts (railroad south of the junction at East Northfield), to roll by Amtrak 54, the northward Vermonter.
I was giving my cousin Stella a tour of New England curiosities, sights, and infrastructure.
We’d hoped to catch New England Central’s northward 611, a train that we spotted a few minutes earlier, but we ran out of time before it crossed the Connecticut Bridge (located less than a mile from this spot on NECR’s line that runs between Palmer and East Northfield.)
I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.
In late April, Mike Gardner and I made visit to the old graveyard at West Northfield, Massachusetts (south of the junction at East Northfield on the old Boston & Maine), to photograph Amtrak 56 (the Vermonter) on its way to St Albans, Vermont.
Light cloud softened the afternoon sun, which was slightly back-lit at this location for a northward train. To make the most of the old stones and put the entire train in the picture, I opted for my 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
I made minor adjustments to the RAW file in Lightroom to present better contrast in the JPG image presented here.
The train is now approaching its station stop at Meriden, Connecticut.
It was announced that from Hartford the train was completely sold out. Thus demonstrating that old adage no one rides trains anymore because they’re too crowded!
I exposed these photos with my FujFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit lens.
As we roll along, the files were downloaded to my MacBook using Image Capture software, scaled for internet using Lightroom, and uploaded via Amtrak’s WiFi to WordPress for presentation on Tracking the Light.
Tracking the Light Posts Daily, and sometimes more than once!
On the afternoon of November 14, 2018, I exposed this view from the east bank of the Connecticut River looking across toward Windsor Locks as Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossed the circa 1906 New Haven Railroad-built bridge.
To help balance the contrast and better retain detail in the sky, I used an external graduated neutral density filter made by Lee Filter.
This is a 0.9ND or three stops grad filter.
In addition, I adjusted the camera RAW file to maximize highlight and shadow detail, control contrast and improve saturation.
This is a grab shot; I didn’t have time to do what I intended (and the sun went in).
We arrived at the small cemetery at West Northfield, Massachusetts minutes before Amtrak 56 (northward Vermonter).
The brush along the railroad has recently been cut. Unfortunately, a brush cutting/removal machine was awkwardly (as in non-photographically) positioned by the tracks, foiling my intend angle for a photo. I was going to try ‘plan b’.
I’d heard the crew call ‘Approach’ for East Northfield, I was hoping for time to swap to a wide angle lens, when I saw the headlight.
No time: so instead, I hastily composed this vertical view using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens.
I like the American flags, placed for Memorial Day. I wonder about my placement of the front of the locomotive relative to the gap in the brush. Should I have let the locomotive continue a few more feet to the left?
I’ve been making photos at the Junction at East Northfield since the 1980s.
The other day, on the third visit in two weeks to this iconic New England location (where New England Central’s line connects with Pan Am Railway’s Conn River route), I had a reckoning.
It occurred to me that railroad timetable ‘East Northfield’ is actually north and west of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts.
How is this possible?
Some Highway maps show railroad ‘East Northfield’ in West Northfield.
This timetable location has been called ‘East Northfield’ since the steam era, and the present NECR sign reflects this historic geographic incongruity.
No doubt at some point in the future, the geography will be retro-actively re-written to accommodate this oversight on the part of historic railroad timetable writers. What will they make of my captions!
The other evening I arrived at Trenton, New Jersey on board Amtrak train 55 the Vermonter.
The blue glow of dusk prevailed. That moment between daylight and evening when the hue of the light adds a extra atmosphere to photographs.
That is of course, unless your camera has its ‘auto white balance’ set, which will neutralize the color and make for blander, duller images.
To avoid this problem, I set my white balance to ‘daylight’, which forces the camera to interpret the bluer light more or less as I see it.
These images were exposed using my Panasonic Lumix LX7 in ‘Vivid’ mode at ISO 200.
Other than scaling the in-camera Jpgs for internet presentation, I’ve not made changes to the appearance of these photos in Post Processing; color balance, color temperature, contrast, exposure and sharpness were not altered during post processing.
Amtrak’s Vermonter passing an old Tobacco Barn in the Connecticut River flood plain north of Northampton, Massachusetts.
Sunday, June 25, 2017, Amtrak’s mobile App indicated that train No. 54, the Sunday Vermonter had departed Northampton about 7 minutes past the advertised.
Tim suggested we try the location pictured here (right off Massachusetts Route 5). It’s the same spot that about a month earlier we caught Pan Am Railway’s office car special returning from Springfield.
This setting reminds me of locations in Illinois and Iowa, looking across farm fields with old barns as props. In the mid-1990s, I made many photos along those lines.
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.
May 24, 2015, fellow photographer Tim Doherty and I aimed to intercept Amtrak 57, the southward Vermonter at Bellows Falls. Vermont. (Is there another?).
It’d been a few years since I last visited this classic railroad junction. My first visits were back in the late 1960s early 1970s, when my family would come up to experience the old Steamtown.
I was impressed to find the old three-head searchlight signal still in operation by the station. These relics are disappearing fast. I feature the searchlight among other vintage signal hardware in my new book Classic Railroad Signals now available from Voyageur Press.
The re-opening of Boston & Maine’s Connecticut River line as the ‘Knowledge Corridor’ passenger route in December has made for a variety of new places to photograph Amtrak’s Vermonter that hadn’t had regular passenger trains in more than 25 years.
In conjunction with the rebuilding of the line was brush removal, especially around grade crossings, which have further expanded photographic potential of the Connecticut River route. In addition to Amtrak, Pan Am Southern’s freights also use the line.
Up to just a few months ago, the view of the line at North Hillside Road in South Deerfield was hemmed in by brush and trees, but now it’s cleared and open.
Pat Yough, Paul Goewey and I were out for the Vermonter on January 23, 2015, and I exposed this image of it racing southward toward its station stop at Northampton.
Here’s a diverse selection of images: December 29, 2014 saw the first public operation of Amtrak’s Vermonter on the traditional Connecticut River Line via Northampton and Greenfield, Massachusetts.
The trains were totally sold out in both directions. I made a host of digital photos and color slides of the event.
From Monday forward, the Vermonter will serve this more direct route, thus ending 25 years of passenger service on the Central Vermont/New England Central line via Amherst, Massachusetts. Back in July 1989, I made photos of the first Montrealer arriving in Amherst. Both days were historic, and preserved for posterity.
I was not alone; lots of cameras whirred away trackside!
Today (December 29, 2014) was Amtrak’s first day of public operation on the new ‘Knowledge Corridor’ (B&M Conn River Line to traditionalists). The train was sold out in both directions and hundreds of people came out to watch history in the making.
I had the opportunity to make a round trip on the line from Greenfield to Springfield. I met lots of old friends and met many new faces! Although I’m sad to see the train off the old Central Vermont route, I’m equally happy to be able to ride over the B&M Conn River once again!
This is just a preview of a photographically intense afternoon. (More to follow, soon!)
On December 17, 2014, I rode the Vermonter to Amherst. This gave me the opportunity to scope the line for photo locations. Although I’ve traveled this route on various occasions, I wanted one last look at it from an Amtrak train before service is moved to the ‘Knowledge Corridor’ at the end of this month.
North of Barretts is Canal Junction, a little known location where the Boston & Maine’s Central Massachusetts line once joined the Central Vermont route. Originally, B&M had its own line that ran parallel to CVs and this old right of way is now a cycle path.
North of the Old Springfield Road grade crossing, I noticed a swampy clearing that looked like a good place for a photo. So, on December 19th, my dad and I investigated this location.
Earlier in the day we had photographed a Knowledge Corridor test run (covered in an earlier post), and I thought this would make an ideal opportunity to capture Amtrak moves on both lines on the same day.
We arrived at Old Springfield Road, and walked a short distance on the old B&M right of way. I’d gone back to the car to retrieve a lens and make a phone call, when I heard what sounded like a heavy freight coming.
Sure enough it was! New England Central’s southward manifest freight from Brattleboro to Palmer had stalled climbing Belchertown Hill, and had just got moving again. Amtrak was only a few miles behind.
We caught the freight, and about 10-15 minutes later got Amtrak train 55 (southward Vermonter), then proceeded to Three Rivers where we caught the Vermonter a second time.
Soon, Amtrak’s Vermonter will be detoured back to the traditional passenger route north of Springfield, Massachusetts, leaving the New England Central’s former Central Vermont line between Palmer and East Northfield, Massachusetts freight only for the first time in 25 years.
On the afternoon of October 27, 2014, fellow photographer Bob Arnold suggested that we make a photo of the southward Vermonter (train 55) at Three Rivers, where line crosses the Chicopee River on a plate girder bridge.
It was a nice clear sunny day and the foliage was splendid. Somehow the Vermonter managed to lose about 20 minutes in its short run down from Amherst, a station that will cease to serve as a regular stop with the route change.
If you are interested in riding or photographing Amtrak’s Vermonter on this route, don’t delay, time is running out.
June 21st was the longest day of the year. Amtrak’s Vermonter (Train 54) departed Amherst, Massachusetts at 4:32 pm, twelve minutes after the advertised.
Sometimes late trains are a benefit. I was aiming toward Millers Falls, hoping to make a photo on the famous high bridge over the Millers River. I arrived nine minutes before the train crossed this span. If the train had been on schedule, I’d have missed it.
Since 1986, I’ve photographed this bridge on many occasions. It was nearly 25 years ago that my dad and I made images of Amtrak’s re-inaugural Montrealer.
Since then, Amtrak service has worked the old Central Vermont north of Palmer to East Northfield (however, where the Montrealer joined the CV route at New London, since 1995, Montrealer’s successor, the daytime Vermonter, works the New Haven-Springfield line, then over the Boston & Albany route to Palmer).
Not for much longer though. The parallel former Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line between Springfield and East Northfield is being upgraded and will soon be again hosting Amtrak. So, as mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been making opportunities to photograph the Vermonter on the Palmer-East Northfield New England Central line-segment while I still can.
Since 1995, Amtrak’s Vermonter has operated via Palmer and Amherst, Massachusetts. This requires a 13-mile jog over CSX’s former Boston & Albany from Springfield to Palmer, where the train reverses direction and heads north on New England Central’s former Central Vermont main line.
Presently, Pan Am Southern’s former Boston & Maine Connecticut River Line is being upgraded between Springfield and the Massachusetts-Vermont Stateline at East Northfield. This will allow a restoration of passenger service to the traditional route north of Springfield.
The Vermonter is expected to switch to the former B&M routing via Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield by the end of this year. As a result, I’ve been making photographs of Amtrak’s train at various places between Palmer and East Northfield, while the service still operates that way.
Several years ago, my late friend Bob Buck and I, were following a northward New England Central freight. Bob had been making photos on the Central Vermont since steam days.
We were just a few minutes ahead of the freight as we passed Belchertown.
We turned on Route 9 toward Amherst. After a couple of minutes Bob pointed, ‘take a left, there on Federal Street.’ We found the tracks and I made a photo of Bob rolling the freight by the crossing.
It was here I chose to capture the Vermonter, while I still can.
Last month (April 2104), my Panasonic Lumix LX-3 began performing erratically while I was photographing Irish Rail at Monasterevin.
Although annoying, this was only a minor setback of the day, because I had my Canon EOS 7D with me. I often travel with at least two cameras, just in case one develops problems.
The LX-3 suddenly suffered an electrical fault; specifically the rear display stopped working reliably. Sometimes it would flicker on, other times it was dark. I tried all the usual cures; I turned the camera off and then on, I removed the battery, I even tried the factory reset. No joy.
In the short term I found that if I pressed on the side of the camera body, the display would come on long enough to make adjustments. I continued to use the LX-3 for secondary services, while relying on the Canon EOS 7D and film cameras for more critical work.
I’ve had my LX-3 for almost five years and in that time I’ve carried it with me everywhere. It’s visited about a dozen countries, and more than a dozen US states. In addition to pictorial service, I’ve used it intensively to copy documents while in libraries. Using the in-camera file counter, I determined that I released the shutter more than 64,000 times.
Last November the camera took a very hard knock, which didn’t immediately affect its performance, but certainly didn’t do it any good. In April, the camera was subject to unusual dampness (it got wet) while I was making night shots in Porto, Portugal.
On May 24, 2014, my father lent me his Panasonic LX-7 to see if this newer Lumix model would offer a suitable replacement. This camera comes highly recommended to me by several people. Since it’s essentially the latest model kin to my LX-3, it may represent an ideal choice for my new ‘everywhere camera’.
I brought it to Palmer, Massachusetts where I exposed about 100 images in various conditions, both to get a feel for the cameras controls (which have several notable differences from the LX-3), and examine the quality of the images.
I found that the LX-7 had several positive points. In general it reacted quicker and cycled faster than the LX3. Its zoom lens has a wider range, and offers longer telephoto photo settings. The rear display seemed sharper and brighter.
On the downside, I was unfamiliar with the controls, so setting the camera proved challenging. Also, the camera is slightly larger.
In general I was happy with my results, and plan to experiment a bit more with the camera before I commit to buying one. There are a variety of excellent small cameras on the market these days, so I may wish to sample some of these too. More to come!
Tim Doherty asked me a few weeks back, “Have you ever tried a shot from the north side of the Millers Falls high bridge?” I’d looked a this several times, but was discouraged by the row of trees between the road and the railroad bridge.
So, on January 12, 2014, at the end of the day (light), Tim and I went to this location with the aim of making images of Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossing the aged Central Vermont span.
As there was only a hint of light left, I upped the ISO sensitivity of my Canon EOS 7D and I switched the color balance to ‘tungsten’ (indoor incandescent lighting which has the same effect as using tungsten balance slide film (such as Fujichrome 64T), and so enhances the blue light of the evening.
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) confirmed the train was on-time out of Amherst. Running time was only about 20 minutes (a bit less than I thought) but we were in place, cameras on tripods, several minutes before we heard the Vermonter blasting for crossings in Millers Falls.
The result is interpretive. The train’s blur combined with view through the trees and the deep blue color bias makes for a ghostly image of the train crossing the bridge.
On October 24, 2013, Amtrak’s southward Vermonter is south of Three Rivers in Palmer, Massachusetts. I’ve often favored this view along the old Central Vermont Railway where the tracks run along the side of the road. The train is approaching Palmer’s yard limits and is trundling along at a casual pace.
Everyday scenes like this one are easy enough to find, yet tend to hold their interest over time. Items such as the trash cans on the left and the car on the road may someday garnish greater interest than the P42 leading the Vermonter.
Yet, someone interested in trains in the future may see this and exclaim, ‘You mean that way back in 2013, they ran the Vermonter via Three Rivers? No way! Why?’
Broadside View of the Old New Haven Railroad Bridge.
What better than a bright sunny Sunday afternoon to execute a classic image of a big bridge.
Amtrak operates the former New Haven Railroad line between Springfield, Massachusetts and its namesake Connecticut city as a branch off its primary North East Corridor route.
In addition to shuttle trains running between Springfield and New Haven, the Washington D.C. to St Albans, Vermont, Vermonter travels this line daily. Infrequent freight services are operated by Connecticut Southern (sister operation to New England Central) and Pan Am Southern/Pan Am Railways.
Although much of the line is scenically challenged as it runs through built up suburban and urban areas of central Connecticut, it does have a few garden spots. I think the scenic highlight is this crossing of the Connecticut River near Windsor Locks.
I’ve made various views of this bridge over the years, and last Sunday (October 20, 2013) I thought I’d look for something a little different. There’s a lightly used road that follows the east bank of the Connecticut south of the bridge, and here I found a safe place to park and walk to the river,
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) revealed the northward Vermonter was operating about 9 minutes behind its scheduled time. I was in position a good 20 minutes before the train and so had ample time to make test shots to pick the best angle and exposure.
I made this photograph with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens. The train rolled across the bridge at a restricted speed so it was easy to pick off several frames. The bigger challenge will be to catch one of the freights on this bridge. It’s been a good few years since I’ve succeeded in that mission.
On the afternoon of October 20, 2013, Amtrak train 54, the Sunday Vermonter crosses the Connecticut river on a 107 year old former New Haven Railroad span. Canon EOS 7D fitted with an f2.8 200mm lens.
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.