Monday, September 05, 2011

A Dash of Nutmeg

All the photos from this trip can be found here in Photo Lines.

Metro-North; Cos Cob, Connecticut; May 14, 2011
The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic asked me to come up with my lights and pit on a night photo session for -- not a railroad group, but a camera club! Intrigued, I agreed to do it, and plotted a two-day trip into the Nutmeg State with my brother Bruce and friend Mike Burkhart on May 14-15, 2011.

Our first stop would be along Metro-North at Cos Cob, where we hoped to get some of the new M8 cars that have just been put into service by the commuter railroad. Alas, we didn't get any M8s, but we did find some angles to work, including getting the classic ex-New Haven Railroad tower in the background (above).

Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum; Willimantic, Conn.
Happy with that, we moved on looking for Shore Line East at Guilford. Alas, this commuter operator was running its weekend trains with leased Amtrak diesels, some of which had battered Shore Line East decals on the nose and some that didn't. We also caught a handful of Amtrak's Northeast Direct and Acela Express trains working between Boston and New York. Getting over to Old Saybrook, we just missed an Amtrak work train. A quick run up to Essex to check on the status of the Valley Railroad's new steam locomotive was thwarted when we discovered that Thomas the Tank Engine was in town. We found a neat shot along the railroad with a "No Thomas Parking" sign, but the little blue engine had made his last run of the day at this point.

Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum; Willimantic, Conn.
At the museum, we found coordinator Tom Nanos and an enthusiastic group that had never photographed trains before. We lit up a few station scenes featuring the museum's ex-Metro-North FL9 diesels, complete in New Haven paint. From there we headed over to the roundhouse for a multiple locomotive line-up, and finished off with the CERM's traditional "shower of sparks" night shot of someone grinding away at a steam locomotive (okay, the steam locomotive was not harmed; the sparks came from grinding a piece of metal that was clamped to the steam locomotive). All in all, the folks got about 30 opportunities to photograph different equipment from different angles, and the museum's "actors" who posed in the photos certainly brought the scenes to life. It was a great time.

The next morning we were up early to shoot the Providence & Worcester as it made its way south along the Thames River. Our target was getting the train passing the U.S.S. Nautilus, the nuclear-powered submarine that's now a museum at the U.S. Coast Guard sub base in Groton. Clouds dogged the shot, but we were able to get the train there and again as it made its way to the interchange with the New England Central across the Thames in New London. A small trestle provided a good photo prop to get the train. We chased it back past the sub base and continued on one more stop at Mill Cove before breaking away.
Providence & Worcester; New London, Connecticut; May 15, 2011
That shot of Thomas the Tank Engine was still on our minds, so we headed back to Essex and awaited the blue engine's next departure. Since the shot was better when Thomas returned, we hung around and got the inbound move for the shot showing how friendly Thomas's neighbors can be.
Thomas the Tank Engine; Essex, Connecticut; May 15, 2011
The weather wasn't great and Shore Line East still wasn't cooperating (leased Amtrak power was still leading all trains this day), but we got some Amtrak and SLE at Westbrook and Guilford before heading west of New Haven and back onto Metro-North. We paused at Old Greenwich to shoot Amtrak and commuter cars, and finally got a set of the new M8s. But it was getting dark, so after a few trains we called it a day and headed home, wrapping up our visit to the Nutmeg State.

Monday, August 08, 2011

South Florida Fun and Sun

All photos from this trip can be found here.
Florida East Coast; Jupiter, Florida; March 25, 2011
Back in March I went to Florida on a lighthouse tour with Pete Lerro of Lerro Productions. There wasn't much time to do any rail photography while the trip was going on, but as the tour wound down a few opportunities presented themselves, and spending a few extra days in the Sunshine State after the tour allowed for some solid railroad shooting.

Bahia Honda Bridge; March 20, 2011
The first opportunities came as the result of a last-minute change in plans during the lighthouse tour. A boat ride from Key West to the Dry Tortugas was canceled due to heavy seas, so the four of us on the tour chartered a small plane to fly to some lighthouses. As the plane could only hold three people plus the pilot, we broke our group into two sections. Pete and my brother Bruce took the first flight, while Dennis Morgan and I headed back up the Keys to shoot some remnants of the Florida East Coast's Key West extension (opened in 1912). Most of the bridges used by the FEC were later used by U.S. 1 after the FEC abandoned the line following the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, and most of the bridges have since been bypassed by new highway bridges. Two of the most interesting bridges can be found on either side of Bahia Honda Key -- on the south (west) side is a through truss bridge where the highway was simply placed on top of the trusses following the railroad's abandonment. On the north (east) side is Sevenmile Bridge that connects to Marathon Key.

By March 21 the tour was winding down with Pete and Dennis working their way towards the airport. A free afternoon at Fort Lauderdale found us shooting the evening rush of Tri-Rail commuter trains. Pete, an avowed steam fan, couldn't quite figure out what all the excitement was about over diesels. The next morning we shot the last of the lighthouses on the tour (at Jupiter Inlet), Pete and Dennis headed to the airport and Bruce and I headed trackside. We were back near Fort Lauderdale for the evening Tri-Rail rush, then caught a Florida East Coast train in Fort Pierce to wrap up the day.
Tri-Rail; West Palm Beach, Florida; March 22, 2011
The following day, March 23, was spent largely in the Fort Pierce area with a side trip to Stuart. The Florida East Coast is a tough railroad to shoot during the day (most traffic is at night), but the ATCS Monitor software allows you see what the dispatcher is seeing for the entire railroad and lets you find those elusive daytime freights with ease. We started out shooting South Central Florida Express, a railroad that primarily serves the sugar cane fields in its namesake location but also interchanges some mixed merchandise with the FEC in Fort Pierce. The highlight of the day was heading down to the long bridge in Stuart where we caught two northbound FEC trains on the bridge and a southbound shortly thereafter.
Florida East Coast; Stuart, Florida; March 23, 2011
The next day we ventured down to Clewiston, the headquarters town of South Central Florida Express, to check out the cane operations. Things seemed unusually quiet down there, quieter than we had been told they should be. We couldn't find much in the way of cane harvest trains, but we did follow the road train out of town heading for the CSX interchange in Sebring. The scenic highlight of the trip is the bridge at Moore Haven, but the light wasn't around enough to make the shot look really good. Back at Clewiston not much was happening, so we ventured back out looking for the return of the Sebring train. It came back with no freight -- just light locomotives. And when they got to the bridge at Moore Haven, a large cloud blocked the sun just long enough for the locomotives to get across the bridge in shadow. This wasn't our day...
South Central Florida Express; Palmdale, Florida; March 24, 2011
Back at the shop, we did find another non-cane switch job working outside Clewiston and followed it back into town. Soon everything was tied up and the quiet railroad was even quieter. It wouldn't be until later that we would find out the cane harvesting season ended three days before our visit.
South Central Florida Express; Clewiston, Florida; March 24, 2011
The next day we had three bridges on the Florida East Coast locked into our sights. All we would need would be enough trains to shoot. The first was in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a lift bridge with a conveniently located parking deck that provided a nice view of a southbound. A northbound also came, but the way the lift span is configured the shot is definitely better for a southbound.
Florida East Coast; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; March 25, 2011
Getting a morning southbound at Stuart was almost a daily obsession, but once again trains did not cooperate. Thus, we found ourselves at Jupiter for our next bridge shot, getting both a southbound (top photo of this blog entry) and a northbound. Then, we found the bridge at Roseland using Google maps and headed there for an evening shot of a northbound; a southbound met the northbound just north of the bridge. Six trains on the FEC in daylight, three in each direction. By FEC standards, a pretty busy day.

Our last day in Florida was mostly visiting relatives, but good timing put us and northbound FEC train No.202 in Fort Pierce at the same time. Our final shot would be of two yellow SD40-2s leading the train over a small bridge on the north end of town.
Florida East Coast; Fort Pierce, Florida; March 26, 2011
There are still things I need to shoot in Florida. A morning southbound at Stuart remains elusive, and getting back to the cane fields -- this time in season! -- is a priority. Toss in Amtrak trains and the Bone Valley phosphate fields near Tampa (and the Tampa streetcar) and the Sunshine State still beckons.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Great Triangle Trip Part 2 - Up The Mississippi

Part 1 of the trip can be found here.
Photos of the trip can be found here.
Union Pacific; Morley, Louisiana; February 22, 2011
When last we met, we had just left New Orleans and were heading north. Our stop on Tuesday, February 22, was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we met up with Forrest Becht for a day of shooting. The weather was dismal as we sought out some Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern trains south of the city. We finally camped out at the end of the lift bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway waiting for an eastbound. Trackwork dogged us however, and after shooting a westbound (above) it would be a couple of hours before an eastbound -- with Norfolk Southern power -- would show up.

Our luck turned a bit on Wednesday, February 23. We met up with Mick Nussbaum in Meridian, Mississippi, and got the grand tour of the city. The northbound Crescent came through and we even had a bit of sun as the train passed under an ex-Southern Railway cantilever signal bridge.
Amtrak; Meridian, Mississippi; February 23, 2011
Our ultimate destination for the day was Jackson, Mississippi, and we hoped for a westbound Kansas City Southern train. As fate would have it the westbound showed up right about when we needed it to and the chase was on -- at least for awhile. As the train was passing through Newton it went into emergency, coming to a stop with every grade crossing in town blocked. The conductor needed to walk all 8000 feet of train to find the problem and we knew that would take awhile. Fortunately, the head end was parked in a nice location, so we were able to get a shot or two and head on to Jackson.
Kansas City Southern; Newton, Mississippi; February 23, 2011
Our goal was to get to the railroad location of Switch Tender in Jackson where Kansas City Southern crosses the former Illinois Central (now Canadian National) main line on a series of hand thrown switches. While the sun wasn't completely cooperative, there were enough trains that sunny shots were possible, including a meet with the two railroads.
KCS and Canadian National; Switch Tender, Jackson, Mississippi; February 23, 2011
Who would have thought a decade or two ago that Canadian National would serve the deep U.S. south? Our best shot of the day would have seemed almost ludicrous a decade ago -- a locomotive from BC Rail (also a part of Canadian National) leading a train through Mississippi. This would be our last sunny shot of the trip -- and we still had several days to go!
Canadian National; Switch Tender, Jackson, Mississippi; February 23, 2011
Canadian National; Memphis, Tenn.; February 24, 2011
The next day would be perhaps the most disappointing day of the trip. I had never been to Memphis before, and what a wonderful city it is! We had a list of shots we wanted to get, including trains passing the abandoned tower at Aulon Junction (didn't get it) and the Liberty Bowl (got it sort of). Other shots we tried to get included CN Junction and KC Junction, but bad weather prevented anything decent. Most of the day was spent over on the streetcars downtown, and there are several good angles there. Too bad the sun didn't cooperate. The one thing that did work out, though, was Memphis ribs. Dinner consisted of a rack at the Rendezvous. We walked back to the car in shirt-sleeve weather. By the time we drove to St. Louis, five hours up the Mississippi, it was snowing.
Memphis Area Transit Authority; Memphis, Tennessee; February 24, 2011
Our hopes for getting shots of trains passing under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis were pretty well shot down as soon as it was bright enough to see on Friday morning; the gray Arch did not exactly pop against the gray skies. Near Gateway Yard across the Mississippi in East St. Louis, Illinois, we shot a Kansas City Southern train, snow stuck to the front, with the St. Louis skyline in the background.
Kansas City Southern; East St. Louis, Illinois; February 25, 2011
BNSF on TRRA; St. Louis, Mo.
Our tour guide was Mark Mautner and he has a great knowledge of St. Louis photo locations. We tried the shot that was on the then-current Amtrak timetable cover of a train passing the Arch (taken by Mark's brother Mike on a far sunnier day) and got two BNSF coal trains on the Terminal Railroad of St. Louis trackage directly under the Arch. We poked around on the Manufacturers Railway, in its last days of serving the Busch brewery, and headed across the river to check out ethanol and grain switching operations.

On our list was getting some power from the Terminal Railroad of St. Louis in its new paint scheme. The end-cab switchers are gone from the railroad, but the line's new road power is pretty sharp. We found a set at North Market Street in St. Louis early in the day, then found another set working at the Pillsbury Siding just off Kingshighway in the northern part of the city during the afternoon. Then it was back downtown to shoot Amtrak before calling it a day. We had a long drive ahead of us up to the western outer regions of Chicagoland, so we bid Mark goodbye and hit the road.
Terminal Railroad of St. Louis; North Market, St. Louis, Missouri; February 25, 2011
Union Pacific; Nelson, Ill.; February 26, 2011
The next day was the memorial service (more of a life celebration) for Jim Boyd in Dixon, Illinois. We spent the gloomy morning at nearby Nelson, waiting for a train to come under the coaling tower there. Then it was on to the celebration where we met up with friends of Jim that we knew and friends we were meeting for the first time (but I had read about them in the pages of Railfan & Railroad, so it seemed like I knew them for years). We had a dinner of Al & Leda's pizza (Jim's favorite), watched some slides of travels with Jim, then headed back to the motel. On Sunday we visited with Mike Schafer, editor of Passenger Train Journal, then hit the road eastward. We tied up near Sandusky, Ohio, that night and finished the drive to New Jersey on Monday. No photos were taken on the last two days of the trip.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Great Triangle Trip Part 1 - New Orleans

All the photos from this trip can be found here.
Norfolk Southern; Chattanooga, Tennessee; February 18, 2011
Some trips you just can't win (or so it seems). I had been invited to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to give a banquet program to the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society on Saturday, February 19. Subsequent to that, my friend and former boss Jim Boyd passed away and a memorial service was scheduled for February 26 in his hometown of Dixon, Illinois. A drive to Baton Rouge and back followed by an immediate turnaround to drive to Dixon was going to be tough, but combining the trips into one big triangle would save 700 miles -- and as an added bonus I could hit some great railroading along the Mississippi in Memphis and St. Louis. So, a triangle trip it would be!

CSX Transportation; Whiteside, Tennessee; February 18, 2011
My brother Bruce and I left New Jersey on Thursday evening, February 17, and got as far as Staunton, Virginia. Next morning we hit the road again and by the time we got to Chattanooga it became apparent we'd have a few hours in the schedule to take a break. Unfortunately, clouds were prevalent this day. We did get a train going through the complex junction at 16th Street in Chattanooga (above) and chased a few trains over the mountain towards Alabama, and soon we were heading south again, finally tying up in Meridian, Mississippi.

Huey P. Long Bridge, Bridge City, La.; February 19, 2011

Next morning we finished the drive to Hammond, Louisiana (the actual location of the banquet) and after the banquet we went to the Hammond station to see the northbound City of New Orleans pause at the station. We then headed into New Orleans where we got a few trains on the 22,996-foot-long Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi, including a sunset shot.

We had some sun the next morning as we watched the northbound Crescent cross Lake Ponchartrain into Slidell, and wound up spending most of the rest of the day dodging clouds. We did another couple of trains on the Huey P. Long Bridge from the west end of the span in Bridge City. We wanted a shot at the east end of the bridge, but trains did not cooperate.
New Orleans Public Belt; Huey P. Long Bridge, Bridge City, Lousiana; February 20, 2011

That night we began our exploration of the famous New Orleans streetcar system. We took a few night shots here and there, with our favorite location being at Loyola University. We also tried shooting downtown near the Ponchartrain Hotel.
New Orleans RTA; Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana; February 20, 2011
Amtrak; New Orleans, La.; February 21, 2011
 Monday would be another day in the Big Easy, but we found ourselves fighting clouds in the wrong place and trains not showing up when we needed them. We started by catching the northbound Crescent from the levee along Lake Ponchartrain, but morning fog prevented us from getting as good of a shot as we wanted. We then headed over to Canal Street to get the red streetcars -- on our 2008 visit to New Orleans the red cars were not running as they had been damaged by flood waters from Hurricane Katrina. The sun peeked in and out, but the nice thing about streetcars is there is always another one coming. It didn't take long to get a few nice shots on Canal Street.

New Orleans RTA; New Orleans, La.; February 21, 2011
We then headed over to the St. Charles line to get some of the historic green cars. The streetcar lines in New Orleans are photographically target-rich, and we found a couple of nice locations to shoot the cars. The location seen at left also had a convenient Burger King where we could grab a snack.

Also on our list for the day were several other shots on the freight railroads, including the east end of the Huey P. Long Bridge, East Bridge Tower, NE Tower and other locations. We had spent part of the morning at NE Tower but got no trains. And during our entire stay in New Orleans we never did see an eastbound train on the bridge at the right time.

As I said before, this was our second trip to New Orleans. There is a blog entry about the first one here.

After shooting several cars on St. Charles Avenue we headed back to an area just a few blocks from the French Quarter where the Canal Street cars and St. Charles cars share Canal Street for about a block. This is one busy place with looping St. Charles cars heading briefly south and Canal cars passing. We spent quite a bit of time here trying to get cars from both lines in the same frame, but were largely unsuccessful. Getting two Canal Street cars together was much easier.
New Orleans RTA; New Orleans, Louisiana; February 21, 2011
As the afternoon progressed we kept an eye on the clock. The northbound and southbound City of New Orleans traverse the wooden trestle over the Bonnet Carre spillway within an hour of each other and we wanted to make sure we got them. The northbound was first, which was a tight broadside shot. The southbound train, which was a much better shot, had Amtrak locomotive No. 1 leading, but the train and a cloud headed towards us at pretty much the same pace. We did squeeze off the shot, however.
Amtrak; Bonnet Carre spillway, Norco, Louisiana; February 21, 2011
Back into the city we finished the day off at NE Tower. Alas, despite bright sun a train never did head west past the tower while we were there. We had to be satisfied with only a shot of the tower with an empty diamond in front.
NE Tower; New Orleans, Louisiana; February 21, 2011
As the sun set, we said farewell to New Orleans. Next up -- Baton Rouge. We'll head north along the Mississippi in our next installment.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Columbia Gorge Chase

Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and Southern Pacific 4449; Cape Horn, Washington
The buzz is starting to build over the upcoming convention of the National Railway Historical Society, which will be held in Tacoma, Washington, in late July. The last time there was an NRHS Convention in the Pacific Northwest was in 2005, based out of Portland, Oregon. The star attraction in Tacoma, as it was in Portland, will be Southern Pacific "Daylight" 4-8-4 No. 4449. Prior to the Tacoma convention, No. 4449 will be powering a trip from its home city of Portland along the Columbia River to Wishram, Washington -- this route was featured at the 2005 Convention and is the subject of today's story.

The date was July 6, 2005. I had put together the night photo session for the Portland Convention and the Convention committee had offered me a parlor car ticket for the ride to Wishram for helping them out. I decided that a relaxing day riding a parlor car would be a nice alternative to chasing the train for once, and decided to do that. That is, until it was announced that the 4449 would be sharing the head-end duties with Spokane, Portland & Seattle No. 700 and the 700 would be leading the eastbound trip. The route along the Columbia is ex-SP&S and it has long been my goal to get the 700 on its old home rails popping out of the classic tunnel at Cape Horn. So, I gave away my parlor car seat and drove to Cape Horn to get a shot I had long yearned for.

The day was misty, not uncommon for the west end of the Columbia River Gorge. Nonetheless, 700 made a fine sight as it emerged from the rocky tunnel (above). Knowing that I had a long walk out of Cape Horn and the highway would be clogged with chasers, I decided to meander towards Wishram; if I caught the train that would be fine -- but if I didn't, that would be okay, too.

(Okay, that's not entirely true. I got behind some slow old driver and decided that, chasing or not, I had to get past her. Just as I passed, a Washington state trooper appeared from the other direction, whipped around, put on his lights and stopped me. The trooper listed everything that I had done wrong -- a little speeding, wet road, etc., etc. Anticipating a fairly hefty ticket by the time he finished his speech, he concluded with, "I'm going to have to give you a warning." Well, if you have to give me a warning, I guess that's okay....)

I crossed from Washington into Oregon to take advantage of the interstate highway on the south side of the river, and as I neared The Dalles, Oregon, I caught and overtook the train. Suddenly I was in "chase mode" and cranked up the speed on the car -- I needed to get across the river to get a shot of the train from the highway bridge. As I crossed the Columbia I could see the train down river rapidly closing in. Fortunately, there is a large gravel parking area at the north end of the bridge, and I was able to park in a cloud of dust, grab the camera and run back onto the bridge and get the shot. Whew!

At Wishram I went over to the 4449 and was immediately invited into the cab by engineer Doyle McCormack. As it turned out, about that same time the train was given permission to back out of Wishram to be turned for the return trip, so I got a short cab ride in the process.

Spokane, Portland & Seattle No. 700; Wishram, Washington
For the return trip I decided to roll the dice and follow the route back on Washington Highway 14, a twisting two-lane road. I knew if the train went as fast back west as it did coming east I probably would only get one shot. Still, I figured it was worth a try. As it turned out, the passenger train had many meets, including at Stevenson where I got a nice shot with the 4449 in the lead.

Southern Pacific 4449; Stevenson, Washington
All in all the day couldn't have gone much better. I look forward to getting back out to Washington and seeing the 4449 again. I won't be able to chase the Columbia Gorge trips in early July, but the Stampede Pass trip should be a fun chase.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Way Down Yonder In New Orleans

New Orleans RTA; New Orleans, Louisiana; June 10, 2008
Last week I had the chance to visit one of my favorite cities -- New Orleans. While the weather wasn't real good for the trip (and it will take awhile to get all the photos processed and on the website), I thought it might be nice to go back to 2008 and my first visit to the Crescent City. Scenes like streetcars parading past the Ponchartrain Hotel (above) show how charming the city can be.

In 2008 New Orleans was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. We headed out to the area along Lake Ponchartrain on the city's east side, going through the Ninth Ward which was still full of houses with the markings painted on by post-Katrina rescue workers. In 2011, much of the same area has been repopulated, and long stretches of deserted houses (at least in this area) are a thing of the past. It is here, where Norfolk Southern crosses Lake Ponchartrain on a long bridge, that we caught Amtrak's Crescent on its early morning departure entering Slidell.

Amtrak; Slidell, Louisiana; June 11, 2008
One of the most famous railroad landmarks in New Orleans is the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi River. The railroad stretches 22,996 feet across the bridge, while the adjacent highway lanes are a mere 8,076 feet long as they drop to the ground faster than the railroad does. Crossing the bridge by car is quite the experience, as the grades are remarkably steep and the lanes remarkably narrow at nine feet across (two lanes flank each side of the railroad). By the time we visited in 2011, a lane widening project was well underway.

New Orleans Public Belt; June 11, 2008
There are still a handful of towers scattered around New Orleans, but the only two still open are at each end of the Huey Long Bridge; the pair are appropriately named East Bridge Junction and West Bridge Juncton. The railroad on the bridge is the New Orleans Public Belt, but power from virtually all the U.S. Class I railroads can be seen crossing the structure.
New Orleans Public Belt; East Bridge Junction; June 11, 2008
And, of course, there are the streetcars of New Orleans. After Katrina, the two symbols of New Orleans that were immediately restored to show the city was still alive were the Superdome and the streetcar system. The St. Charles Line was heavily damaged by Katrina, but its carhouse was spared; conversely, the Canal Street Line survived the storm with minimal damage, but its carhouse was submerged, damaging all the bright red cars used on that line. Thus, on our 2008 visit we found St. Charles cars pressed into Canal Street service. In 2011 we found red cars once again on Canal Street.
St. Charles streetcars on Canal Street line; New Orleans, Louisiana; June 10, 2008
So there's a quick look back at the June 2008 trip to New Orleans. Down the road we'll take another look at what we found in February 2011.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sunshine State

Florida East Coast; Stuart, Florida; February 10, 2009
Okay, I admit it. I'm tired of this winter. This has been one of the most miserable winters ever in the northeast. Frequent snow storms were bad enough, but the last two storms were mostly heavy-to-shovel ice.

It makes me wish I was in the Sunshine State, if only for a week just to get a break. So in this installment of my ramblings, we're going to visit Florida. One of my favorite locations is on the Florida East Coast at the town of Stuart (above). Old U.S. 1 provides this nice view of a northbound FEC ballast train. The bridge behind the train is new U.S. 1, which sports a nice walkway that makes train photography in the morning a real treat.
Florida East Coast; St. Augustine, Florida; March 21, 2008
The Florida East Coast has the disadvantage of being a night-running railroad. Trains depart their originating locations at opposite ends of the railroad (Jacksonville and Miami) in the early evening, arriving at the counterpart terminal the next morning. While southbounds coming into Miami are shootable, northbounds approaching Jacksonville are against the sun for most of the year. There is one place, however, where northbounds are perfectly lit -- the bridge in St. Augustine directly adjacent to U.S. 1. Here trains break sharply to the east to cross the bridge, then swing back north for the final miles into Jacksonville.
Florida East Coast; St. Augustine, Florida; March 21, 2008
The FEC used to be headquartered in St. Augustine, and their former office buildings can still be seen (above to the right of the train). The buildings are now a part of Flagler University (named for Henry Flagler of Florida East Coast fame who built the Key West Extension).

Florida East Coast; Bowden Yard, Florida; March 23, 2008
The FEC picked up some nice SD70M-2s a few years ago. For several years there was an early-afternoon southbound that departed Bowden Yard (Jacksonville) and it often had one of the new units leading. At right we see the class unit, No. 100, leaving Bowden Yard with the Jacksonville skyline off in the distance.

I made it to Florida in 2007, 2008 and 2009, but missed out last year. The FEC has become a little easier to shoot thanks to ATCS Monitor, a program that lets you see where trains are on the railroad -- all you need is the ATCSMon software and an internet signal. Despite having ATCS Monitor in 2009 we still missed a train. The winter weather here in the north has me thinking Florida again, and next month I'm planning on getting back down there. The FEC has plenty of photographic possibilities (when the rare daylight trains run) and Fort Lauderdale and more shooting at Stuart are high on my list of things to do. Sunshine State, here I come!

Florida East Coast; Scottsmoor, Florida; February 9, 2007

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Two Virginia Towns

CSX Transportation; Ashland, Virginia; January 8, 2010
When it comes to train watching, it's hard to beat the Virginia towns of Ashland and Doswell along the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac (now a part of CSX Transportation). Located about 14 miles north of the state capitol, Ashland provides trackage running down the middle of the street in the business district and on into a nice residential area. Another six miles north, Doswell has a diamond where the former Chesapeake & Ohio crosses the RF&P, an old station and tower, and a short line yard (Buckingham Branch Railroad).
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac; Ashland, Virginia
I have been to both towns many times over the years, and recently had the chance to visit both twice within a week in January. Doswell has a country store called Squashapenny Junction that you really need to go inside to believe. It is just full of Americana. Back in the days before CSX, the building was simply the former Doswell general store in plain white paint.
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac; Doswell, Virginia
Today the store has numerous signs on it, most prominently the classic "Coke" circle logo, along with other signs of the past. The courtyard now features wagons and a giant hand.
Amtrak; Doswell, Virginia; January 30, 2011
 Coal trains on the former C&O through Doswell are fairly common, and if you are equipped with a railroad radio you will hear trains call the RF&P dispatcher to request clearance past the old tower and across the diamond.
CSX Transportation; Doswell, Virginia; January 22, 2011
The Buckingham Branch yard is located adjacent to the RF&P main line just north of the diamond. The Buckingham Branch now leases the former C&O. Their diesels have been given a uniform coat of gray and red paint and are looking pretty good.
Buckingham Branch; Doswell, Virginia; January 22, 2011
If your travels take you down I-95 below Washington, take the King's Dominion exit at Doswell and head on in to the tracks. Frequent Amtrak service makes train watching fun, even when freight trains are hard to find. When you are finished at Doswell, head south to Ashland for the best in small-town train watching in the middle of the street. These are indeed two of the best towns to view trains in the east.
Amtrak; Ashland, Virginia; January 30, 2011

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