Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Spectacular Columbia River Gorge

BNSF Railway; Avery (Wishram), Wash.; October 15, 2018
Of all the places in the continental United States to take railroad photographs, the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington easily makes my top three. With spectacular scenery, quaint towns, and railroads on both sides of the river, it is truly a special place.
BNSF Railway; Straight Point, Wash.; October 12, 2018
The gorge runs for approximately 80 miles, starting east of the Portland, Ore., suburbs and ending at roughly Arlington, Ore. It was used by Lewis & Clark in 1805. In the 1880s, the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company built through the gorge on the Oregon side; this is now Union Pacific.
Union Pacific; Mosier, Ore.; October 19, 2018
Railroads came to the Washington side in the early 1900s when the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads teamed up to form the Spokane, Portland & Seattle. This is now part of BNSF Railway.
BNSF Railway; Home Valley, Wash.; October 19, 2018
Accessing the two railroads is fairly easy. On the Washington side, State Highway 14 parallels the tracks almost all the way. Trains will outrun you on the largely two-lane road, so chasing can be difficult. However, the line is single-track with passing sidings, and trains will often have to stop for meets.
BNSF Railway; Dallesport, Wash.; October 15, 2018
The Union Pacific side is a bit trickier, as the line is paralleled by Interstate 84. While this will let you outrun trains at times, it also makes turning around to pursue a train in the opposite direction difficult, as exits are quite a distance apart. However, the UP side has the more interesting towns, with Cascade Locks, Hood River, and The Dalles all worth a visit.
Union Pacific; The Dalles, Oregon; March 21, 2016
The three towns are connected by the Columbia River Highway -- Old U.S. 30 -- which winds its way up in the mountains above the river. While not useful for chasing, there are some great views available including from the overlook above Rowena.
Union Pacific; Rowena, Oregon; March 21, 2016
Getting back and forth between Oregon and Washington is fairly easy. The Bridge of the Gods connects Cascade Locks and Stevenson, Wash. There is also a bridge between Hood River and White Salmon, Wash. A third bridge will take you between The Dalles and Dallesport, Wash. (The first two bridges are toll; the bridge at The Dalles is free).
BNSF Railway; Stevenson, Wash.; October 12, 2018
The UP has a couple of tunnels, all inaccessible due to the interstate. But on the BNSF side the tunnels are numerous, and many are right along the shoulder of State Highway 14.
BNSF Railway; Hood, Wash.; March 16, 2017
The Columbia River Gorge is pleasant in almost all types of weather. Sometimes haze will get caught in the gorge, obscuring some of the distant vistas. But if you hit it on a crystal clear day, the region is dominated by Mount Hood.
BNSF Railway; Dallesport, Wash.; October 15, 2018
On the other side of the coin, even rainy, misty days can be downright spectacular in the gorge. On its bad days, the Columbia Gorge can still be very reminiscent of Alaska.
BNSF Railway; Cape Horn (Washougal), Wash.; March 15, 2016
Fortunately, with the big railroad photography show Winterail now held in Oregon each year, I have an excuse to get back to the gorge quite often. It is, indeed, a special place.
BNSF Railway; Home Valley, Wash.; March 16, 2017

Monday, November 05, 2018

Exploring Houston's MetroRail

MetroRail; South Fannin, Houston, Texas; October 8, 2018
Joining the ranks of cities that have returned light rail and streetcars to the streets is Texas' largest, Houston. MetroRail runs from the South Fannin station, just south of the Astrodome (above), northward along Main Street through downtown Houston. The main north-south line is the Red Line that runs to the Northline Transit Center, almost 13 miles from South Fannin.

At Main Street Square in downtown Houston, the line passes through a block-long water feature, where the cars pass over a small manmade pond with fountains on each side.
MetroRail; Main Street Square, Houston, Texas; October 8, 2018
MetroRail; Main Street Square, Houston, Texas; October 7, 2018
Just north of Main Street Square is an intersecting east-west line. The line terminates just to the west of Main Street at the Theater District station. To the east, the line splits into two, with the 6.6-mile Purple Line to the Palm Center Transit Center and the 3.3-mile Green Line to the Magnolia Park Transit Center. The two lines are together through the Convention District; in this stretch they pass "The Star," the former Texas Company Building (Texaco) now being developed into condos. The Texas Company Building was designed by Warren & Wetmore, who also designed New York's Grand Central Terminal.
MetroRail passing The Star (Texas Company Building), Houston, Texas; October 8, 2018
Houston MetroRail; October 7, 2018

MetroRail began service in 2004 and carries over 50,000 riders each day. The original 18 cars were built by Siemens as S70 cars. A second batch of 19 S70s came in 2011. The third generation of cars are 39 H3 cars from CAF, delivered in 2015. In addition to the cars being numbered in the series they were delivered in (100-series, 200-series, and 300-series), the newest cars are most easily identified by their silver brows.

Expansion of the system has been off-and-on for the last several years as various financial issues have come about. Still, the current three lines provide quick and efficient service around Houston, and the downtown has many interesting photo angles for those wishing to explore.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Heading For the Streets of St. Marys

CSX Transportation; St, Marys, W.Va.; May 19, 2018
CSX Transportation has a very scenic line that runs down the west side of West Virginia along the Ohio River. Trains come from Catlettsburg, Ky., on the west (south) end of the line and follow the river up through Parkersburg, W.Va., and into the small yard at New Martinsville before striking east into the mountains heading for Clarksburg. The photographic jewel of the line is St. Marys, W.Va., located about halfway between Parkersburg and New Martinsville, where trains take to the street for several blocks.

Unfortunately, the line sees very little traffic; there is only one scheduled train each way each day over the line, along with unit train extras such as coal. Even the scheduled train's times can vary wildly, making photographing the line a crap shoot. Roads follow the tracks closely from around Waverly to New Martinsville, and there are few places where a train can sneak by you, so unless you have some insider information the best strategy is probably follow the tracks east (north) from Waverly and hope you encounter a westbound along the way. This was the case on May 20, 2018, when I drove toward New Martinsville and encountered a westbound train west of Sistersville.
CSX Transportation; Sistersville, W.Va.; May 20, 2018
The chase was on, and the next stop was at a not-so-friendly house (haunted, perhaps) in Friendly. Maybe Casper the Friendly Ghost lives there.
CSX Transportation; Friendly, W.Va.; May 20, 2018
Continuing the chase, our next photo opportunity is at the west end of the siding at Ben's Run. Despite the lack of trains on the line, meets here are not entirely unheard of, as it is one the few places two trains can pass.
CSX Transportation; Ben's Run, W.Va.; May 20, 2018
There's time to grab one more shot before heading into St. Marys for the street running. We stop just a few miles outside of St. Marys to get the train passing the Raven Rock Baptist Church.
CSX Transportation; St. Marys, W.Va.; May 20, 2018
Our chase finally brings us to Second Street in St. Marys. Most of the cross streets are controlled by traffic lights, and when a train arrives in town all the lights flash yellow simultaneously down Second Street while flashing red for the cross streets.
CSX Transportation; St. Marys, W.Va.; May 20, 2018
CSX; Willow Island, W.Va.

Our chase ends west of St. Marys at Willow Island, with the First Energy Pleasants Power Station in the background. We leave our train here as it makes its way to Parkersburg.

What I didn't know at the time is the train will encounter a short stretch of median running in Williamstown, just a few miles further west. Those shots will have to wait for the next chase!

In the meantime, I've done a little more shooting at St. Marys, and we'll finish with a few other scenes from there. The top photo in this post is of an eastbound taken the day before the chase related above on May 19, 2018. Below is a photo taken at night on April 4, 2018.
CSX Transportation; St. Marys, W.Va.; April 4, 2018
A hillside on the east end of town provides a nice perch to shoot a train coming through downtown. The tricky part is to fire the shutter with the least amount of wires cluttering the front of the unit and to get the yellow flashing lights when they are lit!
CSX Transportation; St. Marys, W.Va.; April 5, 2018
There is also a former Baltimore & Ohio caboose on display in town. Small stores and a nice restaurant are also present. The wait can be long in St. Mary's, but it can be pleasant until a train arrives.
CSX Transportation; St. Marys, W.Va.; May 19, 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chasing the Finger Lakes Railway

Finger Lakes Railway; Skaneateles Junction, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
The New York Central's main line once wandered through small towns located at the north end of the Finger Lakes. Once the "Water Level Route" was completed to the north, the original main line became the "Auburn Road" of the NYC, named for one of the villages along the way. The line eventually became a part of Penn Central and then Conrail, then was spun off by Conrail in 1995 when the Finger Lakes Railway (FGLK) was formed. Mindful of its heritage, the FGLK adopted the NYC's lightning stripe paint scheme for its locomotives.
Finger Lakes Railway; Martisco, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
The Finger Lakes Railway is based out of Geneva, N.Y. Its main line, the old Auburn Road, wanders east to a connection with CSX (former New York Central) at Solvay, just outside of Syracuse. From west of Geneva at Canandaigua to Solvay, the railroad runs 76 miles.
Finger Lakes Railway; Fairmount, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
On September 16, 2018, I went looking for a Finger Lakes freight with Mike Burkhart. Sunday is a good day to find train GS-2 (Geneva-Solvay), and we found the train just leaving Auburn heading east behind GP38-2s 2001 and 2003. Our first decent shot was at Skaneateles Junction (top photo), then we chased on to the overhead bridge near Martisco. The train really wanders through the woods, but as it approaches Solvay and Syracuse it gets back into suburbia. There are several NYC depots still located along the line, but Home Depot in Fairmount is not one of them (above).
Finger Lakes Railway; Solvay, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
Once at the interchange it didn't take the crew long to drop the inbound cut of cars and pick up the outbound loads. It took just 45 minutes from the time the train passed the fixed-aspect approach semaphore for Solvay for it to return past the signal (above). Next up on the chase was the old depot at Camillus, now part of a car wash complex (below).
Finger Lakes Railway; Camillus, N.Y.; September 18, 2018
The depot at Martisco requires a bit of a drive into and out, and that will have to wait for another chase. However, the depot at Skaneateles Junction (pronounced "skinny atlas") provided a nice photo prop.
Finger Lakes Railway; Skaneateles Junction, N.Y.; September 18, 2018
The gondolas on the head end directly behind the locomotives were destined to be dropped at Auburn, requiring the train to briefly work the small yard there. With a pause in the action, there was time to launch a drone for an aerial shot.
Finger Lakes Railway; Auburn, N.Y.; September 18, 2018
With the work done in Auburn, the GP38-2 duo made short work getting out of town.
Finger Lakes Railway; Auburn, N.Y.; September 18, 2018
For most of the chase, the pattern for the train was run fast between towns, but slow down in towns. With the train carefully negotiating Auburn, there was time to get ahead of the train as it worked uphill through the S-curves along U.S. 20.
Finger Lakes Railway; Auburn, N.Y.; September 18, 2018
Finger Lakes Railway; Cayuga, N.Y.

Between Auburn and Seneca Falls, the railroad loops north of U.S. 20, then drops south on its approach to Cayuga Lake. Meanwhile, U.S. 20 wanders north to skirt the top part of the lake. As the railroad and highway wander, they cross each other about halfway between the two towns with the highway passing overhead.

The highway crosses above the top of Cayuga Lake; meanwhile, the railroad leaves the village of Cayuga and crosses the very top part of the lake on a causeway.

Finger Lakes Railway; Seneca Falls, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
A wide-angle view shows the puffy white clouds reflected in the blue water of the lake as the train slowly makes its way across the causeway.
Finger Lakes Railway; Cayuga, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
From this point, Seneca Falls is only a couple of miles away, but the train slows down considerably as it approaches the village. There are a ton of neat photo props here, including a NYC passenger station and freight house. We opted to get the scene as the train passed through the town square next to the school.
Finger Lakes Railway; Seneca Falls, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
With the chase almost over, the last village is Waterloo before arriving in Geneva. At Waterloo, the Supreme Court courthouse with its golden dome rises above the town.
Finger Lakes Railway; Waterloo, N.Y.; September 16, 2018
From here the train only had a few miles to go before arriving at the yard in Geneva. We opted to leave the train in Waterloo, capping a wonderful Sunday on the Auburn Road and Finger Lakes Railway.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lackawanna F3s Return To the Main Line

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 663; Cobbs Gap, Dunmore, Pa.; September 8, 2018
The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad rostered a small fleet of F3 diesels, built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, with the units arriving on the railroad in the late 1940s. While the units made it to the Erie-Lackawanna merger in 1960, none would survive by the Conrail merger of 1976.

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 663; Cobbs Gap, Dunmore, Pa.; September 8, 2018
With all of the original Lackawanna F3s gone, the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society and the Tri-State Railway Historical Society recreated a set of F3s with two A units and a cabless B unit. Selected as stand-ins for Lackawanna units were Bangor & Aroostook F3 504A (later numbered 44) and BAR F3 506A (later 46); these became Tri-State's DL&W 663 and ARHS's 664, respectively. The B-unit was a bit trickier, as no F3B units survive. ARHS cosmetically modified a Boston & Maine F7B to stand in as Lackawanna 664B.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 663, 664B, 664; Gouldsboro, Pa.; September 8, 2018
As part of its 2018 convention, the ARHS ran an excursion over the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western main line from Scranton to Tobyhanna, Pa., on September 8, 2018. The line is used by Steamtown National Historic Site for its rail excursions, while short line Delaware-Lackawanna (part of Genesee Valley Transportation) provides freight service. The trip featured the A-B-A set of F3s pulling three former Lackawanna coaches and one former Jersey Central coach. On the rear was Delaware-Lackawanna's business car, Erie Lackawanna 3, with D-L President David J. Monte Verde on board. Several photo stops were made, with 663 leading out of Scranton. The excursion was to celebrate the 70th birthday of the F3s. During a photo stop on private property near Gouldsboro (above), the property owner brought out his 1938 Buick (below), so photos featured two GM products built ten years apart.
1938 Buick with 1948 diesels; Gouldsboro, Pa.; September 8, 2018
The original Lackawanna main line is still full of landmarks. Many of the structures were built from concrete and were meant to last. The tower at Gouldsboro is one example.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 663; Gouldsboro, Pa.; September 8, 2018
The 663 led the eastbound trip to Tobyhanna. Once there, the units ran around the train, putting the 664 in the lead for the return trip. A wet summer meant yellow goldenrod was abundant.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 664; Tobyhanna, Pa.; September 8, 2018
Numerous ponds and small lakes dot the upper elevations of the Pocono Mountains. These bodies of water would develop a thick coat of ice in the winter, and ice harvesting was quite common. The ice was stored in insulated ice houses in large blocks and would last well into the warmer months.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 664, 664B, 663; Gouldsboro, Pa.; September 8, 2018
The trip could not have been accomplished without the cooperation of the train crew, which was provided by Steamtown National Historic Site. Train staffing and photo location planning was provided  by the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 664, 664B, 663; Elmhurst, Pa.; September 8, 2018
Just a couple of weeks before the trip, the Scranton area was hit by heavy rains that caused numerous washouts on the Lackawanna main line. Roaring Brook follows the tracks out of Scranton and during the rain it lived up to its name, overflowing its banks. At the final photo stop of the day, there waas evidence of Roaring Brook's wrath. The train is on the siding, as the bank near the main line (on the left) is heavily eroded. Work equipment is on the main to help put everything back where it belongs.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 664; Cobbs Gap, Dunmore, Pa.; September 8, 2018
Soon the trip was over. After dark, a few intrepid photographers tracked down the units on the Steamtown grounds for some night scenes. It was the conclusion to quite a fun day.
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 664; Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, Pa.; September 8, 2018

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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