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.

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Newton, New Jersey, United States

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