Photographer of Night, Light & Steel Wheels

Posts tagged “oncoming train


It’s the Fall of 2010 and I had just picked up photography after shooting videos for a couple of years. Word had come that CSX was going to replace the old Baltimore and Ohio Color Position Light signals along the famed Magnolia Cutoff east of Cumberland, MD. I spent the majority of my weekends during the Summer videoing that stretch of line. As the daylight faded during those trips I was intrigued by the night along the rails.
Fast forward to the Fall of that year and I had begun hanging out with Sean Hoyden of Night Stalker Photo Works. We ventured out along the Cutoff using his flashes and I began experimenting with my wife’s 3 megapixel point and shoot camera. The camera however had a manual control and could take long exposures up to 15 seconds, something most cameras of that style could not do.
It was from this after sharing a few of the photos that I was contacted by a railfan publication that thought it would be cool to have a little feature. I agreed and ventured out again during late November and found myself at Carothers just east of Paw Paw, WV at the east portal of the tunnel by the same name around 3am. If you look on today’s CSX Cumberland Sub timetable you’ll note that there is no signal by that name. During the signal replacement in the late Spring of 2011 Carothers which was a west bound only intermediate signal was removed permanently.
Up until this night I had always the “streak and change” shots where you set up and film the train and its lights streak by creating a “warp” effect and then the signal switching colors as the train passed. I wanted to do something different this time so I sat and waited after a bit, hearing an eastbound approach a few miles away. As it called the signal on the other side of the tunnel I readied the camera which sat on a cheap plastic tripod and clicked the shutter as I heard the low “hmm” as it entered the tunnel. Not much I could do afterwards, I thought 16 seconds would time it about right for the shot I had in mind. The headlights are about to round the curve when finally the camera is done and the train whooshes past.
I say to myself, “Did I get it?”
I wait…
The problem with the camera was it could take the exposures BUT then you had to wait for it to process it.
Finally the screen lights up and to my amazement, what you see is what I saw. Today, even looking back I am amazed by what I could capture without the use of a dslr or even a high end point and shoot camera. The signal and it’s sisters along the Cutoff may be gone, but today I can look back into the past and revel.


This seems to be a common occurrence when I specifically go to document things along the railroad such as signals. I’ll come away with something totally different which adds to the excitement of night shooting. In a PREVIOUS POST I talked about documenting the Norfolk and Western Color Position Light signals at Shepherdstown on the Norfolk Southern H Line in January 2015. Well, in late 2014, I had gone to document the signals at Shenandoah Junction as their immediate retirement was near. Norfolk Southern had been extending the siding the signals here controlled to the north and their replacements were moved from staging at Charles Town to the Junction sometime in August.

After multiple trips over the course of the month, I set out for one final night along the rails. I arrived and decided to shoot the northbound signals that sit roughly 100 yards south of a road crossing. There are 3 tracks here, facing north left to right are the siding, the main, and the lead into the former N&W/B&O interchange yard.

NS 994619

NS 994619

Upon arrival I found NS had parked some ballast cars on the interchange track. 12R was in the area so I turned the camera around to face south and got set. The red hue on the rear of the hopper is the reflection from the light of the dual bracket mast signals immediately behind me and 12R’s headlights light up the main and siding tracks as a gentle fog rolls by.

FOGGY VISIONS: The headlights of 213 illuminate the dense fog at Shenandoah Junction, WV

FOGGY VISIONS: The headlights of 213 illuminate the dense fog at Shenandoah Junction, WV

As the night wore on and into the early morning hours as I focused my attention to the signals. The fog was heavy at times and non-existent at others. The traffic on the rails however was somewhat lacking which is unusual for this stretch at night, Finally, a southbound train could be heard rumbling far off in the distance through the very thick fog. It’s sounding horn, very faint until its arrival.



The dense fog let up quite a bit by the time southbound manifest train 15T arrived on the scene. The dispatcher previously notified the crew on board they were to wait for a northbound and take the siding.  It was as 15T rolled past I had an idea but it hinged on where exactly the rear of the train would stop, how fast the approaching train would be going and of course the fog. Sure enough, the train stopped in an almost perfect location, With it being so dark, i could not gather any intel on the density of the fog other than my visibility with my headlamp ceasing at about 10 feet. So there I waited and took a few test shots to try and time the blinking end of train or EOT device as I know I did not want the light to blow out its exposure. “214 clear Daniels” was announced on the radio and i began my finishing touches, including focus. Soon the headlights of 214 announced it’s presence and I held my shutter trigger cable release in my hand. I quickly again checked the focus through the viewfinder and noticed to my surprise the fog was very light. I picked a spot to begin firing off the shutter in succession. The scene to the naked eye looked awesome! I began hitting the shutter in coordination with the EOT device.

214 passed by, giving a salute of the horn to myself and the grade crossing ahead, I looked at the cameras lcd display and was very pleased with the result. Soon after, 15T disappeared into the again heavy fog. I packed up my things and headed back to the car. I downloaded the SD card contents to my desktop and played with the photo on Lightroom. After only a few minor tweaks, the final version can be seen below.



ISO: 1600


My 12 year old son and I ventured out on a recent Saturday night to catch Norfolk Southern’s Pennsylvania Railroad Heritage unit 8102 leading a manifest through the area at nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland. Photographing signals such as the former operations’s Norfolk & Western Color Position Light (CPL) signals in the area has become a hobby of mine. Their days are becoming numbered as NS has begun in recent years replacing them with newer standardized varieties, most recently just six miles to the south at Shenandoah Junction, WV in November of 2014.


The Norfolk and Western CPL at Shepherdstown, WV displays a clear indication for Norfolk Southern train 15T on the railroad’s H Line. The constellation “Orion” can be seen to the right.

I arrived in town from just across the Potomac River just before midnight and the southbound signal was lit up green which gives a “clear” indication for a passing train. After seeing the indication and the star field behind it, I began taking a series of long exposure or “open shutter” photos.



Finally coming across a composition that I was happy with, I began exploring the scene even further. I had visited Shepherdstown countless times and each time always seems to provide another angle I had not thought of previously. Soon after the southbound passed a “Diverging Approach” (red over diagonal yellow) signal lit, meaning another southbound was approaching, but instead of going straight, would go onto the passing siding on which the CPL’s here protect.

The train (213) arrived but I almost missed it. Being cold, I sat in the car to warm up after setting up and was having a conversation with my son. Soon there afterwards, Evan brought it to my attention that the trees were lighting up and asked if a car was coming. I immediately jumped out and turned on the camera just as 213 arrived, switched and waited in the siding as 12R approached from the south. I was happy with the composition I had found when 213 arrived but again, something was missing. I could hear 12R blow at the road crossing just a couple miles away. I managed a couple test shots before it turned the curve and finally it hit me. back in September, I photographed a scene at Shenandoah Junction of on oncoming train illuminating the right of way and tracks between it and I as well as silhouetting the train in the siding with it’s “end of train” device lit. I quickly adjusted my ISO to 640 (was previously set at 400) and aperture to an f-stop 6.3 for more detail. 12R lit of the foreground and behold the scene developed before my eyes. I took 3 shots at 10 seconds, 7 and finally 4. Of the three, the final shot proved to be the winner.

Pictured below is the final product. Standing in the 10 degree heat with the light snow on the ground I believe made the image pop. At another time, say in the Summer may have had a different effect. What you see is the rear of train 213 sitting on the siding adjacent to the northbound N&W Bracket CPL Mast signals as the the still air and tracks shine. the southbound displays a “restricted” or stop signal and fills in nicely in the foreground. This scene will undoubtedly change in the future. How soon, I do not know. I am just glad I was able to be there to capture it and share it with all of you.

J-Dub 01/15/15

It's a very chilly 10 degrees at Shepherdstown, WV as 213 sits in the siding to meet the incoming 12R.

It’s a very chilly 10 degrees at Shepherdstown, WV as 213 sits in the siding to meet the incoming 12R.