Last weekend – July 26th to be precise – was the magazine Railroads Illustrated’s Day In North America feature. This is when the magazine picks one day and tells photographers to go out and shoot on that day. They then publish one issue with basically a cross-section of railroading on the North American continent. I’ve had photos in a few of the editions over the years (2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007), and this year was no different. Instead of my usual modus operandi of heading out of state, or riding with a crew for the day, I decided to stay local and save on some gas. But also unlike past years, I really didn’t have a plan for the day – the only thing I planned out was my starting shots – the New England Central southbound job out of South Windham, CT. Everything else was strictly shooting from the hip, so to speak.
The day started out a bit later than I hand planned, despite the pretty nice weather we were having. Normally I’d be out before dawn, getting to my first spot of the day, but this year I was feeling a bit lazy, so I took my time. I ended up getting out of the house around 7:15 and made my way south to try to catch up with NECR train NERWNE. Hopefully they were still in the Franklin/Norwich area.
While heading south on Route 87 through Franklin, I caught some of the conversation between the train and St. Albans dispatcher – from what I could make out it was something about finally getting underway with one unit. OK, I guess I was ahead of them after all. So I went to Dunkin’ Donuts for a quick bagel.
As I was walking out to the car with my bagel in hand, I heard what sounded like an EMD behind the store, followed by a horn and bell. Holy, crap, they’re here! Well, they’re probably going to stop and work Cargill before heading south. So I climbed in the car, and listened to the scanner – nothing but an occasional marker chirp. Hmmm, are they heading south? Only one way to find out – head to the Route 87 crossing.
I turned off of Route 32, and onto 87 to see the train rolling past the crossing at track speed – something they didn’t normally do when they were working here in Franklin. So that meant they were heading straight south. But where…well, the next regular customer was Phelps-Dodge in Norwich.
As I crossed over the tracks on Route 32, I thought I might be able to beat them to the crossing at the Yantic firehouse, so I made my way down there. When the crossing by the firehouse came into view, I saw that the signals were already activated, so no chance of bagging them there. So I took a second to wait and see what cars were on the head end. If there were boxcars, they’d probably be stopping at Phelps-Dodge. As the train rolled across the crossing, there were in fact a few boxcars on the head end. OK, I knew they’d be stopping there.
I pulled onto Wawecus Street, and crossed under the tracks just as the conductor was getting off of the train to make the first cut, which gave me enough time to pull off the road and get my gear together. A few moments later, the train pulled across the overpass.
Then on the way back into the Phelps-Dodge facility, I got a quick shot with a little reflection in a puddle.
With the limited angles around here, I decided to continue south and scout things out. I found my next spot a little ways down the road, where the tracks cross Pleasant Street. So I found a parking lot to sit and listen to the radio waiting for the crew to finish up switching Phelps.
A little while later, it sounded like they were wrapping things up, so I headed south to Pleasant Street, parked the car, and walked the 150 yards or so to my spot. Not long after I got there (and did a bit of landscaping – there was a couple weeds in my way), the crossing signals activated, and NERWNE pulled out of the shadows.
And then across Pleasant Street
Right after that, I switched to the 20D, which had the wide angle on it, to get a shot of the train pulling past me, and someone’s mailbox.
From there, the next spot I had in mind was along the marina at Chelsea Landing, where the Shetucket and Quinnebaug Rivers merge, forming the Thames River. The spot I had picked out was actually right over the Providence & Worcester’s Norwich Branch across the Thames. From this angle I could get some of the boats & fishermen in the shot, along with the passing train.
A couple minutes later, WNE began to roll along the marina and into view.
And a wider view, with more of the calm Thames
Satisfied with what I bagged here, I decided to continue south to see what I could get. But where would I go next?
While traveling down Route 12 the answer popped in my head – the Route 2A bridge. There I thought I could get a long shot of the train passing by the Mohegan Sun casino & hotel. So I headed that way.
But as I usually do, I had second thoughts about that angle. Because of the distance involved, it would pretty much limit me to one shot. So instead, I revised my plans, and set my sights on the Riverview Garage on the Mohegan Reservation. Now the question was, could I make it there in time to catch the train rolling past the casino?
While traveling over the Route 2A bridge, I couldn’t spot the train to the north, and I could barely hear the marker chirps – that usually meant they were at least 1.5 miles away. I might have enough time…
Pulling off of Route 2A, and onto Mohegan Sun Blvd., I headed straight for the Riverview Garage (which is primarily used for overflow parking whenever there’s an event at the arena), and went up to the roof level. Peering over the edge, I still couldn’t see the train, so I guess I made it.
Moments later, NERWNE came into view to the north, as a speed boat raced south in the Thames
Then the train rolled slowly over the trestle spanning the inlet to Traders Cove, as a pair of fishermen scurry out of the way.
And a little wider view of the train, and Traders Cove
Finally, the shots I was looking for – the train pulling through the curve, with the Mohegan Sun casino & hotel in the background. I got one horizontal and one vertical
Then looking down from my perch, I saw another pair of fishermen walking down the tracks.
And swinging around, for a going away shot of the train skirting the Thames.
OK, where to next? Since the train was lumbering along rather slowly, I figured I could make it down to Stoddard Hill in Ledyard for a few across-the-river shots. So it was back into the car, over the Thames and down Route 12 a mile or so to the park.
I pulled in and got to the river bank about 10 seconds before the train came into view across the water. So I got a series of shots of the train rolling along the Thames
Then I heard something to the south – sounded like an outboard motor. Yep, here comes a pair of fishermen heading north. Would the timing work out to get the boat and train in the same frame? A few seconds later, things fell into place, and the boat crossed right in front of me as NERWNE’s power came into view across the river.
And a couple more shots as the train headed south, and out of view
OK, now where to? This time of day, the shots down in the NECR’s New London yard are somewhat limited (especially with the new fencing installed at all the old good spots), so I figured something else was in order. Well, the next logical step would be the Thames River drawbridge – hopefully something would be moving over the river at some point in the near future. So I set my sights on the Puffin’s Restaurant parking lot in Groton, just south of the bridge.
When I parked I was greeted by only a very nice view. Nothing moving at all, and I could see that the Shaw’s Cove swing bridge over in New London was open to boat traffic. Hmmm, so that meant nothing was in the immediate picture. Oh, well, shit happens. But I figured I could stick around for a bit to see what happens.
A couple minutes later, I heard the Shaw’s Cove bridge tender tell some boats that he has to close up for a couple trains. Cool! A quick look at the Amtrak timetable showed me there was a westbound Northeast Regional due first, followed by an eastbound Acela.
About 5 minutes later, I heard the westbound hit the detector at Midway, and a minute or so later, they came onto the drawbridge
Then I went with the wide angle to get the entire train, and the entire bridge
OK, one down, one to go.
As the regional was making their station stop across the river, a New London Police boat sped down the Thames
And 180 degrees from him, a CT-DEP boat came flying north
Then one shot of the two passing eachother
Nice little bit of in-between train shooting.
And just as the boats passed out of sight, I heard horns to the west – the eastbound Acela was crossing Shaw’s Cove, and making their way to the Thames River drawbridge. After snaking through downtown New London, past the station and along Winthrop Cove, the train crossed the new drawbridge span
And as the train was crossing by, another speed boat made their way under the new span, so I got a shot of the train’s trailing power car passing over the boat
Finally a shot of the rear end of the Acela heading for the Groton side of the river.
Not bad…now where to? It was only 10:30, and I still had plenty of daylight left. I figured that since CT-DOT was now running Shore Line East commuter trains between New Haven and Old Saybrook on the weekends, it would be logical to try and catch a run or two. A quick look at the SLE timetable showed there was one train due into Old Saybrook in a little while, and I may be able to get ahead of it. I figured I’d head for Branford and get them crossing the stone arch bridge along Leets Island Road. In hindsight – Boy was that a mistake.
Not having any maps with me, nor my GPS, I was flying by the seat of my pants – yes, for a Boy Scout, I was woefully unprepared. The last time I was down here was around 2002 when I spent a day with Bob LaMay around the area between Leets Island and Pine Orchard. On my way around Branford, something odd came across the scanner – “Shore Line to P&W NH-1.” Hmmm, we’ve got a Providence & Worcester freight in the picture. Cool! Now where was he, and where was he going?
Well, I found my way down to Leets Island Road, where I was greeted by quite a few joggers and bikers…and off in the distance what looked to be a police car…a quick glance at my speedomoter prompted an “oh shit” feeling deep down in my gut. I slowed down as I approached the car, which was situated on a 90 degree curve in the road, but it was too late. Needless to say, he pulled out behind me, and pulled me over. And just before that happened, the Shore Line dispatcher came on the radio to tell NH-1 that they’d be held between PINE and ORCHARD until they figure out a problem with the NECR switch in New London. Hey, at least I knew where they were and where they were going, and more importantly, that they weren’t going anywhere in the near future.
Well, remember that Shore Line East commuter run I was trying to bag? Just after the Branford officer (who was quite kind, and almost apologetic about having to give me a ticket) returned to his car to write me his autographed $191 piece of paper, the train went rolling past me through the trees. Yep, I missed it. The only real saving grace was that it was powered by one of the leased Amtrak Genesis units, and not one of the nice looking New Haven painted GP40s. That would have been a true kick in the teeth…
So after the officer gave me my ticket, I continued east to the spot with the stone arch bridge. I found a spot to park, and walked down to the water’s edge, where there were about a dozen people fishing all around the area. Photo props!
A little bit after I was there, a westbound Northeast Regional came blasting along the causeway, and past a couple in a rowboat fishing
Somewhat later, the Shore Line dispatcher came on the radio to tell NH-1 that they were good to go for the NECR. Just then, an eastbound Amtrak came past
About a minute later, NH-1 came into view rolling past the various fishermen
OK, not bad. Well, for the web. These last ones, my mind wasn’t really into it, so I botched the camera settings, and on the larger versions, the trains are blurred. Oh, well…again, shit happens.
After all of that, the wind was quite literally sucked from my sails. So I decided to call it a day and head home, spending the rest of DINA with my wife & daughters.
Well, that is, until about 10PM, when I realized that the NECR train I had photographed earlier in the morning would be tied down in South Windham for the night. So I grabbed my gear, and my 2,000,000 candlepower flashlight and made my way to what the crews call “Falujah” – CC Lonsbury in South Windham, which is where the new NECR crew base is.
There I found the train sitting silently in the dark, waiting for me to shoot it. Well, after 4 tries, I got this shot.
My lighting method was simple – open the shutter, and walk around with the flashlight, slowly “painting” the train and surroundings with the light. The hardest part was keeping the light on the train, and away from the camera, and all at the same time as trying to avoid the rocks & ditches that abound. Trust me, I found quite a few…but it was worth it.
Then I called it a day. That last shot capped off the day – nice to end DINA on a high note, rather than a $191 ticket, and a handful of botched shots.
Thanks for looking!