Monday, November 19, 2012

BNSF "Executive" Power Part 2

First off let me apologize for being tardy with new posts as of late. I will be returning to my regular schedule of two blog posts a week!

In my previous post I began to discuss my first encounter of three with the BNSF "executive" paint scheme locomotives on Pam Am lines. Looking back, that was a great encounter and the next day I was again lucky in catching these units in Waterville, while visiting family.

October 28th was a gloomy Sunday with an increasingly dark sky. I was actually quite worried that it was going to rain before I could get any decent photos. On the drive up it began to rain and steadily increased until Augusta. Luckily, in Waterville it was a light sprinkle. I stopped by Maine Central #470 to see if could see the units, but to no avail.

I drove further down the road running parallel to the Waterville yard. As I was driving slowly along I caught a glimpse of the green and cream colored paint scheme. I pulled over and snapped two photos between two box cars. I have to apologize in advance for not catching better photos during the day time. 
Executive Unit in Background
Seeing that I was not going to be able to get any better shots I moved on and met up with the family in Fairfield. Soon I heard the familiar sounds of train horn and rushed to catch whatever train was going by. I pulled up to one of the many railroad crossings and could see the Sappi local returning from the Sappi Mill.
Sappi Local in Background, MP 111 in Foreground

The Sappi local approached at a brisk pace with newly painted GMTX 3005 leading with MEC 348 behind. It was a short train and I followed it back to the Waterville yard, but was unable to get any additional photos due to the oil cans.
MEC # 348

Artistic shot
That ends the story of the BNSF units I caught over a two day period. . . . or so I thought. Returning to Auburn through Lewiston, I could see the tail end of a train heading south. Surprisingly it was the three BNSF executive units. I headed to my usual night photography spot at Denny's in Auburn and waited. Below are three of the last shots that I got of these beautiful and rare units.

Friday, November 9, 2012

BNSF "Executive" Oil Power

Two weeks ago, oil train power consisted of BNSF executive units. In the early 1990's, BNSF painted nearly 400 units in the executive paint scheme. The scheme is a combination of Brunswick green on the upper and lower body of the locomotive and a solid creme stripe through the center with a red accent. The paint scheme was originally used on Burlington Northern F-Units. It appears that there are less than 200 locomotives with this paint scheme still in active service. What makes this occasion so special is because two of these units made it as far north as Maine!

I had the privilege of catching these two units on two separate occasions, both at night. Unfortunately the pictures are the typical blur when it comes to night train photography (this should be changing soon). Our first run-in was on October 27th after returning from a family meet up in Western Maine. Since I live relatively close to the tracks, I soon heard the familiar sound of a train horn. This time, it sounded modern and was moving fast. Boy was I right; the oil train was moving very fast through town. I was hoping to get a few good shots before heading over the Androscoggin railroad bridge. But alas I was not fast enough, unless I wanted to break the speed limit.

I tried to keep pace to the best of my ability. Missed the opportunity to catch the train at the back of Central Maine Medical Center, or near the Vetrans Memorial Bridge. I decided to head further out and it turns out a good spot is at Subway in Lewiston. I quickly pulled in, set up my tripod and waited. I made sure to find the best angle as well as the best camera settings. Below is one such shot waiting for the oil train. 

CTC in Background

In the background is a CTC or centralized train control warning any train heading west of an oncoming train. Familiar engine sounds filled the air and headlights down the bend signaled that the BNSF units were to be arriving at my position soon.

Oncoming train
The headlight grew near, getting bigger. The picture above paints an eerie scene of wonderment and unknown. Closer the engines came, and the sounds of diesels working drowned out the bar music close by. As the oil train crossed the bridge, I had to readjust the focus and zoom. As the train went by the conductor yelled out the window, "Does that camera have night vision?" I quickly stammered and yelled back "No, but it has a low aperture!", or something along those lines. To be honest I was not expecting the engineer to utter a single word at me. So no wonder I was almost speechless. 

BNSF Executive SD70
The oil train passed and I panned my tripod. I started hitting the remote on my camera and captured this beautiful shot above. You can see the ditch lights, and the executive paint scheme quite clearly defined. 

Cropped Shot

Following the run in with the engineer I panned the camera back down the track to catch the oil tanks. Below are a few pictures. 

Oil Tanks
More Oil Tanks

 I stayed at Subway for a little bit longer and counted well over one hundred oil tanks. Then I packed up and hit the sack for the trip to Fairfield on Sunday (which will be a separate blog post coming very soon).

Stay tuned for the next segment with some Waterville action thrown in for good measure!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pam Am Wrecker Train

I took a quick drive down to Danville Junction on a Sunday afternoon in late May. I pulled over by the post office because I had seen a light further down the line. Let me just say, I was in for a treat of a lifetime. Slowly, two Guilford GP40's, #MEC 353 and #MEC 377 came into view hauling Pam Am's wreck train. I remember as a kid always wanting one of those wrecker trains for my model train layout. Seeing it up close and in person was just astonishing. I felt like a kid again.

I grabbed my camera and started snapping shots as the train slowly passed through the crossing on its way to Waterville.

MEC #353 Foreground, MEC #377 Background
B&M Wrecker Crane #3366
I hurried to my car and headed up to the Rumford Junction. As I waited, I decided to throw on my 300mm lens and headed up to the railroad crossing to wait. A few minutes passed, and then a light peaked over the little rise and the wrecker train materialized. 

MEC # 355 In Background, Rail In Foreground

I must say, after chasing this train, I felt like I almost caught tetanus by looking at it. To put it bluntly, the wrecker train is pretty run down. The coaches and caboose have surely seen better times. But then again it is not meant to be pretty, it is meant to get the job done! The shot below is of a Guilford Caboose that could use some new paint. 

Guilford Caboose
The last two shots on this May sighting show the workshop cars and a bulldozer.

Rusted Workshops
 Let me know what you think of the blog. Send me a quick email or leave a message in the comments if you want to see me cover a new area in Central and Western Maine.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adventures in Night Photograpy

I have wanted to dabble for some time in night train photography. Night photography can be tricky if you have not tried it before. Just this past summer, I tried to capture the super moon with various degrees of success. Primarily, you need find the right balance of shutter speed, f-stop, and iso to come out just right. If you screw up any one of these settings, it can easily ruin the perfect shot. Night photography honestly is a big pain in the ass.

Luckily, living in Auburn has granted me one major advantage, and that is lighting. Light along the tracks will allow you to have a higher shutter speed and a lower iso. What this means is that the photo will look less grainy. You will want to bring a sturdy tripod. Further down the page you will see an example as to why you want a sturdy tripod. Lastly, a remote for a digital camera or a cable release is a must to cut down on camera vibration. Let’s jump forward and talk about what I captured.

The first night was kind of a disaster. I decided to camp out in the Denny’s parking lot in Auburn and waited for WAPO. I waited for about 20 minutes, double checking to make sure I had my camera remote, and tripod. Just for a moment I heard the faint train horn in the distant. Soon it grew louder as it crossed the Androscoggin Bridge. I rushed out of my car with tripod in tow. I hastily set up and kept thinking that I should have been more prepared. It turns out I had plenty of time and shot a few test photos that you can see below.

First Test Shot

Second Test Shot

I would like to add, watch out for lens flare, which comes from any light source, and can make getting good pictures difficult. You can see the distinct lens flare in this picture.

Lens Flare
Camera Shake From Un-Sturdy Tripod

With very little to show my first night, I went back out a few days later after I heard that WAPO was coming back through Auburn. I went to the same place as last time and set up as soon as I arrived. This made all of the difference because I was able to hone in on the right settings. Now all I needed to do was wait. Soon the familiar sound of a train horn filled the night sky and I was able to catch these nice shots.

Box Cars

Tanker Cars

After a very successful night shoot I decided to capture BNSF oil power returning from Waterville to Rigby. Minutes pass, until I heard the horn of a Dash-9 crossing the Androscoggin Bridge. I decided I wanted to take some night shots without additional light. So I drove out to Danville Junction and Intervale road in New Gloucester. Below are the photos I were able to get with no other light sources other than the Dash-9 lights.

BNSF Dash-9s Streak Pass

Rounding Bend

BNSF Power

Pam Am OCS, October 17th, 2012

Posting a few photos of Par 1&2 passing through Auburn on Wednesday October 17th. Story to follow soon!

OCS about to pass through Danville Junction

Par 1 at Danville Junction

Par 1&2 about to pass through crossing at Intervale Rd, New Gloucester

Intervale Road, New Gloucester

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pam Am PAR 1&2

This past summer I had the pleasure of catching two of the vaunted EMD FP9 locomotives operated by Pam Am railways. Pam Am operates two of these FP9 units called PAR 1&2. These units were built during the mid-1950s as pulling power for both freight and passenger service. As of 2012 Waterville hosts two of these beautiful units which have been repainted in Pam Am colors.

FP9s and their predecessors have a special place in my heart. I remember that nearly every train set I ever owned as a child included an FP9 or FP7 unit. The unit was created during a time of transition for many railroads. New diesel engine technology made steam locomotives in some cases seem obsolete. The FP9 units are sleek and streamlined and sound beautiful.
Pam Am railways have done an amazing job at keeping these units in operating condition. 

Pam Am uses PAR 1&2 today for office car specials to transport higher ups around the various Pam Am lines. This past May, I had the pleasure of following both units and accompanying coaches to Monmouth, Maine. If you are looking for a great spot to snap pictures, head to downtown Monmouth and park across from the Monmouth General Store.  
 On this bright, muggy spring day I was able to catch the office car special in all of it's glory, and I was able to test out my new 300mm lens. At a distance, it sounds like thunder rolling off in the hills. When it passes by, it sounds like a cacophony of rumbling and reverberation followed by the high pitched wail of the horn. 

I was able to snap a few shots as it passed through Monmouth. Below is a shot of PAR 1 rounding the bend in Monmouth.

Par 1 passing mile marker 147 in Monmouth, Maine

The second shot is from a shorter focal length.

Par 1 from a shorter focal length

The last shot here is on the Winthrop town line.

Par 1 traveling at high speed at a crossing in Winthrop, Maine

Catching Par 1&2 is at the top of my list of most memorable moments since I started taking photos. I would suggest checking the Guilford Rail Sightings group for any indications as to when this elusive train hits the tracks.

Signing Off until next time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Luck of the Draw

Let me first start off by saying welcome! I am very excited to be starting this blog, and hope to provide a resource for railfans in Central and Western Maine. My first blog post is about luck. Railfans have all been in this situation before, trying to catch the perfect shot, video, or catching a specific train such as the new Norfolk Southern heritage units. This past spring Pam Am Railways inked a deal to transport oil trains to Saint John, New Brunswick. Rail traffic has increased and with it, locomotives many thought they would not see operating so far north. Big six axle units from BNSF, UP, and Norfolk Southern have been traveling from Rigby yard as far Waterville, Maine. The past few months have been a railfan's holy grail.

It has been very difficult to catch a loaded oil train passing through Auburn and its surrounding areas during the day. The last few months have been frustrating (especially without having a scanner). Luckily the Guilford Rail Sightings group has been an invaluable tool being able to piece together the clues as to when these trains pass through Auburn and points north.

On October 9, I was browsing the sightings and it was mentioned that a loaded oil train was being canned at Readfield for the night. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to catch one of these elusive trains.

As the say in the military, your plan falls apart when you first make contact with the enemy. The enemy on the morning of October 10th was the lack of sleep. It turned out to be a lucky turn of events. Instead of driving to straight to Readfield, I decided to take a quick detour down to Danville Junction.

Driving along, I found WAPO canned on the main line just above the International Paper plant. Low and behold it contained three BNSF units from one of the previous oil trains. I pulled over to wait. Ten minutes pass, when suddenly I could hear the engines of the Dash-9s and the accompanying SD-40s throttle up. Slowly the train started to pull away heading south towards Danville. I was able to make it to the junction and capture a few shots with BNSF Unit # 5133 leading.
BNSF Dash-9 #5133

Seeing that WAPO was heading south, I decided to scratch Readfield and travel to a crossing on Intervale Road in New Gloucester. As I crossed over the track, I could see on the main line another BNSF lead train waiting for WAPO to enter the siding. This train turned out to be another lucky find. BNSF #5508 was attached to UP locomotive # 8746, followed by GMTX #205 to be used at Waterville. 


BNSF #5508 on mainline waiting for WAPO lead by BNSF #5133 to enter the siding

Finally after twenty minutes WAPO passes into the siding heading for Royal Junction. Minutes passed as #5508 waits to get clearance to proceed onto Danville. Soon the familiar sounds of engines reverberated through the air. The chase is on! 

The train passed through the crossing at a brisk pace and headed for Danville then onto Waterville. Along the way I caught the train at a parallel road in Greene. 

BNSF #5508, UP #8746, and GMTX #205 in Greene Maine

The last part of the chase brought me to a crossing on the Greene/Leeds line. The crossing offered a beautiful opportunity to capture the train heading through a tunnel of trees in the fall foliage. Below are two photos.

Fall foliage and BNSF #5508
Gorgeous shot of BNSF  #5508

I decided to pack it up for the day and head back home. It was a marvelous four hours chasing these trains through the country side. It was sheer luck that I was able to catch both trains in New Gloucester, but I am glad I did.

Look back here for my previous trips this past summer and more photos of my October 10th excursion.

Signing off.