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Poster Art: Railroads of Europe Train

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Across the globe, most countries have a set of standardized street signs. Many use similar concepts and are mutually intelligible by outsiders based on pictographs. Though the meaning may be easily gleaned, it is interesting to note the wide variety of pictographs used by each country. Despite the fact that modern trains are hardly reminiscent of the steamers of yesteryear, the steam train is the pictograph of choice to convey the idea of “train.”

In some late-night weekend boredom, I worked on a few posters showing the trains of Europe through the lens of street signs and their pictographs. The first one features the pictographs used by each European country to represent trains, in the colors of their flags. The top 20 countries are shown in descending order based on how many miles of rail they have.

Railroad pictographs of Europe
If you like the flag poster, you can buy a copy here.

Technically speaking, the train pictograph above represents a grade crossing without barriers. An alternate sign is in use for crossings with barriers, and it uses a pictograph the resembles a cross between railroad tracks and a fence. I used that pictograph to show the differing track gauges used in Europe.

Rail gauges of Europe

Crossbucks are are a ubiquitous part of rail systems, in the many places where trains converge with streets. Though most countries use a similar concept, the colors and proportions vary widely.

Crossbucks of Europe

And just for fun, I made one more poster which shows the logos of the primary railroads in each country…
Rail logos of Europe

Anyway, the blog will likely be on temporary hiatus later next month as I’ll actually be riding some of these European rails.

Shore Line East and Old Saybrook Train Photos

Friday, March 7th, 2014

In keeping with last week’s theme of exploring Connecticut, today we take a quick visit to the southern coast of the state to check out Shore Line East. As part of the important Northeast Corridor, many of the stations along the line have a long history with the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Though some of the railroad historical buildings are still around (like the freight house, now restaurant in Old Saybrook), most of the Shore Line East stations are of relatively new construction (the exceptions being New Haven, which we’ve visited before, and New London, which deserves its own post at some point in the future).

Shore Line East is operated by Amtrak, so you’ll often catch CDOT locomotives in the old New Haven Railroad scheme, Amtrak locomotives, or a horrible mixture of both (hey boss, I put our sticker on the front, and painted over the Amtrak logo!). The service itself is fairly young – Shore Line East trains began running in May of 1990 – and the line was only supposed to be temporary while construction was being done on Interstate 95. Due to its popularity, however, Shore Line East became permanent.

Some views of the smaller stations on Shore Line East – Branford, Madison, Guilford, and Clinton.

Of the newer Shore Line East stations, Old Saybrook is probably the nicest, and a pretty good place for capturing trains. Besides the Shore Line East trains, about eighteen Amtrak trains stop here daily (which is actually more than Hartford, which we visited last week). Three tracks run through Old Saybrook, and the station consists of a side platform, an island platform, and an overpass connecting the two. Because it was started as a temporary operation, little money was spent on Shore Line East stations. However, once the service became permanent, proper stations were constructed, the first being Old Saybrook in 2002. Branford, Guilford, and Clinton were opened in 2005, and Madison in 2008.

Most Shore Line East trains terminate at Old Saybrook, though a few do go on to New London. The bane of Connecticut’s railroads are definitely the many movable bridges found along the shore line. Some are over a hundred years old, and cause slowdowns and nightmares for Metro-North. In Shore Line East’s case, the challenge to operating more service to New London is that trains must cross several movable bridges, bridges that the Connecticut Marine Trades Association fights to keep open for boats, as opposed to closed for trains. While some have big plans for the service (like connecting it to Rhode Island), it is these local issues that will have to be addressed first (not raiding the state’s Special Transportation Fund is another…).


Black and White Photographs: Commuter Life Train Photos

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know a lot of things have been going on for Metro-North this week. Though people have asked me whether I am going to cover the story myself for this blog, it is my decision to defer to others that have intelligently discussed it elsewhere. Unfortunately, such discussion is but a drop in the ocean of sensational and uninformed thoughts and opinions of everyone and their mother. Clearly, this is why idioms like back-seat driver and armchair quarterback have entered our lexicon. While the 24 hour media can tick seconds away debating whether trains should have seatbelts (no), whether “deadly” curves should be banned (remember that time when the tracks used to be more curvy, and we moved a river?), or whether trains are even safe (yes, and more so than cars), I’m content to allow the NTSB to conduct their investigation, and come up with their suggestions on how to make things safer. You know, the people whose jobs are to investigate accidents, that have Ph.D.s, and whose ranks include “one of the world’s foremost human fatigue experts.” I guess that’s why I like to go to a doctor when I have medical issues, as opposed to consulting some random guy walking down the street.

I will, however, not ignore the events that have transpired. How does a photographer go out and take Metro North photos, or continue blogging, and pretend like everything is awesome? It doesn’t feel right. You don’t want to focus on it, you don’t want to let it define you, but you don’t want to ignore it either. On Instagram I began a series of black and white photographs, which I titled Commuter Life, to try and capture the mood I was feeling. Black and white seemed appropriate – a little somber, a little mourning – the way I felt stepping out on Monday and boarding a train on my way to work. I tried to focus on the people that ride the trains, as opposed to the trains themselves. Four people lost their lives on Sunday, and they could have been any one of us. That person on the platform that we see every day as we both commute. It’s a way of life we share.

Included with every photograph was a short musing on my part. It was more of a stream of consciousness thing – none of the photographs were staged, nor were the comments planned in advance. I carried my camera, and captured the things that caught my eye – from people waiting for the train, to Hudson Line “refugees” playing cards on a packed train to pass the time. In most of the instances, the subjects were unaware I was even photographing them.

You will find the twelve photographs of the series, and their accompanying captions, below – presented with no further commentary.

Commuter Life
A relatively somber mood on the platform as we all head to work.

Commuter Life
We wait for the train, but others are in our thoughts.

Commuter Life
The trains, they are like a second home.

Commuter Life
The commute may be long, but we make it our own.

Commuter Life
And when the seats empty, we head home, only to repeat again tomorrow.

Commuter Life
And today, we ride the train again.

Commuter Life
Some of us ride south, but others go north.

Commuter Life
Sometimes we wait…

Commuter Life
And sometimes we run…

Commuter Life
Though the technology advances, some traditions hold through.

Commuter Life
Sometimes we invent creative ways to pass the time.

Commuter Life
The railroad is not faceless, and sometimes it becomes our friend.

Rare mileage on the Alaska Railroad – The Palmer & Airport Branches Train Photos Videos

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Most of the places we’ve checked out thus far on the Alaska Railroad are part of regular routes that countless passengers have traveled over. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at two of the railroad’s branches – the Palmer branch and the Anchorage Airport branch. Both routes are occasionally used for passenger service, but are not in regular scheduled service. The Alaska Railroad operates a fair train every year for the Alaska State Fair, which travels over the Palmer branch and to South Palmer station. Besides the fair and other special events, it is mostly freight that sees this branch. Beyond the branch’s useable track lies the town of Palmer, for which the branch was named. Palmer’s depot still stands, and is used as a community center. Sitting outside is a restored coal locomotive.


Photos around Anchorage and on the Palmer Branch

The Anchorage Airport branch likely sees more passengers than the Palmer Branch, but it is still not a regularly scheduled route on the railroad. Cruise ship lines with chartered trains are usually the only patrons of the branch, leaving the depot there fairly quiet. If you have money to burn, the depot is available to rent, however.


Photos on the Airport Branch. With its high-level platforms, this is the most “Metro-North looking” part of the entire Alaska Railroad.

Thanks to my camera, you can ride both branches from your own home. Starting off at the Anchorage International Airport, we pass the Anchorage depot before heading onto the Palmer Branch, finishing just beyond the South Palmer / fairgrounds station.

For the folks subscribed to the site via email, you must visit the site to view video features.

Our second video for the day shows another hidden part of the Alaska Railroad, one that passengers never see. Reversing out of Anchorage’s depot, we head into Anchorage yard just after sunrise.

Next week we’ll check out yet another part of the railroad never seen by passengers, as we go behind the scenes and take a shop tour.

One Last Visit to the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad Train Photos

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Over the past few weeks I’ve guided you on a tour over the tracks of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Our little ride has come to an end – for now, at least – as this is our final post on the Cedar Point and Lake Erie. Though we’ve travelled the rails, and met the interesting people that make the railroad run, we haven’t covered some of the railroad’s earliest history.

Cedar Point & Lake Erie Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Historical Photos of the Cedar Point & Lake Erie from

The Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad was inspired by Disneyland’s railroad, and was the brainchild of George Roose, president of Cedar Point in the late 1950s. The amusement park’s board wasn’t quite convinced on the idea of a railroad at the park, and after several rejections, Roose put up his own money to see the project come to fruition. The announcement of the project came in late 1962, and construction on the narrow gauge tracks began in early 1963. The CP&LE’s primary locomotive was Maud L. – a 1902 engine that spent the first years of her life hauling sugar cane for the Laurel Valley Plantation in Louisiana. Roose was so determined to have a railroad at the park that he purchased Maud L. in 1961, some time before the board had even agreed to the project.

Maud L. was expected to carry six coaches, with an hourly capacity of about 1200 people. The railroad’s original route was about 1.6 miles long, extending from the “funway” to the northern portion of the Cedar Point peninsula – mostly woods at the time. A station was built, intended to be a reproduction of those common during the Civil War era. Finally opening to much fanfare in May of 1963, the railroad’s opening ceremony was attended by various representatives of the park and beyond – including deputies from the New York Central, Pennsylvania, and Nickel Plate railroads.

The Cedar Point and Lake Erie quickly became a staple attraction of the park, and carried a record four and a half million passengers in 1970. Though most visitors to Cedar Point will name roller coasters as the park’s primary attractions, the railroad remains one of Cedar Point’s oldest and most-loved attractions.

Cedar Point & Lake Erie Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Historical Photos of the Cedar Point & Lake Erie from

Cedar Point itself is an interesting place – though it almost seems to live in two different worlds. Where on one side it is primarily known for record-breaking roller coasters that push the boundaries of both construction and technology, a portion of its identity is devoted to history. The Frontier Trail, established in 1971, is filled with various historically-themed shops and crafts, from an old grist mill to a blacksmith and a glass blower. Though the trail was constructed several years after the railroad, the two certainly fit together. Theme is a big part of parks these days, but history was more than just a simple theme here – the locomotives acquired for the railroad were former sugar plantation work horses, and the grist mill was not a recreation, but an authentic 1800′s mill that was moved from North Carolina and reconstructed at the park.

Cedar Point's locomotives
Cedar Point’s historical locomotives, illustrated by Randy Sappo.

If any attraction were to bridge the gap between the two identities of Cedar Point, it would likely be the railroad. Railroads have always been the kindred spirits of the roller coaster, their histories joined. They share the same fundamental concept of a car running on tracks, and in the earliest days were both powered by gravity. Though their evolution differed greatly from that point on, there are many spots where the two are reminiscent of one another. In the 1870′s a former coal railroad that had outlived its usefulness was converted to a “scenic railroad” – but with its varying speeds to elicit thrills from passengers, the concept was closer to today’s roller coaster. In fact, several of the roller coasters of the late 1800′s went by the moniker of “scenic railway.” Decades later came the “classic” side friction roller coasters built in the early 1900′s – in order to prevent trains from going off the track they had brakemen, a job mostly associated with railroads.

Today each have their own respective futuristic technologies – from super-fast mag lev trains to hydraulically launched coasters that can shoot riders to speeds over one hundred miles an hour in a matter of seconds. Though many amusement parks have both roller coasters and trains, Cedar Point seems to be one of the most appropriate for the two to live in perfect harmony. So let’s take one more look at the fifty-year-old Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, surrounded by its roller coaster kin.