Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent my evenings exploring the rails, photographing at one of my favorite times of the day – sunset. While one generally loses the illumination of the sun’s rays, you gain a multitude of colors in the sky… and to me, there is just something magical about that.

In terms of night photography – or at least, what railfans tend to think about night photography – one usually uses artificial lights to illuminate a posed, unmoving train. Though it seems to be the en vogue thing to do these days, I see little reason to do so other than “because we can.” Most seem to do it for the novelty, or because all the “cool kids” are doing it. Many that take part look to evoke the work of O. Winston Link, arguably the best night railroad photographer ever (though Jack Delano, whose photographs I featured last week, was also an accomplished night photographer – it was never really his “claim to fame,” however). Unfortunately, most fall flat in their endeavor to “be like Link.” While I can see the merits of photographing steam trains at night (the lower light allows one to capture sweeping plumes of smoke from the engine), I see little reason to do it with modern trains. After dark I find it far more fun to capture not the train itself, but the train’s movement, and its environment.

Because of the low ambient light, long exposure photography allows one to record the movement of the train, rendered as blurs of light. In order to get a proper exposure, your camera shutter is open for longer – in some cases for 15 seconds or more (thus a stable resting place, preferably a tripod, is required). Done right, any moving object in the frame shows up as a blur, or a streak. Modern electric trains, like Metro-North’s M7s and M8s, with their shiny and smooth exteriors and LED lights lend themselves to this, becoming graceful blurs. Instead of artificial light, one uses the “natural” (or as natural as the light off a cityscape could be), and the intense colors of a sunset to evoke a completely different mood. Since I don’t really have a post lined up for this week, I figured I’d share some of my recent photographs taken at sunset, or at night… and maybe convince some of you that there is fun to be had after dark, far away from the now all too common “night photo sessions.”

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Stamford

Welcome to Stamford, the next and final stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. We’ve seen the best (and worst) that the line and its branches have to offer – from the attractive New Canaan, Mamaroneck, and New Haven stations, to the barely-there stations of Merritt 7 and Ansonia. Stamford is much more utilitarian than it is beautiful, consisting of five tracks that accommodate both Metro-North and Amtrak trains, as well as a waiting area complete with a Dunkin Donuts and a MTA police station <insert stereotypical joke here>.

   
 

Photos of Stamford station in the 1970’s and 1980’s

Throughout the many years the railroad has run through Stamford, there have been several different station buildings to occupy the space. One of the buildings with the longest life-span was built in 1896, surviving for nearly 90 years, before being demolished to make room for the current station. There were, in fact, two full stations on each side of the tracks – complete with ticket windows, bathrooms, baggage and waiting rooms. Although many New Haven Line stations had a building on both sides of the tracks, one of the two was usually smaller and did not have full amenities. Stamford’s two full-service stations was a rarity, and reflected the station’s importance. By October of 1907, the line from New York up to Stamford was electrified, which lead to even further population growth in the city.

Stamford station did not see any major changes until 1972, when high-level platforms were constructed to accommodate the new “Cosmopolitan” railcars (M2’s), and again in the early 1980’s when the historical station buildings were razed to make room for the current station.

 
   
  
   

Historic American Buildings Survey photographs of Stamford, taken in 1983 before the two stations were demolished

The current station at Stamford, known as the Stamford Transportation Center, was completed in 1987. The construction took around five years and cost a very over-budget $40 million dollars. The new station opened to less than stellar reviews, using an array of embarrassing adjectives such as dismal, uncomfortable, and gruesome. Though there have been renovations in the time since, the station still feels like a massive, unfriendly box of concrete. The high concentration of police also made me absolutely frightened to take pictures, though there were many places that I could have. Any station with that many tracks usually equals more opportunities to capture the movement of trains. Although I got a few shots of the new M8 railcars, the rest of the station is remarkably drab and relatively non-noteworthy… especially compared to some of the wonderful things we’ve seen on the New Haven Line.

 
  
   
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
  
   

So… that is it. We’ve officially toured the entire Harlem Line, and the entire New Haven Line. Up next will be the Port Jervis Line, which I photographed last year, followed by the Hudson Line, which I will start photographing soon.

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Mamaroneck


Postcard view of Mamaroneck station


Aerial view of Mamaroneck. The old station is to the left, away from the tracks and platform.

Welcome to one of the final Tuesday Tours of the New Haven Line. Our stop today is the delightful village of Mamaroneck. I had every intention of posting Mamaroneck last – I even had Darien’s tour ready to go – but I happened to get a sneak peek of the newly-restored station over the weekend, and couldn’t resist posting it right away. The station, built in 1888 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style (which, admittedly, is one of my favorites), is certainly one of the nicest (and second oldest) on the New Haven Line. However, like many old stations, the condition of the building had degraded, and it needed a lot of work. Metro-North, who owned the station, was having difficulties finding someone to lease the place in the condition it was in. Without the funds to renovate the station themselves, Metro-North instead listed the station for sale in 2007.


Drawing of Mamaroneck station, front view

Though various parties were interested in the station, it was ultimately sold in 2008 to John and Chris Verni of Verco Properties, for $1.25 million. Renovations began after a formal groundbreaking ceremony on April 22, 2010. During my first visit to Mamaroneck last September, I happened to get a few shots of the station while the restoration was in progress. It didn’t look like too much had been completed yet, but I was feeling very optimistic about this place, and knew I would return at some point.

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