Wednesday, August 31, 2011

January 2004: New River Gorge, West Virginia

CSX westbound empty hopper train in the New River Gorge.
My first big trip with a digital SLR camera was a weekend in West Virginia's New River Gorge at the end of January 2004. Even though I had taken several train rides through the gorge as a child, I didn't "discover" its photographic potential until I started looking at Kevin Scanlon's photographs of the region. I was intrigued by the high-angle possibilities, a rarity in the dense forests of the eastern U.S., but at first I thought the trains appeared too small and too far away. Something about Kevin's work kept me coming back to those images, though, and eventually I realized that the trains were just the right size. These are photos about the land, and the railroad's relationship to it.

The New River Gorge can be a difficult place to photograph. In the short days of winter, the tracks only see sunlight for a few hours. It's 9:55 a.m. in the above view from Kaymoor, and shadows still cover part of the river and the entire southwestern wall. The two main tracks of CSX's New River Subdivision run on opposite banks of the river here, built to serve coal mines on both sides. (You can see the extant conveyor of the Nuttalburg tipple at far left.) Most vantages require a hike and only afford a view of one track. There's little advance warning on the trains, so usually I just pick a spot and wait. Sometimes everything runs on the track that I can't see, or nothing runs at all. But the river speaks to me, the hawks and buzzards keep me company, and sometimes it all comes together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

January 2004: Berea, Ohio

Norfolk Southern eastbound freight train on the Rocky River Bridge in Berea, Ohio.
On a snowy Saturday in January, I took ventured southwest of Cleveland to Berea, Ohio, in search of a wintry scene on the Rocky River Bridge. There I found a Norfolk Southern eastbound mixed freight train stopped in a perfect position to try several angles. I'm looking at the north side of the bridge here, which never catches sunlight in the winter, making an overcast day favorable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

December 2003: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad "Polar Express" passenger train with Alco C420 no. 365 stopping at the depot in Peninsula, Ohio, on the evening of December 18, 2003.
Digital photography for me began in earnest on December 18, 2003. That was the day that I came home from work and found the box that contained the grand prize from the 2003 Trains Magazine and Canon Photography Contest: a Canon EOS 10D and 24-85 lens. One of the first things I wanted to test was the camera's low-light capabilities, having heard good reviews of its performance at high ISOs. After shooting some Christmas decorations in downtown Cleveland, I headed south into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to photograph the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's Polar Express train at the "North Pole" (Peninsula, Ohio).

Editing and Organizing Photographs

I think that editing your own photography collection is one of the most difficult, and important, activities for a photographer to undertake. We can have so much emotional connection to our photographs, so well aware of all the situational details that went into each and every image. I can look at one of my photos from a decade ago, and so clearly recall the crispness in the fall air and the elation I felt when composition, light, and subject matter coincided just the way I had hoped they would. The temptation is to save everything, and ever-larger hard drives make this technologically feasible. Some day, to some one, each and every one of those photos might prove interesting or valuable.

A long-term, practical view might suggest otherwise, especially if you want your photography collection to outlive you. I started dabbling in digital photography in 2002, and I have photographed almost exclusively with digital cameras since mid-2004, a period of over seven years. In that time, I have amassed nearly a terabyte of digital images in tens of thousands of files. To make matters worse, I have not been diligent in assigning metadata to my photos. My "organizational system" consists of dumping all the photos from each outing into a file folder named for the general location and date. If something happens to me before I go back and change that, the reality is that very, very few (if any) of my photos will ever be used again, by anyone.

In 2008, at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art's annual conference (which I help organize), photographer and writer Jeff Brouws made a presentation on organizing your archive. The most salient point of his presentation, to me, was this (and I'm paraphrasing here, but it's close): as amateur or semi-professional photographers, the vast majority of us are only going to create a very limited number of photographs (perhaps 10, or maybe 50) that have real lasting value. With that point in my mind, I want to go back through my own archive, whittle away at its size, and begin to identify my very best images and describe them as carefully and as accurately as possible.

My plan for tackling this project is to get up early on most mornings and go through one file folder each day, and blog about it here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shut Up & Love the Rain

Former Souther Pacific wood chip car on the Portland & Western's Toledo Hauler near Eddyville, Oregon.

'Nuf said.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wi-Fi on the Train? Why Yes!

Wi-Fi notification sticker in window of Amtrak Cascades train.

Research for an upcoming article took me to the Tacoma library today, with all travel accomplished by Amtrak Cascades service and some walking. Amtrak has been touting its new Wi-Fi service aboard the Cascades and I'm pleased to note that it worked very well on both trains 500 and 509. It also meant that I could both take today's photo and publish it to my blog without so much as needing to leave my seat. Interestingly enough, the service supposedly works much better in the coaches than it does in the bistro or dining car, and that's by design. Northwesterners accustomed to long computer stints in area coffee shops were staying too long in the bistro and dining cars' limited seating, to the point that passengers actually wanting to eat something didn't have a place to sit.

The day itself has been very satisfactory. The research was less than I'd hoped for, but I did turn up a couple of useful nuggets. Best of all was the way I traveled today -- walking a mile from home to the Amtrak station in Oregon City, riding the train to Tacoma, walking the two miles from the Tacoma station to the library with a stop lunch, walking back with a stop for coffee, and now riding the train home. It reminds me of Japan, and the surprising discovery of freedom in travel without a car.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Coast Range

Portland & Western's Toledo Hauler running along the Yaquina River near Toledo, Oregon.

Just four years ago, three active railroads traversed western Oregon's Coast Range. Today, there is only one: the Portland & Western's Toledo Branch, which runs from Albany to a Georgia Pacific kraft paper mill at Toledo, on Yaquina Bay. The floods of November 2007 wiped out the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad to the north, while to the south the line from Eugene to Coos Bay currently awaits a new operator. For now, only the Toledo Hauler crosses Oregon's Coast Range. The mill generates enough traffic for service five days a week, and a small lumber mill in Toledo also ships a few carloads.

I photographed the Toledo branch heavily during the two years that Maureen and I lived in Corvallis, so this morning's outing was like returning to an old friend (the homecoming was made all the sweeter by having another friend at the throttle of this train).The lushness of the Coast Range reminds me more of Appalachia than other landscape I've encountered in the west, so I find a comfortable familiarity in the thickly forested mountains, and today's misty weather is by far my favorite for photographing this part of Oregon. I'll have to come back again soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Japanese Engineer

Japanese train driver in Sapporo station, June 20, 2007.

Between September 2005 and July 2007, I traveled in China for almost three months, spent two weeks in Vietnam, and lived in Japan for 19 months. Since returning to the U.S., I frequently field the question, “What are the people there like?”

For three years I answered by underscoring the differences, feeling comfortably smug in my firsthand knowledge of the cultural nuances distinguishing groups of people that many Americans simply lump together as “Asians.” And then last spring I finally saw the folly of that approach.

In China, I traveled with Ronald Olsen, a fellow American photographer and train-lover whose experience and knowledge of Mandarin enriched my trip far more than I ever could have imagined. Of the past 14 years, Ronald has cumulatively spent more than three of them in China. Last spring, an interviewer asked both of us about the people there. I listened, while Ronald answered.

“They’re just like us. They want a good job. They want a nice roof over their head. They want to spend time with their families. And they want to have a laugh and a beer now and again. They’re a lot more like us than you realize.”

That brings me to today’s photo. Of course I did not take it today. I captured this view of a Japanese train driver in the Sapporo station on Wednesday, June 20, 2007. It was 5:12 p.m., departure time for the luxurious overnight sleeper train Hokutousei for Tokyo. His center-cab DD51 diesel hydraulic locomotive is nothing like any passenger engine in the U.S., and you won’t find very many American engineers wearing such crisp white shirts and black hats. But just like any American engineer all the way back to the days of steam, he looks at the ground when he starts his train.

And just like any American engineer or European driver, he hopes for a fast, safe run, and an on-time arrival at the end of his territory. And right now, if he still works the Hokutousei out of Sapporo, he hopes for the day when his country has returned to normal enough that his train can again depart. This train travels along the east coast of Japan’s Tohoku region, and much of its tracks were crippled and swept away by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese Disaster Relief Funds:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Small Trains

Amtrak train no. 28 crossing the Willamette River at North Portland, Oregon.

I'm back, at least for now, and I hope to add some other recent photos, backdated to the appropriate day. For now, I'll start by revisiting an old theme. My friend, mentor, and fellow photographer Kevin Scanlon and I used to have a running "competition" of sorts: making the train as small as possible in a photo that was still a "railroad photo." It was Kevin's photos from the New River Gorge in my home state of West Virginia that first warmed me to this notion. I had previously been frustrated by the gorge -- in my traditional notion of railroad photography, I couldn't find a way to photograph a train and still depict the essence of the place: the depth of the canyon and vastness of the hills. Kevin showed me that the train doesn't need to fill the frame, or even a significant portion of it, to still have its place in the composition. I've since made these kinds of photos a signature part of my photography.

This afternoon, when the sky opened gloriously above Portland, I headed to my favorite overlook of BNSF's Willamette River drawbridge, where I was treated to three Amtrak trains in the span of 20 minutes. I had photographed here before, but today for the first time I noticed the barren tree just down the hillside, with sweeping branches that would provide an excellent frame. I had to use a very wide lens -- 20mm -- to incorporate all of them, which would render the train quite small, indeed, but I remembered my "small train" photos with Kevin and hoped for the best.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Rainbow

Union Pacific freight train on the "gauntlet" in Portland, Oregon's near-eastside.

(Written on March 23.) The luck of the Irish was with me and fellow photographer Kyle Weismann-Yee on St. Patrick's Day, as Union Pacific's daily Portland to Roseville freight train, the QPDRV, threaded the gauntlet of grade crossings on Portland's near-eastside while the remnants of a rainbow hung in the eastern sky. If only it had managed to drag itself out of Albina Yard and through the 15-degree reverse curves of East Portland Junction a little faster, we might have caught it beneath the double rainbow that had appeared a few minutes earlier.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Dark Mill

The now-closed Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

(Written on March 23.) One night while walking with Maureen along the bluff in Oregon City, I was struck by how dark and quiet the hulking forms of the Blue Heron paper mill appeared since its closure on February 25. I since have gone back through my photos of its operations and identified several to re-photograph for a before-and-after project. This is one of the "after" views that I especially like: the graceful curve of the tracks between the dark, angular forms of the loading docks and wood chip facility, with just a hint of the bright town still in the background, a subtle reminder that time marches on.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Last Switch

Union Pacific's OC Switcher pulls the last car out of the Blue Heron paper mill in downtown Oregon City.

On Wednesday, with no prior warning, the Blue Heron Paper Company announced that its mill in Oregon City was closing. The last day for hourly employees would be just two days later. The mill ceased production on Friday afternoon, and for the first time since 1829, the hum of industry fell silent on the east bank of Willamette Falls. There was one empty boxcar remaining in the mill when the closing announcement was made. Fittingly, that car had brought in a load of recycled paper earlier in the week -- the chief raw material used at the mill, and reason for its closure. Increased demand in China has driven the price of recycled paper above what the mill can afford. Just after midnight on Saturday morning, Union Pacific's OC Switcher came into the mill and retrieved that car. Several ex-mill workers, most who had worked their final shift in the previous 24 hours, were watching from 505 Tavern (note the sign on the sidewalk). One even stepped outside to toast the train, shouting, "One more time" as the two SW1500s pulled across state highway 99E. No less than six railroad photographers were on hand to document the end of this era.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Last Shift

Southbound train of empty centerbeam cars passing the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

(Written on March 23.) This afternoon was the final shift at the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City, a clear and cold winter day that produced billowing clouds of steam at sunrise, looking for all the world like the very symbol of corporate health. I was surprised to hear a southbound train approaching in the early afternoon, an unusual time of day for rail activity on the main line, but it turned out to be an extra train of 75 empty centerbeam flatcars heading south -- cars that had been in storage due to the depressed demand for lumber during the recession ... somehow fitting as one the last trains to pass the mill while it was still in operation. When I came back outside three hours later, everything was quiet. Later, while photographing the OC Switcher's last work in the mill with several friends that night, we wondered whether there was simply some big, overriding on-off switch somewhere inside the mill. More seriously, I did wonder who was working that last shift, and who had the tasks of shutting things down for the last time, and what they were thinking.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow in the Valley

Amtrak Cascades train no. 500 running along the Willamette River in Oregon City.

(Written on March 23.) I had planned to sleep late after a long night of photographing the Blue Heron mill and the OC Switcher, but when Maureen woke up at 6:30, looked outside and saw an inch of fresh snow, I was up quickly. Snow is rare in the lower elevations of Willamette Valley, and snow photos in general have eluded me in the northwest (ask me sometime about my many failed attempts to photograph railroads in fresh snow in the Cascade Mountains). Amtrak no. 500 was the only train in the vicinity, and so we walked down to this overlook by the river (Maureen's work was canceled for the day, as Marylhurst University closed due to the weather.) Behind me, route 99E was serenely quiet in what was a heavily subdued morning commute. Within two hours, the snow had turned to rain and nearly every trace was gone, although freezing rain mixed with flurries returned in the afternoon.

On a side note, the OC Switcher had visited the mill in the previous night, pulling all the way in and even coupling onto the last car remaining on the property. For some unknown reason, they then uncoupled from that car, leaving it in the mill and returning light engine to Clackamas. On this night, they did not even venture to Oregon City, setting the stage for the last switch in the mill on Friday night, which was documented by no less than six photographers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mill Closing

Union Pacific's Hinkle to Roseville freight train passing the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

(Written on March 23.) I emerged sooner than expected from my hiatus to document the final days of operations at the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City. Its closure was announced on this day, with the final shift scheduled for Friday, only two days hence. The mill had been in bankruptcy since 2009 and its future was always on shaky ground, but I never expected its closure to happen so quickly. Most mills give 60 days notice, as was the case with the International Paper company mill in Millersburg that closed in December 2009. 

I first heard the news of Blue Heron from one of the email list serves that covers railroad operations in the area. The subject line was simply "Another Mill Closing," and I never expected it meant the Blue Heron mill. A flurry of activity followed this afternoon, and within an hour I had received closure announcements from no less than four different sources. Thanks to the unusually cold weather, the mill went out with stacks blazing towering columns of steam into the winter sky, seen here on its second-to-last nigh of operation as the QHKRV hustles by on the main line. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Second Hiatus

I'm going on hiatus again. Too much Web and writing work right now, on top of planning the Center's conference, to photograph everyday, but that's a good problem to have...

Sunset on the Columbia

Westbound Union Pacific intermodal train at Bridal Veil, Oregon.

Heading back to Portland following an afternoon of hiking in the Columbia Gorge, Maureen and I stopped at Bridal Veil to enjoy the sunset, where I photographed this westbound Union Pacific container train at twilight. When my mind wandered to photography today during our hike, I often considered the differences between content-driven and emotion-driven photographs. I've enjoyed working in both throughout my almost 12 years of photography, although the pendulum usually swings more to one side than the other. When I started in 1999, content or perhaps documentary photography was my primary aim, then around late 2003 or 2004, conveying emotion became increasingly more important to me as a photographer. Over the last couple of years, I feel that I've gravitated back towards content-driven photographs, although hopefully with a heightened sense of formalism and greater care in composition. Still, I have hardly abandoned emotion in my photographs.

After spending most of Friday afternoon in documentary mode, I felt a strong urge to attempt something more emotional this Saturday evening, especially as I saw the western sky flaring up at sunset. This train came too late for peak color in the sky, but the darker scene allowed for other emotional effects, like the soft glow of the lead locomotive's headlights in front of the train, and a slight blur to the traffic on I-84. I feel an inner tension between content and emotion in my photography, and I often wonder which is more important to me. Many of my own favorite photos achieve elements of both.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

East Portland Branch

Oregon Pacific freight train bound for Milwaukie, Oregon, seen from the Ross Island Bridge

The Oregon Pacific Railroad's Molalla and East Portland branches served as bookends to my week, starting on the Molalla branch in Canby on Monday morning and ending on the East Portland branch in Milwaukie on Friday afternoon. Locomotive no. 100, an SW1 from 1952, took four refrigerated boxcars to the interchange near OMSI and returned to Milwaukie with two cars. The 100 has spent nearly its entire life on the East Portland line, always clad in the orange and black of her original owner, the Portland Traction Company.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stormy Weather

Roseville to Hinkle freight train seen from the bluff in Oregon City.

A late winter storm system is blowing through the Pacific Northwest right now, creating dramatic skies in the valley, low-elevation snowfall, and heavy snows in the mountains. Snow can wreck havoc on railroad operations, as extra crews are required to run special trains to keep the line open. Union Pacific is already running short on crews due to an extensive track maintenance project in the area (requiring extra crews for work trains), so this storm has compounded the problem. The train seen here is nominally the Roseville (California) to Hinkle (Oregon) train running several hours later than usual, although its length (108 cars) and the presence of many lumber loads indicate that it's been combined with the Eugene to Hinkle train. The move frees up a crew and set of power to work elsewhere (or perhaps relieves a shortage of one or both). Given that both of these trains are running somewhat short right now due to the weak lumber market, I'm a little surprised that combining them isn't a more common practice.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Freight by the Falls

Hinkle to Roseville freight train passing Willamette Falls.

Between showers this afternoon, the sun emerged spectacularly, as it often does this time of year in the Willamette Valley. Union Pacific's daily Hinkle to Roseville (QHKRV) freight train was running early, making for a timely appearance along the river at Willamette Falls. Its rear locomotives (operating in distributed power mode) are shown here, behind a car of Canadian wheat, a staple commodity on the QHKRV. I've posted nocturnal photos from this location, but this is my first daytime view from here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Abernethy Creek

Portland to Roseville freight train crossing Abernethy Creek in Oregon City

On the northern end of Oregon City's business district, the Union Pacific main line crosses Abernethy Creek on a wooden trestle. Once common throughout the nation, and especially in the West, wood trestles are becoming increasing rare on American railroads, particularly on main lines, where steel and/or concrete have been the standard bridge construction materials for decades. The stream is named for George Abernethy, a highly influential Oregon businessman and politician of the 19th century, who served as Oregon's only provisional governor (preceding statehood).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oregon Pacific at Canby

Oregon Pacific SW8 no. 801 pulling six covered hoppers across highway 99E in Canby, Oregon.

Nothing says Valentine's Day like a pretty red-and-white...locomotive. Every Sunday night a southbound Union Pacific freight train drops off the week's business for the Oregon Pacific's Molalla Branch at Canby, and every Monday morning the OPR goes to work serving its customers. There were 27 cars on the interchange track when I arrived early this morning, and today the OPR took six of them to the Willamette Egg feed mill at the end of the line, which is actually just outside of Molalla at Liberal.  This was the first time I've photographed any activity on the Molalla line, and I look forward to getting back soon.

Amtrak and the Foggy Mill

Amtrak Cascades train on. 509 passing the Blue Heron mill in Oregon City.

Amtrak Cascades train no. 509 departed Portland almost half an hour late tonight and, although it's not visible in this view, was powered by a Union Pacific freight locomotive pushing on the rear. The train is shown here passing the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City, in my first attempt at an angle I've been eyeing for quite a while. I'll call this one a work in progress and go to bed, thankful that our taxes are almost finished.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

End of the Line

Union Pacific's Lake Transfer with Montana Rail Link locomotives entering Albina Yard in Portland.

It's the end of the line for these "pretty blue ones" (in the words of the yardmaster): Montana Rail Link locomotives coming to Portland to be scrapped. This afternoon the Lake Transfer brought a total six MRL SD45-2s into Albina Yard, nos. 313, 304, 303, 302, 314, and 310; they will go to Schnitzer Steel next week to be reduced to raw material for some other products for the future. The 314, in particular, looks fresh from the paint shop, although she is in fact the oldest of the group, having rolled off the assembly line in 1969 for the Southern Pacific. The other five date from 1974. The 302-304 entered service for the Clinchfield Railroad, where they once hauled coal in Virginia and Kentucky, the 310 came from the Santa Fe, and the 313 from the Seaboard Coast Line. Most recently they hauled tonnage across Montana, often in helper service, assisting everything from lumber to coal to grain over Rockies. Montana's diminished lumber market and the arrival of new SD70ACe locomotives, which burn less fuel and develop more power, have rendered these road warriors redundant.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chip Service

Unused wood chip unloading equipment at the Blue Heron Paper Company in Oregon City, Oregon.

It's good to be back. I had a very productive trip to Wisconsin, but I was battling a nasty cold most of the time. Thankfully I seem to be recovering. This afternoon I walked the loop down Singer Hill, through downtown, under the tracks, along 99E to the pedestrian overpass and back along the bluff. It was good to be out with the camera looking for compositions. I focused on the unused equipment for unloading wood chips by rail at the Blue Heron mill, looking for interesting lines and shapes in the supports and conveyors. Chips still arrive at the mill by truck, but as far as I can tell, chip service by rail ended before Union Pacific bought Southern Pacific in 1996. I've found old track charts that indicate the chip siding had a 12-car capacity, and it's hard to imagine the mill receiving that many chips at a time. Today much of the material for making new paper arrives in the form of old paper for recycling.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Wisconsin Crossing

Passing a railroad crossing in Madison, Wisconsin.

Often when I visit Madison, there's limited time for photography. Today seemed like the best opportunity during this trip, and there had been hope of a spreader run on the Wisconsin & Southern. A quick trip by the yard showed everything tied down, however, with most of the crews likely laying off to watching the Packers beat the Steelers. About to let my streak of daily rail photos quietly end, I hit upon another idea for conveying the way the majority of Americans experience the railroad, and so I submit today's view of passing a railroad crossing.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Excitement in the Heartland

Discarded cigarette pack on the tracks by our train.

Yesterday morning, I paid for my first cup of coffee in the cafe car and received free refills on account of our tardiness. The good news was that today, even the first cup was free. The bad news was that was because we were running even later.

By the time we crawled into Minneapolis-St. Paul at 1:00 this afternoon – more than five-and-a-half hours late – I wouldn't be surprised if the smokers on the train were exhibiting early signs of withdrawal. The Twin Cities stop was the first smoke break since Minot, North Dakota. Normally, those stops fall at 9:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m., but our tardiness increased even further yesterday evening, to the point that we hit Minot around 1:30 a.m. and didn't leave until 3:00 or so.

The trip got more interesting east of Havre. Operationally, we had a complicated three-way meet between our train, our westbound counterpart train no. 7, and a container train. At a lonely siding between Havre and Malta, we pulled in behind the container train for no. 7 to pass, then backed out of the siding to pass the container train and continue our eastward journey. Near the North Dakota border, our progress slowed considerably below what the flat, straight track would allow. At first I thought we were following a slow-moving eastbound freight train, but then the conductor announced that our lead locomotive's ditch lights weren't working (the pair of eye-level lights below the main headlight), requiring us to go slowly through every road crossing. We were not able to address that issue until the service stop in Minot, but first we had to contend with internal issues.

The train became more crowded again at Havre, so after dinner in the diner, I staked out a spot in the corner of the observation car to do some reading and writing. There was a card game going on at a table near the middle of the car, to which I paid little attention until voices escalated to shouts and copiously dropped f-bombs and left the two principal antagonists – a tall, skinny guy and a shorter, more squat one – in a standing face-off in the middle of the car. Tensions cooled somewhat as two girls with the skinny guy intervened, but the obvious flow of alcohol continued, keeping the situation primed near the boiling point. The eventual result was a long station stop in Williston, North Dakota, where no less than half-a-dozen police officers from the city and the county sheriff's office boarded the train, and eventually departed with the short guy in custody.


This morning I woke up to a hazy sunrise in Fargo, and thick overcast persisted all day. We had lost enough time through the night that our engineer and conductors had to be relieved at an unscheduled stop between Staples and St. Cloud, Minnesota, leaving us almost six hours late. We encountered another short delay while waiting to get into the station at St. Cloud, but its cause served as a reminder that our situation could still have been worse. We had been waiting for our westbound counterpart, train no. 7, to finish its station stop in St. Cloud – which should have happened almost 11 hours earlier!

Finally through the Twin Cities just after lunchtime, I passed the afternoon in the observation car as we sprinted past the snow-and-ice-covered Mississippi. I spent the last hour of having a pleasant chat with a Korean exchange student from Winona State University, who seemed more impressed with the comfort of American trains than their lack of timeliness. But maybe she was just being polite. John was waiting for me at Columbus, where we arrived five hours and fifteen minutes late, having actually made up a few minutes since this morning.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Crossing Montana

Train time at Whitefish.

We've been in Montana since long before I woke up this morning, and we still are nine hours later with over 200 miles of Big Sky country to go. Since leaving the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park, we've been rolling through the flat, high prairies that comprise the eastern two-thirds of the state, dubbed “flyover country” in the age of jetliners. Nothing like overland travel to drive home the sheer breadth of this continent.

We were on-time out of Pasco at 9:00 last night, and that looks to be the end of on-time performance for this trip. Train no. 8, the Seattle section, was 2-1/2 hours late into Spokane, so it was almost 3:00 in the morning by the time they put the two sections together, and well after 3:00 when we finally left. (Scheduled departure is 1:30 a.m.) I slept pretty well despite being surrounded by a pack of rowdy skiers going to Montana who were quite disappointed to learn that if they consumed the alcoholic contents of their cooler on the train, they would be kicked off. The staff on this train is based out of Chicago, and due to the blizzard there, they had to spend an extra day on the West Coast, so they're all anxious to get home and in no mood for trouble. They also seem to all be Steeler fans. My car attendant is mad at the Packers for beating “her” Bears, and the lounge car attendant hails from Pittsburgh and proudly hangs a Terrible Towel behind the counter (the official hum-haw Myron Cope version). She's giving free coffee refills since we're running late, so I can be a Steeler fan, too, at least for now. (I'm not even sure if I'll watch the game.)


The Seattle section of the Empire Builder coupling onto the Portland section at Spokane.

I stepped out just long enough in Spokane to watch the combination of the Portland and Seattle sections. It was once common for long distance passenger trains to combine and separate en route to provide direct service to multiple cities while achieving greater economies of scale on the overlapping portions of the route. Union Pacific famously (infamously?) ran a streamliner in the 1960s that went by the nickname “City of Everywhere,” as several sections combined, ran together across the middle of the country as a giant, 20+ car train, and then split apart to reach different destinations. In the 21st century, only two of Amtrak's long-distance passenger trains routinely combine and split: the Empire Builder in Spokane and the Lakeshore Limited in Albany, New York.

The skiers left us this morning at Whitefish, Montana, enough of them that the baggage tractor was pulling four trailers piled high back to the station. At Conkelley, we passed two crows and a bald eagle just a few yards from the tracks, showing no fear as they pecked at a carcass in the snow. I'm so used to heroic, patriotic imagery of our national bird that it always comes as a mild shock to see it “reduced” to scavenging. It was a good dose of reality in the quite, almost surrealistic morning, peering out into the snow and down into the ice flows in the Flathead River from the comfort of my padded, climate-controlled coach seat.

We overtook an eastbound container train just out of Whitefish, but we soon stopped again. Host railroad BNSF keeps a window open everyday for Amtrak's schedule, but if the passenger train runs late and misses that window, all bets are off. At Coram siding, we waited 45 minutes for not one, but two westbound loaded grain trains to pass us. I hope they were at least expedited “G9” trains, pressing westward to meet waiting ships in Portland or Tacoma. We then overtook another eastbound container train at West Glacier, by then running almost three hours late.

After stopping in Essex and its historic Isaac Walton Inn, we waited briefly to cross the single-track trestle at Java as a loaded coal train descended from the continental divide at Marias Pass. We stopped again just east of the summit due to high wind warnings, with gusts of up to 69 mph – BNSF will allow Amtrak to proceed at restricted speed with winds up to 65 mph, but nothing above that. I settled in for a long wait, but we were moving again within a few minutes, and I held my breath as we crossed the wide open trestle high above Two Medicine creek near East Glacier. Delays earlier this morning elicited groans and complaints from the vacationing skiers. Since then, the remaining passengers – most of them traveling for necessity or to visit family – have taken the unscheduled stops in stride.

From the windy summit, we've been running well, but still encountering plenty of opposing traffic (including at least five more loaded grain shuttles) on the busy High Line, but for the most part these trains waited for us. The sun appeared and snow remained only in shaded pockets and drifts on much of the high prairies. I didn't even need my jacket when I stepped onto the platform for a brief stop at Shelby. At Havre for the afternoon service stop, the yard was filled with even more grain trains and shadows falling long across the snow. The cloud bank on the eastern horizon has been getting closer and bigger for the past few hours, but it will be dark soon, and I look forward to dinner in the diner and tomorrow's run down the Mississippi valley.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Eastbound!

Go by train? Don't mind if I do!

We have a train, it's facing the right way, I'm sitting in a window seat with a power outlet and a bag of hot Indian food from a Portland food cart. Wisconsin, ho!

Eastbound (?)

I'm supposed to be heading east on this afternoon's Empire Builder, train no. 28, out of Portland. Destination is CRPA Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin. As I've posted before, the afternoon eastbound departure of train 28 uses the same equipment that arrives in the morning as westbound train no. 27. A quick check of the Amtrak website this morning revealed that train 27 is running almost 12 hours late today. Since the scheduled turnaround time between the two trains is only six hours and 25 minutes, I was rather concerned, but both the website and an Amtrak ticket agent assured me that this afternoon's train is scheduled to depart on-time. Further checking the website reveal that yesterday's train 28 was annulled as a result of the severe blizzard that just hit parts of the Prairies and the Midwest, so I can only assume that today's 28 will use the leftover equipment from yesterday's canceled run. Otherwise, it's going to be a long bus ride to Spokane or wherever.

I'll be photographing the trip, but I may not be able to post updates until I land in the Badger State, hopefully sometime on Saturday afternoon or evening. Photos and reports for the next couple of days will be posted as soon as I have access.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Morning Traffic

OC Switcher at Route 99E in Oregon City.

I rose before 5:00 this morning, ostensibly to get more work done but also with the hope that I might catch the OC Switcher in town, and I've been successful on both counts. The train was only halfway through its work at Blue Heron when I went out to the bluff, and it's shown here on the switching lead that extends across Oregon State Highway 99E and down Main Street for one block (which was once the Portland Traction Company's main line that hosted trolley service between Oregon City and Portland). It's 5:16 a.m. and 99E is already handling a fair share of early morning commuters, forced to pause while the switcher stops in their path to make a reverse move. Following its work today, the OC returned to Clackamas with six cars: the three it pulled from the mill yesterday morning and three more from today.

Morning Meet in Oregon City

Amtrak train no. 500 meeting the OC Switcher in Oregon City.

Last night was another long one for the OC Switcher, which was just finishing its work at the Blue Heron mill when I got up this morning. It returned to the junction with the main line where it waited for one train to pass in each direction: first, Portland & Western run-through train no. 663, and then Amtrak Cascades no. 500. Once both of those were by, the switcher left its three boxcars on the siding, pulled onto the main, and ran light (without any cars) back to its base in Clackamas. The lowly local freights have a long tradition of waiting for higher priority trains, and this morning was no exception.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Banner Day at Guilds Lake

BNSF switcher in northwest Portland's Guilds Lake industrial district.

Guilds Lake in northwest Portland is the best remaining example of the city's once-numerous switching districts: highly industrialized areas served by a dense rail network. Another local photographer, Alexander Craghead, is working on a photography project to document the remnants. As industry has declined around downtown Portland, most of these switching districts have been abandoned or disappeared altogether. Guilds Lake manages to hang on, but just barely. Rail service is down to once-a-week (more or less), with only one major customer, the Holman Distribution warehouse on Luzon Street. Two other customers receive semi-regular shipments, Industrial Export (INDEX), a steel distributor on St. Helens Road, and Chemical Distributors, Inc. (CDI) on Industrial Street.

In three attempts to photograph this operation in 2010, I got skunked once and twice found the train switching at Holman, but never the other two customers. Today, the BNSF switch job had work at all three main customers, including this unusually busy (for 2011) move at INDEX, where they brought in two gondola loads of steel and picked up two empties.

Thanks to Kyle Weismann-Yee, another local photographer and the guru of current rail switching operations in Portland, without whose on-the-scene research efforts I never would have been able to photograph any part of this operation.

Amtrak and Singer Hill Steps

Amtrak Cascades train no. 504 passing the Singer Hill steps in Oregon City.

Today I tried an angle that I've been examining for a while, during each one of Maureen's and my frequent walks up and down the Singer Hill steps. The view is looking up the hill from near its base by the municipal elevator, as northbound Amtrak Cascades train no. 504 streaks past on its way to Portland. The steps were part of a 1936-37 Work Progress Administration project. While we enjoy the convenience of the elevator, we more often prefer the steps for the exercise. Last fall, I took two friends who were having dinner with us to this same spot as another Cascades train, no. 507, went by in the evening. They thrilled the train's speed and proximity, and we all enjoyed the fleeting voyeuristic experience of peering into the lighted windows of passing passengers, our paths crossing for just that single moment as they continued on their southbound journey and we went home for dinner.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Back on (the Short) Track

Loading paper into a boxcar at the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

Rail activity has returned to the "short track" in Oregon City's Blue Heron paper mill. Contrary to my concerns expressed on January 17, on Thursday the track was cleared and that night the OC Switcher spotted two cars for loading, which was going on today. Am I exhibiting OCD tendencies by paying so much attention to a single industrial siding? Probably. But the Blue Heron mill and its nightly switching by a Class I railroad's local freight train are anachronisms of 21st century railroading. They are vestiges of an earlier age, an age when local rail freight service was more common, and America itself was centered more on primary industries.

Oregon Trunk

Distributed power units on the rear of the BNSF's Vancouver to Barstow freight train at Shearers Bridge, Oregon.

Today's excursion into the Columbia Gorge included a side trip on the Oregon Trunk (OT), the BNSF line that runs north-south through the middle of the state. All indications pointed to two southbound trains in daylight, an auspicious line-up for this scenic but lightly-traveled line. In fact only one materialized, the Vancouver to Barstow train, and we waited another two and a half hours for a second train that never came. Just another day on the OT.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Along the Willamette

Union Pacific's Portland to Hinkle freight train along the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

Today's morning fog lasted well past lunch but cleared in time for this late afternoon view of Union Pacific's MPDHK, the Portland to Hinkle mixed freight, departing Albina Yard along the Willamette River in downtown Portland. The Steel Bridge is on the right, while the Portland Memorial Coliseum, home of the Trailblazers, is in the background at left. The spires of the Portland Convention Center are visible in the background at center. Just ahead of the train is East Portland Junction, where it will make a left turn into Sullivan's Gulch for the one percent grade up the Graham Line, parallel to I-84 and eventually the Columbia River. (Which just happens to be my destination for tomorrow.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Switchers in the Fog

OC Switcher along the Willamette River in Oregon City.

As I was sitting down to my computer at 6:30 this morning, I was surprised to hear a horn outside that sounded distinctly like one of UP's SW1500s (the technical term used at Portland's Albina yard is "little switchy engine"). Guessing correctly that the OC Switcher was making a late switch down at the Blue Heron mill, I headed out into the morning fog. After just missing them twice in the mill, I finally caught up to them as they were departing town, running along the river on their way back to Clackamas.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Singer Creek Falls

Singer Creek falls and Union Pacific locomotive in Oregon City.

After yesterday's discovery about Singer Creek falls, today I decided to try a different angle with them, this time from street level in downtown. Curiously, Maureen likes this photo a good deal more than I do. I like the spot, but I'd like to try it again with some motion blur in the train and water. Incidentally, in the enlarged version, "Railroad Av" is legible in the street sign above the stop sign.

Monday, January 24, 2011

From the Bluff

Union Pacific freight train and Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

Another day, another photo of a freight train from the bluff in Oregon City. This is a wider, horizontal version of January 10th's post, and it's the same train, the daily Portland to Roseville freight. In this view, you can see part of the walkway along the edge of the bluff, a city park that essentially comprises my backyard. And for the record, the walkway and railing jut out here, so I'm not standing on the far side, perched precariously on the edge of the cliff (not that I've never done something that for a photo). Not much to add to this view, but I did make an interesting discovering today about the water feature that I mentioned in my January 18th post. According to Oregon City's website, the manmade waterfall that relocated Singer Creek was built in 1936-37 through the Works Progress Administration.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vernonia Branch

Abandoned trestle at Tophill, Oregon.

This abandoned trestle in western Oregon ends abruptly after crossing state highway 47, six miles north of Buxton. From 1922 this line was part of the United Railways and connected the Oregon-American Company's sawmill in Vernonia to the national rail network, via the town Banks. The mill, which was the line's primary reason for existence, closed in 1957 and all rail service ended in 1969. Today this line is the Banks-Vernonia rail trail, a paved, 21 mile recreational trail. A series of switchbacks bypass the remains of this trestle, which was damaged by fire in 1986.

Rex Hill

Trestle on Rex Hill near Newberg, Oregon.

This impressive pile of timbers is one of many large wooden railroad trestles in western Oregon. This one stands on a Portland & Western line near Newberg, on a grade called Rex Hill. Currently, the line is only used for storing freight cars and sees no regular traffic. Once part of Southern Pacific's empire, in the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s it hosted the SP's "Red Electrics" -- interurban electric passenger trains that provided frequent service between Portland and several communities in the Willamette Valley, extending as far as Corvallis.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rush Hour

Union Pacific's Lake Transfer freight train at Portland Union Station.

So here's the deal. You're working second trick at the West Tower of Albina Yard in Portland, Oregon, and you have a mess on your hands. It's 1630, and the Lake Transfer, the train that takes cars from your yard to the Portland Terminal's Lake Yard on the other side of the Willamette River, hasn't left yet. The crew has been on duty since 0630 and they're normally gone by mid-morning. Not today. So their 100+ cars are still choking your yard in the late afternoon, and if you don't get them out soon, that crew is going to die on the federal hours of service law and you'll have to wait for a new crew to arrive before all those cars leave your yard. Not good.

So, you launch the Lake Transfer. It only has to go a couple of miles before it gets out of your hair and becomes the Portland Terminal and BNSF's problem. Now, it's not a small train, and it doesn't move very fast, so while it's slowly dragging itself out of your yard, your next two problems arrive in the form of two southbound departures: the first, and most critical, is power for the nightly Z train out of Brooklyn Yard, a very hot train that carries UPS trailers and a guaranteed departure time. It's not going anywhere until its locomotives get from your yard to Brooklyn. And then you have a southbound train of flatcars heading for Eugene, which is currently sitting on the main line. These trains need to leave.

They can't leave, though, because the Lake Transfer has ground to a halt with its rear end still fouling your all-important 901 control point, the bottleneck through which all these departing trains must pass. The Lake Transfer has stopped because BNSF's Vancouver Terminal dispatcher hasn't cleared it through Portland Union Station yet. That's because Amtrak Cascades service no. 514 is set to depart any minute, and the BNSF dispatcher doesn't want to risk delaying it by clearing the slow-moving freight ahead of it.

Problem is, Amtrak is waiting for a late-running bus connection. So while it sits, the Lake Transfer sits, the train of flat cars sits, and the all-important power for the Z train sits. And if that power doesn't get to its train soon for the guaranteed departure time, phones are going to start ringing and the voice on the other end isn't going to be wishing you a pleasant good evening.

Now, there's one more little detail in this scenario. The Lake Transfer has the option of going another half mile or so before it reaches the red signal that BNSF won't clear until Amtrak departs. If it moves that extra half mile, it will clear 901 and you can start to run trains. The problem is that it will then be blocking Front Avenue, a downtown Portland street that's running heavy with commuters heading home to their spendy condos that stand on top of the former rail yards all along Union Station.

So, what do you do?

Well, tonight West Tower decided to run the Lake Transfer. With a healthy dose of horns for the Front Avenue crossing, it crept into Union Station and stopped at the big red light at the far end, and like angry water behind a dam, annoyed commuters piled up on both sides of the Front Avenue crossing. The Z train's power got its green signal at 901 and headed for Brooklyn, with the train of flatcars following a few minutes later.

All in all, it worked out pretty well. The late Amtrak bus arrived and its connecting passengers came hurrying onto the platform and into their train, which pulled out just a few moments after the Lake Transfer came to a stop. Once it was gone, the Vancouver Terminal dispatcher cleared the Lake Transfer into Lake Yard, and it was moving again shortly. Total time blocking the Front Avenue crossing was about 15 or 20 minutes. You got to run your trains and those commuters got to complain about the railroad for awhile without having their evenings totally ruined.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oregon City Crossing Typology

Mini-typology of grade crossings in Oregon City.

Yesterday's post reminded me of my on-going project of photographing grade crossings. The project employs a photographic technique called a typology, where similar subjects are photographed in an identical manner to make for easy comparisons. (Railroad equipment roster photographers have been doing this for decades.) The German husband-and-wife photography team of Bernd and Hilla Becher popularized the style with their views of industrial buildings in the U.S. and Europe made from the 1960s onward. Jeff Brouws, a contemporary photographer and past presenter at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art's annual conference, introduced me to the typology.

In my case, I photograph railroad crossings by standing on each edge of the crossing and looking straight down the track. I always use a 35mm lens with the horizon slightly below the middle of the frame, and for visual consistency I always shoot on cloudy days, which is no problem in western Oregon. I try to exclude cars and any other traffic.

The top two photos in this mini-typology are the verso and recto views of the 10th Street crossing of the Union Pacific main line. The bottom two photos are the verso and recto views of the route 99E (McLoughlin Blvd.) crossing of the switching lead for the Blue Heron paper mill, which is visible in the lower right photo. The lower left photo shows the one block of street-running along Main St., which carries the Oregon City Switcher on most nights. These are the only two road-railroad at-grade crossings in Oregon City, so I was limited to this small group of four images today. Most typologies would include several grids, each with perhaps nine or sixteen photos.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Down the Gauntlet

Southbound Union Pacific freight train in the grade crossing gauntlet of Portland's near east side.

There are 11 grade crossings in the span of 1/2-mile on the two main tracks of Union Pacific's Brooklyn Subdivision in the near east side of Portland, Oregon. The neighborhood is a mix of industry--both active and abandoned--and redevelopment, and most of the new restaurants and cafes give a nod to the industrial heritage in their decor and style.

Grade crossings intrigue me as the only real interface between the railroad and the vast majority of the population in contemporary society. For most, the train is an inconvenience when they get stuck behind one at a crossing, and it seems those few minutes are so important that they're worth risking life, limb, and property for so many drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians who try to beat the train. Never mind that those inconvenient trains help keep consumer prices low on everything from electronics to food to clothing to energy. The Association of American Railroads reports that 43 percent of the nation's freight moves by rail, which is more fuel efficient than trucking or air freight.

The train in this photo is Union Pacific's Brooklyn Transfer, normally a nocturnal job that shuffles cars from Brooklyn Yard in southeast Portland to Albina Yard in north Portland, and back. It mainly handles intermodal cars moving between the two yards, and occasionally its work takes long enough that it returns to Brooklyn in daylight, as was the case this morning.

Through the Trees

Amtrak Cascades train no. 509 passing through Oregon City.

I've been intrigued with this location, a five-minute walk from my apartment, since moving to Oregon City four and a half months ago. The pedestrian stairs that descend the bluff next to the municipal elevator make a 90-degree turn in front of a stream that stair-steps its way down the hill through an urban water feature. The tracks appear briefly through the trees, with the streets and buildings of downtown beyond. Maybe it's the result of a memorable illustration in The Polar Express (the one with the wolves), but I've always been captivated by the image of lighted train windows passing through barren trees. I don't think I've quite found the best composition at this location yet, so I'll keep trying.

Monday, January 17, 2011

End of the Short Track?

Detail of the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

The "Short Track" is the name of a siding within the Blue Heron paper mill complex in Oregon City. It comes off the main switching lead that runs through the center of the mill and makes a 90-degree turn into a covered loading platform in the space of about 100 feet, and then ends near the bank of the Willamette River. It has room for two 50-foot boxcars.

The curve is the equivalent of about a 15 inch radius in HO scale, which is to say, incredibly sharp. It's so sharp that cars must be pulled or pushed around it only one at a time to avoid derailments. The sharpness has also required the services of SW1500 locomotives, which have very short wheel bases. Because of this, Union Pacific has kept three SW1500s in Portland, two of which are regularly assigned to the "Oregon City Switcher," the job that serves the mill every night except Saturday.

A few days ago, I noticed rolls of paper stacked on the Short Track inside the loading dock. At first there were only few, so I thought it might be temporary. However, the stack has continued to grow. To my knowledge, no boxcars have been spotted on the Short Track in 2011. Rumors have been circulating for several months that Union Pacific was pressuring the paper mill to stop using the Short Track and move all of their operations to the Long Track, which enters the mill complex on the other side of the main switching lead. I have yet to hear any confirmation, but it appears those rumors might have been true.

If so, and the Short Track is indeed no longer in use, Union Pacific will be able to stop using its aging SW1500s at any time. They are unique as being some of the last switch engines used on a local freight train that operates over the main line of a Class I railroad. The whole operation in itself is rather unique in the 21st century, as Class I railroads have been moving away from local freight operations for a few decades.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tacoma Freight

BNSF Railway freight train passing the Temco elevator in Tacoma, Washington.

While returning home from the 2011 "Tracks in the Snow" weekend, I enjoyed tours of Seattle and Tacoma rail facilities thanks to my guides, Steve Eshom and Robert Scott. We made our last photographs of the day at the Tacoma Export Marketing Company's elevator and dock along the south end of Tacoma's water front. Approaching in the foreground is BNSF's daily freight train from Pasco to Tacoma with a long cut of loaded lumber cars directly behind the locomotives. The elevator can hold three million bushels of grain, or about seven trains' worth. The adjacent sidings can hold three 110-car grain shuttle trains, which typically arrive from eastern Washington, Montana, and North Dakota. The bulk carrier Four Mogami in the background can carry nearly five trains' worth of grain.

Despite a lot of rain and no new snow in the mountains, I really enjoyed my first visit to Stevens Pass, and I look forward to returning soon. Thanks again to Steve and Robert for hosting me throughout the weekend, to Ross Fotheringham for organizing the event.

Pineapple Express on Stevens Pass

BNSF empty grain train crossing a creek near Skykomish, Washington.

The Pineapple Express is not the train in this photo, but a winter weather event in the Northwest that occurs when the jet stream is positioned to bring warm, wet air into the region. That's been happening here since the middle of the week, and is supposed to intensify overnight. Snow levels have risen to 9000 feet and up to six inches of rain is expected in the mountains by Monday, with strong potential for flooding and landslides.

I spent another day exploring the former Great Northern Railway's main line with Robert Scott, Steve Eshom, and other attendees of the annual “Tracks in the Snow” weekend, organized by Ross Fotheringham. It was a quieter day on the railroad, with only about half the traffic of yesterday. We first went east to cloudy but dry Trinidad Loop, then worked our way back west, where the rain abated for a few hours. Just before the next deluge started, we caught this empty grain train ascending the west slope of the pass, crossing a creek near the Foss River bridge, just west of Skykomish.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

East of Leavenworth

BNSF Railway intermodal train from South Seattle to Chicago passing orchards near Cashmere, Washington.

It's been a surprisingly good first day of photography on Stevens Pass in Washington's North Cascades. I'm traveling with Robert Scott and Steve Eshom, who know the pass well. A warm front has left unseasonably warm temperatures across the region, and the rain came down in buckets this morning on the pass. In the afternoon we went east, into the orchard country along the Wenatchee River east of Leavenworth, Washington, where we found more favorable weather. BNSF's Scenic Subdivision was busy today, making for an eventful day of photography. The Great Northern's mainline hosts primarily intermodal traffic, and we saw several trains of double-stacked shipping containers, including this one near Cashmere, a South Seattle to Chicago Z-train, the hottest eastbound on the line.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

And More Grain at Portland

Bulk carrier Premnitz at CLD Pacific Grain's O'Dock in downtown Portland.

Continuing with the recent grain theme, since it is grain season, a swing through downtown Portland today yielded this image of the bulk carrier Premnitz taking on a load of export wheat CLD Pacific's O'Dock. At right is the dock's trackmobile, helping to unloaded covered hoppers.

I'm writing from the Cascadia Inn at Skykomish, Washington, where I'll be for the next three days. The plan was to photograph BNSF's Stevens Pass in the snow, but it looks more like rain, which is what's coming down outside as I type. We'll see how it goes. Off for night photos!

More Grain in Portland

BNSF grain train at East Portland Junction.

The flow of grain continues through Portland at a rapid pace. Both downtown grain elevators, the O'Dock pictured here and Irving just to the north, are currently loading boats. Late this afternoon, a loaded BNSF grain train entered Union Pacific trackage, coming through Union Station and across the Steel Bridge, from whence it proceeded to Albina yard. Plenty of BNSF grain is unloaded on the UP side of the river, as this photo shows, but this was the first time that I have seen a solid BNSF unit grain train take this routing. Usually I have seen BNSF grain cars come across the river in the manifest of the UP's Lake Transfer train, which makes a daily interchange run between the two railroads' yards. Today's competition between the UP and BNSF dates back to era of James Hill on the Great Northern and Edward Harriman on the UP, but cooperation also happens.