Friday, January 25, 2013
Dear Faithful Readers,
It saddens me to inform you that I no longer Ride The T.
I have left my longtime job in Boston to focus my time and energies on my career as a photographer and freelance photojournalist.
That means that this blog is officially going the way of the Boston & Maine, New Haven, New York Central, and so many other Boston-area railroads that are no more.
However, like those railroads, I Ride The T will continue to operate under a different banner.
Although my main career is as a portrait photographer, I continue to work as a freelance photojournalist and will be putting my railroad experience and connections to good use writing for major publications such as Trains Magazine. I won't go into detail yet, but I will say that it includes behind-the-scenes access to locomotive cabs and other facilities.
I'll be posting teaser images from many of these shoots on my new personal/professional blog, which you can find on my website at www.tylertrahan.com/blog
Writing I Ride The T has been one of my favorite pastimes over the past several years, challenging me to expand my railroad knowledge, taking my writing skills from solid to publishable, and helping me find my voice in a busy new-media world. It's been a true pleasure to write for you.
January 25th, 2013
Friday, December 21, 2012
|Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. CC BY-NC-ND license.|
It's a few weeks before Christmas on an unknown year, and the Boston and Maine Railroad yard in Charlestown is playing host to one of the most seasonal loads in the industry: Christmas trees.
Boxcars, gondolas, and old roofless boxcars usually used in pulpwood service are pressed into tree service carrying trees from the farms to cities across the nation. At railyards, team tracks, and sidings everywhere, trees are transferred to trucks or sold right out of the boxcar to families who will haul them home on sleds, shoulders, or their brand-new automobile.
|Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. CC BY-NC-ND license.|
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The other day after work I finally got a chance to visit the new (opened July 2012) North Bank Bridge and discover what it had to offer Boston-area railfans.
This bridge is part of a park system mandated by Big Dig environmental mitigations and connections North Point Park in Cambridge with Paul Revere Park in Charlestown. It takes joggers, walkers, and bicyclists over the throat of North Station and provides railfans with unparalleled access to a major railroad hotspot.
Situated directly on top of the Tower A interlocking (and almost touching the original Boston & Maine Tower A building), the bridge affords a view in both directions, but you've got to work for it, especially if you want photos.
A dense mesh fence is only broken a few inches from the main vertical posts (see the first image) and most of these photos were taken with my point-and-shoot right in that gap. There's really very little room to play with the composition, but a photographer must make the best of it. This photo above was also taken at ankle-level to get a view under the I-93 ramp.
Those photographic restraints are more than offset by the ease of access and high level of railroad activity. In a public park, I had absolutely no worry of being hit by a car, mugged, or even arrested for suspicious activity. It was a nice day, and I was at ease.
Between revenue trains and deadheads between North Station and the layover yard at Boston Engine Terminal, traffic was almost nonstop even in the 2 PM hour. Trains were fifteen minutes apart or less, and it was easy to forecast a train by watching the searchlight dwarfs visible on both sides of the bridge.
When no train is coming, the signals are red. When a route is lined through the interlocking, inbound signals will be yellow (the next signal is the end of the track in North Station) and outbound signals green, letting you that something is coming and which track it will be on.
And now, for a bunch of train photos.
Besides the trains, the bridge offers easy access to Paul Revere Park in Charlestown by crossing underneath the Zakim Bridge. The photo below was taken underneath the bridge looking up through a hole in the deck.
If you make it to the North Bank Bridge, feel free to share what you shoot via links in the comments. Happy railfanning!
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The engineer of my train is seriously good at what she does. In the midst of Slippery Rail Season, where wet leaves are ground by rail traffic into a dried slime on railheads, trains sliding past stations on locked wheels is an all-too common occurance. I was on one train the other day that slid an entire car length past where it should have stopped, so that the first door was well past the platform. We all had to walk back to the next set of doors.
This morning the sun was just beginning to burn off the fog and shiver-inducing cold as 410 slid into Lincoln. Not rolled, slid. Every wheel was locked as the first few cars passed me, filling the air with smoke and the scent of burnt leaves. Ah, Slippery Rail Season.
Luckily, this happens every morning in the fall, and engineers are prepared. The train slid nearly to a stop almost a full car length short of its targeted berthing point, a fifteen-foot-wide paved crossing over the outbound track. Then, with air brakes whooshing and the locomotive revving, the train moved the rest of the distance to a perfectly-placed stop on rolling wheels, all without stopping. Now that's what I call sticking the landing!
Any competent engineer can stop a train in a fifteen foot window under normal conditions. It takes a great one to slide 200 feet and still make a perfect station stop.
And that's why I thank my train crew after every trip. They seriously deserve our respect.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Waiting for 410 on Tuesday (scheduled time: 7:50 AM), the sign gets to 3 mins, and no headlight is visible. Then "The next train to Boston is now approaching," and still the train has not appeared. After a few minutes, the sign drops to "Next train to Boston not moving, please stand by."
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an excrement / fan collision. You are all going to be late for work.
As commuters start leaving in favor of their automobiles, I go over the options for what could have happened.
An unscheduled stop of a passenger train usually means something malfunctioned (mechanical delay!) or the engineer applied the emergency brake for an obstruction on the tracks. On most railroads, an emergency brake application for any reason requires the train crew to visually inspect the train, and repressurizing the train air brake line takes time. I'd guesstimate that the emergency brake application of a six car passenger train takes 10-15 minutes to recover from.
Or they could have hit someone. Just around the bend from the station is Walden Pond, a popular recreation area very close to the tracks. I really hope they didn't hit someone walking his dog on the tracks. Besides delaying my train for hours, that's a real tragedy for both the family of the victim and the train crew. The engineer can do nothing but watch helplessly as her train runs down a pedestrian—even a relatively light passenger train takes thousands of feet to stop—and hear and feel the impact, then the conductor has to get down on the ground and find the body. It sucks for everyone.
Luckily, due outbound any time now is train 453, a South Acton local. Its conductor may know what's going on, and I'll be able to tell whether there was an accident or not depending on whether the train continues or is held at Lincoln. I walk to the outbound platform across the street just as the train rolls in. The assistant conductor who opens the door nearest to me doesn't know what's going on, and the train pulls away. Whew! Process of elimination leaves just a mechanical failure.
I get back to the inbound platform just as the LED sign that is our portal into commuter rail operations announces that 410 will operate 25-35 minutes late due to mechanical problems. Score one for guessing
While I can wait in peace knowing it's just a mechanical delay, I still have to get to work. Train 412, with an 8:15 scheduled stop, is being announced on the sign as approaching, bringing hope to the commuters around me. I know better. The Fitchburg Line is current-of-traffic operations, so 410 is in the way and operating 412 on the outbound "wrong" main is unlikely. Possible, with lots of paperwork and delay, but unlikely.
I see three options. One is to run 412 around the stalled 410 on the outbound main with considerable delay. Depending on what exactly this mechanical problem is, the two trains could also join forces, with 412 pushing 410 all the way to Boston. The third is actually fixing the mechanical problem or finding a way to work around it.
As it turns out, a workaround was found. At 8:15, 410 shows up, by itself. As it gets closer, I can see the conductor sitting in the engineer's seat of the cab car and perform a Sherlock Holmes-esque logic sequence to deduce what the rest of my commute will be like. The conductor in the cab car means the engineer is operating the train from the locomotive at the rear, and the conductor is protecting the shove, calling signals, and generally guiding the engineer. As a protected shove without the engineer at the head end, our speed will be limited (to 30 mph, confirmed by another conductor) and the ride will be a bit rough. 412 must be directly behind 410, running on its yellow signals, like the one near the pedestrian bridge in the distance. It should be appearing momentarily.
Like clockwork, that's exactly what happens. 412's headlight appears, I climb aboard 410, and we're off at 30 mph.
By the time we get to North Station, we're nearly an hour late, but the fact that we made it at all speaks to the robustness of rail travel and to the adaptability of our train crew. I bet an airline would've stranded us all at a terminal for hours on end if one of their planes had control problems. Granted, trains typically don't fall out of the sky if they have mechanical problems, but an adaptation of the old adage certainly applies here.
"It's a hell of a way to run a railroad, but the railroad always runs."