Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I have to say this in all honesty--there's nothing cooler than a bridge when photographing trains.

And perhaps a small caveat to that. Train bridges are far cooler when there's a train ON them. I won't get into the design and the elegance of bridges that seems to draw photographers like flies to honey--it's simply this--train bridges with engines on them make excellent subjects.

The Alexandria/Pineville area is particularly lucky because of the Red River, which divides the two cities. Both Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern operate lines through Alex and Pineville both, so that means two bridges upon which to catch trains. Then you add into the mix the number of small tributaries, bayous and drainage canals in this area and you've got a number of prime spots. Here's a few.

The first photo up there is the KCS bridge that crosses the Red River. It's a rather impressive (and very new looking) span which crosses both the Red River and Hwy 1 a few miles south of Alexandria at a perpendicular. On the Alexandria side it curves around in a gentle arc of perhaps a mile and draws back in to begin paralleling Hwy 1 as it heads into KCS's Latanier Yard, a rather small, quiet outpost and continues on for many photogenic miles.

The location of the bridge by the river levee makes it a marvelous spot for photographing, but be prepared to wait, as there is very little traffic across this bridge. It's also not advisable to try to get up onto the bridge: not only is it posted private property but it's unreachable from the levee unless you've brought grappling hooks and some fifty feet of nylon rope and are Batman. To gain foot entrance you'd have to enter the RoW from the better part of a mile away and walk up the incline, and while there is a walkway up there I'd hate to be stuck up there when a rail dick decides to be patrolling.

And again, it's a slow traffic area. I have spent fruitless hours waiting on the river side of the levee for a single engine to wander across, and even been fooled by the engine sounds and horn of a tugboat passing upstream on the Red. That's why I shan't be including a photo of a train on said bridge: I haven't got one, yet. Still, a choice spot if you're patient or can monitor KCS's radio dispatch.

The second photo is of a rather small bridge just on the outskirts of Boyce, again on US Hwy 1, headed north this time, between the outskirts of Boyce's city limits and the Boise Cascade lumber plant. Boise daily runs a short train of plywood and materials, usually pulled by a pair of GP38's. As an added bonus the UP line there is a direct artery into the Alexandria yard, seeing anywhere from one to five trains from dawn until night. The only trick being, again, a short walk.

The line parallels the highway for a short time through Boyce proper, then the highway veers west and the line proceeds more easterly. My suggestion is to stop right where you see the line head behind the levee as you leave Boyce and ask for the nice old man who lives at the trailer there behind the closed gas station. I kid you not: he's a widower, a trainspotter, and very friendly. He also knows a lot of the rail crews by name--many of them often stop on the line directly behind his house for a cup of coffee and a jaw if traffic permits.

Entering the line there walk the better part of a mile northward while the line goes deep into the woods. There's a small tributary there, a smallish river that offers deep banks and good perch fishing, I'm told, and there's that lovely little steel bridge, just barely visible as a brown smudge on the line from the gentleman's back yard. And if you're patient you can catch a NS, UP or even an errant KCS on that bridge.

Be warned--there's not a lot of room to stand out there other than on the RoW or very low down by the pilings and most times the engines will be moving VERY FAST, as there is nothing very near other than Boyce, through which UP has posted a 40mph speed limit on the rails.

(The complete set can be viewed on Flickr here.)

Photo 3 up there is from Longpine, LA, which includes the Southern Heritage Lumber Museum, which is a subject for another time, so let's skip on to number 4, the Red River Junction bridge. This is where this entire, wandering post has been leading. My adventure on a cold, windy Black Friday after Thanksgiving and that bridge.

The drawback? It's a good two mile hoof, but full of promising track. Three tracks join at the Texmo Junction just off Stracener St. in Alexandria, behind the Odom St. Post Office. One line proceeds toward Hwy 1 and thus to the short steel bridge. Two other lines at the Texmo Junction curve back toward the Alexandria yard almost 180 degrees, crossing under two overpasses and then run toward the Red River. Walking this line is fairly safe, as there's a nice wide median between the two active rails, so the only thing you're apt to find are armadillo bones and cast off water bottles.

The joy is that beautiful bridge, built in 1944. A huge steel lift span, it's rust red bulk crosses the Red at a rather wide point and offers a LOT of traffic into and out of Pineville. After a long, chill walk up the RoW Vulgar Wizard and I wandered around and snapped photos of the rails, the bridge (easily accessible from the levee, and containing a wide dirt platform under the span to walk and set up tripods or what have you.) I was ready for a long wait but we got lucky--fifteen minutes into our wait and we listened to a KCS engine go crashing and hooting across the UP/KCS diamond in Pineville (again, another good spotting point I'll save for a later post.) Having our hopes up we were a little let down to listen to the approaching engine cross from right to left, but then began hearing ANOTHER engine begin blowing and ringing in preparation to move again.

It seems that an inbound NS engine had been waiting at the crossing for the KCS to pass, and it made it's approach toward us at a sedate 25 mph or so. Tremendous noise, tremendous excitement, and a perfect opportunity to leisurely shoot:

(The complete train set can be viewed here and click here for extensive photos of just the bridge.)

I will say this--while it was trespassing, and dangerous trespassing at that, it was EXHILARATING to walk out onto that bridge. Excellent photo opportunities ABOUND. And our engineer on that cold and cloudy day sounded his horn AND his bell the entire time he passed, waved and was generally a tremendous sport about it. This, kids, I have to rate as a 5 star Must Visit Spot.

More to come. *s*

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Comfortable Shoe

One of my all-time favourite spots is not the most scenic I've shot at, is not the most exciting place as far as tons of traffic to be, but I've taken more good, clean photos there than anywhere else, I'm sure.

One of the reasons for me to frequent it is that it's easy to get to. I-49 and LA Hwy 1 follow the Union Pacific line for a great distance and this happy occurance gives the rail photographer plenty of good opportunities. Instead of going into the literally dozens of good shooting spots along this line, though, I'm going to cover one--the spot that is my favourite.

  • Rapides Station Rd/Hwy 1 (I-49) crossing

(Lies on the corporate limits of Alexandria and Boyce, exit 94 off I-49)

This is an excellent hangout. The RoW is fairly clear in both directions, allowing shots from both sides of the crossing and for a hundred yards or so in each direction without running into too many trees or such. There are very few visual obstructions other than the signal towers and such, and the traffic is light so it's rare that you get a vehicle waiting at the crossing in your composition. Plus for most of the year the light stays well perpendicular to the track unless you're out either very early or very late.

Here's a nice long shot of the crossing, taken from my perch on the side of the interstate. Little did I know that day that a KCS Retro Belle (4045) was going to be crossing.)

And yes, I ended up chasing this particular beastie well through town, but that's for another time.

I caught this extensively modified ex-Amtrak Pandrol Jackson grinder setup parked on the siding that runs on either side of the crossing.

And if you're like me and like to walk stationary cars for railyard sign and grafitti then this is a nice quiet spot to check out. Right now, matter of fact, there are some 40+ empty lumber cars parked there, have been for the better part of a month.

The Alexandria UP sub also uses a pair of CSX engines and has at least three NS engines there as well, so the variety of road power is wide and extensive.

Hanging out at this crossing late in the evening has also been profitable--well into Fall, around 5 pm before Daylight Savings I was treated to a fairly long set of UP gondolas that, in the setting sunlight appeared almost golden, and which set the twin UPs up front into nice relief. This shot was taken from a stance on top of two concrete drains just to the south of the crossing, not fifty feet from the roadbed.

And this was my reward for waiting:

The Boyce PD doesn't seem to concerned by my presence there, either. I've parked and walked and wandered there many times and never had any grief from the boys in black. The interstate's twin overpasses offer some nice shade and some fairly safe public parking, and there's many different places you can set up for a variety of shots. According to my Alexandria Sub timetable this area is posted at up to 60mph but I find that very few of the 4-6 trains that travel this area use that speed, as just inside Boyce to the north and at the Airbase Road crossing to the south are both slower posted areas so it's rare you see a train flying through. It's also a main course for autoracks coming into the Alexandria Sub so the opportunity for catching a truly long, uniform train are pretty good.

So. Even though it's not the prettiest and not the most visually striking place on the line it's darn good for practicing and for relatively trouble-free shots.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Trainspotting: A Beginning

My stars and garters, I've got a

Mission Statement!

1) To share good locations from which to watch and photograph trains in the Central Louisiana area
2) To help spread the fun of trainspotting to folks in and around CenLa
3) To bring to public awareness the surprisingly varied quality and quantity of freight trains that operate in and around the area.

Before I start sharing photos and talking about the locations I've found for photographing trains, let me say this in light of a man being killed in New Orleans by an Amtrak train:

I was lucky enough to have Thursday and Friday off this week, and spent most of both days in and around the outskirts of the Alexandria UP yard between Lee St. and I-49, and in the surrounding environs by the Mallin (Pineville, near Lake Buhlow) and Texamo (behind the Odom St. Post Office in Alexandria) control points. I was fully aware that I was trespassing on private property as all the areas are clearly marked as such, not to mention the common sense aspects of being near train tracks. Like most of us who trainspot I was basing my decision to 'gently trespass' on the grounds that I was fully ready to accept being asked to leave or ticketed for trespass, and that I was risking bodily harm. I try to use the Camper's Rule--leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos. And of course my Railroad Addendum--don't walk between the rails.

I took several really nice photos today while standing in the median (I can only assume that's the correct term for the 'clear' areas between active tracks because I'm still a n00b at 'spotting) while at least three engines were in operation at the outskirts of the UP yard today. I like to think that the friendly reactions I received from maintenance crew members and train operators alike who saw me was due to the fact that I exercised the same conspicuous level of care and judgment I use while riding my motorcycle on our public roads: I was constantly looking, listening, and making myself aware of my position, that of the engines and equipment, and keeping enough distance between myself and the equipment so that I could easily remove myself from problem areas. I fully understand the very real danger present every time I step onto a right of way: they may see me, they may not; they certainly can't stop on a dime to prevent injury to me, but just like operating that motorcycle, I make it my responsibility to keep my own hide safe at all times.

Plus, trains have the added benefit (to me) of not being able to leave the confines of their rails. If I'm standing on the grass verge where the maintenance vehicles drive a train cannot swerve unexpectedly into my path.

It's human nature to filter out noises, particularly repetitious or common ones, and this is a dangerous thing to be doing near a train. I keep my ears and eyes open constantly for horns or lights or ground rumble because that's the precursor to a photographic opportunity; I can see how other people wouldn't be so concerned. They're not packing a camera around with a hunger for That Next Great Photograph. The areas I frequent for photos are usually fairly removed from ambient vehicle noises but I can well imagine that a full interstate's worth of traffic could easily mask the tell-tale sounds of an approaching engine. In short, stay aware at all times when you are near railroad facilities or tracks, even if the track looks abandoned. Situational Awareness. Know what's around you, near you, know what's happening at all times. It's not the engineer's responsibility to keep you safe, it's yours.

And if you do happen to be detained by railway police or our own uniformed divisions I hope they'll be as understanding as the crews are: for the most part the Holy Trinity of Trains (Engineer, Conductor and Brakeman, amen) like to see people taking an interest in their jobs but when it comes right down to it, if you're standing on a right of way or in a yard or on a spur you're trespassing on private property. Be ready to accept the consequences of your actions.

And never, EVER forget your camera in the car. *g*

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