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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