Don't Leave Too Soon...Just Because the Trains and Daylight Have Gone

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, November 1, 2017

When I went out on what was then Norfolk Southern’s Washington District (the northern end of the former Southern Railway’s Washington, DC-Atlanta, Georgia main line) on Sunday October 25, 2009, I didn’t have great expectations for railroad photography.  I headed for the area between Calverton and Bealeton along Virginia Route 28, hoping to find something moving on the railroad; Sunday afternoons here can be quiet from a train movement perspective, but there would almost definitely be Amtrak’s Northeast Regional to Lynchburg, Virginia, not long before sunset.

In any case, it was a pretty afternoon to drive through the Virginia Piedmont.  I stopped to take a few pictures in the Fauquier County countryside for another ongoing project; the Route 28 corridor here passes through largely rural areas that are still being actively farmed, punctuated by several (very) small towns.  Just to the north, in Prince William County south of Manassas, there is significant suburban development, but thus far Fauquier has resisted this trend.  North of Catlett, there is what was formerly a farmhouse that’s definitely seen better days, but can’t remember them due to how long ago they were; it appears that its front porch roof has descended to the ground, contrary to its original purpose.  The permanent “open door” policy is another hint that this structure is no longer in use as a home.


After a while, a train appeared, in the form of NS 228, whose principal purpose is moving maritime containers between the Virginia Inland Port, located on the former N&W just north of Front Royal, Virginia and the Norfolk/Hampton Roads area.  Unfortunately, 228’s arrival coincided with the appearance of a cloud, rendering moot the chances of a well-illuminated wedge shot of the head end of the train; the sun did recover in time to shoot some of the colorful “ocean boxes” ahead of the “domestic” containers from trucker J.B. Hunt, however.

Since it was getting to be time for the southbound Amtrak, I set up at Eustace Road, just south of Calverton, for the shot.  Passenger trains do have some advantages, from a photographic perspective.  They run on schedules that are generally more reliable than freight trains; in addition, the equipment is familiar to the point of mundane, and probably doesn’t need to be recorded for purely documentary purposes.  I have numerous shots of a GE Genesis unit pulling Amfleet coaches; in fact, I’ve shot this particular train many times.

Thus, I was open to doing something a little more creative, with the almost-sunset light being a positive influence.  Likely there would be at least some modest glint reflecting off the stainless steel sides of the Budd-built cars; shooting it with a relatively low shutter speed would produce a moderate degree of blur, appropriate for a train running in an area where the maximum speed for passenger trains is 79 mph. 

The results were pleasant, and it was possible to capture an intermediate shot where the feeling was “train passing”, and another after the entire consist was by, signaling the finality of the train’s passage at this location. 

So, the trains were gone (at least those in what passed for daylight); time to go home yet?  The light looked somewhat promising for a good sunset, so I set off for the more open area east of Midland (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable by locals), a few miles south.  Color in the sky was building, but wasn’t really noteworthy yet. 

Shortly, the intensity of the sky’s color increased, and a strong reddish-orange hue resulted.  Thinking of where this might best be photographed in the vicinity caused me to move slightly further north, to the Al-Mara farm on Germantown Road; here’s the result.

No, it’s not a railroad photograph (although the tracks are just to the left of where I’m standing), but I’m glad that I didn’t leave too soon; taking the time to capture this photographically probably will help me if I can line up a similar shot trackside in the future, as well.

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