Get the Shot, Now

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The basics of this scene are still there, and it’s just as accessible as when  Amtrak’s northbound Crescent passed through Rapidan, Virginia twenty-four years ago on April 1, 1995.  The single-track Norfolk Southern (and Southern Railway before 1982) roadbed still occupies the fill to the west of Virginia County route 615; an Amfleet 2 lounge is likely to be in the train’s consist, albeit next to the diner, near the middle of the trains; General Electric Genesis units, still typically in pairs, continue to provide the train’s propulsion and “hotel” power.

In the intervening years, however, there have been a number of subtle changes.  GE P42s have replaced the original P40s, as seen here, and the “Heritage” baggage car behind the locomotives has given way to new Viewliner equipment.  Paint schemes?  There have been several iterations on the power alone, as the “fade” scheme variant of Amtrak’s “Phase III” locomotive paint scheme that was applied when the P40s were new was converted to solid, full-length striping even before the Genesis units were garbed in the “Phase IV” scheme.  This gave way to “Phase V” in the late 1990s, a livery that  was applied first to Amtrak’s AEM-7 electric “toasters”, according to David Warner and Elbert Simon’s Amtrak by the Numbers.

You can’t see it in this shot, but further back in 20’s consist are Heritage sleepers and diner.  The former were replaced by Viewliner sleeping cars in the mid-1990s, while the post-World War II meal service cars previously in private railroad-ownership soldiered on until quite recently, prior to also being supplanted by Viewliner replacements.

The shocking changes here are those in the natural world.  Although I don’t recall seeing flowering fruit trees in recent years at this spot, and I don’t think that the Rapidan Berry Gardens still exists as an enterprise, the field to the west of route 615 is still there.  However, a casual traveler using this highway might have no conception that a main line of a major railroad is running parallel to the road that they’re using.  Foliage, both trees and smaller brush, almost completely obscures the view of the railroad from the road today.

So, don’t plan on getting up early to get a nice shot of the Crescent here, unless you are trying to illustrate the point that the photo opportunity has vanished.  Check out Google Earth, and notice the “tunnel of trees” on both sides of the NS right-of-way in this otherwise pretty spot.

All of this serves to point out that when you see an attractive shot, it’s generally a good idea to do your best to commit it to pixels (or even film) before it changes.  This might mean coming back more than once to get optimal lighting/timing circumstances, but later, you’ll be glad you did. 

Paraphrasing English poet Robert Herrick, my advice, entitled To the Railfans, to Make Much of Time, can be summarized as “gather ye rosebuds (or flowering trees) while you may”.

Time waits for no railroad photographer.  

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