A Difference of 5 Seconds

CP chase 1a

CP chase 3c

CP chase 2b

I thought I was on my way home. It was getting late and I had more than an hour’s drive ahead of me with a stop en route to grab something to take home for dinner.

But the sun had come back out and I couldn’t resist taking some back roads near New London to make some winter images.

With a week of above freezing temperatures in store, the snow cover would be melting fast and this might be my last opportunity to make some photographs of winter in the country.

I was making my way down a dirt road (Township Road 1461) that crossed the CSX New Castle Subdivision.

I had heard the IO dispatcher talking to westbound trains not long before about having to wait in line to get through Greenwich. Maybe one of those trains would be hanging back from the crossing with TR 1461. I had seen it happen before.

My scanner starting beeping that low battery sound and I turned it off. I figured I was done chasing trains for the day.

I was making a “snow in the woods” image along when I heard a locomotive horn.

I had been photographing from the driver’s seat so I put my camera down and accelerated as hard as I dared on a wet, muddy road.

Through the trees I saw a flash of red. The lead unit was a shiny Canadian Pacific unit and, man, did that thing look great in the bright late day sunlight.

But I had no chance get to the crossing in time to jump out and get a photo. If I had just had five more seconds!

Instead, I shot a mediocre image (top photo) through my dirty windshield before pulling up to the crossing and stopping. I made a few images of the train passing the 187 milepost (middle image).

I’m not going to let this guy go. That bright red lead unit is too good to pass up. I gotta get it in this late day sunlight.

I could catch it in Greenwich if it stopped there or maybe at Edwards Road west of town.

It was a long train and after it passed I headed for Greenwich. I had to zig and zag and as I crossed the New Castle Sub again on Alpha Road I could see the rear of the train in the distance.

I continued on, crossing the CSX Greenwich Subdivision and heading into town.

I came to a T intersection by a school. I had been this way before and remembered seeing the school. Do I go past the school on the north side or the south side?

I didn’t have time to consult a map so I went left. Bad decision. The road I wanted went north of the school.

I wound up going into town and the train was crossing over the street. It had gotten a clear signal at Boyd (the crossing with the Greenwich Sub).

Even worse, the rear of the train passed over me as I went beneath it. I was more annoyed to learn the street I was taking was taking me eastward when I needed to chase a westbound train that had a good head start.

I cut over to U.S. 224 and raced westward. I could see the train from the road and as I came to Edwards Road I could see that the head end had already passed there. But my quarry seemed to have slowed.

Alas, that bright sunlight that had been bathing the train earlier had vanished, a bank of clouds having mostly covered the sun.

My next option was the bridge over the tracks on Old State Road. I made the right turn and sped northward. Fortunately, there was no other traffic ahead of me.

As I approached the bridge I could see the train wasn’t there yet, but it was bearing down on it.

I slammed on the brakes, came to a stop, grabbed my camera and jumped out.

I didn’t have time to put on my hazard lights or even close the door. Furthermore, I had failed to put the transmission into neutral, thus killing the engine. I didn’t care. At least the car was sitting still.

CP No. 9622 was closing the distance at what seemed like the speed of an Acela Express even if the train wasn’t traveling nearly that fast.

I didn’t have time to think about composition. Just run into position and begin firing away, hoping that the camera settings were OK.

I got off four frames and then raced to the other side of the bridge to photograph the train going away. Why I did that I don’t know. I was just reacting.

I had gotten there just in time. Those five seconds I had missed getting train show that I had wanted at Township Road 1461 had been returned to me at Old State Road. What a difference that a mere five seconds can make.

I gave up the chase at this point, satisfied that I had gotten a “coming at you” shot that turned out to be not quite what I had hoped to get, but pretty darn good nonetheless.

That bright red of CP 9622 had really popped.

Had I gotten the image I had wanted at TR 1461 I would not have chased this train west. And because I did I spotted a Wheeling & Lake Erie grain train sitting at Edwards Road west of Greenwich. I got that train, too, but the nice photos I made of it are for another day.

As for my broadside image of CP 9622, upon further review I decided that it might  not be quite as bad as I initially thought. After I leveled it in Photoshop and cleaned it up a bit, it didn’t look too bad.

It still tells a story about a train at an isolated rural crossing and how five seconds can make all the difference.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

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