Below are Frequently Asked Questions about my photo pages. Your comments and questions are welcome.
Send them to Steve.
Why did you create these pages?
After reading Herbert Harwood's Impossible Challenge and Impossible
Challenge II books about the history of the B&O in Maryland, I wanted
to see some of the things he described. His books include many photos,
but I wanted to see more, and searching on the Web during the 1990s
turned up very little. Perhaps a century from now someone will redo
these tours and find my photos helpful for then-now comparisons.
But, there are lots of railroad pictures on the Web...
That's true. But, there are also lots of railroads in the world,
not just the B&O and CSX. Plus, most of the pictures I found were of
trains, and I was interested in both the trains and the historic
What else is different about your photo pages?
I want to share what I've learned, and therefore include a description
with each photo I post. While an expert railfan might immediately
recognize the significance of a photo, even without a description, I
realized I was unable to do so when viewing many of the other train
pictures found on the Web. So, there are probably other railfans Out There
who find descriptions helpful.
Why isn't the page content fancier, with automated comments and such?
Maybe it will get there someday, for now this works. I'd like to avoid
the Weber Principle: "Every Web Site's Complexity Tends to Rise to a
Level of Browser Incompatibility." This is akin to
the Peter Principle.
Are you a serious railfan, aka foamer?
Serious railfans stop conversing with me once they learn I do not know engine
models on sight, or train symbols. For me railfanning is about getting exercise,
learning area history, and observing railroad operation. If someone likes
memorizing engine model numbers, that's fine by me, it's just something I'm not
terribly interested in.
Do you make money from this site, such as from the ads at top?
No. The ads on each page are inserted by trainweb.org in exchange for
providing free Web hosting space for all these pictures.
How long have you been at this?
This project began during the 1990s. It occurs to me that while I hope to have
many years left, I won't be around forever. If you have an interest in owning
/ maintaining / expanding the content at /oldmainline,
send me your proposal.
What if I find a broken link or typo?
Let me know so I can fix it. Included with the photos are links to relevant
content hosted at other sites. When I update a page I generally recheck that
those links still work, but sometimes content is soon after deleted or moved to
a different Web address. One person complained (yes, complained) that people
were visiting his site because of such a link, a great example of "You can't
When I click to a new page, the page bottom displays rather than the top.
Are you using the Safari browser (common on iPad and other iOS devices)? That's
a longstanding, known bug in Safari.
When I back up after viewing a photo in full size, the page scrolls to the top.
That's another bug in some browsers. The operation of the page back feature is not
under my control.
Are any photos edited?
Many have automatic color, lighting, sharpness, etc. correction applied digitally. Most
older photos go through a restoration process for which a fresh copyright applies. Some
photos are edited to mask graffiti. It is generally noted in the description for the few
photos that are digital composites of two or more photos. No photo has been modified
with the intent to falsely depict its railroad content.
What equipment do you use?
Nothing fancy. I began with a film camera, then moved to various
prosumer-level digicams with a high degree of zoom.
What is your ideal railfan camera?
To my knowledge, the camera I want does not exist. The closest is
the Sony H-series, which is now considered old. I don't want something heavy,
so DSLRs are out. My ideal: 1) Max zoom in the 20x to 30x range; anything more
too often gets blurred by heat distortion. 2) Ability to take about 2 photos
per second; a higher rate fills up memory too fast and creates more
deletion-of-duplicates work. 3) For moving trains, an action mode that decreases
the exposure duration but otherwise automatically sets exposure. The Sony H5 does
2 and 3. The Sony HX-200v does 1 and either 2 or 3. The Canon SX50 does
1 and 2, but tends toward overexposure. AFAIK, no camera does all three, but I'd
love to learn otherwise.
Sony's H5 has a mode called "high-speed shutter" that I find ideal for moving
trains because it reduces blur, but I believe Sony did not retain this feature
in any later model. Camera "sports" modes are not the same because instead of
increasing shutter speed they increase the number of photos taken per second.
Sixteen shots of an approaching train are overkill. I've yet to find a camera
that lets its user set the desired number of photos per second. Such a feature
would be very useful.
Isn't it dangerous obtaining these photos?
It's certainly dangerous if you do stupid things. Your life is
never worth a photo, no matter how perfect the shot. There are two
main concerns: the trains, and the area. You must have a healthy
respect for the trains. At first it might seem that walking across
tracks is like crossing a street, but, there are many differences.
1) Trains are less common than autos, and therefore an empty track
gives the false impression of an unused track. Don't become
complacent! Watch, look, listen, be on constant guard. 2) Trains
often move faster than autos. They can be upon you before you know
it. 3) Trains cannot stop like autos. YOU have to get out of the
Don't become a statistic: act responsibly, obey all signage, don't
do stupid things, and never snap photos while on the tracks or while
others are because that's too distracting. Beware: some trackage
within this region hosts high speed Amtrak trains. They are so quiet,
and travel so fast (around 100 mph) they can be upon you seemingly
out of nowhere. My advice is to stay clear!
What about dangerous areas?
Many railroad routes are through older, often poorer sections of
town. Venturing into these areas, alone, carrying valuable photo
equipment is just asking for trouble. Bring a buddy, go during the
day, and don't get out of your car if you are uncomfortable with
the setting. In rural areas you need to be watchful as well: there
are potential dangers from things like snakes and tick bites (from
which you can contract Lyme disease).
What's the Area rating with each photo?
It's an estimate of the relative safety level of the area,
one independent of the risks associated with being near trains. Parks
generally get an "A" rating while "F" is reserved for gritty urban places
where you are more likely to hear gunshots.
Why don't the ADC map coordinates match?
You likely have an ADC "Street Atlas". This site employs their
"Street Map Book" system in which map pages are numbered with 1 or 2
digits. You can convert between the two systems at
The county codes are: AA = Anne Arundel, Ba = Baltimore, Ca = Carroll,
DC = District of Columbia, Fr = Frederick, Ha = Harford, Ho = Howard,
Mo = Montgomery, NV = Northern Virginia, PG = Prince George's,
Wa = Washington County.
Can I walk through tunnels and cross bridges?
That would be very dangerous and I strongly recommend against
taking chances like that. Being anywhere near the trains carries a
risk, so keep a safe distance and stay alert. Always respect private
property and obey signage. None of my photos shown here were shot from
posted private property without permission. Stations, grade crossings,
and overpasses are probably the best spots from which to railfan. If
you choose to venture into the areas seen at this site, remember that
you alone are responsible for your actions. I suggest you have
permission of the corresponding railroad, such as CSX Transportation (I do).
Each year many people are killed or severely injured because they were
careless and did not heed warnings like the ones here. Don't become
such a statistic.
I would like to create a similar tour for a railroad in my region.
That's fine by me. If you wish, you can repurpose the general presentation
structure and HTML code I use for my tours, just the framework i.e. not the
photos and/or text.
Any photography tips?
Lighting is the most important factor. Shooting fast moving
objects in dim light, or shadows, rarely produces good results. Many
trains and/or equipment are of a dark color, and you need bright sun
to bring out the details. My favorite is the day after a cold
frontal passage: the sky will be blue with possibly some puffy
cumulus clouds and minimal haze. Keep the sun at your back. A
polarizing filter will help bring out the sky color. Around here,
I'd estimate that just one day per month is very good for train
What season is best for train photography?
Each season has it own special qualities. Spring has many
bright, crisp, sunny days with comfortable temperatures. Vegetation
often is in flower or has pastel shades. Summer is good for green
backdrops, particularly if you want the trees to hide something ugly
in the vicinity. I was pleasantly surprised by my autumn photos: the
vivid colors really added something. Winter is the only time
you can capture snowy scenes, plus it's the time to get shots that
are otherwise obscured by deciduous vegetation.
What should I do when a train approaches?
First, it is essential you stay well clear of all tracks and in a
safe spot! After that, face the train operator and wave one hand gently in a
greeting so he knows you see his approaching train. He might toot the horn in
reply. Stand still, do not scurry from place to place. Only then may you put
your camera to use.
How do you organize your photos?
Most of my photos are digital. After extraction from the camera I rename them
according to the milepost or map location, and the compass direction of view.
So, for example, a photo snapped along the Old Main Line at mile 11.4
looking west gets renamed 114wDescription.jpg and placed in a folder named
OML. This milepost renaming method allows for future viewing in order:
flipping through the photos in name sequence produces a visual experience
similar to riding along via train.
Why are your photos here not at a higher resolution?
Since trainweb.org is hosting thousands of photos at no charge, they ask
that the file size of each be limited. That requires a high jpg compression
factor plus limits the physical dimensions. Most of my master/source
versions of these images are at much higher resolution.
Then why don't you upload larger photos to other web sites?
I've attempted to do so, but most other RR-related sites are volunteer-based
and insufficiently staffed to handle more. Even offers of monetary donations
often go unanswered. Some site operators have probably moved on to other
Why the "Easter Eggs"?
They're just for fun, and to give alert readers something to search for and
spot. Most of these Easter Eggs take the form of adapted quotes from well-known
sources. For example, one page contains a short lyrics quote from each song of a
certain Pink Floyd album. Other pages have similar sets of quotes from literature,
for example, text adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Raven. You'll also
find modified quotes from classic movies such as The Wizard of Oz, and
a page with titles of many Foyle's War episodes. The more you look the
more you'll find.
What are those letter/number train designations I hear about?
Symbols like K141 and Q347 are CSX's way of identifying a run of a train.
Do you guide tours?
No, sorry, I don't. If you want to easily see the Washingon Branch,
ride a Camden Line MARC train. For the OML, check with the National Railway
Historical Society's DC Chapter;
in some years they operate a passenger charter during the autumn.
Is railfanning dead due to security issues?
Only if we let that happen. Many generations before us have fought
for the freedoms we cherish in the USA. We can't let their efforts be
for naught because a few want to take those freedoms away. If we let
that happen, then we've lost. Before you get challenged for taking photos
learn your rights.
How did you first get interested in trains?
It was probably due to a friend introducing me to a train-themed
board game in college. As a kid, I didn't have much interest
in trains, despite growing up just two city blocks from the New York
Connecting Railroad in Middle Village. But since the trains were
largely out of sight, they were easy to ignore and
never caught my interest at the time.
Railroadiana is a niche. Within that niche
has at times ranked the B&O Photo Tours within the top 10 most popular railroad
photo sites on the Web.
Has this site had much impact?
Quantum physics tells us every interaction has an impact, but people have
told me of only a handful. One is that
the photo here of a Bollman bridge at
the Patterson Viaduct triggered the decision to build a vaguely-similar-looking,
cable-stayed foot bridge there during the 2000s. Disney has used this site
to scout movie locations, and it was
my photo of the Gary Memorial United Methodist church
in Daniels that led them to include the church and its
pastor in their movie Tuck Everlasting.
If you visit any of the actual locations, follow the hiker's creed:
take only photos, leave only footprints.