Sun Feb 3rd, 2008 at 06:26:28 AM EST
When I started train blogging on ET, my goal was two-fold: naked rail advocacy, and to show a general public that trains can be as interesting as cars or planes or other objects of fandom.
In this diary however, I write about a rather obscure and specialised (or should I say nutty) hobby, one practised by some of the more hardcore rail photography fans: identifying the location of train photos.
Two-fifths of the train that set a new rail world speed record last April (574.8 km/h), at a strange location... Photo by Jean-Marc Frybourg @ RailPictures.Net
At the end of this diary, some riddles for the enterprising among you, or just random nice pictures for the rest.
Promoted with some extras in the comments
"Diehards are easily recognized by their casual identification of a location that is to the casual observer, nowhere."
–dKos user elfling in Travelling Amtrak
Recently I took upon a WWII-time train photo of In Wales's grandfather, and a year ago, located a random photo of her in North Wales on which tracks were visible. However, I am an enterprising amateur compared to the real pros. Look at these two photos (both of them featured already in earlier diaries of mine):
When I posted these as riddles on an Austrian railfan site, it took 20 minutes for the first, 1½ hours for the second until someone posted the solution. As for the real difficult riddles the regulars entertained each other with, an example: oblique view across a small road in a dense park-like forest, crossed by a single track – and there were users for whom that sufficed to recognise a freight access track somewhere in Vienna...
So, how is this possible? Does the hardcore have a photographic memory of thousands of kilometres of railway track?
Of course not. First of all, there are only so many good photo locations along tracks: where the camera has an unobstructed view, where a curve brings the end of the train closer, where one can include something scenic in the picture, where the Sun shines on the right side of the train.
So, it is also practical to know where others found good spots. But photo-locating isn't based on a photographic memory of every single good photo location, either. Memory of thousands of pictures and videos is a basis, but photo-locating is all about finding clues and seeing patterns. The four main areas of clues:
- the trains themselves (they tell in which country, or even on which line we are on),
- infrastructure (station style, age of track, signalling, catenary; recognizable bridges & tunnels, track alignment),
- landscape (style of relief, trees & forests, buildings; landmarks, orientation [from shadows])
- a good map (to check the clues from track alignment and landscape).
The third is most important. Good train photography is usually also landscape photography. Rail photographers grow a sense of the individuality of scenery, which works the same way the human brain processes minute differences in the same general pattern ("oval + in it from bottom, wider slit + triangle protrusion + two symmetric slits + circles in slits + colourful fur") to recognise individual faces.
For example, rail lines often run in river valleys, and I have a sense of a dozen basic 'valley cross section types' (for which I don't even know words), which can be recognised both on the photos and maps with relief. Or, if there is water, one can look whether it's a lake, fast or slow river, bay or open sea. Or one looks at the colour of exposed rock walls. Or one recognises local styles in church towers or castles or homes.
With so many potential clues, the real art is in finding the clue or clue combination that is rare, and narrows down the search.
(On my first Austria photo, one sees the portal of an apparently new tunnel that aint' short. That would already narrow down the search to a dozen tunnels. But notice that just before the tunnel, a track branches off to the right: obviously, this is a cut-off tunnel, with the old line kept for local trains. There are only two candidates. One of them is a quadruple-tracked 200 km/h mainline. So with just three clues, only one solution remains: the western portal of the ten-year-old, 5,462 m Galgenberg Tunnel, near Leoben in the Mur valley.)
(Clues in the second photo, in a little less detail: photo is obviously from a train, thus at a junction, showing a single-track mainline that must be on a bridge approach; and we look across an Alpine valley bottom that is wide, flat, yet not built up; and it's morning, so we look west–north-west. Again, that's enough to narrow it down to one location only: the former marshland in the Upper Enz Valley, north of railway hub Selzthal.)
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You can try your own luck on the photos below. (If you won't, they're still nice!) I have chosen two photos each for four European countries, photos I judged to be easy resp. of medium difficulty for non-railfans knowing the respective countries. All have something that should radically narrow down the search.
As general help, there are: the train class stock lists at RailFanEurope, also my last few train diaries; the rail network maps of Trainspotting Bükkes; and Google Maps, with which you can switch to satellite photo view, with a reasonably good resolution for all eight locations. In Google Maps, there is the "Link to this page" link (above the upper right corner of the map), I'd prefer if you'd post solutions by copying the links from there.
The easy one – RENFE 269.604, the most special of the reconstructed locos of class 269.6, pulls a Talgo tain along a curve:
Medium difficulty – A RENFE series 120 train in spectacular scenery (hints: the train type, buildings and water, shadow angle):
Extra map help: Multimap, in which you can switch to aerial photograph map.
The easy one – A GX class 460 and a couple of suburban electrics (hints: the building, the track, the train):
Medium difficulty – a First Great Western HST/class 43 (hints: railway, weather, what must be left of the picture, rocks):
Extra map help: Stadtplandienst, in which you can switch to aerial photograph map.
The easy one – an older photo with a DB class 120 and its IC racing along then brand-new tracks (hints: the line, what's under the bridge):
Medium difficulty – DB 181 201 with an IC (hint: the loco, the valley side, and something unusual about the bridge):
Extra map help: ViaMichelin, where the medium-resolution maps are rather information-rich and well-drawn.
The easy one – erm, see above the fold...
Medium difficulty – an SNCF series 9300 in TER service (hint: the water body is key, though I admit it's a bit tricky):
(Photo Credits: Mariano Alvaro @ Flickr.com, apothequer @ RailPictures.Net, Jean-Marc Frybourg @ RailPictures.Net, Chris Nevard @ RailPictures.Net, Dietrich Seegers @ Bahnbilder.de, Brian Stephenson @ RailPictures.Net, and Georg Vogt @ Bahnbilder.de.)
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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.