|Amtrak in Fargo|
DesireI've always wanted to photograph Amtrak's Empire Builder in North Dakota. It passes through Fargo and Grand Forks, both places that our family visits now and then for shopping. The problem is that it stops in those two cities in the middle of the night.
Train 7, the westbound Empire Builder, is scheduled to stop in Fargo at 03:24 and Grand Forks at 04:41, while train 8, the eastbound, is scheduled to stop in Grand Forks at 01:02 and Fargo at 02:18. If they're on time, they should meet somewhere between Fargo and Detroit Lakes, MN.
The SetupWe went to Fargo last month to spend the weekend shopping and just getting out of Winnipeg. We arrived on the evening of Friday, January 20th and spent the 21st shopping. As we were relaxing in our hotel on Saturday night, I checked the Amtrak app and noted that the eastbound Empire Builder was an hour late, meaning it was forecast to be in Fargo at about the same time as the westbound Empire Builder. A plan formed.
I discussed my plan with my wife. As usual she thought I was crazy, but was OK with me getting up in the middle of the night to photograph trains, as long as she didn't have to get up.
I laid out all my supplies before bedtime. A partial list:
- Camera bag
- Coat, mitts, hat, scarf
- Cell phone
- Car keys
The JourneyI awoke, dressed quickly, and snuck out of the hotel room without waking anyone. Good. I took the stairs down to the ground floor and headed out to the parking lot to find our van. After about 15 minutes of driving, I was at the Amtrak depot.
|Amtrak station (L) and ex Great Northern station (R)|
I parked on a nearby street because I didn't know the parking situation at the station. I think I would have been OK parking there but better safe than sorry. There was a fair amount of activity at the station, with a few cars idling nearby and some people were being dropped off at the station.
I went inside and asked the Amtrak agent which train was coming in first. He saw my camera and told me the westbound was arriving first, and said to watch out for his baggage truck when I was taking photos. I didn't plan on being on the platform and I told him that. My plan was to shoot from the crossings on either side of the station.
But First, A SurpriseI went to the North Broadway crossing to set up my tripod and camera. As I was getting ready, I heard a train approaching from the east. It turned out to be a BNSF manifest freight train led by BNSF 6069, 4602 and 8971. I took video with my iPhone.
After that blew through, I finished setting up to wait for the westbound Amtrak Empire Builder.
While waiting, I recorded a little video about how to focus your camera at night here!
The WestboundThe Amtrak train came along not long after the BNSF train went through. The train crawled up to the Broadway Drive crossing, with AMTK 113 sticking its nose into the crossing and keeping the arms down and the crossing active.
|AMTK 113 in Fargo, North Dakota at night on the Amtrak Empire Builder|
I always get asked what settings I used, so for the above photo I used a 2 second exposure at f/10 and ISO 100. I used the 2 second self timer on my camera (on the tripod) so I wouldn't move the camera by pressing the shutter.
I was playing with shutter speeds of 2-5 seconds when the train wasn't moving. I liked this exposure because with f/10 I could get enough depth of field to get most of the image in focus. A shorter shutter speed would mean I'd have to open the aperture up (e.g. f/8 or f/5.6) and therefore less depth of field.
After about 8 minutes they pulled forward a bit to spot the second half of the train at the platform.
|Amtrak baggage car and Superliners in Fargo|
After a few more minutes, they took off westward and that was the end of that train.
I walked around to get to the 4th Street North crossing to shoot the eastbound. On the way, I stopped to take a decent photo of the old Great Northern station. She's a beauty!
|Ex Great Northern train station in Fargo|
|Long exposure of the Amtrak Empire Builder arriving in Fargo, North Dakota|
The train's head end stopped well across 4th Street in an inaccessible location. I elected to stay put and take a few photos of the Superliners gleaming in the available light. See lead photo for a black and white view of the Superliners.
|Superliners on the move|
I shot video of their arrival but not of the departure.
I combined both trains into one video.
PostscriptAfter the other Empire Builder left, I packed up and went back to my hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before going back out to railfan again. But that's another story.
I'm glad I made the effort to see the Amtrak trains. I'm not sure if I'll do that on every trip! I think I'll have to get out in Grand Forks to see the trains there, even though the Amtrak station in Grand Forks is much more modest than Fargo's.