Several Tries at XO Tower

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D&H Locomotives pass XO Tower
D&H Locomotives pass XO Tower

Several Tries at XO Tower

Feb 11, 2015

At the junction of the Delaware & Hudson’s Colonie Main and the Boston & Maine’s Mainline sits XO Tower. Built in 1914, the structure is elevated to give the operator a clear view of the tracks while controlling train movements through the junction and into the railroads’ respective yards. The D&H and B&M yards behind the tower represented some of the largest railroad complexes in the east.

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Iowa Chicago and Eastern 6215
Iowa Chicago and Eastern power leads a train out of Albany, NY
Starting in 1940s, the need for towers was diminished: Centralize Traffic Control was being rolled out. This technology used telegraph lines to tie signals and sensors on the track to operators located miles away. Previously, tower operators moved switches and signals with long levers connected directly to the tracks. CTC allowed remote electric operation.

In the age of CTC, XO Tower became home to the D&H’s northern dispatcher and remained in use while others were closed and demolished. Dispatching was further centralized in the 1970s and the tower was closed. After years of neglect, the building was bought by the city of Mechanicville, New York and restored.

This rare railroad structure was an obvious choice to include in a photograph and while it is a well photographed location during the day it is difficult to shoot many of its better angles as the camera always ends up pointed into the sun.

For being an obvious choice, XO Tower is a difficult location: the railroad owns much of the land, limiting the number of places you can place the camera and lights. There is a lot going on, with crossing gates, street scenes and fences cluttering up the scene. The wide angle lenses favored by many night photographers just makes XO’s problems worse.

Two photographers recommended bringing a telephoto lens to Mechanicville. The experience was counter intuitive and liberating: here I was, a block from the subject, snaking a clear line of sight down the street, around cars, around signs and around the fences.

After a few hours of setting up and waiting a train finally appeared. Its headlights illuminated the tracks and I fired off a test shot to make the crew aware of the flashes. Watching the train, with its bright headlights, is a good way to lose all your night vision. I focused on the spot where I would take the photo.

And. The Train disappeared. Well. I was set up to photograph on the old D&H tracks and the train turned off at the junction and went down the B&M. I waited to see if another train was behind the first. Nope.  A week later I set up at 3:30am, setting my lights exactly as they were before. Thirty minutes later D45, the train between Saratoga and Albany, New York showed up right on time and I captured an image of three former Delaware & Hudson locomotives 7310, 7304, and 7303 working hard past the interlocking tower.

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XO Tower in Mechanville, NY at Night
On a night without trains