Can I Have Your Hat?
Conductor David Howell collects the tickets of a family riding the Fort Collins Municipal Railway on August 21st, 2016. One of the youngest guests seems to take an interest in his hat during the process!

At its very core, railroading is and always has been about connecting people. Whether it’s the conveyance of travelers from point A to point B or commercial goods from seller to buyer, serving people is the common link in all of railroading. It’s easy to spend time trackside and witness the locomotives, rolling stock, tracks, signals, buildings, etc., but  when distilled down to its very essence, railroading is a very human subject to photograph.

It takes only a short time to see that there are people everywhere around railroads. Whether photographing crews, passengers, maintenance workers, museum volunteers, other photographers, or innumerable others encountered while trackside, there’s always a story to be told. I find that my rail photographs that incorporate people are often the most dynamic and interesting. Suddenly, all the steel, wood and brick infrastructure melts away and the remainder is a tale of us. People bring the railroad to life.

Robert McCray
Robert McCray was a passenger on Amtrak’s Train No. 5, the westbound California Zephyr on September 29th, 2012. He was serenading the busy platform with several western and folk songs during the train’s station stop in Denver, CO.

The stories are fascinating, too. A mother waiting for the California Zephyr to depart, her collegiate daughter on board headed back to school. A shadowed figure on a train watching an efficient crew clean windows. Volunteers working to get a 90+ year old steam locomotive running again. A dedicated crew working on a cold Thanksgiving. A passenger rushing to board her train during rush hour at Chicago’s Union Station. A traveling troubadour serenading a platform full of travelers. And countless others.

These are a selection of some of my favorite people shots taken while trackside. They represent some of my favorite railroad work and I’m honored to share them with you.

North Yard Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day, 2015 was cold, windy and damp in Denver. While most people were still warm in their beds or starting to prepare their turkeys, I wandered down to Union Pacific’s North Yard. Witness to the fact that railroading is a 24 hour a day, 365 day a year business is this crew shuffling some motive power around the yard. I count their dedicated efforts among the items I was grateful for that day and every day.
Mirror Change
The station stop in Denver for Amtrak’s California Zephyr is just long enough to do a quick service stop. Windows are washed, fuel tanks are topped off, water tanks are filled, etc. Sometimes there’s a bit more to do. Such was the case on October 14th, 2012. The lead unit of the Zephyr suffered a bit of damage to a mirror. The Denver crew made quick work of swapping out the mirror on the P42.
Washing Windows on the Zephyr
Washing the windows of the California Zephyr during it’s station stop in Denver is a beautifully efficient process thanks to the dedication of Amtrak’s crew. It always draws the gaze of at least one or two travelers. Such was the case with the shadowed figure in the window.
Switching in Rochelle, IL
It’s the day after Christmas, 2012 and a crew is busy switching some of the many reefer cars around the food plants in Rochelle, IL. It’s a cold day and the crew is bundled up against the Illinois winter.
Smoke and Phone Break
A traveler on the California Zephyr makes use of the extended station stop in Denver, CO to make a phone call and smoke a cigarette. It’s a cold evening and not many fellow travelers joined him on the platform.
Holiday Rush
It’s December 16th, 2012 and the holidays are quickly approaching. There’s a rush at Denver’s Union Station during the boarding of Amtrak Train No. 6 — the eastbound California Zephyr. I panned this shot of a traveler as she headed towards her car assignment.
Beth at Denver, CO
This is Beth. She was dropping her daughter off at Denver’s Union Station to board the California Zephyr on October 22nd, 2012. She was chatting with several of the crew while she watched her daughter board the train, headed back to college.
Passenger – Chicago Union Station
A lone passenger rushes to board her train at Chicago’s busy Union Station on February 21st, 2015.
King’s Cross Rush
Passengers rush around King’s Cross Station in London on February 26th, 2016. I made a quick stop in London on my way to Kenya. I was amazed at the efficiency of their subway/rail system despite the huge numbers of travelers they were transporting.
End of the Run
It’s the end of the day and the tourists have all left to head back to their lodgings. The crew in Chama, NM is taking care of end of day duties. Among these are washing the grime off of Mikado No. 484. The date is July 3rd, 2016. As with much of Chama, though, time has really stood still here and sometimes it’s hard to tell what decade it is.
Volunteers at the Colorado Railroad Museum tend to an ailing Shay # 12 on May 4th, 2011
Al Blount in Goose Number 7
Longtime Colorado Railroad Museum volunteer Al Blount rests in Rio Grande Southern Galloping Goose #7 on July 6th, 2013.
Shooting a Great Lashup
Railfans are as much a part of the trackside mass of humanity as anyone else, though they are not photographed nearly as much. While chasing Train No. 277, which had 5 blue and gold SD40-2’s this evening, I took a shot of friend and fellow railroad photographer Drew Halverson as he prepared for a shot of the approaching train.

Christopher MayPhotograph and text Copyright 2017
See more of Christopher’s work at Fine Art Photography by Christopher May

4 thoughts on “Trackside People

  1. I love these photos. The human side of railroading – either crew or passengers – is not shown enough. Thanks for sharing these images.

  2. I went through your photos of the paper mills in Maine, if you ever up that way there is a mill in Rumford and it still has the old roundhouse from the steam days.Joe Morris

  3. Hi Joe,

    David Kahler actually wrote the wonderful piece on the paper mills in Maine. Alas, I live in Colorado and it’s a bit difficult for me to get to Maine. I will certainly keep that in mind, though, if I’m ever out that way. Thank you for the information and for stopping by!


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