Several years ago, I lost patience waiting around for a train to photograph and started to pay more attention to the landscape that the tracks run through. I became absorbed in the things that surround the railroad, and that the railroad alters and defines as it passes through. So absorbed, in fact, that trains occasionally rumbled by un-photographed.

The shift in focus away from the trains to the railroad landscape has been rewarding photographically, and I enjoy all my time along the tracks, train or not.

The challenge is to get beyond the invisibility of the familiar . . .

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2015 there were 209,655 grade crossings in the United States. It is safe to say that every man, woman and child in the country has most likely encountered a grade crossing. People who have never seen a roundhouse, or an interlocking tower or a color position light signal have bumped across the tracks on their way to the store, or to visit grandma.

Grade crossings are the most common aspect of the railroad landscape. The “Railroad Crossing” sign, the flashing lights, the guard arm, the rumble of tires on the tracks–it is all utterly familiar. This intersection of two major modes of transportation is unique, and each crossing, whether in a busy town or along a lonely rural road, is also unique. The challenge then, is to get beyond the invisibility of the familiar, and see the individual character of each crossing as it unites the railroad, the highway and the surrounding landscape.

Edd FullerPhotographs and text Copyright 2018

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14 thoughts on “Grade Crossings

  1. Thank you for the great observations and wonder filled photographs! I could spend hours just wandering through the settings you’ve captured, in fact I probably will. Thanks again for the relaxing journey.

  2. Most enjoyable to see ALL these pictures… the one with the former store and another with the Country store to know the history of those locations all the pictures.evoke past RR memories….Ron

  3. Edd, great to find art in the obvious. From as long as I can remember, grade crossings were a moment of anticipation when we crossed one. A quick look to the left, then to the right, to perhaps see the headlight of an approaching train, usually led to disappointment – No Train! Sometimes luck would be on my side, and the lights, bells, and gates would activate just as we were approaching the crossing, which might mean we could get out of the car and watch the train pass. I still do the same thing today, at age 72, although my inspection is now colored by my railroad experience, and the knowledge that on some very rare occasions, the signals don’t work, so it pays to Stop, Look, and Listen. Thanks for the memories.

  4. An interesting series of photographs of ‘Grade Crossings’. Enjoyed this little series. There is more to railroading than trains. I am going to have to get more creative with my photography.

  5. Compelling images, Edd….. Thank you for your homage to grade crossing appurati. My affection for same dates back to the holdout days of grade crossing tenders manning these countless urban intersections. Nothing was more exciting than to be approaching a set of flashers and gates, and have the array of red lamps “light off”! … Bob Finan ~

  6. I’ve got several pretty good grade crossing photographs. Your essay has inspired me to pay more serious attention to grade crossings, and start my own collection of them. Thank you!

    1. Rob, thanks. Would love to see some of your grade crossing photos. Why not send a couple of them in for the Trackside Gallery.

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