Railway Photography

In my Blog post titled ‘Railways – The Multifaceted Hobby’, found at https://railwayjade.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/railways-the-multifaceted-hobby/, Photography was one of the many facets mentioned.

Invariably, Photography can encompass all the other subjects mentioned, especially travelling; writing; Social Media and; Friends and Good Times.

I mentioned in the blog post that I got my own basic skills from good and longtime friend, Jimmy. I have been fortunate to get to make many friends who take pictures and video footage.

I thought that it would be interesting to hear from the professionals about their adventures and some do’s and don’ts!

I am including links to their YouTube Accounts and also any other account where they may display their pictures/footage.

First up, my longtime friend – James Lee Attwell (Jimmy)!


The first rays of a sun on a cold winter’s morning catch Friends of the Rail’s class 24 (No. 3664) and 19D (No.2650) performing a double-headed runpast. Class 15F number 3117 simmers in the background. This is an example of the lighting and colour that early morning photography gives, in particular the golden glint. 23 May 2010, Capitol Park, Pretoria.

I was born and raised in a train crazy house. My father is an avid railway enthusiast, and that was that, I was born with railway blood! Part of my childhood was going on several holidays just to photograph trains with my father, and on several other occasions, with other enthusiasts with railways in the blood. It was here where the thrill to photograph trains was born, and soon after going on my first trip, I was gifted a disposable camera!


Reefsteamers’ class 15F number 3046 hauls the return train of a regular Magaliesburg day excursion trip. Running over an hour late (due to a failed train in the section), the sun has now entered the 45 degree angle where the wheels of the locomotive have now been lit; the locomotive and train has also been framed – seen here leaving a cutting, with the hills in the background ‘painting the picture’ of the terrain the train is in. 3rd October 2015, Magaliesburg Cutting.

With age, I took a far more serious approach to railway photography, or rather, becoming a ‘gricer!’ I was very fortunate to attend several photographic outings where several of the well-known and respected railway photographers attended, namely: Dennis Moore, Dr David Benn, Eugene Armour, Jean Dulez and many more, all of whom have several well-known books and video material published between them. It was through this that I began to take tips and learn how to take what all railway photographers want: ‘the perfect picture.’


Sunrise breaks on a cold winter’s morning catch two former South African Railways class NG 6s – better known as ‘Lawleys’ – performing a runpast at Sandstone Estate, Ficksburg. This is an example of silhouette photography, and as previously stated the best times to attempt this being at dawn or dusk. 29 June 2008, Sandstone Estates, Ficksburg.

These are some of the aspects I shall share with you the reader, however, I think it is important to state that there is no one correct way to do railway photography – each person has their own style of photography, and their own way of capturing and telling a story through their photography. With the technology available to us today, and wide variety of editing programs, taking the ‘perfect’ picture has become a bit easier. The following points are not aimed at changing your style of photography, rather pointers to help guide you to getting the most out of a photographic situation.


Reefsteamers’ class 12AR (No.1535) and class 15F (No.3046) are illuminated by the first rays of the sun on a cold winter’s morning. This is an example of silhouette photography, and as previously stated the best times to attempt this being at dawn or dusk. 19 July 2014, Reefsteamers, Germiston.

Ask the Expert:


  • Lighting (Golden Rule): Of course with the technology available today, editing the contrast and brightness of the photo is very easy; however, taking a picture requires great light. The best time for this, is at dawn and dusk. The lighting at this time of day not only provides a fantastic ‘glint’ effect, more importantly it lights up the wheels of a train; we talk about taking pictures while the sun is below a 45 degree angle to achieve this.


It is also important to try and let the sun light up as much of the train as possible, from both the front and side – that the details can be seen. A silhouetted photo at the ‘crack of dawn’ or sunset may work nicely as a backlit photo, but be careful to time it properly at the right light.


  • Setting the scene / Environment: Besides great lighting, a great photo requires the viewer to see the train in its environment. There’s nothing quite like seeing a train snaking its way around a mountain, or reflecting off a river. Don’t be afraid to include aspects that belong to the train or add to the setting or context of a photo. For example, taking a photo at a station can have people in the photo as it paints the picture of its location. But be careful to not capture other railway photographers or something!

The then newly restored class 16DA number 879, operated by Cape Town based ‘Atlantic Rail’, departs Cape Town station for Simon’s Town. This is an example of framing the locomotive (focal point) in a tricky photographic environment – despite the odd catenary pole coming out the tender, there are no other lighting poles or other objects growing out the chimney or locomotives boiler – the locomotive is framed between catenary poles. 29 June 2014, Cape Town.

  • Framing: You’ve now got the lighting, you’ve got the scenery and environment, now all you need is a well framed picture. This is probably the trickiest to get… Locomotives are all about power, and to show this in a photograph, you need to see the train. However, as previously stated, this is very tricky. One needs the correct balance in a picture. You don’t want to zoom too far out and lose the close detail but get the whole train, zoom in too much and you lose the environment.

The late afternoon sun lights up the colourful Cape Town bound Shoshaloza Meyl, along the Fochville to Potchefstroom mainline, in the North West province. In this photo, the picture has been taken just after the second unit has passed the closest catenary post (second from right), allowing us to get the full two locomotives in the photo without being obstructed by the mast. As well as this, the whole train can be seen with the environment and terrain it is in in the photo. 26 September 2016, Fochville, Northwest.

To do this, one can frame a photo. For example, a train in the mountain can often be ‘cut short’ by placing a cutting out object/s such as trees on the side of the photo that cut the train short, or rather hide the back of the train.


  • Creativity: This is an important and unique aspect to each photographer. Several photographers will take a photo at the same location, of the same train, at the same time… so don’t be afraid to try something ‘out-of-the-box’.


  • Patience: One of the traits many photographers require. Train photographing isn’t always the adrenaline packed chase. Many times, a photographer will require waiting for a couple of minutes, up to an hour to get a train. Be patient, and vigilant – trains often sneak up unexpectedly.


DON’T (or Avoid):

  • Backlit photographs: Unless the photographer is going for a silhouette photograph, avoid backlit photographs as it will severely compromise the photo’s lighting.
  • Unnecessary objects: This relates to setting the scene or the environment. In particular, objects not related to the train that may ‘grow’ out of the train or distract from the focal point. For example, poles or tree/s growing ‘growing’ out of the locomotive. Try to frame or change the angle to avoid these unnecessary and distracting objects. If it is distraction that does not relate to the train or context, crop it out.
  • Unlevelled photos: Keep photos level, even if the train is on a bank or sharp curve.
  • Safety: Quite often photographers walk around with expensive equipment on them in unsafe environments, be aware of your surroundings. Rather safe than sorry. This also applies to taking photos in proximity of the railway line. As a general rule of thumb, always stand five meters away from a line, especially on a double-main line.
  • Trespassing: Always wear a Hi-visibility jacket when in and around stations, yards, or depots and always get permission to enter the premises.

These have been just a few and simple ‘do’s and don’ts’, but are principles that can make a world of difference to your photograph. I hope they are of some use to you.

You can check out some of Jimmy’s work on Facebook and Railpictures.net

Facebook photo page: https://www.facebook.com/JamesAttwellPhotography/

Railpictures.net account: http://www.railpictures.net/showphotos.php?userid=41689

Next in line, we have Francois Mattheüs a good friend of mine from the Western Cape.

I am ‘n keen train spotter based in Brackenfell, a northern suburb in Cape Town, South Africa.

I have been taking photos of trains for about 7 years now and have learned a lot about the industry, different classes of locomotives and rolling stock. I have also made a lot of friends through this hobby and it is something I thoroughly enjoy! I use all available spare time I have to hop on out and get a few pictures and sometimes even a video clip of trains.


My favourite type of locomotives are the Class 6E1 type in the electric series as well as the Class 14E1 type, which were for many years used by the South African Railways and which is now used by TFR (Transnet Freight Rail) and PRASA (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) service. In the diesel-electric series, I am a GE fan and love the Class 35s.


Some of my favourite spots along the route which I frequently visit are:

  • Brackenfell station, close to my home.
  • Sandringham, just outside of Kraaifontein, another northern suburb of Cape Town.
  • Wellington, a town in the Boland region of the Western Cape.
  • Malan station, a few kilometers outside of Wellington.
  • Soetendal station, a few kilometers from Malan station.
  • Sometimes, I drive out to Worcester, which is the first big town outside of Cape Town in the Boland region where train crews have the first change over.


Ask the Expert:

Photographing trains can have a lot of different dimensions and each train’s consist has its own unique characteristics. Herewith a few of my tips for getting that super high quality picture while being safe:

  • Plan ahead: Make sure you have a few selected spots which is safe and secure but also has the characteristics to make for a beautiful picture/ video.
  • Be visible: Always wear high visibility vests and the correct safety boots. It is important to adhere to safety regulations and make sure that the train crews know you are there for a reason.
  • Be vigilant: Trains are dangerous. Always be on the lookout, even on a deserted, or not frequently used line. Regard any track as being “live”. Also remember, a red signal does not imply that an oncoming train will stop or drive slowly. The crew could have received permission to cross the red signal, which can escalate to a dangerous situation. With this in mind, also, where possible, keep at least 1, 5 meters clear from the track.
  • Know your camera: You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take beautiful photos. Learn to use the equipment you have to the best of your ability and adapt to the situation.
  • Apply a few basics: Remember that the best sun position contributes to a great photo. Use the “golden hour” for top quality shots and rather stay away during mid-day when the sun is at its highest point, except of course if that once in a lifetime special consist comes past. Then you take what you can and get the picture!
  • Lastly, use different angles and play around with different types of shots, e.g. close up cab shots, or pantograph shots or the bogeys. Also, don’t be afraid to try a few night shots!


You can check out some of Francois’ work on Facebook and Railpictures.net and YouTube

  • net, there you can search under his name: Francois Mattheüs
  • Facebook, where he has a dedicated album where he frequently posts: Francois Mattheüs
  • YouTube: Cape Town Trainspotter

I was suppose to include my other good friend, also from the Western Cape, but he has surprised me with an extra in-depth write up and so I have decided to put his in the next blog post!

Thanks for reading and keep well!


Class 15F #3052 Chase

Good day Readers and Friends!

Its been a long while since I’ve posted, but I have gotten up to something worth posting!

Yesterday, myself (currently on Part 1 of my annual leave) and two friends – James (having a rest from University assignments) and Wayne (up from Cape Town) – were blessed to be able to chase a steam loco being transferred from (Reef Steamers) to Hermanstad (Friends of the Rail).

What a great time was had – the sunburn definitely worth it!

Below are a few pics taken along the way!


Day’s beginning



Monkey also wanting in on the action


Metro in business


TFR Class 34s on a Cement Train


Steamy lady


Owner’s details


Ready for departure


Carrying the name of the City: Brakpan on her Smoke Deflectors



Subject Matter Expert

Good morning my friends!

Sorry for my silence for so long, I’ve been quite a busy body at work and must be honest and apologise for forgetting to make a post last month!

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a course on becoming an Assessor. All that’s left is for me to complete my Portfolio of Evidence and, once found competent, will a Subject Matter Expert on two SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) Unit Standards, namely:

1) Operate an Automatic Train Protection Signalling System

2) Operate the movement of Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU) or Motor Coach
This is our class photo:


Railway Signalling – Part 2D: Token Finale

Automatic Exchange

A few railways developed mechanical systems that enabled faster handover, using catching devices that could be extended from the locomotive cabside just before the train passed the exchange point and which automatically retracted clear after the exchange. These enabled handover speeds of 64km/h (40mph). Mechanical staff exchangers were also used where trains did not stop on the single line sections. These were fitted to both steam and diesel locomotives.

Electronic Token Systems

Developments in electronic systems have led to the development of electronic token systems. Trains are able to run over consecutive single-track sections, with the whole operation being controlled from a single central control room. Every train carries a special electronic unit that receives and sends an encrypted block of data which represents the token. The system is designed such that the control centre can only issue one token for any particular section until it is returned. Trains cannot send tokens to each other. This system allows the whole line to operate without any further signalling personnel. The system has operated without major incident.


Intermediate Block Posts

In certain circumstances it was convenient to shorten the single line sections by providing an intermediate signal box equipped with token instruments without providing a passing loop there. This was done if there was, for example, an important siding connection at the intermediate location. It also enabled following through trains to run at closer headways, but did not facilitate opposing movements.
Because of the greater risk of collision in the event of irregular working, the practice was deprecated in the UK, although some examples did exist. Usually in such cases special interlocking was provided between the two instruments at the intermediate signal box to ensure that trains could not be accepted from opposing directions at the same time.

Long Section Working

In double line working, at times when traffic is light it is convenient to close an intermediate signal box, allowing the signal boxes on either side to communicate directly for train control. On single lines this is more complicated because of the train tokens being identified with single line sections, but the difficulty can be overcome by some form of long section working.

A simple system used separable train staffs which fit together when intermediate block posts are closed, so that a driver receives the train staff for two or more consecutive sections from the first signalman. An alternative system employs special long-section token systems; when long section working is to be instituted, all the short section tokens must be in their respective instruments; by switching to the long-section method, tokens for the long section can then be obtained in the ordinary way. Obviously all the long-section tokens must be restored before the normal working can be resumed.

Unattended Operation

Token instruments can be arranged for unattended operation, when they are operated by the train crew at intermediate crossing loops or at the terminus of the line. This system is widely found in Australia, where traffic density on many lines is low.
In the UK it is known as the “No-signalman key token system”. Examples on the UK national network are the North Devon Line, where the system was brought into use on December 1, 1987, the Heart of Wales Line (commissioned in 1986[4]), the Matlock branch in Derbyshire and the Liskeard to Looe line in Cornwall. Here the train guard not only operates the Tyer’s No.9 electric token instrument controlling the upper section of the branch, but operates the points as well. The lower section is operated on the “One Engine in Steam” principle with a simple wooden staff. Possession of the staff is required to unlock the ground frame controlling the points at Coombe Junction, where the two sections meet. There is no other signalling on the branch except to control entry and exit to and from the main line.

Token Interlinking

After early experience with token systems, it became customary for the starting signal at token stations to be interlinked with the token instrument; on withdrawal of a token, the starting signal lever was released for one pull.
Sometimes an intermediate siding is provided on the single line section, and the token itself, or a key fixed to the end of it, unlocks the points for shunting there. The token is locked in the apparatus there, and the driver cannot retrieve the token until the points have been set to the through running position and locked again. In special situations where the sidings at the intermediate location are extensive, the equipment is arranged for the shunting train to be put wholly inside the sidings, clear of the main line; in this situation an intermediate token instrument can be provided, enabling the driver to surrender the token so that normal through working can take place on the single line while his train is at the sidings.
A corresponding arrangement sometimes applied where permanent way maintenance was carried out by motorised trolley. Usually this used special “occupation key” instruments which were interlocked with the normal token instruments and provided at intermediate places where the trolley might be off-tracked (or stored overnight).

Working by Pilotman

A variation of the token system is working by pilotman, where the place of the token is taken by a person who is designated the pilotman. This system is instituted if there is a failure of the token apparatus, or on double lines when one line is blocked and all the traffic in both directions is to be worked over the other line. The pilotman (identified by a red armband with “PILOTMAN” in white letters) rides on the locomotive, or if another train is due to follow, the pilotman must personally instruct the driver to proceed through the section. The signalman must not pull the starting signal off until instructed by the pilotman to do so. The pilotman rides on the locomotive or in the driving cab of the last train to run in the same direction.

Thus pilotman working is analogous to the “staff and ticket” system, described above, where the pilotman himself becomes the token and his verbal instruction is the equivalent of the ticket.
It is sometimes necessary to provide the pilotman with a personal locomotive to cater for disruptions to the service. In such a case the pilotman’s locomotive is usually coupled to the front of the actual train, but practice may vary depending on local track layout, types of trains etc.

The use of a pilotman for such purposes pre-dates the use of tokens.

Railway Signalling – Part 2C: Collection of the Token

Tony Attwell of Friends of the Rail collects the tablet for the section between Rayton and Cullinan – Nathan Berelowitz

In a basic railway situation, the token can be collected personally by the driver at the start of his work on a branch line, and surrendered by him at the end of his work there.
Where the single line section is part of a through route, then it is likely that each passing train would require to surrender and collect a token at each token station. Where the trains stop at every station this is a convenient arrangement, but where some trains run through without requiring to make a call, it was necessary for the signalman to exchange tokens with the fireman (in the case of steam trains) as the train passed at slow speed. In the case of driver-only operated trains, a dead-mans hold over button was provided, so the driver could exchange the token without the emergency brake being applied.


A large staff could be handed over without any special apparatus, but if the system in use employed miniature staffs, tablets or key tokens, these were usually placed in a leather pouch attached to a hoop, and the fireman could put his arm through the hoop held up by the signalman, and vice versa as the locomotive ran past. In UK practice the permitted speed for this was 15 mph (24 km/h) in daylight, but there are stories of drivers anxious to make up lost time when running late, and passing the exchange point at much higher speeds; bruised upper arms were common among signalmen and firemen on such lines.
Fixed token exchange apparatus was used on some railways. Trackside equipment was fitted near each signal box to hold the pouch containing the token and to receive the token pouch that was being given up.

Railway Signalling – Part 2b: Token System

 Oom Japie Terblanche holding a hoop and token from his collection. He’s overall from his days as a Steam Locomotive Fireman (40 years ago) still fits!

This blog post is dedicated to Oom Japie Terblanche.

Electric Token

The staff and ticket system was still too inflexible for busy lines, as it did not allow for the situation where the train intended to carry the actual token was cancelled or running very late. To provide for this, the electric train token system was developed.

Each single-line section is provided with a pair of token instruments, one at the signal box at each end. A supply of identical tokens is stored in the instruments, which are connected by telegraph lines. A token can be removed from one instrument only if both signalmen co-operate in agreeing to the release. Once a token has been removed, another cannot be removed until the token which is “out” is replaced in either instrument. In this way, it can be ensured that at any one time, only one token is available to be issued to a driver. Tokens belonging to adjacent sections have different configurations to prevent them being inserted into the wrong instrument.

Various tokens in Oom Japie’s collection

In the next blog post, we continue looking at the Token System. Thank you for reading!

Railway Signalling – Part 2a: Token System

A South African ‘Van Schoor’ Token machine. Picture by Dylan Knott

A ‘Token’ is a physical object which the Driver of a train is required to have before entering a particular section of single track. The token is clearly marked with the name of the section it belongs to. A token system is used for single track lines because of the greater risk of a serious collision in the event of irregular working by signalmen or train-crews, as compared to double track lines.
The operation of a bidirectional single track line has a few problems, the most serious of which is the possibility of two trains traversing the line travelling towards each other, each driver unaware that the other is using the line. The simplest method of controlling such a line is to have only one train operational, on the basis that a single train cannot collide with itself, and in the absence of another train, there is nothing else for it to collide with. Such a system was known as ‘One Engine in Steam’. Such schemes were used, and indeed still are used on some branches of rail networks, and on various heritage railways. The main problem with such a scheme is that it is best suited to a completely isolated branch of single track line. Where the section has to be integrated into a larger railway system, it becomes exceptionally limiting in the level of operations that it allows, and the opportunity for a mistake to be made, and an ensuing accident to occur, is high.
Instead, reliance is placed not on employing only one engine but on having a single physical object available for the single track section, and ruling that only if an engine driver is in physical possession of that object may they enter the single line section. That object is known as a token and is marked to indicate to which single track section it belongs.

Tokens have existed in a variety of physical forms:

– staff
– tablet
– ball
– key