random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries from May 16, 2010 - May 22, 2010


iPad Art - "Ghost Train"

Here is my first effort from testing a few editing applications on Apple’s magical and revolutionary iPad device:


Review: Pentrex's "At the Throttle Cab Ride Volume 5 - The Surfline"

Pentrex’s latest episode in their popular “At the Throttle” series, “The SurflineMost rail enthusiasts and photographers have a few railroad DVDs or videos as part of our movie collections. At one time, it seemed, it was a requisite element for expressing your membership in the club - it was about ownership.

Before the proliferation of video cameras and content that we see today, it was rare to see a “movie” devoted entirely to railfanning in general, let alone on on a particular subdivision or topic.

Pentrex Railroad Videos and Books was one of the earliest suppliers of such content and have produced quality content ever since.

Due to my recent adventure in chasing the 3751 towards San Diego a few weeks ago, I ordered and watched one of their latest releases in a series of videos entitled “At the Throttle Cab Ride.” This particular video is Volume 5 in the series and covers the famous Surfline route of the former Santa Fe Railroad between Orange County and San Diego, California. 

For the uninitiated, “cab ride” videos typically provide you with an engineers view out the cab of the lead locomotive as it progresses over a particular subdivision or route. The are ideal to gain an appreciation for the line in general and to get a feel for the operational challenges that face the crews of the trains along the route. They also are invaluable in researching the next ideal location for a photographer to capture that perfect scene.

Owning all four previous volumes, I was eager to watch this offering covering the Surfline. Unfortunately, unlike the other volumes in the series, I felt that this release was hastily produced and offered little value to the researcher hoping to identify potential photo locations. There is not a complete run on one train over the entire route. Instead Pentrex opted to give you three different heavily segmented runs over the Surfline to include one shot from the third unit in the consist. Far from ideal in my opinion.

Given the quality videos that Pentrex is known for, I was disappointed in this installment of their “At the Throttle” series.

My Rating:  C

1 Hour 30 Minutes
In Color with Stereo Sound and Narration
Presented in Standard Definition 4x3 Format
ISBN: 1-56342-289-1
UPC: 7-48268-00572-5


BNSF's New Look

Yesterday, BNSF Railway Company unveiled their new look - a redesigned and extensively upgraded corporate web site at bnsf.com. BNSF describes their recent effort as the culmination of months of work to review all content, photos, and graphics and “lays the foundation for continued improvement.

Despite not being a “rail shipper” myself nor a BNSF customer directly, I have been to their web site countless times for information that I need in my work as a rail journalist/photographer. In my opinion, the new site has a much “lighter” look and feel, yet the content seems more accessible. 

Here is a view of the new site:

BNSF Railway Company’s new web site.

Several key elements of the new design are readily apparent. The main graphic of the web site has been replaced with a Flash-based (bummer for us iPad/iPhone users!) application that appropriately highlights the key elements and efficiencies of rail transportation and how BNSF is a leading provider of a solid and effective transportation system.

Another new element is the “Virtual Train Tour.” This is another Flash-based application that provides a general overview of the elements that constitute a train and the supporting infrastructure. Since I found the content visually appealing yet light in content, and assuming that BNSF’s target audience are folks less versed in the industry than I, I asked my kids to walk through the tour. (In all fairness they did state that it was a “general overview…”)

The kids (19 and 18 years old) both liked the motion and the interactivity that the application affords and even learned some things about railroads they did not know before. (NOTE TO SELF: Remember to disown the kids!)

However, we both agreed that something was missing that could tie it all together - sound and voice-overs. Perhaps a background sound for the animations would help complete the experience. Also, the videos and photographs did not have any descriptions that associated them to the content. The videos, in particular, while interesting to watch in some respect, warrants some narration or voice-over to tell their story.

Overall, the BNSF has done a good job of addressing and segmenting the various groups of their target audience - current and prospective customers, employees, retirees, and communities. I applaud BNSF’s effort to remain fresh and current and to use technology, not for technology’s sake, but to attain, maintain, and foster a quality experience and relationship in today’s media-rich and accessible environment.

As with any major release of technology like this, the are some bugs and quirks that will need to be addressed. For example, I did have an issue with some of the map features that did not work with the Chrome browser but did work with Firefox and Internet Explorer. Over time it should all come together nicely.

I suggest that you browse the site and see what you can glean from the content and new format. I discovered some nuggets of information that I will be sharing in a later post or two. I am sure that BNSF would love to get your feedback. You can comment here or send them an email. Afterall, it was meant to interact with you as well.