I arrived mid morning at Little Italy-University Circle, one of the first stations I photographed during my time at CWRU by virtue of it being right by campus. Most of my photos of that station were from freshman year, when my photography skills were nowhere near what they are now. Here’s an example:
Compare with a photo from this time:
Definitely an improvement: better lighting (I got lucky with the weather admittedly), better angling of the camera, etc.
From there I went to Cedar-University, one stop down the line, and serving the southern portion of the CWRU campus. The story was similar to Little Italy for the most part: my photos from 2016 weren’t the best quality due to my inexperience. However, also important was that Cedar-University had a major bus loop attached which I never photographed.
First, see a typical photo of that station from 2016:
Now compare with a photo taken in 2021:
Much better lighting (once again lucked out with the weather, but also knew to photograph in the middle of the day instead of in the evening as I did with the first photo), better angles, all that.
Then, I photographed the bus loop which I somehow never did in my four years at CWRU:
Having finished there, I started the main focus of my expedition, photographing the stations renovated since I had left Cleveland. First, I went to East 79th. For reference, here’s what the station used to look like:
The station at the time was a pretty simple affair: a staircase (behind where I’m standing with the camera) and a wooden platform with a basic bus-like shelter and a roof. The renovations, on the other hand, significantly improved it:
The new station has a concrete platform, a ramp for ADA accessibility, new signage, a significantly improved roof, and a much better-looking entrance. Overall it is a significantly improved passenger experience from the original. It did add one interesting twist though, a grade crossing. For a while the only grade crossing on the Red Line was at Brookpark, where passengers had to cross a track to reach the platform. Renovations at the station in 2016-2017 removed that grade crossing and replaced it with a tunnel under the track, but later on one was added at East 34th which saw a similar renovation to East 79th, including a set of ramps on the adjacent hillside.
From there I headed to Tower City. When I was a freshman at CWRU in 2016, they replaced the northern track, which resulted in westbound trains going to a temporary station on a normally non-revenue track. They did the same thing again to replace the southern track, and the work was completed prior to my arrival. Here is what the track looked like prior to renovation:
After several years with a new northern track but retaining the old southern and stub tracks, they were all replaced. Here are the new and improved tracks:
Meanwhile, the Blue and Green Lines were not operating due to an eight week construction project shutting down the lines entirely, with them being replaced by shuttle buses in the meantime. However, I did notice that the ceiling had been removed:
I don’t know the reasoning for removing the ceiling, and whether it’s temporary or permanent, but it definitely takes away some of the character of the station. I hope it will be added back. Given that a lot of the mall above was temporarily closed for construction, it wouldn’t be surprising if that were another part of the construction.
From there I took the shuttle bus out to Farnsleigh. Here’s what it looked like prior to renovation:
It’s a pretty basic median station on the Blue Line with two platforms and a shelter. Now see it post-renovation from approximately the same viewpoint:
Heading back to Cleveland was a nice experience, and this photo expedition brought things full circle. I got to see the stations I first photographed when I was still fairly inexperienced and bring to it a new camera and better skills. It really shows how far I’ve come in photography and also brings some closure to my time in Cleveland which was sadly cut short by the pandemic. I’ll definitely be back there another day, and it’ll be nice to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same then. According to the RTA website, no new station renovations are planned, though they do intend to replace their railcar fleet.
My interest in photography as a way to document the world matured during my time in Cleveland, and as my time there comes to a close, I have begun to think about the change that occurred in my relatively short time here.
My first experience with transit in Cleveland was in February 2015 as part of a campus visit to Case Western Reserve University. Some photos from that trip are available in my previous post explaining the evolution of my photography. One photo I didn’t include in there was the interior of the train:
I first experienced the new fleet when I did a prospective student visit after being admitted. I took the train back to the airport and experienced the renovated interior for the first time. It looks a lot nicer, with better-looking seats, brighter lights, an easier-to-clean floor, better color scheme, etc.
Little Italy Station
In early 2015 when I first visited Cleveland, the two stops near CWRU were Cedar-University and Euclid-East 120th. The latter would cease to exist before I returned, being replaced by the new Little Italy-University Circle station a block away later that year. Not long later, the original Euclid-East 120th Street station would be demolished.
Tower City Track Replacement
Starting around the time I came to CWRU, the RTA began replacing Track 8 (the main westbound track) at Tower City. The original track looked something like this:
For the time it took to replace the track during the first part of my freshman year, westbound trains were diverted to a non-revenue track separate from the main station. This temporary station had its own fare control and everything:
Eventually, late in 2016, the project was completed and the new westbound track completed, and service was restored to the main station for both directions. The new track used ballastless track, a major improvement over the original. Take a look:
Now, in early 2020, they’re performing similar work on the stub tracks on either side. Since both through tracks are still in service, service isn’t affected and trains simply don’t terminate directly at Tower City for the time being.
During the second half of 2016, the Warrensville-Shaker station on the Green Line was replaced. I don’t have any pictures of the original station, but I do have some pictures of the new one:
In 2017, the RTA replaced the Lee-Shaker station. It was a basic median streetcar station on Shaker Boulevard, but was at a particularly high-traffic location and thus could use both a modernization and ADA accessibility. I actually was (according to Google Images) the first person to post pictures of the new station online.
The Brookpark Station saw a complete replacement during my Freshman year. The station that existed in 2016 was a “temporary” station that had been in use for about ten years.
I first came to Cleveland during the reconstruction process, so I saw the platform shortened so it only fit one car plus one door on the other car (before this construction project started, the platform could fit a full train). However, the platform was one of only three wooden platforms on the system (the others being East 79th and East 34th, and only East 79th is still wooden now). The headhouse also was on the opposite side of the westbound track from the island platform with no tunnel or bridge, requiring passengers to cross the track to access the platform.
Throughout my freshman year, construction activity was going on. I was impatiently waiting for it to be done, constantly looking for press releases. I distinctly remember taking the train out to the airport very early in the morning with an operator who seemed like he had just started his shift and was very enthusiastic, and he said “Next stop: Brookpark! The new station is coming very soon, folks…” The time I was waiting for finally came around in April, when trains began stopping at the new platform. The new station was a much more modern station:
In all, the new station looked much more modern and was more functional than the one it replaced. I was quite pleased with the new results. Interestingly, this removed the only grade crossing on the Red Line for a time, but another one would open later at East 34th Street (read on…)
East 34th Street
The East 34th Street station as I first remember it was a fairly outdated and run-down station. It was a simple island platform (with a low section for the Blue/Green lines and a high section for the Red Line) accessible by a single set of stairs from East 34th Street.
My sophomore year, the renovation project began. I did my best to come down to the station when I had the chance so that I could document the change.
Then, as I went back to North Carolina for the summer, work continued. I came back in the fall to see the work mostly completed:
The new station also looked much more modern and fresh, giving a nice upgrade to the Campus District. It was also renamed “Tri-C – Campus District” to reflect its proximity to Tri-C.
For a long time, East 105th-Quincy was known for only opening the front door of the front car of each train due to the platform being too short. Needless to say, this was a cause of a lot of confusion for riders not familiar with the situation and delays for everyone else. Riders in the second car had to go between cars if they wanted to get off, and the single door slowed everyone down.
Beginning in late 2017, work began to lengthen the platform. Not only did they lengthen the platform, but they also opened a second entrance, maknig this one of only two stations in the entire system with two entrances, the other being West 65th-Lorain.
As of September 2018, the platform had been lengthened to the point where a two car train could open all of its doors.
However, that was only one part of the project. Next, the new entrance was to open in 2019.
East 116th Street
East 116th Street also saw a major renovation, going from being a fairly old station similar to what East 34th originally was (especially the staircases) to another modern station.
Then, the renovations began! The temporary station in place during the renovations consisted of two wooden platforms and a fairly basic entrance located further down the block to allow work on the new station to proceed unobstructed:
Then, the new station was built mostly over the summer, so I wasn’t able to document it. So, let’s jump to the big finish:
The new station, like the others, was a major improvement. It fit in nicely with the surrounding neighborhood, was ADA accessible, and was generally just much nicer-looking.
Blue Line renovations
I was notified on Wikipedia that the RTA was performing some upgrades for various stations on the Blue Line, so when I got the time and clear skies, I went out there to document the upgrades. The upgrades appeared to be new signage and shelters, with the platform structure itself remaining unchanged. The first station where I saw such upgrades was Avalon:
A lot changed in four years, and I was glad to be here to document it. These renovations gave me exciting material for photography and always gave me an excuse to get out of University Circle for a while. They are in keeping with Cleveland’s city motto of “Progress and Prosperity” (even though one of the stations was in Shaker Heights) and helped modernize the city. It looks like I’ve seen the last major project that will be completed before I leave here in May, but I know there’s plenty of work going on in Chicago that I will be able to photograph as well.
I first got my feet wet with regards to photography in about eleventh grade. My first time going out by myself with a camera was on the Los Angeles Metro. I was meeting some family at LACMA while coming from Beverly Hills, so I arranged that I would get dropped off at Culver City, take the Expo Line (now alternately known as the E line) to 7th Street/Metro Center, then transfer to the Purple Line (now also known as the D line), take that out to Wilshire/Western, then meet everyone else there, and we’d drive the rest of way to LACMA, at Wilshire/Fairfax (which will be on the line in a few years, but definitely not in 2013).
Along the trip, I just took pictures of basically anything and everything, not really bothering to pay attention to my subject matter or the quality of the photos. I knew nothing about photography other than you point the camera at something and hit the button. I didn’t even have a camera of my own, I borrowed someone else’s. Here is a sampling of a few photos I took:
That was my first foray into photography. Obviously, those weren’t exactly the world’s best photos, but that’s what got me started.
Cleveland and Chicago, Round 1
Later on, in February 2015, I toured colleges in the Midwestern United States, specifically Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve (which I ended up attending), and Northwestern. This was my second opportunity to try a bit of railroad photography. In Cleveland, I wanted to explore a new transit system, so I took the Red Line from Cedar/University to Tower City to grab lunch there. I forgot to ask to borrow a camera for this one, so I got my pictures with a cell phone. I got some pictures along the way there too:
Later on, after my tour of Northwestern, I ran from there to Millennium Station (about 13 miles) for my long run that week, and then then took the South Shore Line back to South Bend (where I was staying). Once I got to Millennium Station, I took some more pictures while waiting for my train:
Travels in 2016
I traveled some along the way (still using borrowed cameras), to places like Boston…
…and New York City…
My own camera
Then, as I graduated high school, I got my own camera, a Canon Powershot G9X, about the size of a deck of cards. I definitely got familiar with that camera over the next few years. Back in Los Angeles in the summer of 2016, I had my first real rodeo with that camera:
Cleveland, Round 2: a whole new city
Then, after that summer was over, I started college at CWRU. I immediately set out to get pictures of all the train station around Cleveland. Here are some of my preliminary efforts:
Speaking of Tower City, I revisited that station. They were performing maintenance on one of the tracks, so they opened a station on one of the non-revenue tracks:
Definitely some progress was made in the meantime. I was able to better choose subject matter and get it in the frame. The quality was also better, with the pictures being clearer and better focused. However, the alignment was still pretty haphazard, with a lot of the pictures not level at all. I also didn’t really appreciate the importance of lighting just yet.
My next big breakthrough was in alignment, when I went out to Lee-Van Aken. I realized I could line up the camera with reference lines in the picture (in this case I used the power poles), and as a result my pictures were actually consistently level.
I also got to apply these skills elsewhere traveling to Charlotte for a day…
…and New York City again…
…and Los Angeles again…
Around this time, I also got interested in taking pictures of buildings in addition to transit systems.
With that, I felt much more confident in my photography skills. I had definitely seen some improvement, my pictures were clearer and more level. Still, I was missing some things.
The start to 2018: Lighting
The next big improvement in my photography was lighting. Before I didn’t really even think about sunny or cloudy, or where the light sources were indoors. As a result, the colors often didn’t look quite like I wanted or the wrong objects were emphasized. With a renewed emphasis on lighting, I continued my work. In the winter of 2017-2018, I went to San Francisco, with my first vacation that had a really high emphasis on photography:
The improvements definitely showed themselves in San Francisco. Having a photography-oriented trip also was a good opportunity to see for myself what worked and what didn’t. With that, I felt much more confident going forwards. I continued my photography along Cleveland and other places I went. I did my first internship at TransEnterix that following summer as well. Since I didn’t want to take any time off work, my travel opportunities were somewhat limited, just going back to Charlotte for a day (this time trying to aim for a sunnier day) and taking an afternoon trip to Raleigh. However, I had a few days between my last day at the internship and when I had to get back to school, so I took advantage of that to take a quick trip to Washington, DC.
After DC, I felt pretty solid in my abilities. I definitely had the alignment thing down, and I was getting a lot better at lighting.
Richmond and Philadelphia
My next big photo adventure was a day trip to Richmond, Virginia in late 2018. I picked a day with perfectly clear skies, and basically spent all day walking around the city with my camera taking pictures of anything and everything that interested me:
With those two pictures, I began to feel that the limiting factor in my pictures was my camera and no longer the user. In particular, for the nighttime shot, I was having trouble getting the focus where I needed (my camera didn’t have any options beyond five meters other than “infinite distance”) as well as the lighting settings. I also was starting to use manual mode, which was really cumbersome on that camera. I took a mental note that a new camera was in order. Still, I continued on with what I had, and later on went to Philadelphia:
I really gained an appreciation for lighting after this trip. I only had one sunny day, the first one (and I got there late in the day, so I was only really able to get that one skyline photo). I also learned that SEPTA, in contrast to many other subway systems, is very well lit. This made photography much easier and let me get higher quality pictures.
Chicago, Round 2
Over spring break that year, I traveled to Chicago. I returned to Millennium Station, and my new photos were definitely an improvement:
I also got many pictures of the L:
I also got some pictures of buildings and stuff…
That ended up being my last major expedition with my Canon. I had a few minor ones later on, including a brief trip back to Charlotte, a quick trip to Downtown Durham, as well as a trip to Greensboro, which turned out to be my last expedition with that camera:
Transition to a new camera, Atlanta, and beyond
Then, I got a new, more powerful camera: an Olympus E-M10. To take it out for a test drive, I took some pictures around Durham:
The camera felt way more powerful than my previous one. It took me a while to get used to all its features and how to use them, but I knew this was a major step forwards. In the middle of the summer, I took a solo trip to Atlanta, and that is still to date my most successful photography expedition:
I definitely was still getting the hang of the whole exposure/ISO/F-stop thing, as evidenced by the lighting in some of these photos. Still, these photos were clearer than anything I had done before, and I felt much more in control. It was also awesome traveling solo for photography, which gave me a ton of practice.
For my final fall break I decided to travel to Pittsburgh with a friend. It was only for a few days, but I still had plenty of opportunities for photography:
I had gotten a better feel for all the settings on my camera this time, so my pictures came out looking more or less how I wanted them.
So, since I took up photography, my skills have improved dramatically. It wasn’t a sudden shift, but something that happened over time. I’m moving to Chicago soon, and that will give me a whole new city to explore. I look forward to what I find there, and hope my skills continue to improve. The future holds exciting things, and I can’t wait to see (and photograph) what they are.