Photographing Glacier National Park

Photographing Glacier National Park
Is this school too close to the Bakken Oil Train? Glacier National Park background. © Tony Bynum

Monday, April 7, 2014

Are Oil Trains Disrupting Passenger Train Reliability? - Amtrak's Empire Builder changing schedule.

It's no secret that the great American train icon Amtrak, is struggling a bit. In recent months the most widely used coast-to-coats human hauling rail service has been challenged to be more on time. In fact, some of it's stops last year were never on time and now Amtrak aims to try to make some improvements by changing the schedule of the Empire Builder. (Link to the new Empire Builder Schedule).
empire building leaving glacier park across the blackfeet reservation, montana
Amtrak's train, the Empire Builder reflecting in a small prairie pond east of East Glacier Park, Montana on it's way to Chicago. © 

Amtrak, faced with the reality that it does not own the rail line, runs it's day to day operation of the Empire Builder based on Burlington Northern's freight schedule. Over the past few years the space between one train and the next has narrowed and Amtrak must face the reality that it must share the rails with more freight. To that end, Amtrak has set a new schedule for the Empire Builder.
empire builder leaving glacier national park across the blackfeet reservation
The Empire Builder train clips eastward, on it's way to Chicago across the prairie of Montana. Purple lupine sprout from the grasses and Glacier National Park is on the background. © 
While some say Amtrak changed is schedule based on the increased number of oil trains from the Bakken, official I spoke with at Amtrak said, "we have never commented on the type of fright, only the volume of traffic on the line."
bnsf engines pulling oil train cars glacier national park
Burlington Northern Santa Fa engines pulling a load of oil cars. Glacier National Park is in the background. © 
The Flathead Beacon mentions the increase in oil trains as one of the cause of the trains constant tardiness.  Get the full story here. The Helena Independent Record also reported, "Officials said it was the increase in oil trains" that was at least part of the reason for the changes in the Empire Builder schedule. Get that story here.

Amtrak's announcement that it will, for the first time in many years, temporarily change it's Empire Builder schedule in order to better maintain on-time service, can be found here, the Full Amtrak press release. 

Mark Magliari, Media Relations for Amtrak said, in a personal phone conversation with me, "we have been working with BNSF, the owner of the rail-line to create a more dependable, on-time service to Amtrak customers." Magliari stated, "the single most important aspect is service; schedule and on time arrivals are number one to our customers."
oil train cars glacier national park
A long line of oil train cars heading toward Glacier National Park, across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. © 
I asked Mr Magliari if Amtrak has additional concerns for passenger safety in light of the increase in freight, most notably more oil trains, coupled with numerous local derailments, avalanches, and other oil train explosions over the past several years.

Mr. Magliari remarked, and I'm paraphrasing, "they [Amtrak] have not commented on the type of freight, Amtrak changed the Empire Builder schedule to better serve the needs of it passengers" (phone conversation, April 1, 2014).

Mr. Magliari can be reached at: 312-554-5390

speeding oil train blackfeet reservation montana
A Burlington Northern oil train sprints down the track on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in north central, Montana. © 
For me, this begs the question, is Amtrak really thinking about increased risk based on all the evidence, or is it just trying to keep it's "stock" from falling though the floor?

Today, unlike the Empire Builder of the past, if you're on the train today, you're riding along side of, and going past at 80 mph, thousands of potential "bombs." If that does not have some increased risk, I'd be surprised.

I'm purely speculating here, but I'm pretty sure Amtrak and BNSF will still say taking the train is still more safe than driving. I'd say, possibly, but then again there's no record to justify that claim, just yet. . .  I don't recall a time when mile long trains full of explosive oil were skipping along the tracks so often that Amtrak had to change it's scheduling . . . I'm not saying Amtrak changed it's schedule due to oil trains along, i'm saying that the fact that there are more oil trains should cause them to think more carefully about safety.

As a local, year around resident of East Glacier Park, I live just two blocks from the BNSF rail line, the exact one that supports the more explosive loads of crude from the Bakken (as this story reviled). I've also noticed the wildly fluctuating arrival and departure of the Empire Builder over that last year or so.

The increase in demand for rail space, coupled with the heavy snow's and continued operation and maintenance of the BNSF rail line though the south end of glacier park most certainly means increased risk for accidents, no matter how safe they are, it's just the law of numbers. So it stands to reason that there is therefore an increase risk to passengers and freight when there's more of it - right? And how about the volatility of Bakken Oil? In a more recent report, that too is getting closer scrutiny. 

oil train heading to glacier national park across the blackfeet indian reservation
A train crossing the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and weighted down with Bakken oil, heads toward Glacier National Park. © 
I thought Obama was going to help develop a comprehensive energy policy? Is this his solution?  Just let the market decide?  I'm a "free market" guy, I'm a business owner, but I'm also sensible. It appears we may be headed down the rails to a disaster if our policy is to ignore the potential for a catastrophe, in light of the evidence . .

Tell me what you think, am I over reacting?  Should I just sit back and say nothing?  Is the Empire Really as safe as ever?

Sincerely, Tony Bynum - Glacier Park Photographer

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

East Glacier Park in the Winter - Photographs and Slideshow

How would you like to see real life in East Glacier Park, Montana during the Winter? Here is a blog post with photographs of East Glacier Park in the Winter. If you know someone that would enjoy seeing these photographs and slideshow of East Glacier Park, Montana in the Winter, please share it with your friends! 

 Stay warm out there!  

Tony Bynum 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bakken Oil Train - a ticking time bomb for East Glacier Park School Children?

I'd like to draw your attention back to the Bakken Oil Train issue. Elizabeth Royte, a writer for OnEarth Magazine managed to find the time to draw attention to the issue of "Bakken Oil Trains," and the communities around Glacier National Park. By "Bakken Oil Trains," I'm talking about the Burlington Northern line and the oil swollen tanker cars full of the very volatile Bakken Oil that pass just a few thousand feet from my house every day. . .

Elizabeth's does a great job researching the subject and pulling together relevant issues, like the lack of fire protection, and the presence (or better, the lack there of) of a complete emergency response plan that includes the fire department in East Glacier Park and the National Park Service in any real way. Here's a link to her article,  "An Accident Waiting to Happen." 

I would like to point to a couple of things that are missing from her piece.  First, East Glacier Park school (K-8) is only feet away from the train line.  The photograph below show you just how close the Bakken Oil Train passes the East Glacier Park School.

For those that have not been here, the location of that train in the photograph, is the exact place where only a few years ago, Burlington Northern dumped a pile of train cars into Midvale Creek - yes, in that exact location!
children wait to start the school day as the bakken oil train speeds by just feet from them, east glacier park, montana
Children in East Glacier Park School, wait for the doors to open as a mile long "Bakken Oil Train" passes only feet from the school. This is the exact location where Burlington Norther lost 25 rail cars into Midvale Creek about 10 years ago. ©tony bynum 
Second, the risk of catastrophic fire that if started would likely take out Glacier Nation Park. Surly based on the general wind patterns which can gust to over 100 mph and often do, a crash, or accident, derailment, whatever you want to call it, between east glacier park, and west glacier park, could literally start the catastrophic fire that would sweep north east, burning the park from one side to the other.

The real issue is how much work is BNSF doing to reduce the risk, and is it enough to avoid a catastrophic failure?  Mother earth is often in control in these parts. I know even if BNSF does it's best - whatever that is - mother nature still rules this land of ice, snow, wind, and beauty . . .

Please take a look at Elizabeth's piece, "An Accident Waiting to Happen."  Let us know what you think or if you have any good ideas about how to reduce the risk of a catastrophe.

Sincerely, Tony Bynum

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Glacier Park Winter Photography - What Polar Vortex - in Montana we call it life!

We have been blessed this winter in Glacier National Park with moderate temperatures, and a modest amount of snow. The wind has been mostly relentless however, with gust's to over 100 mph several times this winter. But, what the wind brings, the wind take-ith away!  This is a photograph of what Glacier National Park, and Highway 2 looks like when the wind is blowing 80 miles per hour.

snow blowing glacier national park highway two montana
Driving west, toward Glacier National Park following a snow storm. The wind is blowing 80 miles per hour across Highway 2 west of Browning, Montana. Summit Mountain is in the far left frame. © Tony Bynum Photography A few years ago i posted this video showing how I drove though a ground blizzard much worse than this - check out the video of a ground blizzard near Glacier National Park. 
After living and photographing Glacier National Park, year around, for the past 10 years, I have learned a lot about when and where to be to capture unique Glacier Park Photographs. Photographing Glacier National Park in the winter is, it's highly variable, from day-to-day. You can count on things being different almost anytime you go!  

For example, if you want great snow covered peaks, arrive the day after a fresh snow fall. . .  Sometimes it's the afternoon after the significant snow event, but most of the time it's the following day that's best for snow covered mountains and trees. Seems like a no-brainier right, we'll there's more. . .   
Glacier National Park winter photograph. This cabin is located just west of the Glacier Park Boundary. Notice the snow covered roof, and mountains in the background. This is before the wind blows. © Tony Bynum Photography
More often, you'll find that the wind blows the snow off the mountains and as it settles it forms deep drifts and fills in the crevices and ravines. In this photograph of the south end of Glacier National Park, taken a couple days after a significant snow fall (the week of January 15, 2014) shows how the snow blows off the mountains and the adjacent prairie. 

This photograph of Summit Mountain, Little Dog Mountain, and the entire south end of Glacier National Park was taken after the snow was blown off the mountains.
Glacier National Park Winter Photograph. Colorful sky over the south end of Glacier National Park, Summit Mountain in the far left.  Notice the snow has blown off the open faces and into the ravines.  ©Tony Bynum Photography
In this image you see what the mountains and trees look like when you catch a new snow fall the day after it snows. Within two or three days, if you get a snow fall, you can capture completely different looking winter photographs of Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park Winter Photograph. Horses graze on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with the snow covered prairie and mountains of Glacier National Park in the background. © Tony Bynum Photography
The forecast is for 10 inches of new snow in the mountains starting tomorrow. I'm ready to get out there and photograph winter scenes in Glacier National Park, are you? 

Thank you for taking the time to read my Glacier Park Photographer blog. If you're interested in photography more broadly, or the business of photography, follow my (Tony Bynum) photography blog, or head over to the Tony Bynum Photography facebook page.  

Tony Bynum 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Montana Photography

This is slight departure for the Glacier Park Photography blog. Although there are many photographs of Glacier National Park in this slideshow, it's really a compilation of photographs from around the big sky state coupled with a sound track provided by Montana musician David Walburn.

I though since the wind is blowing, and the snow is piling up, it would be nice to share the rest of Montana with all of you and share some insights into what is a Montana Photographer.

If you choose to watch this slideshow of photographs of big sky's in Montana you can click on this link. If you'd prefer to watch it on directly on youtube, it's here at: Montana under the big sky.

Keep warm out there!

Tony Bynum