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Spring Flowers and Harlem Line Track Work Train Photos

April 14th, 2014

After a very long and cold winter, it is finally starting to feel like spring. Hopefully you all had an enjoyable weekend, perhaps even watching or riding some trains. Alas down by the railroad tracks of the Hudson Line, the greenery has yet to bloom – so I decided to take spring to the trains.

 
Springtime on Metro North 
  
   
 

Meanwhile, Metro-North crews were hard at work this weekend in numerous places around the system. On the upper Harlem Line, busing was in effect as crews worked at the Pleasant Ridge Road and Chippawalla Road crossings in Wingdale. The Pleasant Ridge crossing has been a difficulty for well over a month now, requiring trains to stop and warn before entering the crossing, and proceeding at reduced speed through it. Hopefully after this work, everything will be getting back to normal. Crews started work on the crossing Friday evening, and worked almost nonstop through the weekend to get it back in order for regular service at about 4 AM this morning.

Busing continues today during off peak hours to allow further work to be done.

 
  
   
 
Metro-North crews work at the Pleasant Ridge Road crossing in Wingdale, on the upper Harlem Line.

Jets and Atoms – Powering Bizarre Trains Train History

April 11th, 2014

The annals of history are full of strange and intriguing bits of curiosity, providing plenty of fodder for a blog such as this one. We’ve covered plenty of odd topics on the blog before – from ghost horses to “perfunctory peck spots” – but we’ve never really mentioned any of the New York Central’s more bizarre trains, and they’ve had a few. The king of strange, however, is probably an experimental jet powered train from 1966. I present to you the “Black Beetle:”

Jet powered train

Essentially, the M-497, better known as the “Black Beetle,” is an RDC-3 with a shovel nose to be more aerodynamic, coupled with jet engines of a B-36. Tested in Ohio, it achieved a speed of 183.85 MPH. Eventually, the jets were removed, and the RDC was returned to service, albeit much slower.

Though far more tame than the jet-powered train, it is too difficult for me not to mention the Xplorer, which has always looked a bit comical to me.

Xplorer
The New York Central’s Xplorer, as shown in a 1956 edition of Popular Science.

The Xplorer was one of many trains designed to be “high speed” in the United States, in this case, high speed was 120 miles per hour. Running from Cleveland to Cincinnati, the goal was a smooth train that banked into turns. Alas many said the ride was actually rather rough. A similar variant was produced for the New Haven, and ran into Grand Central.

AeroTrain

Also falling under the category of bizarre-looking trains is the Aerotrain. Built by GM, a particular focus was placed on looks, leading to a rather unique aesthetic. Used by the New York Central between Cleveland and Chicago, the “lightweight with a heavyweight future” failed to gain popularity. Passengers found the ride rough and the cars uncomfortable. After only a few months, the New York Central’s Aerotrain went to Union Pacific, where it ran between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Will atomic energy power tomorrow's railroads?
Will atomic energy power tomorrow’s railroads?

Although the aforementioned trains may fall under the category of bizarre, none can really claim the title of strangest train ever conceived. That honor may go to the X-12. Picture the AeroTrain shown above, but put a nuclear reactor inside it – that is pretty much the X-12. Thought up by physicist Lyle Borst and his students at the University of Utah in the 1950s, the X-12 was a concept for a nuclear-powered train. Though that sounds a little bit outlandish today, one must think of the climate during the early years of the Atomic Age. Some of the world’s brightest minds had come together to discover the secrets of the atom, culminating in the first atomic bomb. That bomb caused unprecedented death and destruction. Who would want that to be their legacy? Thus many scientists involved in the bomb later focused on the peaceful applications of the atom, and something more worthy to be remembered for.

x12

x12_1

x12_2

x12_3

x12_4
Diagrams of the X-12, from Life Magazine, June 21, 1954./

Many people, however, were overly optimistic when it came to nuclear power. They imagined nuclear reactors one day as small as bricks, and a world where we no longer needed to mine coal, and where gas stations would be a thing of the past. Proposals for nuclear powered submarines, planes, trains, and even automobiles were all made. In fact, the US military spent well over a billion dollars trying to come up with a design for a nuclear-powered plane that could roam the skies indefinitely, never having to land for a fuel fill up. The nuclear plane was actually to be a modified B-36 – the same plane whose engines graced the “Black Beetle.”

X-12 Diagram
Diagram of the X-12 from Railway Age magazine, June 1954.

The X-12 concept locomotive was 160 feet long, and contained a cylindrical Babcock and Wilcox-designed reactor, which measured three feet in diameter and a foot long. Fueled by Uranium-235, the locomotive was designed operate continuously for several months without ever having to refuel. Hypothetically, with eleven pounds of fuel it could run for an entire year, but in practice the fuel would likely need to be changed a few times a year. In total, the X-12 locomotive would weigh 360 tons, 200 tons of which would be a protective shield from the radiation of the reactor. Behind the locomotive would be a 65 foot radiator car, required for cooling the reactor.

To fit into the limited clearance required of a locomotive, unconventional machinery would be required for the X-12, designed to squeeze into tight spaces. And in order to operate such a small reactor to also fit in that space, the fuel had be highly refined, weapons grade uranium. Besides the 200 ton shielding protecting the reactor, in the event of a crash a forcible impact from any direction would cause the reactor to immediately shut down.

Inside the "Hot Engine"
Diagram of the X-12 from Popular Science, April 1954.

Unlike the aforementioned bizarre trains, the X-12 was never actually built. Though more feasible than the atomic aircraft, the locomotive would be expensive to build – at least $1.2 million. Maintenance on the locomotive would have been very difficult, as the inner workings would have become highly contaminated with radiation. And despite assurances that the reactor would be highly protected, safety would be sketchy at most if it were ever in an accident.

Safety is, of course, a very big consideration for any type of nuclear power. Though it could be argued that the effects of radiation on people were not fully known until after the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, we eventually learned that nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, fever, and hemorrhaging were all hallmarks of exposure to ionizing radiation. In the optimism of the Atomic Age, many thought that these effects could be reversed, but in truth the effects of nuclear exposure were cumulative, and defects caused could even be passed on to future generations. Because of these very reasons, anti-nuclear sentiment began to spread, and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster pretty much sealed the deal. Although there are many risks, nuclear power is truly a novel way of generating electricity without releasing the greenhouse gases that result in global warming, but you probably won’t see it operating your trains anytime soon.

Three Mile Island
A Norfolk Southern freight passes Three Mile Island, where there was a meltdown in 1979. The two dormant cooling towers on the right are from the second unit where the meltdown occurred, which has since been decommissioned.

Metro North President Joe Giulietti meets riders at White Plains Train Events

April 4th, 2014

Provided you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard that Metro-North has been hosting customer forums where riders can meet president Joe Giulietti, and pretty much ask him anything. Yesterday’s forum was at White Plains, so I left work a few minutes early to head to the station and meet Metro-North’s new president.

Mr. Giulietti is a rather affable fellow that didn’t seem to mind getting asked “why are trains under 5 minutes and 59 seconds late not considered late?” for the five millionth time by discouraged riders. Along with Mr. Giulietti were other representatives of Metro-North, including John Kesich, senior vice president of operations, Randall Fleischer, Director of Business Development, Mark Mannix, Director of Corporate & Public Affairs, and Marjorie Anders, spokesperson for Metro-North.

My brief chat with the president revolved around the more light-hearted subjects of “how many additional gray hairs have you gotten since you’ve been here,” and “are you absolutely crazy for moving back to the northeast from Florida during the winter?” And while the for-public-consumption story may be that both he and his wife still have family in the northeast, I think the unspoken answer was that he really thinks that he can help Metro-North, a railroad that after last year had pretty much hit rock bottom. To speak such words aloud, however, would be pure hubris. There is no easy or simple fix for Metro-North. Changes will take months, even years. But it seems that the new captain at the helm has the skills to do the job, priorities in the right spot, and isn’t afraid or uncomfortable to rub elbows with the customers that ride his trains. (For the record, I did not ask Mr. Giulietti if he liked April Fools’ jokes).

If you’re interested in meeting with Metro-North’s president to ask a question, or to even say hello, there will be four more customer forums:
• April 10: Stamford Station, Across from Ticket Office (In Station), 5 PM-7 PM
• May 1: Grand Central, Main Concourse, 7 AM-9 AM
• May 6: Croton-Harmon Station, Across from Ticket Office (In Station), 5 PM-7 PM
• May 14: Harrison Station, Eastbound Platform (near elevator), 5 PM-7 PM

 
  
  

Even the mayor of White Plains, Tom Roach, stopped by the station to speak with Metro-North’s new president.

Although not the star of yesterday’s show, one of my other favorite guests at the station made an appearance… MTA PD K9 Patriot!
 

April Fools’! Humor

April 2nd, 2014

As many of you surmised, yesterday’s post about the Metro-North Heritage Unit Program was most definitely an April fools’ joke. Here are some of the reactions from our little bit of tomfoolery:

I was about ready to share this with a friend when I remembered what day it is.

Enough of this nonsense. Just try to get me home on time.

Unless there is a formal press release by the MTA or CDOT, no one should buy this.

That is the UGLIEST paint scheme on a Genny I’ve ever seen!

Metro North Heritage
Nope. Not real.

Admittedly, I designed the scheme to be as ugly as possible, while still looking like one of the New York Central’s old designs, just to get everyone’s goat. While at some point in the future it would certainly be cool to see a heritage unit program at Metro-North, there are a lot of more important things the railroad needs to do, and has begun to do, before any of that.

While clearly the main goal of this site is to present history and photography, I Ride the Harlem Line itself has a long history of pulling everybody’s leg on the first of April. Here’s a look back at some of the pranks we’ve pulled over the past few years, April Fools’ and otherwise.

April Fools’ 2013: Turtle fossils found in East Side Access Tunnel

Turtle fossil!

Some strange turtle fossils discovered in the East Side Access tunnel have set the project back indefinitely… The very large fossil could be a “completely new species, or perhaps a mutant of some sort…” Also found with the turtles were “metallic items which appear to be tools” and “several colored ribbons.” Young citizens of New York were inconsolable… who the heck killed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

April Fools’ 2012: Ride the Harlem Line to Millerton

Millerton!

Most likely the best prank we’ve ever pulled, it is also the one I would most love to see happen in real life – Metro North restoring the Harlem Line to Millerton. As most of you know, the Harlem Line once extended all the way through Columbia County into Chatham. In 1972 it was truncated at Dover Plains, and many years later was extended back into Wassaic by Metro-North. Restoring the line back up to Millerton certainly sounds nice, but I wouldn’t count on it in your lifetime.

2011 Prank: Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, Ragnarok


To make sure you are ready for any issue, the MTA has released guides on how to prepare yourself for a wide variety of emergencies – hurricanes, blizzards, pirate attacks, the zombie apocalypse, alien invasions, even Ragnarok!

April Fools’ 2011: We’re repainting the M8s blue and putting them on the Harlem Line instead

April Fool's Day!!!

Some spiffy new trains on the Harlem Line? Not an exceptionally believable prank, this one was from before the M8s actually went into service on the New Haven Line. Then again, we did fool News12…

We fooled News12...
Comically, News12 decided to use our photoshopped image while running a story about Metro-North earlier this year.

2010 Prank: Giant Pigeons on the New York and Harlem Railroad

Pigeon Attack!

Some of the New York and Harlem’s earliest trains were pulled by a special species of oversized pigeon, alas we New Yorkers hunted them to extinction in a panic after a bird flu epidemic.

Metro-North Railroad Announces Heritage Unit Program Train Photos

April 1st, 2014

Metro-North’s new president, Joseph Giulietti, has been on the job over a month now, and it seems apparent that things are slowly starting to change at the beleaguered railroad. One certainly cannot change an entire railroad in such a short amount of time, but Mr. Giulietti has made it a point to ensure riders that safety is the railroad’s primary goal.

In a more light-hearted move, Giulietti has also announced the beginning of a Heritage Unit program for Metro-North. Such programs have been highly successful and well liked on other railroads, most notably Norfolk Southern. While discussing the subject, Giulietti asserted, “we need to restore pride to Metro-North. The railroad systems here in New York City were at one time the best in the world, though unfortunately that is not the case today. We definitely need to look forward, but at the same time there is no better way to restore pride than to remember our roots.”

Metro North Heritage
The new Metro-North New York Central locomotive on the upper Harlem Line earlier today.

Metro-North’s locomotive 220, which was sent out for work several weeks ago, has returned in a new paint scheme resembling that of the New York Central. “This is the first of hopefully several locomotives in heritage schemes. Many years ago Metro-North had a New York Central themed FL9, and so we opted for a different scheme than that previous locomotive.” Unfortunately, there is no timetable for future heritage locomotives. According to Giulietti, “as locomotives are sent out for repair, they will likely return to Metro-North with some new paint.”