Nearly six months later, I’ve come to set the record straight – I’m neither dead, nor has this site been shut down. I’m still out there (somewhere), traveling, with a camera in hand. Last month I logged over 7,500 miles on the train, saw a lot of cool places, and met some awesome people. Here are some photos I liked from along the way…
As we find ourselves in the final hours of 2017, I thought it might be a nice time to look back at some of the more memorable photographs to appear on I Ride the Harlem Line this year. As you likely noticed, posts were few and far between this year, as things were again, rather busy. Despite that, we still adventured to the Beacon Line, Grand Central for Amtrak’s temporary return, and the new Penn Station. While some may find 13 an ominous number, I tend to find it lucky – so let’s take a look at the top thirteen photos posted on the I Ride the Harlem Line website or social media pages this year.
#13 – Hartford, Connecticut
One of my favorite spots to catch Amtrak’s New Haven to Springfield line is this one at the historic Hartford Union Station. This shot from early April captures the Vermonter as it passes Connecticut’s capitol building and approaches the station.
#12 – Trenton, New Jersey
As the road bridge behind the rail bridge states, “Trenton makes, the world takes.” This drone view captured Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train number 125 as it departed Trenton for Philadelphia back in November.
#11 – Fort Erie, Canada
Norfolk Southern makes its way through Fort Erie, Canada at sunset – bound for the Niagara River just a few meters away, and the border crossing into the United States.
#10 – Buffalo, New York
As I captured this photo at the time of posting:
How exactly does one illustrate the challenges facing a revival of Buffalo Central Terminal in one photo? This may be as close as you can come. The Terminal, as seen from Buffalo’s City Hall, is quite obviously removed from the city’s core downtown area. Visible in the photo are the two most notable structures completed in Buffalo in 1929, though both in the art deco style, they may almost be worlds apart in terms of geography. The Rand Building is prime real estate in Buffalo’s downtown core, while the Terminal is approximately two and a quarter miles as the crow flies in what one can only describe as a far rougher neighborhood.
Neither is Buffalo Central Terminal located on one of the main spokelike thoroughfares (like Broadway, the diagonal running street seen in the photo) that lead from the suburbs into the city proper. While it may have been constructed in the most logical place along the railroad tracks (most train servicing Buffalo would pass the Terminal, however trains bound for the western US would not pass a downtown station), the location is hardly practical with how people interact with and move within the city itself.
Although many railfans and preservationists alike hope for an announcement that BCT will come alive again, the pragmatist in me believes it will not happen, and a new station will be constructed in the hip Canalside area of downtown Buffalo, not far from the current Exchange Street station. The final decision for Buffalo’s new (or old) station is expected later this year.
Spoiler: They picked Canalside.
#9 – Khairkhan, Mongolia
Both mountainous and desert-like, the landscape of Mongolia is always provides an interesting backdrop for train watching. To maneuver through the mountains, many switchbacks are used to overcome the steep gradients on approach to the city of Ulaanbataar. Forgive me for going all the way to Mongolia and China in July and sharing very few of the photos from that journey. I plan to make a few posts in 2018 with some of these images!
#8 – Grand Central Terminal, New York City
On the last day of Empire Service trains into Grand Central Terminal, I show off my Empire Service logo pin. We’ll call this one a tribute to the designer of said logo.
#7 – Harlem, New York
Shall we ride by train or by boat? Amtrak Empire Service train 233 has departed Grand Central and is enroute to Albany, captured while leaving Manhattan over the Harlem River Lift Bridge.
#6 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
All the way from California, to arrive in the snow… Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)’s first ACS-64 arrives in Philadelphia from the Siemens factory. Photo taken at the Jenkintown-Wyncote station.
#5 – Bear Mountain Bridge, New York
Let’s play a game. The game is called “Spot the Train.” Empire Service near the Bear Mountain Bridge
#4 – Waterbury, Connecticut
On a frigid March day, a Waterbury branch train arrives at the end of the line in Waterbury.
#3 – Storm King Mountain, New York
Amtrak’s Train 290, the Ethan Allen Express, is just barely visible as it approaches one of my favorite places along the Hudson, Pollepel Island, home to Bannerman Castle.
#2 – Harlem, New York
As part of the Penn Station Renewal program, six Amtrak Empire Service trains have been diverted to Grand Central Terminal. This was the first Amtrak scheduled revenue service train in 26 years to use GCT, or as Amtrak has dubbed it, NYG. Of course, I Ride The Harlem Line captured the first train in Harlem, with the backdrop of New York City behind.
#1 – Penn Station, New York
Although this particular photo was not heavily promoted by me or this website, while doing a top photo list of the year, I’d be remiss leaving this one off. In fact, this is arguably the most viewed photograph I’ve ever captured in my life, after appearing on CBS This Morning, and in countless publications including AM NY and the NY Post. The photo was part of a set taken for Amtrak to be freely accessed, shared, and/or published by any and all media as part of the Penn Station Renewal program. I shared my experience taking these photos in a post here. As much as I enjoyed the experience of capturing the images in Penn Station, I think I will be retiring from pulling any future all-nighters as favors to my coworkers. ;)
And that wraps up our countdown! I’m looking forward to 2018 and have some interesting journeys already planned, so be sure to keep an eye out! Oh, and be sure to follow us on Facebook, as we post a tad more frequently on there!
Labor Day has come and gone, schools have started back up again, and we find ourselves in the waning days of summer. The much-hyped transit “summer of hell” has also finished – and many seem to think it was a lot more swell than hell. For anyone with an interest in trains, it was always going to be rather swell. Amtrak would be making a return to New York City’s cathedral of railroading, Grand Central Terminal, after being gone for more than a decade. We welcomed the Empire Service trains with both open arms and camera shutters. I caught the trains in various locations along the reroute, and am presenting some of my favorite shots from the duration here. Until the next time…
It may be hot, but down in the bowels of New York’s Pennsylvania Station it’s not really hell. Befitting the city’s well-known nickname, nobody here is sleeping at 2 AM – the renewal of Penn Station is a round-the-clock job. On the night of July 21st anticipation has been steadily building for the final placement of one of the many puzzle pieces of the station’s new track infrastructure. Switch 69B – everything is named numerically based on it’s position, with letters indicating the facing direction – is a massive piece of hardware that was assembled outside the station. In the cover of darkness it will be rolled in on its side, due to its width – when laid flat it is wide enough to foul the tracks on both sides.
With the last Amtrak train in the house at 1:40 AM, there’s a brief lull until the first morning departure at 3:25 AM. It’s in this window that the switch is laid flat just beyond the mouth of the Hudson tunnels and loaded onto Amtrak’s Portal Krane-1, which will bring the heavy piece to the correct spot and lower it into position on the already prepared track bed. PK-1, as it is abbreviated, is a Transformers-looking beast, with movable legs that allow it to “walk” the switch into position. It’s controlled by a complicated looking panel mounted to the body of the operator – I can only think of it as a joystick on steroids, and idly wonder if the fellow is any good at video games.
The night’s anticipation reaches its peak as PK-1, fully loaded, begins moving at 2:23 in the morning. When the vehicle reaches the right position next to the empty track bed, the operator controls PK-1’s legs to gradually shift the position of the switch. After several lateral shifting motions, the switch hovers in the appropriate spot just above the track bed. After trimming pieces of the already laid rail to accommodate it, the switch is finally lowered into position.
Concurrently, another team is hard at work on the other side of the station’s tracks. Most of the infrastructure for Track 10, including rails and ties, third rail and catenary have all been removed for a complete rebuild. Here, too, anticipation mounts for the arrival of the cement truck for the night’s pour. Word comes on the radio that the truck is on the move, enroute to the Empire tunnels, complete with police escort. Of course, Amtrak’s cement truck is a hi-rail vehicle; before long it will slowly roll down adjacent to Track 10, ready to encase the already installed wood ties.
Several photographers have gotten the chance to document the milestones happening in Penn Station, and I am lucky enough to be one of them. If you have seen Amtrak’s Media Images site or the new NYP Renewal Update video, you may have already seen some of my photos. Now, perhaps, they feel a little bit more real. If you’re like me, you may gain a new respect for the hardworking folks renewing the station, investing quite a bit of sweat in the wee hours of the morning.
Credit for all photos: Amtrak / Emily Moser. For more Amtrak images and videos, please visit the Amtrak Media website.
For almost as long as humans have been walking on this Earth, we have used hats. Whether they be for protection from the elements (with or without cat ears), for symbolic purposes, or simply for fashion, hats still remain an important part of our wardrobe to this day. Some historical figures are even well remembered for their hats, like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats, or Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. Today’s little bit of railroad history is an unofficial railroad timetable distributed by a hat salesman in Oneida, New York. The subject has come up on this blog before, where I have admitted my love for unofficial timetables.
If you ever wondered why many railroads began explicitly printing “Official Timetable” on their publications, it was certainly in response to the practice in the later 1800s and early 1900s for local businesses to distribute self-made timetables for the nearby train station with an ad for their shop on the other side. The marketing concept is both effective, and still commonplace today. If someone has something that is functional and useful that they will have close by that has your ad on it, there is a higher likelihood that when that consumer needs something, they will turn to you. Whether it be the unofficial timetable of yesteryear, or the box of matches (although not quite as common these days), fridge magnet, or wall calendar of today, all of these products are useful but also make you remember a particular business.
Although I try to focus my collection on the Harlem Division, it was hard for me to resist this purchase. Beyond my love for unofficial timetables, this card was probably the most quirky examples I had ever seen. And how can one say no to a cute puppy hiding in a hat? If I was looking for a hat in Oneida, surely I would have purchased one from Mr. Stone!
Watson A. Stone was born in 1847 and was a life-long resident of New York, spending much of his adult life in the Oneida area. Stone was an official sales agent for Knox Hats, a noteworthy New York City-based hat company that counted many wealthy and famous as patrons. According to popular lore every American president up until Kennedy wore Knox hats, and presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln was wearing a Knox-made stovepipe hat during his influential Cooper Union speech. In addition to his business selling hats and boots, assumedly to all the famous, well-to-do, and fashion-forward folks passing through Oneida, Stone was the Oneida postmaster from 1881 until his death in 1888 (which places the publication of this card at some point before that year).
Other than being cute, the timetable hearkens back to a time when Oneida was traversed by several different railroads and was a maze of railroad tracks, simply a memory today. In the late 1950s and early 1960s several sections of the New York Central main line were relocated in upstate New York, including a section near Batavia (1957), and an area from Oneida to Canastota (1965). With that relocation, New York Central trains would no longer run through downtown Oneida, dashing anyone’s plans to hop off the train and quickly pick up a fashionable hat to wear.
Today, the former railbeds through town are an informal trail system, with plans to make it an official rail trail.
When it comes to lost landmarks, the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station is one of the travesties of New York City history. More than fifty years later the “monumental act of vandalism” is still keenly felt, as every commuter “scuttles in… like a rat.” Despite the loss, there may be a consolation prize for us all. For many of the years I’ve been present on this Earth New Yorkers have debated the conversion of the Farley Post Office into a new Pennsylvania Station. Although certainly not as grand as the original station, the style is similar – in fact designed by the same architects as the station: McKim, Mead, and White. Though it will never fully blunt the loss of Penn Station, converting part of the post office may well allow folks to again “enter the city like a god.”
Although proponent of the project, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan never got the chance to see the fate of the project, talk eventually did turn to action. The initial phase of the project has opened to the public – you can now find a new entrance to Penn Station on Eighth Avenue and 31st Street at the south end of the post office building. Although this is just a small portion of the larger Moynihan Station project (named, of course, for the senator that supported it), the new station access is a welcome change to the dungeon that is Penn Station.
Inside you’ll be greeted with bright whites, bold and modern typography, and stylized murals of New York City landmarks. The magic of technology grants the illusion that you are above ground with pleasing blue ceiling lights, including imitation skylights that display floating clouds. Beside providing a new entrance to the station, the new section grants new access to several of the train platforms, relieving stress on the rest of the station.
The new section of Penn Station appears to be a popular spot for newscasters to report the (mis)happenings in the station, so expect to see it as a backdrop more frequently in the future (especially the next two months). Amtrak’s summer repairs begin on Monday – something the news media has already nicknamed the “Summer of Hell” – but for us railfans it provides a special treat. Empire Service trains will be making their return to Grand Central Terminal to further relieve some of the stress in Penn Station, and I will certainly be looking forward to it!
As April has now arrived, we look forward to the spring, to warmer weather, and lovely green leaves on the trees. It seems, as well, like a decent time to explore some of the lesser-known railroad infrastructure in the area. Most regular riders of Metro-North are familiar with the railroad’s three main lines running into Grand Central Terminal – the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven Lines. Others may be aware of two other lines on the west side of the Hudson River that Metro-North also owns – the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines – which are operated by New Jersey Transit. But far fewer are familiar with Metro-North’s sixth line – the Beacon Line. Purchased in 1995 by Metro-North, the line has been, for the most part, inactive since. Occasional excursions, equipment moves and storage, and maintenance with hi rail vehicles, have all taken place, albeit infrequently. Though the rails itself may not be in use, running along parts of the line is fiber optic cabling that is integral to Metro-North operations.
Last fall the Beacon Line made the news as the MTA has issued a “Request for Expressions of Interest” regarding “all or part” of the line. The RFEI will be used to gauge interest in the line, and to see what people would actually want to do with it – but it is worth noting that the RFEI was strictly for informational purposes, it was not a formal Request for Proposals. Since the request closed last year, we’ve heard little from Metro-North about the proposals submitted and what anyone’s ideas for the line were. Any serious rail project would be difficult on the Beacon Line, and likely expensive. While Metro-North has not let the line become completely overgrown – weed spraying, fallen tree removal, and other minor maintenance happens occasionally – it isn’t in the best shape. Many bridges are in rough shape, needing costly maintenance. Years of people using the line as an ATV trail has led to severe degradation of the railroad ties, and in many cases the rails are old and in need of replacement.
Beside the condition of the line, making money on it would be another difficulty. Multiple studies have been performed in terms of reactivating all or some parts of the Beacon Line for passenger use, and all have pretty much determined that it is not economically feasible. One of the more promising ideas would be to operate a shuttle from Danbury to Southeast on the Harlem Line, a plan that was amusingly championed by politicians in upper Westchester County who would much prefer those Connecticut commuters to not come over to their stations on the Harlem Line (I’m looking at you, Katonah). Upon formal study, several difficulties were noted with the idea – the major one being the way that trains from the Beacon Line merge with the Harlem Line. With the current track alignment, any train coming from Danbury would be facing north when coming onto the Harlem Line, the wrong direction from Southeast station. Either the train crew would have to “change ends” and the train would go the opposite direction (which would take too much time due to procedural requirements like a brake test), or a wye track would have to be installed allowing the train to turn south onto the Harlem Line (difficult, as the land around the junction is protected wetlands, and would likely have to be acquired through eminent domain).
In the end, nothing may actually come out of this whole RFEI process besides calling attention to the nearly abandoned Beacon Line. I thought it might be an interesting time to take a little virtual tour of the line, as I’ve visited and photographed various portions on both sides – Brewster and Beacon. The two sides designation is somewhat important, as even though the line may be seen as one whole today, historically the Beacon Line is made up of two previous railroads. The eastern part of the Beacon Line that runs from Connecticut to Hopewell Junction is the former Maybrook Line. As one would expect, that line ran through Maybrook, New York and crossed the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie. After the fire on the Poughkeepsie Bridge in 1974, the portion of the Maybrook to Hopewell Junction was abandoned, and today is a rail trail. The western portion of the line, from Beacon to Hopewell Junction, was originally part of the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad, later called the Beacon Secondary. The rest of the ND&C, which went beyond Hopewell into Millbrook, Pine Plains, Millerton, and Connecticut, had been abandoned in stages in the 20’s and 30’s.
Junction with the Harlem Line & the Ice Pond
The start of our explorations begin where the Harlem and Beacon Lines meet, a little less than halfway between Southeast and Patterson. As mentioned previously, there is no wye here, so it would be difficult to run trains from the Beacon south along the Harlem toward Brewster without a time consuming changing of ends. The lines meet and then diverge again, running along either side of the Ice Pond. Just beyond that body of water, the Beacon Line crosses over the Harlem Line and continues west, while the Harlem continues north. Here is the domain of fishermen, who spend entire weekend days with their pickups parked alongside the line.
2016 has been bookended by two major moves for me – early in the year I was settling in to a new place in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, and at the end of the year I find myself settling in to a new place in the Buffalo, New York area. Busy seems to be an understatement when you find yourself traveling through at least 18 different states, and spending the equivalent of nearly three months in different hotel rooms. Of course, throughout it all I kept my camera by my side. This post roughly continues where Part 1 left off – but I’ve aptly attempted to bookend it with Harrisburg, and the Buffalo – a true reflection of 2016.
Continuing off from the previous Never Ending Journey post, my road trip back from Atlanta led us to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where I heard that the Secret City Scenic would be ending operations. Sadly, their operating agreement was not renewed, and they would no longer be permitted to run trains. Since we were not far, we dropped in to see the final excursions, and snap a few photos.
When first conceived, the New York & Harlem Railroad was intended to do just what its name implied – connect lower Manhattan to Harlem. The original charter was granted by the New York State Legislature on April 25th, 1831, authorizing a single or double tracked road from 23rd Street to any point on the Harlem River between Third and Eighth Avenues (Fourth Avenue – later renamed Park – was the route ultimately chosen). Less than a year later, that mandate was expanded to allow construction as far south as 14th Street, and was expanded several more times to ultimately allow construction as far as Ann Street, just beyond City Hall. When the first mile of track opened for business in November of 1832, stretching from Prince Street to 14th Street, only 38 other miles of railroad track existed in the state.
At Harlem, the northernmost portion of the chartered line, the New York & Harlem would meet up with the New York & Albany Railroad, providing a much-needed year-round link to the state capital (sailing up the Hudson at that time was difficult if not impossible in the winter months). Despite groundbreakings at several points along the proposed line, the New York & Albany never succeeded in creating this link. Slowly the New York & Harlem was given permission to do what the New York & Albany could not – first into Westchester County in 1840, and was later granted full rights to build to Albany in 1846. At that time the The New York & Harlem purchased the what was left of the failed road, including the land it had secured to build its line, for $35,000. Although the New York & Harlem never reached Albany – entering into an agreement with the Boston & Albany Railroad, which it met in Chatham – this trackage became the bread-and-butter of what became the Harlem Division when it was leased to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad in 1873.
“The benefit to the City of New York, possessing as it does, the best seaport in the Union, will be incalculable.”
“Gentlemen must judge for themselves, but of one thing we are certain: the road will be built, and the most gratifying results may be anticipated.”
-Co-founder and Vice President John Mason, at the ceremonial groundbreaking of the New York & Harlem Railroad on Murray Hill in 1832.
The remainder of the New York & Harlem, which ran south of Grand Central Depot, was leased in 1897 to the Metropolitan Street Railway Company. Today’s tidbits from the archive deal with just that subject – before the lease of the street railway portion of the New York & Harlem, a letter was sent to all shareholders regarding the decision at the most recent Board of Directors meeting. Shareholders were instructed to sign and return a paper stating that they approved of the decision. Below is a scan of an original copy of this mailing, which this particular shareholder never responded to.
Milk has long been a staple of the American diet, and since the New York and Harlem Railroad was founded up until the 1950s, it was also a staple commodity carried by rail. Early in New York City’s history, dairy cows were kept and milked in the city proper near distilleries. Often sick cows were kept in cramped conditions, and fed the byproducts of whiskey making – resulting in a blue tinted “milk” that was lacking in cream content and dangerous to drink. Unscrupulous businessmen used additives – including water, sugar, molasses, egg, and even plaster of paris – to give it the appearance of fresh milk and sell it to an unwitting public. This tainted milk led to an increased infant mortality in the city, and was coined the “Swill Milk Scandal” when exposed in the periodicals of the day. The scandal eventually led to regulation of the milk industry, and a push for “pure milk” from dairies far outside the city. Stepping up to transport this milk were, of course, the railroads.
Milk depots were established at many train depots, and local farmers could bring and sell their milk, which was then transported to the city. One of the Harlem’s most famous freights was the Rutland Milk train, which brought milk to New York City from Vermont – transferring from the Rutland Railroad to the Harlem in Chatham. Every day a swap would occur where a train full of milk changed hands at Chatham, exchanged for the previous day’s empties.
Today’s random tidbit from the archive is a letter from F.T. Hopkins to William Hooker. Hopkins was a milk dealer who operated the Harlem Railroad Milk Depot in New York City. The letter is addressed to Hooker at Wing’s Station – an earlier name for Wingdale.
Borden on the Harlem Line
Even if the milk transported by train to the city was considered “pure” and not of the “swill” variety, it did not last very long before spoilage in the days prior to refrigeration. Condensed milk stored in cans, however, could last for years without spoiling. Not only was condensed milk transported along the Harlem, it got its start here.
There are many ways to describe Gail Borden Jr.: a perpetual wanderer, deeply religious (anecdotal evidence suggests that he bought bibles for placement on the Harlem’s trains), eccentric inventor (he scared his friends by taking them on a ride straight into a river in a self-invented amphibious wagon – the “terraqueous machine”), an endlessly stubborn optimist that never gave up. All of those traits led him from his birthplace of Norwich, New York to Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Connecticut, and ultimately back to New York and the Harlem Railroad to launch his most successful invention – condensed milk.
For some time Borden had been interested in preventing food from spoilage. One of his first food related inventions was a meat biscuit, made from rendered meat and flour or potato and baked into a cracker, which could be eaten as is, or crushed into boiling water to make soup. He also experimented with preserving and concentrating fruit to make juices, and making coffee extract which took up far less space than regular coffee. Despite winning prizes for the meat biscuit, none of those endeavors were commercial successes. After debts forced him to give up on the meat biscuit and sell some of his property to pay creditors, Borden wholeheartedly pursued his milk preservation idea in Connecticut – starting a factory in Wolcottville. He eventually ran out of money and that factory closed, later replaced by a different factory in Burrville. Unfortunately, the Financial Panic of 1857 marked the end of that venture as well.
A chance encounter on a train ride, however, brought Gail Borden and financer Jeremiah Milbank together, and Milbank found promise in Borden’s idea. With Milbank’s money, Borden founded the New York Condensed Milk Company in Wassaic, New York, right next the the tracks of the Harlem Railroad. Borden’s tenacious spirit had finally paid off this time around, as his product became a commercial success. Another factory was constructed along the Harlem in Brewster to keep up with demand – and condensed milk became a staple for members of the Union Army during the Civil War.
After Borden’s successes he moved back to Texas, but upon death was returned by train to New York. He forever remains next to the Harlem Line, buried in Woodlawn Cemetery with a large monument that bears the following quote:
“I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded.”