Just a reminder to you all, if you’re in the area come visit us at the Whippany Railway Museum this Sunday at noon. I’ll be showing some photos from my Radioactive Railroad series, and there will be some free Railfan & Railroad magazines (featuring my Chornobyl article) for the first few visitors. Would love to see you there!
It’s not every day that a railfan gets to visit the place where mighty railroad locomotives are born (forged of steel and bound together by lots and lots of welding)… Recently, however, I got an invite to tour GE’s new locomotive manufacturing facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Right now they’re producing the Evolution Series Tier 3 locomotive (ES44C4) for BNSF, and I got an up close and personal view of the process from start to finish. The entire locomotive creation process takes about 60 days, and the facility had various locomotives in all stages of that process. Every week six locomotives are completed… six gleaming, shiny powerhouses…
My invite to GE Manufacturing Solutions came with their #GEInstaWalk program – which opens some of GE’s state-of-the-art facilities to Instagram photographers and fans. This was the third InstaWalk to be held, the first being at GE Aviation’s jet engine testing facility in Peebles, OH, and the second was to see the two GE wind turbines at the Cape Cod Air Force Facility in Massachusetts. Each event was a unique opportunity for the attendees to get a VIP experience “behind-the-scenes” of some amazing technology.
Any regular commuter through White Plains is likely familiar with Gary Waxman, proprietor of the station’s newsstand. And if you were a real regular, chances are Waxman even knew you by name. Last night, however, marked the end of an era – it was Waxman’s final day of work in the station.
Years before Metro-North was even established, Gary Waxman’s father purchased the retail space for the newsstand in the long-gone Warren & Wetmore-designed White Plains station. The younger Waxman spent weekends working the newsstand, and ultimately opted to work there full time instead of heading off to college. The elder Waxman bowed out of newsstand operations in 1986 due to illness, and Gary has run the business ever since. Much has changed since then, most notably the old station being torn down and a new one constructed in 1987. Waxman’s News was, of course, reestablished in the new White Plains station.
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).
Hopefully by now you’ve heard about Grand Central’s Holiday Light Show, one of the final events in this celebratory centennial year. Grand Central has hosted several holiday light shows in the past, but this year’s is most certainly my favorite. Taking over the Terminal’s west windows, LED lights turn each individual window pane into a “pixel” of color. In concert, all of these “pixels” can display colors, letters, and even basic shapes.
Behind the scenes: a Textilene scrim hangs in each window pane, onto which LED lights are projected. The windows on the west wall contain over 350 window panes, so setup was a daunting task. I wasn’t quite sure if walking behind the setup would be visible from below, so I didn’t!
The light show that you see each night, starting at 5 PM and continuing to 11 PM, is a collaboration by several groups. Sponsored by Toshiba, the show was designed by Michiru Tanaka, a lighting designer that has worked with Toshiba on several lighting projects. Bestek Lights brought the concept into the real world with LED light fixtures, and fabricated everything required to hold the lights. All of that work had to abide by landmarks preservation guidelines, as well as safety guidelines, since behind the window panes are walkways used by employees.
Concept rendering of the light show (left), and lighting designer Michiru Tanaka in front of her creation (right, photo by Charles Norfleet).
President of Bestek, Van Allen Rice, experiments with different fabrics for the light show (left), and the control setup for the light show (right). Photos via Bestek.
Because the window panels are a major source of light in the main concourse during the day, one of the requirements for the installation was that it could not block the sun. After several trials, it was decided that Textilene scrims would be hung in each window panel. The scrims would allow the LED light to be reflected onto it for the show, but would also allow sunlight to pass through during the day. Below each scrim is a Stagebar 54, a light fixture that contains 54 LED lights in five colors – red, green, blue, amber, and white. A total of 354 of these fixtures were installed to create the grand effect you see in the show.
If you haven’t gotten a chance to see the light show yet, you have until December 26th to check it out (which is definitely worth it). The thirty minute shows run continuously from 5 PM to 11 PM each night. Note that you can see the show from inside the main concourse, as well as from outside the building on Vanderbilt Avenue.
Last Saturday marked the official opening of the Dutchess Rail Trail, and festivities were held in Hopewell Junction to celebrate this newly completed “linear park.” Though the event focused on the dedication of the rail trail to former County Executive William R. Steinhaus, it is impossible to miss the newly-restored depot just steps away. After many years of lying vacant, and even being burned by arsonists, the depot was eventually restored to greatness. The depot lies at the east end of the trail, and will serve as a welcome center for visitors.
Hopewell has a long history of railroading – the first railroad to arrive was the Dutchess and Columbia in 1871. It was followed by the New York & New England’s line in 1881. The first railroad crossing over the Hudson River south of Albany opened in Poughkeepsie in 1888, leading to additional traffic through Hopewell. That link formed the “Maybrook Line,” which is now the Dutchess Rail Trail.
Historical views of Hopewell Junction depot. All photos via the Hopewell Junction Restoration Corp.
Saturday’s festivities also marked an unofficial event for the Depot – the first opening of what I call the “museum room.” Over the past few months, I worked with other volunteers to design four interpretive panels highlighting the history of local railroading through Hopewell, and its impact on the community. All four panels were completed, printed, and hung for the rail trail event.
In all, the Dutchess Rail Trail opening was a lovely event, and heavily attended. Hopewell Junction is now connected by trail to the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is an attractive journey.
While some of the most die-hard railfans are sometimes against the conversion of rail lines into rail trails, I am generally in support of rail trails due to the fact that they preserve the history of abandoned rail lines. The original concept behind rail trails was railbanking – essentially preserving the railroad’s right of way in case there would be reactivation in the future. In practice, however, railbanking by converting to trails is at best a scam, and at worst an acceptable to way to grab land, or a method to support the trucking industry by ensuring that competition by rail freight will never be restored. Once the right of way is converted to a trail, turning it back into a rail line is almost impossible, or as Metro-North President Howard Permut said regarding reactivating the Harlem Line up to Millerton, “how do you de-map a rail trail?” Although the Rails to Trails Conservancy admits its origins in the concept of railbanking, they have little regard for railroads. In fact their 2011 annual report celebrates a victory in preventing a rail line from reactivating service – and we’re talking about a rail line that still had tracks on the ground, and had not been turned into a trail.
Alas, this is the reality of the United States, where the car reigns supreme, and few realize the true benefits of railroads. Many railfans tend to believe in the fairy tale that all former rail lines could be reborn, but that will never happen. In instances where a revival of train service will probably never happen, I support turning these lines into trails to preserve their history. Considering that the actual rails where the Dutchess Rail Trail now sits were gone even before I was born, an entire generation grew up with almost no clue that a railroad had been there. The line remained abandoned and forgotten for decades before being developed into a trail. At least the rail trail preserves its memory. The Dutchess Rail Trail and the recently restored Hopewell Junction depot, serving as the east trailhead for it, are like a match made in heaven. In tandem, the depot (and its new museum room, with historical interpretive panels) and the trail will ensure that generations to come remember the history of this once proud rail line, and its service as a gateway to New England. It is the perfect embodiment of the pure rails to trails concept: “protecting and converting America’s unused rail corridors for multi-use trails.”
Unfortunately, the once-laudable concept of preservation by saving abandoned rail corridors has been perverted. Instead of saving abandoned corridors, trail proponents have set their sights on driving out existing railroads and claim the right of way for themselves (the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s how-to Acquiring Rail Corridors guides would-be vultures to circle existing railroads until they die). Two New York Rail lines – the Catskill Mountain Railroad, and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad – are both under fire from politicians and an extremely vocal group of trail proponents that want them gone by any means (including committing felonies and vandalism). The most serious case is the Catskill Mountain Railroad – a successful all-volunteer operation that attracts visitors from around the state and beyond to ride its scenic trains. While I credit former Dutchess County Executive Steinhaus for his role in preserving history on both the Dutchess and Harlem Rail Trails, it seems that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein is green with jealousy, and foaming at the mouth to get his own rail trail, even if it means taking down an active railroad in the process. Mr. Hein, I think you miss the point, we’re supposed to be preserving history, not demolishing it.
Hein has promoted tourism to Ulster County (conveniently, the agency engaged in this promotion is a financial donor to Mr. Hein), yet seeks to take down a railroad that does in fact attract tourists, all of which is run by volunteers with no cost to the county. Rail trails are certainly in vogue these days and popping up everywhere – so why would any tourists travel to Ulster just for a trail, when they could visit one closer to home? An economic impact analysis of the rail trail plan, with grossly inflated numbers, compares the proposed trail with the Walkway over the Hudson. No offense, Mr. Hein, but that is apples to oranges – the Walkway is a unique creation, and undoubtedly draws tourists for that exhilarating experience of walking across the mighty Hudson. A trail in the Catskills wouldn’t attract anywhere close to the visitors that the Walkway receives.
If any of you out there like the Dutchess or other rail trails, and you support the actual preservation of history, go lend a hand to the Catskill Mountain Railroad, which desperately needs financial support. They support rails WITH trails – a no brainer solution.
Why demolish an active rail line when the county could easily create a trail alongside it? Because a rail with trail “decreases the usefulness” of a trail, will lead to safety issues for the railroad, and will increase costs? That is grasping at straws. Why should anyone trust anything the county has to say in their report, especially when cited public estimations of fixing a bridge on the line were more than $850,000 dollars, yet the railroad repaired it with volunteers for under $30,000? As for safety, the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2000 study, as cited by the US Department of Transportation, found that Rails with Trails “are compatible with active railroads” and “are just as safe as other trails.” So really, why does Hein refuse to consider a rail and trail? Is it an ego thing, or has another company or PAC that donates money to Mr. Hein yet again greased the wheels?
Hein & Friends like to depict the Catskill Mountain Railroad as a failure by showing photos of Hurricane Irene damage. Even established railroads like Metro-North were heavily damaged by this storm. In reality, volunteers repaired the storm damage and more without the FEMA funding earmarked for it, as Mike Hein refuses to disburse it.
Support rails with trails, and preservation of our history. That would make a real world-class tourist attraction.
Ever since I purchased a GoPro camera, my absolute dream was to fasten it to the front of a moving train and make a totally awesome video. On Sunday, that dream was finally fulfilled on the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad. Not only is the CP&LE RR awesome for using authentic coal-fired steam locomotives, they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary this season! We’re commemorating that milestone by taking you on a fast-forwarded ride around the park from a camera mounted on the front of “Judy K.” – one of the park’s steam locomotives.
Long before the park opens to the public, the crew of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie railroad are hard at work getting the locomotives running for the day. A real rarity among amusement park railroads, the CP&LE RR uses real coal-fired steam locomotives, which takes a whole lot of “elbow-grease” and experience to run. Crewed by some wonderful, and exceptionally hard-working people under the watchful eye of 40-year veteran superintendent Randy Catri, the CP&LE RR has long been a staple attraction of Cedar Point. Though it may not be one of the park’s most talked-about rides – like the behemoth Top Thrill Dragster, or the new Gate Keeper – not many of the park’s attractions can boast a 50 year history and having served over 116 million in those years.
I met up with the crew early on the morning of August 18th, and captured “Judy K.” leaving the railyard, coupling with passenger cars outside Funway Station, and performing a first test loop around the park. Thanks to our camera, mounted on the front of the locomotive, you get an up-close and personal tour of the coolest amusement park railroad on the planet (and authentic coal-fired steam is interesting ANYWHERE!). As an added bonus there’s also a short crew view, where we see coal being added to the fire, and another loop around the park viewing the train from the side.
Consider this a quick preview of the CP&LE RR, as we’ll be celebrating the 50th with a whole lot more photos and fun in the upcoming weeks!
Note: This is a repost of an original post from several weeks ago. At the request of Cedar Point, that original video (and the post that featured it) was taken down. We reshot the video, along with some additional angles, so it is actually better than it was before!
This summer has hardly been the best for railroads all around the world. Several high-profile, and unfortunately deadly, derailments and accidents have occurred in an array of cities. In June a commuter train hit another stopped train in Argentina, claiming three lives and injuring over three hundred. July brought an exceptionally destructive derailment, where a runaway freight train carrying crude oil exploded in the small town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. More than thirty of the town’s buildings were destroyed, and forty-two were killed, with five others missing and presumed dead. Not long after that, six people lost their lives when a train in France derailed and crashed into a station platform. Most recently, a serious derailment in Spain – which appears to be due to the engineer speeding – took the lives of at least seventy-eight.
The serious train derailment in Spain, where at least 78 people died.
At the start of it all in May was Metro-North’s most serious accident in many years, when an M8 derailed and collided with another M8 on the opposite track in May. Proving the mettle of the newest of Metro-North’s rolling stock, no lives were lost in the derailment. Though not an oft mentioned thought related to the crash, had the train been comprised of the New Haven’s ancient M2s, it is fairly likely that there would have been casualties.
Most recently, a CSX derailment fouled up the Hudson Line south of Spuyten Duyvil. There were no serious injuries, and since it was a freight had no passengers aboard, but it did cause damage to the tracks and block the regular commute for Hudson Line riders two Fridays ago. Metro-North raced to get at least one track working for the Monday commute, and succeeded, but opted for alternate service this weekend in order to complete the work. Train service between Yonkers and Grand Central was suspended, and passengers were required to transfer to the subway to get into the city. A fleet of buses shuttled southbound passengers from Yonkers to the Woodlawn subway station, and northbound passengers from the subway to Yonkers station. I checked out the busing at Yonkers yesterday and snapped a few photos of the operation. Though I doubt none of the passengers were thrilled to have to transfer to buses and then the subway, Metro-North has really done a good job of bounding back quickly from incidents like these.
While we’re at Yonkers, it is worth checking out the station itself, and the lovely detailing found within. When we did our station tours, we visited Yonkers, but really didn’t get into some of the littler things you’d find at the station. Designed in the Beaux Arts style by two of Grand Central’s architects, Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, the station has the classic hidden symbol found throughout. Just as you can play the “acorn game” in Grand Central, you can do so at Yonkers. The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted family crest of the Vanderbilts, can be found in many of the buildings designed for the family, including some of their railroad stations. Besides the acorns hidden in the outside and inside detailing, you’ll notice the stylized “NYC” for their railroad, the New York Central.
Yonkers, of course, fits into my recent goal of looking at some other buildings designed by Grand Central’s architects. A few weeks ago we looked at Hartsdale station, as well as the former White Plains station, which Warren and Wetmore also designed. Between them and Reed and Stem, there’s a nice list of local places I’d like to talk about in the near future, including Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Poughkeepsie, the Glenwood power station, and the Helmsley building. I’m also planning a nice feature on one of their more distant stations – Michigan Central Station in Detroit – which is arguably an often forgotten fraternal twin sister of Grand Central Terminal.
When it comes to the worst day to ride Metro-North Railroad, it is usually a tossup between New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day. Both involve large crowds of people that have imbibed a bit too much. Most years I think St. Patrick’s is the clear winner (or loser, perhaps?), because when it falls on a work day you have a combination between the regular commmuters and the drunks, and it usually isn’t very fun. After all, I’d rather not step over passed out revelers, or in pools of vomit while heading home after a long day at work, thank you very much.
Thankfully, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend this year, so there will be no clashes between commuters and partiers. Though if you’re feeling brave and looking to go to the parade, Metro-North will be offering extra trains, sans adult beverages. Alas we’re not cool enough to get a special holiday timetable like the one above, but oh well. Either way, we wish all the Irish… and the people pretending to be Irish a happy St. Patrick’s Day!
While the Grand Central Centennial celebration on February 1st was primarily dedicated to our beloved Terminal, we also took a few moments to remember the life of Edward Koch, who passed away earlier that morning. There are many ways that one can remember the late Ed Koch – as a congressman, as a mayor, as a consummate New Yorker, and even as a preserver of Grand Central (and if you’re as young as me, perhaps only as that judge on the People’s Court). But the thing that probably won’t come up in most people’s memories, however, are pandas. It certainly was not one of Koch’s most noteworthy accomplishments, but he did succeed in getting two pandas for New York City, if only for a few months.
As the story goes, Mayor Koch hosted Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang for lunch at Gracie Mansion in 1984. In a private moment, Koch requested two pandas from Ziyang, stating, “If I get two pandas, I’ll get re-elected.” Koch later attributed, in jest, his 1985 reelection to Zhao’s statement to the media, “It is possible that New York City will have two pandas.” The negotiations for the rare ursids was said to take, in total, seven years – and in April of 1987 two pandas finally arrived at JFK airport on a flight from Beijing.
For the next six months the two pandas, one male and one female, called the Bronx Zoo home. Ling Ling, the male, (not to be confused with the panda of the same name given to the US as a gift by China in 1972) was one and a half years old and weighed 119 pounds. The second panda, a female named Yong Yong, was 6 years old, and weighed 187 pounds. Yong Yong was on her second visit to the United States, she had previously been exhibited in California in 1982. After six months at the Bronx Zoo, the pair moved to Busch Gardens in Tampa, before returning to Beijing in April of 1988.
Panda at the Bronx zoo in 1987. Photo by Tony Savoca.
Now Mayor Koch and two adorable pandas certainly make a good story, but I’m sure you’re wondering how exactly this relates to trains. Apparently the pandas whipped everyone into quite a fervor – the zoo expected 1800 visitors would see them an hour – and not everyone would arrive by car. For those that opted for public transportation, Metro-North not only offered special tickets to the zoo, they printed special timetables as well. Appropriately printed in black and white ink, the timetables featured two pandas on the front, and included a map for getting to the zoo. The illustration of the pandas was done by Victor Chan, who was a graphic designer in Corporate Communications for Metro-North in the late ’80s.
Until I had found this timetable at a train show, I had no idea that there were ever special panda trains, or that the Bronx Zoo had ever had pandas. Pandas are always a top favorite in the animal kingdom for many, yet they are exceedingly rare – especially so in the United States. At this time, there are only 12 pandas in the entire country. So Koch’s temporary acquisition for the zoo was definitely a big deal. And these trains, and the timetables printed for them, may be some of the most interesting in Metro-North’s 30 year history.
For those curious about the fate of the two aforementioned pandas, both lived fairly long lives but are now deceased. Ling Ling was given as a gift to Japan in 1992, and resided in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. He died of heart failure in 2008 at the age of 22. Yong Yong spent the remainder of her life in China at various different zoos. She gave birth to ten cubs, and is the grandmother of Ya Ya, one of 12 pandas living in the US, residing at the Memphis Zoo. Yong Yong died at the Beijing Zoo in 2006, at the age of 25.