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Metro North President Joe Giulietti meets riders at White Plains

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).

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Metro-North Railroad Announces Heritage Unit Program

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.”

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Poster Art: Railroads of Europe

Across the globe, most countries have a set of standardized street signs. Many use similar concepts and are mutually intelligible by outsiders based on pictographs. Though the meaning may be easily gleaned, it is interesting to note the wide variety of pictographs used by each country. Despite the fact that modern trains are hardly reminiscent of the steamers of yesteryear, the steam train is the pictograph of choice to convey the idea of “train.”

In some late-night weekend boredom, I worked on a few posters showing the trains of Europe through the lens of street signs and their pictographs. The first one features the pictographs used by each European country to represent trains, in the colors of their flags. The top 20 countries are shown in descending order based on how many miles of rail they have.

Railroad pictographs of Europe
If you like the flag poster, you can buy a copy here.

Technically speaking, the train pictograph above represents a grade crossing without barriers. An alternate sign is in use for crossings with barriers, and it uses a pictograph the resembles a cross between railroad tracks and a fence. I used that pictograph to show the differing track gauges used in Europe.

Rail gauges of Europe

Crossbucks are are a ubiquitous part of rail systems, in the many places where trains converge with streets. Though most countries use a similar concept, the colors and proportions vary widely.

Crossbucks of Europe

And just for fun, I made one more poster which shows the logos of the primary railroads in each country…
Rail logos of Europe

Anyway, the blog will likely be on temporary hiatus later next month as I’ll actually be riding some of these European rails.

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Shore Line East and Old Saybrook

In keeping with last week’s theme of exploring Connecticut, today we take a quick visit to the southern coast of the state to check out Shore Line East. As part of the important Northeast Corridor, many of the stations along the line have a long history with the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Though some of the railroad historical buildings are still around (like the freight house, now restaurant in Old Saybrook), most of the Shore Line East stations are of relatively new construction (the exceptions being New Haven, which we’ve visited before, and New London, which deserves its own post at some point in the future).

Shore Line East is operated by Amtrak, so you’ll often catch CDOT locomotives in the old New Haven Railroad scheme, Amtrak locomotives, or a horrible mixture of both (hey boss, I put our sticker on the front, and painted over the Amtrak logo!). The service itself is fairly young – Shore Line East trains began running in May of 1990 – and the line was only supposed to be temporary while construction was being done on Interstate 95. Due to its popularity, however, Shore Line East became permanent.

   
  
 
 
Some views of the smaller stations on Shore Line East – Branford, Madison, Guilford, and Clinton.

Of the newer Shore Line East stations, Old Saybrook is probably the nicest, and a pretty good place for capturing trains. Besides the Shore Line East trains, about eighteen Amtrak trains stop here daily (which is actually more than Hartford, which we visited last week). Three tracks run through Old Saybrook, and the station consists of a side platform, an island platform, and an overpass connecting the two. Because it was started as a temporary operation, little money was spent on Shore Line East stations. However, once the service became permanent, proper stations were constructed, the first being Old Saybrook in 2002. Branford, Guilford, and Clinton were opened in 2005, and Madison in 2008.

Most Shore Line East trains terminate at Old Saybrook, though a few do go on to New London. The bane of Connecticut’s railroads are definitely the many movable bridges found along the shore line. Some are over a hundred years old, and cause slowdowns and nightmares for Metro-North. In Shore Line East’s case, the challenge to operating more service to New London is that trains must cross several movable bridges, bridges that the Connecticut Marine Trades Association fights to keep open for boats, as opposed to closed for trains. While some have big plans for the service (like connecting it to Rhode Island), it is these local issues that will have to be addressed first (not raiding the state’s Special Transportation Fund is another…).

  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
  

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A Fiery Centennial – Hartford Union Station

Exactly one hundred years ago, Connecticut was gripped in a frigid and snowy winter, much like the one we are currently experiencing. And exactly one hundred years ago last Friday, Hartford’s Union station was ablaze. On its own, a fire can be pretty devastating enough, but coupled with the snow, firefighters had difficulty getting to the station to put the fire out. Ultimately there were several small explosions, one of which displaced a large section of the roof, pieces of which fell and destroyed the ticket office. The station was heavily damaged, and much of the items in the baggage room – where the fire started – were destroyed.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire
All fire photos are from the Connecticut Historical Society, accessible at CTHistoryOnline.org

Originally constructed in 1889, Hartford’s Union station was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which first gained popularity in the Boston area and was used for several stations along the Boston and Albany Railroad. Conceptually designed by local architect George Keller, the bulk of the design work fell to architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, successors of Henry Hobson Richardson (which is where the “Richardsonian” part comes from. Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge also designed a few stations we’ve featured: Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown). The station featured the typical arches and rusticated stonework characteristic of his style, using stone quarried in Portland, Connecticut.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire

Besides the 100th anniversary of the fire, the station is also celebrating the centennial of its rebirth. The entire building was not completely destroyed by the aforementioned fire, but the roof and interior were both gutted. Though some of the decorative arches at roof level were only slightly damaged, it was decided that the rebuild would not be to the exact specifications of the old station. Roof-level decorative elements were removed, and stonework was repaired – now bearing the date “1914”. The “new” Union Station boasted a full third story, and, as one would imagine, a fireproof roof.

Hartford Union Station Fire
The station after the fire was put out. Note the detail on the roof that no longer exists.

Despite spending the first twenty plus years of my life living in Connecticut, I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I had never visited Hartford’s Union Station until recently. Likewise, I must also admit that I was unaware that Hartford’s Latin motto is Post nubila, phoebus (after clouds, the sun). That motto can be found within the station, above the doors that once led out to the platform, flanked between the past and present of railroading – steam and electric.

Train at Hartford
A northbound train at Hartford in the late 1940s. Note the Capitol visible in the background. [image source]

These days, Hartford is not the hub it once was. No longer are the days where trains were plenty, and it has been many decades since quasi-celebrity citizens like Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe called Hartford home. About twelve trains stop daily at the station, the station is along Amtrak’s Vermonter, and Northeast Regional routes, and is a station stop on the New Haven – Springfield shuttle. Technically trains don’t run from the historical building – Amtrak occupies out of an addition underneath the viaduct carrying the railroad over the city, along with bus operators and a few fast food kiosks. One can, however, enter the addition from the historical depot.

If you’re ever passing through Hartford, the old station is at least worth a look. The stonework and detailing found on the exterior is undoubtedly beautiful, only marred by a few trappings of today – you’ll find security cameras just above decorative elements, and a garish Subway logo above a once more graceful arch. Be sure to check out the artwork at the top of the steps, and keep your eyes peeled for views of the the Capitol building from the platform.

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
 
 
  
 
  
  
 

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Winter at the Strasburg Railroad

I swear to you all, I really hate winter. And the cold. Sure, we may have checked out the Harlem Line and the Hudson Line in the snow, but I’d so much rather be somewhere warm… Instead of being at some tropical location this past weekend, you would have found me at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. Despite being assured that it “never snows” for these winter photo specials, Saturday’s weather brought more snow in addition to the already deep snow blanketing the ground. The majority of the day was grey, with the sun only appearing for approximately three seconds at the very end of the journey.

Although the day was very monochromatic, the black and white views of the railroad – with the occasional splash of color – turned out alright. Amtrak made a very quick appearance, as did a fluffy farm dog, quite puzzled by the crowd of photographers wading in knee-deep snow just outside her backyard. Anyway, here is what the Strasburg Railroad looks like in the snow…

 
  
   
  
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 
  

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A final look at the Alaska Railroad

In 2013 I spent a lot of time talking about the Alaska Railroad – I got a chance to visit Alaska in both February and September, and had quite a few photos (and videos) to share. This post, however, will probably be the last time I talk about Alaska for a while. This is the last set of photos that I’ve not yet posted, for the most part showing the route from Fairbanks to Denali, along with some views of the Alaska Railroad’s passenger coaches and domes.

If you missed any of our previous Alaska posts, here is a complete listing:
February
Alaska Railroad, Part 1
Alaska Railroad, Part 2
The Dalton Highway & Arctic Circle
Chena Hot Springs

September
Alaska Greetings
Seward, Coastal Classic Route
South of Anchorage
Palmer & Airport Branches
The Whittier Tunnel
Fairbanks area
The Anchorage Shops
Tanana Valley Railroad Museum

Someday I’ll probably get back to Alaska, but because of the very few vacation days I get, I’d prefer to go places I’ve never been before. But if Alaska is on your list of “must visit” places – GO! All seasons offer entirely different experiences – from the never-setting sun in summer, to the icy cold aurora viewing in the winter. Despite what you’d probably think, visiting Alaska in the winter isn’t totally crazy if you are adequately prepared (a thermal base layer is essential). In fact, traveling over the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and then visiting the Chena Hot Springs (located about an hour outside of Fairbanks) is actually pretty popular. Popular enough for the Alaska Railroad to be offering additional mid-week trains in March. But trust me, soaking in an outdoor hot spring in negative degree weather is pretty awesome.

Anyway, I won’t regale you with any further Alaska stories. I think all my previous posts do that fairly effectively. As you check out my final glimpses of Alaska, I have my eyes focused at some interesting places in Eastern Europe for later on this year…

 
   
   
  
 
   
  
 
  
   
  
 
   
  
  
 
 

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Winter on the Harlem Line, 1888 and 2014

Right about now I am really looking forward to summer. I’m never a fan of the cold (despite sleeping in an ice hotel, and visiting Alaska in winter…) and this winter feels exceptionally so. The winter we’ve thus endured, however, pales in comparison to the winter of 1888. The Great Blizzard of 1888 is one of the most severe blizzards ever recorded in the US, with 22 inches of snow in New York City and 48 inches of snow in Albany. It took the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad eight days to clear the snow from their main line to New Haven. The New York and Harlem Railroad’s attempts were less successful, recorded as a small blip in the annals of history.

Meet Old Eli. This comical looking contraption was one of the first snowplows built for the New York Central Railroad in 1864. The plow was mounted on a six-wheeled truck, and connected to an engine with an old-fashioned push bar. The plow usually required several steam locomotives to push it, and for the 1888 blizzard the plow was being pushed by a total of five. It is worth mentioning that this plow was hardly an ingenious innovation, instead of pushing snow to the side, it often pushed the snow up and above the engine – a grievous issue when traversing an extremely narrow rock cut.


Scene from the wreck at Coleman’s during the Great Blizzard of 1888.

Heading north from White Plains, Old Eli was to clear the snow from the Harlem all the way to Chatham, but instead met doom at Coleman’s. The narrow rock cut there was plugged with snow, and the aforementioned deficiency of the plow ensured that the lead locomotive was thoroughly buried in the snow. All five locomotives derailed, Old Eli was destroyed beyond repair, and five crew members lost their lives, three of which were boiled alive by the lead steam locomotive.

 
New York City in the Great Blizzard of 1888, a subject that was heavily covered by the news of the day

Thankfully, most of our winters have been far less eventful, except maybe for the random guy running around wearing a horse mask. I’ve wandered around the Harlem Line during the past few snowstorms, capturing the trains and the people that make them run… so let’s take a little tour of the Harlem Line in the snow…

 
  
   
 
  

   
  
   

   
 
   
  

   
   
  
   
  
   
 
  

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One more trip on Denver’s Light Rail

Since I am a bit under the weather this week, I figured that I would post some photos I’ve had lying around since last September, and my impromptu visit to Denver. I’ve already posted two sets of photos from Denver’s light rail (see Part 1, Part 2), and this is the final one, including some more views of the system’s newest West Rail Line. In several photos you’ll note a plethora of graffiti-covered Union Pacific locomotives – that would be the Burnham Shops, which are right behind the 10th and Osage station.

In terms of Art-n-Transit, you’ll see Emanuel Martinez’s sculpture Mestizaje, also located at the 10th and Osage station. My personal favorite is the untitled mural at Decatur-Federal station by street artist Jolt. With assistants Omni and East, the Guerilla Garden project was completed in 2012. Although it isn’t the typical medium you’d see in a transit art program, graffiti and railroads have had a long, intertwined history, and it is undeniable that the piece brightens up the dull underpass in which it is located.

 
   
   
 
   
 
  
 
  

The untitled mural was painted before the new rail line was even complete – here is an in-progress view via the Art-n-Transit program, and a shot of the mural behind the rail line, still under construction, via the Guerilla Garden. At some point after the mural was completed, a handrail went up in front of it, making it a bit harder to take photos. The long panoramic shot below was stitched together by me, but using the Guerilla Garden’s photos, before the handrail was installed.

  

Hopefully next week I’ll be feeling a bit better and we’ll go check out some more interesting local spots. I have big plans for the year, and if all works out we’ll be visiting some interesting spots that few have ventured… including some adventures on the other side of the world.

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The Top 13 of 2013 – The most popular posts on The Harlem Line

Last week I brought you the top 13 items that we posted in 2013 on social media… now it is time to take a look at what was popular on the blog. Since 2013 was Grand Central’s centennial year, much of our coverage dealt with the history of the Terminal, and you’ll certainly notice it in our list. As mentioned last week, 2013 was also Metro-North’s 30th anniversary. Although the year was fraught with issues, Metro-North has come a long way in 30 years. Metro-North’s president, Howard Permut, who has been with the railroad for all of those years, has recently announced his retirement, making 2013 the final full year of being at the helm of Metro-North. Hopefully 2014 shall bring good things. Anyway, here is a peek at what you all loved (and in some cases hated) last year…

#13 Post of 2013

New York City’s other great station – more photos from the Farm Security Administration

New York Central fans don’t really want to admit that the Pennsy actually had cool things… or at least a few of them. And yes, one of them was the beautiful Pennsylvania Station in New York. It felt appropriate to take a look at Penn Station during Grand Central’s centennial year, because if it were not for the destruction of that station in 1963 bringing people together for the cause of historic preservation, Grand Central would likely have fallen to the wrecking ball as well.

#12 Post of 2013

Decay and Rebirth: the Glenwood Power Station

Abandoned buildings always hold a special place in my heart, and seem to be an interesting topic on the internet. The old New York Central power station in Glenwood was once an integral part of the rail system in New York – it helped power all the new electric trains that would be operating into the new Grand Central Terminal. But like many things, the station eventually became obsolete, abandoned, and for the most part forgotten… although there are some plans for redevelopment on the table.

#11 Post of 2013

Riding the Alaska Railroad, Part 1

The first of many posts on Alaska in 2013, we take a quick look at Alaska’s trains in the winter, and look back into the early history of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Before the pipeline was constructed, various studies were tasked with finding the best way to transport the oil from Prudhoe Bay in the north of Alaska down to the continental US. Two of the options were actually railroads, but alas they were never built and the pipeline was constructed instead.

#10 Post of 2013

Tuesday Tour of Metro-North: A new system map

Marking the end of my three year Metro-North Panorama Project, this post contains a system map that I designed, which contains links to all of the station tours featured on the site.

#9 Post of 2013

Behind the scenes of the Alaska Railroad…

A fisheye view of the Alaska Railroad that most people don’t get to see – including the operations center, and locomotive shops. And yes, I got quite a few disgruntled readers whining about too much fish eye.

#8 Post of 2013

Construction on East Side Access Project Halted Indefinitely

Sorry, some ancient fossils have been discovered and the project connecting Grand Central to Penn Station has been halted. It may be worth mentioning that the date on this post is April 1, 2013.

#7 Post of 2013

Remembering the Upper Harlem Line, Part 1

Some folks loved my look back at the abandoned stations of the Upper Harlem Division on the 41st anniversary of its demise (for passenger service, at least), detractors wondered why I bothered, considering that there’s a book that does the same. Nonetheless, I think the story is worth being told. Despite those many years of inactivity, it is surprising that old infrastructure like bridges still exist, telling the story of the past.

#6 Post of 2013

The life of a Grand Central commuter – Photos from the Farm Security Administration

If only my old photography art history teacher saw me now… Various programs focused on economic recovery after the Great Depression were documented and photographed, providing an excellent look into life in the early ’40s. Even things that we find inane, like kissing your wife goodbye at the station, and reading the paper on the train, were photographed. It is a little slice of life of a commuter to Grand Central.

#5 Post of 2013

The Budd Rail Diesel Car, and more art from Leslie Ragan

A look back at the Budd Rail Diesel Car, and the beautiful art used to advertise it by artist Leslie Ragan.

#4 Post of 2013

Black and White Photographs: Commuter Life

Capturing the life of a commuter after a deadly crash on Metro-North, my series of black and white photographs captures the emotions of that first week back to work. It was an atypical response to the crash, amid the constant sensationalism of the media, and the pandering of politicians.

#3 Post of 2013

The Coolest Place in Grand Central: The Clock Tower

A little trip to see the most amazing place in Grand Central Terminal. The fact that the clock on the front of Grand Central Terminal actually has a little window that opens so one can look down at Park Avenue is for the most part a well kept secret. It is, however, one of the coolest windows in all of New York City.

#2 Post of 2013

The opening of the Dutchess Rail Trail, and the Hopewell Junction Depot

Checking out the opening of the Dutchess Rail Trail, and the new interpretive panels (designed by me) at the restored Hopewell Junction depot. The popularity of the post was largely due to my argument that the once laudable concept of rail trails in preserving history has now been perverted by folks that look to take down active railroads to replace them with trails… something that is going on in several places in New York as we speak.

#1 Post of 2013

The Mystery of Grand Central’s Suburban Concourse

Ah, yes. The most popular post of 2013 is also the most controversial thing I’ve ever posted on this site. After I discovered several photos, postcards, and even period newspaper articles showing the lower level of Grand Central with single digit track numbers (unlike the triple digits you’ll find today) I came up with a theory that would try and explain it. I hoped that someone out there might have more evidence to suggest why this change happened, but responses certainly ran the gamut – including accusations that I photoshopped the photos. The mystery still exists. Will we ever find the answer?

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