Off to Alaska…

Alaska Railroad
Heading to Alaska to ride the Aurora Winter Train!

Just wanted to let you all know that I’ll be off traveling for the next week and a half, and there won’t be much in terms of tweets or facebook posts. I’ve scheduled some quick posts, so you will see those next week. If you’re a new visitor and try to comment, your comment won’t show up until I’ve approved it when I return. See you all soon!

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Get a 3D Printed station sign

In case you missed my postings on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been 3D printing 1:20 scale model station signs. They look like this:

They were originally created to be desk name tags, based on our area’s train station signs. They are available in single and double sided versions. The popular choice for most people seems to be their name on one side, and their favorite station on the other. If you would like one, you can put in a request here:

The last day to put in your request is next Thursday, November 15th.

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I Ride The Harlem Line is now on Facebook!

I swear to you, I never thought this day would come. In fact, I was trying to hold out as long as possible. Alas, I gave in to the pressure, and you can now find I Ride The Harlem Line on Facebook. At first I debated whether it would be worthwhile to have a presence there, and what exactly its purpose would be. In the end I figured that there are a lot of photographs and explorations that I do that never make it to the site, and despite not having much to say about them, they are still worth sharing. Hence, the Facebook page was born. You’ll find some photos from this past weekend there – a visit to see everyone’s favorite subway cat, and even a quick look at a New Jersey Transit train on the New Haven Line for special game day service. You may also get some sneak peeks of photos that will be on the site, at least sometime in the future. If you have a Facebook account, you should definitely check us out, and maybe even like the page!

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Thoughts on Twitter and Space Shuttles…

If you haven’t heard me say it before, I like twitter. There are times where I really think that a look at twitter’s trending topics is like having your finger on the pulse of the world (though I’ll be the first to admit that some trends are monumentally stupid). To anyone that thinks that Twitter is comprised of complete pointlessness, they must be unaware to the fact that I landed my first job out of college, where I’ve been working for nearly 3 years now, due to twitter. After months of sending out resumes with not a single response, an agency recruiter found me via twitter. A quick whirlwind of events happened over the next weeks – I had my first interview, and from there landed my job. And if you want to stretch it a bit, I probably never would have even started this blog if it hadn’t been for twitter, as that job led to me becoming a regular rider of the Harlem Line.

Recently, however, twitter has landed me a new adventure. I really hate the term bucket list – I prefer to just say “crap I want to do before I die.” The majority of things on my list are not really activities, but places I’d love to see. I want to go to every continent, even Antarctica. Keeping with my desire to see strange places, I’d really love to see Pripyat, Ukraine. But there was one thing that I had always wanted to see, that I resigned myself to accepting I wouldn’t see. And that was a space shuttle launch. With NASA’s space shuttle program in its waning days, I figured I wouldn’t get the chance to see a launch. That’s where I was wrong. Enter twitter…

NASA, as well as many folks involved in the space shuttle program, are quite active on twitter. NASA has a dedicated account for arranging tweetups with followers as well. A tweetup was going to be held for Endeavour’s final flight, STS-134 – and 150 of NASA’s followers would be accepted to see the launch. I entered, and like the 4000+ people that also entered, really hoped to win. On the day that the winners were to be announced I found that I had not won, but had made it to the waiting list. If a winner could not make it or did not accept their invitation in time, people on the waiting list would be notified to take their place. The days I spent on the waiting list were like a terrible state of purgatory. I was excited to not have been outright denied, but the thought of being so close and not be chosen off the waiting list would be that much harder.

Fortunately, on Friday I was notified that I had been accepted to the group of people that will be attending the tweetup. I am absolutely ecstatic. This will be my second visit to Kennedy Space Center, and my first shuttle launch. If you have a twitter account and don’t currently follow me, you can find me under the name @mtaHarlemLine. Although the main subject of this blog is trains, I do use it to feature some of my other more interesting adventures, and this will certainly be one of them. Be sure to look for my shuttle launch photos in a few weeks!

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Congrats to TrainJotting on 4 years!

I don’t often discuss some of the other rail related blogs out there… but there are quite a few of them that I’ve become quite fond of. I’ve always loved reading Bobby McDonough’s blog, Derailed, and being a conductor, he has a slightly different view of things than us commuters. I may be in love with John, who writes My Effing Commute, as his sarcastic comments and observations send me into fits of hysterical laughter every time I read. I don’t look at too many train-related blogs outside of the New York area, but one I do is I Ride the T, the author of which may have been inspired by this site.

There is, however, one particular blog I’d like to feature today, and that is TrainJotting. Before I know it, I’ll have been writing on here for two years… TrainJotting, on the other hand, is a bit older than that – the site turns four today. Congrats, TrainJotting!

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Of Boredom & Recycled Seat Checks: The Metro-North Zoo.

There are lots of different things that people do to pass the time while riding on the train. Some people eat bananas and yogurt for breakfast. Other people have their daily ritual of reading the newspaper. People who want everyone else on the train to know how cool they are pull out their iPads and perform mindless tasks. There are the sleepers, the talkers, the readers, and the folks that don’t understand that the concept that earphones are for you, and you alone to listen along.

Me, I like to read. One of my goals in life was always to read 50 books in a year. In school there was never enough time for me to read that much, but while riding the train every day, it is a quite achievable goal. Sometimes when I get bored of reading I’ll listen to music, and if I’m tired, sleep. Occasionally I bring my netbook, and most rarely do I draw. I did sew once, and that certainly got me some odd looks from folks… well, mostly because I was sewing 8-fingered gloves for my 8-fingered mother.

Even more rarely then the aforementioned activities, I make seat check animals. It started quite a while ago… kids were on vacation from school, and a few of them wound up on the train with their parents, heading for the city. A conductor I know started making seat check animals for the kids when he had a free moment. I watched and was then like, hey, give me some of those seat checks. He says I cheat though, since I use scissors and glue, which is probably true. But it is one more thing to pass the time… Anyways, here is a little collection of silly things I made, all from recycled Metro-North seat checks and tickets (there are even some old tickets in there – a retiring conductor found them while cleaning out his locker and gave them to me). I call it my Metro-North Zoo.



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Dear Amtrak: I hate you. The contest entry you’ll never see.

If you follow me on twitter, earlier this week I was rather bitter about being disqualified from Amtrak’s contest for no apparent reason. I’ve debated posting about this for a few days, but considering I am still a bit bitter, I will. And from this point forward, I will forget about it. For the record, if they were to give me a reason why every entry I submitted was rejected, maybe I’d be ok. It is the refusal to do so, or even to acknowledge me, that irks me. They should have just said, “our legal team said your idea was not feasible,” or, “your idea is too similar to another entrants,” (it isn’t), maybe, “your submitted image was too good, entrants using photoshop and voodoo are not permitted”, or even, “my neighbor’s daughter has entered this contest, and your idea is better than hers, so I don’t want you in the running.”

What was the contest, you ask? Incredibly lame. They couldn’t come up with what the contest should be, so therefore they decided that the contest would be for you to come up with what the contest should be. Did I want to win the contest? Of course, I wouldn’t have entered if I hadn’t. The top prize was a $3500 credit for Amtrak. And I knew exactly the first thing I would spend it on: my grandmother. She hasn’t been in the best health this year, culminating in open-heart surgery about a month or so ago. For the past few years she has wanted to go visit her 95 year-old sister-in-law (the jokes about in-laws do not apply here, they are practically best friends) in Florida. The catch is, she refuses to fly, and she doesn’t have the money to take the train. Of course, a one way Amtrak ticket is more expensive than a round-trip flight. I can remember my first Amtrak trip was with her, going down to Florida. I know that she really wants to go, but she doesn’t talk about it much because she simply doesn’t have the money to do it. But when she was in the hospital, I told her I would pay her way down to Florida when she was better, whatever method she wanted: a flight, Greyhound, or Amtrak. Had I won the contest, I would have at least been able to pay for a nice sleeper car for her, which considering the coach prices are already quite high, sleeper expenses are probably through the roof.

Nonetheless, I will be forgetting about this contest, now that I will be posting what my entry was… The entry you will not see on Amtrak’s site. If you do happen to read it, I invite you to tell me what part is plagiarized, lewd, or inappropriate, which violate the rules of the contest.

Photoshop and Voo-doo: Against the rules.

Title: Rail Pass Blogging Adventure

Description: Across the country, more and more people are creating blogs online and posting their photography and videos. My idea would be to use the power of the blogosphere to create the ultimate Amtrak rail adventure, and give viewers ideas of all the things across our nation that you can see by rail. Each entrant would create their own web site, blog, or social networking account to post their dream itinerary for a 30 day rail adventure. Possible subjects to include why they enjoy rail travel, previous trips on Amtrak, and their train photography. The bulk of the entry would be detailing their trip itinerary if they were to win a 30 day rail pass: what trains they would take, what cities they’d visit, and what activities they are interested in. At the end of the contest, the winner will get a rail pass to take the trip they suggested: and if they choose, update the blog they created detailing their journey.

Prize: A 30 day Amtrak rail pass, so the winner can actually take the trip that they proposed, and a digital camera to document the journey.

Why we should pick you: My idea is a great marketing opportunity: people can get ideas for their own trips, and follow along with the winner if they choose to continue posting to their blog while on their adventure. Instead of looking for a person skilled in a particular area (photo contest), truly anyone could enter and get the chance to live their dream. I personally write a blog about trains, and think it would be incredibly fun to do exactly what I suggested – my dream is to travel the country and world by rail.

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If the Gulf oil spill was over New York (and the Harlem Line)…

If the Gulf oil spill was over New York, that is how big it would be. It is large enough to cover the entire states of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Without difficulty it could easily cover the entire Harlem Line: the original line, all the way to Chatham. Heck, it would cover all of Metro-North’s track!

This site is really great for visualizing how big this oil spill actually is. The map can put the spill over any part of the earth you are familiar with, so you can get a better idea. Crazy stuff.

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Heading off to Japan…

Hey everyone, just saying goodbye for a little while… I’ll be heading to Japan tomorrow morning for some rail adventures there. I’ll be riding my first shinkansen, or as they are more commonly known around here, bullet train. Supposedly the train that goes from Tokyo to Kyoto which I will be taking reaches speeds of 186 miles per hour… so that should be pretty interesting. Other things on the agenda are going to Wakayama prefecture to see a rather famous cat named Tama, who I have briefly mentioned before. I’m not sure how well this meeting will go. From my understanding, the general public can only see her through a sheet of glass. One of my Japanese coworkers attempted to arrange a “special meeting” with Tama for me, which didn’t turn out so well, since they said they didn’t really have anyone that could speak English with me. I did make a present for her though, which I’m not sure if I will be able to give to her.

This is Tama. She doesn’t seem to have any problems wearing hats and clothing…

Clearly I had to give her a new hat. A train conductor’s hat. And what better gift than to bring a train conductor’s hat from the USA? Okay, well, I tried. It is a pretty ghetto looking version of a Metro North conductor’s hat. Probably a little bit too tall, but about the right size around for a cat’s head. I took the pictures before I had finished painting the badge. I also took pictures of my cat wearing the hat, but his expression in the photo pretty much was, “I am going to kill you while you sleep tonight,” so I am not going to post it. I also managed to get a female tie, the ones the conductors wear, to complete the ensemble. (Thanks Gina!)

Clearly the best possible outcome would be getting a picture of Tama wearing that hat. Whether it will happen is another story. We’ll see though.

I don’t know if I will be able to blog while away (perhaps I will tweet), but when I get back I’ll be posting some of my rail adventure photos and stories. I don’t think you’ll miss me all that much, since I have a few posts already written that will post themselves over the week. I’ll be back on the 11th, so I’ll talk to you all then!

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Farewell, Jose

Here I am yet again, sitting on my train, netbook in hand, enjoying my time. I don’t know about most people, but I figure the good majority don’t enjoy riding the train. Some times, riding the train is the high point of my day. On the train I can people watch, and there certainly are a bunch of crazies. The garden variety drunks and people who talk to themselves, all the way to the OCD folks that find it impossible to eat anything orange. Who decide to eat M&Ms. And are on the platform surrounded by discarded orange candies that they couldn’t bring themself to ingest. The train gives me plenty of time to do things that most normal people would have difficulty fitting into their day. Blogging perhaps. Without the train there is probably no way that I would have ever been able to read more than fifty books in one calendar year alone. That is more books than some people even read in their lifetimes.

On the other hand, buses I don’t really enjoy quite as much. Taking a shuttle bus is another portion of my commute to work, a portion I don’t discuss quite as much. The people on the bus pretty much are the same every day, which is good and bad. Good in that I have friends to ride with, but bad in the respect of people watching and catching a glimpse of some random amusing person that just happens to be on my train that day.

Over the past fifteen months or so since I started taking the bus, the number of bus passengers has increased steadily. Enough so we now require two buses, the original “Summit” bus, whose driver is a nice guy named Jose, and another new bus. We have different names for this second bus: the cocktail bus, due to the fact that in the front there is a table with cupholders, or my personal favorite, the robot bus. Robot bus, because the man that drives the bus has a very slow, slightly too loud monotone that he speaks in, prompting me to nickname him “The Robot.”

Unfortunately it seems come the new year we will be getting a new, larger bus, instead of two smaller buses. This is unfortunate because it means we will go back to having only one driver. And it appears that the driver is not going to be Jose. It will probably end up being the Robot Man. And this is despite the fact that most people prefer Jose, in fact my friends will wait for Jose if he is not the first bus to arrive. And he gets you to the train station on time. Not to say he drives too fast, but he doesn’t take the most roundabout and slow way of getting to the station that the Robot does. Plus Jose is always kind, for example, in the rain or a bad storm instead of dropping us off at the “designated bus stop” he drives us right up to our buildings. True, these are simple things, but he is a good guy. We asked Jose was going to happen with him, and he said he would probably get stuck driving a bus route in Connecticut instead, and that he really isn’t too keen on that. Anyways, Jose, you will be missed.

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