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A Farewell to White Plains station staple – Waxman’s News Events

June 20th, 2014

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.

Waxman's News
Some final sales are made at Waxman’s News in White Plains.

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.

Alas, after many years Waxman has called it quits. With the rising cost of rent, and the falling sales of newspapers, Waxman opted not to put in a bid for a renewed contract with the MTA. Reunion Coffee, the other establishment in the station, also did not get a renewed contract and the space has been sitting vacant since January. Plans for a Tim Horton’s in the space have not yet produced anything, leaving many commuters disappointed. The transition for the newsstand, however, will be far smoother. In fact, the new proprietor took over today. Undoubtedly some folks probably never even noticed, with the exception of some potentially higher prices, and an operator that didn’t know your name.

Although his job is done, Gary Waxman made an appearance at the station this morning to bid regulars farewell. Tom Roach, mayor of White Plains, will be holding a small farewell ceremony at the station for Waxman this morning. President of Metro-North Joseph Giuletti, who met Waxman when hosting a commuter forum at the station in April, was invited to attend.

Above-Ground on the “Underground” – Berlin’s U3 Train Photos

June 18th, 2014

Last week’s post featured photos from the Oberbaum Bridge as an introduction to Berlin’s above-ground “Underground” stations. This time we’re taking a look at some more of these above-ground stations, with a focus on the U3 Line. If I had to pick my favorite U-Bahn line, the U3 would probably be it. Not only does it include some of the system’s oldest stations, it has a great mix of beautifully designed underground stations and tree-lined above-ground stations.

Trains are plentiful in the German city of Berlin, with the both the S-Bahn, and the U-Bahn, along with all the other longer distance trains that pass through. There is a general misconception that the S-Bahn is all above-ground, and the U-Bahn all underground (after all, the U does stand for untergrund), but despite that moniker, the U-Bahn has plenty of stations that catch the rays of the sun.

Map of the U3 Line
Map of the U3 Line, showing the above and below ground stations.

The U3 Line starts at Nollendorfplatz station, which has trains running not only above ground, but above street level on a viaduct (the station serves four lines, so some do in fact operate underground). The above-ground portion of the station is known for its glass dome, a replica of the original that was destroyed in the war. Continuing on, the next noteworthy station is Wittenbergplatz, which operates underground, but has an attractive station house above. The station itself opened in 1902, making it one of the oldest U-Bahn stations, but the above-ground entrance was completed several years later in 1913.

The U3 line operates underground until it reaches Podbielskiallee station – the final six stations on the line are all above ground. Dahlem-Dorf station, originally constructed in 1913, is modeled after an old German thatch-roofed farmhouse – not at all what you’d expect for a subway station. The station has caught fire not once, but twice, and was most recently restored in 2013. Beyond that is the equally attractive Thielplatz, with a charming brick station house, featuring a decorative clock.

  
 
  

A historical look at the U3 line. Many of the stations along the line were impacted by war. Photographs from the Berlin U-Bahn Archive and the German Federal Archive.

Toward the end of the line is the amusingly-named Onkel Toms Hütte station. The name is a literal German translation of book title “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. As the story goes, a local owner of a beer garden named Tom constructed huts for patrons to enjoy. Apparently these little “Tom’s cabins” reminded people of the book, and entered the local lore. Though the beer garden is long gone, the name lives on through this U-Bahn station.

Anyway, here is a selection of photographs of the U3′s above-ground stations. Come back next week to check out the next part – a journey to some of the more attractive underground stops.

 
  
 
  
   
  
  
  
 
  

Riding Berlin’s U1 Line: The Oberbaumbrücke Train History Photos

June 13th, 2014

I’ve always said that my primary interest in railroads is not necessarily the machine that is a train, but instead the way railroad systems change over time, and how they influence the people and locations around them – or even how places influence the rails. For those with similar interests, the city of Berlin is a great case study. As I’m sure everyone is familiar, Germany and the city of Berlin were partitioned after World War II into areas occupied by the French, British, Americans, and Soviets. The Soviet portion became the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, and the three other sectors the Federal Republic of Germany, better known as West Germany. In Berlin, a transit system that once spanned the entire city became truncated by this political divide. With the construction of the Berlin wall, starting in 1961, the city became truly divided.

Bernauer Straße
Ghost station: The U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße was closed after the construction of the Berlin Wall. Here you can see the entrance to the station, blocked by the wall. The station was reopened after the reunification of Germany. Photo taken August 27, 1962 by Allhails.

The citywide network of trains in Berlin struggled to conform to the divisions forced upon it by politics. In some instances, stations were completely closed, and lines were truncated as to not operate in the opposite sector. In other situations, lines were able to operate across the border, albeit with restrictions. The U8 line, for example, started in West Germany, but traversed a portion of East German territory before returning to the west. Although the train was permitted to pass through East Germany, they were not permitted to stop at the stations there. Shrouded in darkness and heavily guarded, these shuttered stations became colloquially known as “ghost stations.” In a unique situation, Friedrichstraße railway station, located in East German territory, was open to citizens from both sides of the border, though the station was divided into isolated sections for each.

U-Bahn U1 Map
Map showing the history of the U1 line, and the Berlin Wall.

It seems appropriate that our first photographic foray into Germany focuses on the first line of the U-Bahn, the U1. The U in U-Bahn stands for Untergrund, but there are many instances where the lines are anything but. One place that seems to epitomize the “not underground” Underground is the Oberbaumbrücke, or Oberbaum Bridge. First opened in 1896, the bridge carried pedestrians, cars, and eventually trains over the River Spree. The first train ran from Stralauer Tor, a station established on the viaduct, to Potsdamer Platz. Eventually the line was extended to Knie (now known as Ernst-Reuter-Platz) in the west, and Warschauer Brücke (now Warschauer Straße) in the east.

1895 bridge construction photo
1985 construction photo of the Oberbaum Bridge. Photo by German photographer Hermann Oskar Rückwardt.

Postcard of the bridge, circa 1910
Postcard showing the Oberbaum Bridge and the original Stralauer Tor station, circa 1910.

Warschauer brücke station, 1932
Looking out toward the bridge from Warschauer Brücke station, 1932. Photo via the Bundesarchiv.

The route of the line has stayed fairly consistent over the years, though Potsdamer Platz, Zoologischer Garten, and Ernst-Reuter-Platz are now part of the U2 line. Stralauer Tor station, which was on the bridge viaduct, was damaged during World War II and never rebuilt. After the partition of Germany, the Oberbaum Bridge connected the American sector with the Soviet sector, and the bridge became a border checkpoint, allowing West German pedestrians to cross. Beyond the border was Warschauer Brücke, the only station on the line located in East Berlin. For the duration that the Berlin Wall stood, the station was closed, truncating the line at the border. It was reopened in 1995 under the name of Warschauer Straße.

Progression of the Berlin Wall
Progression of the Berlin Wall, alongside the Oberbaum Bridge – Photo at left taken December, 1964 by Allhails. Photo at right from 1984 by WhitePrince.

The Oberbaum Bridge, 1993
The Oberbaum Bridge in rough shape in 1993. Photo by Roehrensee.

The Oberbaum Bridge itself is quite a beautiful bit of architecture, and is a fairly photogenic landmark. The name literally translates to “Upper tree bridge” in English, a reference to a previous wooden bridge that stood nearby. Despite being heavily damaged at multiple points through history, it was never completely demolished. During World War II the Nazis bombed the center of the bridge to prevent the Soviet army from crossing. Though the East Germans made minimal repairs to the the bridge after the war (at least enough for pedestrians to cross), it was not truly restored to its original grandeur until after the German reunification. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed the steel center portion of the bridge, while the rest was restored much as it looked originally. The bridge was reopened for cars and pedestrians in 1994, and subway traffic in 1995.

Anyway, here is a collection of some photos of the U-Bahn and the Oberbaum Bridge. Over the next few weeks we’ll be visiting some more interesting spots in Berlin, including a few more “not underground” Underground stations.

The Oberbaum Bridge, Berlin
  
 
  
   
 
  
 

Taking a ride on Chernobyl’s “Radioactive Railroad” Train Photos

June 3rd, 2014

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a big project in secret… and today is finally the day that I get to present it to all of you. Most of you are aware that I was recently in Ukraine, but the real intent of my visit was to see the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. For many years I’ve wanted to write an article about the railroad that ran through the Exclusion Zone, half of which is now abandoned. I have finally fulfilled that goal.

Built by the Soviet military in 1927, the line connected the city of Ovruch in the west, to Chernihiv in the east, crossing the Pripyat, Dneiper, and Desna Rivers, and traversing a small portion of Belarus. The territory between the two cities was not especially valuable, nor heavily populated – yet railroad access could be useful from a military perspective, as railroads were considered the cheapest way to transport both soldiers and equipment.

Were it not for a chance event, the Ovruch to Chernihiv line could be operating in obscurity to this day. The chance event I’m mentioning, of course, is the Chernobyl disaster. This little rail line played a part in where the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s very first nuclear power pant would be built. Around sixteen sites were investigated as potential candidates, and one about 100 kilometers north of Kyiv fit the bill perfectly – it had a rail line with reliable train service, it had the nearby Pripyat River as a natural water source, and it had a lot of infertile land that could be taken over and turned into a cooling pond for the reactor.

If you’d like to read the entire story, which I’ve titled “Radioactive Railroad” – head over to the special site that I built, which can be found here:

RadioactiveRailroad.com

Here’s just a preview of some of the things you’ll find there – an abandoned city, a graveyard of trains too contaminated to use, a city rebuilt for the refugees of the disaster, and a little piece of the abandoned rail line that still operates…

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

The story of the radioactive railroad

Read the full story: RadioactiveRailroad.com

A Visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, and a ride on the Funicular History Photos

May 21st, 2014

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, most likely you’ve heard at least a little bit of the recent news about Ukraine. Over the past year there have been protests, government-hired snipers to kill said protesters, a corrupt president that fled after the fallout of that decision, and land grabs by Russia. Although some volatile areas remain in the east of the country, some alarmists would have you believe that tanks are rolling down the streets of Kyiv[1] today, or that neo-Nazis have taken over the government, both of which are pure fiction. Admittedly, Kyiv is extremely dangerous, but only because it is so darn beautiful you may just fall in love and never want to come home. The architecture that one finds in the city is undeniably gorgeous. And one need not be a religious person to be in awe of the many magnificent churches and cathedrals in all parts of the city.

  
 
 
Scenes from Kyiv – Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral, Saint Andrew’s Church, and views from the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).

I figured it might be enjoyable to take a little tour of Kyiv, and some of the beautiful sights within. For railfans there are plenty of interesting places to check out, including the city’s Metro system, and an interesting main train station.

  
 
 
The Kyiv Metro, and Sunset, night, and morning views of Kyiv’s main train station.

As we meander around the beautiful spots in Kyiv, it is worth stopping at the city’s funicular. For those that spend their hours chasing interesting railroads across the world, a simple funicular isn’t really the most interesting of subjects. The Kyiv funicular does has a little bit of interesting history to go along with it, however. Kyiv is a very hilly city, which is one of the reasons why its Metro is so deep. But long before the Metro was ever conceived, the transportation solution was solved by this funicular, where instead of making an arduous uphill climb, passengers could just ride up to the top.

Postcards and tokens from the Kyiv Funicular
Postcards and tokens of the Kyiv Funicular. Neither the Metro nor the Funicular use coin tokens today, tokens are made of plastic. Postcards from Old Kiev.

A grandiose plan by the Soviets to replace St. Michael's cathedral and the funicular
A grandiose plan by the Soviets to replace St. Michael's cathedral and the funicular. Other proposals included the destruction of other nearby monuments like the St. Sophia Cathedral and the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Pictured design by Soviet architect Ivan Fomin, image via the KyivPost.

Constructed between 1902 and 1905, the funicular was opened to the public on May 7th, 1905. Because the upper station was located right behind St. Michael’s Cathedral, it was referred to as St. Michael’s Mechanical Lift. That cathedral has a long history – having been commissioned in 1108 – but was demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s. The idea was to demolish the church and instead use the land for grandiose government buildings. However, at the time of destruction, no concrete plans had been agreed upon. Most concepts for filling the space revolved around the idea of massive statues of Lenin, Stalin, or both. One called for a grand staircase extending down the hill to the banks of the Dneiper River – a plan that would have likely required the destruction of the funicular as well.

  
 
  
 
  
Photos of St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery, a modern replica of the historical cathedral that was on this site, which was destroyed by the Soviets.

Due to the onset of World War II, the plans for the government building on the site of the former cathedral never came to fruition. After Ukrainian independence in 1991, a replica of the original cathedral was rebuilt on the site, completed in 1998. Meanwhile, the funicular was never demolished and still operates to this day. In 1958 it received mechanical upgrades, and in 1984 the stations were updated. Both the upper and lower stations have attractive stained glass paneling.

Today the Kyiv funicular serves around 13,200 passengers a day, including many tourists. The ride takes around 3 minutes, and the fare is 1.50 hryvnia, or around 13 cents (US). It isn’t hard to find the funicular, just look for the signs that say “фунікулер” which is simply the word “funicular” transliterated into Cyrillic. Each of the two funicular cars are split into several sections and allow passengers to sit or stand, with a capacity of around a hundred people. For the truly adventurous, visit Kyiv in the winter, where the city’s snow-covered streets are perfect for skiing and snowboarding – and the funicular functions as a perfect ski lift.

  
 
  
 
  
   
  
   
  

As a final send-off to complete our visit to Kyiv, enjoy the following sunset time lapse I recorded from my hotel room overlooking the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square.
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  1. The more familiar Kiev is transliterated from the Russian Киев. Київ, written as Kyiv in English, is properly derived from the Ukrainian language. []