Bridges of Metro-North: The Harlem River Lift Bridge

Throughout the entire Metro-North system there are an array of movable bridges – bridges which as of recently seem to be a thorn in the rail system’s side. Much of the infrastructure on these bridges are old and prone to issues. Thankfully, updates are going on to get these bridges in better working order, and we’ll be taking visits to some of the more prominent bridges in the system in the next few weeks.

Today we feature the busiest bridge on the entire system, the Harlem River Lift Bridge. At sixty years old the bridge is not nearly as old as the issue-plagued WALK bridge, but it by far sees the most action, carrying nearly 700 trains per day for all three East of Hudson Metro-North lines. Over the past few months work has been moving along on the bridge – installing new cables that lift the tracks over the river for passing boats, and putting in new wiring, power supplies, and electrical control systems. Below the bridge a circuit breaker room that flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is experienced corrosion will be replaced. Gone will be an old crank control, updated to today’s standards with modern computers. In total, the overhaul has a $47.2 million price tag.

Previous railroad bridge over the Harlem River
The 1867 bridge over the Harlem River, note the construction of a temporary bridge to allow a new 1891 span to be constructed on the main line. Image from the December 1892 Scientific American.

Historically, several previous movable bridges stood at this very spot, carrying the New York Central over the Harlem River. The first bridge over the river was completed in 1841, and stood a mere eight feet over the water at high tide. Made of wood, that bridge was later updated with iron spans in 1867. Later, a four track swing bridge was built in 1891. This bridge connected with the new Park Avenue viaduct, raising the tracks above Harlem and allowing a higher crossing over the river.

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Even more Riding in Style on the New York Central – a tour of The Empire State Express

Imagine the year is 1894. You are about to embark on a journey to Buffalo on the finest railcars of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Your seat is of the softest plush, the curtains are of silk, and the car’s wood paneling is made of the finest oak and mahogany. At the front of your train is the legendary locomotive 999, the fastest on wheels. Though she once was clocked at speed of 112.5 miles per hour, she’ll likely average around 60 miles per hour on your journey to Buffalo. This is the Empire State Express, and I’d like to welcome you aboard!


The famous 999, locomotive of the Empire State Express

Similar to the lovely etchings by the American Bank Note Company I shared with you a few weeks ago, (as well as the views of what some of the fancy railcars looked like), today’s little tour is comprised of more views of some lavish train cars, again illustrated by the American Bank Note Company. All of the images depict life on the Empire State Express in the early 1890’s, and they provide a lovely little tour of what trains were like in the golden era of railroading. So are you ready? Let’s go take a look at the Empire State Express.


The buffet car


Drawing-room car

No fancy train would be complete without a Buffet, smoking, and library car. This car featured movable easy chairs, couches, tables, a writing desk, and shelves filled with books and current newspapers. You’d also find a buffet, also stocked with with wines, liquors and cigars. At one end of the car there was even a shaving room with barber. A designated sleeping car had a saloon on one end, finished in mahogany. The plush chairs could be converted into double beds at night, with partitions for privacy. A compartment car had elegant private rooms with sliding doors, each with a lavatory, hot and cold water, and lit by a gas chandelier.


Compartment car


A Wagner Palace Sleeping Car

Not everyone could afford the fancier rooms on the train, and thus would find themself in the passenger coach. Seating a maximum of 76, the passenger coach had a bathroom at each end, one male and one female. Seats were richly upholstered with spring backs. Although not the height of elegance, compared to the private rooms on the train, the coach was still trimmed in mahogany and had large windows and gas chandeliers. On the flip side, for those well-to-do folks that had the money and weren’t afraid to flaunt it, there was also a private Wagner Palace car available. Able to accommodate 6 to 16 people, it featured a sleeping area, pantry, kitchen, and, of course, quarters for the servants.


Standard passenger coach


A Wagner Palace private car

One of the most important cars on the train was the dining car, which could serve up to 30 people at a time. It contained movable leather chairs, and there were five tables that could accommodate four people, and five more tables for couples. The kitchen contained all the newest appliances, and all meals were 1 dollar each. Finally, at the end of the train was an observation car. Similar to the drawing room car, it contained a parlor, smoking room, and bathrooms. The rear end of the car was paneled in glass, providing a lovely vantage point for the journey up the Hudson River and beyond.


The dining car


Observation car

The Empire State Express may be long gone, but the 999 engine is still “alive and well” – as anyone who has visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago certainly knows. The museum is definitely one of my favorites, and I always love to visit whenever I’m in the windy city. After leaving service the 999 traveled around the country for all to get a glimpse of it – even making an appearance on the Harlem Line at Chatham. The legendary locomotive finally arrived in Chicago in 1962, and a formal ceremony was held on September 25th where New York Central president Alfred Perlman presented the 999 to museum president Lenox Lohr.


Museum president Lenox Riley Lohr accepts the donated Empire State Express 999 from New York Central president Alfred Edward Perlman. Photograph from the December 1962 edition of the New York Central Headlight.


The 999’s first move to Chicago, after it was donated by the New York Central to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1962. [image source]


Empire State Express 999 being moved inside at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. After arriving in 1962 the 999 was exhibited with two other trains outside the museum until 1993. The Pioneer Zephyr was also brought inside the museum a few years later. The final of the three, the million-pound Santa Fe locomotive 2903, was donated to the Illinois Railway Museum.

When I was in Chicago a few months ago I visited my old friend the 999. The “Queen of Speed” is doing quite well, and is visited by more than 1.48 million people a year. Although she’s not pulling the fancy railcars of yesteryear, she is at least well-loved at the museum.

 
  
   

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Timetable Art of the New York Central

I’ve certainly mentioned it on this blog before… I’m terrible at finishing things. Oh, I am so brilliant at starting them. I always have the most wonderful ideas for things, for projects. But the majority of the time, they never make it out of my head and into reality. And the few that I do happen to act upon, well, many of them are never completed. I am very bad like this.

At least a year ago, maybe even longer, when I first became interested in railroad timetables, I made a little poster showing some of the New York Central’s system timetables over the years. I had just begun to appreciate the functional art that is a timetable, and the little portion of me that endured many art history classes began connecting the stylistic choices with the events of the time. And probably just like every paper I wrote for an art history class, it was comprised of complete and utter bullshit. It seemed to make sense at the time, at least I think it did. Maybe it makes some sense. Hell, maybe it makes complete sense, and logically explains why there were so many stylistic changes on the timetables over the years. I had every intention of posting it, after it was completed. After I, I don’t know, verified some of the grandiose claims that I made? But I never did that. And this sat. And sat. And sat some more, in the dark little recesses of my hard drive, covered in spiderwebs, with crickets chirping merely to hear their own voices, out of complete and utter loneliness.

Today, however, I am crazy enough to post this, mostly because the former project, which I had high hopes for, was calling out to me for some reason. It wants the chance to see the light of day. I doubt I’ll ever do anything with this beyond this post, but if there are any other art-slash-rail-history folks out there that would like to discuss this, I might enjoy that.

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