Grade Crossing Safety: Metro-North’s New Pilot Program

This morning Metro-North announced a new plan to get people’s eyes focused on grade crossings – literally. In a new pilot program, the railroad will be hiring people to wear costumes and protect grade crossings, reminding drivers not to stop on the tracks, or attempt to go around lowered or lowering crossing gates.

Grade crossing incidents have been at the forefront of railroad safety recently, after three high-profile incidents caused major derailments, many injuries, and seven deaths. The three incidents occurred in New York, California, and North Carolina, proving that this is not merely a local problem, but a national problem.

Describing the new pilot program, Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti explained:

Although our program comes up with a solution that is light-hearted, the goal is not to trivialize the problem, or the incidents that have happened at grade crossings. People’s eyes are drawn to things like this – which is the same reason why a fast food place might have a guy dancing around in a hot-dog costume, or a tax prep place might have a lady liberty standing around outside. Sadly, we need to get people’s attention. It seems in our world full of the distractions of loud music, cell phones and other electronic devices, ringing bells, flashing lights, moving gates, pavement markings, and plenty of signage simply does not get anyone’s attention. Even several high-profile grade crossing incidents, and increased police presence at crossings has not stopped drivers from waiting on the tracks, or driving around lowered gates to beat the train.

I find myself agreeing the concept of distracted driving – some have mentioned that Ellen Brody, the woman who caused the Valhalla crash that killed six people, may not have been familiar with the crossing and intersection because of a crash on the Taconic and a detour that evening. Meanwhile, Deborah Molodofsky, who has mentioned she was familiar with the grade crossing in Chappaqua where she had a “close call,” still waited on the railroad tracks and was surprised when the gates came down around her car. Even afterward, she was quoted as saying “I did everything right and I still got caught” – completely oblivious to the fact that she did nothing right – one should never stop on railroad tracks – apparently Ms. Molodofsky never noticed the signs that say as much on the many times she passed that crossing.

Adding to Mr. Giulietti’s comments, Metro-North spokesperson Marjorie Anders said:

On our New Haven main Line, where there are no grade crossings, there are still many incidents with overheight vehicles striking the bridges that carry the tracks. On the Hudson Line, one of our 100+ year-old historical stations had a gorgeous pedestrian walkway into the station – it was completely destroyed by a dump truck striking it. This is clearly a complex problem that will not just have one solution. But if we only look at the grade crossings themselves, we’re missing an important part of the equation – driver distraction.

Anders’ point is a good one – even the NTSB has spent a good amount of time talking about driver distraction in transportation recently, holding a round-table discussion called “Disconnect from Deadly Distractions,” which was live-tweeted by the NTSB’s twitter account.

Note: The Hudson Line station Ms. Anders mentioned where the pedestrian crossing was destroyed was Ardsley-on-Hudson.

President Giulietti made sure to add one more note on the subject:

If for some reason you do happen to get stuck on the railroad tracks, each crossing has a sign with a telephone number and a description of the location. If you call that number and report a vehicle stuck, we can halt trains on the line and prevent a dangerous incident from occurring.

We were lucky enough to capture a video of one of the new hirees working on the Harlem Line, at the Cleveland Street crossing in Valhalla. The town of Mount Pleasant has recently revealed that they would like to close this crossing, to the detriment of the people that live in the neighborhood just over the tracks.

Hopefully such measures will capture the attention of the many drivers that make poor decisions around railroad tracks every day.

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April Fools’!

As many of you surmised, yesterday’s post about the Metro-North Heritage Unit Program was most definitely an April fools’ joke. Here are some of the reactions from our little bit of tomfoolery:

I was about ready to share this with a friend when I remembered what day it is.

Enough of this nonsense. Just try to get me home on time.

Unless there is a formal press release by the MTA or CDOT, no one should buy this.

That is the UGLIEST paint scheme on a Genny I’ve ever seen!

Metro North Heritage
Nope. Not real.

Admittedly, I designed the scheme to be as ugly as possible, while still looking like one of the New York Central’s old designs, just to get everyone’s goat. While at some point in the future it would certainly be cool to see a heritage unit program at Metro-North, there are a lot of more important things the railroad needs to do, and has begun to do, before any of that.

While clearly the main goal of this site is to present history and photography, I Ride the Harlem Line itself has a long history of pulling everybody’s leg on the first of April. Here’s a look back at some of the pranks we’ve pulled over the past few years, April Fools’ and otherwise.

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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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Construction on East Side Access Project Halted Indefinitely

While celebrating Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, we discussed a wide array of topics regarding GCT’s history, and its place in our lives today. The one thing that we failed to mention was one of Grand Central’s futures – a major one being the East Side Access project. Designed to connect the Long Island Rail Road to a new station underneath Grand Central, the new facility was estimated to open by 2019. Unfortunately, that timeline has been called into question after the discovery of fossilized remains in one of the underground tunnels where construction is currently going on.

The first fossil found in the deep underground tunnel was discovered by a machine operator after partially running over it with his vehicle. Because of the damage to that specimen, all work on the East Side Access project has been halted indefinitely, and experts have been called in to examine what has been found. Paul Olsen, a paleontologist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will be one of the scientists brought in to examine the fossils, which appear to be reptilian in origin. Olson has previously identified reptile fossils in nearby Exeter, Pennsylvania, and is excited to investigate these fossils “right in our own backyard.” To date, a total of four sets of fossilized remains have been found in the tunnels. In addition to those remains, several metallic items which appear to be tools of some sort have also been found, as well as several colored ribbons. It is unknown whether these items are related to the fossils in any way.

Speaking unofficially, one of the construction workers on the project said the fossilized remains bear a striking resemblance to a turtle – although a very large one. Fossils of a turtle that large have not been found in this area previously, which means that this could be a completely new species, or perhaps a mutant of some sort. Such discoveries are rare, but not completely unheard of – in 2005 a North Carolina State University student discovered the remains of an extinct species, Carbonemys cofrinii, a large turtle with a shell that measures just over five and a half feet long.

Unfortunately, this discovery may set the East Side Access project back by at least a year or more. Besides investigating and removing the fossils that have been found, further excavation will likely take place to determine whether there are any other fossils in the tunnels. This work will likely be slow going, as to not damage anything else that may be in the tunnel. Few photos of the discoveries underground have been released to the public, as the MTA is attempting to keep this setback quiet. To date, this is the only photo that has been released of the findings.

East Side Access

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AWESOME new Harlem Line service – To Millerton!

I cannot believe that Metro-North managed to keep this a secret… I nearly had a heart attack when I grabbed one of the new timetables that came out today. Harlem Line service to Millerton is returning! Although there is no time frame of when the stations (Millerton and Amenia) will be reopening, the timetables give us a sneak peek. In Grand Central you can even find a local timetable from both Millerton and Amenia, which are in the newly-created Zone 11 on the line. A monthly ticket from Millerton to Grand Central will cost a whopping $506, but it the new “god ticket” – giving you access to the entire Metro-North system. Ticket Vending Machines already have the two new stations programmed in – the ticket I purchased yesterday from current end-of-line Wassaic to new end-of-line Millerton cost $3.50. Since new tickets expire in 2 weeks, and the new stations will likely not be open in that time-frame, I suppose I just have a neat thing for a scrapbook. But the $3.50 I paid was certainly worth it – I absolutely cannot wait to ride to Millerton!


Improving non-stop? I will never again laugh at that MTA tagline!

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Looking back at 2010… a countdown of the most popular

Ah, 2010. You were the first full year that I actually operated this blog. Lots of fun and shenanigans were to be had. I decided to take a look back at what was popular on the site this year, as a wrap-up for 2010…

1. BPGlobal Billboards

The first entry here is not train-related in any way… however it was such a major news story at the time I couldn’t not have some fun with it – though fun is actually a terrible way to describe it, as the Gulf Oil Spill was quite tragic. To me the two standouts in coverage on this was a fake twitter account, BPGlobalPR, and Boston Globe’s The Big Picture. I merged the two into fake billboards, which apparently caught on and made their rounds on the web – and brought around thirty thousand viewers to the site in a single day.

2. Harlem Line Timetables

It is true, I have turned into an eBay whore… collecting just about anything regarding the Harlem Line. Many of the timetables I have can be found on the second most popular part of the site, the Harlem Line Timetables archive. It is desperately needing updating, as I own or have scanned many more timetables than are currently pictured. My goal was always to have a timetable for every year, and for the most part I do have that, from 1930 on up. Look for a major overhaul of this section in 2011!

3. Stupid Warning Signs

Ah, stupid warning signs. One of the most amusing things I’ve made for the site. These popular signs round out the top three most popular things on the site this year. Folks have requested that I turn these into stickers, but if you people start sticking these on trains the MTA PD might actually have a real reason to arrest my ass.

4. The Cutest Train Car in the World

One of the posts I made after returning from Japan featured the Tama Densha railcar of the Wakayama Electric Railway. The railroad is known in offbeat circles around the world due to the fact that they employ a feline Stationmaster (I believe she’s actually been promoted to Vice-President now). Tama the cat was so popular, designer Eiji Mitooka created a train car in her honor. The front of the train has whiskers, the seats inside have cat print. My favorite part of the train? The library full of books for the kids.

5. Centalia, PA – Burning Ghost Town

I’ve always been fascinated with Centralia, ever since I first read about it on the internet many years ago. Since then I’ve visited several times. The story begins in the 1960’s, when a coal seam under the town caught fire. It continues to burn to this day. The land has fissures that belch smoke, and it permanently smells of sulfur. It is a tragic story, as the once bustling small town has been whittled down to less than ten citizens.

The coal under the town that is burning is anthracite – which was popularized in little rhymes about Phoebe Snow in advertisements for the Lackawanna Railroad.

6. The Loneliest Station on the Harlem Line

Although I hadn’t come up with the concept yet, the Harlem Line Panorama project began with Mount Pleasant – which I labeled as the loneliest station on the line. The tiny station in between Hawthorne and Valhalla services the cemeteries in the area, and has very limited service.


The first panorama posted on the site

7. The Harlem Line Panorama Project

If you’re interested in seeing all the panoramas to date, located on a map – this is the place to go. This Google map is the seventh most popular portion of the site, although technically it lies off site and on Google’s servers. However, each placemark contains my favorite panorama from that stop, and a link back to the post on this site.

8. Sadie the Subway Cat

The Transit Museum in Brooklyn has employed a cat or two, mostly in the hopes that they would chase away any subway rats. In this eighth most popular post I recollect my first visit to the Transit Museum and my encounter with Sadie… and my crazy idea to get her a miniature-sized train conductor’s hat. Of course none of that really panned out – and as far as I am aware, Sadie has been quietly retired from the public.

9. The #1 Reason to Ride Metro-North

Back in June I posted these spoof ads for Metro-North and beer. If you are a regular commuter you will notice that in the afternoon, and most especially on Fridays, there are quite a few people drinking beer. The exception to that if you are those people that work at Target in Mount Kisco, you’re drinking it in the morning. But since you can’t drink and drive, and you can certainly drink and ride, Metro-North could always have an amusing new ad campaign.

10. M8 Cars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line

Ah, April Fools Day… I couldn’t resist making a fake post about the new M8’s. Shattering the dreams of many New Haven Line riders, I posted that the red trains would be repainted blue and running instead on the Harlem Line by the end of the year. I even made up some fake quotes and attributed them to Dan Brucker – which probably doesn’t place me very high on his list of awesome bloggers.

So that is it! The ten most popular things on the blog in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

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Metro-North Announces Today M-8 Railcars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line, as Previously Planned

In a drastic change of plans, today Metro-North has announced that the M-8 railcars will not be debuting on the New Haven Line. The new cars, made by the Kawasaki company, have been arriving a few at a time from Japan ever since December. They were to go into testing on the New Haven Line shortly, and hopefully launched by winter of this year, replacing the aging M-2 cars currently in use there.


New M-8 car, with blue Harlem Line paint scheme

The new M-8 cars which have already arrived will be getting new paint jobs – in a blue scheme, as opposed to the former red – and will be in service instead on the Harlem Line this winter. A factory in Lincoln, Nebraska will be constructing the remainder of the cars ordered, and these will be used on the New Haven Line. The first cars produced in Nebraska will arrive in 2012. When questioned about the change in plans, Dan Brucker, spokesman for Metro-North, said:

The people on the New Haven Line have suffered a long time with slow and late trains. I’m sure they can wait a little longer for their M-8’s. The New Haven Line is our least favorite of the major lines anyways – of course in front of the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis Lines. Do people even know those two exist?

I certainly can’t wait for the M-8’s! That is certainly good news, I won’t even have to go over to the New Haven Line for a chance to ride them!

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