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.
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.
As the final day of the month of January, today marks the last day of Howard Permut’s tenure as president of Metro-North Railroad. While 2013 was set to be a celebrated year – with Metro-North’s 30th anniversary, and the centennial of Grand Central Terminal – instead the year was tainted with mishaps and tragedies. You can say what you wish about Mr. Permut’s years as president, but it remains fact that he was a member of the team that formed the railroad 31 years ago. His insider’s perspective on Metro-North, and how it evolved over the years, made an interesting interview.
In a time where countless commuters wish to revolt, some going as far as to say Metro-North is the “worst railroad” ever or like a “horror movie,” I come with an idea many will outright refuse to accept. It is, however, the truth. Metro-North has in fact evolved over the past 31 years. I hardly believe it is deserving of the “worst railroad ever” superlative that some are attributing to it, but such a description may be apt for one of Metro-North’s predecessors.
I’m a firm believer in the adage that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. History is incredibly important, and it has been painfully obvious recently that many are deficient in that area – especially when it comes to trains. It is undeniable that Metro-North has had some major issues within the past twelve months, and there are many lessons the railroad must learn. But we must know the past to adequately move into the future – thus if one wishes to truly understand Metro-North, a little visit to the past is required.
Although frolicking in a grassy meadow may be fun, for the Upper Harlem it displays neglect. Less than a decade from when this photo was taken in 1966, Millerton and the rest of the Upper Harlem was abandoned for passenger service.
We rewind the clock back to 1968 – the year of the ill-fated merger between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central (the New York, New Haven and Hartford was added to the merger in 1969). Within a scant two years the Penn Central was bankrupt – the railroad was the country’s sixth largest corporation, and at the time its bankruptcy was the largest this nation had ever seen. If you want to think of a horrible American railroad, this is where you should start – besides incompatible computer systems and clashing employees, deteriorating infrastructure led to slow and late trains, and entire freight trains went missing – crops destined for the market rotted, and with 25% on-time performance for some deliveries, companies left to find other methods to ship goods.
One of the reasons this site even exists is because of my interest in Penn Central’s abandonment of the Upper Harlem Division. On a cold March morning in 1972 the 6:55 train from Chatham to Grand Central operated as normal. However, by midday the Penn Central legally won the right to terminate the line, and fifty miles of the Upper Harlem Division were abandoned for passenger service. Anyone that came down on that morning train had no ride home – they had to find their own way. Imagine how angry people would be if Metro-North tried to pull the same stunt today! Sorry, New Haven commuters, our last stop today, and forevermore is Port Chester, and we don’t care how you get home.
Penn Central operated after bankruptcy for a few more years, until its operations were taken over by other companies. Conrail became the steward of Grand Central’s commuter lines until Metro-North was formed and took over operations in 1983. Metro-North Day One was hardly anything to rave about. This is what you’d find at Putnam Junction, aka Brewster Yard:
Mind you, this is what it looks like today:
In the earliest days, it was obvious that Metro-North was cobbled together from the remains of the New York Central, New York, New Haven and Hartford, Penn Central, and Conrail. Here’s a shot from 1984 in Poughkeepsie: Equipment you'll see today on Metro-North
Besides the obvious update of rolling stock (and you Connecticut folks can go pin your miseries in that department on disgraced former Governor John Rowland – perhaps if he cared for commuters as much as he did his weekend home you’d be a bit less miserable), Metro-North has significantly upgraded its shops to accommodate repairs and maintenance of the new equipment. The old New York Central shops at Croton-Harmon dated back to 1909, and were restored in Metro-North’s earliest years. In 2010 they were reconstructed, and the new Croton-Harmon Locomotive and Coach Shop is now a modern, state-of-the-art facility. A new shop at Brewster opened in 1987, and at North White Plains in 1993.
SPV2000 on the Upper Hudson Line in 1985. These days both the Upper Hudson Line and Upper Harlem Line get enough traffic that there are 7-car through trains a few times per day. In 1983 only eight southbound trains operated on the Upper Harlem, today thirteen trains depart Wassaic every day, bound for New York City.
Most of Metro-North’s stations look quite different than in the past, as almost every station now has high-level platforms. New York Central engineers working on the design of Grand Central Terminal in the early 1900s clocked patrons boarding trains and calculated that riders board 50% faster on high level platforms. They also make it easier to accommodate those with baby carriages, and patrons in wheelchairs. Despite the pros of high level platforms, they were not implemented system-wide until after Metro-North took over. On average, the duration of a trip from Grand Central to Dover Plains in 1972 was about two hours and 20 minutes – today the trip takes about two hours, and note that the route is six miles longer and terminates at Wassaic. Faster boarding allows for quicker train times.
High level platforms, overpasses and elevators are just some of the changes seen here at Chappaqua. Compare 1982 to today.
Before Metro-North took over, you may have seen a sign like this…
One of the most influential changes made by Metro-North was the electrification of the Harlem Line north of White Plains. Service up to Brewster became incredibly more reliable, and led to an increase in ridership. When constructed early on, Brewster North (now Southeast) was often empty – now you’ll see an immense filled parking lot with riders from both New York and Connecticut. Despite out-of-touch politicians arguing that people are packing up and leaving the area because of poor train service, or at minimum opting to drive, ridership – even on the beleaguered New Haven Line – actually increased.
Restoration of Ossining station, on the Hudson Line, and platform upgrades at Larchmont on the New Haven Line. Photos from the collection of Metro-North Railroad.
As a lover of history, the fact that many historic train depots have been restored during Metro-North’s tenure is an important point. Grand Central, Harlem 125th Street, New Haven Union Station, Port Chester, Chappaqua, Hartsdale, Yonkers, Ossining… the list could go on. It is also worth mentioning that restoration work was also performed on the Park Avenue Tunnel. I appreciate the efforts of the railroad, of the communities, and of the state to preserve our history.
Metro-North has also opened several stations over the years, on all three lines. The Harlem Line was lengthened to Wassaic, the Yankees E 153rd Street stop makes it easier for people to get to the baseball game, and two different Veterans Hospitals are accessible from Cortlandt and West Haven stations. Even the famed Appalachian Trail now has a train station along the Harlem Line.
Looking to the Future
No railroad wants to have late trains, but unfortunately it has become a fact of life for Metro-North. After the derailment at Spuyten Duyvil speed restrictions can be found on all Metro-North lines (especially the New Haven Line). Perhaps in the past there were safe spots that engineers could “make up time,” but they are no more. However, it is incredibly irresponsible to pretend that all methods of transit are at a hundred percent, all the time. Everyone always has the option to drive, and maybe you’ll even get there on time – provided that I-95 isn’t shut down because of an overturned truck, that the Saw Mill isn’t closed because of flooding every time we get a good rainstorm, or the Taconic is closed for construction. Plus we all know that nobody ever sleeps in airports because flights are delayed for days, and that multi-car pileups are pure fiction.
No commuter wants to ride a late train, but make some friends, try to enjoy your ride home. There are very few times that the train has gotten me to work seriously late, but I can count plenty of times that driving coworkers have been late due to traffic, construction, or other accidents. Take it from 50 year Harlem Line commuter John F.:
In 1964, I started riding the New York Central train from Bronxville to Fordham University in the Bronx every day. I have enjoyed commuting via the Harlem Line most years ever since. Perhaps the best part has been and continues to be the friends I have made on the train over the years with conductors and fellow passengers. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some fascinating people who have enriched my life. My goal is to continue commuting and making friends until 2026.
Fifty years ago, commuting was an opportunity to relax, play cards and chat with friends you saw everyday. When we all get bored with our laptops and cell phones, I hope that the opportunity to engage in good conversation with conductors and fellow commuters is still there.
In closing, Metro-North has much potential for greatness, and we wholeheartedly welcome the very well respected railroader Mr. Joseph Giulietti in his position as president of this railroad (effective February 10th). Similar to Mr. Permut, Mr. Giulietti was around for the fledgling Metro-North Commuter Railroad’s earliest days. He understands the past, and undoubtedly has aspirations for a bright future. I will be happy to see this railroad further evolve, and hey, Mr. G? Want to do an interview? Come talk to me!
It has been a few months since I last posted a collection of old photos, and I figured I would rectify that. I’m always purchasing things on eBay, and although it is nice to have a collection of things, it is just no fun if I don’t share. Plus, I’m away on vacation right now – getting a post full of pictures ready beforehand is easy! I wouldn’t want you all to miss me too much when I’m not in town… so without further ado, here are some photos ranging from the 50’s to the 70’s!
Here’s this week’s news, on this incredibly grey and rainy day.
Connecticut to get quiet car trial
When Metro-North started doing trials for their “Quiet CALMute” quiet car program, it only included the Harlem and Hudson Lines. Starting January 9th, however, quiet cars will be appearing on the New Haven Line. The Connecticut Commuter Council’s Jim Cameron blogged about it, and to my amusement said, “treat passengers like adults and they’ll act that way.” I would very much like to ride Jim Cameron’s train, where all the passengers act like adults. You know, where people don’t hide in the bathroom to evade fare and don’t get into fistfights with the conductor because they don’t want to pay.
Many people support the quiet car program, though I still have some reservations about how it will work on a larger scale. I’m curious to hear how it works out when quiet cars are added to some “real” trains. As I’ve mentioned before, the Wassaic trains where quiet cars were added are normally quiet. The people have to wake up early, have long commute times, and often catch up on sleep (oh, and they commute more in a day than Cameron does in a week). On my local, however, we have a delightful business man that dresses in a suit and tie, boards at Mount Kisco and hides in the bathroom until Chappaqua. Then he comes out and shows his Chappaqua monthly, a scheme that saves him $49 a month. He’s not one of the incredibly obnoxious and rude passengers on the train, but it is unfortunate for the real adults that board at Mount Kisco and actually pay the full fare.
The Route 120 bridge over the railroad tracks and adjacent to Chappaqua station has opened. Finally. Every morning during my commute, I watched the slow construction on this bridge, and it is nice to see it finished. It contains a walkway and a set of stairs for easy access to the Chappaqua train station.
It has been a while since I last posted some old postcards… so I figured we were due for an update. Two of the cards we’ve seen before, though these are alternate views and in color. And even though some of them are not necessarily railroad related, it is interesting to check out the landscape as it once was. The Wassaic House, right alongside the railroad tracks, is visible in the second postcard of the set. Built in 1851, the Wassaic House was a hotel owned by wealthy local Noah Gridley. Gridley was also a financial backer for Gail Borden’s milk condensery, which in addition to the railroad and Gridley’s own iron works, were the three most influential industries in the history of Wassaic.
Other lovely cards that show the world around the rails is an example from Pawling, with the lake visible alongside the tracks. There is also a nice view of what the village of Valhalla looked like – the train station is partially visible on the left side of the card. And the grade crossing in Bronxville, with the funky old-style railroad crossing sign is a nice old view.
My favorite card of the bunch, however, is the nicely detailed shot of Brewster station. It is the same station we know and love, with some different details – like the New York Central Railroad stenciled above the door. You can click here for a comparison shot of Brewster today. The card of Brewster was sent in by reader Steve Swirsky, a contribution which is much appreciated!
When it comes to the history of the Harlem Line, you can’t beat The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad, by Lou Grogan. It is, by far, the most complete history of the line, and full of wonderful pictures. There was, however, another book written on the New York & Harlem, covering the line’s early history many years prior. I had been trying to get my hands on it for a while… I know of only three copies that exist: the one I didn’t win on eBay, one that belonged to Gouverneur Morris, Jr., and is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society, and one that belongs to the Katonah Village Library. The book was written by Clarence Hyatt in 1898, so it is hardly something that bookstores or even internet booksellers have. The only thing I knew about it was that it was quite small, about 36 pages. Beyond that, I knew nothing of what was inside.
Photo of Chatham from the book, taken at some point in the late 1800’s
I finally got off my butt and made the trip to the library in Katonah on one of the days we had warm weather. I’d never been to the library before, so I didn’t know what to expect, or whether the book would even be in a “public” area. The person at the front desk was rather snippy with me when I asked her to help me find the book, despite me saying I had never been there before and had no idea where to look. I told her that I figured the book would probably be in a special section, given the fact that it is over a hundred years old… and she told me to go talk to the reference librarian. Thankfully, the reference librarian was kind and helpful. The book was in a locked cabinet, and I took it to a couch, where I read it in short order.
And then, of course, I digitized it. I would have much rathered to scan it, to get a better quality, but I ended up just photographing each page. The majority of the book is text, though there are a few photographs: two of Chatham, one of Mount Kisco, and another of Chappaqua. It does have some pretty cool little anecdotes about general rail history, and the history of the Harlem.
Did you know that Peter Cooper, other than having absolutely amazing facial hair, was the designer and creator of the first steam locomotive in the US, a locomotive which could only attain a speed of eighteen miles-per-hour? I didn’t.
Amusingly, the book details people opposing railroads, and not for things that at least make sense – like the noise of the locomotives. No, people protested because they thought that railroads would effect animals: preventing cows from grazing, causing hens to stop laying eggs, and railroads would lead to the destruction of birds. But then there were also people on the opposite side of the spectrum: the citizens of “primitive” and rural areas, such as Dover Plains, that gazed at locomotives for the first time with intense curiosity.
In the continued celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I am happy to share this wonderful book. It is a relatively short read, but an interesting one.
If there is one thing that Westchester people have taught me, it is how to spend money (there are many times in which I feel that I am a strange observer here, really). Though instead of purchasing those two-hundred-dollar-a-pair pants from the Westchester Mall, I’ve decided to “invest” the precious little income I make in collection of postcards (uhh, and other things. I am an eBay addict).
Westchester people are funny to me, really they are. If you get a whole bunch of them into a single elevator and each person pushes a different floor button, somebody inevitably makes a comment about the elevator being a “local”, or not an “express”. The railroad is so deeply ingrained in their psyches, they don’t even realize it! We are approaching 180 years of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and 171 of those years the railroad has had a presence in Westchester… long enough for most people to not give it a second thought.
I do, however, think my collection of postcards is far more interesting than any pair of pants, as together we can look back at little glimpses of what the area was like, back when the railroad was only beginning to mold the landscape in where we now live, and driving the migration of people to these very suburbs. So here is part three of our series Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line. If you missed the previous posts, you can view them here: Part 1, Part 2.
And really now, did you have any doubt there would be a part four? You can most certainly bet on it.
I’ve spent many months posting various panoramas of the Harlem Line stations. I’m now excited to be able to post the entire Harlem Line, viewed in panoramas. You can watch as the farmland and rural greenery morphs into the suburbs, before changing into the concrete jungle of New York City. If you want to see more photos from each of the stations, just click on the picture. Anybody have a favorite panorama? I think my two favorites are Tenmile River and Harlem-125th Street – the two of them are polar opposites in terms of the scenery visible while taking a ride down New York City’s oldest railroad.
For those who like maps, I place all of my panoramas on a Google map, which you can see below. I also add photos to Panoramio, which provides the photos for Google Earth.
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Back in November I posted a whole bunch of postcards that I had collected of stations along the Harlem. I had promised a part two, and here it is now… but why stop at just part two? I’ve sort of realized I have quite the boatload of postcards, and I keep acquiring them. One of my rather lofty goals was to be able to collect a postcard for each Harlem railroad station. But I also couldn’t help purchasing alternate designs of the same stations. So although some places I have no postcards for, there are others that I have a bunch. I have far too many of Grand Central, and three or more of stations like Pleasantville, Chappaqua, and Chatham. Needless to say, there will be a part three, and possibly a part four at some time in the future. I do have a request to any of you out there, though. If you happen to have a postcard that I don’t have in my collection here, I would love you so much if you could scan it for me. As much as I’d love to actually have it in my possession, I would love it even more to have it available in my digital gallery!
The last four postcards are a little different. They are not Harlem stations per se, but once upon a time you could board a Harlem Division train that went into Massachusetts, across the Boston & Albany’s tracks. Leaving from Grand Central, the train would make stops at 125th Street, White Plains, Brewster, Pawling and Chatham. After a short pause in Chatham, the train would continue to East Chatham and Canaan, before crossing into Massachusetts and making stops at State Line, Richmond, Pittsfield, Cheshire, Adams and North Adams. Most of those stations are long gone, just like the Upper Harlem stations. Amtrak trains still make stops in Pittsfield, though the two stations in the postcards were torn down, which is unfortunate. They were gorgeous in comparison to today’s Pittsfield station. I think the waiting room there looks more like a school cafeteria than part of a train station!
Timetable for Harlem Division service to Massachusetts
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I don’t really like trains. Really, I don’t. Trains are a means to getting somewhere, and you can often meet intriguing people aboard, but the mechanical object that is a train doesn’t really interest me. The thing that interests me about trains though, is how they effect people and place. Over its long history, as New York City’s first railroad – chartered in 1831, the New York & Harlem Railroad (todays Harlem Line) has undeniably had a significant influence on the towns it traversed. The railroad was an important catalyst for the growth of Westchester County over the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – and Scarsdale is no exception.
The town of Scarsdale, named for the ancestral home of land owner Caleb Heathcote, was mostly farmlands before the railroad arrived in 1846. In fact it was so rural the entire population of the town numbered 255, mostly farmers, in 1840 (today’s population numbers over 17,000). Due to increased demand, by 1877 train service to Scarsdale was regularly scheduled and reliable. In 1891 the Arthur Suburban Home Company purchased a 150 acre farm and began subdividing it into lots – marking the beginning of large scale suburban development in the town. The first influx of residents were wealthy New Yorkers who built estates and used the train to commute to the city.
Today’s Scarsdale station was completed in 1902 and was designed by Reed & Stem. I’ve mentioned Reed & Stem several times before, as they have designed a few stations along the line, including Tuckahoe and Chappaqua, and also did work on Grand Central Terminal. Their design was in a neo-Tudor style, the first building in Scarsdale with that style. Many buildings later completed in the commercial areas of the town mimicked it, and today Scarsdale is known for the style. It is definitely a beautiful area, and was a well-enjoyed stop on my tour of the Harlem Line’s stations. Neighboring station Hartsdale is sort of like a younger twin brother to Scarsdale – Hartsdale’s station also mimicked Scarsdale’s neo-Tudor style. The two also share a companion Arts for Transit piece, comprised of silhouetted figures, by Tom Nussbaum. Scarsdale’s portion is called Travelers, and the figures are located on the top of the platform canopies.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.