During my first visit to Minneapolis several years ago, I took lots of photos of the new Hiawatha light rail line (now known as the Blue Line), but completely missed out a chance to check out their commuter rail. On my more recent trip to the Twin Cities, I made sure to see the Northstar. A few trains in the state have used variations on the name Northstar, including a now-defunct Amtrak train, a name which derives from Minnesota’s nickname as the North Star State, as it is the northernmost of the contiguous US states. Although it might not be glowing, this Northstar, is hard to miss, painted in an attractive blue, yellow, and red scheme.
In terms of transportation systems, the Northstar is relatively young, with passenger service starting at the end of 2009. Operating on an already-existing BNSF freight line, money was invested to purchase equipment, build stations, and to construct a maintenance facility near Big Lake. The line stretches from Target Field in Minneapolis, where it connects with the light rail, to Big Lake in the north. Although hopes were for the line to continue all the way to the city of St. Cloud, just north of Big Lake there is a several mile stretch of only single track, and it would be a significant expenditure to add another track so the line can continue to accommodate both freight and commuter traffic. Instead, bus service called the Northstar Link carries passengers from Big Lake to St. Cloud.
There are a lot of comparisons one could make with Metro-North – the most obvious being the overpasses used on the line. Along the Hudson Line there are severe limitations on the height of freight trains due to low bridges and overpasses. The line on which Northstar runs, being mostly freight, in contrast has very high overpasses to allow the plentiful freights to pass underneath. Another leg up the Northstar has over Metro-North is the fact that each passenger coach is equipped with wi-fi, something customers here have been wanting for years. On the other hand, service on the Northstar is very limited, focused around commuting hours with an occasional extra train for baseball games and concerts at Target Field. Much of this limitation is due to the frequent freight on the line, which can often delay trains (especially Amtrak’s Empire Builder).
All in all it was an interesting trip to see another one of the country’s commuter rail systems. Enjoy a collection of photos from Northstar:
As most of you have likely heard by now, Metro-North has begun a pilot program testing new Ticket Issuing Machines (TIMs) on the Upper Harlem Line (or as Metro-North would call it, the Wassaic “Branch”) and the Danbury Branch. The big news about these machines is that they accept credit cards – something conductors selling tickets have long been unable to do.
I got a chance to check out one of these new machines, and must admit they are quite cool. Slim and light compared to the previous TIMs, these new machines are essentially tricked-out iPhones running special software. Wrapped in a blue Metro-North case, the TIM contains an LED barcode scanner (used for scanning the barcode on IDs of delinquents that have neither tickets nor money) and a swipe for credit cards. The special software installed on the phone not only allows conductors to sell tickets, but it also “locks down” the iPhone, preventing it from downloading apps, reading email, and all the other things you wouldn’t want a conductor to do while on duty.
The new Metro-North TIM and printer
Similar to the previous TIM, the new TIM connects wirelessly to a printer that can be hung from the belt. This printer provides the customer with a receipt for the ticket they bought. It also provides the conductor at the end of the day a receipt that lists how much they’ve sold, and further breaks that down into cash tickets sold (which needs to be turned in to Metro-North), and how much was sold by credit.
While the majority of Metro-North riders are conditioned to purchase their tickets before boarding, there remains several stations on the Danbury and Waterbury Branches that do not have platform ticket vending machines or ticket sellers. It is there that the new TIM will likely be most welcome. But for those people that race to catch a train and aren’t able to purchase a ticket before boarding, being able to use a credit card is a great convenience.
The new TIM features an LED barcode scanner, and a swipe for credit cards
Though much of the fanfare regarding the new TIM focuses on the ability to accept credit cards, it is worth mentioning that the new technology can help out quite a bit when it comes to customer service. One of the main complaints I hear are that customers on trains stuck in delays are not provided with enough information as to what is going on. What most don’t realize, however, is that conductors are often not given information about what is happening. In fact, Metro-North’s text alert system often provides customers with information that crews don’t even know. Because the new TIM is essentially a cell phone, the potential is there to use it to notify conductors about issues – information that can then be relayed to the customers over the train’s PA. Whether the technology will be used in this fashion remains to be seen, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Of course, one must remember that this is only a pilot program. However, I imagine that once the system’s inevitable bugs are worked out, credit card enabled TIMs will soon be popping up on more lines and trains.
The new TIM’s blue protective case, bearing the Metro-North logo
The ticket software is conveniently accessed through this icon of an M7
Three screens of the new TIM – A message sent to the conductor, the screen selling tickets, and a screen showing the phone’s “lockdown” – preventing the iPhone from doing the things most people do with iPhones
Just five days before the opening of Grand Central Terminal, Miles Bronson was appointed the General Manager of the New York Central’s greatest station. Born in India to missionary parents, Bronson returned to the United States for education and got his first railroad job at the tender age of fifteen. Appointed to the job of Grand Central’s General Manager at the 37, Bronson had worked for the New York Central for thirteen years, and he served as Grand Central’s general manager for 21 more years before retiring due to illness (he passed away a short time after).
As festivities kicked off celebrating the opening of the new Terminal, meals were served, music was played, and Mr. Bronson was presented with the keys to the Terminal in a ceremony next to the information booth. While we’ll probably never know exactly what those keys looked like, I’d like to think that they were embellished with the logo of Grand Central Terminal. Maybe something a little like this…
In my most recent endeavor with 3D printing (if you’ve been around a while, you may recall that my first 3D model ever was of Brewster station), I set about the task of making a Grand Central key as a gift for a friend who is a Metro-North conductor. 3D printing keys isn’t a unique concept – in fact Shapeways and KeyMe have joined up to print house keys. But what if you’re looking for a key for something different… like say, a train? Maybe a Metro-North train?
Metro-North’s trains usually have two different keys – one for operations, and the other for opening panels and doors, which all conductors have. I sketched and measured a panel key, and built it in 3D using Tinkercad. Instead of the standard key end, this key is customized with the Grand Central logo – a stylized version of the letters GCT. For testing purposes I made a few versions of the key in plastic (or as Shapeways would call it, Strong and Flexible – a laser sintered nylon)…
And then made a gift version in polished brass…
These days railroad keys aren’t made in brass, but historically they were made in that material, and I figured it would be perfect to create this key. Polished brass is still a trial material at Shapeways, but considering how awesome this key looks, you’d probably never know. With a red velvet ribbon and pouch, the key is ready for gifting. Though the key does work on trains, most likely it will only be used for decorative purposes so it doesn’t get lost.
Because of the somewhat sensitive nature of this key, I’m not making this item available for sale (yes, I know, plenty of people that don’t work for Metro-North have these keys, but I’m not going to make it easy. An exception could potentially be made if you’re a railroad employee, or if you’d like a key that doesn’t actually work for decorative purposes only). However, a few of my other Grand Central themed 3D prints are available if you’re interested…
Grand Central Constellation Pegasus:
3D Printed in Colored Sandstone, this little item can be used as a pendant, keychain, or decoration. I’ve used it in the past as a fancy tag for a gift. It features the constellation Pegasus from Grand Central’s sky ceiling. See it in 3D.
Grand Central Snowflake:
This snowflake ornament is modeled after the acorn motif found throughout Grand Central Terminal. Acorns are found throughout the Terminal as they were the adopted “crest” of the Vanderbilt family. This specific design can be found embellishing the ticket windows. See it in 3D.
While 3D printing is already changing model railroading – Shapeways has a category devoted to it, and companies like Flexiscale are producing kits using parts fabricated on 3D printers – it is always fun to create something railroad related for the “real world.” Though 3D printing has immense promise in allowing the masses to fabricate things they could previously only imagine, and creating things that were previously impossible, it is also interesting to take an already functional object and make it more attractive. Suffice it to say, nobody was thinking about how pretty a railroad key would be when they were first designed. Now we can have both – a working key fit for Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.
It has been brought to my attention that I’ve neglected to post news roundups for the past few weeks. Not too many spectacular things have occurred over the past few weeks, but here are a few of the noteworthy stories:
Metro-North Passenger Pledge
On our 12/31 news roundup, I mentioned the Metro-North passenger pledge, and how it was accepted by the Connecticut Commuter Council. Since that time, it has been officially “unveiled” by Metro-North. It has been quite the topic of conversation by numerous news outlets in both Connecticut and New York. Commentary has ranged from utterly pointless comments about “great American flag clip art” to what exactly this pledge really means to riders. The majority of everything in the pledge have been the goals of Metro-North for quite a while, though they are now just made available in writing.
Hey Gothamist, have you even been on a train recently? That “American flag clipart” sure looks familiar…
It seems that quite a few New Haven Line riders are unhappy with a particular line in the pledge:
Metro-North will use best efforts to schedule service to meet anticipated demand so as to provide a seat for every customer
They notice the “provide a seat for every customer” part, yet conveniently ignore the previously mentioned phrase of “best efforts.” On that particular point, Jim Cameron may have said one of the most logical things I’ve heard from him in a while:
“You only get a ride. They can’t promise a seat. That was a little too much to ask… [but] this is the bitter fruit of the neglect of that railroad by the Connecticut legislature in investment, going back decades.”
Cameron and the Connecticut Commuter Council pushed for the pledge to be put on trains, and Metro-North obliged. Trains last Thursday evening had a copy of the pledge left on every seat… and rather expectedly, were found crumpled on the floor of the train by the end of the evening, likely unread.
Thanks for the pledge… though it seems that most commuters don’t really care at all.
Planes, Trains And Automobiles Struggle With Fat Americans
Jim Cameron again lends his expert opinion on the subject of trains and fat Americans, in a story found on Gothamist a week or so ago. I find the following statement found in the article rather amusing:
Metro-North is attempting to trick fat passengers by making the middle seats look larger with a center seam instead of arm barriers, though they’re not actually making the seats bigger.
Of all the things one could blame Metro-North of doing to passengers, I doubt that tricking fat passengers about the size of seats is high on that list. Perhaps to anyone other than a conspiracy theorist, a more logical assumption might be where our new trains (as they were apparently referencing the M8’s of the New Haven Line) have been designed. Our first M8’s were delivered from the Kawasaki company in Japan – a country that has a significantly lower percentage of obese citizens than we do. Perhaps in future railcars this will be addressed, as it is a subject that has been influencing industries throughout our country – even tourism.
A harmonica-playing conductor…
The New Haven Line certainly has its share of interesting conductors… The following video has been making the rounds this week, and I couldn’t help but share. Certainly a conductor playing the harmonica is amusing, but it is the two guys dancing in the background that really makes the video.
Mother suing the MTA for son’s death by subway train
In the future, when people look back on us Americans, I have a feeling that they might find that the country’s pastime is not baseball, but filing lawsuits. And some are quite doozies – a drunk and high idiot convicted of manslaughter for killing three with his pickup truck has the audacity to sue the victim’s families for pain and suffering. And although there is no doubt that a Brooklyn mother is suffering and in pain after the death of her son, suing the MTA for it is just asinine.
A likely drunk Briant Rowe willingly climbed down onto the subway tracks and wandered through a tunnel, and was not surprisingly struck by a subway train. Though clearly his fault, Rowe’s mother is suing the MTA for fifty million dollars, claiming that it is the MTA’s fault for not suspending all service to search for the man, who was sighted on the tracks… though a slow-moving train did search for him for over a half an hour. Really, where is personal accountability in this whole story? Perhaps we should nominate this young man for a Darwin Award.
If we get our legs ripped off by a train, can we sue the MTA too?
Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out with one of Metro-North’s coolest conductors – Bobby McDonough, author of the blog Derailed. On the way to South Norwalk, and then back to Grand Central, we chatted about life, family, and of course trains. As he collected tickets, he almost thought he saw someone famous, but was mistaken. Bobby’s alter ego is the Conductor to the Stars, due to his many encounters with famous folks in his duty to the rails. In another era perhaps he would be a conductor on the 20th Century Limited, standing atop the red carpet as the rich and famous boarded the train. Alas, Bobby works the New Haven Line and his passengers range from Wall Street businessmen to sketchy characters and drug-dealers. Though he loves his job, it isn’t fun and games all the time – he’s even had his nose broken by a disgruntled passenger before.
I was pretty excited with the interview – as this is technically the first one I’ve done on the blog. I must thank Bobby for taking the time to answer my questions, and serve as my first interview “guinea pig.” Though the interview is a bit long, many of the stories Bobby tells are quite funny. And if you haven’t read his blog Derailed before, I definitely suggest it. Although Bobby has been busy and hasn’t updated it much, the archives go back several years and are filled with hilarious tales from the rails.
There are a lot of different types of conductors – some like trains, and others just see it as a job and a means to a paycheck. You mentioned growing up near the rails, and had family members that worked for the railroad – were you interested in the trains as a kid? Are you a little bit of a “train buff”?
No, I’m definitely not a train buff. In fact, when I was growing up, I was deathly afraid of the railroad tracks. I grew up six houses south of the tracks in West Haven, CT, and whenever a train went by, our house would shake. It was as if we lived on the San Andreas Fault. Guests would regularly hide in closets or stand under secure thresholds every time the Turbo Train went by.
My grandfather lived next door to me. He was a retired car inspector for The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. He always warned me not to go anywhere near the tracks, and he’d frequently tell horror stories of kids getting their feet stuck in track switches. Trapped like wild animals, they’d ultimately get run over by express trains whose engineers were going so fast they couldn’t stop in time. As if to prove him right, shortly after one Papa’s warnings, a middle-aged neighbor was killed while crossing the tracks coming home from a bar late one summer night. A few months later, on a cold winter’s morning, I watched the railroad police as they searched the body of a neighborhood friend as his body lay frozen along the tracks at the end of our street. He was always doing crazy things, and I later learned that he’d climbed the catenary pole and innocently touched a high voltage wire. I guess my grandfather knew what he was talking about.
Though it isn’t nearly as true as it was in the past, there have been many “railroad families” – sons following in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers in the service of the railroad. Since you had railroading family members, was this a career path that was encouraged for you and/or your siblings?
I’m a fourth generation railroad worker, so in the back of my mind, I guess I always considered a railroad career an option.
I shared a bedroom with my brother Brian who is eight years older than me.. He started as an fireman with Penn Central in 1974, and a short time later became a locomotive engineer for Conrail which eventually became Metro North. I knew firsthand what a railroaders life was like..i.e. getting called for work in the middle of the night, long hours, working seven days a week. I wasn’t sure I wanted that kind of lifestyle. I graduated college in 1985, and still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Brian told me that Metro North was hiring, so I sent in a resume. A few months later I got hired as an asst conductor. At the time I thought a railroad career beneath me. After all… I was a college graduate. I told myself I’d only stay until a real job came along. That was 25 years ago….still here… and don’t regret it.
“…we carry some of the most fascinating people in the world. From the captains of industry, to Wall Street billionaires, Hollywood celebrities to street corner drug dealers. Our passengers come from all walks of life…”
You mention that you got a job with the railroad “until a real job came along.” Was there a particular reason that you decided to stay?
I know it’s cliche to say, but I truly am a “people person,” and when you think about it, we carry some of the most fascinating people in the world. From the captains of industry, to Wall Street billionaires, Hollywood celebrities to street corner drug dealers (okay, maybe drug dealers aren’t fascinating, but they are interesting). Our passengers come from all walks of life, and I love to chatting with all of them and learning their life stories. Also, it’s a steady job with good pay and great benefits. I love my job… not many people can say that.
My favorite question to ask train conductors is “what is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen someone bring on a train?” The Wassaic portion of the Harlem Line has almost an “urban legend” that people bring their goats on the train. Have you seen anything nutty over on the New Haven Line?
One afternoon a guy got on in Bridgeport and had something hidden under his leather jacket. I watched as he sat down and pulled a baby bottle out of his front pocket. I assumed he had a small child inside his coat and was keeping him warm against the cold winter winds…I was wrong. When I approached to collect his ticket, a giant brown snout poked through his jacket zipper. I jumped back a step. “What’s THAT?” I shouted. He chuckled, unzipped his jacket and produced a Wallaby!!!! (as in a mini Kangaroo). I half expected him to reach inside the joey’s pouch and produce his ticket. “Where did you get that?” I asked. “I picked her up at Kennedy Airport last week” he said, as if everyone owns a exotic animals. “Is it even legal to own a wallaby?” I asked. “Yeah” he answered unconvincingly. (BTW, I just Googled it. Apparently it is legal).
As the “conductor to the stars” you’ve encountered quite a few famous faces while working the rails (though admittedly, I may be too young to recognize all of the names). Do you have a favorite, or most memorable, encounter with anybody famous?
In the early 1990’s, comedienne and ex-Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson used to ride my train on a regular basis. She is as sweet and wacky as she appears on TV, and I always got a big kick out of talking with her. Our conversations weren’t always light and funny though. Sometimes she’d confide in me about the messy divorce she was going through, once telling me her husband was evil. Other times she’d complain about not getting enough airtime on SNL. I felt bad for her, and sometimes I’d pitch skit ideas to her (she never used them).
One afternoon, Victoria generously offered to get me and my wife tickets to her show. I told her that we’d love to go but my wife was 8 months pregnant and we’d have to make it very soon. About a week later, Victoria called my home and told my wife that she had two tickets with our names on them waiting at NBC Studios. It was the last show of the season. I called her back and asked what time the show ended, and if I would have enough time to catch the last train back to New Haven (01:30AM). She arranged that we’d drive to Westport, then take the train to New York from there. She’d have her limo drive us back to Westport at the end of the night.
We did as she instructed and drove to Westport, then took the train into NYC. Just as she said, there were two tickets waiting for us at 30 Rock. The guest host that evening was John Goodman and Garth Brooks was the musical guest. We loved the show, but couldn’t help but notice that Victoria was never on stage during the entire show…not once. After the finale, we reported to the security guard as instructed and gave him our names. He called upstairs to her dressing room, then nodding his head in agreement, pointed us to a bank of elevators. When we stepped off the elevator , we immediately heard muffled sobs coming from one of the dressing rooms. We knocked on the door and found Victoria slouched over a bottle of wine, with streams of black mascara running down her face. She was crying her eyes out. She sobbed loudly, saying that Lorne (the show producer) had cut her out all her skits and she was going to quit show business.
Victoria got the call that her limo was ready, so she led us, and the wardrobe women, the hair stylist and the make up artist downstairs, where we all piled in the back of her stretch limo for the ride home. We shuttled through Manhattan dropping off the SNL crew members on their respective street corners. Once we were on I-95, she got on her car phone and called her boyfriend in Miami (this was pretty amazing to me, cause this 1992 BC… before cell phones). She cried all the way back to Westport, and in famous baby doll voice, told her Miami cop boyfriend that she hated show business and was going to give it all up, move to Miami, and marry him. She said she wanted to be just like the sweet railroad conductor and his adorable pregnant wife who were sitting across the seat from her.
And that’s just what she did. She quit show biz, moved to Miami, married the cop and had more children. I guess we inspired her.
For every famous person you’ve encountered, you’ve met quite a few more “ordinary” people. What is your most memorable encounter with a regular “run of the mill” train rider?
My most memorable “ordinary” passenger was probably the extremely grouchy woman who often rode my evening rush hour train home. This curmudgeon complained every time she saw me, and for some reason, she always seemed to sit in my car. She’d complain that the train was either too hot or too cold. The PA was too loud or she couldn’t understand my announcements. She groused about the the train being dirty or that it smelled like a urinal.
One particular night, she rattled off a laundry list of complaints as I stood patiently by waiting for her to finish. She went on and on till the surrounding passengers began rolling their eyes. Some commuters shook their heads and took pity on me. When she finally finished, I took a deep breath and asked, “Did you have a tough day at work today?” She suddenly burst out laughing, and I could see the tension leave her body. “As a matter of fact I did… it was a horrible day” she said with a big smile on her face. She loved me from that day on, and I never heard her complain again… well, almost never.
“A female conductor friend of mine once said that in order to be a conductor on a late night train, you have to have come from a dysfunctional family.”
Metro-North nights (especially on the NH Line from your stories!!) sound like they can be pretty crazy… yet you seem to prefer the evening trains. I know a conductor’s schedule can be difficult with family – does the evening schedule help, or do you like the punishment from the crazy drunks?
A female conductor friend of mine once said that in order to be a conductor on a late night train, you have to have come from a dysfunctional family. Her theory is that we’re survivors and are the only ones who could put up with all the craziness we encounter. She may be onto something here.
As far as my schedule goes, I hate getting up early in the morning, and in the railroad world, in order to get home at a decent hour, you have to start work at in ungodly hour…like 4AM. No thanks. I’ve missed a lot of my daughters’ field hockey/lacrosse games, and parent/teacher conferences (fodder for their therapists sessions someday), but I do get a lot of yard work done during the day.
You’ve mentioned that you knew a conductor that had a complaint letter written about them because of chewing gum. I’ve heard some other complaint stories about a conductor that let a bug fly into the train, and that after collecting tickets would spend long periods of time in the bathroom (passenger didn’t realize it was the cab!!). Has anyone ever written a complaint about you, or have you heard any other crazy complaint letter stories?
In my 25 years as a conductor, I believe I’ve only have one complaint letter in my file…but it’s a doozy. I heard it was double spaced and eight pages long. It was sent to the the Railroad Superintendent, the President of Metro North, and the Director of the MTA. The prose was a group effort, written by a posse of obnoxious bar car patrons who thought Metro North rules didn’t pertain to them (i.e. smoking on the train). I heard they called me a “fascist”.
I recently heard that a woman on the upper Harlem wrote a letter of complaint, saying she counted 183 automated announcements on her very early morning M-7 train. I guess she shows up to work a little bleary-eyed. Not sure how the railroad responded.
Have you gotten the chance to ride any M8’s yet, and if so what do you think about them?
Yes, I’ve worked the M8’s, and I like them. They’re shiny, bright and new… what’s not to like? I just hope I still like them were they’re no longer shiny, bright and new.
Do people on the train ever recognize you based upon your blog? Are any of your passengers aware of it?
Once a passenger saw me walk by and he got very excited… almost star-struck. “Is that Bobbyderailed?” he asked my assistant conductor. I was flattered that he recognized me, so I walked to where he was sitting and thanked him for reading my blog. He showed me what he had just tweeted: “Wow! Bobby from ‘Derailed’ is the conductor on my train.” I think I stood a little taller that night.
On the flip side, I once overheard one of the female conductor sharing a funny story in the stationmaster’s office. It seems she had a male passenger on one of her morning trains and the gentleman had an explosive episode of diarrhea in one of the train bathrooms. He left the whole area a terrible mess, and at the last minute, he ran out of the lavatory with his pants still unbuckled and scurried off the train just as the doors closed. She said she didn’t know the guy’s name, but she was kind of surprised cause he was one of her regular passengers. “He sounds a little irregular to me,” I joked. I’m leaving out a lot of details, but her story was funny in a disgusting, over the top kind of way.
I took this story and embellished it a humorous blog post and did my best to portray the irregular passenger as weirdo…a real deviant of society. I must admit, my story was pretty funny and it was a favorite of my readers.
About a week later, the alleged deviant wrote a letter of apology to the female conductor. It turns out he’s one of my regular readers and he read, and recognized himself in my blog story. He’s also someone I happen to know and like (small world, huh?). To make matters worse, I learned he’s battling colon cancer and has problems controlling his bowels. As you can imagine, I felt horrible about how I portrayed him… still do.
Was there any particular reason you started blogging in the first place? Does your family ever read it/what do they think of it?
A few years back, my nephew’s journalist fiancee started writing a blog. They lived in North Carolina and I had never met her, but felt I did since I read about the daily minutiae of her life. I liked her blog so much that I started commenting on her posts on a regular basis. Her readers found many of my observations humorous and some petitioned me to start writing a blog of my own. I was working late night trains out of New Haven at the time, and I knew I had plenty of material to write about. That’s how “Derailed” was born.
My extended family loves my blog, since I often write about family lore. My nieces and nephews tell me they’ve learned a lot about our collective family history from my stories. They often tell me to cut back on railroad stories and write more about the family. I had to give my immediate family (particularly my daughters) veto power over of my stories, since I sometimes “over-share.”
Have you ever thought of joining twitter?
No thanks! Facebook consumes too much of my life already.
If you haven’t realized by now, I tend to shy away from discussing the various political issues surrounding the MTA. I like to stick around in the history zone, and talk more about art and photography-related things. If you want politics and opinions, and can stomach about ten advertisement banners per page (my personal faves are the animated fat loss banners of the sketch-woman clenching a fatty gut in her hands), Second Avenue Sagas is probably the place for you.
However, we’ve almost completed the first week with our new MTA big boss Joe Lhota (albeit unofficially, until confirmed by the senate in January), and I had to say something. The media is scrutinizing his first moves in the big chair (fare hikes in 2013!), but I had to say, I liked this one article that I found: New MTA chief Joe Lhota calls on prosecutors to throw book at riders who attack transit workers. I think that is a good a place as any to start. What you probably do know from reading my blog, is that I do have a tremendous amount of respect for train conductors (I’m not going to say employees, as you all know there others that I do not hold in such high esteem). They are on the front lines, the public face of the company, and they deal with idiots for a good portion of their days. Many get significant compensation for this work, but it is a tradeoff for having few days off and transporting your drunk ass home on holidays like New Years.
In the summer when there was the New Haven Line incident of the stuck train near Greens Farms (which I never really said much about, either), passengers were furious. And one of the reasons was because during the incident the conductors hid in their cabs, or reportedly removed their uniforms. I always found myself giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they weren’t being shitty employees – they were just afraid of what a train full of irate passengers could do. I want to know what the statistics are for conductors that have been assaulted by passengers. And the sad thing is, that I would guess it is probably in the 90% range, if not higher. There have been broken noses, broken fingers, employees that have been hit with umbrellas, spit on, or had a glass bottle broken over their face when sticking their head out the cab window. And these are just stories that I know. I certainly support stiffer penalties for that sort of thing – I don’t care what job you’re in. You shouldn’t be doing that stuff to fellow human beings (or even animals for that matter!) I’d also be okay with a new MTA slogan of “ride the goddamn train/bus/subway and don’t be an asshole” but somehow I don’t think that would go over too well.
To say my train journeys this past weekend were a bit interesting seems like an understatement. I got to take some cool pictures of Grand Central’s exterior because the road was closed to cars for Summer Streets. I photographed the New Haven Line station Mount Vernon East, which is the 70th Metro-North station I’ve taken pictures of (if anybody is keeping track, lol). Oh, and I also got to ride on an M8. But see, those weren’t really quite as interesting as the nutjobs I found I was sharing the train with. On Friday an absolute genius of a woman decided that it would be a good idea to chase the departing train after forgetting a bag on board. She either jumped off the platform, or weaseled through the fence at Southeast, and ran after the train as it entered the yard. How monumentally stupid. I thought to myself, had she gotten flattened by a train or fried herself by tripping on the third rail, her family most likely would have sued Metro-North. Despite the fact that it would totally have been her fault, her family probably would have been awarded some amount of monetary compensation… and when our fares would go up again, we’d all know why.
On Saturday I again found myself on a northbound train heading to Southeast. It was dark, and near impossible to see anything but blackness out the window. I was in the very rear of the train, the portion that doesn’t platform at Brewster (yes, I totally think it is acceptable to use platform as a verb, thank you). Because it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell whether we were stopped at the station, or at some point before it… but I was certainly wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out a man in the front of the train decided to, how should I say this, basically he thought it would be a good idea to whip it out and begin pleasuring himself – the rest of the passengers present be damned. Girls were screaming, conductors were running, and it didn’t take too long for the train to be stopped until the police arrived. The public masturbator had apparently hidden himself in the train bathroom, but was thankfully apprehended by the police and removed from the train. I’ll call that the Metro-North Harlem Line Pervert Express – I have no desire to ride that train again.
Unfortunately the story of the M8 was slightly overshadowed by the stories of the crazy people. I took a short ride – from Grand Central to Mount Vernon East – though I took quite a few photos of the train before it went into motion. It may not have been the most memorable event of the day, but it was certainly the most positive highlight of the day. The aesthetic of the train is pretty similar to the M7’s found on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, but obviously in red. There is a lot of red. The outside is red, the floor is red, the seats are red. Clearly the decision was based on the New Haven Line’s signature color, but for those who believe that color can effect mood there might be a little bit too much red. A lot of sites have commented on the features of the M8, so I will try to keep this as short as possible, and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that the lighting, large overhead storage racks, and numerous power outlets are really great additions. Now if we could get more of them in service, and iron out all the remaining glitches we’d be all set…
Hello readers. I know you’re out there. You send me emails sometimes (and occasionally freak me out, yes, I’m looking at you, person who divulged their fantasies of doing nasty things on trains. Why?!) And I sure as heck know you’re searching in Google. I have mentioned it previously, but the things that people type into search engines are incredibly hilarious. And the things that people type in to find this site, well, needless to say, I question the sanity of my readers sometimes. But there are also times you guys ask me some valid questions, so I figured I’d put together a post combining some real answers along with some real “what the hell?” type moments.
Searching the crazy internet
Some “well-educated” internet searches
If you had to take a guess as to the number one thing that people have been searching for (in google and other search engines), and finding this site, what would it be? If you said Hermon Raju, then you would be totally correct. When I first posted about this “well-educated” Metro-North rider, I refused to mention her name. But since she has not only publicly admitted that the woman in the video was her, tried to hire a PR rep to repair her reputation, and went on record saying that she feels she was “raped by the internet,” I’m pretty much declaring her fair game. All of the terms below wound up bringing people to this site, so I must say, Hermon Raju, thank you for the visitors! Despite how well-educated you think you are, you clearly didn’t have the sense to just keep your mouth shut… not only on the train, but also by making yourself again a news story by searching for a person to “repair your reputation.”
educated girl yelling at conductor
educated woman kicked off train
well-educated train rider
crazy lady arguing with conductor
followup to educated obnoxious woman onthe metro north train
identity of the “well-educated” women who snap on metro-north
lady with an education arguing with train conductor in ny
metro north commuter well educated identity
mta girl well educated metro north
woman arguing on metro north train identified
do you know how well-educated i am, i ride the harlem line
rude woman in metro educated
train rider more educated than you
viral woman arguing with train employee
And for everyone other than Raju that is looking for yet another laugh, rumor has it the conductor in the video was reprimanded for not wearing her hat at the time. Oh, Metro North. Always thinking about the important stuff.
You seriously typed that into a search engine? WTF-worthy searches:
Sometimes when I look at these search keyword lists, I sincerely worry about the people that are inhabiting this planet we call Earth. Apparently the intelligence level of some of the inhabitants is dangerously low. I can’t believe people typed in this stuff:
body of drunk found in wassaic
wetting my panties on the train story
cool lesbian on a train
getting my 6th gun in westchester county
girls doing the cat work with metro north
groping on bus and train vids
japan fuck on a subway train
Questions that people search for:
How do you ride free on metro north?
There are a lot of strategies for riding free on trains. My best suggestion is for you to ride in the sixth car of an eight car train, and to look for the special conductor’s bathrooms. People always try to hide in the regular bathrooms, and not only do they smell, you will most likely have some people bothering you at some point. However, nobody ever looks in the conductor’s bathroom. If you knock on the door a few times, usually the door will pop open with no trouble, and you can hide in there for as long you want. Enjoy the free ride! In case you weren’t sure what a conductor’s bathroom looks like, I have a picture for you.
Ignore the window – it is just there to throw you off
Do you have to pay to ride mta from harlem to grand central?
Not if you follow the steps listed above.
Is it safe at goldens bridge train station?
The good majority of Harlem Line stations are fairly safe. I wouldn’t worry about much at Goldens Bridge – but if you see a guy that looks like Santa Claus hanging around, I’d probably run away. He has been known to show up at the station with no pants on, and is miserably drunk about 99% of the time. Don’t worry – he can barely walk, let alone run!
Does the harlem line have bathrooms in the train?
Provided that no dipshit is hiding in it to get a free ride, yes the trains do have bathrooms.
Do sketchy people board the harlem train line?
Well, it depends on what you mean by sketchy. If your definition of sketchy includes women who push their cats around in baby carriages, then yes, sketchy people do board trains. My personal favorites, however, are the artistic types that sketch people on the train (though I guess they would be sketching people and not sketchy). You can find a few ofthem online, but my favorite is James Napoleon who sketched me one morning a few months ago.
Is being a metro north conductor a shit job?
Difficult question! Conductors certainly get paid more than I do, as well as get a whole lot more vacation and sick days than me. But they also have long hours, and are harassed by people like Hermon Raju. And people that don’t want to pay the fare. And people that are drunk and vomit everywhere. And people that can and will harass them with racial epithets. Do I need to continue? As passengers we merely observe these people. Conductors have to deal with them.
Plus, somebody needs to get your drunk ass home on days like New Years, so conductors are often stuck working holidays. As a public worker, the salaries of conductors are also publicly available on the internet. Inevitably, at least once every year, some media outlet will write a story complaining about how much money conductors make, much of it in overtime. What they fail to realize is that these conductors work every day of the week, and every holiday. They have no days off. Sure, it is by choice, but if (for example) you are trying to pay your kid’s way through college and you’re offered overtime, wouldn’t you take it? Honestly, I think the weekends are probably the only thing that keep me relatively sane – I can’t even begin to imagine working every day nonstop for months.
Other questions & things…
What kind of camera do you use?
Because I post so many photos, this is one of the most common questions I get from people. I’m also asked how I do my panoramas, and why I don’t use a panorama viewer (like this) to present them. Firstly, I don’t use a fancy camera, nor a fish-eye lens. Any distortions are based upon the stitching process (which I use Photoshop for). My main camera is a Fujifilm HS10, and I have a waterproof Fujifilm Z33WP which I carry around in the rain and snow. As for panoramas – photography is a lot about capturing a freeze-frame of something you see with your eyes, and panorama viewers tend to mimic how the eye sees, except with a large vista. I rather like making long and semi-distorted panoramas solely because they are not something you can see with your own eyes as a normal human being.
Where do you get your hats from?
Almost all of my hats come from Boshi Basiik. Susan Nguyen is both wonderful and talented, and has created a few custom hats for me. Not only are they quality made, they are also affordable. And no, this is not a paid advertisement, I just think that Boshi Basiik is that cool.
Why do you like the Harlem Line?
Why is water wet? Why is the sky blue? Why are you asking me silly questions? How could you not be a fan of New York City’s oldest railroad? Maybe I like it because it was the first railroad I was ever a passenger on. I’m not really sure. All I know is that when I started this website, it was about the crazy people I observed, not about the railroad itself. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with the history, and maybe even the saga of the Upper Harlem (even though it didn’t have a happy ending).
Yesterday afternoon I returned home from Florida… and I have to ask, what the hell happened while I was away? There were suicides, more suicides, and even a derailment. I wasn’t particularly vocal about my departure here on the blog, I was being rather tight-lipped about heading down to Florida for the final space shuttle launch. As you may recall, I mentioned my plans to see the second-to-last launch as part of #NASATweetup. Scheduling issues and launch scrubs foiled those plans, however, and I never saw that launch. A month or so later I was beyond lucky to get chosen for the final launch tweetup, but for superstitious reasons I didn’t want to really mention it. Quite frankly, I was afraid I’d jinx it and again miss the launch.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably have heard that the final space shuttle did in fact launch – and I was in attendance. I was interviewed by Westchester’s News 12 there, and a particular conductor I know claims that he saw it on TV in Grand Central, though his first assumption was that I had been arrested for taking photographs of something. I assure you, any photographs I did take, were completely legal and will be posted at some point. I think I still need to sort out not only the photos, but my thoughts after such a huge event.
In the meantime, I hope that you all don’t think I am neglecting you… I do try to post at least twice per week, which I failed to do last week. Although I don’t really have much to say this evening, I had to let you all know that I found the most awesome ticket punch…
Be sure to look for little “kitties” on your tickets and seatchecks from now on!
When I started this blog, the majority of it was observations about people I saw on the train, or while waiting for trains. I haven’t really done a post about my observations lately, but for the most part the majority of things I see are remembered as short tidbits, and nothing worth writing an entire post about. If I actually kept a diary, tidbits like these would likely be found inside… just quick thoughts about the things and people that surround me on a day-to-day basis. As I don’t really have anything to post today, I figured I’d leave you with a collection of some of my recent thoughts while riding the train. But rest assured, I am currently working on a pretty big project for the site, and when I (hopefully) debut it next week, I think you’ll all be pretty pleased.
People leave things on the train all the time. I was just thinking the other day, if someone was about to forget their phone, or bag, or wallet, I’d ask them if it were theirs, so they don’t get off the train without it. But then I realized what a terrible person I am – if you were about to forget a bag from Junior’s the only thing I’d say is, “that’s mine!” I don’t want your wallet, or your laptop. Just give me your cheesecake.
Sometimes the guy in the ticket booth at White Plains gets rather excited when he announces trains. Once I heard, “Now on trrrrack one is the train going to… nowhere. Never mind. This train only goes to North White Plains,” and, “Nooooooooowww on trrrrrack one is the 5:59 local trrrrrain to Southeast, making all local stops. Yes, this train will be making all the stops you know and love. Trrrrrrrack one.” I haven’t heard him lately, though. I wonder where he is.
When my train passes Mount Kisco in the evening, there is usually this dark-haired woman named Christine on the platform. I know nothing other than her name, and that she likes to laugh. Sometimes when the doors open I poke my head out and say, “Hello Christine.” I gave her my little card that has this website’s address on it once. Maybe she’s reading this right now. Hello, Christine!
Sometimes I see this girl on the platform when I wait for the train in the morning. She looks like she is in her early twenties, and has quite the assortment of Nike shoes and athletic attire. The only time we ever spoke was when she was drinking a bottle of soda and dropped the cap. We both watched, it was like slow motion, the cap hit the platform and rolled precariously close to the edge. I think I said to her, “Wow. I really thought that was going to fall!”
I have an overactive imagination. I also have a bad habit when I observe people, determining who they seem to resemble physically, and calling them that in my mind thence forward. Regular riders of my morning train are an older Sarah Palin, and an Amy Winehouse – minus the drugs.
I like to read books on the train, and I try to read a book per week. After calculating it out, I really only spend about six hours per week on the train – three of which are reading, and three of which are bullshitting with other people. It isn’t a lot of time when I compare it to hours using the computer. I probably am using the computer for ten hours, if not more, each week day. This is probably why I gained twenty pounds after graduating college.
Usually the train I take in the evening uses M3 equipment… though very rarely we have an M7 instead. The M7’s have that nice seat adjacent to the conductor’s cab, it is dark and quiet and away from all the other people. When I got on the train there was an old man sitting there. The next stop the train was going to be making was a short platform, so the conductor told people in the back of the train to move forward. A woman went to do just that, and the old man sitting by the door there just flipped out. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK THAT SIGN IS THERE FOR?!?!” he shouted, while pointing at the sign to not cross through the cars while the train is in motion. The woman looked so afraid, like she was almost going to wet herself. The old man was relentless. Later on, after the old man had gotten off, I asked the conductor if he knew who he was. He told me the man worked for Metro North’s safety department. Too bad that detail was conveniently left out of his diatribe. I always wondered if she complained about the crazy man on her train…
In reality this cat’s name is Henry, and he is awesome
Walking to the train station the other day, this strange animal ran out in front of me. It took me a few moments to realize it was a cat, and not an ordinary cat, a three-legged cat. If I had a three-legged cat, I’d name him Tripod.
Sometimes the bus driver really freaks me out. One of these days he’s really going to flip the bus over. A few days ago he accidentally hit the curb so hard I was slammed into the window… and I have a several inch long bruise on my arm to prove it.
I follow @OWNEYtheDOG on twitter. For those who don’t know, Owney was a real dog that used to ride on mail trains back in the day. Owney was apparently murdered – shot dead, and was later brought to the taxidermist. He’s on display at the Post Office Museum in Washington DC. The thing that freaks me out is that whoever does the twitter posts as if they were that stuffed dog. This disturbs me. Even taxidermied dogs are on twitter! Next thing you know, my mother will be on there.
I’m used to people telling me that they like my hat. It does freak me out when they sneak up behind me and attempt to whisper it in my ear. Most especially if they reek of alcohol. However, the thing I really don’t get is why people during the summer ask me where my hat is. I may like hats, but I’m not an idiot.
My grandmother is wonderful. I think it takes only a little sip of alcohol to make her tipsy. She tells lots of good stories then… stories about the original Penn Station, of taking the train all over the country in the ’40s, being afraid her train was going to fall off the Horseshoe Curve… How she’d take the kids on the train and buy the cheaper child ticket, even though some of the kids were too old. Of course my one uncle would admit such to the conductor… the other just had such a bad temper, my grandmother told me she’d buy him rubber dog toys to take for the ride, he’d break all the regular toys.
When I get a text message, my phone makes the sound the M7 trains make. It baffles people at work meetings. It really baffles them when I’m riding my usual train – an M3. But then someone decides they’ll text me five times in quick succession. Then I just look like an idiot.
Everyone always wants to blame Metro-North, but sometimes it is the passengers’ fault that the train is late… like the time there was a man standing in the doorway that refused to move. Despite the conductor yelling at him, he still stalled the train.
I heard some news about banning smoking on the platform. I like this idea. I’d rather not be subjected to your disgusting and headache-inducing habit. Inevitably someone complains about the thought and says, “Remember when they even had smoking cars?” You know what I remember? The tar-black ceiling of Grand Central when I was a kid… all from cigarette smoke. Ah, yes. Nostalgia.
If I had to pick the station with the most obnoxious people, I’d likely pick White Plains. They are like animals there. They’ll push anybody over to board that train, even a little old lady with a cane. Because it is such a populated station, there are always going to be people running for the train and not quite making it. If the conductor kept the doors open for all of them, the train would never leave. When this happens the person usually shouts profanities at the conductor, and probably writes an angry note to Metro-North (I don’t think I could be a conductor, I don’t have thick enough skin). The most amusing part is that White Plains has the most trains of any station on the Harlem Line. In rush hour, there is another train in just five minutes. Is it really worth all that anger?
It is amusing to me how many people still attempt the old trick of hiding in the bathroom to evade paying the fare. Conductors should have mops available on all trains to give to these people. If they aren’t going to pay, and they are going to be in the bathroom, they might as well clean the damn thing while they are there.
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.