Bridges of Metro-North: The Norwalk River Bridge, Part 1

Continuing into the new year with our visits to some of Metro-North’s movable bridges, today’s feature is the Norwalk River Bridge. This bridge, owned by the state of Connecticut, is commonly known as WALK, and is the bane of the New Haven Line. Built in 1896, the bridge is one of many pieces of practically ancient infrastructure you’ll find along the line. Prone to getting stuck open and preventing trains from crossing – which happened several times last year – the historical bridge is badly in need of a replacement or serious upgrade. For the interim, attempts have been made to open the bridge less frequently, and to have crews standing by when the bridge does open to hopefully prevent any issues. While I had been under the impression that the bridge would be staying shut while repairs were under way starting in June, I was lucky enough to capture an opening of the bridge on November 8th, much to my surprise.

Constructed for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, the Norwalk River Bridge is a 562-foot long rim bearing swing bridge. Sitting about 16 feet above the water, the bridge’s 202 foot long center deck rotates along a center point to allow marine traffic to pass. When opening, rail locks are released, the rail ends are lifted, catenary wire is separated, wedge locks are withdrawn, and bridge locks are released. Only then can the machinery located at the center pier under the tracks can do its work to swing the bridge open. All of these delicate maneuvers need to happen in concert, which is difficult considering the age of the machinery involved. Also complicating matters for repairs is the fact that the old movable bridges on the Northeast Corridor are all unique – there was no standard for construction, and each bridge has unique mechanical components.

(more…)

Read More

Farewell to New Haven Union Station’s Solari Departure Board

Years ago an announcement was made that the Solari split-flap departure board would be disappearing from New Haven Union Station. Despite pleas to Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, the decision was made and would not be changed.

Although it survived longer than we thought it would, the board was unfortunately replaced last week. Here is a short timelapse to remember it by…


For the folks subscribed to the site via email, you must visit the site to view video features.

Read More

H.H. Richardson’s Last Station – New London Union Station

When it comes to great American architects, one must certainly mention the name Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson’s name may not be as widely mentioned as some others – likely because he unfortunately passed in his prime at the age of 47 – but his influence in American architecture is obvious. The architectural style he popularized bears his name – Richardsonian Romanesque – and is certainly one of my favorite architectural styles. The style features attractive arches and rusticated stonework – and is familiar to fans of the Boston and Albany Railroad, the style in which many of that railroad’s main line stations were designed.

Most of the Richardsonian Romanesque stations we’ve featured on the site – Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Hartford, Irvington, and Tarrytown – were designed by the firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, Richardson’s three assistants who continued the business after his death. The station we’re visiting today, however, was Richardson’s final station design. New London’s Union Station was conceived in 1885 – one year before Richardson’s death. Construction was not completed until one year after his death in 1887.

1885 Sketch of New London
1885 elevation sketch showing the detailing for New London’s Union Station. Image courtesy Shepley Bulfinch.

Although New London Union Station strays a bit from the typical Richardsonian Romanesque style as it is constructed primarily of brick, the characteristic arches, detailing, and occasional swaths of rusticated stone can be found. Bricks radiate outwards from the arches, creating a sunburst effect, and alternating exposed bricks create detailed borders around the top. Completing the detailing of the station is a wide band above the entrance, labeling the building “Union Railroad Station.” The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad was the station’s primary occupant (having leased the Shore Line Railway in 1870), though the station was built in conjunction with the Central Vermont Railroad (which had leased the New London Northern Railroad) making it a Union Station.

(more…)

Read More

Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent my evenings exploring the rails, photographing at one of my favorite times of the day – sunset. While one generally loses the illumination of the sun’s rays, you gain a multitude of colors in the sky… and to me, there is just something magical about that.

In terms of night photography – or at least, what railfans tend to think about night photography – one usually uses artificial lights to illuminate a posed, unmoving train. Though it seems to be the en vogue thing to do these days, I see little reason to do so other than “because we can.” Most seem to do it for the novelty, or because all the “cool kids” are doing it. Many that take part look to evoke the work of O. Winston Link, arguably the best night railroad photographer ever (though Jack Delano, whose photographs I featured last week, was also an accomplished night photographer – it was never really his “claim to fame,” however). Unfortunately, most fall flat in their endeavor to “be like Link.” While I can see the merits of photographing steam trains at night (the lower light allows one to capture sweeping plumes of smoke from the engine), I see little reason to do it with modern trains. After dark I find it far more fun to capture not the train itself, but the train’s movement, and its environment.

Because of the low ambient light, long exposure photography allows one to record the movement of the train, rendered as blurs of light. In order to get a proper exposure, your camera shutter is open for longer – in some cases for 15 seconds or more (thus a stable resting place, preferably a tripod, is required). Done right, any moving object in the frame shows up as a blur, or a streak. Modern electric trains, like Metro-North’s M7s and M8s, with their shiny and smooth exteriors and LED lights lend themselves to this, becoming graceful blurs. Instead of artificial light, one uses the “natural” (or as natural as the light off a cityscape could be), and the intense colors of a sunset to evoke a completely different mood. Since I don’t really have a post lined up for this week, I figured I’d share some of my recent photographs taken at sunset, or at night… and maybe convince some of you that there is fun to be had after dark, far away from the now all too common “night photo sessions.”

(more…)

Read More

Shore Line East and Old Saybrook

In keeping with last week’s theme of exploring Connecticut, today we take a quick visit to the southern coast of the state to check out Shore Line East. As part of the important Northeast Corridor, many of the stations along the line have a long history with the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Though some of the railroad historical buildings are still around (like the freight house, now restaurant in Old Saybrook), most of the Shore Line East stations are of relatively new construction (the exceptions being New Haven, which we’ve visited before, and New London, which deserves its own post at some point in the future).

Shore Line East is operated by Amtrak, so you’ll often catch CDOT locomotives in the old New Haven Railroad scheme, Amtrak locomotives, or a horrible mixture of both (hey boss, I put our sticker on the front, and painted over the Amtrak logo!). The service itself is fairly young – Shore Line East trains began running in May of 1990 – and the line was only supposed to be temporary while construction was being done on Interstate 95. Due to its popularity, however, Shore Line East became permanent.

   
  
 
 
Some views of the smaller stations on Shore Line East – Branford, Madison, Guilford, and Clinton.

Of the newer Shore Line East stations, Old Saybrook is probably the nicest, and a pretty good place for capturing trains. Besides the Shore Line East trains, about eighteen Amtrak trains stop here daily (which is actually more than Hartford, which we visited last week). Three tracks run through Old Saybrook, and the station consists of a side platform, an island platform, and an overpass connecting the two. Because it was started as a temporary operation, little money was spent on Shore Line East stations. However, once the service became permanent, proper stations were constructed, the first being Old Saybrook in 2002. Branford, Guilford, and Clinton were opened in 2005, and Madison in 2008.

Most Shore Line East trains terminate at Old Saybrook, though a few do go on to New London. The bane of Connecticut’s railroads are definitely the many movable bridges found along the shore line. Some are over a hundred years old, and cause slowdowns and nightmares for Metro-North. In Shore Line East’s case, the challenge to operating more service to New London is that trains must cross several movable bridges, bridges that the Connecticut Marine Trades Association fights to keep open for boats, as opposed to closed for trains. While some have big plans for the service (like connecting it to Rhode Island), it is these local issues that will have to be addressed first (not raiding the state’s Special Transportation Fund is another…).

  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
  

Read More

A Fiery Centennial – Hartford Union Station

Exactly one hundred years ago, Connecticut was gripped in a frigid and snowy winter, much like the one we are currently experiencing. And exactly one hundred years ago last Friday, Hartford’s Union station was ablaze. On its own, a fire can be pretty devastating enough, but coupled with the snow, firefighters had difficulty getting to the station to put the fire out. Ultimately there were several small explosions, one of which displaced a large section of the roof, pieces of which fell and destroyed the ticket office. The station was heavily damaged, and much of the items in the baggage room – where the fire started – were destroyed.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire
All fire photos are from the Connecticut Historical Society, accessible at CTHistoryOnline.org

Originally constructed in 1889, Hartford’s Union station was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which first gained popularity in the Boston area and was used for several stations along the Boston and Albany Railroad. Conceptually designed by local architect George Keller, the bulk of the design work fell to architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, successors of Henry Hobson Richardson (which is where the “Richardsonian” part comes from. Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge also designed a few stations we’ve featured: Chatham, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown). The station featured the typical arches and rusticated stonework characteristic of his style, using stone quarried in Portland, Connecticut.

Hartford Union Station Fire
Hartford Union Station Fire Hartford Union Station Fire

Besides the 100th anniversary of the fire, the station is also celebrating the centennial of its rebirth. The entire building was not completely destroyed by the aforementioned fire, but the roof and interior were both gutted. Though some of the decorative arches at roof level were only slightly damaged, it was decided that the rebuild would not be to the exact specifications of the old station. Roof-level decorative elements were removed, and stonework was repaired – now bearing the date “1914”. The “new” Union Station boasted a full third story, and, as one would imagine, a fireproof roof.

Hartford Union Station Fire
The station after the fire was put out. Note the detail on the roof that no longer exists.

Despite spending the first twenty plus years of my life living in Connecticut, I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I had never visited Hartford’s Union Station until recently. Likewise, I must also admit that I was unaware that Hartford’s Latin motto is Post nubila, phoebus (after clouds, the sun). That motto can be found within the station, above the doors that once led out to the platform, flanked between the past and present of railroading – steam and electric.

Train at Hartford
A northbound train at Hartford in the late 1940s. Note the Capitol visible in the background. [image source]

These days, Hartford is not the hub it once was. No longer are the days where trains were plenty, and it has been many decades since quasi-celebrity citizens like Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe called Hartford home. About twelve trains stop daily at the station, the station is along Amtrak’s Vermonter, and Northeast Regional routes, and is a station stop on the New Haven – Springfield shuttle. Technically trains don’t run from the historical building – Amtrak occupies out of an addition underneath the viaduct carrying the railroad over the city, along with bus operators and a few fast food kiosks. One can, however, enter the addition from the historical depot.

If you’re ever passing through Hartford, the old station is at least worth a look. The stonework and detailing found on the exterior is undoubtedly beautiful, only marred by a few trappings of today – you’ll find security cameras just above decorative elements, and a garish Subway logo above a once more graceful arch. Be sure to check out the artwork at the top of the steps, and keep your eyes peeled for views of the the Capitol building from the platform.

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
 
 
  
 
  
  
 

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: West Haven

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’re most likely aware that Metro-North has a new rail station. West Haven, on the New Haven Line, is Metro-North’s 124th active station, and one of just a handful that have opened in the past few years (Fairfield Metro and Yankees-E 153rd Street being the other two). The new station puts a break in the long stretch in between New Haven and Milford stations, and relieves parking issues at both.


Rendering of what the station site would look like at completion.

A station in between Milford and New Haven had long been debated, and extensive studies looked at sites in both West Haven and Orange. Though an apparent decision in favor of West Haven came in 2002, the debate was dragged on for many more years. Connecticut’s Final State Environmental Impact Evaluation, published in June of 2007, cites the pros and cons of the two sites and is an immense four hundred and fifty pages.

Despite the Orange station plan being supported by Bayer Pharmaceutical Corporation (the proposed Orange site would be within walking distance of their headquarters), the state upheld the original 9 to 6 vote in favor of West Haven. After many years of often-heated debate, a ceremonial groundbreaking was finally held in November of 2010, and attended by then-Governor Jodi Rell (the station project has languished over the tenure of three different governors – the original decision was made during John Rowland’s term, and Dannel Malloy was present at the ribbon cutting).


Aerial view progression of the work site: by 2010 a few buildings have been knocked down in preparation for the new station, and by 2012 construction is in full force.

Though the station was originally estimated to cost around $80 million, and would include a parking garage, the final cost was closer to $110 million and lacked the garage. Although the 658 parking spaces at the new station do alleviate some of the parking problems at New Haven and Milford, it does not have the impact that was originally hoped for with a 2000+ space garage. Nonetheless, the new station does allow access to the nearby Yale West Campus, and West Haven’s Veterans Hospital is investigating the possibility of operating a shuttle to and from the new station.

Many West Haven citizens hoped for an older style station, reflecting the historical aesthetic of the old Savin Rock Amusement Park. Alas the station built was a more modern brick and glass building that may resemble a school more than it does a train station. The only truly aesthetic touch are the stylized seagulls on some of the window panes, which do seem to appropriately reflect the nearby Savin Rock area of West Haven, but are relatively underwhelming. Though it is certainly a nice addition to the New Haven Line, and to the citizens of West Haven, the station is hardly unique, and un-noteworthy compared to many of the historical stations you’ll find on the line.

 
Left: Ceremonial groundbreaking at West Haven station. ((Ceremonial groundbreaking photo from Discover West Haven.)) Right: Ribbon cutting ceremony at West Haven. ((Ribbon cutting photo from the city of West Haven.))

As a final note, Michael Mercuriano, chairman of the West Haven Train Station Committee is hoping that a plaque will be placed at the station recognizing the efforts of the committee. I didn’t see a plaque to that effect, but if you were to ask me I think a plaque recognizing Robert Luden would be most appropriate. Luden was the 27-year veteran track foreman killed in May near the construction site.

  
  
Construction views of West Haven station. Top: The prefabricated pedestrian bridge is placed. ((Pedestrian bridge photos by Tim Kemperle)) Bottom left: Aerial view of the construction site. ((Aerial view of the construction site photo from Discover West Haven.)) Bottom center: Glass installers getting ready to place the windows into the station. ((Glass installers photo by Peter Casolino, New Haven Register.)) Bottom right: Platform view of the construction work ((Platform view of the construction site photo from Discover West Haven.)).

No Tuesday Tour would be complete without a cache of photos, which you’ll find below. Unfortunately the station building was closed, and the sky was cloudy with no sun, so they aren’t the most optimal photos. Rest assured that one of these days I’ll be getting back over to West Haven, however…

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
   
   
  
  
 
  
   
  
   
  
   
  
   
 

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Darien

Welcome to Darien, a lovely Connecticut town filled with famous people, aspiring politicians, and people that make a whole lot more money than I do. In fact, Darien is considered part of Connecticut’s “Gold Coast” – a moniker I had not even heard of prior to today. Along with other railroad towns I’ve featured – like New Canaan and Greenwich – Darien is certainly one of the more wealthy destinations along the New Haven Line. The story is still the same – the railroad enabled people to move out of the city and establish suburban communities in Westchester and southern Connecticut. But really, who wouldn’t want to be able to work in the city during the week, and hang out at the yacht club on the weekend?


Postcard view of Darien

Darien station is one of two stations in the town of Darien, the other being Noroton Heights, which is one stop to the west. The station is slightly less than 38 miles from the city, and it takes you just under an hour to get to Grand Central. Stamford, on the other hand, is a short, approximately five mile, jaunt that takes a bit less than ten minutes.

The historic station building that still stands was built at some point in the 1800’s, and was restored in 2002. As with other stations we’ve seen on the line, building plans were often reused as a cost cutting measure. Darien’s station bears a strong resemblance to Westport, and is practically a twin to Southport‘s west-bound station


Photo of Darien from the lovely TylerCityStation

It was at Darien that I think I realized the true nature of my terrorist photographer tendencies. Metro North published a nice little “System Safety / Security Pocket Guide” for employees. Inside it lists various suspicious behaviors that should be reported straight away. One of which says, “Taking photos in areas of little interest to the public.” I don’t know about you, but I am not sure if light fixtures are of real interest to the public. In fact, I think I took more photos of light fixtures than I did of the 100+ year old Darien station. Thankfully it wasn’t a hot day – sweating is another suspicious behavior.

Below you will find all of the suspicious photos I snapped at Darien – which is the second-to-last station to be featured on our tour of the New Haven Line. Next Tuesday will be our final station stop – Stamford.

  
  
 
   
  
   
  
 
   
 

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Fairfield


Postcard view of Fairfield station

Welcome to Fairfield, the next stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. Although it isn’t as hip as the new Fairfield Metro station, it does have a bit of history – including an 1882 station listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located just over 50 miles from Grand Central, a train trip to the city from Fairfield takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.

 
 

Many of today’s historical images of Fairfield station have come from a site called Tyler City Station, which is filled with information about Connecticut stations, and is quite wonderful. It is definitely worth checking out.

One of the nice things about New Haven main line stations are the configuration of the tracks. Instead of having an island platform, like a lot of Harlem Line stations, there are two platforms – one on each side of the four tracks. Because of this arrangement, there were usually two station buildings, one on the New Haven (or eastbound) side, and one on the New York (or westbound) side. While many stops along the line have only retained one of their stations, Fairfield has managed to preserve both.

 
Diagram of the tracks and station buildings at Fairfield

Fairfield’s eastbound station is the oldest of the two, a brick building constructed in 1882. The building measures 26 feet by 82 feet, and is one and a half stories in height. The inside has high ceilings and hardwood flooring. The old waiting room is used by a taxi company, and the building also contains a restaurant and cleaners.

The westbound station is constructed of wood and measures 30 feet by 90 feet. It also has hardwood flooring, and is partially occupied by a coffee shop. There is a small waiting area that once served as a ticket office, but Metro-North closed that window in 2010. The design is similar to several other stations we’ve featured, as reusing the architectural plan for multiple stations was a method of cost savings for the railroad.


Because we’re all fascinated (or at least I am) with train crash images, here is one in Fairfield.

  
Photos of Fairfield in 1988, from the application for listing the station on the National Register of Historic Places.

That is about all I have on Fairfield, and for our tour today. At the time of my visit there was some construction going on, and some tracks were out of service. You will note in several of the photos that trains were boarding from temporary wooden platforms, instead of the normal concrete side platforms, because of this construction.

 
  
 
   
  
 
  
   
 
  

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Noroton Heights


Noroton Heights, circa 1920. Image is from a postcard that was for sale on eBay, labeled as Norton Heights.

Today’s station visit on our tour of the New Haven Line may deserve the title of “Most frequently misspelled Metro-North station,” which certainly made researching it for today fun. Noroton Heights – or as some would believe, Norton Heights – has even been spelled wrong on a map published by Metro-North. However you spell it, we’re talking today about the place in Connecticut, the one that has the railroad station (a Norton Heights does actually exist in CT, it is in Wolcott). Located about 36 miles from Grand Central, Noroton Heights is on the New Haven main line, and is one of two train stations in the town of Darien.


Noroton Heights, 1946


Noroton Heights, date unknown. [image source]

Although the historic photos of Noroton Heights above are pretty awesome, none of them depict the placement of the station how it is today. When high-level platforms were being constructed along the line (in the early 70’s), the Noroton Heights station was shifted about two tenths of a mile east. Unfortunately, I was not aware of this at the time, so I missed seeing the old Noroton Heights depot, which is still around and is being used as a youth center. When the building’s life as a railroad station ended, it was transformed to serve the population of Darien in alternate methods. In 1972 it became the home of Darien EMS Post 53, and served as their headquarters for 16 years. After Post 53 relocated to a new building across the street, the old depot was set to be demolished. Fortunately, it was saved from that fate when the youth center acquired it in 1989.


The newer, high-level platform at Noroton Heights, 1980. [image source]

The station building that is there today isn’t particularly noteworthy, though it does have the typical amenities one would expect on a main line station – a canopy and shelter, a walkway to cross the tracks, and a few ticket vending machines.

 
  
   
   
  
 
  
  
 
  
 

Read More