Just the other day I was chatting with a coworker about riding the train – she lives in Mount Vernon and mentioned occasionally riding the “red line” into the city. I had to chuckle a little bit – it is usually the uninitiated newbies that refer to the Metro-North lines by their colors. The color of each line, however, is deeply ingrained in all of us. From the signage on the platforms to the printed timetables, we all pretty much know that the Hudson Line is green, the Harlem blue, and the New Haven red. But where did these colors come from, and how long have they represented each line?
Most obvious is the New Haven Line. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, of which today’s New Haven Line was once a part, long used red for printing and locomotive paint schemes. Although not part of the core Metro-North lines on the east of the Hudson River, I’ve always thought that the selection of orange to represent the Port Jervis line was a little bit clever – much of the line runs through Orange County. I’m not sure how the Harlem became blue, and the Hudson became green (you’d think it is backwards – blue seems more appropriate for the line that runs along the Hudson River), the two colors have been established long before Metro-North ever came into being. Their first usage on timetables dates back to around 1965.
One of the very first (in not the first) New York Central timetables where the Harlem Division is colored blue.
The first uses of the blue and green color for the Harlem and Hudson Divisions was not in the ink – it was the paper. These two are from April 1967.
Some of the earliest timetables using blue ink. Although there were a few more printings of timetables on blue paper, the blue ink on white paper became the standard, which continues today.
Blue ink on white paper eventually became the standard for Harlem timetables, though there were a few times over the years where the rules were totally broken. One of the most odd was an early timetable printed by Metro-North in 1983 – in maroon ink. I have no idea why anyone would have thought to print a Harlem Line timetable in maroon – my only assumption is that it was to catch people’s attention as it highlighted the electrification project underway north of White Plains.
Most amusingly, you’ll note a little mark on the bottom right that reads “Form 112.” Form 112 was the number assigned to Upper Harlem timetables since the New York Central days, which at that time meant service from Pawling to Chatham (or in the early 1900’s, North Adams, Massachusetts). It is a little bit odd to see that form number used for service north of White Plains. Calling stations like Valhalla, or Mount Kisco the Upper Harlem seems like blasphemy to me.
Today you won’t find form numbers on any of Metro-North’s timetables. Their inclusion in the early timetables almost seems like an in-joke amongst the old railroaders working for this new company. You won’t see “Upper Harlem” timetables either – the entire line is usually printed in a single timetable, making this particular timetable rare.
Below is the rest of the timetable, which is a bit interesting to see… especially the listing of the fares when Metro-North took over from Conrail in 1983.
On Friday I had the pleasure of speaking with Howard Permut, President of Metro-North Railroad. Though there are many things one could ask the president of the railroad, admittedly I was interested in his unique perspective regarding the history of Metro-North. Mr. Permut has been with Metro-North since its inception in 1983, and prior to his position as president, served as as the Senior Vice President of Planning. Though most commuters today are likely unaware of it, Metro-North has improved in leaps and bounds over the years, starting out from the shambles left by Penn Central that were grudgingly operated by ConRail. So he’s definitely seen this railroad at its worst – and as its best.
Photograph from this site. Unfortunately it totally slipped my mind to try and get a photo. Yes, I’m a dope. Second photograph below of Howard Permut is from the MTA.
Anyways, on to the good stuff. While I debated using the conversation to write an article, I felt that the words would be most interesting in the interview format they were spoken. And thus, here is a complete transcript of the conversation I had with the president of Metro-North on Friday!
Metro-North has come a long way since its formation from ConRail. Do you have any strong memories from those early days, and is there any particular accomplishment since then you are most proud of?
I’ve been at Metro-North since we started. When we took over we were the worst railroad in North America, we’ve now moved to be the best railroad in North America. In fact, last year we won the award, called the Brunel Award, which is for the best design of any railroad in the world – and Metro-North won that, beating out competitors from Japan and Europe. It is something we’re very proud of, because it reflects all the progress we’ve made.
My memories from the beginning were that nothing worked. If you go back to 1983 the trains were rarely ever on time, the heat was always working in the summer, and the air conditioning in the winter, Grand Central was a homeless shelter – we had 900 people living in Grand Central when we took over – there was nothing good about Metro-North.
One memory I always have is on the Harlem Line, taking a trip up in the old coaches – and they came from any place in the world that ConRail could find them. Literally the whole trip to Pleasantville, in a cold car in October, I was holding up the side of the wainscoting, the side of the train, because I thought it was going to fall on me.
As for what I’m most proud of, I’m incredibly proud of how the organization has changed itself from the worst to the best. We’ve made huge achievements – our on-time performance is the best in the country, we have a great safety record, we’ve become significantly more efficient, and we’ve doubled the ridership to become the biggest railroad in North America. Those are really amazing achievements.
“If you go back to 1983 the trains were rarely ever on time, the heat was always working in the summer, and the air conditioning in the winter, Grand Central was a homeless shelter… there was nothing good about Metro-North. I’m incredibly proud of how the organization has changed itself from the worst to the best.”
Do you recall any of the planning that went into the decision to “rebrand” the railroad as Metro-North and not Metro North Commuter Railroad, and in what ways would you hope to attract more non-commuters in the future?
I remember very well because I was integrally a part of that, and we made the decision, in the late 1980’s, if I recall correctly, that Metro-North – we were much more than just a commuter railroad. We were carrying a lot of discretionary riders, a lot of people who are going halfway up and down the line, and that it was important that we were known as Metro-North Railroad than Metro-North Commuter Railroad – so it was a very specific decision.
You asked about discretionary riders – one of the most important things, and one of the things I always emphasize, is we have customers, not riders, something Peter Stangl our president changed the vernacular for. Everybody has a choice to ride or not ride Metro-North, and it’s our goal to give everybody and provide significant value that people want to take Metro-North. Our ridership has doubled, which is a fantastic achievement over the past 30 years. A lot of that has been driven not by commuters at all, but by discretionary riders – weekend riders, by off-peak, by evening, by intermediate riders. We continue to focus on that, and we’ve done numerous different things over the years to increase the ridership.
Going forward I’m really excited that we’re going to be adding all this off-peak and weekend service, trains will be running every half hour. That will be an enormous improvement for our riders, they can now know that they can come into the city, for example, and not have to worry about missing their train. Because if you miss it there’s another train in a half hour, and you’re in Grand Central, which is the center of New York anyway. So you’ve lost nothing, and it frees up people from worrying about that and I think that will greatly increase our weekend and off-peak ridership.
When the Harlem Line extension was being planned, was Millerton ever on the table, or was the main focus always Wassaic?
Again, I was involved with that because I was head of planning then. We focused, and our goal was to get as far north as we could while implementing the project. We wanted to go far north for two reasons, we needed a location for a railyard, we didn’t have sufficient room in Southeast, and we wanted as far north so we could attract as many customers as possible. The best site to do that was Wassaic. If I remember correctly, the rail trail was already in existence to Millerton, so we would have had a huge obstacle. How do you de-map a rail trail? There would have been significant opposition. I believe there was opposition in Millerton itself for train service.
The question became to us, we think if you want to get this done, we think we can make it to Wassaic and get that implemented. If we try to go further north, which would have been in an ideal world nice, we believe we would have had nothing. And so this was a case of getting 80%, and getting it done. And once we got through all the environmental reviews we were able to build the line, and I guess it has been running for ten, almost fifteen years now.
Do you have a favorite Metro-North station?
Truthfully I do, and it’s Grand Central. Where else? It is the center of New York, it’s an amazing place.
Are there any other transit systems you admire?
First of all I admire what New York City subways does day in and day out, carrying that number, millions of people. I think that there are other properties within the United States who do certain things very well. Metro-North is particularly focused on partnership with JR East in Japan, and I certainly admire many things that they do. The volumes of people that they carry are phenomenal, their reliability is phenomenal. They make money – which is unlike any transit system in the United States – in part that is because they are allowed to own the real estate, unlike Metro-North where almost all the real estate has been given away by the predecessor railroads – so they are capturing the value created by the railroad. They, in particular, are a group that we’ve probably met with four or five times and exchanged ideas, and continue to do so.
JR (Japan Railways) East shinkansen, or as it is more commonly known in the US, bullet train.
If you could tell every Metro-North rider one thing, what would it be?
I would say that I would hope that people continue to recognize the value of Metro-North, that they continue to ride Metro-North, they continue to encourage their friends and family to ride Metro-North, and that if they see things that they think we should make improvements on that they should let us know. We take very seriously all the letters we get, I personally read every single letter that is sent to me, and if they have really good ideas we will follow up on them. We’ve gotten over the years many good ideas from people, many issues have been raised, and we respond to them. Again, it would be use the train, and if you have any ideas or suggestions, let us know, and we’ll take a look at them and see if it makes sense, and if we can do them we will.
Postcard view of the original station at New Hamburg. [image credit]
Today our Tuesday Tour takes us to the northern portion of Metro-North’s Hudson Line, as we visit New Hamburg. The station is about 65 miles from Grand Central in the un-electrified territory north of Croton-Harmon, and sandwiched in between Beacon station and Metro-North’s terminus at Poughkeepsie. The railroad bisects the hamlet of New Hamburg, notable mostly for its marina on the Hudson.
Along the railroad, however, New Hamburg was likely notable for its tunnel. As I mentioned in my introduction to the Hudson Line, eight tunnels needed to be constructed to accommodate the tracks in the 1840’s, one of which was in New Hamburg. Although the tunnel is no longer used by the railroad, it still exists, though for the most part it is covered by brush. Railroad service both north and south had already been established before the tunnel was completed, so for a short time passengers heading through New Hamburg had to detour the unfinished tunnel by boat.
New Hamburg has seen its share of train crashes – one New York Times reporter, apparently fond of alliteration, described an 1871 crash as a “Human Holocaust on the Hudson”. The above image shows a crash in 1899.
Despite being around since the Hudson River Railroad days, the station at New Hamburg was closed sometime after 1962 (yes, the station had again made the newspaper that year for another crash – this time four children walking on the tracks were hit and killed by a New York Central Beeliner). Though most stations that are closed end up shuttered permanently, this one has a little bit happier of an ending. New Hamburg station reopened in 1981, and was serviced by new Seldom Self-Propelled Vehicles operated by Conrail. Thankfully, those cars are just a memory, and today Metro-North offers some more reliable service from New Hamburg.
Last December I posted some photos from Briarcliff Manor, a station that was along the now-defunct Putnam Division, and how it has since been converted into a library. I’ve always thought it seems appropriate for an old train station to live a second life as a home to history and literature in the form of a library. There are several such places in New York state alone, but one of my favorites is in Middletown, NY. Since we’ve now turned our attention to Metro-North’s west-of-Hudson service and will spend the next few Tuesdays visiting the stations of the Port Jervis line, I thought it would be appropriate to also check out some of the former stations. Middletown is likely one of the most beautiful of the extant stations to fall under that category.
Roosevelt arrives in Middletown via train, 1898. [image source]
As I mentioned earlier this week, the current Port Jervis line follows a slightly different route than the original passenger line operated by the Erie railroad. A portion of the Erie main line was abandoned, and trains were rerouted along the freight Graham Line in the 80’s. The tracks that ran through the center of Middletown, and past this Erie depot, were part of the section that was abandoned. When the old tracks were removed, Middletown’s historic Erie depot became just an old building surrounded by asphalt and automobiles. Its life as a venue for rail travel had come to an end.
(top) A circus train arrives in Middletown in 1906. (bottom) Celebrating Erie Day in 1943. [images source]
Built in 1896, the beautiful Romanesque-style Erie depot was designed by architect George Archer. Archer was a native of Maryland and a graduate of Princeton University. He designed several churches, banks, and other buildings in the mid-Atlantic area of the US, and in varying styles. As I’ve mentioned before, the Romanesque style is definitely my favorite, and was popular in the US in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Chatham and Mamaroneck are other examples of stations designed in similar style which I’ve featured before.
Though the name “Erie Railroad” is prominently emblazoned on the outside of the building, the station did in fact outlive that railroad. In 1960 the cash-strapped Erie, and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroads combined to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. Similar to the fate of the Penn Central, the Erie Lackawanna eventually declared bankruptcy and was ultimately merged into Conrail. The station survived all of these changes, and stood watch as the final passenger train arrived at Middletown at 6 PM on April 16th, 1983.
Photos of Middletown in the 1970’s, from the collection of Michael Jensen.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. By the 1980’s, the Middletown Thrall Library began to run into a difficult, yet obvious problem – the building in which they were housed was too small. By 1991 a solution had been found – expanding and moving into the old Erie depot. Construction began in October of 1993, and the library finally opened in its new home on February 13, 1995. The new library cost a total of $5.3 million, and was now 30,000 square feet – much larger than its previous building. The library’s reading room is in what was the original station, and the director’s office was the original ticket booth. The rest of the building is modern, but made to mimic the style of the original station.
In several weeks we will visit Middletown’s replacement station on the Port Jervis Line on our Tuesday Tour, but suffice it to say, it pales in comparison to this beautiful building. But I don’t think anyone can really complain – the former Erie depot makes a fine library.
Ever since we shifted the clocks for Daylight Savings Time, I’ve had difficulties waking up in the morning. Instead of my usual train reading, I’ve been doing more train sleeping. And of course, coming back from the weekend, that is the hardest part. But if I had some good things to look forward to on a Monday morning, well, maybe that would make it a bit easier – like a good collection of historical photos from the Harlem Line. Here is part 3 of our Monday Morning old photos… as previously mentioned, these are all images that I’ve acquired from various places, often by purchase online, or have been sent to me by other people. I’m not sure of who the photographers are, and it is pretty much a mixed bag of year and location. But I do think some of you have enjoyed the challenge of attempting to figure out where the photos were taken. Anyways, enjoy the pictures, I’m going to try and do these posts as many Mondays as I can, or at least until I exhaust my collection of old photos.
As promised, here are some more old Harlem Division photos to start off your week. There are some photos in this bunch that I really like, including a shot at the old State Hospital station, which along with the Wingdale station, was removed and replaced by Harlem Valley-Wingdale.
If you liked these old photos, be sure to check out Part 1 from last Monday, and this collection of photos from the 80’s. More old photos are definitely on the way….
Have a case of the Mondays? Need something to cheer you up on this crappy weather day? Hopefully some old Harlem Division photos will do the trick. People are always selling old slides and photos on eBay, and I have a little bit of a collection. I don’t always know the location (though they are on the Harlem Division), date, or even the photographer, but I love looking back at the trains of yesteryear – and even the old cars in some of the photos. The next few Mondays I’ll be posting my collection of old eBay-acquired photos… enjoy a little look into the past on the Harlem Division.
It has been my opinion for quite a while that my house ought to be a reality TV show. Not far from Goldens Bridge train station, we roommates met via Craigslist. We currently have three people in the house, but in the past have had four. And one dog. Her name is Kaylee, and she weighs almost as much as me. Correction, she weighs nearly what I weighed before I got a job that provided me enough money for my junk food and Coca-cola addiction. The fourth roommate, and there have been two, has always been the smelly one – whether it be from not washing, or from smoking a million packs a day. The first two formed a band that frequently makes noise in our basement, which if you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably heard about. They are also dating off and on. If I had a dollar for every time they broke up and she moved out, only for her to move back in not soon after, I’d be rich. They are currently together, but by the time the next train arrives in Goldens Bridge, who knows…
In a strange coincidence during one of those breakups, the two got into a fight outside. He threw a CD at her, but was off the mark and it flew into the neighbor’s yard. And they forgot about it. Several days later the neighbor shows up, CD in hand, returning what they must have “lost”. In the chatter that followed during this encounter, my roommate discovered that the neighbor once worked for the railroad, back when they still used steam on the Harlem Line. When my roommate told me about it, I knew I had to speak to this man. And so, one afternoon while walking the dog, I spotted him outside on the porch and said hello.
The man on the left is my neighbor, John
My neighbor certainly has an intresting viewpoint in regards to the history of the Harlem line. He witnessed the final years of steam on the line, and the trains that replaced them. He was a Fireman, while that position still existed, anyway. He told me he’d put water in the boiler in the engine in Goldens Bridge that would run to Mahopac, and then on break, would walk to his house, have a sandwich and tend to the plants in his garden. It was one of the many jobs he had over the years, including working in Chatham, Dover Plains, Brewster and Goldens Bridge. Occasional winters were spent working on the Maybrook Line in Danbury and Hopewell Junction. Besides seeing the end of steam, he witnessed the transition from the New York Central to Penn Central, Conrail, and Metro North, until finally retiring in 1991.
The above photos of his are of the Empire State Express no. 999, taken in Chatham in 1952
We always thought we’d lose the passengers. We never thought we’d lose the freight…
John motions to his wife, telling me how she hates how he always says this. It is hard for him to understand the state of matters today, shipping everything by truck. Trains were so much more efficient, he says. Watching the news every morning, the traffic reports show cameras of the traffic on every bridge going into the city, with traffic backed up for miles… and plenty of box trucks in wait. He muses about how everything has changed. Everything today is technology based…
“It was boring…” he said of being an engineer today. He turns to look at me with his weathered face, but his light blue eyes are still bright. He tells me that having good eyes was essential for working on the railroad. When starting out he had to undergo various vision tests, to have the vision to see a signal light from a mile away. To see in fog, and to see through your peripheral vision. It baffled him to see people working for Metro North, people that wore glasses. Because now, you didn’t need to see signals outside, everything was in the cab. Having perfect vision isn’t a necessity as it once was. Although hiring a more diverse workforce, in both gender and color, was a new thing, seeing the people wearing glasses seemed like it was harder to get used to for him.
He refers to himself as an “old timer” and says that most of the people he worked with weren’t really interested in his stories. I think he finds it amusing that someone is so interested in them, especially a young female. But that is hardly the first time I’ve heard that before. Some of the things he told me were not stories in their entirety, but quick smatterings of thoughts and memories. Comparing distractions of cell phones today, to people he recalled watching baseball games on portable televisions long ago. People that would throw rocks and bottles at the train, and how he once got a “face full of glass” – an event he didn’t care much to elaborate on. Stories he heard from the “old timers” of his day, of bootleggers during prohibition, and people that smuggled out Canadian ale on the trains. And when I asked about uniforms, he told me of others on cleaner trains that wore suits to work, suits with inner pockets where flasks could be hidden.
More photos from my neighbor’s collection
For 43 years my neighbor worked for the railroad, though he mentioned another family member that had a record, close to 50 years of service to the rail. His daughter and son both work for Metro North, in North White Plains, and over on the Hudson Line. Despite living next door, I don’t see the man much. He spends part of his time at a house upstate, and when he happens to be in Goldens Bridge, he often sits outside, on the porch hidden by bushes. But every time I walk by, mostly on the way to or from the train station, I look over to see if he is hidden behind those plants. Because even though our conversations have been few, they’ve always been most interesting.
Despite living rather close to Danbury, I had never visited the Danbury Railway Museum. Today I decided to change that, and went exploring to the museum. It was quite an incredible day, the temperature really warmed up compared to last week. And the sky was amazingly blue, and quite beautiful.
The inside of the museum was not too bad, though it felt more geared towards children. There were a lot of model railways, with buttons you could press to operate. I did like their collection of uniforms and conductor hats. I must admit though, the fun part of a trip to any train museum are the trains themselves. I spent a lot more time out and exploring the trains and the rail yard, than I did inside. The fact that a young child of about four kept following me and pulling on my pant leg inside probably played a bit in that decision as well.
If you’re interested in finding out more information about the museum, or taking a visit, you can get to their site by clicking here. Looks like they are in desperate need of a new website though, as it totally looks like a circa-1997 geocities website! The museum is definitely worth the visit though, and I’ll certainly have to go back after April. They do run trains on which you can ride, but they don’t do so during the winter, apparently.
Perhaps I pay a little bit more attention to the signs and advertisements on the train because I am a graphic designer. Or perhaps it is just because I am observant. Either way, I am often amused looking at the little messages people write on ads, and on the trains. People interacting with their surroundings. Probably stupid people.
Here is my collection to date of delightful bits of train graffiti. Perhaps sometime in the future there will be a part two… and if you happen to have any pictures of anything amusing, be sure to send it to me :D
Advertisements for television shows are quite common on the trains. Apparently this person thinks that TV is shit.
Goldens Bridge tends to frequently get graffiti similar to the one above. My hypothesis is that high school students are the ones making the marks, and Goldens Bridge gets many young people, between the local skater kids and the students that take the train to school. Kennedy High School is right down the street, and a shuttle bus picks up students at the station every morning.
My initial thought in seeing this is that someone forgot to write “For a good time, call…” Assuming that it is in fact a phone number, it is still missing an area code. Trying the various area codes from the New York area, the only promising number is in the area code 914. And that would be Dr. Jim Koo, located in Yorktown. Did someone on the train call information and not have anything to write on? Or maybe Dr. Koo is hoping for you to call him for a good time. He’ll give you a full physical.
Fuck you Conrail? Conrail??? Metro North was formed in 1983, and Conrail was before that. Is someone living in the past, or was this done a long, long time ago?
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.