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 When opening, rail locks are released, the rail ends are lifted, catenary wire is separated, wedge locks are withdrawn, and bridge locks are released.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.
Today we feature the busiest bridge on the entire system, the Harlem River Lift Bridge. At sixty years old the bridge is not nearly as old as the issue-plagued WALK bridge, but it by far sees the most action, carrying nearly 700 trains per day for all three East of Hudson Metro-North lines. Over the past few months work has been moving along on the bridge – installing new cables that lift the tracks over the river for passing boats, and putting in new wiring, power supplies, and electrical control systems. Below the bridge a circuit breaker room that flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is experienced corrosion will be replaced. Gone will be an old crank control, updated to today’s standards with modern computers. In total, the overhaul has a $47.2 million price tag.
The 1867 bridge over the Harlem River, note the construction of a temporary bridge to allow a new 1891 span to be constructed on the main line. Image from the December 1892 Scientific American.
Historically, several previous movable bridges stood at this very spot, carrying the New York Central over the Harlem River. The first bridge over the river was completed in 1841, and stood a mere eight feet over the water at high tide. Made of wood, that bridge was later updated with iron spans in 1867. Later, a four track swing bridge was built in 1891. This bridge connected with the new Park Avenue viaduct, raising the tracks above Harlem and allowing a higher crossing over the river.
If you’re looking to visit one of Europe’s historical railroad stations, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof probably isn’t it. Opened in 2006, the city’s “main” or “central” station is a modern mix of rail and commercial space, encased in glass. There is, however, something to be said about the station’s upper floor, with a dome that evokes the train sheds of yesteryear (the glass is, however, thoroughly modern and contains 2700 square meters of solar paneling). While several tracks are located below ground, and there is a U-Bahn station further underground that will transport you to the Reichstag or Brandenburg Gate, the station’s most photogenic spot likely can be found under that dome.
Historically, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof was constructed on the former site of the Lehrter Bahnhof, which dated back to 1871. Unfortunately, that station was heavily damaged in World War II, and after the partition of Germany – which wreaked havoc on the city’s transportation systems – it was ultimately decided to demolish it. The last train departed the station in August of 1951, and by 1959 the station was completely gone, though the Stadtbahnhof viaducts which ran overhead were preserved.
I’ve always said that my primary interest in railroads is not necessarily the machine that is a train, but instead the way railroad systems change over time, and how they influence the people and locations around them – or even how places influence the rails. For those with similar interests, the city of Berlin is a great case study. As I’m sure everyone is familiar, Germany and the city of Berlin were partitioned after World War II into areas occupied by the French, British, Americans, and Soviets. The Soviet portion became the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, and the three other sectors the Federal Republic of Germany, better known as West Germany. In Berlin, a transit system that once spanned the entire city became truncated by this political divide. With the construction of the Berlin wall, starting in 1961, the city became truly divided.
Ghost station: The U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße was closed after the construction of the Berlin Wall. Here you can see the entrance to the station, blocked by the wall. The station was reopened after the reunification of Germany. Photo taken August 27, 1962 by Allhails.
The citywide network of trains in Berlin struggled to conform to the divisions forced upon it by politics. In some instances, stations were completely closed, and lines were truncated as to not operate in the opposite sector. In other situations, lines were able to operate across the border, albeit with restrictions. The U8 line, for example, started in West Germany, but traversed a portion of East German territory before returning to the west. Although the train was permitted to pass through East Germany, they were not permitted to stop at the stations there. Shrouded in darkness and heavily guarded, these shuttered stations became colloquially known as “ghost stations.” In a unique situation, Friedrichstraße railway station, located in East German territory, was open to citizens from both sides of the border, though the station was divided into isolated sections for each.
Anyone familiar with the history of Grand Central Terminal (and hopefully all of you that regularly read this blog) likely recall a 1902 train crash that led to significant changes in how New Yorkers viewed trains. Nobody really liked steam trains operating through the city, and attempts to hide them in cuts and tunnels proved to be unsafe. That particularly serious crash in the Park Avenue Tunnel led to steam trains being banned in Manhattan. The idea of electric trains had been pondered for a while, but this proved the necessary impetus for innovation. The New York Central’s Chief Engineer William Wilgus, and inventor Frank Sprague came up with the bottom contact third rail to power trains into the city, allowing a bold new Grand Central that could never have been accomplished with the previous technology. The often overlooked question, however, is where did that electricity come from? Let’s rewind back a few years to the beginning of the Grand Central project…
At the heart of the Grand Central Project was not just a station, but an entire set of buildings – A Terminal City. Minnesota architects Charles Reed and Allen Stem won the New York Central’s commission for designing the new Grand Central Terminal, with the assistance of Reed’s brother-in-law, William Wilgus. Later added to the project by the Vanderbilt family were cousin Whitney Warren and his partner Charles Wetmore. The four collaborated on the Terminal itself, as well as the redesigned Grand Central Palace. Other buildings associated with the project were divided between the two firms – the hotels and New York Central Building went to Warren and Wetmore. Though not the most important architecturally, the two most important buildings of all were designed by Reed & Stem – the power stations that powered these new electric trains.
Two power stations were constructed by the New York Central in 1906 – one on the Harlem Division at Port Morris (the Harlem had a short branch to Port Morris at the time), and another in the Glenwood section of Yonkers on the Hudson Division. The architecture of both, as designed by Reed and Stem, was relatively simple with brick and terra cotta on the outside. Long, arched windows provided natural light during the day, and an attractive glow along the water at night. Under that simple exterior lay an extensive framework of steel (2800 tons of steel in total), with concrete flooring, brick and tile walls, and concrete roofing slabs covered with copper. Each plant consisted of two buildings – a main building that enclosed a boiler room, coal bunker, and generating room which was 167′ wide, 237′ long, and 105′ high, and a separate swich house located about 40′ away from the main building.
Both power stations were cross-connected, and each had an ultimate capacity of 30,000 kw. Just as Grand Central was designed to handle more traffic than the railroad was currently operating, the power stations were designed to carry train service much greater than what was being operated at the time with steam locomotives. Powered by coal, the plants were both designed to receive coal by rail or by boat, which was then delivered by conveyors to a crusher. After the coal was crushed to the necessary size, it was delivered by another conveyor to a coal bunker with a 3500 ton capacity at the top of the building. Each plant had 24 Babcock and Wilcox water tube boilers, and was designed to accommodate 6 5000kw Curtis vertical turbo-generators. The high voltage AC electricity provided by these power plants was delivered to various substations along the Harlem and Hudson Divisions through insulated cables, where it was then converted to lower voltage DC power for the third rail to power trains.
Though integral to the initial operations of Grand Central Terminal, the New York Central eventually realized that it would be cheaper to purchase energy as opposed to generating its own, and the Glenwood plant was sold to Con Edison in 1936. By the late ’60s the obsolete plant was shuttered and remained abandoned for decades… until fairly recently. A bold plan to restore and repurpose the old power station has been on the table for a few years, but seems to be moving forward thanks to the assistance of New York politicians.
“The Plant” project looks to turn the crumbling power station into a hotel and a convention center, with a capacity of 1600 and 3500 people, respectively. The space is separated into four distinct parts – the Smokestack Building, the Great Turbine Hall, a courtyard, and the Switch House Building – all of which will be connected internally with a new corridor. The smokestack building would contain a reception area, and cafe on the ground floor, and a hotel on the upper floors. Not only will the smokestacks be preserved, plans call for meeting rooms to be constructed inside the 15’6″-diameter stacks.
A large convention center and exhibition space is planned for the Great Turbine Hall, upper floors may contain retail shops, and the building may also include a spa. The last building to be converted, the Switch House Building, will be converted into a corporate retreat with a hotel, ballroom, restaurant and cafe. This building would see the most changes from the original, as two stories would be added to the building for additional hotel space. The last section of the project would be the Courtyard, currently an open space between the buildings. This open air area would be enclosed with a glass roof and would contain a restaurant or cafe, and a seasonal garden.
All of the aforementioned buildings would be connected to the Metro-North station at Glenwood via a new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.
While there will always be people opposed to development in their neighborhood, the plans for restoring and repurposing the old power station were generally well received. Unfortunately, the area surrounding the site contains no space for parking, and project planners had their eyes on portions of nearby Trevor Park to fit that need, which was not well received by locals. Original plans called for a partially underground parking structure under the current Trevor Park, with artificial turf ball fields to be constructed above. After comments from the public, alternate possibilities have been suggested.
Either way, the city council unanimously decided at the end of April to request the New York State Legislature to authorize construction on former park lands for the project to move forward. The one caveat being that all parkland being used by the project must be replaced and improved in equal or greater acreage in alternate spots. This alternate parkland would be closer to the waterfront, and the development plans calls for sand volleyball courts, a bocce court, and a picnic and grilling area. This area would be in addition to the previously mentioned park above the parking garage, which is planned to have three ball fields and a playground.
Video highlighting the restoration and repurposing of the Glenwood Power Station.
I, for one, am very eager to see this beautiful old structure again restored to greatness. Though frequently overlooked, the old power plant played an integral role not only in local rail history, but also in the growth of New York City and its suburbs in Westchester and beyond. It will certainly be interesting watch how this project progresses!
In 1923 President Warren G. Harding drove a golden spike just north of Nenana, completing the Alaska Railroad’s main line. The line extended 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks, and is still the major backbone of the Alaska Railroad today. Over the years since there have been various additions and branches added, from the 28 mile Eilson Branch extending from Fairbanks to the Eilson Air Force Base, to the short Anchorage International Airport Branch which connects the railroad to the airport and is used occasionally for cruise ship passengers. Today, however, we turn our focus onto one of the railroad’s most important branches, the Whittier Branch.
Completed in 1943, the Whittier Branch connected the Alaska Railroad’s main line to the ice-free port of Whittier. Though a branch to Whittier had been considered for years prior, the project only came to fruition because of World War II. Whittier was not only a shortcut compared to the railroad’s other ice-free port in Seward, reduced exposure of ships to Japanese submarines, and was harder to bomb by plane because of the frequent bad weather.
The most notable characteristic of the branch are the two tunnels used to pass through the mountains surrounding Whittier. A one mile tunnel was needed to get through Begich Peak, and a 2.5 mile tunnel passed through Maynard Mountain. While the shorter tunnel exists much as it did when it was first constructed, the longer tunnel has had extensive work to allow cars and trucks to pass through.
Col. Benjamin B. Talley, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska (second from right) and Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner Jr., commander of the Alaska Defense Command (third from right), enter the Whittier Tunnel during a holing through ceremony Nov. 20, 1942. Photo from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Gone are the days where Whittier was just a military port – today it is an attractive ingress to Alaska used by boaters, freight ships and cruise liners. But up until the late 1990s Whittier was not accessible by car. The Alaska Railroad operated a shuttle service where cars could be transported by flatcar to Whittier, but it was not the most ideal option. While constructing a new highway over the mountain, or constructing another tunnel were all considered, the most cost effective solution was to modify the Alaska Railroad’s existing tunnel to allow road vehicles to traverse the mountain into Whittier.
Construction work to convert the railroad tunnel into a dual rail/highway tunnel. Photos from Hatch Mott McDonald.
Completed in June of 2000, the modified tunnel is the longest dual purpose rail and highway tunnel in North America. Built to endure the harsh Alaskan climate, the tunnel is able to operate in temperatures down to -40°F, winds of 150 MPH, and the portal buildings are able to withstand avalanches. Trains are still an important part of the traffic using the tunnel, and it employs a computerized traffic control system to regulate both vehicular and rail traffic in both directions. Besides special cruise ship trains, Alaska Railroad passenger service along the branch and through the tunnels is on the Glacier Discovery train. Freight remains an integral part of the railroad’s operations on the branch, and it is from Whittier that the railroad is connected by barge to Seattle and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
While plenty of people on YouTube have recorded the journey through the tunnel by car, we get to take a unique journey through by train, thanks to my camera mounted on the front of one of the Alaska Railroad’s locomotives. In typical Whittier fashion, it is raining, but you get the general experience of leaving the port of Whittier, waiting for access into the tunnel, and traversing both tunnels on the branch. Enjoy!
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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.
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).
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.
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. Bottom left: Aerial view of the construction site. Bottom center: Glass installers getting ready to place the windows into the station. Bottom right: Platform view of the construction work.
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…
- Ceremonial groundbreaking photo from Discover West Haven. [↩]
- Ribbon cutting photo from the city of West Haven. [↩]
- Pedestrian bridge photos by Tim Kemperle [↩]
- Aerial view of the construction site photo from Discover West Haven. [↩]
- Glass installers photo by Peter Casolino, New Haven Register. [↩]
- Platform view of the construction site photo from Discover West Haven. [↩]
Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us to one of Metro-North’s newer stations – the second newest on the line after Yankees-E 153rd Street, Cortlandt. Located a little over 38 miles from Grand Central, Cortlandt is in the upper, unelectrified portion of Metro-North’s Hudson Line, and situated between Croton-Harmon and Peekskill. Historically, there were two stations in this area – Crugers and Montrose – both of which were closed in favor of the new Cortlandt station. Space is always a critical issue at many Metro-North stations, especially when it comes to parking. Many stations have almost endless waiting lists for a parking permit. Cortlandt was one of the few places on the upper Hudson Line where there was room for expansion, and more room for parking. Especially built to replace Montrose and Crugers, the new station was opened in June of 1996.
Local timetables to Montrose and Crugers, and Hudson Line timetables from 1996. Note that Montrose and Crugers were there at the beginning of the year, but by midyear were replaced with Cortlandt. Thanks to Doug Dray, Otto Vondrak, and Bob Mortell for these timetables.
Although the parking situation was much improved at Cortlandt, Metro-North looked to expand even more, and in 2009 began a massive improvement project to the station. A new 720 car parking lot was built on the west side of the tracks, almost doubling parking capacity. Other improvements included a heated waiting room including a concession area, new canopies, and a new elevator. The New York State Department of Transportation improved the intersection between the station and Route 9A, which was also considered part of the project. The new road had lighted sidewalks built especially for those using the train to get to the nearby Veterans Hospital.
Cortlandt before and during construction. Before photo by Tom Panettiere, construction photo by George Kimmerling.
The MTA had a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony after the renovations to Cortlandt station were complete back in February, attended by both Metro-North president Howard Permut and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. In his statements at the ceremony, Permut said “[Cortlandt] will address current and future needs of the railroad and the communities it serves,” which is actually quite true – especially the future part. Though most don’t attribute foresight as a quality generously abound in the MTA, whoever came up with the upgrades for Cortlandt was certainly thinking about future expansion. A blocked off stairwell to nowhere, gated off with a sign that says “Authorized Personnel Only” looks like a perfect spot for a third platform to be constructed – at some point in the future if ever needed (if electrification further north ever happens?).
Included in the original construction of the station was an Arts for Transit piece titled Three Statues (A Short History of the Lower Hudson Valley), by Robert Taplin. Three seven-foot tall statues stand beside the station, each representative of a historical group of people that were common in this area. On the left, a wealthy Dutch landowner. In the middle, a laborer from the early nineteenth century. And on the right, a Native American figure. The figures look out over the long shape of the Hudson River, rendered in stone.
That’s about it for today’s tour – next week we’ll head back south on the Hudson Line to another station in the Bronx. There are only four more stations left to be featured on the Hudson Line, after which my camera may go hibernate for the winter (except for the part where I go ride Alaska Railroad’s winter train)!
Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us just about 22 miles north of Grand Central to Ardsley-on-Hudson station, a place of a bit of confusion. Ardsley-on-Hudson, located in Irvington, should not be confused with actual village of Ardsley, which is located a few miles east and had its own station on the long-gone Putnam Division. As you can see above, many Ardsley-on-Hudson timetables were printed with just “Ardsley” which doesn’t really help much with the confusion. Thankfully, Metro-North has been fairly consistent with printing the full “Ardsley-on-Hudson” on station signs and in timetables for the past few years.
Above: 1896 drawing of the Ardsley Casino clubhouse. Below: 1899 photo of the clubhouse grounds, and a postcard showing the yacht landing, train station, and clubhouse. The aesthetic of the train station matches the buildings for the Casino. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.
In regards to the train station, the name Ardsley derives from the Ardsley Casino, which opened at this location in 1896. The “on-Hudson” portion was tacked on because of its geographic location on the river, and to differentiate it from the village of Ardsley. To confuse you more, the Casino wasn’t a casino, but more of a club for the rich to play golf. While the Casino built a dock for their rich members to sail up to in their yachts, not all of the membership was quite as fortunate to own one – thus a train station was constructed. The train station building mirrored the Tudor revival architecture style of the Casino’s nearby clubhouse. The two buildings stood in close proximity until 1936 when the clubhouse was torn down. As the only surviving remnant of the club that once stood here, the station building does look a little bit out of place aesthetically, and has a unique look compared to other Hudson Line stations.
Though the Ardsley Casino no longer exists, the more informal Ardsley Country Club, can be named as its sucessor. The Casino merged with the nearby Racquet and Swimming Club in 1935, shortly before the old clubhouse was torn down and took that name.
Pedestrian bridge that connected the Hudson House apartments to the train station, which was destroyed in 2010. Photo by John Reidy.
Aerial views of Ardsley-on-Hudson. The one on the left is from 2004, the one on the right from 2010, shortly after the pedestrian bridge was destroyed. Note the differences in the station itself – the station was upgraded in the time between both photos.
After the Casino was torn down, it was replaced with the Hudson House Apartments. At one time there was a pedestrian bridge that connected the apartments directly to the train station. Unfortunately, the bridge was destroyed in 2010 when a sanitation driver crashed his dump truck into it. The historical bridge was never rebuilt.
Though the original station building still exists, it is not used for any railroad functions. It is now the home of the Ardsley-on-Hudson post office, and contains rows of post office boxes. The original fireplaces built in the station are still there, but not used. You may not be able to buy your ticket here, but there still is a small area that one could probably use to wait for a train, and some bathrooms.
Like many of Metro-North’s Hudson Line stations, Ardsley-on-Hudson underwent considerable improvements in the past few years. Ardsley-on-Hudson had its turn in 2005 and 2006, when a new overpass was built, as well as new platforms. Canopies were added to much of the platform to protect riders from the elements, which are visible in the aerial shot above. Ticket Vending Machines were installed in the new overpass.
All in all, Ardsley-on-Hudson is a pretty nice station. It has a bit of history, and being right on the Hudson River always looks nice. From the station you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge to the north, and just barely make out the George Washington Bridge in the far south on a clear day. If you ever find yourself on the Hudson Line, Ardsley-on-Hudson would always be an interesting station to check out!
Today our Tuesday Tour takes us to one of Metro-North’s newest stations, Yankees – E 153rd Street, or as many people think of it, Yankee Stadium station. The station construction coincided with the building of the new Yankee Stadium – the stadium opened on April 3, 2009, and the station shortly afterward on May 23, 2009. Though a station servicing the stadium had been talked about for a while, it was the new stadium that provided the motivation to get the project off the ground.
Timetables highlighting the new Yankees-E 153rd Street station. Hudson Line timetable from the collection of Bob Mortell.
While I generally like to feature history in our station tours, Yankees-E 153rd Street is a new station, thus I figured it would be interesting to instead check out the construction of the station. This is Metro-North’s newest station in New York (Fairfield Metro is the newest station, located in Connecticut). Historically, the New York Central offered special game day service to the old Yankee Stadium, but it required taking a train to Melrose, and either walking or taking a bus to the stadium itself. Now the stadium is just a short walk away – making Yankee Stadium extremely well connected with public transit (a subway station also services the stadium).
Flickr user Interloafer wonderfully documented the construction of Yankees-E 153rd Street station, even capturing the first train to service the station, and a shot of the first game day service. The below photos are from his collection:
While Yankees – E 153rd Street is designated as a Hudson Line stop, it is unique in that Harlem and New Haven Line trains service it on special game days. Using the wye at Mott Haven, trains from those two lines can move onto the Hudson Line, allowing passengers a one-seat ride to games and events. On non game days, the station is regularly accessible by trains on the Hudson Line.
An important part of the new station complex is the elevated and enclosed walkway that stretches from the station proper towards Yankee Stadium. An Arts for Transit piece was installed in this walkway, consisting of eleven mosaic panels, each measuring eighteen feet wide, and six and a half feet tall. The work is titled The Home of the Stars, and is by artist Ellen Harvey. Each panel displays a progression of time, from the sunset to the stars in the evening sky.
The Home of the Stars, an Arts for Transit piece by Ellen Harvey. Photographs of each individual panel from the artist’s website.
In the station proper, things look a bit different than at most other Metro-North stations. The rounded advertisement boards on the platform, and the large overhead dome in the mezzanine seem to resemble an airport more than a train station. This is also the only Metro-North station where you’ll find single person entry gates. On game days, you’ll need to hand in your ticket to get through these gates, in case there was not time to collect your fare on the train. The remainder of the station resembles the typical Metro-North station, complete with island platforms, wire benches, and blue trash bins.
Anyways, here are the photos I took at Yankees – E 153rd Street station… hopefully everyone out there is okay and has survived Sandy!