2014 in Photos – Your favorites from last year

As is customary around this time of year, it is always fun to look back on the previous year and what was popular. For the past few years I’ve counted down your favorite articles and social media posts, and today I bring you 2014 in Instagram. Instagram has quickly become the most popular social network that this site is on. While I’m often out photographing, the good majority of the photos I take never make it onto this site. The good ones, however, show up on Instagram. Here’s the top 10 favorites from 2014:

Two Metro-North diesels meet near the Pleasant Ridge Road crossing in Wingdale, New York.

Left: An Alaska Railroad train bound for Fairbanks rounds the bend north of Nenana at sunset. Right: A Genesis pushes southbound on the Danbury Branch, kicking up leaves after departing Cannondale.

The only non-railroad photo to make the top 10, New York’s skyline as seen from the opposite side of the river in New Jersey.


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Meet TIM – Metro-North’s new credit card enabled Ticket Issuing Machine

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.

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
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.

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
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.

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
The new TIM’s blue protective case, bearing the Metro-North logo

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
The ticket software is conveniently accessed through this icon of an M7

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
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

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The branches of the New Haven Line, in pictures

Yesterday I featured the only outstanding New Haven Line branch station on our Tuesday Tour, Springdale. Now that the branches are complete, I thought it might be nice to post one of my favorite images from each station in a single gallery. It gives you a quick idea of what each branch is like, and a glimpse into the life of a commuter from each station. The locales photographed vary from outstanding examples of historical stations and well-known landmarks, to bare-bones, concrete platforms that are just barely stations. Each branch terminates at a historically-important station, though only one of the three is being used in its original capacity as a passenger station.

The photographs below were taken on eight separate days, ranging from early March to mid-October.

The New Canaan Branch:

The New Canaan branch is the shortest of the three (8.2 miles), and the closest to Grand Central. It is also the only branch that is currently electrified. The branch first came into being when chartered as the New Canaan Railroad in 1866. By 1890 it had become a part of the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

The awesome: New Canaan station may be the nicest station of all three branches (one could argue that Waterbury is more iconic, however it is no longer in use by the railroad, whereas New Canaan is).
Most underwhelming: Everything other than New Canaan.


The Danbury Branch:

Of the three New Haven Line branches, the Danbury Branch has the most stations, with a total of seven. Though the line continues further north, Metro-North service terminates at Danbury. The original Danbury station still exists, though it is not used by Metro-North. Service first began here in 1852, and the rail line was known as the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad. In the late 1800’s the line was leased to the Housatonic Railroad, and later the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. By 1925 the track was electrified, but due to a poor economic situation, it was de-electrified in 1961.

The awesome: Danbury’s original station, yard, and turntable, now occupied the Danbury Railway Museum. Bethel’s old station is now a bike shop (I never got a photo of it). Cannondale’s old station is also lovely.
Most underwhelming: Without a doubt, Merritt 7. It is the only New Haven Line station without the typical Metro-North station sign, and is probably the most bare-bones station listed here.



The Waterbury Branch:

The Waterbury branch is Metro-North’s easternmost branch, and it diverges from the main line just east of Stratford. Although service terminates in Waterbury, the tracks do continue further north, and are used by the Railroad Museum of New England. Waterbury is located 87.5 miles from Grand Central – making it the furthest from the city in rail miles. The branch was originally chartered in 1845 as the Naugatuck Railroad (named after the river the tracks run alongside), and construction was completed by 1849. It was merged with the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in 1906. Today, the branch has a reputation of serving both commuters and many sketchy people.

The awesome: Waterbury’s historical station (no longer used by the railroad) is one of, if not the most iconic structures in the city. The Naugatuck Historical Society is housed in their old station, which is also nice. You can get cool photos of the railroad bridge in Ansonia.
Most underwhelming: Beacon Falls and Ansonia. Oh, and don’t leave your car or any other valuables at Waterbury.


Do you have a favorite?

If I had to pick the branch that I liked the best, I’d have a difficult time of it. New Canaan is certainly my favorite station, but the rest of the branch is relatively boring. The Danbury branch has the adorably-cute Cannondale, and the old station which is now a museum. The sketchy people of the Waterbury branch make me weary of choosing it as my favorite, despite the fact that I like that little railroad bridge over the Naugatuck river. It is, however, undeniable that Waterbury has the most recognizable old station – though it is debatable whether people actually realize it was once a train station. We can settle this right now, with a poll. Vote for your favorite branch here:
[poll id=”2″]

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Wilton

With this post I’ve achieved my first significant milestone on the New Haven Line. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with having the police called on me on another rail line (has yet to happen here, but I am very much expecting it. Especially after reading this post by Jim Cameron, chairman of the CT Commuter Council). No, this milestone is the Tuesday Tour’s completion of the Danbury Branch! In the 1800’s this was the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad, but of course today it is just a small branch of Metro North’s New Haven Line.

Despite growing up close to the Danbury Branch, I was never a passenger on it. I was always one of the people that made the slightly longer trek to Brewster and the Harlem Line. It was enjoyable to explore a line that is so close to my home-town, especially since most of the stations have their historical station buildings present.

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Danbury Branch:

Wilton is our final stop to check out on the Danbury Branch. The station is located not far from Route 7, and is 48.5 miles from Grand Central Terminal. Surrounded by trees and small stream, the area around the station is relatively peaceful. Like many of the other Danbury Branch stations, there is little that is particularly noteworthy here, besides the small station building which was closed at the time of my visit. In fact, on the day of my visit a busing schedule was in effect, making the platform exceptionally quiet. I could have made a sound recording for you, and titled it “The Sounds of Wilton.” On that day it would only contain the sound of the stream, unpunctuated by the normal wail of a train horn and the rumble of a diesel engine.

Without any further rambling from me, here are a few photos from Wilton…


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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Branchville

In my endeavor to finish up the Danbury Branch on these Tuesday tours, today we’ll make a quick visit to the small station known as Branchville. Located in the Branchville section of Ridgefield, the name derives from the branch rail line that once ran through here to Ridgefield village (that branch is now a rail trail). Branchville station is located 54 miles from Grand Central Terminal, and the platform is long enough to accommodate three train cars.

Branchville’s station building, completed in 1905, still stands and has been occupied since the 80’s by the Whistle Stop Bakery. The History of Redding website has some pretty cool historical images of the station, a few of which I’ve also posted below. Enjoy a quick look at Branchville then and now.


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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Redding

Before you know it, I’ll have done the complete tour of the Danbury Branch… my first little milestone as I continue to tour the New Haven Line. Today we’re visiting Redding, a little Danbury Branch station with a bit of an identity crisis. Though all schedules refer to the station as just plain old Redding, all of the station signs refer to it as West Redding. The station is just shy of 59 miles from Grand Central, and can be found in a quiet little area not far from Route 7.

There isn’t too much that is noteworthy here, but I do have to admit that I think the miniature library found in the station is pretty cool. The Mark Twain library keeps a small shelf stocked with books for commuters to read and swap out at their leisure. Whenever I see any sort of book arrangement at a station, I always think it is the coolest thing. Books, after all, are great for those who regularly ride trains in order to pass the time. I’ve only seen a few stations that have done anything similar – Scarsdale’s library has a small kiosk outside the train station, and Westport has a similar book arrangement as Redding.


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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Merritt 7

For the most part my New Haven Line tour has thus far focused on quite a few barely-stations on both the Danbury and Waterbury branches. Today we’re going to look at what may be the leader on the barely-there stations, Merritt 7. I figured now would be a good time to take a look at the station, as it has recently been in the news and is slated to get a five-million-dollar upgrade. The low level platform will become a high-level with pedestrian bridge, and the 88-car parking lot will be enlarged. Hopefully a new station sign will also be included – one that looks like the signs at every other Metro-North station (the only other exception I am familiar with is Suffern, which barely counts. The hundred-plus other Metro-North stations all have them).

Merritt 7’s name derives from the Merritt 7 Corporate Park which the station is adjacent to. Merritt obviously refers to the Merritt Parkway, and the 7 from Connecticut’s Route 7. The corporate park houses well-known companies such as Kodak, GE, Siemens, and Canon. The station was built in 1985, partially to service the corporate park, but also to serve the citizens in the northern part of Norwalk. Unlike Norwalk’s other stations which are on the New Haven main line, Merritt 7 is part of the Danbury Branch. The station is located 45 miles from Grand Central, and travel time takes on average one hour and fifteen minutes.

As of right now, this is what Merritt 7 looks like. Not much to write home about. Perhaps once the station is rebuilt, I’ll have to go and take another look.


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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Cannondale

After spending the majority of Sunday taking photos at New Haven Line stations, I have to admit that some of the stations are pretty cute. In fact, I want to take some of them home with me (and not this one). If one day you head over to Cannondale station, and you find that the building is missing, well, it might be in my backyard. In all seriousness, the station is quite adorable. Unfortunately it is currently empty and unoccupied – the small cafe that was inside shut down at the end of 2009. CDOT was looking to have a new tenant by summertime of 2010, but obviously that has not panned out.

Cannondale is one of the small stations located on the Danbury Branch, in the Cannondale section of Wilton. The station is located approximately 50 miles away from Grand Central. Cannondale’s claim-to-fame is having a company named after it – the Cannondale Bicycle Corporation. Their original logo featured the station and the tracks.

Photo credit to Scott who owns the bike.

On weekdays, Cannondale has around eleven trains total that head to Grand Central. In most instances riders have to change at either South Norwalk or Stamford, but there are three commuter express trains that head direct to Grand Central in the early-morning peak period.

That is pretty much all I can think of to say about Cannondale right now – I’ll be back again next week with another New Haven Line station to look at. As of right now I’ve been to roughly half of all the NH Line stations, including all of the Danbury and Waterbury branches. By the time I finish I might never want to look at a train station again :P


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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Danbury

Over the past few weeks I’ve posted quite a few of the stations on the Waterbury Branch, so I figured I would hop back over to the Danbury Branch. As I’m sure you’ve noticed these station tours don’t go in any particular order, it just based upon which stations I’ve happened to photograph. I’ve started both the Waterbury and Danbury branches, and I still have quite a few stations left to do, especially on the main line. And of course, that is when I hope I’ll get a chance to ride one of the new M-8’s.

Today we’ll take a short visit to the Danbury station, the terminus of Metro-North’s service on the Danbury Branch. Although the tracks continue further north, Metro-North does not operate beyond here, though making stations in Northern Danbury, Brookfield and New Milford has been proposed. Danbury station is located 65 miles from Grand Central, and has a platform that will accommodate three train cars.

Slightly more interesting than the more modern Metro-North station is the original Danbury Union Station, which is now occupied by the Danbury Railway Museum. The station, built in 1903, is known for being in the movie Strangers on a Train. Metro-North stopped using the station in 1993, and in 1994 restoration began. The restoration on the station was completed in October of 1995.


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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line – Bethel

Welcome to our first stop on the New Haven Line – Bethel. For many Tuesdays to come, I will be posting photographs of every station on the New Haven Line, just as I did for the Harlem Line last year. The stations will be presented in no particular order, but I will visit each one. The Panorama Project map will still be updated to show all the Metro-North stations and other points of interest that I’ve been to so far.

Bethel lies on the Danbury Branch of the New Haven Line, sandwiched between the terminus of Danbury, and Redding to the south. There is one track and one platform, and the average trip duration to Grand Central is just under two hours. The current station used by Metro-North was built in 1996, and although the previous 1899 station still stands, it is located down the street and not really visible from the platform (an earlier station, built in 1852, burned down in 1898). Inside the station building is a small cafe called The Daily Fare which serves baked goods, locally-roasted coffee, and other local and fresh ingredients. As they cater to mostly commuters and are closed on weekends, I never did get to try their food, but it certainly sounds good. Thinking about food makes me realize how hungry I am – while I go to look for some food, here are some photos of Bethel!

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