Grade Crossing Safety: Metro-North’s New Pilot Program

This morning Metro-North announced a new plan to get people’s eyes focused on grade crossings – literally. In a new pilot program, the railroad will be hiring people to wear costumes and protect grade crossings, reminding drivers not to stop on the tracks, or attempt to go around lowered or lowering crossing gates.

Grade crossing incidents have been at the forefront of railroad safety recently, after three high-profile incidents caused major derailments, many injuries, and seven deaths. The three incidents occurred in New York, California, and North Carolina, proving that this is not merely a local problem, but a national problem.

Describing the new pilot program, Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti explained:

Although our program comes up with a solution that is light-hearted, the goal is not to trivialize the problem, or the incidents that have happened at grade crossings. People’s eyes are drawn to things like this – which is the same reason why a fast food place might have a guy dancing around in a hot-dog costume, or a tax prep place might have a lady liberty standing around outside. Sadly, we need to get people’s attention. It seems in our world full of the distractions of loud music, cell phones and other electronic devices, ringing bells, flashing lights, moving gates, pavement markings, and plenty of signage simply does not get anyone’s attention. Even several high-profile grade crossing incidents, and increased police presence at crossings has not stopped drivers from waiting on the tracks, or driving around lowered gates to beat the train.

I find myself agreeing the concept of distracted driving – some have mentioned that Ellen Brody, the woman who caused the Valhalla crash that killed six people, may not have been familiar with the crossing and intersection because of a crash on the Taconic and a detour that evening. Meanwhile, Deborah Molodofsky, who has mentioned she was familiar with the grade crossing in Chappaqua where she had a “close call,” still waited on the railroad tracks and was surprised when the gates came down around her car. Even afterward, she was quoted as saying “I did everything right and I still got caught” – completely oblivious to the fact that she did nothing right – one should never stop on railroad tracks – apparently Ms. Molodofsky never noticed the signs that say as much on the many times she passed that crossing.

Adding to Mr. Giulietti’s comments, Metro-North spokesperson Marjorie Anders said:

On our New Haven main Line, where there are no grade crossings, there are still many incidents with overheight vehicles striking the bridges that carry the tracks. On the Hudson Line, one of our 100+ year-old historical stations had a gorgeous pedestrian walkway into the station – it was completely destroyed by a dump truck striking it. This is clearly a complex problem that will not just have one solution. But if we only look at the grade crossings themselves, we’re missing an important part of the equation – driver distraction.

Anders’ point is a good one – even the NTSB has spent a good amount of time talking about driver distraction in transportation recently, holding a round-table discussion called “Disconnect from Deadly Distractions,” which was live-tweeted by the NTSB’s twitter account.

Note: The Hudson Line station Ms. Anders mentioned where the pedestrian crossing was destroyed was Ardsley-on-Hudson.

President Giulietti made sure to add one more note on the subject:

If for some reason you do happen to get stuck on the railroad tracks, each crossing has a sign with a telephone number and a description of the location. If you call that number and report a vehicle stuck, we can halt trains on the line and prevent a dangerous incident from occurring.

We were lucky enough to capture a video of one of the new hirees working on the Harlem Line, at the Cleveland Street crossing in Valhalla. The town of Mount Pleasant has recently revealed that they would like to close this crossing, to the detriment of the people that live in the neighborhood just over the tracks.

Hopefully such measures will capture the attention of the many drivers that make poor decisions around railroad tracks every day.

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A summer of derailments, and a revisit to Yonkers station

This summer has hardly been the best for railroads all around the world. Several high-profile, and unfortunately deadly, derailments and accidents have occurred in an array of cities. In June a commuter train hit another stopped train in Argentina, claiming three lives and injuring over three hundred. July brought an exceptionally destructive derailment, where a runaway freight train carrying crude oil exploded in the small town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. More than thirty of the town’s buildings were destroyed, and forty-two were killed, with five others missing and presumed dead. Not long after that, six people lost their lives when a train in France derailed and crashed into a station platform. Most recently, a serious derailment in Spain – which appears to be due to the engineer speeding – took the lives of at least seventy-eight.


The serious train derailment in Spain, where at least 78 people died.

At the start of it all in May was Metro-North’s most serious accident in many years, when an M8 derailed and collided with another M8 on the opposite track in May. Proving the mettle of the newest of Metro-North’s rolling stock, no lives were lost in the derailment. Though not an oft mentioned thought related to the crash, had the train been comprised of the New Haven’s ancient M2s, it is fairly likely that there would have been casualties.

Most recently, a CSX derailment fouled up the Hudson Line south of Spuyten Duyvil. There were no serious injuries, and since it was a freight had no passengers aboard, but it did cause damage to the tracks and block the regular commute for Hudson Line riders two Fridays ago. Metro-North raced to get at least one track working for the Monday commute, and succeeded, but opted for alternate service this weekend in order to complete the work. Train service between Yonkers and Grand Central was suspended, and passengers were required to transfer to the subway to get into the city. A fleet of buses shuttled southbound passengers from Yonkers to the Woodlawn subway station, and northbound passengers from the subway to Yonkers station. I checked out the busing at Yonkers yesterday and snapped a few photos of the operation. Though I doubt none of the passengers were thrilled to have to transfer to buses and then the subway, Metro-North has really done a good job of bounding back quickly from incidents like these.

  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  

While we’re at Yonkers, it is worth checking out the station itself, and the lovely detailing found within. When we did our station tours, we visited Yonkers, but really didn’t get into some of the littler things you’d find at the station. Designed in the Beaux Arts style by two of Grand Central’s architects, Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, the station has the classic hidden symbol found throughout. Just as you can play the “acorn game” in Grand Central, you can do so at Yonkers. The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted family crest of the Vanderbilts, can be found in many of the buildings designed for the family, including some of their railroad stations. Besides the acorns hidden in the outside and inside detailing, you’ll notice the stylized “NYC” for their railroad, the New York Central.

 
  
   
  
   
  

Yonkers, of course, fits into my recent goal of looking at some other buildings designed by Grand Central’s architects. A few weeks ago we looked at Hartsdale station, as well as the former White Plains station, which Warren and Wetmore also designed. Between them and Reed and Stem, there’s a nice list of local places I’d like to talk about in the near future, including Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Poughkeepsie, the Glenwood power station, and the Helmsley building. I’m also planning a nice feature on one of their more distant stations – Michigan Central Station in Detroit – which is arguably an often forgotten fraternal twin sister of Grand Central Terminal.

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Monday Morning Old Photos: Scenes on the Upper Harlem

Today’s collection of historical Harlem Division photos features the Upper Harlem… including several crashes that occurred on the line. A huge thanks goes to Ron Vincent, who shared these photos from his family’s collection. Ron’s grandfather worked as an RPO clerk on the Harlem for 36 years. Many of the photos feature the long gone station of Hillsdale, where Ron grew up.

The photos capture an intriguing “slice of life” on the Harlem Division – we see Hillsdale’s station agent, Elliott Hunter, and his wife Marion. We see the occasional crash and derailment that brought gawkers from all around. And we see the softer side of the Harlem, as it hosted the “Plug the Dike Train,” collecting donations for victims of the 1953 North Sea flood. In all, this is a great little set of photos… thanks again for sharing these with us, Ron!

  
 
  
  
   
  
 
  
  

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Garrison


Excerpts from old Hudson River Railroad timetables, from 1853 and 1889, showing the station name as “Garrison’s.”

If you’re looking for attractive views along the Hudson, Garrison might be the station for you. Garrison station is located along the waterfront, and from there are lovely views of West Point on the river’s opposite bank. Due to the proximity to West Point you may think that the name derives from some military installation, however the name is a reference to the Garrison family. The first Garrisons arrived in the area in 1786, but it wasn’t until 1803 that Harry Garrison purchased waterfront property that the area became known as Garrison’s Landing. The name caught on, largely because of the ferry to West Point, established by the Garrisons in 1829. When the railroad arrived, and a station established, the name became permanent – though over the years it has morphed from “Garrison’s” to just “Garrison.”


Just passing through Garrison…

Today’s train station is located just shy of 50 miles from Grand Central, in the un-electrified territory of the Hudson Line. The old stone station, just north of Metro-North’s station, still stands and is in use by the Philipstown Depot Theatre. Completed in 1893, the station was built by William H. LaDue, who was also responsible for the construction of several other stations in the area. Right next to the old station is the entrance to a tunnel leading under the tracks, built in 1929. The newer platform, used by Metro-North, consists of two side platforms, connected by an overpass. Thus Garrison is one of very few Metro-North stations to have both a tunnel and an overpass.


Photo of the 1897 train wreck, just south of Garrison station. Photo from the George Eastman House Collection, though erroneously labeled as Harrison, NY and not Garrison.

In railroad lore, Garrison may unfortunately be remembered for the terrible train crash that occurred on October 24, 1897. A nine-car train, containing six sleeper cars, left Albany at 3:43 AM and derailed just south of Garrison station at around 5:46 AM. The engine and several train cars were thrown into the river, and eighteen of the nineteen people that perished drowned in the Hudson. Among the casualties was the engineer, at 35-year veteran of the New York Central, and the fireman, who had been working for the railroad for seven years.

The cause of the wreck was inconclusive, and the investigatory report reads:

This train was wrecked either by derailment, which destroyed the embankment, or that the embankment gave way and threw the train into the river. Therefore the board feels it to be its public duty to recommend in urgent terms and to require that all railroads in this State whose roadbeds or parts of roadbeds are carried on embankments lying alongside of and washed by water courses, shall give careful inspection to and constant efficient maintenance for such embankments.

That is about it for Garrison, though it may be worth mentioning that north of the station is a tunnel. An elevated roadway provides a nice vantage point to watch southbound trains passing through that tunnel.

Next week the Tuesday Tour will be heading south and visiting another one of Westchester county’s Hudson Line stations. Want a hint? A hear next week’s station has a restaurant nearby that has some tasty lobsters…

 
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   

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Best Ticket Punch, and other such things

Yesterday afternoon I returned home from Florida… and I have to ask, what the hell happened while I was away? There were suicides, more suicides, and even a derailment. I wasn’t particularly vocal about my departure here on the blog, I was being rather tight-lipped about heading down to Florida for the final space shuttle launch. As you may recall, I mentioned my plans to see the second-to-last launch as part of #NASATweetup. Scheduling issues and launch scrubs foiled those plans, however, and I never saw that launch. A month or so later I was beyond lucky to get chosen for the final launch tweetup, but for superstitious reasons I didn’t want to really mention it. Quite frankly, I was afraid I’d jinx it and again miss the launch.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably have heard that the final space shuttle did in fact launch – and I was in attendance. I was interviewed by Westchester’s News 12 there, and a particular conductor I know claims that he saw it on TV in Grand Central, though his first assumption was that I had been arrested for taking photographs of something. I assure you, any photographs I did take, were completely legal and will be posted at some point. I think I still need to sort out not only the photos, but my thoughts after such a huge event.

In the meantime, I hope that you all don’t think I am neglecting you… I do try to post at least twice per week, which I failed to do last week. Although I don’t really have much to say this evening, I had to let you all know that I found the most awesome ticket punch…

Be sure to look for little “kitties” on your tickets and seatchecks from now on!

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