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Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails

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

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

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

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Best of 2012, a year-end review

2012 has been an interesting year here at I Ride the Harlem Line… we finished up touring the stations on the New Haven, Port Jervis, Pascack Valley, and Hudson lines, as well as visited some places far outside Metro-North’s territory. As if that wasn’t enough, we also began our Grand Central 100 for 100 Project, posting one image every day for 100 days, all to celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

As is customary around the end of the year, let’s take a look back at what was most popular on the site this year, based on the number of reads… presenting the top 15 posts of 2012:

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Starting off our countdown at number 15 is a photographic look at the old Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis. Completed in 1899, the old station was renovated and turned into a hotel. An old train shed now offers an ice skating rink. This is one of a few posts on the blog about Minneapolis this year, from my visit there in April. Some of the other stuff from Minneapolis included the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted to pedestrian use, riding around on the Hiawatha Line, the old and new Minnehaha Station, and the classical music playing Lake Street – Midtown station.

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14th most viewed for the year is our Hudson Line tour to Yonkers. The nicely restored brick station at Yonkers, built by the New York Central, is definitely one of the gems of the Hudson Line.

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There are plenty of hoaxes and tall tales related to Grand Central Terminal, but only one of them made our top fifteen list this year. Coming in at number 13 is the 1929 hoax in the Information Booth. As the story goes, a tricky scammer convinced a fruit seller that the railroad was planning on selling space in the information booth, and that prime space could be turned into a fruit stand. Of course, it was a complete lie, and the scammer skipped town with a nice wad of cash. Amusingly, you can buy apple in the Terminal today – either in Grand Central Market, or in the figurative sense, the Apple store in the main concourse.

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Another Grand Central themed post comes in at number 12 on our countdown – featuring the sky ceiling that nobody really knows about. This painting can be found inside Grande Harvest Wines – it is the last surviving remnant of the 242-seat newsreel theater that was once in Grand Central Terminal.

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Our tour of New Haven Line station Mamaroneck makes the list at number 11. Mamaroneck has a lovely old station that was undergoing a transformation into a restaurant called the Club Car – we managed to get a sneak preview of the place, and shared it along with the station tour.

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The Hudson Line tour of Tarrytown station also makes the list, likely for our coverage of the new and most wonderful Arts for Transit piece by Holly Sears. The 1898 Richardsonian Romanesque-style station at Tarrytown was built by architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, who are most known for their stations on the Boston and Albany railroad.

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Ninth most popular for the year was my first foray into 3D modeling, and 3D printing. I decided I would try to model the Harlem Line’s Brewster station from historical photos – basically how it looked when it was first built. The interesting journey  was featured in various places around the internet, including the TinkerCad Blog, Shapeways Blog, Adafruit and Wired.

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One of the more memorable things I got to do this year was to have a brief chat with Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut. Having been with Metro-North since its inception, the man has a pretty interesting viewpoint regarding the history of the Harlem Line. We talked about Metro-North’s formation from ConRail, Millerton, and other admirable rail systems, among other things.

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Before touring the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, I wrote a brief introduction to the West of Hudson lines, which was the seventh most viewed post on the site this year. The intro included a few maps, time tables, and a look back on the damage Hurricane Irene wrought on the Port Jervis line.

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Sixth on our top 15 countdown is a trip to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center. This is the workplace for the railroad’s Rail Traffic Controllers – one of the most stressful and possibly thankless jobs at Metro-North. The current OCC is certainly high tech, but we also got a glimpse of the old OCC, and an ad for one of the New York Central’s historical towers in Grand Central – which looked quite archaic in comparison!

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One of the most memorable shots of Hurricane Sandy was this capture of a boat resting on the Hudson Line’s tracks in Ossining, which I couldn’t help but turn into an image macro. In other news, whoever happens to own that boat is probably a big asshole, as it seems to be named after a Nazi warship. I guess the owner never realized his boat would end up on the front page of several newspapers – or top 5 in our countdown.

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Fourth most popular for the year was our April Fool’s prank about Harlem Line service getting restored up to Millerton, complete with two fake timetables and a fake ticket. Rumor has it, some folks in Metro-North’s customer service department hate me even more than they did before after this trick!

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Coming in at third most popular is the Grand Central 100 for 100 project, featuring 100 historical photos of the Terminal in the hundred days leading up to its centennial. By now we’re more than halfway through, so if you aren’t following the project on Facebook, you totally should be!

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It appears that everybody loves Dobbs Ferry station, as our tour was the number two most read post on the site for 2012. Featuring another Richardsonian Romanesque station by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Dobbs Ferry also has a nice location right on the Hudson River’s waterfront.

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Everybody seems to say that the cat is the internet’s unofficial mascot, and it certainly seems that is true! By far, the number one most read post on the site was about Sadie the Subway Cat, of the New York Transit Museum. In addition to our March photo session with the popular feline, we updated you on Sadie’s subsequent retirement, and a humorous update on her new life outside the museum.

That just about wraps up 2012 – I’m definitely looking forward to bringing you new things in 2013… everybody have a Happy New Year!

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Tarrytown


Tarrytown postcard, monthly ticket from 1896, and a Hudson Division timetable from 1967

As we continue our travels along the Hudson Line, our next stop is Tarrytown station, about 25 miles north of Grand Central Terminal. Today’s tour is chock full of photos and information – certainly befitting one of the line’s busiest stations. Tarrytown is second only to Croton-Harmon in terms of ridership on the Hudson Line. It boasts an 1890 station building, which has been recently restored, and one of Arts for Transit’s newest works. Undoubtedly, Tarrytown is one of the more interesting spots on the Hudson Line, and certainly worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.


Postcard views of Tarrytown station

On our Hudson Line travels, you may have noticed that there are three stations on the line that match with very well with each other, but don’t quite match with the rest. Although beautiful, the stone stations at Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, and Irvington look a lot more like Boston & Albany stations than they do New York Central stations. This would be an apt observation, as each of those stations were designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge – the same architects that designed over 20 Boston & Albany stations (including one of my favorites, Chatham). Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge designed a total of five stations for the Hudson Division in 1898 and 1890 – Riverdale, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, New Hamburg, and Tarrytown. New Hamburg’s station was never actually built. Of the four that were built, Tarrytown’s station was the most expensive, at a cost of $34,492 (which, adjusted for inflation, would be around $826,126 today).


Early 1900’s view of Tarrytown station.

Many stations along the Hudson Line have gotten recent repairs, but the efforts that Metro-North went through to fix up Tarrytown went above and beyond. The $45 million dollar effort not only restored the historic station depot, but built new platforms, overpasses, stairways and shelters. Although all of those things are nice, I think it is the station building that people will notice first – especially since it contains one of the few remaining manned ticket windows. The building’s restoration included a new slate roof and gutters – but it is Metro-North’s attention to history that makes me give them major bonus points on this project. At some point over the years, the three dormer windows in the roof of the building had been lost. In a nod to history, the roof was restored to what it looked like when first built – and those restored windows definitely look nice!


Tarrytown station in 1970.

Admittedly, one of my favorite parts of the station isn’t the historical – it is one of the new additions to Tarrytown. Holly Sears created some lovely art for the station through the Arts for Transit program. The piece, titled Hudson River Explorers, consists of 11 windows made of laminated glass. Each window features various animals above and below the water, some native to our area, and others that are a bit more exotic. Although all the animals look quite realistic, the scenarios and scale in which they’ve been placed are closer to fantasy. Polar bears swim with elephants and a house cat in one panel, and in another a bobcat stands next to an equally-sized butterfly. Many of the combinations, like a seahorse and a full-sized galloping horse, seem quite playful, and are a cheerful addition to the often humdrum travels of a regular commuter.


Two of the original paintings by Sears. Bright background colors were later added for the finished piece, which is made of laminated glass and was installed in the two station overpasses.

I’m always appreciative when an Arts for Transit artist includes more information about the work on their website, and Sears has done a good job with that. Seeing the process of the art – in this case from a painting into beautiful laminated glass – is always enjoyable. Sears’ site is worth checking out, as she features each of her original 11 paintings for this piece. These paintings are also on exhibit at the Hudson River Museum until October 13th.

  
 
  
   
  
 
  

That is about it in terms of information on Tarrytown station. Below you’ll find the photographs I took while wandering around – including a few as the construction was wrapping up. There is going to be a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new station on September 27 at 2:45, which should be interesting. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the event to get any further photos!

  
 
  
 
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
  

*Special thanks to Terri Evans at Shepley Bulfinch for pulling some documents from the Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge archives for this post!

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Dobbs Ferry


A postcard of Dobbs Ferry station, and a portion of a Hudson River Railroad timetable from 1851, listing Dobbs Ferry station

Welcome to Dobbs Ferry, one of the lovely Hudson Line stations with a great view of the mighty Hudson River. On the fourth of July, I spent the day exploring the Hudson Line, but ended up spending most of my time here. The waterfront view is quite lovely, and adjacent to the station is the aptly named Waterfront Park – reason enough for you to come and visit this place. Though the station used by Metro-North particularly noteworthy (besides the nice Arts for Transit piece), the old station building still stands and is a lovely piece of railroad architecture. Though I didn’t get to see the inside, the station has two floors, the first of which has a waiting room, ticket window, bathrooms and a boiler room. It was designed by architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in 1889. Last year the town was looking for proposals for businesses interested in leasing the station, but apparently all of those proposals were later rejected.


A 1914 map of Dobbs Ferry, depicting both the railroad and the river. Note the railroad sidings that are no longer present today.


Early 1900’s view of Dobbs Ferry station

Dobbs Ferry itself was named, as one would expect, after a ferry crossing over the Hudson River. Members of the Dobbs family arrived around the 1700’s, and operated their ferry until 1759. Other area ferries operated until the early 1900’s. It was this ferry that made the area an attractive place for an encampment of General Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.


Dobbs Ferry station in 1974

The current station at Dobbs Ferry, operated by Metro-North, is about 20 miles from Grand Central Terminal. The average train time to Grand Central Terminal is around 45 minutes. As previously mentioned, the station isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it did have a bit of a makeover in the mid-2000’s. The work at the station, part of the Hudson Line Stations Improvement Project, was completed in 2008. It included updates to the platform, overpass, and a new platform canopy. An elevator was also installed in the updated overpass, making the station ADA compliant. While this was all going on, some attractive art was also added to the station platform, as part of the Arts for Transit program.

 
  
 
 
   
 

Floating Auriculas, the lovely mosaic found at Dobbs Ferry, is probably the nicest thing you’ll find on the platform. Behind this piece is artist Nancy Blum, who has created public art for venues across the country. My love for the transit system in Minneapolis has been well documented on this site, and I was surprised to note that not only is Blum working on the art for three stations on the new Central Corridor line, she also did the art on my favorite, East Bank station. Blum has done public art in various media, but for the most part the underlying theme is nature and the natural world, and the piece at Dobbs Ferry certainly fits that theme. Blum’s lovely auricula flowers, about eight feet in diameter, adorn the side of the northbound platform, rendered in mosaic form using Italian glass and marble tile.

Thanks to Blum’s website, we get a lovely view of the progression of an Arts for Transit piece – from an original painting, all the way to the finished mosaic on the station platform. The first four photos above are from the artist’s site, the remainder (above and below) are mine.


Yes, Metro-North has plenty of awesome conductors!

  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
   
 
  
 
 

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