One more trip on Denver’s Light Rail

Since I am a bit under the weather this week, I figured that I would post some photos I’ve had lying around since last September, and my impromptu visit to Denver. I’ve already posted two sets of photos from Denver’s light rail (see Part 1, Part 2), and this is the final one, including some more views of the system’s newest West Rail Line. In several photos you’ll note a plethora of graffiti-covered Union Pacific locomotives – that would be the Burnham Shops, which are right behind the 10th and Osage station.

In terms of Art-n-Transit, you’ll see Emanuel Martinez’s sculpture Mestizaje, also located at the 10th and Osage station. My personal favorite is the untitled mural at Decatur-Federal station by street artist Jolt. With assistants Omni and East, the Guerilla Garden project was completed in 2012. Although it isn’t the typical medium you’d see in a transit art program, graffiti and railroads have had a long, intertwined history, and it is undeniable that the piece brightens up the dull underpass in which it is located.

 
   
   
 
   
 
  
 
  

The untitled mural was painted before the new rail line was even complete – here is an in-progress view via the Art-n-Transit program, and a shot of the mural behind the rail line, still under construction, via the Guerilla Garden. At some point after the mural was completed, a handrail went up in front of it, making it a bit harder to take photos. The long panoramic shot below was stitched together by me, but using the Guerilla Garden’s photos, before the handrail was installed.

  

Hopefully next week I’ll be feeling a bit better and we’ll go check out some more interesting local spots. I have big plans for the year, and if all works out we’ll be visiting some interesting spots that few have ventured… including some adventures on the other side of the world.

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One more Warren & Wetmore station – Mount Vernon West

On the final day of 2013 – Grand Central’s centennial year – there’s one more station that I’d like to take a visit to. Several years ago, when we visited during our Tuesday Tour, we saw only part of the station, the tunnels and the platform. But beyond the current station’s doors is an edifice whose façade has remained fairly similar for over 90 years, though the inside has drastically changed. The New York Central’s station at Mount Vernon, designed by Warren and Wetmore, was at one time one of Westchester’s beautiful stations. Once it was on par with the great stations at Yonkers and White Plains – but while Yonkers survives and White Plains was razed, Mount Vernon exists in a strange limbo. As the New York Central’s financial woes became painfully obvious, the railroad began selling off the very buildings that were once symbols of their might. In 1959, Mount Vernon station was sold to local businessman who converted it to serve commercial purposes. The waiting room was dismantled and the cavernous space split into two floors, and the express room at the north end was demolished and a two-floor office building erected in its stead.

Postcard view of Mount Vernon station
Postcard view of Mount Vernon station

From the platform level one would hardly notice the history that surrounds this Metro-North station. A walk around the property at street level one discovers several exits long closed and covered in concrete. Behind masses of tall weeds is another former exit, the concrete marked with a 1916 date. The diamond in the rough, however, is the old station building, or rather its façade. A sgraffito panel bears the traditional symbols of transportation – the winged wheel and the caduceus – positioned between the text identifying the station as one of the New York Central Railroad. Besides this panel the adornments on the building are few, with the exception of a few sculpted flowers, surrounded by what could possibly be oak leaves.

  

Detail shots of the sgraffito panel on Mount Vernon West station.

Though the building is now covered in grime and graffiti, it is undeniable that at the time of completion this red brick building with limestone paneling was quite beautiful. Its sgraffito panel – an art technique which uses colored plaster applied to a moistened surface and scratched to reveal details – is unique among local train stations. While the building is not quite as embellished as the station at Yonkers, it is still a significant building reflecting the importance of Mount Vernon.

Map with locations of the old and new stations
Q&d map of Mount Vernon showing the locations of the old and new stations, and how the rail line was rerouted through town. Based on a map found in the 1914 edition of the G.W. Bromley & Co. Atlas of Westchester County, via the David Rumsey Map Collection. If you want to download the high res original, which shows individual tracks and sidings click here.

In the early 1900s Mount Vernon was experiencing significant development and was certainly an important stop on the Harlem Division, certainly warranting a new, larger station. However, there was yet another important reason why the town needed a new train station. If you’ve ever had the joy of being arrested by the MTAPD and taken to their station in Mount Vernon you are familiar with MacQuesten Parkway, the street on which the police station is located. MacQuesten Parkway was once known as Railroad Avenue, and the Harlem Division ran not far from where that police station is today. As the Harlem Division was electrified up to North White Plains, some adjustments were made in its route, one of which was in Mount Vernon. Just north of the border with the Bronx the line was raised and shifted about two blocks to the west. This allowed the elimination of a grade crossing in the city, and allowed the line to be four tracked.

Trolley line in Mount Vernon
Trolley line in Mount Vernon
An older face of Mount Vernon – the #7 trolley line connecting Yonkers and Mount Vernon ran right next to the station. The first photo, from the book Metropolitan New York’s Third Avenue Railway System shows an eastbound trolley just west of the station. The lower photo from SoYo Sunset shows two trolleys crossing under the New York Central’s tracks, and a northbound train departing Mount Vernon station (which is at left, out of the frame).

An array of businesses have found homes in the old station over the years, from a silversmith to a pharmacy, a photography shop, and even a karate studio in the building’s upper floor. The north wing that was demolished and rebuilt has been various banks over the years – in the ’80s the Bank of New York, today Chase. Original details on the inside are very few, but some design work can be found on the walls of an upper hallway.

The current train station, which consists of the tunnels under the tracks, is hardly noteworthy except for the old “M Central” signage and the Arts for Transit piece by Martha Jackson-Jarvis. Upstairs on the platform level one can see the back of the once great train station, now covered in graffiti. It is mildly amusing to note that the words sgraffito – the art found on the station, and graffiti – the spray marks tagged on the historical building both share the same origins. I generally appreciate the graffiti along rail lines, but it is a shame to see it mar a nearly hundred year old station… it seems to be the final, sad outcome of a once proud station, reflecting the downfall of a once great railroad, now long gone.

 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
   
   
  
   
 
  
  

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Visions of the Apocalypse – Gary Union Station

Imagine a post apocalyptic world devoid of humans. Plants grow wild and unchecked, predatory animals reassert their dominance at the top of the food chain, and the landscape begins to change as man-made structures crumble. For some reason, this scenario captures the interest of many, and has been publicized in various media. Documentaries like Aftermath: Population Zero, television serials like Life After People, and books like World Without Us all tell the story of not how humans disappeared, but what exactly would happen to our world if they had. Post-apocalyptic art (with no people whatsoever, or a significantly reduced population) is actually a thing, and various illustrators have created scary yet attractive interpretations of not just our world in decay, but rail infrastructure too.


Chicago’s “L” imagined after being abandoned for 100 years in “Life After People.”

 
Illustrations by Russian artist Vladimir Manyuhin in his series “Life After the Apocalypse.”


An abandoned Athens Piraeus station, envisioned by Anmar84.

 
Japan’s Hamamatsuchō station (left) and Yoyogi station (right) by Tokyo Genso.


“The Last Station” by Sonic.

 
Shinjuku station (left) and Nakano station (right), also by Tokyo Genso.

The interesting thing to note is that many of these interpretations are not completely imaginary, but based upon fact. Places like Pripyat, Ukraine – a city of almost 50,000 hastily evacuated in 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster – offer real world glimpses of what does happen when people disappear. Closer to home, there are plenty of abandoned buildings where one can witness an “apocalyptic world” first hand, and by directly observing the effects of time, posit what would happen in a world without people. Cities based primarily on industries that have long waned – like Detroit, Michigan and Gary, Indiana – are flocked to by those intrigued with urban decay. Gary itself was featured in an episode of “Life After People” imagining the world 30 years after humans by visiting places abandoned for a similar amount of time, including the former Gary Union Station – our subject today.

Artifacts from Gary
Artifacts from Gary – a 1906 ad advertising real estate in Gary[1] and postcards of Gary Union Station. Land in Gary was touted as an “absolutely safe investment,” but the question is, for how many years?

Founded by US Steel (and named after founding chairman Elbert H. Gary) in 1906, the city of Gary, Indiana was constructed as a home to a large steel plant, containing 12 blast furnaces and 47 steel furnaces. The location was optimal, as it was close to Chicago and the Great Lakes, as well as various railroads. Attracted by thousands of new jobs, immigrants flocked to Gary, and by 1920 the city had a population of 55,000 residents. However, the success of the city was largely dependent on the industry on which it was founded – steel. That industry prospered for many years, but was adversely effected by the Great Depression. Operating at 100 percent capacity in 1929, the plant was only operating at 15 percent capacity in 1932[2]. While the high demand for steel during World War II and the years after led to prosperity, by the late 1950s the industry was yet again in decline. As industry waned and foreign steel came to prominence, Gary’s workforce was slashed – the city had over 30,000 steelworkers in the late 1960s, but by 1987 there were a mere 6,000[3]. Once populated by around 170,000 in 1970, Gary’s population now hovers at around 80,000[4].

 
Photos of Gary Union Station in more prosperous times. Photos from the U.S. Steel Photograph Collection, via the Indiana University Libraries. Photo at left: 1910, photo at right: 1931.

Gary still produces steel, and is not completely abandoned. A description of the city, from a man found in one of the city’s homeless shelters, is particularly apt: “It’s not dead yet, but it’s definitely on life support.”[5] A quick tour of the city makes that “life support” comment pretty obvious. As Gary’s prosperity, industry and population declined, many buildings around the city fell into disrepair and were abandoned. Schools, theaters, post offices, and hotels were all left to decay. Of course, we’re headed to Gary Union Station, also long abandoned. Constructed in concrete in 1910, the station shares the same Beaux arts aesthetic as other famous stations, including Grand Central Terminal. Flanked by elevated railroad tracks on either side, the station could be easily missed by someone passing through. Abandoned for rail use around the 1950s, the station served as an example of 30 years after people for the show “Life After People”. Though the elements have certainly taken their toll, large parts of the damage were caused by people. Everything of value has been stripped, every window has been broken, and some of the walls bear graffiti.

We’ll be taking a quick tour of Gary Union Station, or rather, what is left of it. Although I do find abandoned buildings strangely attractive, it is obvious that this station has seen better days. Enough of the building still exists where it could probably be restored, but with the economic state of Gary the likelihood of that is probably nil. Alas the station will continue to stand in its decrepit state, completely open for vandals and urban explorers alike.

 
  
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
  

  1. Ad from the Chicago Historical Society, ICHi-37353 []
  2. Gary: History []
  3. Encyclopedia of Chicago history []
  4. Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die []
  5. Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die []

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The trains don’t stop here any more – save me, I’m your history.

Hidden away in a nearly-forgotten corner of my computer’s almost-full hard drive are a few photos that were never meant to see the light of day. They were dark, and the day was rainy, and they were downright horrible. But a bit of graffiti scrawled on the side of the station that I remembered photographing always sat in the back of my mind. It read, “The trains don’t stop here any more. Save me, I’m your history.” A news article that was sent to me today (thanks, Jeff!) led me to dig out those photos.

The station on which the graffiti was written is Millwood – once part of the long-gone Putnam Division. Hardly in spectacular condition (but certainly not the worst), the status of the building has been in limbo for quite a while. Again the station finds itself in the news, as a demolition permit has been applied for. Though tearing down this historical building would be sad, I find it laughable that the article mentions a proposal for making a replica of the station. Why not save the real thing, while it is still here?

 

“Save me, I’m your history.” An apt observation. I wonder who wrote it…

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Riverside

 

Riverside station in 1954

In-between the stations of Cos Cob and Old Greenwich on the New Haven main line, lies the station of Riverside. A journey to Grand Central, approximately 30 miles, takes around an hour. Four tracks run through Riverside, and two platforms run alongside the two outer tracks. On those platforms you can find a few ticket vending machines, a soda machine, a couple newspaper boxes, and a bench or two. One side has a small shelter from the elements, though it looks pretty beat-up and is tagged with graffiti and strewn with trash.

Riverside station itself is not particularly noteworthy – though the bridge that carries traffic over the tracks is one of Connecticut’s historic bridges – and a little bit more interesting.

   

Aerial photographs of Riverside and the bridge in 1977


Various sketches of truss bridges, from the patents of bridge engineer Francis Lowthrop

The historic Riverside Avenue bridge is clearly visible to anyone taking the train from or past Riverside station. Not only does it carry traffic over the four railroad tracks, it has two stairwells and an area for pedestrians to cross over to the other side of the platform. Although this bridge was originally constructed in 1871, it did not find its current home until around 1894. Designed by Francis Lowthrop and fabricated by the Keystone Bridge Company, the current span was a portion of a larger railroad bridge over the Housatonic River in Stratford. That bridge was replaced in 1884.

  
 
 
Photos of Riverside and the bridge in 1984

The portion of the Riverside Avenue Bridge that was reconstructed here is smaller than original – the bridge is now 164 feet long and 22 feet wide, and about 20 feet above the tracks. Bridges similar to this one are very rare today, and the Riverside Avenue bridge is the last cast-iron bridge still in use in Connecticut. With the increasing weight of heavy locomotives, many cast-iron bridges were simply replaced due to safety issues, or modified to carry lighter cars instead of trains, which explains their rarity today. By 1986 the safety of this bridge was also being questioned, and parts were deemed unsafe. However, instead of replacing the bridge or restricting it to only pedestrians, a new bridge was built inside the historical bridge. This solution allowed the preservation of the historic bridge without compromising the safety of the drivers that cross it every day.

The Riverside Avenue bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and is one of roughly 55 bridges on the Register from Connecticut. It is also the oldest railroad bridge listed in Connecticut (though it only carried trains for a short period of its lifetime).

 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
 

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Counting down the 12 most popular posts of 2011, Part 2

Here is the final part of our top posts of 2011. Thank you to all of you for your continued support and visits. These are the posts that you all voted for, with your eyes and your clicks.

No tour of any of Metro-North’s lines could be complete without a visit to the most wonderful station of all – Grand Central. Our Harlem Line Tuesday Tour finished with photos of GCT, and was extremely well-liked, coming in at number seven in the countdown. I think I was rather proud of the photo set, as it covered quite a few locations that were not part of the main concourse. Although the concourse is the highlight, it is by all means not the only thing interesting found in the Terminal.

These are the reasons why there are probably people that work for the MTA that dislike me… although I love the history of the rails, as well as photography, there are some times that I just can’t help joking around. In this spoof, The MTA wants to make sure you are prepared, I poked a little bit of fun at the brochure that they released regarding hurricanes. My intent wasn’t to knock their preparations (as that hurricane brochure came in handy later on during the year!!), it was more to make an amusing statement about the snowstorms slamming us that just wouldn’t stop. We were somewhat prepared – but absolutely fed up with the snow that kept piling up. But being able to add in some zombies and Norse mythology just made it all the more fun.

Many times I’ve passed through the streets in Danbury and sighted a particular wall covered with some absolutely gorgeous graffiti. Every time I did, I always thought that I should go and take a photo of it… but I never got a chance to do it until March. In the post Gorgeous rail-side graffiti in Danbury I posted photos of the mural (which was a lot larger than I had originally suspected). The painted wall is located just off of Main Street in Danbury, not far from the Metro-North station, and located along some railroad tracks.

Just about any day this year was a good time to be anyone other than Hermon Kaur Raju. Raju is the commuter we love to hate, yapping on her cell phone the whole ride and using a whole slew of four letter words. When a train conductor told her to shut her trap, Raju went on the offensive – demanding that everyone acknowledge how educated she was. Most unfortunately for her, someone had been recording the entire exchange, and posted it to YouTube. Despite being removed a short time later by the original poster, the damage had been done. The clip made it to the Huffington Post, Gawker, and Raju was even one of Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Persons In The World.”

Although I did not post her name at the time, resisting the urge to poke fun at Raju was impossible. The post Be nice to your conductor, or you’ll wind up on the internet was one of our top posts for the year. Metro-North never really made a public response regarding the incident, however Raju would likely be pleased to know that the conductor involved was reprimanded for the incident – for not wearing her hat.

Discovering the old stations of the Harlem Division has been an interest of mine ever since I first read about them. Many no longer exist, but a few have been converted to businesses and are still around. Only one (to my knowledge) has been converted into use as a home, and the thought of living in an old train station is probably pretty awesome to anyone that calls themself a railfan. In an Adventure to Sharon Station, I got a great chance to tour the house, which is currently for sale. Even though the the outside looks much as it did way back when, the inside contains all the modern comforts one would expect in a home. I’m very appreciative to Elyse Harney Real Estate for allowing me to see the house, even though they knew I didn’t have the means to purchase it – though if I ever win big in the lottery, they may be one of the first people I call.

Although often forgotten by commuters, Metro-North does have tracks on the west side of the Hudson. I suppose they lines over there are easily overlooked, as they don’t go into Grand Central, and are operated by New Jersey Transit. However, one of the most beautiful locations along Metro-North’s tracks is found on the west side. The Picturesque Moodna Viaduct, located in the rural countryside of Orange County. The viaduct is the longest and tallest trestle east of the Mississippi River, and I was very happy to note that the Hurricane Irene damage on the Port Jervis line did not greatly harm this wonderful gem. It seems that many others also find the viaduct a lovely place, as it was our second most popular post on the blog in 2011.

In an absolutely unprecedented move, the entirety of MTA buses and trains shut down ahead of the oncoming storm, Hurricane Irene. Although some people criticized the decision as a bit over the top, it turned out to be the right one. Of all the agencies, Metro-North likely suffered the worst damages, from both high winds and rain-induced floods. In an absolutely brilliant move, the MTA kept customers apprised of the ongoing situation through their Flickr account, visually documenting the storm on their infrastructure. Some of the photos even wound up in the trending topics of twitter – a monumental achievement for the MTA’s social media endeavors.

I reposted many of the MTA’s photos under the title of Metro-North and the Aftermath of Irene, Damage Photos, and it was the number one post of the year on I Ride the Harlem Line.

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The Curious Incident of the Post-its in the Train Station

When it comes to my home station of Goldens Bridge, I like to think that I am observant to the changes that happen there. I usually notice when, at some point during the day, maintenance workers have been at the station (still repairing that winter damage to the yellow tactile stripping, I see. Perhaps it will be done by this winter?). I usually notice when people plaster the walls with various bits of propaganda. I definitely notice when the drunks kick the windows in, or the degenerate neighborhood youths graffiti up the station. I disgustedly notice the colonies of spiders that have made the station their home, and am mildly amused when they drop onto unsuspecting commuters waiting on the platform (but am less amused when it happens to me).

So when post-it notes began popping up in the evenings at the station, I noticed. They were everywhere. Even if you are not one of the observant riders, you probably noticed. Someone is trying to send a message to another commuter – and I attempted to imagine who was crafting these notes, and for whom they were posted. Beyond the fact that the creator has an English deficiency, I didn’t get too far with my pointless musings. Alright, maybe I was imagining in my head my roommate doing this, before heading to work at whatever gentleman’s club she is now employed. I’m glad whoever came to clean up the post-its had a sense of humor: they got rid of all the grammatically poor and overly sentimental notes, and kept my “fixed that for you” note.

 
  
   
  
 

However, if you ask me, we should begin a post-it revolution. Grab a pad, write something amusing, slap it somewhere in the station. We can certainly come up with better and more entertaining notes that at least have appropriately-placed apostrophes. Sure, it leaves more for those cleaning people to pick up (Whenever they actually come to the station, that is. Hell, while they’re at it, they can wash the windows so we don’t have to see crude phallic sketches in the layers of dust!), but it is less work than cleaning up graffiti. And it is somewhat amusing. Or at least I think so. But considering how easily amused I am, I may not be a good judge of that. Seriously though, let’s start a revolution to amuse people while they wait on the platform. Some of you sour-pusses certainly need it – after you finish up your breakfasts of lemons, of course.

 
  
   
  

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Where oh where is my Kyle?

Friday Grab-bag of silly train things.

When you carry thousands of people together in a tin can, you are inevitably going to have some that don’t exactly know what to do with themselves. Some people read, some people mess around on their iPads, or even listen to music. But then there are also some idiots that can’t help writing things on the advertisements. Metro-North is usually really good about defaced advertisements, somebody usually takes them down after a short time. But every time I see one, I usually snap a photo. Here is a little collection of randomness, of stupid things people have done to posters on the train, and other stuff. I do claim responsibility for the dog in the Conductor’s cab, but all the rest are things I just happened to see while riding the train…


Bob the builder needs a beer after riding all day on the crazy train.


This dog was found hiding inside a conductor’s cab


This reporter says, “I like turtles.”


Maurice Adolf DuBois


Dont trip over skulls, fall in the gap.


This train is the Tinkerbell Express, making stops in Never Never Land.


You should always trust Emily.


I love Emergency Parking Brake Release


Mike is quite the enterprising fellow. Free massages for all the ladies!


Dog on the side of a newspaper stand


When people ask me to donate a dollar, I write the site on there instead of my name.


Where oh where is my Kyle?


Brooke Burke, before makeup

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Gorgeous rail-side graffiti in Danbury, CT

I have a new favorite bit of graffiti that I absolutely had to post photos of. Although the piece in between Valhalla and North White Plains I mentioned a while back is still my favorite on the Harlem Line, it certainly pales in scope to this graffiti I just discovered along the tracks in Danbury. Well, I shouldn’t say “just discovered” – I had noticed it in the car for quite a long time, probably even a year or more. I kept thinking to myself, one of these days I have to come back with my camera. Over the weekend I did just that. From the road, however, it is impossible to notice how grand this piece really is. It is quite immense, taking up a huge wall. I keep looking back at the pictures I took, thinking that this wall is just so amazingly gorgeous (and one of these photos is currently my desktop background).

The graffiti is located just off of Main Street in Danbury, not far from the Metro-North station, and the Danbury Railway Museum (it is not alongside actual Metro-North Danbury Line tracks). The most noticeable portion is the portion closest to the road, depicting Danbury Police Officer Robert DiNardo, who died of cancer in 2009. However, the wall is extremely long and continues far beyond what is visible from the road. If you ever have the time to check it out, I highly recommend it. The entire wall was a collaborative effort by the DF Crew, who are active in the New York City area. The portrait of DiNardo was done by Jick, who grew up in Danbury and now lives in the Bronx.

 
  
 
   
 
  
   
 
 
   
 
 

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My Favorite Harlem Line Graffiti

Although the railroad is definitely not in love with it, I must admit that there is quite a bit of graffiti along Metro-North’s rail lines that I think is pretty cool. On Twitter I’ve mentioned that my favorite is under a bridge in between Valhalla and the rail yard in North White Plains. It is kinda hard to get a photo of it from a moving train though.

Anyone else have photos of their favorite rail graffiti?

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