Throughout the entire Metro-North system there are an array of movable bridges – bridges which as of recently seem to be a thorn in the rail system’s side. Much of the infrastructure on these bridges are old and prone to issues. Thankfully, updates are going on to get these bridges in better working order, and we’ll be taking visits to some of the more prominent bridges in the system in the next few weeks.
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.
The old station at Marble Hill, pictured in 1927, and in 1946.
As we’ve toured the Hudson Line, we’ve encountered several stations with fairly confusing backgrounds. There are stations that nobody seems to be able to spell correctly, like “Spitendivel” and “Pokipse.” And there’s also Ardsley-on-Hudson, which isn’t in Ardsley, and shouldn’t be confused with the former Putnam Division station of Ardsley (despite the fact that the New York Central printed Ardsley-on-Hudson timetables as just Ardsley). Today’s tour takes us back to the Bronx, to another station also surrounded in a bit of confusion – Marble Hill.
Views of the tracks near Marble Hill in 1935.
Special timetable with new daytime trains for the West Bronx stations, including Marble Hill… where that Bronx name is subject to debate.
If you were to look at any of the local timetables printed by the railroad, or even at a map, you’d likely get the idea that Marble Hill is part of the Bronx. On the other hand, I probably have at least one person that wants to hit me for calling Marble Hill part of the Bronx in the paragraph above. As New York City grew, we humans have significantly changed the landscape of Manhattan island and beyond – and I’m not just talking about massive buildings and skyscrapers. At one point in history, Marble Hill – named for the marble quarries once located here – was part of Manhattan island. When a canal was built to link the Harlem and Hudson Rivers, Marble Hill was separated from Manhattan and became its own island. And when, in 1914, the original course of the Harlem River was filled in, Marble Hill became connected geographically with the Bronx.
Map of the Marble Hill area from 1895 (when the canal was completed), and an aerial view of what the area looks like now. Note the “island” of Marble Hill on the 1895 map.
Politically, residents of Marble Hill vote for the Manhattan Borough President, Senator, City Councilman and Assemblyman. But due to the geographic nature of the area, Marble Hill is serviced by the police, emergency and fire department from the Bronx. Because of the general confusion, residents of Marble Hill end up in the archaic directory known as the “phone book” for both the Bronx and Manhattan, and letters written to either borough will be delivered by the US Postal Service. Nonetheless, Metro-North considers it part of the Bronx, and you’ll find Marble Hill listed in the local timetable for the West Bronx.
The current Metro-North station at Marble Hill is located a bit more north than the historical station operated by the New York Central. The old station had four tracks running by it (visible in the photos above), where the current station only has three. Both locations, however, are easily within walking distance of the 225th Street subway station, which has a significant effect on the ridership at the station.
In 2008, Metro-North reported that over 900 people were using Marble Hill station, but only 100 were using it to get to Grand Central. At least 300 people were getting off southbound Hudson Line trains and transferring to the subway. Another 300 were using Marble Hill for the reverse commute, possibly making the connection with the subway. Although it would likely lengthen the commute time, many people may be doing this as a cost saving measure. For example, a Tarrytown to Grand Central monthly would cost $266, but a Tarrytown to Marble Hill monthly only costs $88. Purchasing that along with an unlimited-ride Metro-Card would yield a savings of $74. For others, the subway may just provide easier access to their places of work.
Some non-Metro-North action in Marble Hill. Seeing Amtrak trains at Marble Hill is a rarity, as they generally branch off from the Hudson Line before Spuyten Duyvil, unless for some reason they need to be detoured. Photos by Mike Foley.
Besides the geographic anomaly and the unique ridership of Marble Hill, the station really is typical of Metro-North. You can find the same station signs, wire benches, blue trash bins, and ticket vending machines as almost every other station. The station itself consists of a short island platform, connected to street level with an overpass, which contains the aforementioned ticket machines. The station is located right alongside the river, and visible from the station is the Broadway Bridge, which connects both cars and subway trains to Manhattan.
That about wraps things up for Marble Hill – next week we’ll feature our final Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line, Poughkeepsie.
Today’s Hudson Line tour takes us back to the Bronx for a quick visit to University Heights station. Located just less than 9 miles from Grand Central, the station is situated between Morris Heights and Marble Hill stations. The station is named after the section of the Bronx in which it is located – a name that dates back to 1894 when New York University built its Bronx campus here. Though the university is now called the Bronx Community College, after having been sold in 1973, the name University Heights stuck. The attractive campus is just a short walk away from the station.
Local timetables for the West Bronx, which includes University Heights.
The station at University Heights consists of a small island platform, accessible via a stairwell or an elevator on West Fordham Road. A ticket vending machine is located here at street level. Similar to Morris Heights, University Heights is sandwiched between the Harlem River and the Major Deegan Expressway. Unfortunately, the river view is not quite as great as the one near Morris Heights. From the platform you can see the University Heights bridge, which crosses over the Harlem River, and the waterfront space is taken up by a few industrial looking facilities. Though hardly one of the most interesting stations on the Hudson Line, it is at least worth mentioning that at one point in time University Heights was a joint station shared with the Putnam Division, at least until that line was shut down in 1958.
That is about all I have for University Heights, so without further ado, on to the photos…
Today our Tuesday Tour takes us southward on the Hudson Line to Morris Heights station in the Bronx. The station is sandwiched in between the Major Deegan Expressway and Roberto Clemente State Park, which itself borders the Harlem River. Morris Heights station consists of an island platform, with a set of stairs that connect it to street level. Enclosed in a bus station style shelter at street level is a single ticket vending machine. It is a relatively low-traffic station – excluding limited-service stations, Morris Heights gets the second fewest number of daily passengers on the Hudson Line.
New York Central and Hudson River bill of lading, tickets and a 1936 timetable
Compared to other Hudson Line stations we’ve visited, Morris Heights station is relatively uninteresting. However, the state park that is located next to the station is pretty nice, and worth a visit if you ever happen to find yourself at Morris Heights. The park offers nice views of the Harlem River, and the Washington Bridge that crosses it.
Anyways, that is about it for today’s rather short tour. Next week we’ll take a visit further north to one of the line’s more interesting stations!
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some really interesting railroad people recently, one of whom is Joe Schiavone, better known in the area as the “Old Put Guy.” He’s just completed his third book on the New York Central’s Putnam Division, but has been a railfan ever since he was very young. When I met him for the first time several weeks ago, he told me that as a young boy taking photographs, getting an invite into the engine happened somewhat frequently. I told him that Metro-North does the same thing for me – except the invite is from the police, and the ride is in a cop car and not a locomotive engine. For me, posting about Melrose is almost like returning to the “scene of the crime.” That is, if photography were a crime. Which it isn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. I will admit that I have bit of a phobia of police, so every time I go out and photograph, this event is on my mind. That, and the fact that some of my conductor friends will never let me live it down.
Plan of the Melrose station, built in the late 1880’s, or early 1890
Today, Melrose isn’t the most spectacular-looking station on the Harlem Line. But at one time, it did have a nice station, built in the late 1880’s, or early 1890. It had all the amenities a station of that era needed: a baggage room, ticket office, telegraph office, a waiting room, and of course access to the low-level platforms and trains. The area was four-tracked even at this early date, though the two middle tracks were separated from the outer tracks by a fence, visible in the station sketch below. The Chief Engineer of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad at the time was Walter Katte, and he oversaw the work on the Harlem Division, north of the Harlem River Bridge. The line was four-tracked, and the tracks were lowered into the “Harlem Depression,” extending from Melrose to William’s Bridge. He also oversaw the construction of the Park Avenue viaduct, and a drawbridge over the Harlem River.
Sketch of the Melrose station
The only available land owned by the railroad was occupied by the tracks, and thus the logical solution for building the Melrose station was over the tracks. The plans for Melrose were duplicated for several other stations located in the depression, including Morrisania, Tremont, and Fordham. Chief Engineer Katte oversaw the construction of these stations. Built 17 feet above the tracks, the Melrose station was 73 feet wide, and 26 feet long. The waiting room was 18 x 32 feet, and the baggage room was 11 x 12 feet. The station framework was made of iron, and the interior of oak. The exterior was covered with iron panels, and was topped by an ornamental shingled roof. The cost of the station was $22,000, and the platforms cost $1,500.
Photograph of Tremont after construction, circa 1890. The fence dividing the center two express tracks has yet to be built.
The former Morrisania station was one of the other similarly designed stations, photo taken circa 1960.
Chief Engineer Walter Katte is actually an interesting figure in New York railroad history, though not often remembered. Not only did he work on the Harlem Division, but he also oversaw work on the New York Elevated Railroad Company. Between 1877 to 1880 they built the first parts of the Third and Ninth Avenue Els. Katte was born November 4, 1830 in London. He studied at the Kings College School, before serving as a civil engineering apprentice for three years. In 1849 he migrated to the United States and began work as an engineer for various railroads, including the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. When the Civil War broke out, Katte served as a Colonel of Engineers in the Union Army, and oversaw the construction of several bridges. After the war, he worked for the New York, Ontario, and Western Railroad, and the West Shore Railroad, before becoming the Chief Engineer for the New York Central in 1886. He served in that position until his resignation and retirement in 1898 (William Wilgus ascended to the Chief Engineer’s position in 1899). Katte died in his New York City home on March 4, 1917.
If any of my readers are insomniacs, I highly recommend the book called “The Road of the Century: The Story of the New York Central.” I noticed that one of the libraries in the state owned it, and so I requested my local library to acquire it for me. The copy of the book looks remarkably ancient, though it was only published in 1947. Old enough, I suppose. Upon checking the book out, the librarian said to me, “So… You must like railroads?” I wonder if she were to work at a supermarket, and a customer was to purchase toilet paper, would she ask, “So… You must like toilet paper?” or “So… You must enjoy going to the bathroom?” …Sorry, I went off on a little tangent there. Back to the book, this dreadful, awful book. I don’t think I’ve ever held in my hand a more boring book… hence my comment about insomniacs. Get a copy, it will put you right to sleep. The New York Central has quite a rich history, but no one could have told it in a more dry fashion. In my mind I hear Ben Stein reciting the words in complete monotone…
So why exactly would I bore my readers with stories of a horrible book? Because it had one redeeming quality. Pictures. Wow, don’t I feel like a child, saying the only good part of a book was the pictures. But the pictures, they were good, and I figured I’d share with you all. Let’s “read” this book, together. And when I say read, I mean look at the pictures, and ignore all the snooze-inducing text.
Apparently the book was a donation to the library from the New York Central itself
1864, Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana conductors (or perhaps Abraham Lincoln impersonators).
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.