Vacationing on the Railroad, yesterday and today

It is starting to be that time of the season where everyone is thinking about summer, and about taking vacations. The railroad has always been a great method of getting around, and there are plenty of places you can see by train. If you’re looking for something more local, Metro-North will be having their Staycation Showcase in Grand Central next week. Amtrak also has a wide variety of places to vacation, all accessible by rail.

Despite all of these offerings, rail travel really isn’t the primary method that most people go on vacation these days. After getting patted down by your friendly neighborhood TSA, airlines can whisk you away to the other side of the country in a matter of hours, not days. And America’s love affair, the automobile, offers a more individualized and customizable trip across our nation’s Interstate system. However, neither of these options were available to folks living in the early 1900s. Rail was the way to go, and the best way to take a vacation.

New York Central vacation brochures
Vacation brochures printed by the New York Central in 1908 and 1903.

Vacation packages, including rail tickets, were offered by the New York Central, and they printed many varieties of brochures advertising all the places one could visit. Summer resorts included in-state locations, like Niagara Falls and the Adirondacks, and some faraway places like Canada, Michigan, and even Yellowstone National Park – an 82 and a half hour trip from Grand Central Terminal, at a round trip fare of $97.80.

The winter resorts booklet might prove to be the most interesting – it offered long distance vacations to warm locales around the world – places that one would reach after long journeys via train and steamship. Setting out for “one of ‘Uncle Sam’s’ new possessions” – “Porto Rico” – would be a 20 day affair in total. The most fascinating part printed is certainly the map of the Pacific Ocean found at the back of the brochure, labeled as places “reached by the New York Central Lines and their connections.” If you had the time, and the money, you could certainly reach the Empire of Japan, and beyond. Straying not too far from home, a traveler could reach Honolulu by steamship from San Francisco in a total of seven days.

Map of the Pacific
Map of the Pacific Ocean, printed by the New York Central in their 1903 America’s Winter Resorts brochure.

Interested in staying closer to home, or taking a shorter vacation? The New York Central also had a brochure of journeys taking two to fifteen days. Two days could get you to the Adirondacks or Lake George, four a nice trip to Montreal, eight a meandering journey to and from Quebec, and fifteen a wonderful itinerary stopping at several different resorts in many of the aforementioned spots.

Two to fifteen day journeys
Brochure of two to fifteen day journeys from 1912, and the Harlem Division map within.

If you’re really looking to stay in your own backyard, there were plenty of vacationing spots along the Harlem Division. The Harlem’s long-gone Lake Mahopac branch was established especially for that purpose. But as you can see from the map above, one could get more places via the Harlem than you can today – transfers were available in Chatham for the Boston and Albany Railroad to Massachusetts, and to the Rutland Railroad for Vermont.

Resorts on the Harlem
Close to home – summer resorts along the Harlem.

Anybody out there planning on taking a vacation (or a “staycation,” even) by train this summer? Drop a note in the comments about where you’re planning on going!

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Bye bye Joe Lhota, hello Sadie the cat?

In case you missed it, two big things in MTA land went down this week – (or should I say up?) fare increases are totally happening in March, and Chairman and CEO of the MTA, Joe Lhota, will be resigning. We’ve certainly had a seemingly endless revolving door in terms of MTA chiefs. Lhota has been at the helm of the MTA for just about a year, so I guess he didn’t really set any records for longest time served.

People have been debating who should get the nomination to replace Lhota, and if you ask me, it should totally go to Sadie the subway cat! A few weeks ago I updated you on Sadie, who formerly worked at the New York Transit Museum, but has since retired. I had a chance to talk to the wonderful museum employee who has adopted Sadie, and it seems that she is certainly enjoying retired life…

 
  
 
The subway kitty is now an apartment kitty, and with a nice view!

I bet we could convince Miss Sadie to take the post as chief of the MTA, though. Think about it, we’d just have to pay for her cat food, litter and vet care, and that can’t be more than $1,000 a year, right? That is a bargain compared to the $350,000 that Jay Walder got paid in 2010 as MTA chief. And it wouldn’t be the first time a feline was in an executive position at a transportation company – just ask Japanese cat Tama, who worked herself up from the position of Stationmaster, to Super Stationmaster, and now Chief Operating Officer at the Wakayama Electric Railway. Apparently putting animals in executive positions at railroad companies seems to be a perfectly acceptable business practice in Japan. So why not hire a cat and get ridership up?

In other news, when it comes to the cuteness factor, Sadie beats Joe Lhota hands down. Jay Walder, too.
sadielhota
Sorry, Joe Lhota.

In all seriousness, it will be interesting to see who will be replacing Lhota. And a little bit of a shame, as I thought he seemed pretty competent. (And yes, I admit, I always thought he was pretty cool for actually starting and maintaining a twitter account.) The likelihood of a cat getting the position is probably less than the world ending tonight, so we certainly wish Sadie the best, and to keep enjoying her retirement. But on the off chance that she does get the job, I know who Sadie can hire as her deputy!

grumpycat
The trains aren’t running? GOOD!

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Howard Permut

Chatting with Howard Permut, President of Metro-North Railroad

On Friday I had the pleasure of speaking with Howard Permut, President of Metro-North Railroad. Though there are many things one could ask the president of the railroad, admittedly I was interested in his unique perspective regarding the history of Metro-North. Mr. Permut has been with Metro-North since its inception in 1983, and prior to his position as president, served as as the Senior Vice President of Planning. Though most commuters today are likely unaware of it, Metro-North has improved in leaps and bounds over the years, starting out from the shambles left by Penn Central that were grudgingly operated by ConRail. So he’s definitely seen this railroad at its worst – and as its best.


Photograph from this site. Unfortunately it totally slipped my mind to try and get a photo. Yes, I’m a dope. Second photograph below of Howard Permut is from the MTA.

Anyways, on to the good stuff. While I debated using the conversation to write an article, I felt that the words would be most interesting in the interview format they were spoken. And thus, here is a complete transcript of the conversation I had with the president of Metro-North on Friday!

Metro-North has come a long way since its formation from ConRail. Do you have any strong memories from those early days, and is there any particular accomplishment since then you are most proud of?

I’ve been at Metro-North since we started. When we took over we were the worst railroad in North America, we’ve now moved to be the best railroad in North America. In fact, last year we won the award, called the Brunel Award, which is for the best design of any railroad in the world – and Metro-North won that, beating out competitors from Japan and Europe. It is something we’re very proud of, because it reflects all the progress we’ve made.

My memories from the beginning were that nothing worked. If you go back to 1983 the trains were rarely ever on time, the heat was always working in the summer, and the air conditioning in the winter, Grand Central was a homeless shelter – we had 900 people living in Grand Central when we took over – there was nothing good about Metro-North.

One memory I always have is on the Harlem Line, taking a trip up in the old coaches – and they came from any place in the world that ConRail could find them. Literally the whole trip to Pleasantville, in a cold car in October, I was holding up the side of the wainscoting, the side of the train, because I thought it was going to fall on me.

As for what I’m most proud of, I’m incredibly proud of how the organization has changed itself from the worst to the best. We’ve made huge achievements – our on-time performance is the best in the country, we have a great safety record, we’ve become significantly more efficient, and we’ve doubled the ridership to become the biggest railroad in North America. Those are really amazing achievements.

“If you go back to 1983 the trains were rarely ever on time, the heat was always working in the summer, and the air conditioning in the winter, Grand Central was a homeless shelter… there was nothing good about Metro-North. I’m incredibly proud of how the organization has changed itself from the worst to the best.”

Do you recall any of the planning that went into the decision to “rebrand” the railroad as Metro-North and not Metro North Commuter Railroad, and in what ways would you hope to attract more non-commuters in the future?

I remember very well because I was integrally a part of that, and we made the decision, in the late 1980’s, if I recall correctly, that Metro-North – we were much more than just a commuter railroad. We were carrying a lot of discretionary riders, a lot of people who are going halfway up and down the line, and that it was important that we were known as Metro-North Railroad than Metro-North Commuter Railroad – so it was a very specific decision.

You asked about discretionary riders – one of the most important things, and one of the things I always emphasize, is we have customers, not riders, something Peter Stangl our president changed the vernacular for. Everybody has a choice to ride or not ride Metro-North, and it’s our goal to give everybody and provide significant value that people want to take Metro-North. Our ridership has doubled, which is a fantastic achievement over the past 30 years. A lot of that has been driven not by commuters at all, but by discretionary riders – weekend riders, by off-peak, by evening, by intermediate riders. We continue to focus on that, and we’ve done numerous different things over the years to increase the ridership.

Going forward I’m really excited that we’re going to be adding all this off-peak and weekend service, trains will be running every half hour. That will be an enormous improvement for our riders, they can now know that they can come into the city, for example, and not have to worry about missing their train. Because if you miss it there’s another train in a half hour, and you’re in Grand Central, which is the center of New York anyway. So you’ve lost nothing, and it frees up people from worrying about that and I think that will greatly increase our weekend and off-peak ridership.

When the Harlem Line extension was being planned, was Millerton ever on the table, or was the main focus always Wassaic?

Again, I was involved with that because I was head of planning then. We focused, and our goal was to get as far north as we could while implementing the project. We wanted to go far north for two reasons, we needed a location for a railyard, we didn’t have sufficient room in Southeast, and we wanted as far north so we could attract as many customers as possible. The best site to do that was Wassaic. If I remember correctly, the rail trail was already in existence to Millerton, so we would have had a huge obstacle. How do you de-map a rail trail? There would have been significant opposition. I believe there was opposition in Millerton itself for train service.

The question became to us, we think if you want to get this done, we think we can make it to Wassaic and get that implemented. If we try to go further north, which would have been in an ideal world nice, we believe we would have had nothing. And so this was a case of getting 80%, and getting it done. And once we got through all the environmental reviews we were able to build the line, and I guess it has been running for ten, almost fifteen years now.

Do you have a favorite Metro-North station?

Truthfully I do, and it’s Grand Central. Where else? It is the center of New York, it’s an amazing place.

Are there any other transit systems you admire?

First of all I admire what New York City subways does day in and day out, carrying that number, millions of people. I think that there are other properties within the United States who do certain things very well. Metro-North is particularly focused on partnership with JR East in Japan, and I certainly admire many things that they do. The volumes of people that they carry are phenomenal, their reliability is phenomenal. They make money – which is unlike any transit system in the United States – in part that is because they are allowed to own the real estate, unlike Metro-North where almost all the real estate has been given away by the predecessor railroads – so they are capturing the value created by the railroad. They, in particular, are a group that we’ve probably met with four or five times and exchanged ideas, and continue to do so.


JR (Japan Railways) East shinkansen, or as it is more commonly known in the US, bullet train.

If you could tell every Metro-North rider one thing, what would it be?

I would say that I would hope that people continue to recognize the value of Metro-North, that they continue to ride Metro-North, they continue to encourage their friends and family to ride Metro-North, and that if they see things that they think we should make improvements on that they should let us know. We take very seriously all the letters we get, I personally read every single letter that is sent to me, and if they have really good ideas we will follow up on them. We’ve gotten over the years many good ideas from people, many issues have been raised, and we respond to them. Again, it would be use the train, and if you have any ideas or suggestions, let us know, and we’ll take a look at them and see if it makes sense, and if we can do them we will.

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Weekly News Roundup, 1/28

It has been brought to my attention that I’ve neglected to post news roundups for the past few weeks. Not too many spectacular things have occurred over the past few weeks, but here are a few of the noteworthy stories:

Metro-North Passenger Pledge

On our 12/31 news roundup, I mentioned the Metro-North passenger pledge, and how it was accepted by the Connecticut Commuter Council. Since that time, it has been officially “unveiled” by Metro-North. It has been quite the topic of conversation by numerous news outlets in both Connecticut and New York. Commentary has ranged from utterly pointless comments about “great American flag clip art” to what exactly this pledge really means to riders. The majority of everything in the pledge have been the goals of Metro-North for quite a while, though they are now just made available in writing.


Hey Gothamist, have you even been on a train recently? That “American flag clipart” sure looks familiar…

It seems that quite a few New Haven Line riders are unhappy with a particular line in the pledge:

Metro-North will use best efforts to schedule service to meet anticipated demand so as to provide a seat for every customer

They notice the “provide a seat for every customer” part, yet conveniently ignore the previously mentioned phrase of “best efforts.” On that particular point, Jim Cameron may have said one of the most logical things I’ve heard from him in a while:

“You only get a ride. They can’t promise a seat. That was a little too much to ask… [but] this is the bitter fruit of the neglect of that railroad by the Connecticut legislature in investment, going back decades.”

Cameron and the Connecticut Commuter Council pushed for the pledge to be put on trains, and Metro-North obliged. Trains last Thursday evening had a copy of the pledge left on every seat… and rather expectedly, were found crumpled on the floor of the train by the end of the evening, likely unread.

   
  
Thanks for the pledge… though it seems that most commuters don’t really care at all.

Planes, Trains And Automobiles Struggle With Fat Americans

Jim Cameron again lends his expert opinion on the subject of trains and fat Americans, in a story found on Gothamist a week or so ago. I find the following statement found in the article rather amusing:

Metro-North is attempting to trick fat passengers by making the middle seats look larger with a center seam instead of arm barriers, though they’re not actually making the seats bigger.

Of all the things one could blame Metro-North of doing to passengers, I doubt that tricking fat passengers about the size of seats is high on that list. Perhaps to anyone other than a conspiracy theorist, a more logical assumption might be where our new trains (as they were apparently referencing the M8’s of the New Haven Line) have been designed. Our first M8’s were delivered from the Kawasaki company in Japan – a country that has a significantly lower percentage of obese citizens than we do. Perhaps in future railcars this will be addressed, as it is a subject that has been influencing industries throughout our country – even tourism.

A harmonica-playing conductor…

The New Haven Line certainly has its share of interesting conductors… The following video has been making the rounds this week, and I couldn’t help but share. Certainly a conductor playing the harmonica is amusing, but it is the two guys dancing in the background that really makes the video.

Mother suing the MTA for son’s death by subway train

In the future, when people look back on us Americans, I have a feeling that they might find that the country’s pastime is not baseball, but filing lawsuits. And some are quite doozies – a drunk and high idiot convicted of manslaughter for killing three with his pickup truck has the audacity to sue the victim’s families for pain and suffering. And although there is no doubt that a Brooklyn mother is suffering and in pain after the death of her son, suing the MTA for it is just asinine.

A likely drunk Briant Rowe willingly climbed down onto the subway tracks and wandered through a tunnel, and was not surprisingly struck by a subway train. Though clearly his fault, Rowe’s mother is suing the MTA for fifty million dollars, claiming that it is the MTA’s fault for not suspending all service to search for the man, who was sighted on the tracks… though a slow-moving train did search for him for over a half an hour. Really, where is personal accountability in this whole story? Perhaps we should nominate this young man for a Darwin Award.


If we get our legs ripped off by a train, can we sue the MTA too?

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Japan’s Beautiful Shinkansen

I have a bit of a problem when it comes to focusing on things. My mind is always in a million places at once. I am notorious for starting things and never finishing them… in addition to having a whole bunch of awesome ideas that I never end up acting on. Over a year ago I rode my first high-speed “bullet train” in Japan… and I never posted anything about it. As I started posting things from my most recent trip, I figured it was probably about time to go through some of my even older photos, and actually get them posted.

Japan’s shinkansen is beautiful, at least in my opinion. The front is is long, sleek, and aerodynamic… at least on the N700 Series, which is the one I took. The Nozomi (“super high speed”) service took 2 hours and 20 minutes to go from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Tokaido Line, a distance of nearly 300 miles. The train’s top speed is 186 miles per hour. Part of the beauty of the high speed system in Japan is that the shinkansen has dedicated tracks, and no grade crossings. The ride is rather scenic, but because the train never intersects with roads there occasionally periods where the train will run in tunnels completely underground. I was amused, because it felt like every time I started recording the view on my video camera, we went through tunnels.

At the beginning of the video is a little jingle… this is another awesome thing about the trains in Japan. Sometimes there are so many different train lines that converge at one point, and it is hard to know which train is which. All you really have to do is listen though. Trains of different lines have different jingles, which allows you to audibly distinguish between the trains. Though I do wonder sometimes how anyone who actually works on those trains and hears the jingles all day long doesn’t go postal. I certainly heard those jingles in my dreams!

 
   
  
   
  
 
   

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Happy (early) Birthday, Chauncey Mitchell Depew

Every day when I ride the train down to White Plains, a crowd of folks hovers on the platform, waiting for the train to slow and then stop. They crowd around every door, masses of them, and a fight ensues. A fight of currents. The current of those disembarking clashes against those pushing themselves through and onto the train. If you don’t hold fast and push, you will be swept away before you can even place a foot on the yellow tactile stripping of the platform. And this, this is a daily ritual that I loathe. There is only one thing I hate even more than those that crowd around the doors attempting to get on the train: the people that hover in front of the doors, not to get on the train, but to accost each of the people disembarking with papers – usually some sort of politician’s propaganda. And while we’re being pretty honest here, I am not much of a fan of politicians, especially the ones that swarm train stations whenever an election looms. Some of you may remember back in the “olden days” when I first started this blog, every time a politician would forcibly hand me a piece of propaganda at a train station, I photoshopped it in some odd way and posted it. It was my own little way of rebelling. Though I may have stopped my photoshopping of politicians, the fact still remains: I don’t like politicians.

Politicians today are pretty weak. They don’t even write their own stuff, they get other people to do that. You think if they didn’t spend time writing it, the least they could do is memorize it. But no, they have to stoop to writing on their hands, using teleprompters, or just spewing complete bullshit that makes the rest of the world laugh at us – but hey, we elected them! It makes me want to go back to a time where politicians were badass… where they had duels to settle differences, and despite getting shot in the chest, still delivering their speeches. A time where the politicians could actually speak, a wonderful and eloquent stream of words – not any of this crap that dribbles like a man foaming at the mouth. Politics then would be a heck of a lot more interesting, and elections wouldn’t be a battle between the lesser of two evils.

I’m not sure if anyone really has a “favorite” historical politician. And if anyone does, it is probably a former president. I’m sure Abraham Lincoln’s name would probably come up. Maybe it is just a consequence of us looking back at history in retrospect. We learned his speeches in school, and heck, maybe even the fact that he was assassinated makes us look back and think, damn he was a good politician. But there was another man, not nearly as popular and most people today probably don’t even know his name, but I always seemed to think he was pretty cool. At minimum, he was a brilliant orator, the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of speeches today. But I must admit, perhaps I am a little biased about this fellow, as he was not only a politician, but he was also a railroad man.


Photographs of Chauncey Depew over the years

“Don’t be a damned fool!”
Usually when you’re looking to hire someone for a job, those are not the words you utter to the person you may potentially hire. But then again, most people aren’t the brusque Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt approached a Peekskill-born lawyer by the name of Chauncey Mitchell Depew, offering him a position as the attorney for the New York & Harlem Railroad – a position he was about ready to turn down. Depew had been offered a position as the US Minister to Japan. At that time the journey to Japan took a full six months, and thus the sending of any message took a full year. However, the monetary compensation was far higher than the railroad job – and Depew said as much to the Commodore. It was then that the Commodore fired back with the following: “Railroads are the career for a young man; there is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.” Depew took the railroad job.


1895 Harlem Division pass, signed by Chauncey Depew

Chauncey Mitchell Depew was born in Peekskill, New York on April 23, 1834. In his youth he spent significant amounts of time reading – his uncle was a postmaster, and at the time there was no mail delivery. Mail often sat a long while until the recipient came to pick it up, and in the interim a young Depew would peruse any newspaper or magazine that would arrive. As a young man Depew would attend Yale, and graduated from there in 1856. At that time there were no law schools in the country, and one would have to “read law” – a sort of apprenticeship – to become a lawyer. Depew “read law” with a lawyer in Peekskill and was accepted to the bar in 1858. Before being called by Vanderbilt, Depew worked as a lawyer in New York City, and served a brief stint as a member of the New York Assembly, and the Secretary of State for New York.


Photograph of Chauncey Depew, from the Library of Congress

All of that probably sounds just as boring as the pedigree of any politician, but there was something about Depew that intrigues me. He was quite the orator, and rubbed elbows with quite a few influential people that maybe you’ve heard of: Horace Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, and Teddy Roosevelt, just to name a few. Depew was described as having a “personal charm and a lovable disposition” – but for the most part he was remembered in his day as a brilliant speaker. You can in fact read many of his speeches, as well as his as his autobiography, for free online – and if you ever get a spare moment, I do find them rather interesting.

Most people today, however, will remember Depew as a railroad man (even though he served as a senator later in life as well). He accepted Vanderbilt’s offer of a position in 1866, a time when Vanderbilt’s roads consisted of a little over two-hundred-and-fifty miles. In the early 1900’s, that number had ballooned to over twenty-thousand miles in the system. By 1874 Depew had ascended to the position of Director of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and by 1882 was the Vice-President for the New York Central. In 1885 he was elected to the presidency, and in 1898 chairman of the board. He served as chairman until his death in 1928, working for the railroad for a total of 62 years.


The cover of New York Central Lines magazine, after the death of Chauncey Depew

Upon his death, Grand Central was draped in mourning. If one questioned the influence of Depew, one needs only look to the list of pallbearers for his funeral, consisting of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. His wife received condolences from American presidents and European royalty. Though the man is long gone and many have forgotten him, you will still occasionally see references to him: Depew Park in Peekskill, various Depew Streets located around train stations, and the village of Depew, New York, located upstate. And then, of course, there are the words he left behind…

If your construction of success was honestly analyzed, it would probably mean to most minds the getting of money. The desire to acquire property is the most potent force in the activities of our people. It is the mainspring of of our marvelous development, and the incentive and reward of intelligent industry. It is alike the cause of the noblest efforts and the most revolting crimes.

We are at present sailing upon tranquil seas, with no clouds above the horizon and no warnings from the barometer. It is at such times that the prudent and experienced navigator hopes for the best and prepares for the worst.

Keep the roads paved and free from obstructions by which the industrious, the honest, and the capable, with no additional capital but character, can rise from any condition to the highest honors of the Republic, and the largest rewards of business.

Give to all men and women their full opportunities to work on their own destinies, and provide the incentives to efforts and ambitions which promote the enterprises and develop the resources of the country, and enrich and invigorate its intellectual life.

The indestructible union of liberty and law has given character and perpetuity in American institutions. It produced those perfect conditions, of freedom, protection, and equality, which peoples have sought for ages through bloody revolutions, and never before found. It has attracted to our shores fourteen millions of emigrants, against the superior advantages of soil and climate in Mexico and South America, or equal material opportunities in Canada. Most of this vast population have fled from the oppression of laws made for classes and working injustice and wrong to the masses. They have been of incalculable benefit to the country, and without them onr development and resources would be fifty years behind their present state. They have brought with them industry, integrity, and an intense desire to better their lives and improve the condition of their children.

Steam and electricity have made us one people, and for commercial pnrposes unified the world.

Trust and confidence are the foundation of success. Without them it is useless to begin and impossible to advance.

While we’re continuing our celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I figured profiling a man who got his start on the New York & Harlem Railroad would be appropriate. Conveniently, Depew’s birthday would be tomorrow – so we’ll wish the two of them Happy Birthday on this day!

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Train Station Levitation

There are some wonderful photographs that have been circulating around the internet lately that I loved so much I just had to share. A young Japanese woman, Natsumi Hayashi, has done a series of “levitation” photos, some of which are at various Tokyo train stations. The effect is created using her camera on a timer, and the camera captures her in the middle of motion, frozen in mid-jump. It is a technique that she very obviously excels at, as her photos are so natural she really does appear to be floating. On the technique she says:

I am actually jumping, but if all goes well, I will appear to be levitating the moment the shutter goes off. But if my facial expression appears to look forced then it will only appear as though I’m jumping. That is why the moment I take off I try to appear as calm as I possibly can.

I exert force just at the start of the jump, then I drain all strength from my body. But this method is quite dangerous. As I come back to the ground I have lost my balance and fallen. But that is fine by me. That’s because the photographs only reflect the moments I’m suspended in the air.

I do have a feeling like I need to copycat this, as it looks like it would be incredibly fun to do. Perhaps the new goal for the Tour of the New Haven Line should be to not only get a panorama at each station, but also a levitation photo at each station. On second thought, maybe it isn’t such a great idea – I’ve had the cops called on me for just taking normal pictures… imagine me taking pictures and jumping around like an idiot. But this too is a sentiment that Hayashi is familiar with:

I get very nervous when I shoot in public places. When I am shooting on a subway platform or famous signt-seeing place and jump over 200 times in a row, nearby people start to whisper. No one speaks directly to me, but in a small voice they will say things like, “Is that girl mentally ill?” or “Should we call the police?”

Anyways, enjoy some of Natsumi Hayashi’s levitation photographs, some of my favorites which are posted below. You can find many more on her blog here. You’ll find photography, trains, and cats… hey, that sorta sounds like me!

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
 
  

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Cuteness for the day: Stationmaster Tama and the deer of Nara

It is about time that I get the remainder of my travel photos up, and of course today’s weather cancelled work, so it is the perfect time to get off my butt and do it. I do have a little bit of an excuse with my Japan photos – as I thought I had lost them. When I take photos I have an elaborate sort of organization that all of the pictures have to go through. Ah, my OCD tendencies. Anyways, the horrible photos are deleted, and only the most horrible – anything that is out of focus or something like that. Photos I don’t like go into a folder called rejected, and the rest of them I crop and color correct and do whatever else I need to do. Now I had done this with most of the Japan photos, and put them on a flash drive. But the flash drive died, and I sent it out for data recovery. When it came back, there were no Japan photos. I still had the original unedited files, but that annoyed me… I didn’t want to go through my whole procedure again. And so they sat idle on my harddrive for months. Only recently (after my one laptop crashed and I purchased a new one) I discovered that I had in fact backed up the edited versions of the files on my external harddrive. Now I have no excuse to go through them and finally put them online.

One of the subjects I did manage to get up a while ago were the photos and video of the Tama Densha train. That would be the train that was modeled after the famous Stationmaster Cat, Tama. But I never mentioned my visit across various prefectures to get to see this little feline. I had hoped to get some special treatment, even got a Japanese coworker to call and attempt to arrange it for me, but unfortunately their reply was that the railroad had no one available that spoke English to meet with me. So I, like everyone else, saw little Tama inside her temporary cage, as Kishi station at the time was under construction. The new station, which is complete with a cat-faced roof, has since opened. I am also pretty sure that Tama has received a promotion to vice-president of the railroad company.

The Wakayama Electric Railway itself is pretty small. I didn’t realize that the Kishigawa Line, the one that went from Wakayama city to the final station of Kishi, was the company’s only line. Although I am sure that there are plenty of people that might use the short, 9 mile line for commuting, it mostly has reinvented itself as a tourist line… which of course happened by accident after they assigned a little cat to become a stationmaster. The company only has six sets of two EMU railcars, three sets of which are themed: there is the Tama train, a strawberry-themed train, and a toy-themed train. The trains only have an engineer and no conductors, run on narrow gauge rails, and are powered by overhead catenary. But I can assure you that most people riding that train could care less about that – they just want to see the cat!

  
   
  
   
 
  
  
  
 

Being the person I am, and going to just about anywhere cute animals may be, I also visited the city of Nara. I write about plenty of history on this site, but it feels slightly amusing for me to say that Nara was Japan’s capital in the year 710 (sometimes American history just feels like a children’s-sized book). According to mythology, the god Takemikazuchi arrived to protect the capital on the back of a white deer. The deer there have been regarded as almost sacred, and you’ll find them rather tame and wandering all over in the vicinity of Nara Park. Vendors sell little crackers to feed the deer… and yes, some of the deer even have polite Japanese manners and bow to you.

  
   
    
   
  
  

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Looking back at 2010… a countdown of the most popular

Ah, 2010. You were the first full year that I actually operated this blog. Lots of fun and shenanigans were to be had. I decided to take a look back at what was popular on the site this year, as a wrap-up for 2010…

1. BPGlobal Billboards

The first entry here is not train-related in any way… however it was such a major news story at the time I couldn’t not have some fun with it – though fun is actually a terrible way to describe it, as the Gulf Oil Spill was quite tragic. To me the two standouts in coverage on this was a fake twitter account, BPGlobalPR, and Boston Globe’s The Big Picture. I merged the two into fake billboards, which apparently caught on and made their rounds on the web – and brought around thirty thousand viewers to the site in a single day.

2. Harlem Line Timetables

It is true, I have turned into an eBay whore… collecting just about anything regarding the Harlem Line. Many of the timetables I have can be found on the second most popular part of the site, the Harlem Line Timetables archive. It is desperately needing updating, as I own or have scanned many more timetables than are currently pictured. My goal was always to have a timetable for every year, and for the most part I do have that, from 1930 on up. Look for a major overhaul of this section in 2011!

3. Stupid Warning Signs

Ah, stupid warning signs. One of the most amusing things I’ve made for the site. These popular signs round out the top three most popular things on the site this year. Folks have requested that I turn these into stickers, but if you people start sticking these on trains the MTA PD might actually have a real reason to arrest my ass.

4. The Cutest Train Car in the World

One of the posts I made after returning from Japan featured the Tama Densha railcar of the Wakayama Electric Railway. The railroad is known in offbeat circles around the world due to the fact that they employ a feline Stationmaster (I believe she’s actually been promoted to Vice-President now). Tama the cat was so popular, designer Eiji Mitooka created a train car in her honor. The front of the train has whiskers, the seats inside have cat print. My favorite part of the train? The library full of books for the kids.

5. Centalia, PA – Burning Ghost Town

I’ve always been fascinated with Centralia, ever since I first read about it on the internet many years ago. Since then I’ve visited several times. The story begins in the 1960’s, when a coal seam under the town caught fire. It continues to burn to this day. The land has fissures that belch smoke, and it permanently smells of sulfur. It is a tragic story, as the once bustling small town has been whittled down to less than ten citizens.

The coal under the town that is burning is anthracite – which was popularized in little rhymes about Phoebe Snow in advertisements for the Lackawanna Railroad.

6. The Loneliest Station on the Harlem Line

Although I hadn’t come up with the concept yet, the Harlem Line Panorama project began with Mount Pleasant – which I labeled as the loneliest station on the line. The tiny station in between Hawthorne and Valhalla services the cemeteries in the area, and has very limited service.


The first panorama posted on the site

7. The Harlem Line Panorama Project

If you’re interested in seeing all the panoramas to date, located on a map – this is the place to go. This Google map is the seventh most popular portion of the site, although technically it lies off site and on Google’s servers. However, each placemark contains my favorite panorama from that stop, and a link back to the post on this site.

8. Sadie the Subway Cat

The Transit Museum in Brooklyn has employed a cat or two, mostly in the hopes that they would chase away any subway rats. In this eighth most popular post I recollect my first visit to the Transit Museum and my encounter with Sadie… and my crazy idea to get her a miniature-sized train conductor’s hat. Of course none of that really panned out – and as far as I am aware, Sadie has been quietly retired from the public.

9. The #1 Reason to Ride Metro-North

Back in June I posted these spoof ads for Metro-North and beer. If you are a regular commuter you will notice that in the afternoon, and most especially on Fridays, there are quite a few people drinking beer. The exception to that if you are those people that work at Target in Mount Kisco, you’re drinking it in the morning. But since you can’t drink and drive, and you can certainly drink and ride, Metro-North could always have an amusing new ad campaign.

10. M8 Cars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line

Ah, April Fools Day… I couldn’t resist making a fake post about the new M8’s. Shattering the dreams of many New Haven Line riders, I posted that the red trains would be repainted blue and running instead on the Harlem Line by the end of the year. I even made up some fake quotes and attributed them to Dan Brucker – which probably doesn’t place me very high on his list of awesome bloggers.

So that is it! The ten most popular things on the blog in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

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NY’s Decorated Train: A Bronx Zoo themed S Train

After coming back from Japan I posted a bunch of pictures of some of Japan’s decorated trains. Although they seem far more common there, we do get some decorated trains here in New York City every once and a while. One of my recent favorites is the adorably cute Bronx Zoo themed train. I caught up with the train several weeks ago in Grand Central, it was running as the shuttle between there and Times Square.








If you happen to take a ride on one of these trains, be sure to look up at the ceiling. It just might make you smile. I nearly missed it myself, guess I wasn’t too observant that night. But look up, a giraffe will be staring back at you. After seeing this train I totally want to go to the zoo!

In other news, I am totally getting my act together with the rest of my pictures from Japan, and the more recent ones from Toronto. I got in trouble taking pictures in Toronto’s Union Station, but also had the opportunity to visit the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre, which was great fun (well, not the part with the cops, or as my brother called them, Canadian Bacon). I liked the trains, my brother liked the beer. The old railway roundhouse now serves as a beer brewery, and of course they have samples for visitors. It helps if I tell you that my brother is only twenty – not quite drinking age in the US, but old enough to drink in Canada.

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