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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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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Stamford

Welcome to Stamford, the next and final stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. We’ve seen the best (and worst) that the line and its branches have to offer – from the attractive New Canaan, Mamaroneck, and New Haven stations, to the barely-there stations of Merritt 7 and Ansonia. Stamford is much more utilitarian than it is beautiful, consisting of five tracks that accommodate both Metro-North and Amtrak trains, as well as a waiting area complete with a Dunkin Donuts and a MTA police station <insert stereotypical joke here>.

   
 

Photos of Stamford station in the 1970’s and 1980’s

Throughout the many years the railroad has run through Stamford, there have been several different station buildings to occupy the space. One of the buildings with the longest life-span was built in 1896, surviving for nearly 90 years, before being demolished to make room for the current station. There were, in fact, two full stations on each side of the tracks – complete with ticket windows, bathrooms, baggage and waiting rooms. Although many New Haven Line stations had a building on both sides of the tracks, one of the two was usually smaller and did not have full amenities. Stamford’s two full-service stations was a rarity, and reflected the station’s importance. By October of 1907, the line from New York up to Stamford was electrified, which lead to even further population growth in the city.

Stamford station did not see any major changes until 1972, when high-level platforms were constructed to accommodate the new “Cosmopolitan” railcars (M2’s), and again in the early 1980’s when the historical station buildings were razed to make room for the current station.

 
   
  
   

Historic American Buildings Survey photographs of Stamford, taken in 1983 before the two stations were demolished

The current station at Stamford, known as the Stamford Transportation Center, was completed in 1987. The construction took around five years and cost a very over-budget $40 million dollars. The new station opened to less than stellar reviews, using an array of embarrassing adjectives such as dismal, uncomfortable, and gruesome. Though there have been renovations in the time since, the station still feels like a massive, unfriendly box of concrete. The high concentration of police also made me absolutely frightened to take pictures, though there were many places that I could have. Any station with that many tracks usually equals more opportunities to capture the movement of trains. Although I got a few shots of the new M8 railcars, the rest of the station is remarkably drab and relatively non-noteworthy… especially compared to some of the wonderful things we’ve seen on the New Haven Line.

 
  
   
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
  
   

So… that is it. We’ve officially toured the entire Harlem Line, and the entire New Haven Line. Up next will be the Port Jervis Line, which I photographed last year, followed by the Hudson Line, which I will start photographing soon.

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mmkoutside7

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Mamaroneck


Postcard view of Mamaroneck station


Aerial view of Mamaroneck. The old station is to the left, away from the tracks and platform.

Welcome to one of the final Tuesday Tours of the New Haven Line. Our stop today is the delightful village of Mamaroneck. I had every intention of posting Mamaroneck last – I even had Darien’s tour ready to go – but I happened to get a sneak peek of the newly-restored station over the weekend, and couldn’t resist posting it right away. The station, built in 1888 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style (which, admittedly, is one of my favorites), is certainly one of the nicest (and second oldest) on the New Haven Line. However, like many old stations, the condition of the building had degraded, and it needed a lot of work. Metro-North, who owned the station, was having difficulties finding someone to lease the place in the condition it was in. Without the funds to renovate the station themselves, Metro-North instead listed the station for sale in 2007.


Drawing of Mamaroneck station, front view

Though various parties were interested in the station, it was ultimately sold in 2008 to John and Chris Verni of Verco Properties, for $1.25 million. Renovations began after a formal groundbreaking ceremony on April 22, 2010. During my first visit to Mamaroneck last September, I happened to get a few shots of the station while the restoration was in progress. It didn’t look like too much had been completed yet, but I was feeling very optimistic about this place, and knew I would return at some point.

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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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My date with an M8…

To say my train journeys this past weekend were a bit interesting seems like an understatement. I got to take some cool pictures of Grand Central’s exterior because the road was closed to cars for Summer Streets. I photographed the New Haven Line station Mount Vernon East, which is the 70th Metro-North station I’ve taken pictures of (if anybody is keeping track, lol). Oh, and I also got to ride on an M8. But see, those weren’t really quite as interesting as the nutjobs I found I was sharing the train with. On Friday an absolute genius of a woman decided that it would be a good idea to chase the departing train after forgetting a bag on board. She either jumped off the platform, or weaseled through the fence at Southeast, and ran after the train as it entered the yard. How monumentally stupid. I thought to myself, had she gotten flattened by a train or fried herself by tripping on the third rail, her family most likely would have sued Metro-North. Despite the fact that it would totally have been her fault, her family probably would have been awarded some amount of monetary compensation… and when our fares would go up again, we’d all know why.

On Saturday I again found myself on a northbound train heading to Southeast. It was dark, and near impossible to see anything but blackness out the window. I was in the very rear of the train, the portion that doesn’t platform at Brewster (yes, I totally think it is acceptable to use platform as a verb, thank you). Because it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell whether we were stopped at the station, or at some point before it… but I was certainly wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out a man in the front of the train decided to, how should I say this, basically he thought it would be a good idea to whip it out and begin pleasuring himself – the rest of the passengers present be damned. Girls were screaming, conductors were running, and it didn’t take too long for the train to be stopped until the police arrived. The public masturbator had apparently hidden himself in the train bathroom, but was thankfully apprehended by the police and removed from the train. I’ll call that the Metro-North Harlem Line Pervert Express – I have no desire to ride that train again.

Unfortunately the story of the M8 was slightly overshadowed by the stories of the crazy people. I took a short ride – from Grand Central to Mount Vernon East – though I took quite a few photos of the train before it went into motion. It may not have been the most memorable event of the day, but it was certainly the most positive highlight of the day. The aesthetic of the train is pretty similar to the M7’s found on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, but obviously in red. There is a lot of red. The outside is red, the floor is red, the seats are red. Clearly the decision was based on the New Haven Line’s signature color, but for those who believe that color can effect mood there might be a little bit too much red. A lot of sites have commented on the features of the M8, so I will try to keep this as short as possible, and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that the lighting, large overhead storage racks, and numerous power outlets are really great additions. Now if we could get more of them in service, and iron out all the remaining glitches we’d be all set…

 
  
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
   
 
  
 
   
 

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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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Metro-North Announces Today M-8 Railcars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line, as Previously Planned

In a drastic change of plans, today Metro-North has announced that the M-8 railcars will not be debuting on the New Haven Line. The new cars, made by the Kawasaki company, have been arriving a few at a time from Japan ever since December. They were to go into testing on the New Haven Line shortly, and hopefully launched by winter of this year, replacing the aging M-2 cars currently in use there.


New M-8 car, with blue Harlem Line paint scheme

The new M-8 cars which have already arrived will be getting new paint jobs – in a blue scheme, as opposed to the former red – and will be in service instead on the Harlem Line this winter. A factory in Lincoln, Nebraska will be constructing the remainder of the cars ordered, and these will be used on the New Haven Line. The first cars produced in Nebraska will arrive in 2012. When questioned about the change in plans, Dan Brucker, spokesman for Metro-North, said:

The people on the New Haven Line have suffered a long time with slow and late trains. I’m sure they can wait a little longer for their M-8’s. The New Haven Line is our least favorite of the major lines anyways – of course in front of the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis Lines. Do people even know those two exist?

I certainly can’t wait for the M-8’s! That is certainly good news, I won’t even have to go over to the New Haven Line for a chance to ride them!

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The M8’s are coming!

m8_4

The Japanese-designed M8 cars for the New Haven Line are coming… for real! The first pair will be shipped on a freighter from Kobe, Japan on Wednesday. After a month at sea, the cars will arrive in Baltimore, and from there will be shipped to New Haven. By March, another three pairs will be arriving, enough for a full eight car train. If all goes well, New Haven Line riders should be seeing M8’s by late next year. All of the cars can run on both third rail power, and from catenary wires. And of course, they are all decked out in a red color scheme: the color of the New Haven Line.

Here are some delightful pictures of the M8. There is even one of the M8’s bathroom. Because admit it, that is really what you wanted to know about.

You can read more about the M8’s in the Hartford Courant.

In other news, nobody got any free rides today on the train. I did happen to catch a glimpse of the other conductor at the back of the train, and I couldn’t help but think that with his big mustache he looked a lot like Wilford Brimley. The Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical guy. And just for good measure, here is a cat that looks like Wilford Brimley, that looks like the train conductor on my train.

brimley-cat
I got my DIABEEEEETUS testing supplies from Liberty Medical!

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