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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Taking the train to the game – 1966 style

It is about that time… baseball season just beginning, and again this year you can take the train to the game on Metro-North. Although the new Yankees E. 153rd Street station stop makes it easier to get to the stadium, taking the train to the game really isn’t a new idea. The railroad has operated special game trains for years – even back in the New York Central days! And we’re not just talking about baseball – football too! Before Giants Stadium was completed in 1976, the team’s home games were played at various locations – and from 1956-1973 that location was the original Yankee Stadium. Instead of accessing the stadium on the Hudson Line (like today), train riders would take the Harlem Line to Melrose station, and from there walk the short distance to Yankee Stadium.

Below you will find a few of the brochures the New York Central printed about taking the train to Yankee Stadium for baseball and football games. With the exception of the final two (which are more current Metro-North versions), they were all printed in 1966. Special thanks to Otto Vondrak who owns and scanned most of them for me!

New York Central’s special Yankees trains, from 1966

Taking the train to the football game, 1966

The back of the card shows how to get from Melrose to Yankee Stadium, 1966

A little bit more current “Take the train to the game” brochures.

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Melrose Station, in the late 1800’s

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.

Walter Katte

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The Harlem Line, in panoramas

I’ve spent many months posting various panoramas of the Harlem Line stations. I’m now excited to be able to post the entire Harlem Line, viewed in panoramas. You can watch as the farmland and rural greenery morphs into the suburbs, before changing into the concrete jungle of New York City. If you want to see more photos from each of the stations, just click on the picture. Anybody have a favorite panorama? I think my two favorites are Tenmile River and Harlem-125th Street – the two of them are polar opposites in terms of the scenery visible while taking a ride down New York City’s oldest railroad.

For those who like maps, I place all of my panoramas on a Google map, which you can see below. I also add photos to Panoramio, which provides the photos for Google Earth.
[cetsEmbedGmap src=,-73.418884&spn=1.756506,2.622986&t=h&z=9 width=553 height=740 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Tremont

The next time you’re riding a train out of Grand Central, give a little wave goodbye when you pass Tremont station, at mile post 7.9. For Tremont is a lonely station – it may have four tracks, and it may see every Harlem and New Haven line train pass by, but only a handful of them stop. Like Melrose, Tremont is a Bronx station with somewhat more limited service than most other Harlem Line stations. During non-rush hours, that means a train about every two hours. Tremont is also small – the platform can accommodate only two train cars.

Enjoy this quick look at Tremont station through various panoramas… This pretty much wraps up our tour to the Harlem Line’s more limited service stations. Melrose and Tremont are like the big brothers of the bunch, as their limited service is much more often than the once or twice per day Mount Pleasant and weekend-only Appalachian Trail. These are the final weeks of my Tour of the Harlem Line, as I’ve featured most of the stations so far. Next week we’ll go and visit Crestwood, the last station to be featured that was part of the Mid-Harlem Station Improvement project (all of which have photos preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress).


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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Melrose

Just as Fleetwood will always remind me a bit of the incident with chicken teriyaki, Melrose station will always another incident… as such, I figured it would be best to get it over with and take a tour of Melrose today. Plus it was kind of easy to go through all the photos for Melrose – there weren’t nearly as many as the other stations. But there is something actually new and cool about these photos – they are the first batch of Tuesday Tour photos that were automatically geotagged by my new GPS logger. What exactly does that mean? Similar to the GPS devices you are most likely familiar with that determine your position on the road and give you directions, this GPS logger just tracks my location and at what time I was there, and stores it. Then when I connect it to my computer along with my camera, it looks at the photo’s timestamp and determines where I was when I took the photo. It can also plot a rough map of how I moved around:

[cetsEmbedGmap src=,-73.91432&spn=0.002298,0.004823&z=18 width=553 height=425 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

The logger isn’t 100% accurate… nor are the google maps that the data has been plotted upon. But it does give the rough idea of me going back and forth on the platform, taking photos, then crossing over on the road to the other side of the platform and doing the same. On my end (meaning you can’t see it on the above map) it lists speed, so I can tell when I was on the train, and how fast that train was going at the time. But the coolest part is to see the photos plotted on a map of where they were taken – like this: Melrose photos on Panoramio.

Back to Melrose though – it, along with Tremont, is one of the smaller stations on the Harlem Line. The platform is only large enough to accommodate two train cars. Service to these stations is also less frequent than most on the line. Like most of the stations in the Bronx it is a nice place to train watch. With four tracks, two of which are devoted to express trains, you are bound to see something pass by quite frequently, even if it isn’t the rush hour.

Anyways, enjoy the photos of Melrose, with a gorgeous blue sky…


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Cat girl, Cat girl, whatcha gonna do when the cops come for you?

Just a note, posted 11/22 – I’ve spoken to some folks at Metro-North that have apologized for the incident and will be reminding the managers of track workers that taking photos on the platform is not illegal. I’m satisfied with this resolution, and I thank everyone for their comments.

Today was the final day for me to go out and take panorama photos at the last five stations on the Harlem Line. After that, the panorama project would essentially be complete (the original goal of all Harlem Line stations complete, but I’ll still be shooting panoramas and adding them to the project and map), and I would have visited all current and active stations on the line. However, I had been warned many times about two particular stations: Melrose and Tremont. Some readers of the blog assured me I would be safe there. Many train conductors I know advised me not to go there, unless I planned on taking a gun. I did ask @MetroNorthTweet his opinion, and he responded “I just checked with our Police and they said there shouldn’t be a problem during the day.” I decided to go. The amusing thing is that at both stations there was no threat to me whatsoever – it was actually *I* that was deemed a threat.

I suppose this now means I’ve now been baptised by fire into the inner circle of transit photographers… I’ve now had the police called on me, while I was taking photos at Melrose. This weekend there was a bit of track work going on in the Bronx. I kinda figured that the extra bodies in the vicinity of the stations would make me safer. Instead, it was apparently my turn to get harassed by the track workers, or rather, one specific track worker. Trains stopping at Melrose are not as frequent as many other stops, and I was aware I was going to be stuck at the station for slightly over an hour. I spent at least a half an hour of that time taking photos of the trains going by. All the while the track workers were hanging around, doing not a thing. It was when they came up onto the platform to hang out in an idling MTA vehicle on the street (playing loud music, by the way) that they noticed me taking photos. Taking photos in the opposite direction didn’t seem to bother them, but instead in the direction where they had been working (or perhaps, not working) they got angry. One worker came out of the idling vehicle to shout at me to stop taking photos. I didn’t really think anything of it, and by the time the next train had started to roll by I had forgotten, and pulled out my camera to get a nice shot of the train as it went by.

Track worker then exited the vehicle, slammed the door, and charged down the stairs to come and yell, “I told you, don’t take no pictures. Nobody’s allowed to take pictures. MTA Police don’t allow NO photos.”
Eric, who was accompanying me on my last photo jaunt to Harlem Line stations, replied something along the lines of, “There’s no reason we can’t take pictures here.”
The track worker steps forward, threateningly replying, “Oh yeah? OH YEAH?! Well we’ll see about that. I’m callin’ the cops on you. I’M CALLIN’ THE COPS RIGHT NOW!”

Thinking back, I was wondering why this man was so angry. I came up with a couple of possibilities:
– He was picked on as a child
– He’s not getting anything from his wife in the bedroom
– He’s not very big and needs to assert his manhood in some way or another
– He thinks I now have photographic evidence that proves he and his buddies were doing nothing other than punching each other and listening to loud music in an idling Metro-North vehicle.

He got on his walkie talkie and called in, “I have a situation here at Melrose. We need the cops down here right now.” I don’t think he said anything else, and wouldn’t clarify what exactly the “situation” was, but he said there were two people that were “doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing.”

The train I was taking was set to come in around fifteen minutes, and it took the police about that long to get there. When the track worker saw I was getting my stuff together to board the train, he began to block the bridge plate (since track work was being done, people could only enter and exit the train from the small bridge). Anotherwords, the man was blocking my only way to get onto my train and to leave. But what right does a track worker have to detain a passenger on Metro-North Railroad? None whatsoever – I would consider that illegally detaining me.

The cops certainly arrived in order to take care of this “situation” – clad in their bulletproof vests. I walked right up to one of them, handed him one of my website business cards and said “Yes, I take photographs at train stations. I’ve taken photos at many stations and have had no problem before. There are people that work for the railroad that are aware I am out here taking photos…” (not exactly a stretch. I’ve gotten messages from an array of people, from ticket collectors to engineers) the police officer interrupted me, demanding my identification. I really didn’t think he had any right to see it, but I wanted the whole damn thing to be over with, and to be able to board my train that the police were now preventing from leaving. And so I gave him my ID, which he photographed. He asked me where I was going (did he really have any right to know?), and I told him the Botanical Garden. He asked if I would be taking photos there as well, and I said yes. He told me not to go to any places I didn’t belong as I boarded the train. That makes me wonder, did track worker lie and say we were in unauthorized areas? Conveniently, I was wearing my GPS tracker – which allows me to geotag my photos. It can also plot on a map every single step I took today – and prove I was not in any unauthorized areas.

Anyways, here I am now, wondering what exactly is going to the photo that a police officer now has on his phone of my ID. I also came up with a couple of possibilities:
– The MTA police will now have a file on me, as I am a potential “threat to safety”
– Nothing whatosever
– [redacted, I admit, this was an inappropriate comment]
– The police will be actively pursuing me as a threat. In this instance I figured I’d help them out, since I am a designer and all, I created my own wanted poster:

Real terrorists vandalize their own hypothetical wanted posters. Oh, and that is a new, custom hat, thanks to the always-awesome Susan at Boshi Basiik!

In a post 9/11 age of paranoia and suspicion, public photography is increasingly seen as threatening, or mistaken as criminal…Amateur photographers are the documentarians of real life. We capture our world to help us understand it. We are not a threat

-JPG Magazine

There is really nothing else for me to say, other than what I’ve said already. I will still love Metro-North, and I will still love photography. And nothing is going to change that… even if it makes me a supposed “terrorist.”

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Katonah

By now my little photography adventures have taken me to almost all of the Harlem Line stations (the only outstanding stations are Woodlawn, Williams Bridge, Botanical Garden, Melrose and Tremont. I’ve been warned for my safety at the last two). I’ve done a lot of fun things, and gotten to explore quite a bit. I’ve eaten an italian ice in Hartsdale with @kc2hmv, splashed in the river near Crestwood, and munched on good food in Mount Kisco, Valhalla and Tuckahoe. I’ve seen all the Arts for Transit pieces, and other randomly cute things, like the Commuter Rooster in Scarsdale. But despite all this, when I chatted with @bitchcakesny last night and she asked me my favorite station of all, I couldn’t quite answer.

There are so many good things about some of these stations, how could I pick just one? Wassaic and Pleasantville have my favorite Arts for Transit pieces, and I loved Harlem-125th’s art too, not to mention it was a great spot for photography. Bronxville has a unique station, and the shops surrounding Mount Kisco, Hartsdale and Scarsdale are cute and worth exploring. Chappaqua’s restored station building is a beautiful sight, and I’ve always been fond of Brewster’s old station building. What I was able to do though, is narrow it down by asking myself a question: If I had to be stuck at a single station for the entire day (maybe there was a big fire or something, shutting down Metro-North??), which would it be? And that answer is Katonah.

What makes Katonah special? The area around the station is very cute – full of shops and restaurants for eating good food. I will admit though, the Katonah Museum played a part in the decision. If you don’t mind walking the half mile from the station to this art museum, you really could spend the entire day here viewing art, shopping and eating. And if there was still time left you could hang out in the gazebo not far from the station, or go and visit the library which is two blocks away. Katonah is just another one of the nice places located along the Harlem Line, but one that certainly sticks out in my mind.

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