Best of 2012, a year-end review

2012 has been an interesting year here at I Ride the Harlem Line… we finished up touring the stations on the New Haven, Port Jervis, Pascack Valley, and Hudson lines, as well as visited some places far outside Metro-North’s territory. As if that wasn’t enough, we also began our Grand Central 100 for 100 Project, posting one image every day for 100 days, all to celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

As is customary around the end of the year, let’s take a look back at what was most popular on the site this year, based on the number of reads… presenting the top 15 posts of 2012:

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Starting off our countdown at number 15 is a photographic look at the old Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis. Completed in 1899, the old station was renovated and turned into a hotel. An old train shed now offers an ice skating rink. This is one of a few posts on the blog about Minneapolis this year, from my visit there in April. Some of the other stuff from Minneapolis included the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted to pedestrian use, riding around on the Hiawatha Line, the old and new Minnehaha Station, and the classical music playing Lake Street – Midtown station.

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14th most viewed for the year is our Hudson Line tour to Yonkers. The nicely restored brick station at Yonkers, built by the New York Central, is definitely one of the gems of the Hudson Line.

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There are plenty of hoaxes and tall tales related to Grand Central Terminal, but only one of them made our top fifteen list this year. Coming in at number 13 is the 1929 hoax in the Information Booth. As the story goes, a tricky scammer convinced a fruit seller that the railroad was planning on selling space in the information booth, and that prime space could be turned into a fruit stand. Of course, it was a complete lie, and the scammer skipped town with a nice wad of cash. Amusingly, you can buy apple in the Terminal today – either in Grand Central Market, or in the figurative sense, the Apple store in the main concourse.

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Another Grand Central themed post comes in at number 12 on our countdown – featuring the sky ceiling that nobody really knows about. This painting can be found inside Grande Harvest Wines – it is the last surviving remnant of the 242-seat newsreel theater that was once in Grand Central Terminal.

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Our tour of New Haven Line station Mamaroneck makes the list at number 11. Mamaroneck has a lovely old station that was undergoing a transformation into a restaurant called the Club Car – we managed to get a sneak preview of the place, and shared it along with the station tour.

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The Hudson Line tour of Tarrytown station also makes the list, likely for our coverage of the new and most wonderful Arts for Transit piece by Holly Sears. The 1898 Richardsonian Romanesque-style station at Tarrytown was built by architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, who are most known for their stations on the Boston and Albany railroad.

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Ninth most popular for the year was my first foray into 3D modeling, and 3D printing. I decided I would try to model the Harlem Line’s Brewster station from historical photos – basically how it looked when it was first built. The interesting journey  was featured in various places around the internet, including the TinkerCad Blog, Shapeways Blog, Adafruit and Wired.

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One of the more memorable things I got to do this year was to have a brief chat with Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut. Having been with Metro-North since its inception, the man has a pretty interesting viewpoint regarding the history of the Harlem Line. We talked about Metro-North’s formation from ConRail, Millerton, and other admirable rail systems, among other things.

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Before touring the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, I wrote a brief introduction to the West of Hudson lines, which was the seventh most viewed post on the site this year. The intro included a few maps, time tables, and a look back on the damage Hurricane Irene wrought on the Port Jervis line.

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Sixth on our top 15 countdown is a trip to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center. This is the workplace for the railroad’s Rail Traffic Controllers – one of the most stressful and possibly thankless jobs at Metro-North. The current OCC is certainly high tech, but we also got a glimpse of the old OCC, and an ad for one of the New York Central’s historical towers in Grand Central – which looked quite archaic in comparison!

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One of the most memorable shots of Hurricane Sandy was this capture of a boat resting on the Hudson Line’s tracks in Ossining, which I couldn’t help but turn into an image macro. In other news, whoever happens to own that boat is probably a big asshole, as it seems to be named after a Nazi warship. I guess the owner never realized his boat would end up on the front page of several newspapers – or top 5 in our countdown.

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Fourth most popular for the year was our April Fool’s prank about Harlem Line service getting restored up to Millerton, complete with two fake timetables and a fake ticket. Rumor has it, some folks in Metro-North’s customer service department hate me even more than they did before after this trick!

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Coming in at third most popular is the Grand Central 100 for 100 project, featuring 100 historical photos of the Terminal in the hundred days leading up to its centennial. By now we’re more than halfway through, so if you aren’t following the project on Facebook, you totally should be!

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It appears that everybody loves Dobbs Ferry station, as our tour was the number two most read post on the site for 2012. Featuring another Richardsonian Romanesque station by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Dobbs Ferry also has a nice location right on the Hudson River’s waterfront.

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Everybody seems to say that the cat is the internet’s unofficial mascot, and it certainly seems that is true! By far, the number one most read post on the site was about Sadie the Subway Cat, of the New York Transit Museum. In addition to our March photo session with the popular feline, we updated you on Sadie’s subsequent retirement, and a humorous update on her new life outside the museum.

That just about wraps up 2012 – I’m definitely looking forward to bringing you new things in 2013… everybody have a Happy New Year!

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Thoughts on Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Bridge, and the Hiawatha Line’s Downtown East – Metrodome station


Early 1900′s panoramic view of the Stone Arch Bridge

Several weeks ago when I interviewed Metro-North’s president, a few people (especially @CapnTransit on twitter) called attention to the question about Millerton – and specifically the “how do you de-map a rail trail,” comment that Mr. Permut made. It is an interesting point – in some ways a rail trail preserves a former railroad’s Right of Way, but the restoration of a rail line from a rail trail is exceedingly rare. Railroad bridges that are converted to rail-trail use are even more problematic. Bridges are not cheap to build – and what happens if at some point in the future we wish to restore the rail? A passenger rail link over the Hudson would be nice – and the likelihood of it happening with the Tappan Zee project is practically non-existent – but let’s not forget that we did have a rail bridge over the Hudson, though it is now the Walkway Over the Hudson.

I’m really divided on my opinion of rail trails – obviously, I’d much rather see it as a railroad. But at the same time, it does preserve a little bit of the history – which is better than it being totally forgotten and lost to time. All of these thoughts came to mind recently when I visited Minneapolis. The beautiful Stone Arch Bridge, built in 1883 by the Great Northern Railway, is now a pedestrian bridge, and part of the Saint Anthony Falls Heritage Trail. The interesting part of the story is that passenger rail travel is being revived in Minnesota – I’ve introduced you to the relatively new Hiawatha Line light rail system there. A second line, the Central Corridor, is currently under construction. This new line will travel from downtown Minneapolis to Saint Paul – a journey that requires a crossing over the Mississippi River.

The map above displays Minneapolis’ river crossings, and their relation to the new light rail system. In order to accommodate the Central Corridor’s crossing over the Mississippi, the Washington Avenue bridge will be modified. It is interesting to note that there are two former railroad bridges – the Stone Arch, and Northern Pacific #9 – that could have been used for this purpose, had they not been converted to pedestrian use. Several other railroad bridges are visible on the map, only one of which is currently in use for passenger rail, MetroTransit’s North Star Line.


Postcards of trains crossing over the bridge. Visible in the background of the second postcard is the Cedar Avenue Bridge (now called the 10th Avenue Bridge), built in 1929. In 1964 construction began on the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, located in between those two bridges. This was the bridge that tragically collapsed during rush hour in 2007. It has since been replaced by the Saint Anthony Falls bridge.

Though it may no longer be used by the railroad, it is undeniable that the Stone Arch Bridge is quite lovely. It provides attractive views of the river, and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of a boat passing through the lock at Saint Anthony Falls.


View from the Guthrie Theater… why, oh why, did you have to tint your windows?

   
 
   
 
 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  

If the Stone Arch Bridge is the old version of this post, Downtown East – Metrodome, a few blocks away from the bridge, on the Hiawatha Line would be the new. I think I’ve made it abundantly clear how much I love the public art along the Hiawatha Line – and I think that the art here at Downtown East – Metrodome may be the jewel of the entire system. The massive arches – designed by artist Andrew Leicester – don’t require you to be a rocket scientist to figure out. Created to evoke the image of the Stone Arch Bridge, the arches are decorated with beautiful colorful brickwork. The brick designs are influenced by the clothing patterns worn by the nineteenth-century immigrants to the area.

Leicester is a prolific public artist, and no public artist’s career would be complete without a commission for New York’s Arts for Transit program. Long Island Rail Road riders are more familiar with his piece in the city, however. Located in Penn Station, Leicester’s terra-cotta murals evoke the Penn Station of yesteryear. His blend of art and history is definitely something that I appreciate.

 
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
  

That is about it for today’s visit to Minneapolis – believe it or not, I still have a few more photos from my travels there, which I will likely share in the next few weeks!

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Milwaukee Road Depot

Checking out the old Milwaukee Road depot in Minneapolis


Print of the Milwaukee Road depot by Mark Herman, from his wonderful Minnesota Landmarks series.

Continuing with my series of photos from my trip to Minnesota, today we visit the old Milwaukee Road depot. It is a lovely building, wonderfully restored, dating from 1899. There haven’t been trains running past here since the 70′s, but the place has been given a new life as a hotel complex. A former train shed on the property has also been remade into an ice skating rink (awesome!). The depot was designed by architect Charles Sumner Frost, who also designed stations in Green Bay, Chicago, and Rock Island, among many others. If you’ve ever visited Chicago, it is highly likely that you are familiar with some of Frost’s non-railroad work, as he also designed Chicago’s Navy Pier.


1922 photograph of what the depot looked like when first built. Note the top of the tower that is now absent.

If you compare the above photo to current photos, you quickly notice that there is one big difference – the top of the tower is missing. The original top to the 140-foot tower was modeled after the Giralda in Seville, Spain. This feature was unfortunately damaged by a storm in 1941, and was never replaced. Since then, the top of the tower has been flat. However, other beautiful details still remain on the outside – including terra cotta wreaths surrounding circular windows, and intricate borders stretching around the building.


1948 photo of the depot – the ornate top is gone, and the familiar “Milwaukee Road” lettering is on the front.

This beautiful depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, under the official name of “Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Depot.” At that time, however, the building was not quite as attractive as it is now. Restoration began on the building in the late 90′s, and was completed in 2001… and it was certainly a job well done. Some of the work that had to be done on the seven-block complex was not really restorative – much of the area was contaminated and the pollution had to be cleaned up. Today the building houses several meeting rooms, and the entire complex offers 356 hotel rooms.


The Milwaukee Road depot looking fairly beat up. This photo was taken in 1992, before the restoration of the building.

 
  
 
  
 
  
  


I’m extremely jealous of this wonderful photo captured by Nick Benson… it perfectly captures the historic Milwaukee Road Depot, and the modern Hiawatha Line light rail system.


Another lovely shot containing the old depot by Greg Benz.

Is it obvious that I really liked this place? Perhaps the next time I visit Minneapolis I’ll have to stay at this hotel!

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Back in Minnesota – Minnehaha Station, old and new


The Minnehaha (popularly known as the “Princess”) Depot, 1971. [image credit]

Months ago when planning my trip to Minneapolis, I came up with a short list of places that I had to visit while there. As you’d likely expect, many of the places were railroad-related. Last week I posted about Lake Street – Midtown station, which was one of the places on the Hiawatha Line I needed to see… or perhaps a more apt description – a station I needed to hear. Minnehaha Park was another place that had made the list. Inside the park is Minnehaha Falls – which is claimed to be the most-photographed attraction in the Twin Cities. Admittedly, I wasn’t the falls that I really wanted to see – I wanted to check out “The Princess.”


The “Princess” Depot, 1992.

The Minnehaha Depot, affectionately known as The Princess, was built in 1875 and thus nicknamed for its delicate gingerbread detailing. It served as a station on the Milwaukee Road for many years, but was ultimately closed in 1963. In 1964 the railroad donated the station to the Minnesota Historical Society. The Minnesota Transportation Museum operates the depot, and it was one of the first buildings that they restored.

 
  
 
  
  
 

These are of course the falls that attracted everyone to Minnehaha Park in the first place. In its heyday, the Princess welcomed many sightseers and picnickers to the park, which was a fifteen-minute ride from downtown Minneapolis.


Concept art for Minnehaha Park station on Metro-Transit’s Hiawatha Line

As for the new station at Minnehaha Park, clearly it is not as awesome as the Princess, but it is a lovely creation. And when I say creation, I mean it. The station is an excellent example of MetroTransit’s endeavor to take transit art to the next level. Numerous artists collaborated on various different aspects of the station. Amongst the platform bricks are various bronze insets of area native species, designed by artist Gregg LeFevre. The tree branch design on the glass panels of the canopy was a creation of artist Joann Verburg. Deborah Mersky’s contribution to the station can be found on the metal fence panels where silhouettes of various plant life have been cut out. If you hunt for it, there is even a box containing a snowglobe mounted on one of the canopy supports – an installation by artist Janet Zweig.

The new station is across the street from the entrance to Minnehaha Park, and not far from both the Princess and the Minnehaha Falls… and if you’re ever in the area, it is certainly worth a look.

 
  
 
  
 
  
   
  
   
 

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The Hiawatha Line’s musical station: Lake Street – Midtown

Most public places – whether it be a shopping mall, park, or even a train station – has had at one time had some difficulties with loiterers and troublemakers. How to deter these troublemakers from hanging out is an often debated subject. A convenience store in South Wales tested out the “mosquito tone“, a high-pitched, obnoxious noise audible only to children (in theory, it depends on your hearing. I can definitely still hear it). Rowdy teens that once congregated around the store now avoid it due to the unpleasant noise.

The “mosquito tone” is a quite crude solution to the problem of loiterers. Although it sounds a little bit odd at first, Minnesota’s Metro Transit has attempted a more eloquent solution – classical music. They certainly aren’t the first to try out the idea – similar initiatives have been put in place in Portland, Atlanta, and even London. After a stabbing incident at the Lake Street – Midtown station, the decision was made to play classical music there. Although there is no hard evidence to say it works, complaints about disorderly conduct and public intoxication at the station are down. Perhaps the music makes people more calm, or more likely, teens don’t want to hang around and be subjected to Bach.


Quick video that I took while at the station as an example of the classical music being played there.

I will be the first to admit that I thought the idea of classical music in a station to prevent crimes was a bit funny. Before heading to Minneapolis I put the station on a mental list of places I wanted to visit, just for amusement value. Though after arriving on the platform, I was a tad disappointed – other than the people waiting for the train, it was silent. However, as I approached the elevator, I could hear the music. Apparently it is played in the enclosed areas of the station. But since the railroad tracks are on the upper level of the station, it is ensured that every rider will get a small dose of classical music when they take the elevator, escalator, or stairs to track level.

Though I do actually appreciate the music, Lake Street – Midtown isn’t too bad of a station without it. As I mentioned in my introduction to the Hiawatha Line, there are a lot of little things that Metro Transit does to make stations a bit more cheerful. Many of the windows at Lake Street – Midtown are colored – there are various panels of reds, blues, and yellows on the lower entrance level, and the upper track level. Anyways, here is a quick look at Lake Street – Midtown station. There will, of course, be more to come, as I took way too many photos in Minneapolis and of the Hiawatha Line.

 
   
 
  
   
 

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Welcome to Minnesota, and the Hiawatha Line

 
Map of the Hiawatha Line in a horizontal format. The line runs roughly north-south, so everything has been rotated to display the stations this way.

When it comes to travel, I am always a fan of the odd and interesting – generally off the beaten track. After all, one doesn’t normally consider burning towns, sketchy Zimbabwean train stations, or big blocks of ice customary destinations for diversion. So when I recently decided to visit Minneapolis, I had been asked by at least one person why. Had I run out of interesting places to go? No, not really. While I am looking to visit the few states I haven’t yet been to (one of which was Minnesota), I honestly thought that the Minneapolis area sounded interesting. I had made plans to check out the Mall of America (and their rollercoasters!), and of course, to ride the light rail. At the time I didn’t realize how much I would love Minneapolis’ light rail system… and I am totally admitting it here. I love the Hiawatha Line.

Admittedly, from railroading point of view, a light rail system like the Hiawatha Line isn’t the most interesting thing to watch. But Minneapolis is big into public art, and obviously their fairly new rail system would be no exception to that. I think it is the blend of rail infrastructure and aesthetic beauty that has captured my interest. Everything about the system, right down to the bricks on the platform, seems designed to be visually pleasing. It is amazing how simple things, like a few colored windows, or the aforementioned bricks arranged into colorful patterns, make such a great impact! But not everything would fall into the category of “little things” – in some instances the station artwork is huge. Downtown East – Metrodome station, for example, has towering patterned arches that dwarf the station itself. The piece evokes the image of the historical Stone Arch Bridge, only a few blocks away. Trains, art, and nods to history? No wonder why I love this place!

The next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing many of the photos I took while riding the Hiawatha Line. I managed to get to more than half of the stations, and a few of the attractions located near the train. An awesome thing to note is that there are actually self-guided city tours designed around the Hiawatha Line, which I made use of on my first day wandering around. Along with an audio device, the tour gives you a pass to ride the rails all day, allowing you to roam and disembark wherever you desire. The tours even work if you are in Minneapolis for just a short time, like an airport layover, since the airport is well-connected to the train line.

So here’s a short photographic intro to the Hiawatha Line… many more photos to come!


Typical area of operation for the Hiawatha Line. Much of the trackage runs parallel to streets, including Hiawatha Avenue, from which the line’s name derives. Other portions of the line, especially at the south end in Bloomington, are at the center of divided highways. The line is just over 12 miles, yet by my count has 39 grade crossings (FYI, the Harlem Line has fewer grade crossings, and is 82 miles long!).

   
 

Typical view of the inside of a Hiawatha Line train car, which are produced by Bombardier. Most times two car trains are the norm, but special events (like Twins games) will warrant trains with additional cars.

 

Typical ticket machine on the Hiawatha Line. Machines are programmed to work in four different languages: English, Spanish, Somali, and Hmong.

  

Platform views on the Hiawatha Line. An important part of the system is the low-level platforms, which match up with trains with very low floors. The gap is almost non-existant as well, allowing people in wheelchairs to board trains without assistance.

 

Another important feature of the system is the public art. Most stations have some sort of artistic flair, if not obvious works of art, like the above arches at Downtown East – Metrodome station.

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Taking a break from the Hudson… see ya next month!


Photo of the Hudson Line, with Pollepel Island and Bannerman Castle in the background. Taken from the Breakneck Ridge station. Taken last weekend, as I’ve been touring the Hudson Line.

Hey everyone… I’m taking a little break from touring the Hudson line and heading out west… I’ll be visiting Minneapolis and Chicago, and riding part of the Empire Builder and the Lake Shore Limited. Most likely, you won’t even know I’m gone – there are several posts in the queue that will be posting themselves, including the Tuesday Tour. If you comment or email, however, I may not be able to respond right away.

Most likely I’ll be tweeting photos from my train adventures, so if you don’t already, make sure you’re following the blog on twitter!

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