Taking a ride on Denver’s Light Rail, Part 2

Today’s Friday afternoon photo tour takes a quick visit back to Denver to catch the new West Rail Line, or W Line. Construction began on this line in 2007, and it was finally opened at the end of April, 2013. The 12.1 mile route runs from the Jefferson County Government Center to Denver’s Union Station, and added eleven new stations to the light rail system.

All of today’s photos are from the new W Line, including some photos of two Art-n-Transit pieces. Over 900 application were received from artists looking to create something for the new rail line. Artworks were commissioned for each of the new stations, though a few have yet to be installed. Found at the Lakewood-Wadsworth Station is a glass sculpture titled “Rain and Sun” by artist John Rogers. Colored pieces of glass are suspended on wires, which reflect sunlight onto the platform in an array of colors.

 
Concept art for the art at Lakewood-Wadsworth Station

 
 
Installed kinetic glass sculpture by John Rogers found at Lakewood-Wadsworth Station.

A mosaic titled The Winds of Change can be seen in the photos of the new Garrison station, created by Mike Squared Mosaics. Mike Squared Mosaics are the works of two Colorado artists – Mike Cody and Mike Juarez. The duo fire their own custom made mosaic tiles, all of which are hand-cut. The 220 foot “mosaic mural” combines tile, glass, and even pottery in a colorful and somewhat abstract portrayal of the area’s natural history.


Concept art for the mosaic at Garrison station

   
 
 
Installed mosaic by Mike Squared Mosaics at Garrison station.

Besides the full commissioned artworks, you’ll notice that there are various pleasingly aesthetic elements found at the stations. Benches at several stations feature imagery of tall grasses on panels of layered glass. Other benches have cutouts that carry a similar theme. Concrete panels with stylized grass in relief can also be found in places along the line. All in all the new line turns out to be a nice ride, complete with nice views of downtown Denver’s skyline.

  
 
   

 

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Taking a ride on Denver’s Light Rail, Part 1

Though I haven’t quite finished up posting everything from Alaska and the NRHS Convention, I figured it might be nice for a little change of pace… which is why we’re going to go and take a little ride on Denver’s light rail system today. Thanks to major flight delays and a missed connection to Fairbanks, Denver became the first part of my Alaska trip. With decent weather and a new rail line to ride, the detour wasn’t really all that bad.

Operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), Denver’s light rail consists of 47 miles of track on 6 different lines, and a total of 46 different stations. Several stations along the various routes feature art installations, as part of the Art-n-Transit program. I always love to check out the artwork when I visit other transit systems, and fairly new light rail systems usually do not disappoint.

Our first set of photos from Denver features the work of two artists – Darrel Anderson and Donna Billick. Billick’s work at Colfax at Auraria station takes the shape of two large books that double as benches. The seating and back of these benches are decorated with typical Denver and Colorado vistas. Billick identifies herself as a rock artist, and has designed over 300 large scale works of public art in that medium.

Darrel Anderson’s mosaic work can be found at five different light rail stations along Welton Street. The colorful mosaics are each approximately ten feet long and cover a portion of the handicap access ramps. Commissioned in 1994 and dedicated in 1996, these mosaics date back to the beginning of the Art-n-transit program, and the Denver Light Rail itself.

In the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some more Art-n-Transit works in Denver, as well as one of the light rail’s newest lines.

 
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
 
  
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Yankees – E 153rd Street

Today our Tuesday Tour takes us to one of Metro-North’s newest stations, Yankees – E 153rd Street, or as many people think of it, Yankee Stadium station. The station construction coincided with the building of the new Yankee Stadium – the stadium opened on April 3, 2009, and the station shortly afterward on May 23, 2009. Though a station servicing the stadium had been talked about for a while, it was the new stadium that provided the motivation to get the project off the ground.


MTA preliminary design sketch of what Yankees-E 153rd Street station would look like. The completed station is very true to this rendering.


Timetables highlighting the new Yankees-E 153rd Street station. Hudson Line timetable from the collection of Bob Mortell.

While I generally like to feature history in our station tours, Yankees-E 153rd Street is a new station, thus I figured it would be interesting to instead check out the construction of the station. This is Metro-North’s newest station in New York (Fairfield Metro is the newest station, located in Connecticut). Historically, the New York Central offered special game day service to the old Yankee Stadium, but it required taking a train to Melrose, and either walking or taking a bus to the stadium itself. Now the stadium is just a short walk away – making Yankee Stadium extremely well connected with public transit (a subway station also services the stadium).

Flickr user Interloafer wonderfully documented the construction of Yankees-E 153rd Street station, even capturing the first train to service the station, and a shot of the first game day service. The below photos are from his collection:

  
  
 
  
 

While Yankees – E 153rd Street is designated as a Hudson Line stop, it is unique in that Harlem and New Haven Line trains service it on special game days. Using the wye at Mott Haven, trains from those two lines can move onto the Hudson Line, allowing passengers a one-seat ride to games and events. On non game days, the station is regularly accessible by trains on the Hudson Line.

An important part of the new station complex is the elevated and enclosed walkway that stretches from the station proper towards Yankee Stadium. An Arts for Transit piece was installed in this walkway, consisting of eleven mosaic panels, each measuring eighteen feet wide, and six and a half feet tall. The work is titled The Home of the Stars, and is by artist Ellen Harvey. Each panel displays a progression of time, from the sunset to the stars in the evening sky.

 
  
   
  
   
 

The Home of the Stars, an Arts for Transit piece by Ellen Harvey. Photographs of each individual panel from the artist’s website.

In the station proper, things look a bit different than at most other Metro-North stations. The rounded advertisement boards on the platform, and the large overhead dome in the mezzanine seem to resemble an airport more than a train station. This is also the only Metro-North station where you’ll find single person entry gates. On game days, you’ll need to hand in your ticket to get through these gates, in case there was not time to collect your fare on the train. The remainder of the station resembles the typical Metro-North station, complete with island platforms, wire benches, and blue trash bins.

Anyways, here are the photos I took at Yankees – E 153rd Street station… hopefully everyone out there is okay and has survived Sandy!

 
 
  
  
 
 
  
  
 
 
 
  
 
 
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Dobbs Ferry


A postcard of Dobbs Ferry station, and a portion of a Hudson River Railroad timetable from 1851, listing Dobbs Ferry station

Welcome to Dobbs Ferry, one of the lovely Hudson Line stations with a great view of the mighty Hudson River. On the fourth of July, I spent the day exploring the Hudson Line, but ended up spending most of my time here. The waterfront view is quite lovely, and adjacent to the station is the aptly named Waterfront Park – reason enough for you to come and visit this place. Though the station used by Metro-North particularly noteworthy (besides the nice Arts for Transit piece), the old station building still stands and is a lovely piece of railroad architecture. Though I didn’t get to see the inside, the station has two floors, the first of which has a waiting room, ticket window, bathrooms and a boiler room. It was designed by architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in 1889. Last year the town was looking for proposals for businesses interested in leasing the station, but apparently all of those proposals were later rejected.


A 1914 map of Dobbs Ferry, depicting both the railroad and the river. Note the railroad sidings that are no longer present today.


Early 1900′s view of Dobbs Ferry station

Dobbs Ferry itself was named, as one would expect, after a ferry crossing over the Hudson River. Members of the Dobbs family arrived around the 1700′s, and operated their ferry until 1759. Other area ferries operated until the early 1900′s. It was this ferry that made the area an attractive place for an encampment of General Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.


Dobbs Ferry station in 1974

The current station at Dobbs Ferry, operated by Metro-North, is about 20 miles from Grand Central Terminal. The average train time to Grand Central Terminal is around 45 minutes. As previously mentioned, the station isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it did have a bit of a makeover in the mid-2000′s. The work at the station, part of the Hudson Line Stations Improvement Project, was completed in 2008. It included updates to the platform, overpass, and a new platform canopy. An elevator was also installed in the updated overpass, making the station ADA compliant. While this was all going on, some attractive art was also added to the station platform, as part of the Arts for Transit program.

 
  
 
 
   
 

Floating Auriculas, the lovely mosaic found at Dobbs Ferry, is probably the nicest thing you’ll find on the platform. Behind this piece is artist Nancy Blum, who has created public art for venues across the country. My love for the transit system in Minneapolis has been well documented on this site, and I was surprised to note that not only is Blum working on the art for three stations on the new Central Corridor line, she also did the art on my favorite, East Bank station. Blum has done public art in various media, but for the most part the underlying theme is nature and the natural world, and the piece at Dobbs Ferry certainly fits that theme. Blum’s lovely auricula flowers, about eight feet in diameter, adorn the side of the northbound platform, rendered in mosaic form using Italian glass and marble tile.

Thanks to Blum’s website, we get a lovely view of the progression of an Arts for Transit piece – from an original painting, all the way to the finished mosaic on the station platform. The first four photos above are from the artist’s site, the remainder (above and below) are mine.


Yes, Metro-North has plenty of awesome conductors!

  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
   
 
  
 
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Scarborough

Welcome to Scarborough, located 29.5 miles north of Grand Central, and the first stop we’ll be making on our tour of the Hudson Line. I felt Scarborough would be a good place to start, as it seems to reflect what the line is all about. Throughout much of its journey – from Grand Central to Poughkeepsie – the Hudson Line closely follows its namesake, the Hudson River. Some stations may be further from the river than others, but in the case of Scarborough, the station is right on the water. Because of this, the station is often subjected to cool breezes carried by the river – although nice in the summer, it is likely brutal in the winter. The river does provide a lovely backdrop, though, and on a clear day you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.


Old station building at Scarborough. You can see the older station facilities that were recently rebuilt by Metro-North in the background. [image credit]

In the past few years, Metro-North has been doing significant upgrades on the Hudson Line, and Scarborough is no exception. The old overpass (visible in the photo above) was completely demolished. When rebuilt, elevators were added to make the station handicap accessible. The rebuilt facility, besides being much more attractive, provides more space for commuters to sit – both outside, and in the overpass, protected from the elements.


During construction on the new overpass, stained glass was installed as part of the Arts for Transit program. [image credit]

As part of the Arts for Transit program, some stained glass panels were created for Scarborough station, and installed in the new overpass. The piece, called “Untitled with Sky,” was a collaboration between artists Liliana Porter and Ana Tiscornia. The six glass panels were fabricated by Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, a company that has worked extensively with the MTA and the Arts for Transit program.


Rendering of how the glass was to look when installed in the windows of the overpass. [image credit]

Although originally intended for the overpass (and for a short time installed there), the glass panels were, at some point within the past year or so, moved to the platform. They now provide a screen from the wind for commuters at the station. Also part of the Arts for Transit installation are a few concrete shapes covered in mosaic tiles, which can be used for sitting. Both share the same attractive palette of purples and blues, and are a lovely addition to the station.

That is about it for the informational tour of Scarborough, now onto the visual tour:

 
 

 
  
 
  
  
 
  
 
 
 
 
 

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Riding South Africa’s Premier Classe Train, Part 2

In my previous post, I gave a little bit of preliminary information about the Premier Classe train journey that I took in South Africa. Before I continue, perhaps I should share with you a few facts about the infrastructure of the rails in South Africa – things I wasn’t aware of when I made my journey.

• The Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (PRASA) operates both the Metrorail (commuter rail in urban areas) and Shosholoza Meyl (regional and long distance trains). The Premier Classe falls under the Shosholoza Meyl.

• 40% of PRASA’s fleet of trains are more than 37 years old. One third of the fleet is “constantly out of service, leading to poor performance, safety and reliability.”

• 86% of PRASA’s signaling installations have exceeded their design life.

• For freight service, “derailments have led to costly delays… The average cancellation of trains amounts to 10 trains per day due to accidents and other security incidents such as theft of copper cables.”

To make a long story short, the infrastructure and equipment being used by the railroads in South Africa is not that great. Much of the equipment is outdated, and additional difficulties are caused by theft, or as I was told, even by people leaving junk on the tracks. The eight hour delay my journey suffered is probably closer to the norm than a random fluke. So, provided you are prepared for some obnoxious delays (don’t plan anything for the day you are supposed to arrive – I missed my tour of Johannesburg!), I probably would recommend the Premier Classe train to any railfans that may be pondering a visit to South Africa. There is absolutely no way a plane ride can compete with the amazing views you will see from the train. And you will see it all – the gorgeous mountains surrounding Cape Town, farms as far as the eye can see, wineries, and even more less savory things.

Cape Town has the dubious honor of having quite a financial disparity between its citizens – from the sprawling mansions along the beach to the shack settlements on the outskirts of the city. And from the train, you will see various shack settlements – homes constructed from whatever scraps of corrugated metal could be found, with the roof scraps held in place by an array of heavy rocks or bricks. Perhaps you’ll even see some of the settlement’s younger denizens pelting the train with rocks. In fact, some of the things I saw are even difficult to put into words – folks using the tracks as a toilet, billowing black smoke from burning tires, and even the aforementioned children running around with flaming bits of wood in hand, with various patches of grass aflame (in case you think I was exaggerating, I do have one photo of the burning grass). Even the destroyed remnants of a freight train derailment littered the sides of the tracks at one point.

If my goal was to sell you on the Premier Classe, I think thus far I’ve failed… in fact, you probably are scared for your life. Did I mention gorgeous mountains? Beautiful sunsets? And hell, if your train is as late as mine was, you might even see TWO sunsets! Your train, zooming through the late afternoon sun, may race with the wild ostriches right outside your window. And of course you can glimpse all of this while stuffing your face in the dining car. Four-course lunches and five-course dinners are the standard on the Premier Classe. And if there is one thing that South Africans know how to do well, it is to feed the tourists. If the food on the train sucked, I’d probably be pretty pissed off. Need I say again, eight hours late? I was less than thrilled. But how can one stay mad when being fed tasty chocolate cake – with ice cream to boot?


A shitty photo of what tasty cake may look like

 
  
 
 
   
 
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  

Well, that pretty much concludes my set of photos from the Premier Classe. Perhaps next week I’ll post some photos of the train that I didn’t ride in Zimbabwe. And if you don’t mind the off-topic, some lions and elephants and such.

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Riding South Africa’s Premier Classe Train, Part 1

Back in the days of Imperialism, where Africa was carved up and occupied by various European nations, there was a man by the name of Cecil Rhodes that had a dream. And it wasn’t exactly tricking the world into thinking diamonds are incredibly rare (though as the founder of the diamond company DeBeers – he had a significant role in that), it was the dream of a railway stretching across Africa. Rhodes’ dream – the Cape to Cairo Railway – was never realized. Though portions of it were built, the British colonies never achieved a direct line from Egypt down to South Africa. Today, some tourist agencies offer Cape to Cairo rail tours, taking the train on the pieces of rail that do exist, and either flying or busing over the parts that don’t. I think this is what first captured my interest about Africa, and I decided I would love to go ride the trains there. The only difficulty was that these train tours (specifically Cape to Cairo) were extravagantly expensive – some of them costing more than my yearly salary. Sticking to one country, South Africa, was probably my best bet. Enter the Premier Classe train.

The rail route between Cape Town and Johannesburg for tourists is serviced by a few different companies. Both the Blue Train and Rovos Rail are quite fancy – and with their one way ticket price of around two to three-thousand dollars, well out of my price range. The Premier Classe, however, is still a bit fancy with with five-course dinners and such, but has a ticket price of around three-hundred dollars. I pretty much booked my trip entirely around the Premier Classe train, which has two departures weekly, and it was supposed to be the highlight of my trip. Instead, it was a massive frustration.

I have a bit of difficulty in retelling my experiences on the Premier Classe. Did I enjoy it? Was the food good? How were the accomodations? Well yes, the train was enjoyable, the food was amazing, and the accommodations were pretty good. If the train wasn’t about eight hours late, it probably would have been a spectacular journey! I never got to see anything in Johannesburg (beyond the airport) – as the train was so late we missed our tour. I thought I’d at least be able to walk around the train station and take photos while waiting for the train, but I was told that first of all, it probably wasn’t safe, and secondly, my camera would be quickly confiscated by the rifle-carrying police officers roaming around the station.


In Cape Town began the game of people attempting to determine how my friend and I were related. Though friends and coworkers were never suggested, there were a few people that thought we were either sisters, lesbians, or even mother and daughter. In the case of the Premier Classe, they just thought my friend was actually a guy.

Cape Town station wasn’t exceptionally beautiful – probably a bit too sterile white for my taste – but there were some gorgeous tile mosaics on the floor and walls. The outside had a few mosaics of early trains, horsecars and omnibuses, one of which I did manage to get a photo of. Since I have so many photos of the journey, I’ll be doing two parts. This first part appropriately shows the first part of the journey from Cape Town.

  
 
  
 
 
   
  
 
  

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Arts for Transit: Departures and Arrivals

Well I suppose I am a little late in posting these pictures… but that is the problem with me, I take so many damn photographs I am late with posting up all of them. Plus my shoulder still hurts quite a bit, so by the time I get home from work after using the computer all day, the last thing I want to be doing is messing around on my own computer. I guarantee you that a big part of it is probably poor posture and sitting hours at a time in front of the computer making silly websites. I’m trying to catch up though, I swear. I still have train-related Japan and Canada photos I’d love to post, timetables to scan (I purchased a new scanner for this!), plus photos from the Transit Museum’s newest exhibit, highlighting the Arts for Transit works around the MTA network.

In addition to the exhibit, there were also a couple tours through the museum to see some of the Arts for Transit works. A few weeks ago I went on one of those tours, we went to see Departures and Arrivals, by artist Ben Snead, in Jay Street-Borough Hall station. The tour ended with a trip to Ben’s studio, where we got to see some of his previous work, and the things he is currently working on.

Departures and Arrivals is a glass mosaic, based on original paintings by Snead (these paintings are actually at the Transit Museum for the exhibit). Snead’s work often pictures insects, reptiles and fish, and with this mosaic that theme carries through. On the tour Snead discussed why he chose the various animals displayed on the wall, and perfect for a train station where people come and go every day, the underlying theme is the migration of these animals. All of those displayed in mosaic form – sparrow, lion fish, koi, parakeet – are all animals not native to the city, they were introduced by people, or migrated on their own. The beetle, which is screened onto the larger white tiles, is a species native to this area – though it is disappearing due to humans encroaching on its habitat.

Mosaics always amaze me, as I figure they aren’t the easiest thing to create, and rather labor intensive. Although Snead created the initial design, it was from his paintings that the mosaic was fabricated by Franz Mayer of Munich. Snead mentioned that there was a bit of color shifting from his original designs, but it came out very well. If you look closely the piece is not entirely created from many small tiles, there are some larger pieces of glass used for feathers, and for beaks. This was partially done to save money, I remember hearing during the tour, but I don’t see it as hurting the piece, I rather like the effect.








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