Remembering Metro-North in 1986…

Back in February of 1986 I had not yet reached my second birthday… I’m not too familiar with the milestones of an aging child, so for all I know I could have still been wearing diapers at that time. Metro-North, founded in 1983, was a fledgling organization. Though we may be similar in age, Metro-North didn’t seem to have much of a “diaper wearing” stage. In terms of the Harlem Line, they hit the ground running – beginning major renovations to the line. The tracks were electrified from North White Plains to Brewster North (Southeast), and over 10 million was spent on upgrading Brewster yard (aka Putnam Junction) and shop. Metro-North was also trying to reach their customers – printing several guides to explain to riders what they do, and give a brief tour of the system.


I’d like to have one of these in my backyard. The loco and the castle.

Since SmartCat debuted about two weeks ago, I’ve still been working on adding plenty of new material for you all to peruse. Two of the newest things found in the catalog are two brochures Metro-North released in or around 1986. One was a guide to the Metro-North system, the other a Grand Central and Customer Service guide.

Just spotting the little things that have changed over the years is quite fun. It was a time where terrorism was not as much of a concern, and the Terminal had a room where you could temporarily store your bags. And people weren’t quite so health conscious either – Harlem and Hudson trains each had one car reserved for smokers, the New Haven Line had two. Vanderbilt Hall was still a waiting room, and many of the updates – including the other stairwell in the main concourse, and the cleanup of the sky ceiling – in Grand Central had not yet been made. Amtrak trains still stopped at the Terminal, and places like Crugers and Kent Road were still stops listed on the system map.


The old Omega departure board can be seen in one of the brochures. It was replaced by an LCD Solari board in the late 90’s.

You should definitely check out SmartCat if you haven’t already, or if you want to jump right to the aforementioned brochures, you can use these links:

1986 Guide to Metro-North
1986 Grand Central Customer Service Guide

As an addendum to this post, as I’ve gotten a few messages regarding adding things to SmartCat, I would absolutely love user submissions. If you have anything that you think would be archivable, whether it be a timetable, postcard, ticket, etc… send me a message. I’d love to add it!

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Noroton Heights


Noroton Heights, circa 1920. Image is from a postcard that was for sale on eBay, labeled as Norton Heights.

Today’s station visit on our tour of the New Haven Line may deserve the title of “Most frequently misspelled Metro-North station,” which certainly made researching it for today fun. Noroton Heights – or as some would believe, Norton Heights – has even been spelled wrong on a map published by Metro-North. However you spell it, we’re talking today about the place in Connecticut, the one that has the railroad station (a Norton Heights does actually exist in CT, it is in Wolcott). Located about 36 miles from Grand Central, Noroton Heights is on the New Haven main line, and is one of two train stations in the town of Darien.


Noroton Heights, 1946


Noroton Heights, date unknown. [image source]

Although the historic photos of Noroton Heights above are pretty awesome, none of them depict the placement of the station how it is today. When high-level platforms were being constructed along the line (in the early 70’s), the Noroton Heights station was shifted about two tenths of a mile east. Unfortunately, I was not aware of this at the time, so I missed seeing the old Noroton Heights depot, which is still around and is being used as a youth center. When the building’s life as a railroad station ended, it was transformed to serve the population of Darien in alternate methods. In 1972 it became the home of Darien EMS Post 53, and served as their headquarters for 16 years. After Post 53 relocated to a new building across the street, the old depot was set to be demolished. Fortunately, it was saved from that fate when the youth center acquired it in 1989.


The newer, high-level platform at Noroton Heights, 1980. [image source]

The station building that is there today isn’t particularly noteworthy, though it does have the typical amenities one would expect on a main line station – a canopy and shelter, a walkway to cross the tracks, and a few ticket vending machines.

 
  
   
   
  
 
  
  
 
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Riverside

 

Riverside station in 1954

In-between the stations of Cos Cob and Old Greenwich on the New Haven main line, lies the station of Riverside. A journey to Grand Central, approximately 30 miles, takes around an hour. Four tracks run through Riverside, and two platforms run alongside the two outer tracks. On those platforms you can find a few ticket vending machines, a soda machine, a couple newspaper boxes, and a bench or two. One side has a small shelter from the elements, though it looks pretty beat-up and is tagged with graffiti and strewn with trash.

Riverside station itself is not particularly noteworthy – though the bridge that carries traffic over the tracks is one of Connecticut’s historic bridges – and a little bit more interesting.

   

Aerial photographs of Riverside and the bridge in 1977


Various sketches of truss bridges, from the patents of bridge engineer Francis Lowthrop

The historic Riverside Avenue bridge is clearly visible to anyone taking the train from or past Riverside station. Not only does it carry traffic over the four railroad tracks, it has two stairwells and an area for pedestrians to cross over to the other side of the platform. Although this bridge was originally constructed in 1871, it did not find its current home until around 1894. Designed by Francis Lowthrop and fabricated by the Keystone Bridge Company, the current span was a portion of a larger railroad bridge over the Housatonic River in Stratford. That bridge was replaced in 1884.

  
 
 
Photos of Riverside and the bridge in 1984

The portion of the Riverside Avenue Bridge that was reconstructed here is smaller than original – the bridge is now 164 feet long and 22 feet wide, and about 20 feet above the tracks. Bridges similar to this one are very rare today, and the Riverside Avenue bridge is the last cast-iron bridge still in use in Connecticut. With the increasing weight of heavy locomotives, many cast-iron bridges were simply replaced due to safety issues, or modified to carry lighter cars instead of trains, which explains their rarity today. By 1986 the safety of this bridge was also being questioned, and parts were deemed unsafe. However, instead of replacing the bridge or restricting it to only pedestrians, a new bridge was built inside the historical bridge. This solution allowed the preservation of the historic bridge without compromising the safety of the drivers that cross it every day.

The Riverside Avenue bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and is one of roughly 55 bridges on the Register from Connecticut. It is also the oldest railroad bridge listed in Connecticut (though it only carried trains for a short period of its lifetime).

 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
 

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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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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Port Chester

Today’s visit on the New Haven Line is to Port Chester, which I must admit, is one of my favorites along the line. If one was to compile a list of the more noteworthy New Haven Line stations, Port Chester probably wouldn’t be on it… yet it would rank high on my list. Not only did I love the historical station building, but I also loved the new art on the platform, courtesy of Arts for Transit. On the blog, I’ve already mentioned my love of the “leaf people” at Port Chester, what I suppose you would call a grotesque, or a figure carved into the side of the station building. I can’t really think of too many other Metro-North stations that have similar carvings, so they are rather unique, and give a little bit of character to Port Chester.

 

Postcard views of Port Chester station

Port Chester itself is a village that is part of the town of Rye. Historically, both Connecticut and New York claimed ownership of the land, though it was ultimately designated a part of New York, and of Westchester County. The Port Chester train station is the first station in New York, after crossing the border from Connecticut on a New York City-bound train. The station is slightly less than 26 miles from Grand Central, and trips range from 39 minutes to 56 minutes, depending on whether the train is an express during peak hour or not.



More postcard views of Port Chester

As much as I love Arts for Transit, I think they have screwed up on the New Haven Line. Much to the chagrin of railfans, station buildings are becoming obsolete. In order to save money, Metro-North has closed countless ticket windows on all of their lines. Ticket Vending Machines on platforms are the norm at most stations. If a station happens to still have a building, it has likely been converted into a commercial space, or it serves as a waiting room during very minimal, select hours. Knowing all these things, however, Arts for Transit has continued to place art inside these station buildings. I would have loved to take better photographs of the art at Larchmont, Harrison, and Rye, but alas, all three were locked.

Thankfully, Arts for Transit has done well at Port Chester – which is one of the program’s newer pieces of work, installed just last year. In fact, I think Port Chester is a perfect example of exactly how this program should function – good art, installed in the open, public space of the station, and visible to riders (as much as I love Mount Vernon East‘s, it is hard to see it from a train, and is sufficiently outside the station area that regular commuters could potentially never notice it). I’m also very pleased when the art featured is by a local artist.


Painting by Bernard Greenwald, whose art is featured at Port Chester

The artist behind the work at Port Chester is Bernard Greenwald – though born in New Jersey, he’s currently based in Red Hook, NY. A friend of Greenwald’s suggested he submit his work for Arts for Transit’s call for artists for a piece at Port Chester station. Out of nearly 400 entrants, Greenwald was one of four finalists chosen to make a final proposal. Ultimately his art was selected for the commission, and he created 40 paintings of the Port Chester area. The designs from these paintings were then silk-screened between glass panels by a glass fabricator in Long Island, and installed in various shelters located on the platform at the station. It is a lovely addition to a nice spot on the New Haven Line.

  
 
 
  
  
 
   
  
 
   
 
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Greenwich


Postcard of Greenwich station

Growing up as a kid in Connecticut, probably the only thing I knew about Greenwich was that was where rich people lived. As completely illogical as it sounds, I almost expected that the train station there would have a platform paved with gold… or at least the station would be extravagantly nice. In reality, however, Greenwich is just another regular station along the New Haven main line. Located 28 miles from Grand Central, the train ride to the city ranges from a 41-minute express train, to a 57-minute off-peak local. The station building has a little waiting room with vending machines and benches, and contains a staffed ticket window, an amenity getting rarer and rarer on the Metro-North system. From inside the station building, you can descend a set of stairs and exit to the street level and the various shops of Greenwich.



Photographs of Greenwich station, taken November 1928

When I first arrived at Greenwich, I hiked up a big set of stairs at the western end of the platform. While that far end of the platform is a little beat up, the opposite end is a bit nicer, and has views of Borealis, a sculpture installed at the adjacent Greenwich Plaza.


Aerial photo of the station area, visible is the station building and platform, Greenwich Plaza and the sculpture Borealis, as well as Interstate 95 and Greenwich harbor. [image credit]

Although the sculpture is not exactly part of the station, it is definitely visible to those that commute. While photographing the station, I felt myself drawn to it. Borealis, installed in Greenwich in 1999 (though completed in 1988), is the work of artist Mark di Suvero. When installed, a crane was brought in to lift the 29-foot-tall sculpture, made of welded steel, into place. Borealis also has a sister piece, called Aurora which is on display at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden.

 
  
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
 
  
 

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Rowayton


Twilight on the Sound, Darien – Painting by artist John Frederick Kensett.

Welcome to Rowayton – a delightful neighborhood of Norwalk (full of people with salaries significantly higher than mine), located right along the coastline of Long Island Sound. The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad ran through this area for many years, but a station was only established in Rowayton in February of 1868. According to popular lore the station was built at the urging of several prominent artists that worked in the area. Vincent Colyer and John Frederick Kensett worked out of a studio located on Contentment Island – although a part of Darien, the new Rowayton station was less than a mile away.


The eastbound station at Rowayton, photograph from 1916. [image credit]


Another shot of the eastbound station, taken in 1931. By this time the railroad had been electrified, and the catenary system is visible in the background. [image credit]

 

Thanks to Flickr user caboose_radio, we have a whole bunch of historical photos of Rowayton station. The eastbound station pictured at the very top was built in 1896, and was removed in 1955. After that time a new station was built, and this is the station building that still exists at Rowayton today… though it doesn’t look nearly as charming.


The current station building at Rowayton. Photo was taken in 1967. [image credit]

The major difference between Rowayton in the historical photos above, and what the station looks like today are the platforms – the former low-level platforms have been replaced with high-level versions. Located on these platform are a few newspaper, and ticket vending machines. The New York-bound side has a canopy, while the opposite side has only a small shelter area. Rowayton is about 39 miles from Grand Central, and the average trip to the city takes about an hour.

That is about all I have for Rowayton today. There are only ten more stations left to visit on the New Haven Line, which means by mid-March the tour will be all wrapped up – and it will be onto the Port Jervis Line.

 
   
 
   
 
  
 
   
 
 

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Counting down the 12 most popular posts of 2011, Part 1

2011 was certainly a whirlwind of a year. The site found itself featured in the New York Times, and I even had a radio interview. There were visits to lots of interesting places: train stations in Quebec, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, and non train related spots like an ice hotel, and the final space shuttle launch. In February we finished up our tour of the Harlem Line, and by May began our tour of the New Haven Line. As we head boldly into the new year, hoping for many new and wonderful adventures, I thought I’d take the time to check out the top 12 things you loved about 2011.

Although not eligible for a spot in our 2011 countdown, as it was posted in 2010, the Panorama Project page was hands-down the most popular page on the site this year. Likely the New York Times article had a lot to do with that. Although we post a new station every Tuesday, the Panorama Project page is still the best way to check out all the stations and lines that have been featured thus far.

Number 12 on our list is The Rebirth of a Train Station: Canaan. While so many towns are content to ignore their railroading history, Canaan is the complete opposite. They are fiercely proud of that history, and when their gorgeous station was the victim of arson several years ago, they vowed to rebuild. In the ensuing years, the old depot has made a huge transformation – no longer is it a fire-ravaged hulk – it is slowly returning to its former grandeur.

Later in the year, we revisited Canaan during their annual Railway Days.

Old postcards have always been a popular subject matter on the site, and over the years there have been six parts (and more to come!) in our Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line series. Part two was the eleventh most popular post on the blog in 2011. You can check out all the other postcard posts with the following links: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

Tenth most popular in 2011 was one of our Tuesday Tour stops on the New Haven Line, Pelham. Pelham is one of the old and attractive New Haven Line stations on the opposite side of the border, in New York. I found myself here on the very day that the article featuring the site was published in the New York Times. And the fact that this post was linked to by a few other railroad websites certainly helped with its popularity.

A bit more popular than the postcards are our collections of old photos from the Harlem Line. Like the postcards, there have been many different old photo posts, and for a brief stint I posted many of these photos on Mondays. Part 3 of Even More Monday Morning Old Photos was the ninth most popular post on the blog in 2011. It contained several photos of the line that used to be, when it passed by Millerton and extended all the way up to Chatham.

Everyone must admit that the concept of quiet cars is a great one – however, in practice, it may be a little bit more difficult. You know that although you may encounter some really nice people on the trains, there are also a whole bunch of assholes. They yap on their phones, take up rows of seats with their bags (one morning I saw a woman holding hostage several seats with her large carton of juice). There are many times that I am skeptical that good ideas can work with stupid people.

Before the quiet car program started, Metro North said that conductors would have “Shh Cards” to pass out to loud people to tell them to shut their traps in a nice, passive way. I thought the idea was amusing, and managed to get my hands on some of the cards before the program debuted. And they were a little bit too nice – I was unable to resist making modifications to them… and even printing out a few. The fake shh cards posted under the title of Quiet cars and Shh cards was the eighth most popular on the site in 2011, and the cliffhanger I’ll leave you with until later on this week.

Want to see the remainder of the top 12? Check back later this week to see them, and to find out which post will be crowned number one most popular of 2011.

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The branches of the New Haven Line, in pictures

Yesterday I featured the only outstanding New Haven Line branch station on our Tuesday Tour, Springdale. Now that the branches are complete, I thought it might be nice to post one of my favorite images from each station in a single gallery. It gives you a quick idea of what each branch is like, and a glimpse into the life of a commuter from each station. The locales photographed vary from outstanding examples of historical stations and well-known landmarks, to bare-bones, concrete platforms that are just barely stations. Each branch terminates at a historically-important station, though only one of the three is being used in its original capacity as a passenger station.

The photographs below were taken on eight separate days, ranging from early March to mid-October.

The New Canaan Branch:

The New Canaan branch is the shortest of the three (8.2 miles), and the closest to Grand Central. It is also the only branch that is currently electrified. The branch first came into being when chartered as the New Canaan Railroad in 1866. By 1890 it had become a part of the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

The awesome: New Canaan station may be the nicest station of all three branches (one could argue that Waterbury is more iconic, however it is no longer in use by the railroad, whereas New Canaan is).
Most underwhelming: Everything other than New Canaan.

 
 
 
 
 

The Danbury Branch:

Of the three New Haven Line branches, the Danbury Branch has the most stations, with a total of seven. Though the line continues further north, Metro-North service terminates at Danbury. The original Danbury station still exists, though it is not used by Metro-North. Service first began here in 1852, and the rail line was known as the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad. In the late 1800’s the line was leased to the Housatonic Railroad, and later the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. By 1925 the track was electrified, but due to a poor economic situation, it was de-electrified in 1961.

The awesome: Danbury’s original station, yard, and turntable, now occupied the Danbury Railway Museum. Bethel’s old station is now a bike shop (I never got a photo of it). Cannondale’s old station is also lovely.
Most underwhelming: Without a doubt, Merritt 7. It is the only New Haven Line station without the typical Metro-North station sign, and is probably the most bare-bones station listed here.


 

 
 
 
 
 

The Waterbury Branch:

The Waterbury branch is Metro-North’s easternmost branch, and it diverges from the main line just east of Stratford. Although service terminates in Waterbury, the tracks do continue further north, and are used by the Railroad Museum of New England. Waterbury is located 87.5 miles from Grand Central – making it the furthest from the city in rail miles. The branch was originally chartered in 1845 as the Naugatuck Railroad (named after the river the tracks run alongside), and construction was completed by 1849. It was merged with the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in 1906. Today, the branch has a reputation of serving both commuters and many sketchy people.

The awesome: Waterbury’s historical station (no longer used by the railroad) is one of, if not the most iconic structures in the city. The Naugatuck Historical Society is housed in their old station, which is also nice. You can get cool photos of the railroad bridge in Ansonia.
Most underwhelming: Beacon Falls and Ansonia. Oh, and don’t leave your car or any other valuables at Waterbury.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Do you have a favorite?

If I had to pick the branch that I liked the best, I’d have a difficult time of it. New Canaan is certainly my favorite station, but the rest of the branch is relatively boring. The Danbury branch has the adorably-cute Cannondale, and the old station which is now a museum. The sketchy people of the Waterbury branch make me weary of choosing it as my favorite, despite the fact that I like that little railroad bridge over the Naugatuck river. It is, however, undeniable that Waterbury has the most recognizable old station – though it is debatable whether people actually realize it was once a train station. We can settle this right now, with a poll. Vote for your favorite branch here:
[poll id=”2″]

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Springdale


Photo of Springdale station, April 1933

Faithful readers, our tour of the New Haven Line is heading into the final stretch. We’ve featured about three-quarters of all New Haven Line stations, including Metro-North’s newest station. I figured that today would be a great day to finally finish up the branch line stations, with the only outstanding station from the New Canaan Branch: Springdale. Springdale is a section of Stamford, and the station is one of three located in that city. It is situated in between Glenbrook and Talmadge Hill, and like those stations, is relatively unremarkable and fairly run-of-the-mill in terms of train stations. New Canaan is clearly the gem on this branch.
Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line:
New Canaan Branch:


Springdale station, June 1966. Although this older station had a canopy, it was taken down when newer, high-level platforms were constructed. The station was renovated in 2010, and a canopy installed, protecting commuters from the elements.

Springdale is about 37 miles from Grand Central, and has an average travel time of just under an hour during peak periods. During off-peak hours a transfer at Stamford is most likely necessary, increasing travel time to around an hour and a half. The station doesn’t have much in terms of amenities (there are no TVMs, for example), but it does have a brand new 400-foot canopy that was built in 2010, at a cost of around a million dollars. The canopy does quite a bit to make the station look more substantial and attractive, something that fellow branch line stations Glenbrook and Talmadge Hill lack (Glenbrook, however, seems to be next in line to get an upgrade).

 
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
  

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