Farewell to New Haven Union Station’s Solari Departure Board

Years ago an announcement was made that the Solari split-flap departure board would be disappearing from New Haven Union Station. Despite pleas to Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, the decision was made and would not be changed.

Although it survived longer than we thought it would, the board was unfortunately replaced last week. Here is a short timelapse to remember it by…


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Around the Country in Railroad Art

As the weather starts to warm up, perhaps you’ve been thinking about vacation. There are plenty of cool spots that one can visit, all by train. As we’ve certainly covered on the blog before, America’s railroads had in their employ both painters and illustrators to create works to entice travelers. Leslie Ragan is certainly one of my favorites – he worked for the New York Central as well as the Budd Company – and about this time last year we were posting some of his spring-like imagery.

This time I thought it would be fun to take a tour of the country through railroad art. There are countless examples of awesome posters and ads, but these are some of my favorites. Perhaps it will even give you some ideas on places to travel this year.

Maybe a nice shorter trip will be in order? Cape Cod, New England, Atlantic City and even Washington DC are all possibilities. Artist Sascha Maurer designed for both the New Haven and the Pennsylvania Railroads. The New England and the Atlantic City art below was designed by Maurer. Ben Nason also designed an array of posters for the New Haven Railroad, including the Cape Cod poster below.

  
  

Maybe you’d like to travel to a different city, a litter further away? Maybe you should visit Cincinnati!

Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of the Pennsy, you it is impossible to not love this poster by Mitchell Markovitz.

Chicago is always a lovely place to visit!
  

Did I say tour the country? I lied. Maybe a visit to Canada is in order?
 

Now who doesn’t love a nice trip to America’s National Parks, the Pacific Northwest, or even California? Maurice Logan, William and Kenneth Willmarth designed some of these lovely views of the western United States.
   
  
  

Maybe a nice jaunt to the southwest? Artists Don Perceval and Oscar Bryn created these lovely posters for the Santa Fe.
   

Are mountains more your thing? Austrian artist Gustav Krollmann worked on these lovely designs…
 

Oh forget it, let’s just go everywhere! The awesome Amtrak posters designed by illustrator David Klein in 1973 make me want to see the entire country. Klein has a large body of work that is travel-themed, stretched over his entire career. His most known works were for Trans World Airlines, but he also produced work for Holland America Cruises and travel website Orbitz. Klein’s undeniably gorgeous work made railroads once again appear glamorous, just as they were in yesteryear.

 
  

Now that we’ve traveled around the country through railroad art, are you planning to take a vacation to some interesting locale? Are you going to go by train? Let us know in the comments!

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Shore Line East and Old Saybrook

In keeping with last week’s theme of exploring Connecticut, today we take a quick visit to the southern coast of the state to check out Shore Line East. As part of the important Northeast Corridor, many of the stations along the line have a long history with the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Though some of the railroad historical buildings are still around (like the freight house, now restaurant in Old Saybrook), most of the Shore Line East stations are of relatively new construction (the exceptions being New Haven, which we’ve visited before, and New London, which deserves its own post at some point in the future).

Shore Line East is operated by Amtrak, so you’ll often catch CDOT locomotives in the old New Haven Railroad scheme, Amtrak locomotives, or a horrible mixture of both (hey boss, I put our sticker on the front, and painted over the Amtrak logo!). The service itself is fairly young – Shore Line East trains began running in May of 1990 – and the line was only supposed to be temporary while construction was being done on Interstate 95. Due to its popularity, however, Shore Line East became permanent.

   
  
 
 
Some views of the smaller stations on Shore Line East – Branford, Madison, Guilford, and Clinton.

Of the newer Shore Line East stations, Old Saybrook is probably the nicest, and a pretty good place for capturing trains. Besides the Shore Line East trains, about eighteen Amtrak trains stop here daily (which is actually more than Hartford, which we visited last week). Three tracks run through Old Saybrook, and the station consists of a side platform, an island platform, and an overpass connecting the two. Because it was started as a temporary operation, little money was spent on Shore Line East stations. However, once the service became permanent, proper stations were constructed, the first being Old Saybrook in 2002. Branford, Guilford, and Clinton were opened in 2005, and Madison in 2008.

Most Shore Line East trains terminate at Old Saybrook, though a few do go on to New London. The bane of Connecticut’s railroads are definitely the many movable bridges found along the shore line. Some are over a hundred years old, and cause slowdowns and nightmares for Metro-North. In Shore Line East’s case, the challenge to operating more service to New London is that trains must cross several movable bridges, bridges that the Connecticut Marine Trades Association fights to keep open for boats, as opposed to closed for trains. While some have big plans for the service (like connecting it to Rhode Island), it is these local issues that will have to be addressed first (not raiding the state’s Special Transportation Fund is another…).

  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
  

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Cass Gilbert’s Griffins

After visiting enough historical railroad stations (or by reading this blog) it doesn’t take too long to get accustomed to the decorative symbols enmeshed within the architecture. A set of symbols, like the caduceus and the winged wheel, are all associated with transportation, and can be found on stations near and far – especially those designed in the Beaux Arts style. Many of these stem from the Roman deity Mercury – the swift messenger god that became associated with transportation, always depicted wearing a winged cap and a with caduceus in hand. Also common is the winged wheel, representative of both Mercury and speed, which has represented transportation beyond railroads. The auto industry has made use of the symbol, and it can even be found in use today as the logo of the Detroit Red Wings. Other symbols, like the eagle, are representations of American patriotism. And for all those New York Central fans, the acorns and oak leaves symbolic of the Vanderbilt clan can be found within the railroad’s most notable stations.

   
  
A – Winged cap and caduceus, both symbols of Mercury, god of transportation, New York Central station, Bronxville
B – Winged wheel, transportation and speed, New York Central building
C – Caduceus and horn of plenty, symbol of Mercury, and of prosperity, Michigan Central Station, Detroit
D – Eagle, representing American patriotism, Utica Union Station
E – Acorns, adopted crest of the Vanderbilt family, New York Central station, Yonkers
F – Mercury, Roman god of transportation, Grand Central Terminal

On one Metro-North station, however, you’ll find a particular symbol that isn’t quite common in rail stations – the griffin. Griffins are the mythological hybrid of the lion and the eagle, depicted with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head. Besides being the venerable king of beasts, as the lion was generally regarded as the king of animals and the eagle as the king of birds, the griffin guarded treasure and wealth. Architect Cass Gilbert incorporated the symbol into several of his designs, including New Haven Union Station, and the West Street Building in Manhattan, which was used as an office building by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Many men amassed fortunes in the railroading business, and these griffins became the symbolic guardians of this wealth.

The West Street Building, circa 1912
The West Street Building, now usually called 90 West Street, once towered over lower Manhattan, circa 1912

Though Cass Gilbert is usually remembered as the designer of New York City’s first skyscrapers, his elaborate portfolio consisted of museums, state capitol buildings, courts, libraries, and even train stations. Gilbert’s most notable station is New Haven’s Union station, which opened in 1920 and replaced an earlier station destroyed by fire. For a Beaux Arts design, the station’s exterior is really rather plain, but the inner waiting room and ticket windows are undoubtedly beautiful. Over-exaggerated embellishments are few, though observant viewers can spot griffins on the wall in the office section of the station.

 
  
   
  
 
   
  
 
  

Through a twist of fate, Gilbert’s most notable griffins would be those found on the West Street Building. Completed in 1907, the 23 story building was one of the tallest in lower Manhattan. Over time it became dwarfed by neighboring skyscrapers, and eventually the World Trade Center. Though it was always a gorgeous historical part of New York, the West Street building gained much notoriety after the attacks in September 11th, 2001. The building took major damage – fires lasted for days, and debris rained down on it from the collapsing towers. Two people died in the building’s elevator, and portions of one of the hijacked planes were found on the building’s roof. Ultimately, solid construction won the day – although the damage was immense, the building survived.

90 West Street and the World Trade Center
90 West Street eventually became dwarfed by the World Trade Center, seen in 1970 during construction and in 1988. Photos by Camilo J. Vergara.

Nearly a hundred years apart - 1907 and 2001
Nearly a hundred years apart – 1907 and 2001

September 21, 2001
FEMA photo showing the damage and debris pile below 90 West Street on September 21st. Photo by Michael Rieger.

90 West Street was eventually restored, and reopened as a residential building. It now contains 410 separate apartments, ranging from studios to three bedroom units. Countless embellishments inside and out were destroyed, though many were recreated using old photographs. Many of the gargoyles on the outside are modern creations in the style of the originals. One of the original surviving griffins, however, can be found in the lobby of the building. He’s no longer guarding the wealth of railroads, though I suppose one could say he is now guarding the wealth of the well-to-do tenants of the building – studios start at about $2250 a month.

  
 
  
 
  
 
  

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: State Street


ConnDOT aerial view of the State Street station

Although the city of New Haven may be known for its attractive Union Station (completed in 1920, designed by architect Cass Gilbert, and most likely the second most beautiful station used by Metro-North), it does have another smaller train station that serves both Shore Line East and Metro-North. State Street station is located 74 miles from Grand Central, and is, as one would expect, located on State Street, in between Chapel and Court Streets. The station is closer to the downtown area – both Yale and the New Haven green are a short walk away.

ConnDOT renderings of the area before the State Street station was constructed.

Although not nearly as grand as Union Station, which is located down the street and less than a mile away, State Street station is a relatively new (completed in 2002) and attractive facility. It is the geographical terminus for Metro-North’s New Haven Line service, though it has less frequent service compared to Union Station (many trains terminate at the larger station, and do not continue to State Street). Because the trains are less frequent, there is some bus service in between Union and State Street stations. The station itself does not have any parking, however a parking facility is very close and provides ample parking for commuters. The station contains a Metro-North ticket vending machine, however Shore Line East tickets must be purchased on the train, like at most SLE stations.


Rendering of what State Street station would look like with an additional platform for the proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line

State Street station is just one part of Connecticut’s I-95 New Haven Harbor Crossing Project. The station was designed to alleviate traffic on the highway as the Pearl Harbor Memorial bridge (more commonly known as the “Q bridge”) is replaced. Although former governor John Rowland didn’t do much for the state’s railroads, he did say the following about the station:

The opening of State Street Station is the first step in a comprehensive plan to make rail transportation an attractive alternative for I-95 motorists…

Perhaps when we get more M8’s, that will become a reality. Anyways, on to the real reason why you’re here, you want to see the station photos…

 
  
 
   
  
 
   
 
 
  
 

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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: Fordham

Another Tuesday, another Harlem Line station… I was a bit behind today, and I am glad I was able to keep up with the schedule, hehe. I’ve been hard at work with some new things for the site, which unfortunately requires me to draw a bit, and although my shoulder is feeling better, it was hurting after drawing too long. When I went for therapy I told this to my doctor… and he looked at me like I grew two heads. “A tablet what?” Later on he advised me to “not draw too much on your scrabble board.” I suppose he’d shit a brick if he saw a person walk in with an iPad. In other news I’ve upped the security on commenting here. I’ve gotten a bit fed up with thousands of spam comments a week, even though they go into a spam folder and don’t actually get posted. The additional spam blocker I’ve added (that prevents spam from ever getting submitted) warned me that there may be false positives. So if you ever make a comment that doesn’t get through, please let me know. Despite the fact that I really didn’t want to, I’ve also closed comments on articles more than 2 months old, which cut down on a lot of the spam.

Anyways, back to Fordham. Besides Harlem-125th Street, Fordham is one of the other Harlem Line stations that is shared. Both Harlem Line and New Haven Line trains stop here, and it is one of Metro-North’s busier stations. Much of the ridership at Fordham is made up of reverse commuters: folks that leave the city and head to jobs in Westchester and Connecticut. Over 6,000 reverse commuters head north on week days. The station itself is located below street level, with a portion of the platform being covered by the road above. Although it does have a ticket window and a small waiting room, I didn’t get too many photos since it was under construction when I visited. Construction on the platform will also be happening soon, as it was announced in July that Metro-North had purchased additional land to extend the platform, and a new canopy and shelter will be built.

Within close proximity to the station is Fordham University, as well as many shops. The station also serves as Metro North’s access point to the Bronx Zoo, as you can take a bus from the station to the zoo. Other than that, Fordham is not the most remarkable station… but here are some photos, enjoy!

 
  
 
   
 
   
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Mount Vernon West

As a city, Mount Vernon is well connected to New York through the Metro-North system. There are three train stations in the city: Mount Vernon East on the New Haven Line, and Fleetwood and Mount Vernon West on the Harlem Line. The city is at the south end of Westchester County and borders the Bronx. In fact, from the south end of the platform at Mount Vernon West, you can see the Wakefield station, the first Harlem Line station after crossing into the Bronx. Wakefield and Mount Vernon are also historically linked – both of their names come from plantations associated with George Washington: Wakefield where he was born, and Mount Vernon, where he died.

Mount Vernon West’s current station building was built in 1915 and was designed by Warren & Wetmore. The New York Central later sold the station building in 1959, but retained ownership of the passageway to the platforms, and the platforms themselves. Today the passageway contains automated ticket machines, and hung on the ceiling has an Arts for Transit piece. The glass and ceramic mosaic sculptures were done by artist Martha Jackson-Jarvis, and installed in 1991. When I was there I think I was so caught up looking at the ceiling I never even went out to see the front of the station – so whenever I happen to stop by Mount Vernon West I’ll have to do just that.

 
  
 
  
 
 
 
   
  

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Friday’s From the Historical Archives: Solari Departure Boards, Photos & History

Whether you knew the name or not, if you’ve ever been to Grand Central or Penn Station, you are familiar with a Solari departure board. Since the 1950’s Solari boards have been installed in airports and train stations worldwide. Although most people refer to the original flap style boards as Solaris, the company also produces more modern LCD and LED display boards, such as the one that is now in Grand Central. On Monday I showed some photos from Union Station in New Haven, the last Metro-North location to have one of the Solari flap-style displays. Most unfortunately, that sign is going to be replaced. In honor of that board, and of Solari’s functional yet elegant contribution to rail and public transport, I thought I’d feature the history of the company this Friday.


Solari split-flap clocks. Silkscreened flaps. Massimo Paniccia, president of the Solari company.

Solari is based in Italy, and has roots back to the 1700’s, where they produced timepieces and later on, clocks for bell towers. The current incarnation of the name is from brothers Remigio and Fermo Solari, who broke from the original family business and established their own business also under the name Solari. Remigio was a self-taught engineer, and it was he who invented the iconic flap display which many are familiar with. The idea was used in both large and small scale: from large departure displays used by railroads and airports, to small clocks for the home.


Flap-style displays

The flap display was introduced in 1956, and was installed in airports and rail stations across the world. The design used various metal (and later, plastic) flaps with silkscreened information, all which were mounted on a wheel. Each wheel could hold up to 40 flaps. When the information on the board had to change, the wheel was rotated until the proper flap was displayed. With each flip, the board made a particular clack, which is so memorable to passengers that when Boston replaced their Solari flap display with an LED display in 2004, they kept the noise. It plays over a loudspeaker to alert passengers that the information has changed (Though I’ve heard from a commenter that it doesn’t do a very good job at imitating it).

Solari flap-style board in Grand Central

As a young girl I remember my first train ride on Amtrak: I was travelling with my grandmother from Penn Station to Jacksonville, Florida. I remember seeing that flap display in Penn Station, and being mesmerized. Today, that flap display is gone: it was replaced in 2000. Long Island Rail Road’s flap display, also in Penn Station, was replaced in 2003. During the New York Central days, Grand Central also had a Solari display, perhaps one of the most famous. I’ve tried digging up information about that board, but I had some difficulty. From what I can gather, that Solari display was later replaced by another split-flap display, though not made by Solari. This other board, called the Omega Board, was used by Metro-North until it was replaced during the station renovations in 1998. The current departure board in Grand Central was made by the Solari company, though it is one of the more modern LED-style boards.


Grand Central today, Solari LCD departure board visible on the left


The Solari display in New Haven’s Union Station, which will be removed shortly.

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Construction at New Haven’s Union Station begins today: Farewell to the Solari, Happy 90th Birthday, & National Train Day

A few months ago, news hit the newspapers and internet that the Connecticut Department of Transportation was going to be removing the Solari split-flap departure board at Union Station in New Haven. There was a bit of a fight about it though: people didn’t want to see the sign go. People tried writing letters… even I wrote a letter to the CDOT, which of course, was never answered. A Facebook group, called Save Solari, even rounded up 600 fans that wanted the sign to stay. Unfortunately, it seems that all those attempts to convince the CDOT failed. Construction on New Haven’s Union Station begins today. And Metro-North has confirmed on Twitter that it will include the replacement of the split-flap display with an LED sign. The construction also includes upgrades to the sprinkler and fire protection systems, heating and a/c improvements, rehabilitation of the elevators, reconstruction of the pedestrian tunnel, and upgrades to the PA system. The construction will happen over the next twelve months, at which point of this the Solari will be removed has not been mentioned. But apparently, it’s days are numbered.

News of the impending construction led me to finally take a visit over to Union Station on Saturday. Saturday was also National Train Day, though I wasn’t aware that there were even going to be events happening at the train station. In fact, I had been there for at least an hour before I even noticed. I heard the people talking in the corner, though when I went to go investigate, politician Ned Lamont was speaking. His groupies practically tripped over their own legs to get to me and give me stickers and other political propaganda. Which I had to reject several times, at which point I just left.

Later on when I was investigating the paper hats people were wearing, I noticed that there was a cake for Union Station’s 90th Birthday. You know about me and hats, like a moth to a flame. Over by the cake though, there was an agenda for the National Train Day events at the station, which is the only way I figured out that was going on. Ned Lamont was one of the listed speakers on that agenda. Though I didn’t listen to what he had said (me and politicians have a relationship completely opposite than me and hats), I just kept thinking he somewhat hijacked this odd “National Train Day” to promote his gubernatorial campaign. I am almost as skeptical of that as I am of the whole idea of “National Train Day” – a delightful marketing event by Amtrak. Conceptually it is cool, but the real idea behind it… well, it just feels as bogus as if Hallmark declared tomorrow “Give cards to all your coworkers day.”

Alright, that is enough drivel from me, what you really came to see were the photos, right?











Departure board, we’ll miss you! And of course, Happy Birthday Union Station. For more information about the construction, be sure to check Metro North’s site.

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