Springtime Exploration: The Beacon Line

As April has now arrived, we look forward to the spring, to warmer weather, and lovely green leaves on the trees. It seems, as well, like a decent time to explore some of the lesser-known railroad infrastructure in the area. Most regular riders of Metro-North are familiar with the railroad’s three main lines running into Grand Central Terminal – the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven Lines. Others may be aware of two other lines on the west side of the Hudson River that Metro-North also owns – the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines – which are operated by New Jersey Transit. But far fewer are familiar with Metro-North’s sixth line – the Beacon Line. Purchased in 1995 by Metro-North, the line has been, for the most part, inactive since. Occasional excursions, equipment moves and storage, and maintenance with hi rail vehicles, have all taken place, albeit infrequently. Though the rails itself may not be in use, running along parts of the line is fiber optic cabling that is integral to Metro-North operations.

Map of the Beacon Line
Map of the Beacon Line showing the locations of the photos in this post, as well as the two historical rail lines.

Last fall the Beacon Line made the news as the MTA has issued a “Request for Expressions of Interest” regarding “all or part” of the line. The RFEI will be used to gauge interest in the line, and to see what people would actually want to do with it – but it is worth noting that the RFEI was strictly for informational purposes, it was not a formal Request for Proposals. Since the request closed last year, we’ve heard little from Metro-North about the proposals submitted and what anyone’s ideas for the line were. Any serious rail project would be difficult on the Beacon Line, and likely expensive. While Metro-North has not let the line become completely overgrown – weed spraying, fallen tree removal, and other minor maintenance happens occasionally – it isn’t in the best shape. Many bridges are in rough shape, needing costly maintenance. Years of people using the line as an ATV trail has led to severe degradation of the railroad ties, and in many cases the rails are old and in need of replacement.

Beside the condition of the line, making money on it would be another difficulty. Multiple studies have been performed in terms of reactivating all or some parts of the Beacon Line for passenger use, and all have pretty much determined that it is not economically feasible. One of the more promising ideas would be to operate a shuttle from Danbury to Southeast on the Harlem Line, a plan that was amusingly championed by politicians in upper Westchester County who would much prefer those Connecticut commuters to not come over to their stations on the Harlem Line (I’m looking at you, Katonah). Upon formal study, several difficulties were noted with the idea – the major one being the way that trains from the Beacon Line merge with the Harlem Line. With the current track alignment, any train coming from Danbury would be facing north when coming onto the Harlem Line, the wrong direction from Southeast station. Either the train crew would have to “change ends” and the train would go the opposite direction (which would take too much time due to procedural requirements like a brake test), or a wye track would have to be installed allowing the train to turn south onto the Harlem Line (difficult, as the land around the junction is protected wetlands, and would likely have to be acquired through eminent domain).

In the end, nothing may actually come out of this whole RFEI process besides calling attention to the nearly abandoned Beacon Line. I thought it might be an interesting time to take a little virtual tour of the line, as I’ve visited and photographed various portions on both sides – Brewster and Beacon. The two sides designation is somewhat important, as even though the line may be seen as one whole today, historically the Beacon Line is made up of two previous railroads. The eastern part of the Beacon Line that runs from Connecticut to Hopewell Junction is the former Maybrook Line. As one would expect, that line ran through Maybrook, New York and crossed the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie. After the fire on the Poughkeepsie Bridge in 1974, the portion of the Maybrook to Hopewell Junction was abandoned, and today is a rail trail. The western portion of the line, from Beacon to Hopewell Junction, was originally part of the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad, later called the Beacon Secondary. The rest of the ND&C, which went beyond Hopewell into Millbrook, Pine Plains, Millerton, and Connecticut, had been abandoned in stages in the 20’s and 30’s.

Junction with the Harlem Line & the Ice Pond

The start of our explorations begin where the Harlem and Beacon Lines meet, a little less than halfway between Southeast and Patterson. As mentioned previously, there is no wye here, so it would be difficult to run trains from the Beacon south along the Harlem toward Brewster without a time consuming changing of ends. The lines meet and then diverge again, running along either side of the Ice Pond. Just beyond that body of water, the Beacon Line crosses over the Harlem Line and continues west, while the Harlem continues north. Here is the domain of fishermen, who spend entire weekend days with their pickups parked alongside the line.

Meeting the Harlem Line

Meeting the Harlem Line Meeting the Harlem Line

Sometimes the Beacon Line is used for storage

The lines meet The Beacon continues

Minimal maintenance includes cutting of fallen trees POND block The Ice Pond

Along the Beacon Line Along the Beacon Line

The line around Ice Pond is used by fisherman

Approaching the Ice Pond POND block Ice Pond Preserve info

Along the Ice Pond Looking across the Ice Pond to the Harlem Line

From the Harlem Line one can see where the Beacon Line crosses over

(more…)

Read More

Remembering Lou Grogan, “The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad” Author

It is with great sadness that I must report that Louis V. Grogan has passed on. Laid to rest yesterday morning (along with a copy of his beloved book) in his long-time home of Pawling, New York, Grogan was 88 years old. Lou’s interest in railroads began at an early age, as many of his family members found employ in that industry. His love affair with the Harlem comes partially due to his longtime residence along its tracks, but also due to fond childhood memories of using the smooth wood floors of the long-gone Philmont station as an impromptu skating rink. Although he himself served a brief stint as a railroad worker, he also served in the Army during World War II on the eastern front, and was a longtime employee of IBM in Poughkeepsie.

Before selfies were cool
Before selfies were cool – Lou Grogan snaps a reflection at the then-new White Plains station.
Title photo of Pawling also by Lou Grogan.

Lou is, however, most Known by railfans as the author of The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad, an immense and unprecedented compilation of Harlem Railroad history, published in 1989. The book was a labor of love in more ways than one. A ten year endeavor of research and writing, the book may never have come to fruition without the support of Lou’s wife Elizabeth, who lovingly laid out many of the book’s pages, and remained supportive through many long hours of work. To this day, the book remains the best compilation of history regarding the Harlem Railroad, detailing every station that is and was along the line, and the ultimate demise of the Upper Harlem. This website, and the research found within, owes much to the groundwork compiled by Lou.

I, however, will remember Lou as a kind man who invited me into his home with his wife, and shared his vast collection of Harlem Line material with me. I will fondly remember eating turkey and cheese sandwiches and drinking ginger ale with him while talking about the Harlem Line. Many historical photos on this website come from Lou’s collection, which he and his wife graciously shared with me.

1936 Signal Dept Gang- Sid Phillips, Tom Wright, Lou Frost, and "Mac" McLeod
Signal Department Gang at Pawling station, 1936. L-R: Sid Phillips, Tom Wright, Lou Frost, and “Mac” McLeod. From the collection of Lou Grogan.

Steaming through Pawling, 1947.
Steaming through Pawling, 1947. From the collection of Lou Grogan.

As I have mentioned a few times, very shortly we will be revisiting all of the current Harlem Line stations – a redo of our Tuesday Tour series. I have already re-photographed all of the stations along the line, with the exception of five. Our new tour of the Harlem Line will be dedicated to Lou, who worked so hard to ensure that the long history of the Harlem – New York City’s oldest railroad – was always remembered. Thanks for everything, and as another friend of yours has already said online, “may you enjoy the great train ride in Heaven.”

Read More

Dashing Diesels – The Workhorses of Metro-North

While the good majority of service on Metro-North is operated by Electric Multiple Unit cars, the railroad’s dashing diesels handle the rest of the load – largely in the unelectrified territories of the Upper Hudson Line, Upper Harlem Line, and the Danbury and Waterbury Branches. West of Hudson service, operated by New Jersey Transit, is also dieselized, carrying passengers through New Jersey and into New York’s Orange and Rockland counties. Arguably, it is this diesel territory that is likely considered Metro-North’s most beautiful. Spots like Port Jervis’s Moodna Viaduct, views of the Hudson Line from the Bear Mountain Bridge, and the Harlem Line’s Ice Pond all fall into this category.

Here’s a photo gallery of some of Metro-North’s dynamic and dashing diesels, most of which were captured within the past few weeks (although a few are favorites from last year) on the Harlem, Hudson, and Port Jervis Lines of Metro-North. Enjoy!

(more…)

Read More

Local Timetables on the Harlem – 1890 to today

Every time I go to grab a snack at home, I find myself staring at an advertisement. And I’m not talking about the packaging of the food itself – my roommate has hung a calendar from our local pharmacy on the inside of the cabinet. You probably have one of these somewhere in your home – whether it be from the local Chinese restaurant, hardware store, bank, or doctor’s office. Businesses ingratiating themselves among their customers by providing them with a useful item (with a little advertisement for themselves, of course) is hardly a new concept – in fact it has been in practice for well over a hundred years. While today fridge magnets and calendars are commonplace, historically it wasn’t unheard of for a business to print useful cards with train schedules. What better way to remain at the forefront of your customers’ mind than to have your ad on a card they carry around everywhere?

Unofficial timecards are fairly easy to pick out – they bear no official railroad logo or marking – and generally have a whole lot of ads. They also use the railroad’s original name – the New York and Harlem – which was a name everybody knew, as opposed to calling it the Harlem Division, as the railroad did by this time.

Train timecard from Pawling Train timecard from Pawling
Train timecard from Pawling, 1892. A bifold card, the outside features advertisements for numerous businesses. In featuring only weekday trains, the card is tailored to the businessman that would likely patronize the featured establishments. For those looking for Sunday trains, the card advises to consult an official timetable “of the road.”

Another Harlem timecard
Timecard from 1890, featuring selected stops along the Harlem, all the way up to Chatham. Also a bifold, this card is likely more successful than the unwieldy one above, as it would easily fit into your pocket.

Although I wouldn’t classify it as an advertisement like above, the Woodlawn Cemetery also printed their own small time cards. You’ll note a great comparison below – an official railroad-printed Woodlawn time card, along with one printed by the cemetery itself. Besides the address and phone numbers of the cemetery, the card also contains an edited list of train times – corresponding with the cemetery’s hours – of course!

Timecards from Woodlawn
Timecards from Woodlawn. The 1891 card at left is official and printed by the railroad. The 1892 card at right was printed by the Woodlawn Cemetery.

Eventually, local timetables did become standardized – printed by the railroad, but still containing advertisements. Below is a nice collection of some local timetables throughout the years. Make sure you note an important portion of the design – the top of every New York Central local timetable is labeled as “official.” By the time the Penn Central came into being, this disclaimer was dropped. Also in the mix is a more current version of Metro-North’s local timetable. The new design still contains advertisements, but they’ve been relegated to the inside.

The current local timetable style

The current local timetable style

Read More

More old photos for a Monday morning… Part 2

It has been a few months since I last posted a collection of old photos, and I figured I would rectify that. I’m always purchasing things on eBay, and although it is nice to have a collection of things, it is just no fun if I don’t share. Plus, I’m away on vacation right now – getting a post full of pictures ready beforehand is easy! I wouldn’t want you all to miss me too much when I’m not in town… so without further ado, here are some photos ranging from the 50’s to the 70’s!

If you’ve missed any of the old photos posts, you can find them all below:
More old photos for a Monday morning… Part 1

Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 4
Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 3
Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 2
Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 1

Monday Morning Old photos, Part 3
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 2
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 1

Trains & The Beautiful Harlem Valley – Never-before-seen Photos from the 80’s.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Read More

Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 5)


A train crash postcard

Imagine that we are in the year 1920. A train has just had an accident. As people rush over to attempt to assist, so too does a photographer. Camera in hand, the photographer takes a couple snaps of the wreck. Not only for event detailing purposes, but for postcards too. I’ve become a crazy postcard-collecting nutjob, and every time I see a train crash postcard, it makes me chuckle a little. Postcards were printed with pretty much anything and everything on them… but I suppose it makes sense, they provided an easy way to share (back before we had this thing called internet, boggles the mind!) Of course, it is just human nature to want to see a train crash, or any crash, period. Any person that has ever been in a car moving past an accident knows exactly what I’m talking about.


And if I wanted to send you a LOLCat back in the day, I’d send you this.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to discover a Harlem Division train crash postcard. I have found quite a few station images, many of which I’ve posted previously. Today I have a few more of those for you, as well as some more “everyday” scenes: track workers at Dover Plains, a locomotive crossing a road in the snow, and horse carts delivering milk to the train station to be transported to the city. Thrown in the mix is a card of the Harlem Valley State Hospital, with the location of the current Harlem Valley-Wingdale station visible.

Make sure you enjoy this somewhat chilly Friday (where’s my hat?!), and don’t get too frustrated if you see anybody rubbernecking on your way home this evening! Just think, hey, that could be on a postcard!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

If you missed parts one through four, you can find them here:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4

Read More

Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 2

As we hang out in the aftermath of Irene, stuck with no Metro-North service on this “lovely” Monday, we can at least remember a little bit of history. And even remember a time when our tracks were not covered in mud and trees, there was no flooding, and trains were actually running! As I mentioned last week, here is a “new” set of photos taken in the eighties and nineties, when Metro-North was just a few years old. There are a few more photos of Pawling, more construction in White Plains, and a photo or two of Hartsdale.

 
  
 
 
   
  
 
 

Read More

Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 1

Do you love old train photos as much as I do? It has been a while since I last posted some Monday Morning old photos… but I do plan on posting a few for the next couple of weeks. In my endless endeavor to acquire old photos of the Harlem Line, I’ve borrowed and digitized more old photos from Lou Grogan. These are slightly newer than previous photos I’ve posted: at least I was alive when they were captured, albeit a young child. But they are old enough to capture the old platform at Pawling, and construction at White Plains. Though the dates probably vary, my guess is that they are either very late 80’s, or early 90’s – a time when Metro-North Commuter Railroad was a fledgling organization.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I love this one: self portrait of the photographer, at White Plains.

If you missed any of our series of Monday Morning old photos, you can find them here:

Monday Morning Old photos, Part 2
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 2
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 3
More Monday Morning Harlem Division Photos
You can also find more of Lou Grogan’s gorgeous photography here: Trains & The Beautiful Harlem Valley – Never-before-seen Photos from the 80’s.

Read More

The Harlem Line, in panoramas

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

For those who like maps, I place all of my panoramas on a Google map, which you can see below. I also add photos to Panoramio, which provides the photos for Google Earth.
[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=201855341830642549339.000490912cdb96bd7414e&ll=41.58258,-73.418884&spn=1.756506,2.622986&t=h&z=9 width=553 height=740 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Pawling

Nestled in the rolling hills of Dutchess County lies the small village of Pawling, connected to the thriving city of New York by the railroad. When the New York & Harlem Railroad reached Pawling, the village had a population numbering in the 500’s. Today that population is a bit over 2000. It is the first station along the line in Dutchess County, and is roughly 64 miles north of Grand Central. When the line continued all the way up to Chatham, Pawling was approximately the midpoint. Historically, the station thrived due to the dairy industry. A factory visible from the platform today was once a milk plant – after processing the milk it was sent out via the Harlem. Located slightly north of the station was a yard, a small engine house, and a blacksmith and carpenter shop. There was once a turntable too, but that was later replaced with a wye.


Facilities at Pawling, circa 1920. Diagram by Lou Grogan

  
The original station, built in 1860, burned down in 1984. Photos by Lou Grogan

Today the station is, like most of the current Upper Harlem stations, rather quiet – except for the sound of a passing diesel engine. The station is past the zone of electrification, and unless you manage to board one of the few express trains, you’ll have to change at Southeast. The station is one of two in the town of Pawling – the other is the Appalachian Trail, which is a very limited service station.

That is about all I have for Pawling… next week I’ll be bringing you the final station on our Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line, Botanical Garden.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

Read More