Behind the scenes of the Alaska Railroad…

Over the past few weeks we’ve gotten a chance to check out the best that the Alaska Railroad has to offer – from its most attractive scenery to some of its rarer routes, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Part of the awesomeness of the NRHS convention was that we got to see some “behind the scenes” stuff that most rail passengers never get to see. The Alaska Railroad was undoubtedly a generous host, opening not just their rail system to us, but their operations center and even their locomotive shops.

I won’t include a whole lot of commentary with this post, and I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. If you ever wanted to get a “behind the scenes” view of the Alaska Railroad, we’ll take a quick tour of their operations center, check out the view from a few of their locomotives, visit the car facilities and of course, the locomotive shops. And yes, I ran all around with my trusty fish-eye lens… because I could!

  
 
 
From this perch one can monitor the activities of the Alaska Railroad…

 
  

Shall we take some equipment out for a spin?

 
Inside DMU #751 – “Chugach Explorer”

 
   

The Alaska Railroad’s finest railcar, the Denali, is luxury on the rails. Built in 1929 and refurbished by the Alaska Railroad, the car features only the fanciest materials – bronze, crystal, mahogany, and marble. The railcar contains a sitting area, a “boardroom”, a kitchen, as well as a bedroom and bathroom (which is probably nicer than the one in your own home).

  

Railcars used by various cruise companies are also stored and maintained here.

 
  
  
Some of the various equipment stored outside…

 
   
  
   
  
 
 
The car facilities and locomotive shops… that’s what you really wanted to see, isn’t it?

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The Budd Rail Diesel Car, and more art from Leslie Ragan

If you’ve been following our little series of posts chock full of lovely Leslie Ragan art in advertisements for the Budd company, you may have noticed a few ads featuring Budd’s RDC – or Rail Diesel Car. Today’s post completes our collection of Ragan ads, and focuses on the RDC. The RDC’s were widely used here and around the world – Australia, Canada, Brazil, and even Saudi Arabia all had RDC’s operating at some point in time.

The versatile RDC was an all stainless steel, self propelled railcar that could be operated as a single unit, or multiple cars could be coupled into one longer train. While they operated on all sorts of runs, it was common to see them on lines with fewer passengers, and in commuter service where there was no electrification – like the Upper Harlem Line.

 
Budd-built cars operating on the Harlem Line – at left, an RDC at Dover Plains, at right an SPV-2000, also in Dover Plains. While the RDC was highly successful, the supposed successor SPV was hardly so – acquiring the less-than-flattering nickname “Seldom Propelled Vehicle.”

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Even more Riding in Style on the New York Central – a tour of The Empire State Express

Imagine the year is 1894. You are about to embark on a journey to Buffalo on the finest railcars of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Your seat is of the softest plush, the curtains are of silk, and the car’s wood paneling is made of the finest oak and mahogany. At the front of your train is the legendary locomotive 999, the fastest on wheels. Though she once was clocked at speed of 112.5 miles per hour, she’ll likely average around 60 miles per hour on your journey to Buffalo. This is the Empire State Express, and I’d like to welcome you aboard!


The famous 999, locomotive of the Empire State Express

Similar to the lovely etchings by the American Bank Note Company I shared with you a few weeks ago, (as well as the views of what some of the fancy railcars looked like), today’s little tour is comprised of more views of some lavish train cars, again illustrated by the American Bank Note Company. All of the images depict life on the Empire State Express in the early 1890’s, and they provide a lovely little tour of what trains were like in the golden era of railroading. So are you ready? Let’s go take a look at the Empire State Express.


The buffet car


Drawing-room car

No fancy train would be complete without a Buffet, smoking, and library car. This car featured movable easy chairs, couches, tables, a writing desk, and shelves filled with books and current newspapers. You’d also find a buffet, also stocked with with wines, liquors and cigars. At one end of the car there was even a shaving room with barber. A designated sleeping car had a saloon on one end, finished in mahogany. The plush chairs could be converted into double beds at night, with partitions for privacy. A compartment car had elegant private rooms with sliding doors, each with a lavatory, hot and cold water, and lit by a gas chandelier.


Compartment car


A Wagner Palace Sleeping Car

Not everyone could afford the fancier rooms on the train, and thus would find themself in the passenger coach. Seating a maximum of 76, the passenger coach had a bathroom at each end, one male and one female. Seats were richly upholstered with spring backs. Although not the height of elegance, compared to the private rooms on the train, the coach was still trimmed in mahogany and had large windows and gas chandeliers. On the flip side, for those well-to-do folks that had the money and weren’t afraid to flaunt it, there was also a private Wagner Palace car available. Able to accommodate 6 to 16 people, it featured a sleeping area, pantry, kitchen, and, of course, quarters for the servants.


Standard passenger coach


A Wagner Palace private car

One of the most important cars on the train was the dining car, which could serve up to 30 people at a time. It contained movable leather chairs, and there were five tables that could accommodate four people, and five more tables for couples. The kitchen contained all the newest appliances, and all meals were 1 dollar each. Finally, at the end of the train was an observation car. Similar to the drawing room car, it contained a parlor, smoking room, and bathrooms. The rear end of the car was paneled in glass, providing a lovely vantage point for the journey up the Hudson River and beyond.


The dining car


Observation car

The Empire State Express may be long gone, but the 999 engine is still “alive and well” – as anyone who has visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago certainly knows. The museum is definitely one of my favorites, and I always love to visit whenever I’m in the windy city. After leaving service the 999 traveled around the country for all to get a glimpse of it – even making an appearance on the Harlem Line at Chatham. The legendary locomotive finally arrived in Chicago in 1962, and a formal ceremony was held on September 25th where New York Central president Alfred Perlman presented the 999 to museum president Lenox Lohr.


Museum president Lenox Riley Lohr accepts the donated Empire State Express 999 from New York Central president Alfred Edward Perlman. Photograph from the December 1962 edition of the New York Central Headlight.


The 999’s first move to Chicago, after it was donated by the New York Central to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1962. [image source]


Empire State Express 999 being moved inside at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. After arriving in 1962 the 999 was exhibited with two other trains outside the museum until 1993. The Pioneer Zephyr was also brought inside the museum a few years later. The final of the three, the million-pound Santa Fe locomotive 2903, was donated to the Illinois Railway Museum.

When I was in Chicago a few months ago I visited my old friend the 999. The “Queen of Speed” is doing quite well, and is visited by more than 1.48 million people a year. Although she’s not pulling the fancy railcars of yesteryear, she is at least well-loved at the museum.

 
  
   

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Riding in style on the New York Central and the Boston & Albany

Several years ago when I visited Japan, I got to ride one of the lovely novelty trains designed by Eiji Mitooka. Though he is more well known for the shinkansen he designed, he did create a few rather unique trains for the Wakayama Electric Railway, which, yes, is the system where a cat is vice-president. One of the trains is, of course, modeled after the cat, and when I reviewed it, I was pretty excited about the library on board. I always thought that a concept like that would never survive in popular use in the United States. It wouldn’t take long for every book on that train to be stolen or vandalized, if it were here and not in Japan. But really, the concept shouldn’t have surprised me so – as libraries on trains date back even to the 1800’s. No luxury train would be complete without a library, after all.

In fact, this is how the New York Central described one of their luxury cars, complete with library, in an 1889 timetable:

…made up of the most substantial and the handsomest railway carriages ever constructed. In the Buffet, Smoking and Library car are a unique buffet, movable chairs and couches in the most luxurious upholstery; a secretary supplied with stationery and writing material, and an enclosed Reading Room with a well-stocked library, in which is represented the best literature of the day, including the current newspapers and magazines.

I am not normally a collector of items from the Boston and Albany railroad, but they did print joint timetables with the New York Central, and some of them were a little bit too hard to resist on eBay. Contained in my most recent acquisition were some lovely illustrations of the luxury cars on the B&A. These illustrations were done, and printed by, the American Bank Note Company. That company has been around in some form since the late 1700’s, and still exists today. They’ve done everything from postage stamps, to stock certificates, and even old railroad timetables. While I have plans to feature some of the American Bank Note company’s illustrations for various railroads in the future (because they are so absolutely amazing), today I’m just going to share their depiction of long-gone fancy railcars.


Seriously, how could you resist this? If only timetables were still this gorgeous…


Vestibule of a train car manufactured by the Wagner Palace Car Company, formerly known as the New York Central Sleeping Car Company.


Dining car of the “very latest design and pattern, containing all the improvements known to the car-builder’s art.”


The buffet, smoking and library car, as depicted by the New York Central


“The sleeping cars in service on the Boston & Albany Railroad are of the latest and best designs.”

 
This is an example of the lunch basket you could order on the Boston and Albany. The train crew would take everyone’s orders and telegraph them ahead, for pickup at the next station stop. It was described as the “English method” of serving lunches.

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The New York & Harlem Railroad in the 1860’s – Tryon Row


Early photograph of a New York and Harlem Railroad horsecar. New York & Harlem transfer tokens from the American Numismatic Society.

I’m not sure how many of you frequent twitter, but I think it seems to be a running joke that every day there is some sort of “national holiday” that is trending. I’m not exactly sure how things like “National Fried Chicken Day” (July 6th) or “Walk on Stilts Day” (July 27) get declared, but people on twitter totally love this crap. Manhattan, not wanting to miss out on the action of remarkably stupid “holidays,” even declared a “Justin Bieber Appreciation Day” (June 19). In all seriousness, why don’t we declare national holidays (or at least New York holidays) for stuff that is actually interesting, or even historical? I’d do just fine declaring April 25th “Harlem Railroad Day,” for the day that the New York and Harlem Railroad was chartered in 1831. You know… New York City’s first railroad? It’s kind of a big deal…


New York & Harlem’s railroad station at Tryon Row


View of the neighborhood surrounding Tryon Row. 41 Park Row, which still exists today, is visible in the background – along with several horsecars. On a little bit of a tangent, the ASPCA was formed in 1866, with a primary focus on protecting the rights of horses – many of which pulled the earliest “railcars.”

One of the New York & Harlem’s earliest stations in Manhattan was at Tryon Row, a street that no longer exists. At the time the “trains” were being pulled by horses, and there were short cars – pulled by two horses, and longer cars – pulled by four or more horses. Downtown service used the shorter cars, and Tryon Row served as a point of change for people heading north in the longer cars. The station also housed a place called Pullen’s Express, from where you could send packages or money to be carried over the Harlem. I happened to find a rather interesting artifact recently – an example of the form a customer would fill out to use the service in the 1860’s.

While the front of the form lists the office at Tryon Row, which is pretty cool on its own considering it is a very early Manhattan station, I happen to be a big fan of the back. The back lists all the various places in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire that one could send money or goods. Many of the named places are Harlem stations, but others happen to be random places that they could connect to – either by a different railroad, or by other means.

I always love looking at old station lists for the Harlem though, as over the years the places and names have changed. Hart’s Corners became Hartsdale, Unionville became Hawthorne, Newcastle became Mount Kisco, Whitlockville became Katonah, South Dover became Wingdale, and Bains became Craryville. Chappaqua is listed as “Chapequa,” a spelling I had never seen before, but appears in various railroad printed material in the 1860’s and 70’s (and by modern-day idiots that can’t spell and have not yet discovered google). Bedford hadn’t yet added Hills, and Brewster and Pawling went by Brewsters and Pawlings.

Anyways, this is the stuff that makes me enjoy my job. Oh wait, did I say job? I may not be good enough to write for Metro-North, but writing about the railroad seems to be some honorary job I’ve picked up along the way. And I suppose it is better than me publicly admitting that I’m married to an inanimate object (like a website)… hmm…

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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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The Coolest (or at least the Cutest) Train Car in the World: Wakayama Electric Railway’s Tama Densha Cat Train

One of my more crazy missions when I was in Japan was to see the feline Station Master Cat, Tama. Everybody pretty much loves Tama. When Wakayama Electric Railway was on the verge of bankruptcy, Station Master positions were eliminated, and the stations left unmanned. The decision to make a stray calico cat the honorary Station Master may have been the best decision the company ever made. Tama gained quite a following of fans. Many folks began taking the train: to see her! A study by Osaka University was conducted, which found that Tama brought at least one billion Japanese Yen into the local economy… or around 10.8 million US Dollars. The Wakayama Electric Railway is now thriving, and in her honor a special train car was designed. It is called the Tama Densha. Densha is a Japanese word for train.










The Tama Densha operates on Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa Line, running from Wakayama Station to Kishi Station over a track of 8.89 miles. It is a narrow gauge railway, powered by overhead catenary. The train car was designed by Eiji Mitooka (picture at left), an Industrial Designer and Illustrator from Okayama, Japan. He has designed many trains in Japan, including the 800 Series Shinkansen. Mitooka is the Design Advisor for Japan Rail (JR) in Kyushu. The train car is a 2270 Series EMU, originally in service on the Nankai Electric Railway, which underwent an overhaul, interior redesign and exterior repaint in 2009. The cost of the whole redesign cost about 35 million yen, or around 380 thousand US dollars.


Concept sketches for the Tama Densha, by Eiji Mitooka

In order to lure tourists, many local railways have resorted to decorating train cars. When designing cars Mitooka especially considers children, and whether they would enjoy seeing and riding the train. As a child himself, he always drew the trains the passed by his home, and dreamed of being a train designer. Considering the number of trains he’s designed, it seems Mitooka has achieved that dream, and has become quite famous at it. While waiting for the train to Kishi, I rode on one of the normal undecorated trains (in addition to the Tama Densha, there is also the Omoden, or Toy Train, as well as a Strawberry-themed train, all were designed by Mitooka). Several children were in front of me in line to buy tickets, and we left them behind on the platform as the train departed. They wanted to ride the Tama Densha, and waited for the next train. I suppose that is evidence that Mitooka has also succeeded in the part of getting children to enjoy trains. Most children tend not to be patient… yet here they were, waiting to ride a special train!

When riding the Tama Densha on the way back to Wakayama, I figured out why the children wanted to ride it so much. The absolutely gorgeous train is completed with a library full of children’s books and manga. The whole train is truly unique, seats take the form of benches, cat backed chairs, and plush sofas. Cat and calico patterns cover the seats, walls, and curtains. The sideways seat arrangement, with various rings in which extra passengers can hold on, is subway-style and typical of Japanese trains that run short distances. Most surfaces, from the grasp rings to the floor, is made of wood. Not only does it look classy, it creates a warm and welcoming environment for passengers. For the youngest passengers, the also train includes a circular playpen, next to the cage that was created for Tama when she rides.

A short video tour of the Tama Densha can be viewed below. Note that most of the footage was taken at Kishi Station, which is undergoing construction. So if you hear construction equipment in the background, that would be why.

Anyways, that tour was an absolute joy to ride. I was a bit bummed that Tama pretty much slept the whole time I was there, but riding this train certainly made up for it. If I didn’t have places to be, I certainly would have rode that train back and forth up the Kishigawa Line. I just wish we had something like this back in the states!!

Sources for information about Mitooka: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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Cool Decorated Trains in Japan

There were a lot of cool trains that I got to ride in Japan. Some were amazingly fast, others had decorated outsides. I put together a little gallery of some of the cooler trains that I enjoyed riding, or seeing on the platform. Enjoy the photos!










Train ID:
Thomas the Tank Engine Train: Keihan Railways (I think), Kyoto, Japan
World of Peter Rabbit Train: Japan Railways, Osaka, Japan
Flowered Train: Nankai Railways, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan
Universal Studios Train: Japan Railways, Osaka, Japan
Purple Nature Motif Train: Japan Railways, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Although these may be pretty on the outside, they were nothing in comparison to one particular train that I saw in Japan. I am fairly certain that particular train is the coolest, or at least the cutest, in the world. I’ll have a photo gallery and video tour of that train later on this week. Here’s a little sneak peek:

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