Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line – Waterbury

Ah, Waterbury… also known as the Brass City, or most affectionately the “Dirty Water.” Yes, Waterbury and I have a history, we go way back. Many years ago I attended UConn’s Waterbury Branch, and it was there I acquired my first job as a slave to the computer. From there I just went downhill, into the realm of phone line computer technical support (“my ethernet cord has a virus!”), and fixing college students’ virus-riddled computers after they downloaded copious amounts of pornography. But back then at Waterbury I was just a lowly computer monitor, though I would occasionally get called on various errands. One of those errands was to head down to the library and check out a computer that wouldn’t start. Now the campus was right in the middle of the city of Waterbury, and we’d frequently have crazy people just walk right in. Apparently one of them decided to walk right into the library and cannibalize the inside of one of their computers. It was no wonder why their computer didn’t start – anything easily accessible after whoever it was managed to get the case open was taken. There was no memory, they even managed to get the hard drive. I’m not completely crazy for telling this story – because I sort of hear the parking lot at the Metro-North station is pretty similar. If a random stranger off the streets of Waterbury had no qualms about stealing the innards of a computer where the librarian was right around the corner, they really will think nothing of theiving your car, especially when they know you’re on a train heading in the opposite direction. Apparently the situation has gotten bad enough for commuters to say they are boycotting Waterbury station. Plus, I haven’t seen a station as full of these signs as Waterbury:

I’ll try to not insult Waterbury too much (every time I go there I see another store has gone out of business!), but instead bring up an observation. Even if you’ve never actually been to Waterbury, even if you’ve just driven through, there are probably two landmarks that you are familiar with. The first is the big cross up on the hill, the mostly-abandoned (for the most part, except for brave urban explorers, and lawbreakers) Holy Land. The most iconic landmark in Waterbury, however, is the clock tower. Amusingly, most people don’t even realize the clock tower is part of what used to be Waterbury’s railroad station. The tower itself was a late addition, after construction on the structure had already commenced. Waterbury’s tower is modeled after Italy’s Torre del Mangia, and was designed by architecture powerhouse McKim, Mead and White. Today the building serves as the home of the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper, a wonderful example of iconic rail architecture being repurposed and given a second life (I’m not going to go too in depth here, as I’m hoping to arrange a tour of the place and devote an entire future post to the old station itself).

Alongside the old building is Metro-North’s small Waterbury station, which is, as you could well deduce, the terminus of the New Haven Line’s Waterbury Branch. At 87.5 miles from Grand Central, Waterbury is the furthest Metro-North station from the city (excluding the west of Hudson service). Although there are at least ten tracks by the station, few of those are actually used – a reminder of Waterbury’s status as a once-busy rail hub (in its heyday, Waterbury Union Station would receive more than 50 passenger trains per day). Today on a normal weekday the station has just eight trains departing for Grand Central, running approximately every three hours.

 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
  
   
 
   

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: North White Plains

This Tuesday the Tour of the Harlem Line makes a quick stop at North White Plains station. Located slightly less than twenty-four miles from Grand Central, it serves as a terminus for local trains servicing the southern stops on the Harlem Line. Up until the early 80’s, it also served as the end point for electrification on the line, but today the line is now electrified up until Southeast.

North White Plains is also one of the few Harlem Line stations to have an Arts for Transit piece. Installed in 1991, Rolando Briseño’s piece is titled At The Table. Although Briseño was born and works in San Antonio, Texas, he worked towards his MFA in New York City. His public art can be found at various different locations across the country – from airports, to train stations, and schools. The installation at North White Plains is made of cast aluminum on the platform’s columns. Several additional pieces can be seen underneath the station signs on the middle of the platform. In all honesty, this is probably my least favorite Arts for Transit piece that I’ve seen to date. I’m not exactly sure what it looked like when it was installed, but it looks like it has suffered under the elements. Years of salt on the platform during the winter looks like it ate away at the black paint on the bottom.





Since I really didn’t get too many good pictures of the station, I figured I’d give a little bit of a bonus. Located just north of North White Plains station is one of the Metro-North yards on the Harlem Line. Although I don’t normally post photos taken by other people unless they have some sort of historical significance, I will make an exception on these… mostly because they were taken in a place that I can’t go. Here are some photos of the yard at North White Plains…

  
   
  
   
  
   

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Patterson

When I first began riding Metro-North to the city I was fairly young… and at the time I had always assumed that Brewster North was the end of the Harlem Line. It was my train’s last stop, after all. It is around this time of year that there is an influx of young riders, off to see the city’s Christmas decorations, the tree that will soon be in Rockefeller Center, and perhaps a visit to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City (for which I was riding the train). You can always tell who these children are – they come back and board the trains with obnoxious little gizmos that spin around and light up, items that probably cost mere cents to produce in China but get peddled to small children for a significant markup of around twenty dollars. Not only was I the obnoxious child that insisted on having that toy – for God’s sake it actually lit up – but I was that obnoxious child on your train.

It certainly has been a lot of years since then… I’m hopefully less obnoxious on the train, and I know that beyond Southeast – what Brewster North is now called – there still is more to the Harlem Line. The first stop north of Southeast – beyond the electrified tracks, located 60 miles north of Grand Central – is the last stop in Putnam County: Patterson. There is one track here, as well as a platform that will accommodate four train cars. It is a small station, but it does have the amenities we have come to know: automated ticket machines, and a shelter for waiting in the cold (great for days like yesterday).

If the quiet nature of Patterson station is not quite your thing, and you are looking for a bit of adventure, I’d suggest visiting Texas Taco. It is also in Patterson and not far from the station. Adjectives that come to mind when describing the place are colorful, slightly creepy, and “holy crap that lady has purple hair.” But that isn’t a bad thing, is it? Before I had cat hats, I used to have blue hair – but that too was a long time ago…

 
   
  
 
  
 
  

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Watch the Gap: Stupid Warning Signs You Wish Metro-North Had

Admit it. You’ve probably seen a stupid person on the train. I see them frequently. People get on the wrong train all the time. Sometimes by accident, which I’ve done a few times. But if you end up getting on the wrong train because you were too busy talking on your cell phone to hear the ten messages spoken by the conductor telling you that this train was most certainly NOT going to the city, you don’t get any sympathy from me.

I had made these a long time ago, and forgot about them. My goal was to create a warning sign generator, where you could type in your own warnings and the site would create the image for you. I never did get around to doing it, but perhaps some day. Until then, enjoy these. Gina, a train conductor on my train, almost getting left on the platform again the other day (and did actually happen a year ago) made me want to go and dig these up. The first one below is dedicated to her. In fact I hear a version of this is now in the conductor’s lounge in Grand Central, a version with a spectacular little arrow pointing to the conductor on the platform, labeled with the name “Gina.”






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Pigeon Trapping in White Plains & Video of Pigeon Riding the Train

Apparently Metro-North has gotten fed up with the pigeon problem in White Plains. Maybe they were embarrassed by the fact that people were videotaping, and blogging about it. Or maybe they were getting a little pissed off that birds that have pea-sized brains were outsmarting them. Either way, last week I noticed something new at the station. Pigeon traps. With all the snow I didn’t really get a chance to post anything about the traps. But I did happen to get into a conversation in the waiting room with a woman about them. Really, the pigeons aren’t harming anything. In fact they are eating the crumbs off the floor, which is more than what some of the cleaning people manage. Their antics are amusing, and Metro-North could probably be spending money worrying about other things, rather than purchasing pigeon traps to put throughout the station. Even if they had the traps on hand, someone had to place them, and that takes time. Time that could have been spent doing other things. Like cleaning the bathrooms? Or going after the annoying people that smoke in the waiting room, or beg for dollars? I’d prefer the pigeons over those.

Now, remember whose blog you are reading. Obviously, I had to put up a sign about this. Someday I may use my talents for the good of man-kind. Today? Not so much.

Here are higher resolution images so you can see all the text:

So far I haven’t seen any pigeons dumb enough to get caught. Traps are located behind the benches in the waiting room, and on top of the ticket machines by the window. Truly the question is, what happens to the pigeons if they are in fact caught? Taking them outside the station and letting them go would do little, they’d probably come right back in. Do they get sent up the river to pigeon prison? Are they gassed by employees in a dark, back room? Your guess is as good as mine. In a few weeks the problem will work itself out anyways, traps or no traps. The weather will be warmer, and the pigeons wont need to be inside. They aren’t dumb. They come inside because of the cold. Hell, I know a lot of crazy people that do that too!

As an unrelated bonus, I figured I would include some amusing video I saw on YouTube, of a pigeon riding public transit. The pigeon’s name is apparently Henry Goodfeathers. Looks like the video was filmed somewhere on the subways of Toronto.

More polite than a lot of human subway passengers

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Rabbit Girl’s Morning Ride…

Today the “Cat Girl” morphed into “Rabbit Girl”. It has been so cold lately, that I figured I’d use the rabbit hat, since the long ears can be wrapped around and serve as a scarf. You really know it is cold though, when you get to the station and there isn’t a single soul standing on the platform. They are all hiding in the heated vestibules until the train arrives.

Photo 8
When I got into work I took this photo of my rabbit attire…

A bunch of trains were delayed this morning, my friend ended up getting in late. She said that the conductor told her a woman lost her shoe on the tracks. Anyone know if this is true? If it is, it is kind of lame. Clearly she should have gone to work barefoot. Oh that would be too funny.

On my train however, I had a delightful man that apparently felt like sticking his hand down his pants. I am of the opinion that if you are in public, you should not be doing that. Ever. It is really creepy and nasty. I did actually take a picture of the guy, but after much internal debate, I have chosen to not post that image on the blog.

Anyways, the time I spent on my train (ignoring the man with his hand down his pants) was somewhat eventful, since I decided to write a note to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, regarding the Solari board’s removal next year in New Haven. Apparently a follow up article to the one I posted a few days ago was written on the New Haven Independent site a few days ago. The DOT may consider some sort of compromise, where perhaps the Solari would be saved, but moved to a different place. Or donated to a museum. And the new LCD would make the characteristic flipping noise of the Solari. This “compromise” doesn’t seem like much of a compromise, as it still means the Solari would be moved from its location in the station. If I get any sort of response to the letter I wrote, I will certainly post it here.

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The Fight for the Solari in New Haven

Despite growing up in Connecticut, about halfway in between Waterbury and Danbury, both New Haven line branches, I’ve only been on the New Haven line once. It was always easier to cross the state border and get on in Brewster, or Southeast (then Brewster North). I’ve never been to New Haven’s Union Station, although I’ve certainly driven by it. But I can certainly relate to the current New Haven train riders that are now fighting for the last Solari departure board in use on Metro-North. I don’t quite know why, but I really loved the Solari board that used to be in Grand Central when I was very young. I remember standing under the Solari that was for Amtrak in Penn Station many years ago when I took my first ride on Amtrak, going to Florida with my grandmother. I even remember the board in use also in Penn Station for the Long Island Rail Road, under which everyone would stand waiting for the information on their trains to flip up, and when it did, would race like marathon runners to their tracks. I remember all these, but today, they are all gone.

Most unfortunately, the New Haven Independent reported yesterday of the plans to remove the Solari board from New Haven’s Union station, and replace it with an LCD at some point next year. The article is full of comments, and people that want to save the board. A commenter going by the name of Erin brings up a good point:

My two cents: if the Solari sign is hard to maintain, use the $5 million it was going to cost for LED signs as a reserve fund to fix the Solari sign if ever needed.

I really do love these boards, and I would hate to see it get one more of them taken down. It ought to be kept for its historic nature, it is the last of its kind on Metro-North, and one of the few left in the United States. If the sign is going to get removed, I would love to see someone, like the Transit Museum, acquire it and put it on display. Considering the board is in Connecticut, however, I am unsure if it would even be considered for it to go to the New York Transit Museum, even though Metro-North is represented by the museum.

Though the fight is on to save the board. A group has been made on facebook called Save Solari, and there is also a page on SeeClickFix. As for me, I do believe a photography trip is in order, especially if the unfortunate happens, and the board is taken down.

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