Musings on Station Names

You would think that the naming of a train station would be a rather simple and straightforward process… alas this seems to be far from true. If history has shown us anything, station namings (and even renamings) can turn out to be a political or even touchy subject – just ask all the Connecticut commuters that voted for their new Metro-North station to be called Black Rock instead of Fairfield Metro, and were denied (and less than thrilled). But the more interesting thing, to me at least, is how history plays a significant part in many of these names – especially in the most clunky.


Months before even being scheduled to open, Fairfield Metro was already covered in graffiti, perhaps by citizens unhappy about the name ;) [image credit]

It isn’t too hard to find a few awkward names along Metro-North’s tracks – just note the Port Jervis Line, which has the honor of having stations with the two longest names in the system. Looking back at the history of the line, the main portion of rail which went through the busy centers of the local towns was abandoned in favor of a roundabout ride through the sticks previously used only for freight. Middletown, which previously had a station, was left without one. As to not forget the passengers it once served, a station was established on the new rail line and was called Middletown, despite it actually being in the town of Walkill. Thus the station was dubbed Middletown – Town of Wallkill. Salisbury Mills – Cornwall follows a similar convention, being located in Cornwall, but a (far older) station had once been historically located in Salisbury Mills.

Wingdale / State Hospital
State Hospital and Wingdale stations were combined to create Harlem Valley – Wingdale.

Mashup station names aren’t exclusive to the west side of the Hudson – one is located right on the Harlem Line. Harlem Valley – Wingdale is a combination of two former station names, both long closed. The Harlem Division once had two different stations in Wingdale – one for the Harlem Valley State Hospital, which went by State Hospital for short, and one just called Wingdale. In 1977 the two stations were consolidated, and given the name Harlem Valley – Wingdale to represent the two. If any station is deserving a name update, it would certainly be this one. With our increasing dependence on technology for train information, and Metro-North’s lack of naming consistency, finding information about this station can be a pain. While sales/ticketing seems to prefer Harlem Valley W’dale, Customer Service’s preferred abbreviation is Hm Valley Wingdale – causing digital havoc. For almost two entire years riders could not access mobile train information for the station unless they knew the magic “hm” abbreviation, which of course, nobody ever mentioned (after moving to the area I complained about it several times… the bug has since been quietly fixed at some point within the past few months). Despite the history attached to the name, isn’t it about time we end the difficulty and just call the station Wingdale again?

While politics likely played a role in the aforementioned naming of Fairfield Metro over the public chosen Blackrock, it was certainly the case in the renaming of a station in New York. In the early 2000s the town of Southeast petitioned Metro-North to change the name of Brewster North station. Southeast had been founded in the late 1700s, but most people knew nothing of it – only of Brewster, one of its villages, because of the train station. That station was established in 1849, when James and Walter Brewster invited the New York and Harlem Railroad to build a station on some land they had recently acquired. From then on the area became known as Brewster’s, and later just Brewster. In the late 1970’s a new station on the Harlem Line was established to provide ample commuter parking, and named Brewster North – much to the chagrin of the town. The railroad had dictated the geography of their town once, and they weren’t about to let it happen again – hence the request for Metro-North to change the name to Southeast.

Southeast, Brewster North
Brewster North was changed to Southeast at the request of the town.

The official statement will always be that the change from Brewster North to Southeast was to eliminate confusion between that station and Brewster village, but considering that ticket machines still list it (ten years after the fact) as Southeast (Brewster North) just seems to make it more confusing (and quite a mouthful). If the names are really so confusing, why don’t we also change other potentially confusing names? Maybe White Plains and North White Plains (NWP would have an obvious other name – Holland Avenue, which was formerly used as a platform for changing trains when there was no electric further north)? Or East Norwalk and South Norwalk? Maybe Mount Vernon East and Mount Vernon West (which historically were never problematic, as they were on two different railroads)? Explaining the true motivation rather succinctly, a town of Southeast employee stated: “I wear a name tag that indicates I am town clerk of the Town of Southeast. Nobody ever recognizes it. Perhaps, now they will.”

Sometimes station renamings are subtle. I first became interested in station, and local area names several years ago when I moved to Goldens Bridge. Or is it Golden’s Bridge? At the time I had no idea investigating a mere apostrophe would open Pandora’s box. Unlike other station names like Hartsdale, Brewster, Wingdale, and Millerton – which can all be directly attributed to the name of a specific person – nobody really knows the true origin of Goldens Bridge. Old railroad maps, and even transcripts from the New York state senate have used the alternate Golding’s Bridge. Despite the sketchy details, we know it was named for a man, and a bridge he likely owned. Wherever the namesake bridge once was, the spot is likely flooded by the reservoir today. The man for which it was named remains even more of a mystery. According to Lewisboro town historian Maureen Koehl, his name may not have even been Golden, “the bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names.” Either way, the preferred name today is Goldens Bridge – without the apostrophe. Metro-North quietly omitted that little piece of punctuation from signage in 2003. I’m still waiting for them to come and retire the apostrophe in Purdy’s.

So why all this talk of names? I happened to catch an article this weekend regarding some folks in the Bronx already disgruntled with the name of their new Metro-North station – a station that is only in the earliest planning stages (and not even guaranteed to be built). Fortunately for us, the citizens say that they are open to compromise, “we’re okay with sharing the name, we just want to make sure it’s in there.” That can mean only one thing – get ready for a nice, long, hyphenated name. Perhaps it will even be able to compete with Middletown – Town of Wallkill!

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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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Weekly News Roundup, 1/8

A quick news roundup for the week…

Idiots park running SUV on railroad tracks

A stupid couple started off the new year right by leaving their SUV on the railroad tracks just west of Fairfield station. As expected, alcohol played a part in the driver’s complete lack of judgement.

Branchville’s Whistle Stop Bakery

The Connecticut Post had a nice little interview with Lolly Turner, the woman that converted the old, “beat-up” and “falling apart” Branchville station into a successful bakery.

“We’ve taken a piece of history and turned it into a viable business. I think it’s a wonderful thing we’ve done.”

Schumer seeks to restore commuter tax benefit

It is always good to know that Schumer actually fights for something worthwhile every now and again.

The MTA’s App Contest

Hopefully I am not the only one that finds a little bit of amusement in the fact that the MTA is holding an “app contest” for useful transit-related smartphone apps. You know, since back in the day the MTA claimed that train schedules were their own intellectual property, and sent their lawyers after app developers. But it is true – the MTA is holding a contest, and the New York Times had a nice article about it this week.

Commuters get discount at local grocery store

If you commute in the Brewster/Southeast area and need to pick up a few things on the way home, you should definitely check out DeCicco’s, as they offer a 5% discount for Metro-North riders with monthly passes. I believe it applies only to the store in Southeast, right up the road from the station.

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My date with an M8…

To say my train journeys this past weekend were a bit interesting seems like an understatement. I got to take some cool pictures of Grand Central’s exterior because the road was closed to cars for Summer Streets. I photographed the New Haven Line station Mount Vernon East, which is the 70th Metro-North station I’ve taken pictures of (if anybody is keeping track, lol). Oh, and I also got to ride on an M8. But see, those weren’t really quite as interesting as the nutjobs I found I was sharing the train with. On Friday an absolute genius of a woman decided that it would be a good idea to chase the departing train after forgetting a bag on board. She either jumped off the platform, or weaseled through the fence at Southeast, and ran after the train as it entered the yard. How monumentally stupid. I thought to myself, had she gotten flattened by a train or fried herself by tripping on the third rail, her family most likely would have sued Metro-North. Despite the fact that it would totally have been her fault, her family probably would have been awarded some amount of monetary compensation… and when our fares would go up again, we’d all know why.

On Saturday I again found myself on a northbound train heading to Southeast. It was dark, and near impossible to see anything but blackness out the window. I was in the very rear of the train, the portion that doesn’t platform at Brewster (yes, I totally think it is acceptable to use platform as a verb, thank you). Because it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell whether we were stopped at the station, or at some point before it… but I was certainly wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out a man in the front of the train decided to, how should I say this, basically he thought it would be a good idea to whip it out and begin pleasuring himself – the rest of the passengers present be damned. Girls were screaming, conductors were running, and it didn’t take too long for the train to be stopped until the police arrived. The public masturbator had apparently hidden himself in the train bathroom, but was thankfully apprehended by the police and removed from the train. I’ll call that the Metro-North Harlem Line Pervert Express – I have no desire to ride that train again.

Unfortunately the story of the M8 was slightly overshadowed by the stories of the crazy people. I took a short ride – from Grand Central to Mount Vernon East – though I took quite a few photos of the train before it went into motion. It may not have been the most memorable event of the day, but it was certainly the most positive highlight of the day. The aesthetic of the train is pretty similar to the M7’s found on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, but obviously in red. There is a lot of red. The outside is red, the floor is red, the seats are red. Clearly the decision was based on the New Haven Line’s signature color, but for those who believe that color can effect mood there might be a little bit too much red. A lot of sites have commented on the features of the M8, so I will try to keep this as short as possible, and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that the lighting, large overhead storage racks, and numerous power outlets are really great additions. Now if we could get more of them in service, and iron out all the remaining glitches we’d be all set…

 
  
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
   
 
  
 
   
 

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Journey the Harlem Line in 6 minutes: Grand Central to Southeast Time Lapse

Have you ever seen these awesome time lapse videos the MTA has done on the LIRR? When I first saw them, I decided I wanted to try the same thing at some point on the Harlem Line. Yesterday I finally got a chance to try it, unfortunately not in HD (didn’t have a big enough memory card to do the whole ride in HD). The ride first starts out in Grand Central, and heads all the way to Southeast. We make all local stops north of White Plains, with the exception of Mount Pleasant. The hour and twenty minute ride has been condensed into a little over six minutes.

Because I know a few of you more astute observers will find some issues with the video (signals? track?), I will say that this video was taken not from the cab, but from the rear of the train. The footage was reversed to make it appear like it was from the front of the train. This is my first attempt at a time lapse, and I think I’d like to try it again at some point. Perhaps in HD, and possibly from the front of the train, so everything doesn’t look wrong. But as a first attempt, I think this is a pretty cool way to see the Harlem Line.

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Excerpts from the diary of a train rider

When I started this blog, the majority of it was observations about people I saw on the train, or while waiting for trains. I haven’t really done a post about my observations lately, but for the most part the majority of things I see are remembered as short tidbits, and nothing worth writing an entire post about. If I actually kept a diary, tidbits like these would likely be found inside… just quick thoughts about the things and people that surround me on a day-to-day basis. As I don’t really have anything to post today, I figured I’d leave you with a collection of some of my recent thoughts while riding the train. But rest assured, I am currently working on a pretty big project for the site, and when I (hopefully) debut it next week, I think you’ll all be pretty pleased.


People leave things on the train all the time. I was just thinking the other day, if someone was about to forget their phone, or bag, or wallet, I’d ask them if it were theirs, so they don’t get off the train without it. But then I realized what a terrible person I am – if you were about to forget a bag from Junior’s the only thing I’d say is, “that’s mine!” I don’t want your wallet, or your laptop. Just give me your cheesecake.

Sometimes the guy in the ticket booth at White Plains gets rather excited when he announces trains. Once I heard, “Now on trrrrack one is the train going to… nowhere. Never mind. This train only goes to North White Plains,” and, “Nooooooooowww on trrrrrack one is the 5:59 local trrrrrain to Southeast, making all local stops. Yes, this train will be making all the stops you know and love. Trrrrrrrack one.” I haven’t heard him lately, though. I wonder where he is.

When my train passes Mount Kisco in the evening, there is usually this dark-haired woman named Christine on the platform. I know nothing other than her name, and that she likes to laugh. Sometimes when the doors open I poke my head out and say, “Hello Christine.” I gave her my little card that has this website’s address on it once. Maybe she’s reading this right now. Hello, Christine!

Sometimes I see this girl on the platform when I wait for the train in the morning. She looks like she is in her early twenties, and has quite the assortment of Nike shoes and athletic attire. The only time we ever spoke was when she was drinking a bottle of soda and dropped the cap. We both watched, it was like slow motion, the cap hit the platform and rolled precariously close to the edge. I think I said to her, “Wow. I really thought that was going to fall!”

I have an overactive imagination. I also have a bad habit when I observe people, determining who they seem to resemble physically, and calling them that in my mind thence forward. Regular riders of my morning train are an older Sarah Palin, and an Amy Winehouse – minus the drugs.

I like to read books on the train, and I try to read a book per week. After calculating it out, I really only spend about six hours per week on the train – three of which are reading, and three of which are bullshitting with other people. It isn’t a lot of time when I compare it to hours using the computer. I probably am using the computer for ten hours, if not more, each week day. This is probably why I gained twenty pounds after graduating college.

Usually the train I take in the evening uses M3 equipment… though very rarely we have an M7 instead. The M7’s have that nice seat adjacent to the conductor’s cab, it is dark and quiet and away from all the other people. When I got on the train there was an old man sitting there. The next stop the train was going to be making was a short platform, so the conductor told people in the back of the train to move forward. A woman went to do just that, and the old man sitting by the door there just flipped out. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK THAT SIGN IS THERE FOR?!?!” he shouted, while pointing at the sign to not cross through the cars while the train is in motion. The woman looked so afraid, like she was almost going to wet herself. The old man was relentless. Later on, after the old man had gotten off, I asked the conductor if he knew who he was. He told me the man worked for Metro North’s safety department. Too bad that detail was conveniently left out of his diatribe. I always wondered if she complained about the crazy man on her train…


In reality this cat’s name is Henry, and he is awesome

Walking to the train station the other day, this strange animal ran out in front of me. It took me a few moments to realize it was a cat, and not an ordinary cat, a three-legged cat. If I had a three-legged cat, I’d name him Tripod.

Sometimes the bus driver really freaks me out. One of these days he’s really going to flip the bus over. A few days ago he accidentally hit the curb so hard I was slammed into the window… and I have a several inch long bruise on my arm to prove it.

I follow @OWNEYtheDOG on twitter. For those who don’t know, Owney was a real dog that used to ride on mail trains back in the day. Owney was apparently murdered – shot dead, and was later brought to the taxidermist. He’s on display at the Post Office Museum in Washington DC. The thing that freaks me out is that whoever does the twitter posts as if they were that stuffed dog. This disturbs me. Even taxidermied dogs are on twitter! Next thing you know, my mother will be on there.

I’m used to people telling me that they like my hat. It does freak me out when they sneak up behind me and attempt to whisper it in my ear. Most especially if they reek of alcohol. However, the thing I really don’t get is why people during the summer ask me where my hat is. I may like hats, but I’m not an idiot.

My grandmother is wonderful. I think it takes only a little sip of alcohol to make her tipsy. She tells lots of good stories then… stories about the original Penn Station, of taking the train all over the country in the ’40s, being afraid her train was going to fall off the Horseshoe Curve… How she’d take the kids on the train and buy the cheaper child ticket, even though some of the kids were too old. Of course my one uncle would admit such to the conductor… the other just had such a bad temper, my grandmother told me she’d buy him rubber dog toys to take for the ride, he’d break all the regular toys.


When I get a text message, my phone makes the sound the M7 trains make. It baffles people at work meetings. It really baffles them when I’m riding my usual train – an M3. But then someone decides they’ll text me five times in quick succession. Then I just look like an idiot.

Everyone always wants to blame Metro-North, but sometimes it is the passengers’ fault that the train is late… like the time there was a man standing in the doorway that refused to move. Despite the conductor yelling at him, he still stalled the train.

I heard some news about banning smoking on the platform. I like this idea. I’d rather not be subjected to your disgusting and headache-inducing habit. Inevitably someone complains about the thought and says, “Remember when they even had smoking cars?” You know what I remember? The tar-black ceiling of Grand Central when I was a kid… all from cigarette smoke. Ah, yes. Nostalgia.

If I had to pick the station with the most obnoxious people, I’d likely pick White Plains. They are like animals there. They’ll push anybody over to board that train, even a little old lady with a cane. Because it is such a populated station, there are always going to be people running for the train and not quite making it. If the conductor kept the doors open for all of them, the train would never leave. When this happens the person usually shouts profanities at the conductor, and probably writes an angry note to Metro-North (I don’t think I could be a conductor, I don’t have thick enough skin). The most amusing part is that White Plains has the most trains of any station on the Harlem Line. In rush hour, there is another train in just five minutes. Is it really worth all that anger?

It is amusing to me how many people still attempt the old trick of hiding in the bathroom to evade paying the fare. Conductors should have mops available on all trains to give to these people. If they aren’t going to pay, and they are going to be in the bathroom, they might as well clean the damn thing while they are there.

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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.

View larger map

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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.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

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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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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Purdy’s (and bonus Copake Falls)

Several months ago I wrote about some of the names of the towns located along the Harlem Line, and how they have evolved over the years. Many of the names were taken from the families that owned the land, or perhaps donated it for the railroad to use, and the name had a possessive. For example, Brewster was known as Brewster’s after former land owners James and Walter Brewster. “Golden’s Bridge” was always a particular enigma, as the majority of use has evolved beyond the apostrophe (town signage does not use it, and the railroad stopped using it in 2003 on public timetables), yet the area’s fire department still uses the apostrophe, as does Google maps. There, however, is one remaining station that still bears the apostrophe of yesteryear, and that station is Purdy’s.

According to Louis Grogan’s book, The Coming of the New York & Harlem Railroad, the name Purdy’s comes from landowner Daniel Pardieus. How exactly the name evolved into Purdy’s is not certain – yet the same scenario exists for Goldens Bridge (the namesake in question may have been named Golding, Goulding, or even Colden). I wasn’t able to determine whether the area was called that prior to the railroad – and it might be yet another example where a hamlet/village takes its name from the station (Brewster is a good example of this. Brewster is part of the town of Southeast – though more people are familiar with the former than the latter. This played a part in the renaming of Brewster North, a railroad invented name, to Southeast, the actual town’s name). The land for the station was donated to the railroad by Isaac, grandson of Daniel, in 1844. It certainly isn’t the most noteworthy of stations, but on a rather cloudy day I took a visit and snapped a few photos.




As none of those photos were incredibly brilliant, I felt I would be cheating if I didn’t at least give you all a bonus to look at. And so, here is one of the former Harlem Line stations: Copake Falls. This former station is located in the town of Copake, in Columbia County, and approximately 22 miles north of the current end of track in Wassaic. To one side of the former station is the Taconic State Park, and to the other side is a portion of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. For the past twenty-eight years it has housed the Depot Deli. Interestingly, the owner told me that when he purchased the land the deed included a clause specifying that if passenger service was ever restored on the line he would provide a space for waiting travelers. Considering that the last passenger train ran through in 1972, and the tracks were removed in the 80’s, it is doubtful that would ever happen.

  
 
  
  
  

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