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An afternoon out at Spuyten Duyvil

Although it is quite obvious that I am a lover of the Harlem Line, it is undeniable that there are beautiful spots located all along Metro-North’s right of way. Even though the Moodna Viaduct may be one of my favorites, there are plenty of other spots I enjoy on the Hudson Line, like Bear Mountain, Dobbs Ferry, and Breakneck Ridge. The area around Spuyten Duyvil is also especially nice, and I spent an afternoon there a few weekends ago photographing and recording both Metro-North and Amtrak trains.

 
And #217 said, “I don’t think I can…”

If you’re interested in checking out the area, across the river Inwood Hill Park offers great views of Metro-North’s Marble Hill and Spuyten Duyvil stations, as well as Amtrak’s swing bridge. Not necessarily railroad related, but of noteworthy mention is the large painted “C” that is kind of hard to miss. The C stands for Columbia – and was first painted on the rock in the early 1950s, with the approval of the New York Central Railroad. Coxswain of the heavyweight crew team, Robert Prendergast, came up with the idea and approached the railroad for permission. After it was granted, the C was painted about 60 feet by 60 feet square, and has been maintained ever since.

One of my personal favorite spots is the swing bridge used by Amtrak, after it splits from Metro-North’s Hudson Line. As most of you are already aware, for many years Amtrak trains ran from Grand Central Terminal. After some significant work in the late ’80s, including fixing up this old swing bridge, Amtrak was able to finally consolidate its New York City operations in Penn Station and vacate Grand Central. I can’t say that I know first hand, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about raucous parties that happened on this bridge while it was out of service. Originally constructed in 1900, the bridge was damaged and taken out of service in 1982, and was reopened in 1991.
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Exploring the 4: Arts for Transit Glasswork in the Bronx, Part 2

Continuing along on our tour of the 4 line’s Arts for Transit glasswork are five more stations – each with a unique piece of art that adds color to the urban landscape.

183rd Street

Artist: Jose Ortiz

Title: Many Trails

Found in the mezzanine area of the station, the glassword at 183rd Street depicts scenes from the area, both from the past and present. The title of the piece derives from the symbol depicted on the first panel of the piece – it is the Mohican “Many Trails” symbol. The meaning behind the symbol is described as thus:

The design symbolizes the endurance, strength, and hope of a long-suffering, proud, and determined people. The curved shape represents the arms of a man raised in prayer. the circles represent many campfires. The lines represent the many trails taken from the time the Indians left their ancestral homes.

Some of the scenes depicted in the piece are the lands once inhabited by the Siwanoy Nation (a branch of the Mohicans) in the 1600s, the Croton Aqueduct, St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, and the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College.

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Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent my evenings exploring the rails, photographing at one of my favorite times of the day – sunset. While one generally loses the illumination of the sun’s rays, you gain a multitude of colors in the sky… and to me, there is just something magical about that.

In terms of night photography – or at least, what railfans tend to think about night photography – one usually uses artificial lights to illuminate a posed, unmoving train. Though it seems to be the en vogue thing to do these days, I see little reason to do so other than “because we can.” Most seem to do it for the novelty, or because all the “cool kids” are doing it. Many that take part look to evoke the work of O. Winston Link, arguably the best night railroad photographer ever (though Jack Delano, whose photographs I featured last week, was also an accomplished night photographer – it was never really his “claim to fame,” however). Unfortunately, most fall flat in their endeavor to “be like Link.” While I can see the merits of photographing steam trains at night (the lower light allows one to capture sweeping plumes of smoke from the engine), I see little reason to do it with modern trains. After dark I find it far more fun to capture not the train itself, but the train’s movement, and its environment.

Because of the low ambient light, long exposure photography allows one to record the movement of the train, rendered as blurs of light. In order to get a proper exposure, your camera shutter is open for longer – in some cases for 15 seconds or more (thus a stable resting place, preferably a tripod, is required). Done right, any moving object in the frame shows up as a blur, or a streak. Modern electric trains, like Metro-North’s M7s and M8s, with their shiny and smooth exteriors and LED lights lend themselves to this, becoming graceful blurs. Instead of artificial light, one uses the “natural” (or as natural as the light off a cityscape could be), and the intense colors of a sunset to evoke a completely different mood. Since I don’t really have a post lined up for this week, I figured I’d share some of my recent photographs taken at sunset, or at night… and maybe convince some of you that there is fun to be had after dark, far away from the now all too common “night photo sessions.”

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Beautiful Underground – Gems of the Berlin U-Bahn

For over 200 years railways have been constructed across the globe to carry freight and people. Besides the trains, the integral part of every railway is, of course, the stations themselves. Some stations are rudimentary and simple, but others are undeniable gems. We’ve spent the past few weeks touring Berlin’s U-Bahn, which has many interesting stations, mixed in with plenty more bare and utilitarian stops that are hardly noteworthy. We are, however, back again to check out more attractive locales of the Berlin U-Bahn.

From the attractive Oberbaumbrücke to the unexpected above ground stations, Berlin’s U-Bahn is a captivating transit system. I’m not a big fan of subway stations, likely because I love light, of which there is never quite enough underground. However, some of the U3 Line’s underground stations are hard to ignore. A handful of some of the U-Bahn’s earliest stations are attractive gems. Many were located in the city of Wilmersdorf – then a suburb of Berlin. Conceptually, the stations’ aesthetic was to represent the affluence of the city – represented through elaborate stonework. The resulting stations featured Doric columns, granite floors, wrought iron gates, mosaic tiling, and sandstone-carved sculptures. By 1920 Wilmersdorf was folded into Greater Berlin, but these stations retain both the character and history of its predecessor.

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Above-Ground on the “Underground” – Berlin’s U3

Last week’s post featured photos from the Oberbaum Bridge as an introduction to Berlin’s above-ground “Underground” stations. This time we’re taking a look at some more of these above-ground stations, with a focus on the U3 Line. If I had to pick my favorite U-Bahn line, the U3 would probably be it. Not only does it include some of the system’s oldest stations, it has a great mix of beautifully designed underground stations and tree-lined above-ground stations.

Trains are plentiful in the German city of Berlin, with the both the S-Bahn, and the U-Bahn, along with all the other longer distance trains that pass through. There is a general misconception that the S-Bahn is all above-ground, and the U-Bahn all underground (after all, the U does stand for untergrund), but despite that moniker, the U-Bahn has plenty of stations that catch the rays of the sun.

Map of the U3 Line
Map of the U3 Line, showing the above and below ground stations.

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Riding Berlin’s U1 Line: The Oberbaumbrücke

I’ve always said that my primary interest in railroads is not necessarily the machine that is a train, but instead the way railroad systems change over time, and how they influence the people and locations around them – or even how places influence the rails. For those with similar interests, the city of Berlin is a great case study. As I’m sure everyone is familiar, Germany and the city of Berlin were partitioned after World War II into areas occupied by the French, British, Americans, and Soviets. The Soviet portion became the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, and the three other sectors the Federal Republic of Germany, better known as West Germany. In Berlin, a transit system that once spanned the entire city became truncated by this political divide. With the construction of the Berlin wall, starting in 1961, the city became truly divided.

Bernauer Straße
Ghost station: The U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße was closed after the construction of the Berlin Wall. Here you can see the entrance to the station, blocked by the wall. The station was reopened after the reunification of Germany. Photo taken August 27, 1962 by Allhails.

The citywide network of trains in Berlin struggled to conform to the divisions forced upon it by politics. In some instances, stations were completely closed, and lines were truncated as to not operate in the opposite sector. In other situations, lines were able to operate across the border, albeit with restrictions. The U8 line, for example, started in West Germany, but traversed a portion of East German territory before returning to the west. Although the train was permitted to pass through East Germany, they were not permitted to stop at the stations there. Shrouded in darkness and heavily guarded, these shuttered stations became colloquially known as “ghost stations.” In a unique situation, Friedrichstraße railway station, located in East German territory, was open to citizens from both sides of the border, though the station was divided into isolated sections for each.

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Shore Line East and Old Saybrook

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

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

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

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

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

  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
  

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Cass Gilbert’s Griffins

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

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

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

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

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

 
  
   
  
 
   
  
 
  

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

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

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

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

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

  
 
  
 
  
 
  

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Taking a ride on Denver’s Light Rail, Part 1

Though I haven’t quite finished up posting everything from Alaska and the NRHS Convention, I figured it might be nice for a little change of pace… which is why we’re going to go and take a little ride on Denver’s light rail system today. Thanks to major flight delays and a missed connection to Fairbanks, Denver became the first part of my Alaska trip. With decent weather and a new rail line to ride, the detour wasn’t really all that bad.

Operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), Denver’s light rail consists of 47 miles of track on 6 different lines, and a total of 46 different stations. Several stations along the various routes feature art installations, as part of the Art-n-Transit program. I always love to check out the artwork when I visit other transit systems, and fairly new light rail systems usually do not disappoint.

Our first set of photos from Denver features the work of two artists – Darrel Anderson and Donna Billick. Billick’s work at Colfax at Auraria station takes the shape of two large books that double as benches. The seating and back of these benches are decorated with typical Denver and Colorado vistas. Billick identifies herself as a rock artist, and has designed over 300 large scale works of public art in that medium.

Darrel Anderson’s mosaic work can be found at five different light rail stations along Welton Street. The colorful mosaics are each approximately ten feet long and cover a portion of the handicap access ramps. Commissioned in 1994 and dedicated in 1996, these mosaics date back to the beginning of the Art-n-transit program, and the Denver Light Rail itself.

In the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some more Art-n-Transit works in Denver, as well as one of the light rail’s newest lines.

 
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
 
  
  
 

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Metro-North’s newest Arts for Transit – a revisit to the Hudson Line

I think it is fairly well established that I love the Arts for Transit program, and pretty much any transit-related art in general. My three-year-long jaunt to every single Metro-North station was not only a great way to become familiar with our rail system, but to also become familiar with the art found within many of the stations. The Hudson Line has some of the newest and most attractive pieces out of the Arts for Transit program, including two stations that never made it into my Tuesday Tours. Both Croton-Harmon and Peekskill got some art in the latter half of 2012, after both stations had been featured on the site. Both are rather attractive designs, and I figured it would be worth visiting the Hudson yet again to check them out.

Some of Arts for Transit’s most successful installations are those that almost transcend the barrier between art and function, and those that interact with the space in which they are placed. While bronze sculptures hanging on the wall are certainly a lovely (though easily missed) addition to any station, the bronze chairs you’ll find at Pleasantville station become even more than that. They are attractive, but also functional, they interact with the people that use the station, and they begin a dialogue. People that spy them from the train might say, “what are those nice looking chairs, and why are they there?” And as the artists intended, they evoke the comforts and feelings of home, and the thought that to many regular commuters this station is their second home. When comparing Arts for Transit pieces, Pleasantville always seems to be the bar to which I compare, and is (at least in my opinion) one of the best embodiments of the program’s concept of enhancing the experience of travel.

In a similar vein to the Pleasantville piece, both of the newest Arts for Transit works on the Hudson Line seem to interact with the stations in which they’ve been placed, and thus the people that frequent them. Croton-Harmon’s artwork, a series of laminated glass panels by Brooklyn-based artist Corinne Ulmann, not only depict the changing of seasons, but seem to change on their own based upon the light that filters into the overpass. Several Hudson Line stations feature both faceted and laminated glass works in the overpasses, and I’ve always felt they’ve been successful as they’re never the same at all times. As sunlight passes through, colors are reflected onto the platforms and walkways and move as the sun crosses the sky. Thus the art is hardly static, it subtly changes due to season, time, and weather.

Metro North President Howard Permut at Peekskill station
Metro North President Howard Permut speaks at Peekskill, with the station’s newest Arts for Transit piece in the background. [image credit]

Peekskill’s art, an installation of various painted steel pieces by Joy Taylor, also interacts with the station, and the sunlight. The large pieces cast shadows on the platform, but also highlight a play between new and old at the station. During Peekskill’s recent renovations, the station’s historical canopy was restored. This canopy runs parallel to the more modern one found on the station’s other platform, but both evoke a different feeling. The historical canopy is rounded, where the new is more angular, with squared edges. But with the artistic flourishes added to the modern canopy (the historical canopy was appropriately left without embellishments), the new canopy visually parallels the old. Not only does it create an interesting play between new and old, but it emphasizes the historical nature of the one canopy. That side of the platform is not bare, however. The fencing behind the old canopy carries the same flowery motif, but without compromising the part that is historical.

If you happen to get over to the Hudson Line, both pieces are certainly worth checking out, and make commuting on the Hudson Line a little bit more attractive than before.

 
 
   
  
   
 
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
  
 
  

And before I forget, Metro-North’s newest Arts for Transit will be at Fordham station on the Harlem Line. If you happen to be an artist, you still have a few days to reply to the Call for Artists. Submissions need to be postmarked by the 28th.

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