Exploring the brand new Doha Metro

Although history and abandoned rail lines always seem to capture my interest, in a refreshing change of pace today we feature a brand new rail line in a country that up until earlier this month had no active rail service whatsoever. In this case, we’re talking about the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, where construction is happening at a frenzied pace in order to ready for 2022’s World Cup. Not only are new skyscrapers and stadiums being constructed, entire new cities are being built, and a futuristic driverless Metro will connect them all.

Initially, much of the plan for the Metro was based around Qatar’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, but was revived in 2010 when Qatar was awarded the World Cup. The Qatar Railways Company was birthed in 2011, and will oversee the Metro, a new light rail in Lusail, and the planned long distance and freight routes to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (which appears to be stalled, and the severing of ties between Qatar and its neighbors likely means it will be halted indefinitely).

Aesthetically, no matter where you travel through the system, you will ever be reminded that you are on the Doha Metro. The system itself has a unique identity, using locally-sourced sandstone for station exteriors, a nod to traditional architectural materials. Vaulted spaces evoke traditional Bedouin tents, stylized arched columns resemble the sails of time-honored dhow ships, and large panels of glass ensure that the stations will be lit by natural light, said to resemble the inside of an oyster. The visual cues continue on a line basis – as each will have their own identity and feature a distinctive wall finish and pattern. In the case of the Red Line (nicknamed the Coastal line, as it hugs Doha’s West Bay and terminates in the new planned city of Lusail), that pattern is iridescent mother-of-pearl, a reference to Qatar’s history of pearl diving.

The trains themselves were produced by Japan’s Kinki Sharyo, and are said to resemble Arabian horses. The three car fixed sets feature Gold class, with larger individual seats at 10 QAR (approximately $2.75 per trip) and family and standard classes, with typical subway style benched seating, at a price of 2 QAR (approximately 55 cents). Standard class trips are quite a bit cheaper than the Karwa bus service that operates in Doha, where a round trip ticket costs 10 QAR. For safety, station platforms have full-length barrier doors that only open when a train is ready for boarding. The system is fully driverless, and as a result the large windows at either end of the train are extremely popular with passengers to look out at the tracks ahead.

The Metro is a continuing work in progress, and as of the soft opening earlier this month, only 13 stations along the Red Line are currently open (10 underground, and 3 above ground). More stations along both ends of the Red Line are planned, along with a spur connecting Doha’s airport. Two other lines are currently under construction, the Green (Education) Line, as well as the Gold (Historic) line. Phase 1 of the system is planned to be complete for the World Cup and will have nearly 40 stations across the three lines, with central interchange point at Msheireb. A future Blue (City) line is also planned, and once fully realized, the Doha Metro is envisioned to have nearly a hundred operational stations.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed my visit to Qatar. Initially I had been fascinated with the city of Dubai, but many travelers to that city have stated that it feels a little “soulless” – they’ve given up much of their history to steam forward with glittery skyscrapers. In contrast, it seems that Qatar has found an interesting balance of ultra modern skyscrapers and planned cities, while respecting their rich history (take a visit to the traditional market Souq Waqif – you won’t be disappointed), and incorporating traditional elements in modern architecture, like on the Metro.

Al Qassar station

Al Qassar station Al Qassar station

Al Qassar station

Waiting area at Al Qassar station Wall pattern on the Red Line

Al Qassar station

Ticket machines at Al Qassar station Plan for the Red Line

Al Qassar station

Single ride ticket Handheld Metro map

Seats in standard class

Inside regular class on the Doha Metro

Speeding through a tunnel

The Doha Metro

Tunnel as the train approaches a station Al Wakra station

Al Wakra station

Passengers enjoy the view from the end of the train

A different pattern at Msheireb station Fountain at Msheireb station

Msheireb station

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The Electrification of Grand Central, and Metro-North’s Third Rail

Over the past few years this site has significantly delved into the history of Grand Central Terminal and how it came to be. We’ve talked about the Park Avenue Tunnel wreck that led to the banning of steam locomotives in Manhattan – considered one of the catalysts for building the new all-electric Terminal. We’ve also talked about the power plants established to provide the electricity to power the trains operating to Grand Central. But somehow along the way, we’ve neglected to discuss the integral bit of tech that delivered the electricity to the trains in Grand Central, and is still used today – the third rail.

After the recent, tragic crash on the Harlem Line, the topic of third rail has become a talking point in the media. For those not exceptionally familiar with railroading (who have been frequenting the site as of late), electric trains can be powered by various methods, and most railroad systems picked one method of power for their road. Since Metro-North is made up of two historical railroad systems – the New York Central, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford – you will not find just one method of powering electric trains here. One common type of power, which is seen on the New Haven Line, is the overhead catenary system. Wires above the train carry electricity, and trains have special “arms” called pantographs that reach up and connect with these wires.

Drawing of the bottom contact third rail, from the patent documentation.
Drawing of the bottom contact third rail invented by William Wilgus and Frank Sprague, from the patent documentation.

The other common method of train power, the third rail, comes in a few different “flavors,” but the concept on each is similar – an extra rail that conducts electricity is placed on the ground, and special shoes on the train connect with it and draw power. The New York City subway and Long Island Railroad, for example, use an over running third rail, where power is collected from the top of the third rail. This is the oldest type of third rail power. Metro-North, however, uses a method of under running third rail, which is also known as bottom contact third rail (or the Wilgus-Sprague system, for its inventors). As one would gather from the name, the power is collected from the bottom of the third rail. This method was especially invented for use in Grand Central Terminal, and was an improvement on the original by inventors William Wilgus (Chief Engineer of the New York Central) and Frank Sprague for safety. It is still used on the Harlem and Hudson Lines today, and is what was involved the recent crash.

Before I continue on, let’s break down some facts about the third rail in Valhalla, and about under running third rail:

  • The railroad tracks running through the area in question have been in service since 1846.
  • Under running third rail has been in service in the New York Metropolitan area since 1906.
  • Third rail in the area in question was installed in 1983 when the Harlem Line was electrified to Southeast (then Brewster North).
  • Over running third rail (like the LIRR uses) is the oldest type of third rail. Under-running third rail was developed later as a safer methodology, as it was less likely to electrocute a worker or trespasser, and better covered from rain, snow, and ice.
  • The original NYC subway (IRT) used the older version of third rail because the under running variety had not been invented yet. The Long Island Rail Road followed suit when electrifying due to connections / planned connections with the subway.
  • The same year that under running third rail was patented, the legislature of the State of Connecticut banned unprotected third rail technology after several people / animals were electrocuted. The whole concept of under running third rail was that the rail was protected, and thus considered far more safe.
  • In modern usage, under running third rail seems appears overwhelmingly safer in comparison to over running. The subway and LIRR have had far more deaths in this manner – from numerous trackworkers, to people walking across the tracks, falling on the tracks, graffiti artists getting zapped, people trying to rescue dropped items, and even peeing on the third rail. Over the five year period from 2002 to 2006, one person was electrocuted by Metro-North’s third rail, while six were electrocuted by the Long Island Rail Road’s.
  • The over running third rail used by the LIRR and subway are far more effected by rain, snow, and ice. Even a dropped umbrella onto the tracks managed to shut down the 7 line recently.
  • Metro-North is not the only transit system to use under-running third rail. One line in Philadelphia uses it. Historically, a tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario used it, but that line was de-electrified. Transit systems in Vienna, Warsaw, Sao Paulo (and more) use under-running third rails.
  • Few systems using under-running third rail means nothing about the soundness of the technology. It is only a legacy holdover to a country once comprised of many different railroad companies, each of which picked the technology best suited for them. The lines that comprise Metro-North were not even a unified system until 1969, which is why different modes of electrification are used across the system.
  • While Chuck “Photo op” Schumer and Richard “Stolen Valor” Blumenthal would prefer to blame a third-rail design that has worked successfully for well over a hundred years, and is safer than the one used by our neighbors, the fact of the matter is that this accident would have 100% been prevented by better driver vigilance and abiding the sign “Do not stop on tracks.”

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2014 in Photos – Your favorites from last year

As is customary around this time of year, it is always fun to look back on the previous year and what was popular. For the past few years I’ve counted down your favorite articles and social media posts, and today I bring you 2014 in Instagram. Instagram has quickly become the most popular social network that this site is on. While I’m often out photographing, the good majority of the photos I take never make it onto this site. The good ones, however, show up on Instagram. Here’s the top 10 favorites from 2014:


Two Metro-North diesels meet near the Pleasant Ridge Road crossing in Wingdale, New York.

 
Left: An Alaska Railroad train bound for Fairbanks rounds the bend north of Nenana at sunset. Right: A Genesis pushes southbound on the Danbury Branch, kicking up leaves after departing Cannondale.


The only non-railroad photo to make the top 10, New York’s skyline as seen from the opposite side of the river in New Jersey.

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Exploring the 4: Arts for Transit Glasswork in the Bronx

As has been readily established on this blog, I’m not much of a fan of subways. The subterranean lack of light has never been of much intrigue to me, though I do find some interest in the stations located above ground. Many of New York City’s above-ground subway stations feature attractive stained glass art, through the Arts for Transit program. While I thought it might be interesting to do a post featuring some of the attractive stained glass found on the subway, I ended up with a whole lot more material than I anticipated.

Though we won’t be going as in-depth as my previous tours of Metro-North stations, I did think it would be fun to tour some of the above-ground sections of the NYC subway, focusing on the glass art found at various stations. When trains went back underground – I bailed – and when the art wasn’t glass in the windows or windscreens, I skipped it.

We’ll start our exploration on the 4 Line. If you’re interested in joining up via Metro-North, board a Bronx-bound 4 train to Woodlawn from Grand Central or Harlem-125th Street. We’ll be starting at Woodlawn – the end of the line – and working our way down.

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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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Bye bye Joe Lhota, hello Sadie the cat?

In case you missed it, two big things in MTA land went down this week – (or should I say up?) fare increases are totally happening in March, and Chairman and CEO of the MTA, Joe Lhota, will be resigning. We’ve certainly had a seemingly endless revolving door in terms of MTA chiefs. Lhota has been at the helm of the MTA for just about a year, so I guess he didn’t really set any records for longest time served.

People have been debating who should get the nomination to replace Lhota, and if you ask me, it should totally go to Sadie the subway cat! A few weeks ago I updated you on Sadie, who formerly worked at the New York Transit Museum, but has since retired. I had a chance to talk to the wonderful museum employee who has adopted Sadie, and it seems that she is certainly enjoying retired life…

 
  
 
The subway kitty is now an apartment kitty, and with a nice view!

I bet we could convince Miss Sadie to take the post as chief of the MTA, though. Think about it, we’d just have to pay for her cat food, litter and vet care, and that can’t be more than $1,000 a year, right? That is a bargain compared to the $350,000 that Jay Walder got paid in 2010 as MTA chief. And it wouldn’t be the first time a feline was in an executive position at a transportation company – just ask Japanese cat Tama, who worked herself up from the position of Stationmaster, to Super Stationmaster, and now Chief Operating Officer at the Wakayama Electric Railway. Apparently putting animals in executive positions at railroad companies seems to be a perfectly acceptable business practice in Japan. So why not hire a cat and get ridership up?

In other news, when it comes to the cuteness factor, Sadie beats Joe Lhota hands down. Jay Walder, too.
sadielhota
Sorry, Joe Lhota.

In all seriousness, it will be interesting to see who will be replacing Lhota. And a little bit of a shame, as I thought he seemed pretty competent. (And yes, I admit, I always thought he was pretty cool for actually starting and maintaining a twitter account.) The likelihood of a cat getting the position is probably less than the world ending tonight, so we certainly wish Sadie the best, and to keep enjoying her retirement. But on the off chance that she does get the job, I know who Sadie can hire as her deputy!

grumpycat
The trains aren’t running? GOOD!

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Marble Hill

 
 
The old station at Marble Hill, pictured in 1927, and in 1946.

As we’ve toured the Hudson Line, we’ve encountered several stations with fairly confusing backgrounds. There are stations that nobody seems to be able to spell correctly, like “Spitendivel” and “Pokipse.” And there’s also Ardsley-on-Hudson, which isn’t in Ardsley, and shouldn’t be confused with the former Putnam Division station of Ardsley (despite the fact that the New York Central printed Ardsley-on-Hudson timetables as just Ardsley). Today’s tour takes us back to the Bronx, to another station also surrounded in a bit of confusion – Marble Hill.

 

Views of the tracks near Marble Hill in 1935.


Special timetable with new daytime trains for the West Bronx stations, including Marble Hill… where that Bronx name is subject to debate.

If you were to look at any of the local timetables printed by the railroad, or even at a map, you’d likely get the idea that Marble Hill is part of the Bronx. On the other hand, I probably have at least one person that wants to hit me for calling Marble Hill part of the Bronx in the paragraph above. As New York City grew, we humans have significantly changed the landscape of Manhattan island and beyond – and I’m not just talking about massive buildings and skyscrapers. At one point in history, Marble Hill – named for the marble quarries once located here – was part of Manhattan island. When a canal was built to link the Harlem and Hudson Rivers, Marble Hill was separated from Manhattan and became its own island. And when, in 1914, the original course of the Harlem River was filled in, Marble Hill became connected geographically with the Bronx.

Marble Hill, then and now
Map of the Marble Hill area from 1895 (when the canal was completed), and an aerial view of what the area looks like now. Note the “island” of Marble Hill on the 1895 map.

Politically, residents of Marble Hill vote for the Manhattan Borough President, Senator, City Councilman and Assemblyman. But due to the geographic nature of the area, Marble Hill is serviced by the police, emergency and fire department from the Bronx. Because of the general confusion, residents of Marble Hill end up in the archaic directory known as the “phone book” for both the Bronx and Manhattan, and letters written to either borough will be delivered by the US Postal Service. Nonetheless, Metro-North considers it part of the Bronx, and you’ll find Marble Hill listed in the local timetable for the West Bronx.

 
Around Marble Hill in the ’60’s. Photos by Herbert Maruska.

The current Metro-North station at Marble Hill is located a bit more north than the historical station operated by the New York Central. The old station had four tracks running by it (visible in the photos above), where the current station only has three. Both locations, however, are easily within walking distance of the 225th Street subway station, which has a significant effect on the ridership at the station.

In 2008, Metro-North reported that over 900 people were using Marble Hill station, but only 100 were using it to get to Grand Central. At least 300 people were getting off southbound Hudson Line trains and transferring to the subway. Another 300 were using Marble Hill for the reverse commute, possibly making the connection with the subway. Although it would likely lengthen the commute time, many people may be doing this as a cost saving measure. For example, a Tarrytown to Grand Central monthly would cost $266, but a Tarrytown to Marble Hill monthly only costs $88. Purchasing that along with an unlimited-ride Metro-Card would yield a savings of $74. For others, the subway may just provide easier access to their places of work.

  

Some non-Metro-North action in Marble Hill. Seeing Amtrak trains at Marble Hill is a rarity, as they generally branch off from the Hudson Line before Spuyten Duyvil, unless for some reason they need to be detoured. Photos by Mike Foley.

Besides the geographic anomaly and the unique ridership of Marble Hill, the station really is typical of Metro-North. You can find the same station signs, wire benches, blue trash bins, and ticket vending machines as almost every other station. The station itself consists of a short island platform, connected to street level with an overpass, which contains the aforementioned ticket machines. The station is located right alongside the river, and visible from the station is the Broadway Bridge, which connects both cars and subway trains to Manhattan.

That about wraps things up for Marble Hill – next week we’ll feature our final Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line, Poughkeepsie.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
  

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