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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Cuteness for the day: Stationmaster Tama and the deer of Nara

It is about time that I get the remainder of my travel photos up, and of course today’s weather cancelled work, so it is the perfect time to get off my butt and do it. I do have a little bit of an excuse with my Japan photos – as I thought I had lost them. When I take photos I have an elaborate sort of organization that all of the pictures have to go through. Ah, my OCD tendencies. Anyways, the horrible photos are deleted, and only the most horrible – anything that is out of focus or something like that. Photos I don’t like go into a folder called rejected, and the rest of them I crop and color correct and do whatever else I need to do. Now I had done this with most of the Japan photos, and put them on a flash drive. But the flash drive died, and I sent it out for data recovery. When it came back, there were no Japan photos. I still had the original unedited files, but that annoyed me… I didn’t want to go through my whole procedure again. And so they sat idle on my harddrive for months. Only recently (after my one laptop crashed and I purchased a new one) I discovered that I had in fact backed up the edited versions of the files on my external harddrive. Now I have no excuse to go through them and finally put them online.

One of the subjects I did manage to get up a while ago were the photos and video of the Tama Densha train. That would be the train that was modeled after the famous Stationmaster Cat, Tama. But I never mentioned my visit across various prefectures to get to see this little feline. I had hoped to get some special treatment, even got a Japanese coworker to call and attempt to arrange it for me, but unfortunately their reply was that the railroad had no one available that spoke English to meet with me. So I, like everyone else, saw little Tama inside her temporary cage, as Kishi station at the time was under construction. The new station, which is complete with a cat-faced roof, has since opened. I am also pretty sure that Tama has received a promotion to vice-president of the railroad company.

The Wakayama Electric Railway itself is pretty small. I didn’t realize that the Kishigawa Line, the one that went from Wakayama city to the final station of Kishi, was the company’s only line. Although I am sure that there are plenty of people that might use the short, 9 mile line for commuting, it mostly has reinvented itself as a tourist line… which of course happened by accident after they assigned a little cat to become a stationmaster. The company only has six sets of two EMU railcars, three sets of which are themed: there is the Tama train, a strawberry-themed train, and a toy-themed train. The trains only have an engineer and no conductors, run on narrow gauge rails, and are powered by overhead catenary. But I can assure you that most people riding that train could care less about that – they just want to see the cat!

  
   
  
   
 
  
  
  
 

Being the person I am, and going to just about anywhere cute animals may be, I also visited the city of Nara. I write about plenty of history on this site, but it feels slightly amusing for me to say that Nara was Japan’s capital in the year 710 (sometimes American history just feels like a children’s-sized book). According to mythology, the god Takemikazuchi arrived to protect the capital on the back of a white deer. The deer there have been regarded as almost sacred, and you’ll find them rather tame and wandering all over in the vicinity of Nara Park. Vendors sell little crackers to feed the deer… and yes, some of the deer even have polite Japanese manners and bow to you.

  
   
    
   
  
  

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Looking back at 2010… a countdown of the most popular

Ah, 2010. You were the first full year that I actually operated this blog. Lots of fun and shenanigans were to be had. I decided to take a look back at what was popular on the site this year, as a wrap-up for 2010…

1. BPGlobal Billboards

The first entry here is not train-related in any way… however it was such a major news story at the time I couldn’t not have some fun with it – though fun is actually a terrible way to describe it, as the Gulf Oil Spill was quite tragic. To me the two standouts in coverage on this was a fake twitter account, BPGlobalPR, and Boston Globe’s The Big Picture. I merged the two into fake billboards, which apparently caught on and made their rounds on the web – and brought around thirty thousand viewers to the site in a single day.

2. Harlem Line Timetables

It is true, I have turned into an eBay whore… collecting just about anything regarding the Harlem Line. Many of the timetables I have can be found on the second most popular part of the site, the Harlem Line Timetables archive. It is desperately needing updating, as I own or have scanned many more timetables than are currently pictured. My goal was always to have a timetable for every year, and for the most part I do have that, from 1930 on up. Look for a major overhaul of this section in 2011!

3. Stupid Warning Signs

Ah, stupid warning signs. One of the most amusing things I’ve made for the site. These popular signs round out the top three most popular things on the site this year. Folks have requested that I turn these into stickers, but if you people start sticking these on trains the MTA PD might actually have a real reason to arrest my ass.

4. The Cutest Train Car in the World

One of the posts I made after returning from Japan featured the Tama Densha railcar of the Wakayama Electric Railway. The railroad is known in offbeat circles around the world due to the fact that they employ a feline Stationmaster (I believe she’s actually been promoted to Vice-President now). Tama the cat was so popular, designer Eiji Mitooka created a train car in her honor. The front of the train has whiskers, the seats inside have cat print. My favorite part of the train? The library full of books for the kids.

5. Centalia, PA – Burning Ghost Town

I’ve always been fascinated with Centralia, ever since I first read about it on the internet many years ago. Since then I’ve visited several times. The story begins in the 1960′s, when a coal seam under the town caught fire. It continues to burn to this day. The land has fissures that belch smoke, and it permanently smells of sulfur. It is a tragic story, as the once bustling small town has been whittled down to less than ten citizens.

The coal under the town that is burning is anthracite – which was popularized in little rhymes about Phoebe Snow in advertisements for the Lackawanna Railroad.

6. The Loneliest Station on the Harlem Line

Although I hadn’t come up with the concept yet, the Harlem Line Panorama project began with Mount Pleasant – which I labeled as the loneliest station on the line. The tiny station in between Hawthorne and Valhalla services the cemeteries in the area, and has very limited service.


The first panorama posted on the site

7. The Harlem Line Panorama Project

If you’re interested in seeing all the panoramas to date, located on a map – this is the place to go. This Google map is the seventh most popular portion of the site, although technically it lies off site and on Google’s servers. However, each placemark contains my favorite panorama from that stop, and a link back to the post on this site.

8. Sadie the Subway Cat

The Transit Museum in Brooklyn has employed a cat or two, mostly in the hopes that they would chase away any subway rats. In this eighth most popular post I recollect my first visit to the Transit Museum and my encounter with Sadie… and my crazy idea to get her a miniature-sized train conductor’s hat. Of course none of that really panned out – and as far as I am aware, Sadie has been quietly retired from the public.

9. The #1 Reason to Ride Metro-North

Back in June I posted these spoof ads for Metro-North and beer. If you are a regular commuter you will notice that in the afternoon, and most especially on Fridays, there are quite a few people drinking beer. The exception to that if you are those people that work at Target in Mount Kisco, you’re drinking it in the morning. But since you can’t drink and drive, and you can certainly drink and ride, Metro-North could always have an amusing new ad campaign.

10. M8 Cars Will Not Debut on the New Haven Line

Ah, April Fools Day… I couldn’t resist making a fake post about the new M8′s. Shattering the dreams of many New Haven Line riders, I posted that the red trains would be repainted blue and running instead on the Harlem Line by the end of the year. I even made up some fake quotes and attributed them to Dan Brucker – which probably doesn’t place me very high on his list of awesome bloggers.

So that is it! The ten most popular things on the blog in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

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

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










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


Concept sketches for the Tama Densha, by Eiji Mitooka

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

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

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

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

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

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Back From My Japanese Adventures… with some stories…

I sort of realized that I haven’t taken the time to make a post on the blog since I’ve returned from my adventures in Japan. But I am back now, back to the normal schedule of work, and riding Metro North, and encountering crazy people. I bought a lot of cool stuff in Japan… though I’ve unfortunately brought home an “unwanted visitor” from the land of the rising sun in the form of the cold I have right now. I’ll definitely be posting stories, and photos, and videos (yeah, I have around 10gb of data in total to weed through), but I’m trying to feel a little bit better first.

So what were some of the highlights of my trip? I checked out the Hachiko statue outside of Shibuya Station, and went to a Cat Cafe not too far from there as well. I took a ride on a Super-Express Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train). I rode, and sat in the front seat, of the sixth-tallest roller coaster in the world (was 5th until last month, boo). I saw the tame deer of Nara, geishas in Kyoto, and the cosplay-dressed girls in Akihabara. I saw Tama, the Station Master cat, and delivered my gift, and took a ride on what I certainly think is the coolest (or at least the cutest!) railcar ever. I took pictures with some cool Japanese people, whose uniforms I thought were the cutest things…


Like this train conductor…


They wear white gloves!

…and of course, I saw lots of beautiful cherry blossoms.

I swear more pictures and stories are coming… when I feel a little better. I promise!

In other news, this site officially turned 1 on April 10th. Blog posts started in February last year, but many of them were backdated when I first started. April 10th was the actual “create date” – so Happy Birthday, I Ride The Harlem Line.

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Heading off to Japan…

Hey everyone, just saying goodbye for a little while… I’ll be heading to Japan tomorrow morning for some rail adventures there. I’ll be riding my first shinkansen, or as they are more commonly known around here, bullet train. Supposedly the train that goes from Tokyo to Kyoto which I will be taking reaches speeds of 186 miles per hour… so that should be pretty interesting. Other things on the agenda are going to Wakayama prefecture to see a rather famous cat named Tama, who I have briefly mentioned before. I’m not sure how well this meeting will go. From my understanding, the general public can only see her through a sheet of glass. One of my Japanese coworkers attempted to arrange a “special meeting” with Tama for me, which didn’t turn out so well, since they said they didn’t really have anyone that could speak English with me. I did make a present for her though, which I’m not sure if I will be able to give to her.


This is Tama. She doesn’t seem to have any problems wearing hats and clothing…

Clearly I had to give her a new hat. A train conductor’s hat. And what better gift than to bring a train conductor’s hat from the USA? Okay, well, I tried. It is a pretty ghetto looking version of a Metro North conductor’s hat. Probably a little bit too tall, but about the right size around for a cat’s head. I took the pictures before I had finished painting the badge. I also took pictures of my cat wearing the hat, but his expression in the photo pretty much was, “I am going to kill you while you sleep tonight,” so I am not going to post it. I also managed to get a female tie, the ones the conductors wear, to complete the ensemble. (Thanks Gina!)

Clearly the best possible outcome would be getting a picture of Tama wearing that hat. Whether it will happen is another story. We’ll see though.

I don’t know if I will be able to blog while away (perhaps I will tweet), but when I get back I’ll be posting some of my rail adventure photos and stories. I don’t think you’ll miss me all that much, since I have a few posts already written that will post themselves over the week. I’ll be back on the 11th, so I’ll talk to you all then!

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Train Cats: Sadie the Subway Cat

You may not know it, but across the globe there are several working cats that reside at train stations. One of the most famous is named Tama, she is the “Super Stationmaster” at Kishi station in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. In New York we too have a “working cat” – you can call her the Subway Cat. Her name is Sadie, and she resides at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.

When I first encountered Sadie I was downstairs at the museum taking photos of all the different subway cars. When I entered the money car they have on display, I saw a cat lounging on one of the shelves. I leaned out the door of the car and shouted to my friend, “Hey! Get over here now! There’s a cat inside this car!” I must admit I was surprised, as I wondered where the cat came from. But then I noticed a tag on the collar, which read “Sadie, Transit Museum”. Sadie was adopted from a shelter by the museum, and is not the first feline resident. Previously there was a cat named Token. Token disappeared one day (one museum employee I talked to is convinced Token was just taken home by somebody, as opposed to disappearing on his own). Sadie stays at the museum, though on long weekends or holidays she goes home with one of the employees.

But as I said, Sadie is a working cat. Sadie’s job description is rodent control. Though I’ve never been able to get a straight answer from anyone whether she has actually caught a subway rat before. Some people are disgusted by that. “She catches the RATS in the SUBWAY and you TOUCHED her?!?!” She has a bell on her collar, which apparently scares the rats away. If you go to the museum to see Sadie, be sure to note that she is grey and white. She is not brown. If you see something large and brown running around, it is probably a Sadie-size subway rat.

Upon a visit to the museum, I had this conversation with the ticket collector:
Me: So is the rat catcher around today?
Him: The what?
Me: The cat. Sadie. Is she around?
Him: (Laughs) She’s around somewhere, probably catching more Z’s than rats though!

Whether she catches rats or not (I have been assured that she has at least caught some pigeons though), Sadie has become somewhat of a mascot of the Transit Museum. In the gift shop you can purchase a stuffed cat, with her picture on the front of the package, that comes with markers so you can decorate her. If you ask me though, they ought to play up the mascot role a bit more for her. Maybe get her a mini cat-sized conductor’s hat to wear (yeah right). Or maybe even use her in some advertising, or the educational programs for children.

Supposedly the aforementioned cat, Tama, brought a million dollars into the local economy just by being cute, and encouraging people to ride the train. Hey Sadie, want to go save the W and Z trains? I hear the MTA could use a little money.

In other news, I continue planning my own trip to Japan in April. I will be posting my train adventures, and hopefully I will be able to go to Kishi station, and meet the “Super Stationmaster” herself!

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