Smartcat Sundays: An Executive’s Train Ticket

Another one of the many things I enjoy collecting are interesting train tickets. Old commutation passes, complete with photo identification of the user, are one of my favorites – however today’s artifact is a bit different. While the tickets belonging to commuters are occasionally found, it is definitely more rare to encounter a ticket belonging to one of the New York Central Railroad’s executives. This leatherbound ticket folio, belonging to C. R. Dugan, has decorative golden corners, and is personalized with gold lettering. Inside are an array of passes for various railroads that Mr. Dugan was able to enjoy in his retirement.

Information regarding Dugan is a bit difficult to find, though he had a long career with the New York Central. In the 1920s, Dugan was an Assistant to the Vice President, and was part of a special committee that prepared the funeral arrangements for New York Central president Alfred Holland Smith (who died suddenly after being thrown from a horse in Central Park). Eventually, he worked his way up to the Manager of Public Relations, and from that position retired.

Though information about Dugan himself is scarce, there are a few mentions of the work he did for the railroad that I could find. Earlier in the week I posted about the New York Central’s donated B-26 bombers – Dugan was the main point of contact between the railroad and Anthony Gibbs, furloughed railroad employee on the New York Central II’s ground crew. In his role as Manager of Public Relations, he apparently spent quite a bit of time dealing with author Ayn Rand during her 1947 New York trip as she researched train operations for her seemingly-never-ending tome Atlas Shrugged. Rand conducted interviews with Dugan, and took several cab rides in various New York Central locomotives.

Passes belonging to C.R. Dugan

Passes belonging to C.R. Dugan

If you find old railroad tickets of interest, tickets of every variety can be found in the archives of SmartCat.

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Meet TIM – Metro-North’s new credit card enabled Ticket Issuing Machine

As most of you have likely heard by now, Metro-North has begun a pilot program testing new Ticket Issuing Machines (TIMs) on the Upper Harlem Line (or as Metro-North would call it, the Wassaic “Branch”) and the Danbury Branch. The big news about these machines is that they accept credit cards – something conductors selling tickets have long been unable to do.

I got a chance to check out one of these new machines, and must admit they are quite cool. Slim and light compared to the previous TIMs, these new machines are essentially tricked-out iPhones running special software. Wrapped in a blue Metro-North case, the TIM contains an LED barcode scanner (used for scanning the barcode on IDs of delinquents that have neither tickets nor money) and a swipe for credit cards. The special software installed on the phone not only allows conductors to sell tickets, but it also “locks down” the iPhone, preventing it from downloading apps, reading email, and all the other things you wouldn’t want a conductor to do while on duty.

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
The new Metro-North TIM and printer

Similar to the previous TIM, the new TIM connects wirelessly to a printer that can be hung from the belt. This printer provides the customer with a receipt for the ticket they bought. It also provides the conductor at the end of the day a receipt that lists how much they’ve sold, and further breaks that down into cash tickets sold (which needs to be turned in to Metro-North), and how much was sold by credit.

While the majority of Metro-North riders are conditioned to purchase their tickets before boarding, there remains several stations on the Danbury and Waterbury Branches that do not have platform ticket vending machines or ticket sellers. It is there that the new TIM will likely be most welcome. But for those people that race to catch a train and aren’t able to purchase a ticket before boarding, being able to use a credit card is a great convenience.

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
The new TIM features an LED barcode scanner, and a swipe for credit cards

Though much of the fanfare regarding the new TIM focuses on the ability to accept credit cards, it is worth mentioning that the new technology can help out quite a bit when it comes to customer service. One of the main complaints I hear are that customers on trains stuck in delays are not provided with enough information as to what is going on. What most don’t realize, however, is that conductors are often not given information about what is happening. In fact, Metro-North’s text alert system often provides customers with information that crews don’t even know. Because the new TIM is essentially a cell phone, the potential is there to use it to notify conductors about issues – information that can then be relayed to the customers over the train’s PA. Whether the technology will be used in this fashion remains to be seen, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Of course, one must remember that this is only a pilot program. However, I imagine that once the system’s inevitable bugs are worked out, credit card enabled TIMs will soon be popping up on more lines and trains.

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
The new TIM’s blue protective case, bearing the Metro-North logo

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
The ticket software is conveniently accessed through this icon of an M7

Metro-North's new TIM (Ticket Issuing Machine)
Three screens of the new TIM – A message sent to the conductor, the screen selling tickets, and a screen showing the phone’s “lockdown” – preventing the iPhone from doing the things most people do with iPhones

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Is there anything to eat on this darn train? Tickets and menus from the 20th Century Limited

Right before Grand Central’s Parade of Trains I got an email from Polly Desjarlais, one of the educators at the Transit Museum. The museum was looking for a copy of a nice ticket to duplicate and hand out to kids at the Parade, and there’d even be a costumed conductor to punch those tickets. Since there would also be a coloring book page of the 20th Century Limited, they were really looking for a ticket from that specific train. Unfortunately, my collection did not include a ticket from the 20th Century. Not only that, I had never even seen a ticket for it, whether in real life or otherwise. In the end, the museum ended up duplicating one of my many commuter tickets, and thus quite a few little children at the Parade of Trains “found themselves” on a Harlem Division train bound for Hartsdale in August of 1943.

20th Century Limited
Scenes from the 20th Century Limited.

Though I may be a little late to the party, I did finally acquire a ticket from the 20th Century Limited. Too late, unfortunately, to use for the Parade of Trains, but perfect timing to share with all of you. And because nobody wants to ride the 20th Century Limited on an empty stomach, here’s a small little collection of menus from the train. Enjoy a quick look back at life aboard not only Grand Central’s most famous train, but one of the most notable trains in American history.

Ticket from the 20th Century Limited
All aboard the 20th Century Limited!

20th Century Limited Menus
One of the more boring menu covers

20th Century Limited Menus
The more “traditional” 20th Century look

20th Century Limited Menus
Simple, yet elegant. When do we eat?

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A Commuter’s Rainbow

Not too long ago, I showed you all some of the various commuter monthly ticket designs from the past one hundred years. One of the most common types of monthly ticket is the colored style. Bright, varying colors are obvious to the conductor taking tickets, and each month features a new color for identification purposes. For the longtime commuters that just happen to save all of their monthly tickets, they can quickly collect an entire rainbow…

Metro-North Commuter Tickets

Metro-North’s tickets are pretty awesome for creating rainbows… there have been quite an array of colors, and the ticket features a large block of that color. Although the color might not fill the entire canvas, you can still get a similar effect with both New York Central and Penn Central tickets. So while the first ticket rainbow may be “you know you’ve been a commuter too long when…” the second and third are certainly “you know you’ve collected too much railroad stuff when…”

Penn Central Commuter Tickets

New York Central Commuter Tickets

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of color, this week (starting Wednesday) marks the introduction of the new Metro-North conductor’s uniforms. Gone are the light blue striped shirts – the new look features a sheer white dress shirt. Ever wanted to know if your conductor has a shoulder tattoo? You’ll certainly know now! Let’s just hope the new white doesn’t fade too fast! :)

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A Hundred Years of Commuter Tickets to Grand Central

If you caught the article that I wrote in Railfan & Railroad Magazine for Grand Central Terminal’s centennial, you’re likely familiar with my thought that GCT is not just a beautiful building, but one that is still relevant and useful. Undoubtedly there are people out there that feel that Grand Central is just a washed up relic – a shadow of its former self. The mighty trains that once served the station – like the Empire State Express, and the Twentieth Century Limited – are long gone. In fact, since Amtrak left in 1991, not a single long distance train serves Grand Central – it is a commuter-only station. But just because the main demographic the station serves has changed, it doesn’t make Grand Central any less of a gem. Grand Central remains useful and relevant partly because it has reinvented itself over the years – all to keep pace with that changing demographic. The baggage check and a theater once located here seem suited for the long-distance traveler of yesteryear, while Grand Central Market is perfectly tailored to today’s busy commuter.

Although never the most glamorous, commuters have always been an important part of Grand Central’s history. The lower level of the Terminal, which now houses the “dining concourse,” was the realm of the commuter – the “suburban concourse.” Part of the wonderful design of Grand Central was that commuters never had to mingle with the long distance riders. They had easy access to the ramps, subway, and egress to get to where they needed to go. But that wasn’t the only difference between the two types of riders – commuters were also differentiated by the type of ticket they held. Monthly commuter tickets looked quite different from regular ride tickets, and over the past one hundred years their design changed many times. Here’s a look back at some of the varied styles, and one of the favorites in my collection.

Ticket booklet
This ticket booklet, stamped with the New York Central logo contained a photo of the rider, so no one else could use it. The monthly ticket could slip inside the pouch and was visible to the conductor.

Coupon book
A coupon book style ticket. Little ticket coupons inside were ripped out by the conductor for each ride.

Colored tickets
Various tickets with colored backgrounds. Similar to today’s monthly, the color changed each month, so it was easily visible to the conductor.

Pasted on tickets
Similar to the colored tickets above, these tickets contained a printed and pasted on portion which listed the station information.

Modern Metro-North Tickets
More modern Metro-North tickets. Today’s ticket can double as a Metro-Card.

Grand Central Ticket
My favorite monthly ticket – note the date that it was purchased. February 2nd, 1913 was the day Grand Central Terminal opened to the public. This type of ticket had boxes surrounding it, which the conductor clipped with each ride.

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Metro North is 30 – A Collection of Tickets, Timetables & more

With Grand Central Terminal celebrating its centennial this year, most people have been so utterly focused on that event that they’ve forgotten another birthday (myself included). Metro-North Railroad is now 30, and has come quite a long way since its inception in 1983. Grand Central was restored to greatness, as opposed to being a dirty homeless shelter. For the most part, especially with the new M8’s, the railroad operates with decent equipment – not whatever the desperate railroad could scrounge up to have enough cars to operate.

Several other commuter rail services that were also run by ConRail in the past, like SEPTA and NJ Transit, are likewise celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year. NJ Transit has been celebrating their 30th by posting some of their first tickets and timetables, and I thought it would be fun to do the same for Metro-North. So here are some timetables, tickets, and other assorted goodness from the early days of Metro-North.

Early Metro-North TimetablesSome of the first Metro-North timetables. You can see the inside of the odd maroon Upper Harlem Line timetable in this previous post.

Metro North Guides
Metro-North published several guide books for riders in the early and mid ’80s.

Cashfares and Seatchecks
Cashfares for the Harlem and Hudson Lines, and some ’80s seatchecks.

Ticket fronts
In the early days, tickets were small little strips like these, similar to the ones previously used by the New York Central and the Penn Central.

Ticket backs
Backs of tickets showing their validation stamps. The ticket windows at each of those stations have since been closed.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing some more interesting things from Metro-North’s 30 year history… Happy Birthday, Metro-North!

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Buy your train tickets at the Union Ticket Office, 1861

Today as a graphic designer, I have various different methods for catching your attention in an advertisement. Attractive imagery, and most importantly, color, are major ways a designer can catch your eye. But what if we’re talking about design well over a hundred years ago, when color printing and photography wasn’t around? Although using various typefaces is certainly an option, my personal favorite tactic of yesteryear is the pointing finger. You know things are serious when that finger comes out!

The Hudson River Railroad schedule above, printed in 1852, makes use of the pointer finger in a very small way – it is visible at the very bottom. But what if you really wanted to get people’s attention? You can’t make it red, so clearly it needs to be BIGGER!


Bigger. Like this. You will never forget the number 9!

 

That is a HUGE pointer finger! Guess you better remember to buy your train tickets at the Union Ticket Office, at the 9 Astor House! Note that this 1861 ad makes additional use of the finger in a smaller way – highlighting the fact that they sell tickets to all railroads, not just the Hudson River Railroad or the New York Central.

Next advertisement I design, I think I am going to stick a big pointer finger in it. We’ll see how well that goes over…


This is probably why Metro-North doesn’t want to hire me…

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Derby/Shelton

A few weeks ago our friends over at TrainJotting were looking for nominations for the crappiest train station in the tri-state area. Though his home station of Hawthorne won the vote (likely because many of his readers are also from there), several of the nominations were for Waterbury Branch stations. I nominated Waterbury, due to the frequent stories of theft. Someone else nominated Ansonia, which is probably one of the most ghetto looking stations in all of Metro-North. In fact, quite a bit of the Waterbury Branch is pretty ghetto. It is the only part of Metro-North where there is no extra fee to purchase tickets on the train – solely because there are no ticket machines in which to purchase them. The reason for this has been debated on the internet – some people claim that it is in fact due to the rampant thefts. The official statement is that there is not enough ridership to warrant the installation of ticket machines.

Although Derby/Shelton is not quite as bad as say, Ansonia, it isn’t the most spectacular Metro-North station. One of the only things going for it is the original brick station, though it isn’t being used by the railroad. In fact, it is used as a Department of Motor Vehicles photo licensing center… which in some ways is almost amusing. Not only have cars overtaken trains as the preferred method of transportation in the United States, they are infiltrating the former train stations! I suppose it is a better outcome than the station being demolished, though.

What is it that makes Derby/Shelton a little bit ghetto? Maybe the it is the bus-style shelter, or the wooden low-level platform. No, you know what it is? It is the fact that the train departure schedule is taped to a trash bin. Every other station has some sort of message board or wall on which to place information. But at Derby/Shelton you can save time by figuring out what train you’ll be leaving on, all while throwing out your used coffee cup!

Despite being close to the highway, Derby/Shelton feels a little bit remote – at least in terms of stations. Stratford, the next station to the south is a little over 10 miles away. Grand Central is almost 70 miles away – the Waterbury Branch has the honor of having some of the most distant stations from the terminal. There is just a single track, and a long wooden box serves as a low-level platform.

  
 
   
 
  
 
 
 
   
 
 

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Best Ticket Punch, and other such things

Yesterday afternoon I returned home from Florida… and I have to ask, what the hell happened while I was away? There were suicides, more suicides, and even a derailment. I wasn’t particularly vocal about my departure here on the blog, I was being rather tight-lipped about heading down to Florida for the final space shuttle launch. As you may recall, I mentioned my plans to see the second-to-last launch as part of #NASATweetup. Scheduling issues and launch scrubs foiled those plans, however, and I never saw that launch. A month or so later I was beyond lucky to get chosen for the final launch tweetup, but for superstitious reasons I didn’t want to really mention it. Quite frankly, I was afraid I’d jinx it and again miss the launch.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably have heard that the final space shuttle did in fact launch – and I was in attendance. I was interviewed by Westchester’s News 12 there, and a particular conductor I know claims that he saw it on TV in Grand Central, though his first assumption was that I had been arrested for taking photographs of something. I assure you, any photographs I did take, were completely legal and will be posted at some point. I think I still need to sort out not only the photos, but my thoughts after such a huge event.

In the meantime, I hope that you all don’t think I am neglecting you… I do try to post at least twice per week, which I failed to do last week. Although I don’t really have much to say this evening, I had to let you all know that I found the most awesome ticket punch…

Be sure to look for little “kitties” on your tickets and seatchecks from now on!

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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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