The Harlem Line, and the color blue

Just the other day I was chatting with a coworker about riding the train – she lives in Mount Vernon and mentioned occasionally riding the “red line” into the city. I had to chuckle a little bit – it is usually the uninitiated newbies that refer to the Metro-North lines by their colors. The color of each line, however, is deeply ingrained in all of us. From the signage on the platforms to the printed timetables, we all pretty much know that the Hudson Line is green, the Harlem blue, and the New Haven red. But where did these colors come from, and how long have they represented each line?

Most obvious is the New Haven Line. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, of which today’s New Haven Line was once a part, long used red for printing and locomotive paint schemes. Although not part of the core Metro-North lines on the east of the Hudson River, I’ve always thought that the selection of orange to represent the Port Jervis line was a little bit clever – much of the line runs through Orange County. I’m not sure how the Harlem became blue, and the Hudson became green (you’d think it is backwards – blue seems more appropriate for the line that runs along the Hudson River), the two colors have been established long before Metro-North ever came into being. Their first usage on timetables dates back to around 1965.


One of the very first (in not the first) New York Central timetables where the Harlem Division is colored blue.


The first uses of the blue and green color for the Harlem and Hudson Divisions was not in the ink – it was the paper. These two are from April 1967.


Some of the earliest timetables using blue ink. Although there were a few more printings of timetables on blue paper, the blue ink on white paper became the standard, which continues today.

Blue ink on white paper eventually became the standard for Harlem timetables, though there were a few times over the years where the rules were totally broken. One of the most odd was an early timetable printed by Metro-North in 1983 – in maroon ink. I have no idea why anyone would have thought to print a Harlem Line timetable in maroon – my only assumption is that it was to catch people’s attention as it highlighted the electrification project underway north of White Plains.

Most amusingly, you’ll note a little mark on the bottom right that reads “Form 112.” Form 112 was the number assigned to Upper Harlem timetables since the New York Central days, which at that time meant service from Pawling to Chatham (or in the early 1900’s, North Adams, Massachusetts). It is a little bit odd to see that form number used for service north of White Plains. Calling stations like Valhalla, or Mount Kisco the Upper Harlem seems like blasphemy to me.

Today you won’t find form numbers on any of Metro-North’s timetables. Their inclusion in the early timetables almost seems like an in-joke amongst the old railroaders working for this new company. You won’t see “Upper Harlem” timetables either – the entire line is usually printed in a single timetable, making this particular timetable rare.

Below is the rest of the timetable, which is a bit interesting to see… especially the listing of the fares when Metro-North took over from Conrail in 1983.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Croton-Harmon

As I mentioned last week, today’s stop on our Tuesday Tour is one of the least attractive stations on the Hudson Line, Croton-Harmon. You have to have mixed feelings about this place, because despite not looking all that spectacular, there’s a lot of action going on here. Not only does Croton-Harmon serve Metro-North, Amtrak has several trains which stop here. The station is also the northern terminus of electric service on the Hudson Line, and although Metro-North offers many through trains, some passengers still have to transfer here, so it is definitely a busy station (in the past fewer through trains were available, thus transferring here was a must). Metro-North’s Croton-Harmon shops, which recently won a Brunel Award, are also here, which certainly adds to the action.


Croton-Harmon timetables and ticket.

Croton-Harmon station is located about 33 miles from Grand Central, and a ride to the Terminal takes, on average, around an hour. However, there are a few express trains that will get you there in around 42 minutes. In terms of ridership, Croton-Harmon is the busiest station on the Hudson Line, and the sixth busiest system-wide (strictly Metro-North traffic and not counting GCT. Only White Plains, Stamford, Scarsdale, New Haven, and New Rochelle get more weekday passengers). Amtrak service adds another 42,000 passengers a year traveling through the station.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1963. The Hudson Division was part of the New York Central at this time.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1974. The Croton-Harmon shops in the Penn Central years. Penn Central Memories on Flickr has a lovely collection of photographs at Croton-Harmon in this era.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1984. Metro-North is still a fledgling railroad, after taking over from Conrail in 1983.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1992.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 2012. The current award-winning shops at Croton Harmon. [image source]

Denoting its busy status, Croton-Harmon has three island platforms, allowing multiple trains to stop at the station simultaneously. Above the platforms is an enclosed waiting room for passengers. Croton-Harmon is one of the few system stations to still have a manned ticket window, which serves Metro-North customers only. Amtrak does have two ticket machines not far from the ticket window. The waiting area also has a few vending machines, and restrooms available. Closer to the parking lot, the station also has a cleaners – this building was the temporary station in 1988 as the current station was under construction.

There isn’t much else noteworthy to mention of today’s Croton-Harmon – it is a busy, functional Metro-North station, that when compared with other Hudson Line stations like Poughkeepsie and Yonkers, is hardly attractive. With the traffic moving in and out, the station is at least nice place to watch trains… thus I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves!

 
 
  
 
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  

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Postcards of the Penn Central

I’m not exactly sure who the Penn Central had do their design work back in the late 60’s, but whoever it was, they were probably pretty free-spirited. None of the New York Central’s Harlem Division timetables were really out of the ordinary… but after the merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central, things took an interesting turn. In the first year of the merger – 1968 – several funky timetables were churned out… but by the new year, they were pretty much forgotten. Just a small blip in railroad history.


1968 was apparently a very good year… You can, of course, see more old Harlem timetables in SmartCat.

While the really old 1800’s timetables, complete with gorgeous etchings, will always be my favorite, these 1968 Penn Central timetables are my favorite from the modern-day. Thanks to eBay, I did discover that this funky art was not reserved solely for timetables. The Penn Central released a few postcards advertising the Metroliner, which I can only say are in a similar style. Who thought that purple tint would be a good idea? Is this what people did before Instagram?




The Fast One, baby!

Captions on the cards read as follows:

The Metroliners speed you midtown New York to midtown Washington in less than 3 hours. The Express gets you there even faster. And all the speed, comfort and luxury are yours in any kind of weather.

You enjoy a swift trip – in comfort and luxury. You leave and arrive midtown; even more time saved. Use the direct-dial telephones aboard to keep in touch with your home or office.

Delicious food and drinks are yours to enjoy on the Metroliners. In the coaches eat at the Snack Bar or take your selection to your seat. In the Metroclub Cars, an attendant unobtrusively serves you at your seat.

Okay, okay, I give in. The last postcard is pretty awesome. Despite the top two being pretty horrible, I figured the set was certainly share-worthy!

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Riding in style on the New York Central and the Boston & Albany

Several years ago when I visited Japan, I got to ride one of the lovely novelty trains designed by Eiji Mitooka. Though he is more well known for the shinkansen he designed, he did create a few rather unique trains for the Wakayama Electric Railway, which, yes, is the system where a cat is vice-president. One of the trains is, of course, modeled after the cat, and when I reviewed it, I was pretty excited about the library on board. I always thought that a concept like that would never survive in popular use in the United States. It wouldn’t take long for every book on that train to be stolen or vandalized, if it were here and not in Japan. But really, the concept shouldn’t have surprised me so – as libraries on trains date back even to the 1800’s. No luxury train would be complete without a library, after all.

In fact, this is how the New York Central described one of their luxury cars, complete with library, in an 1889 timetable:

…made up of the most substantial and the handsomest railway carriages ever constructed. In the Buffet, Smoking and Library car are a unique buffet, movable chairs and couches in the most luxurious upholstery; a secretary supplied with stationery and writing material, and an enclosed Reading Room with a well-stocked library, in which is represented the best literature of the day, including the current newspapers and magazines.

I am not normally a collector of items from the Boston and Albany railroad, but they did print joint timetables with the New York Central, and some of them were a little bit too hard to resist on eBay. Contained in my most recent acquisition were some lovely illustrations of the luxury cars on the B&A. These illustrations were done, and printed by, the American Bank Note Company. That company has been around in some form since the late 1700’s, and still exists today. They’ve done everything from postage stamps, to stock certificates, and even old railroad timetables. While I have plans to feature some of the American Bank Note company’s illustrations for various railroads in the future (because they are so absolutely amazing), today I’m just going to share their depiction of long-gone fancy railcars.


Seriously, how could you resist this? If only timetables were still this gorgeous…


Vestibule of a train car manufactured by the Wagner Palace Car Company, formerly known as the New York Central Sleeping Car Company.


Dining car of the “very latest design and pattern, containing all the improvements known to the car-builder’s art.”


The buffet, smoking and library car, as depicted by the New York Central


“The sleeping cars in service on the Boston & Albany Railroad are of the latest and best designs.”

 
This is an example of the lunch basket you could order on the Boston and Albany. The train crew would take everyone’s orders and telegraph them ahead, for pickup at the next station stop. It was described as the “English method” of serving lunches.

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A 1918 Guide to New York City, and Hudson River Steamboats

By now, you readers are all well aware of my problem. I love old printed (and usually railroad-related) materials. Timetables, brochures, posters… you name it. Although I love having the real thing in-hand, most times I’m quite content to have just digital copies – which is part of the reason SmartCat came about. Somehow, I came across a website this weekend that I had never been to before – it is called the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. The site pretty much operates in the same vein as SmartCat – historical artifacts, digitized and available to everyone for free over the internet. But this site really blows SmartCat out of the water. The quality of the artifacts, many of which are available in super-high resolution, are phenomenal. Although the site primarily archives maps, the collection does include some railroad timetables and brochures, which is where I found this 1918 guide to New York City, printed by the New York Central…

Hey, wait a second! Remember my introduction to the Hudson Line? How I mentioned the competition between the railroad and steamships traversing the Hudson River? And how the cold winters filling the river with ice was the primary reason the railroad got built?


Soooooo… about those steam ships… If you look very closely you can see the engineer on the train looking out the window shouting to the ice boats, “So long, suckers!”

In case you missed it, check out the page of the guide that says “Optional Ticket Privileges.” Apparently by 1918 the railroad wasn’t quite competing with the ships – New York Central train riders had the option to take a steamship along the river as opposed to the train. Folks heading eastbound could exchange their tickets with the conductor for a ride on a ship and change at Albany. This applied to people riding on the Hudson River Railroad side, or the West Shore side… and this, of course, was “an advantage offered by no other route.”

Although quite a bit earlier than the above guide, timetables for the steamships were also quite attractive. Below is an example of an 1885 timetable for the Peoples Line, one of the lines you could trade your train ticket for in 1918. It includes a nice little map with the various railroad connections made in Albany.

And for random kicks, here’s a 1862 ad for two different steamships on the Peoples Line.

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More artifacts from the Port Jervis Line…

As our tour of the Port Jervis Line is coming to a close, I figured now would be an opportune time to post some more random artifacts from the Erie Railroad and the Port Jervis Line! I’ve already posted a few timetables and such from the Port Jervis back when I introduced the line, and at tours of Suffern and Tuxedo. Since those posts, I’ve acquired (at least digital copies) of several other interesting things that I figured I’d share. Thanks to the awesome Otto Vondrak, who just happens to own many of these items and shared them with me.



 
 
 
 

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