Poster Art: Railroads of Europe

Across the globe, most countries have a set of standardized street signs. Many use similar concepts and are mutually intelligible by outsiders based on pictographs. Though the meaning may be easily gleaned, it is interesting to note the wide variety of pictographs used by each country. Despite the fact that modern trains are hardly reminiscent of the steamers of yesteryear, the steam train is the pictograph of choice to convey the idea of “train.”

In some late-night weekend boredom, I worked on a few posters showing the trains of Europe through the lens of street signs and their pictographs. The first one features the pictographs used by each European country to represent trains, in the colors of their flags. The top 20 countries are shown in descending order based on how many miles of rail they have.

Railroad pictographs of Europe
If you like the flag poster, you can buy a copy here.

Technically speaking, the train pictograph above represents a grade crossing without barriers. An alternate sign is in use for crossings with barriers, and it uses a pictograph the resembles a cross between railroad tracks and a fence. I used that pictograph to show the differing track gauges used in Europe.

Rail gauges of Europe

Crossbucks are are a ubiquitous part of rail systems, in the many places where trains converge with streets. Though most countries use a similar concept, the colors and proportions vary widely.

Crossbucks of Europe

And just for fun, I made one more poster which shows the logos of the primary railroads in each country…
Rail logos of Europe

Anyway, the blog will likely be on temporary hiatus later next month as I’ll actually be riding some of these European rails.

Read More

Shore Line East and Old Saybrook

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

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

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

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

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

  
 
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
  

Read More

Black and White Photographs: Commuter Life

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know a lot of things have been going on for Metro-North this week. Though people have asked me whether I am going to cover the story myself for this blog, it is my decision to defer to others that have intelligently discussed it elsewhere. Unfortunately, such discussion is but a drop in the ocean of sensational and uninformed thoughts and opinions of everyone and their mother. Clearly, this is why idioms like back-seat driver and armchair quarterback have entered our lexicon. While the 24 hour media can tick seconds away debating whether trains should have seatbelts (no), whether “deadly” curves should be banned (remember that time when the tracks used to be more curvy, and we moved a river?), or whether trains are even safe (yes, and more so than cars), I’m content to allow the NTSB to conduct their investigation, and come up with their suggestions on how to make things safer. You know, the people whose jobs are to investigate accidents, that have Ph.D.s, and whose ranks include “one of the world’s foremost human fatigue experts.” I guess that’s why I like to go to a doctor when I have medical issues, as opposed to consulting some random guy walking down the street.

I will, however, not ignore the events that have transpired. How does a photographer go out and take Metro North photos, or continue blogging, and pretend like everything is awesome? It doesn’t feel right. You don’t want to focus on it, you don’t want to let it define you, but you don’t want to ignore it either. On Instagram I began a series of black and white photographs, which I titled Commuter Life, to try and capture the mood I was feeling. Black and white seemed appropriate – a little somber, a little mourning – the way I felt stepping out on Monday and boarding a train on my way to work. I tried to focus on the people that ride the trains, as opposed to the trains themselves. Four people lost their lives on Sunday, and they could have been any one of us. That person on the platform that we see every day as we both commute. It’s a way of life we share.

Included with every photograph was a short musing on my part. It was more of a stream of consciousness thing – none of the photographs were staged, nor were the comments planned in advance. I carried my camera, and captured the things that caught my eye – from people waiting for the train, to Hudson Line “refugees” playing cards on a packed train to pass the time. In most of the instances, the subjects were unaware I was even photographing them.

You will find the twelve photographs of the series, and their accompanying captions, below – presented with no further commentary.

Commuter Life
A relatively somber mood on the platform as we all head to work.

Commuter Life
We wait for the train, but others are in our thoughts.

Commuter Life
The trains, they are like a second home.

Commuter Life
The commute may be long, but we make it our own.

Commuter Life
And when the seats empty, we head home, only to repeat again tomorrow.

Commuter Life
And today, we ride the train again.

Commuter Life
Some of us ride south, but others go north.

Commuter Life
Sometimes we wait…

Commuter Life
And sometimes we run…

Commuter Life
Though the technology advances, some traditions hold through.

Commuter Life
Sometimes we invent creative ways to pass the time.

Commuter Life
The railroad is not faceless, and sometimes it becomes our friend.

Read More

Rare mileage on the Alaska Railroad – The Palmer & Airport Branches

Most of the places we’ve checked out thus far on the Alaska Railroad are part of regular routes that countless passengers have traveled over. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at two of the railroad’s branches – the Palmer branch and the Anchorage Airport branch. Both routes are occasionally used for passenger service, but are not in regular scheduled service. The Alaska Railroad operates a fair train every year for the Alaska State Fair, which travels over the Palmer branch and to South Palmer station. Besides the fair and other special events, it is mostly freight that sees this branch. Beyond the branch’s useable track lies the town of Palmer, for which the branch was named. Palmer’s depot still stands, and is used as a community center. Sitting outside is a restored coal locomotive.

 
  
  
 
 
  
 
  
   

Photos around Anchorage and on the Palmer Branch

The Anchorage Airport branch likely sees more passengers than the Palmer Branch, but it is still not a regularly scheduled route on the railroad. Cruise ship lines with chartered trains are usually the only patrons of the branch, leaving the depot there fairly quiet. If you have money to burn, the depot is available to rent, however.

  

Photos on the Airport Branch. With its high-level platforms, this is the most “Metro-North looking” part of the entire Alaska Railroad.

Thanks to my camera, you can ride both branches from your own home. Starting off at the Anchorage International Airport, we pass the Anchorage depot before heading onto the Palmer Branch, finishing just beyond the South Palmer / fairgrounds station.

For the folks subscribed to the site via email, you must visit the site to view video features.

Our second video for the day shows another hidden part of the Alaska Railroad, one that passengers never see. Reversing out of Anchorage’s depot, we head into Anchorage yard just after sunrise.

Next week we’ll check out yet another part of the railroad never seen by passengers, as we go behind the scenes and take a shop tour.

Read More

One Last Visit to the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad

Over the past few weeks I’ve guided you on a tour over the tracks of the Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Our little ride has come to an end – for now, at least – as this is our final post on the Cedar Point and Lake Erie. Though we’ve travelled the rails, and met the interesting people that make the railroad run, we haven’t covered some of the railroad’s earliest history.

Cedar Point & Lake Erie Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Historical Photos of the Cedar Point & Lake Erie from cplerr.com.

The Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad was inspired by Disneyland’s railroad, and was the brainchild of George Roose, president of Cedar Point in the late 1950s. The amusement park’s board wasn’t quite convinced on the idea of a railroad at the park, and after several rejections, Roose put up his own money to see the project come to fruition. The announcement of the project came in late 1962, and construction on the narrow gauge tracks began in early 1963. The CP&LE’s primary locomotive was Maud L. – a 1902 engine that spent the first years of her life hauling sugar cane for the Laurel Valley Plantation in Louisiana. Roose was so determined to have a railroad at the park that he purchased Maud L. in 1961, some time before the board had even agreed to the project.

Maud L. was expected to carry six coaches, with an hourly capacity of about 1200 people. The railroad’s original route was about 1.6 miles long, extending from the “funway” to the northern portion of the Cedar Point peninsula – mostly woods at the time. A station was built, intended to be a reproduction of those common during the Civil War era. Finally opening to much fanfare in May of 1963, the railroad’s opening ceremony was attended by various representatives of the park and beyond – including deputies from the New York Central, Pennsylvania, and Nickel Plate railroads.

The Cedar Point and Lake Erie quickly became a staple attraction of the park, and carried a record four and a half million passengers in 1970. Though most visitors to Cedar Point will name roller coasters as the park’s primary attractions, the railroad remains one of Cedar Point’s oldest and most-loved attractions.

Cedar Point & Lake Erie Cedar Point & Lake Erie
Historical Photos of the Cedar Point & Lake Erie from cplerr.com.

Cedar Point itself is an interesting place – though it almost seems to live in two different worlds. Where on one side it is primarily known for record-breaking roller coasters that push the boundaries of both construction and technology, a portion of its identity is devoted to history. The Frontier Trail, established in 1971, is filled with various historically-themed shops and crafts, from an old grist mill to a blacksmith and a glass blower. Though the trail was constructed several years after the railroad, the two certainly fit together. Theme is a big part of parks these days, but history was more than just a simple theme here – the locomotives acquired for the railroad were former sugar plantation work horses, and the grist mill was not a recreation, but an authentic 1800’s mill that was moved from North Carolina and reconstructed at the park.

Cedar Point's locomotives
Cedar Point’s historical locomotives, illustrated by Randy Sappo.

If any attraction were to bridge the gap between the two identities of Cedar Point, it would likely be the railroad. Railroads have always been the kindred spirits of the roller coaster, their histories joined. They share the same fundamental concept of a car running on tracks, and in the earliest days were both powered by gravity. Though their evolution differed greatly from that point on, there are many spots where the two are reminiscent of one another. In the 1870’s a former coal railroad that had outlived its usefulness was converted to a “scenic railroad” – but with its varying speeds to elicit thrills from passengers, the concept was closer to today’s roller coaster. In fact, several of the roller coasters of the late 1800’s went by the moniker of “scenic railway.” Decades later came the “classic” side friction roller coasters built in the early 1900’s – in order to prevent trains from going off the track they had brakemen, a job mostly associated with railroads.

Today each have their own respective futuristic technologies – from super-fast mag lev trains to hydraulically launched coasters that can shoot riders to speeds over one hundred miles an hour in a matter of seconds. Though many amusement parks have both roller coasters and trains, Cedar Point seems to be one of the most appropriate for the two to live in perfect harmony. So let’s take one more look at the fifty-year-old Cedar Point and Lake Erie Railroad, surrounded by its roller coaster kin.

 
  
 
  
   
 
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
  

   
  
  

Read More

Friday Fun: Video From the Lake Shore Railway Museum

For some quick Friday fun, I have a lovely video taken at the Lake Shore Railway Museum in North East, Pennsylvania from a few weekends ago. Cedar Point was not the only place where I got to mount a GoPro camera on a train… I’m like an addict that can’t stop. I love trains, I love every kind of train, but I can’t put my camera on every train. (Though I may certainly try)

In other news, if you’re on Instagram and you’re not following us, you totally should be. Besides interesting photos of Metro-North trains taken on my day to day commute (and beyond), there are plenty of other railroad-related locales that have shown up in our photo feed. Here are a few from the Lake Shore Railway Museum… besides having some historical locomotives and cars, the railroad line behind the museum is quite active, and you’ll see both CSX and Norfolk Southern passing by all day long.

Lake Shore Railway Museum Lake Shore Railway Museum
Lake Shore Railway Museum Lake Shore Railway Museum

Read More

The Paintings of Leslie Ragan – Advertisements for the Budd Company, Part 2


Another Leslie Ragan painting that gets you in the mood for Spring.

Last week I shared with you a collection of advertisements for the Budd Company, all featuring paintings by artist Leslie Ragan. When I said he created a significant number of paintings for the ads, I wasn’t kidding. In fact there are so many different ads featuring lovely paintings, I think I’ll have to split this into yet another post! Enjoy another round of lovely art!

   

Budd didn’t only make railcars – here are a few ads by Budd for things other than trains.

   
   

  
   
   

Read More

The Paintings of Leslie Ragan – Advertisements for the Budd Company, Part 1

Well it might not be very Spring-like outside right now, but at least this week we did have a few days with some enjoyable temperatures. I’m not sure about all of you, but I’m certainly ready for the cold weather to be done. I always joke that my camera hibernates for the winter, which isn’t quite true, but I would much rather be taking photos of trains in some nicer weather (And yes, I suppose it is somewhat ironic that despite all that I took my recent vacation to Alaska). The good thing is that hunting for railroad ephemera is a hobby that doesn’t really require nice weather. While wandering around I happened to come across a cache of lovely artwork by famed railroad artist Leslie Ragan.

Now if you’re familiar with the blog, you may remember that I’ve already profiled Ragan, and have already gone on record with how much I love his paintings. Ragan did quite a bit of work for the New York Central, and some of it was featured on system timetables during World War II and the ensuing years. Of course Ragan didn’t work solely for the Central – he created works for a wide variety of companies and organizations – including the Seaboard Railway, the United Nations, and even the Woman’s Home Companion. But perhaps Ragan’s largest body of work were the paintings he did for the Budd Company, and used for many of their ads in the 1950’s. And it was one of those ads that seemed decidedly Spring-like, and inspired this post.


This beautiful painting by Leslie Ragan, which seems to set the mood for a long-awaited Spring, appeared in an advertisement for the Budd Company.

If you enjoy Ragan’s artwork as much as I do, this post will be a real treat, as we have quite a collection of Budd ads. So many that there will have to be a part 2 at some point in the future!

   
   
   

Budd did not only make trains – this advertisement was for car bodies, but I absolutely adore the artwork of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Read More

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.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
  

Read More

Even more Riding in Style on the New York Central – a tour of The Empire State Express

Imagine the year is 1894. You are about to embark on a journey to Buffalo on the finest railcars of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Your seat is of the softest plush, the curtains are of silk, and the car’s wood paneling is made of the finest oak and mahogany. At the front of your train is the legendary locomotive 999, the fastest on wheels. Though she once was clocked at speed of 112.5 miles per hour, she’ll likely average around 60 miles per hour on your journey to Buffalo. This is the Empire State Express, and I’d like to welcome you aboard!


The famous 999, locomotive of the Empire State Express

Similar to the lovely etchings by the American Bank Note Company I shared with you a few weeks ago, (as well as the views of what some of the fancy railcars looked like), today’s little tour is comprised of more views of some lavish train cars, again illustrated by the American Bank Note Company. All of the images depict life on the Empire State Express in the early 1890’s, and they provide a lovely little tour of what trains were like in the golden era of railroading. So are you ready? Let’s go take a look at the Empire State Express.


The buffet car


Drawing-room car

No fancy train would be complete without a Buffet, smoking, and library car. This car featured movable easy chairs, couches, tables, a writing desk, and shelves filled with books and current newspapers. You’d also find a buffet, also stocked with with wines, liquors and cigars. At one end of the car there was even a shaving room with barber. A designated sleeping car had a saloon on one end, finished in mahogany. The plush chairs could be converted into double beds at night, with partitions for privacy. A compartment car had elegant private rooms with sliding doors, each with a lavatory, hot and cold water, and lit by a gas chandelier.


Compartment car


A Wagner Palace Sleeping Car

Not everyone could afford the fancier rooms on the train, and thus would find themself in the passenger coach. Seating a maximum of 76, the passenger coach had a bathroom at each end, one male and one female. Seats were richly upholstered with spring backs. Although not the height of elegance, compared to the private rooms on the train, the coach was still trimmed in mahogany and had large windows and gas chandeliers. On the flip side, for those well-to-do folks that had the money and weren’t afraid to flaunt it, there was also a private Wagner Palace car available. Able to accommodate 6 to 16 people, it featured a sleeping area, pantry, kitchen, and, of course, quarters for the servants.


Standard passenger coach


A Wagner Palace private car

One of the most important cars on the train was the dining car, which could serve up to 30 people at a time. It contained movable leather chairs, and there were five tables that could accommodate four people, and five more tables for couples. The kitchen contained all the newest appliances, and all meals were 1 dollar each. Finally, at the end of the train was an observation car. Similar to the drawing room car, it contained a parlor, smoking room, and bathrooms. The rear end of the car was paneled in glass, providing a lovely vantage point for the journey up the Hudson River and beyond.


The dining car


Observation car

The Empire State Express may be long gone, but the 999 engine is still “alive and well” – as anyone who has visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago certainly knows. The museum is definitely one of my favorites, and I always love to visit whenever I’m in the windy city. After leaving service the 999 traveled around the country for all to get a glimpse of it – even making an appearance on the Harlem Line at Chatham. The legendary locomotive finally arrived in Chicago in 1962, and a formal ceremony was held on September 25th where New York Central president Alfred Perlman presented the 999 to museum president Lenox Lohr.


Museum president Lenox Riley Lohr accepts the donated Empire State Express 999 from New York Central president Alfred Edward Perlman. Photograph from the December 1962 edition of the New York Central Headlight.


The 999’s first move to Chicago, after it was donated by the New York Central to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1962. [image source]


Empire State Express 999 being moved inside at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. After arriving in 1962 the 999 was exhibited with two other trains outside the museum until 1993. The Pioneer Zephyr was also brought inside the museum a few years later. The final of the three, the million-pound Santa Fe locomotive 2903, was donated to the Illinois Railway Museum.

When I was in Chicago a few months ago I visited my old friend the 999. The “Queen of Speed” is doing quite well, and is visited by more than 1.48 million people a year. Although she’s not pulling the fancy railcars of yesteryear, she is at least well-loved at the museum.

 
  
   

Read More