Grade Crossing Safety: Metro-North’s New Pilot Program

This morning Metro-North announced a new plan to get people’s eyes focused on grade crossings – literally. In a new pilot program, the railroad will be hiring people to wear costumes and protect grade crossings, reminding drivers not to stop on the tracks, or attempt to go around lowered or lowering crossing gates.

Grade crossing incidents have been at the forefront of railroad safety recently, after three high-profile incidents caused major derailments, many injuries, and seven deaths. The three incidents occurred in New York, California, and North Carolina, proving that this is not merely a local problem, but a national problem.

Describing the new pilot program, Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti explained:

Although our program comes up with a solution that is light-hearted, the goal is not to trivialize the problem, or the incidents that have happened at grade crossings. People’s eyes are drawn to things like this – which is the same reason why a fast food place might have a guy dancing around in a hot-dog costume, or a tax prep place might have a lady liberty standing around outside. Sadly, we need to get people’s attention. It seems in our world full of the distractions of loud music, cell phones and other electronic devices, ringing bells, flashing lights, moving gates, pavement markings, and plenty of signage simply does not get anyone’s attention. Even several high-profile grade crossing incidents, and increased police presence at crossings has not stopped drivers from waiting on the tracks, or driving around lowered gates to beat the train.

I find myself agreeing the concept of distracted driving – some have mentioned that Ellen Brody, the woman who caused the Valhalla crash that killed six people, may not have been familiar with the crossing and intersection because of a crash on the Taconic and a detour that evening. Meanwhile, Deborah Molodofsky, who has mentioned she was familiar with the grade crossing in Chappaqua where she had a “close call,” still waited on the railroad tracks and was surprised when the gates came down around her car. Even afterward, she was quoted as saying “I did everything right and I still got caught” – completely oblivious to the fact that she did nothing right – one should never stop on railroad tracks – apparently Ms. Molodofsky never noticed the signs that say as much on the many times she passed that crossing.

Adding to Mr. Giulietti’s comments, Metro-North spokesperson Marjorie Anders said:

On our New Haven main Line, where there are no grade crossings, there are still many incidents with overheight vehicles striking the bridges that carry the tracks. On the Hudson Line, one of our 100+ year-old historical stations had a gorgeous pedestrian walkway into the station – it was completely destroyed by a dump truck striking it. This is clearly a complex problem that will not just have one solution. But if we only look at the grade crossings themselves, we’re missing an important part of the equation – driver distraction.

Anders’ point is a good one – even the NTSB has spent a good amount of time talking about driver distraction in transportation recently, holding a round-table discussion called “Disconnect from Deadly Distractions,” which was live-tweeted by the NTSB’s twitter account.

Note: The Hudson Line station Ms. Anders mentioned where the pedestrian crossing was destroyed was Ardsley-on-Hudson.

President Giulietti made sure to add one more note on the subject:

If for some reason you do happen to get stuck on the railroad tracks, each crossing has a sign with a telephone number and a description of the location. If you call that number and report a vehicle stuck, we can halt trains on the line and prevent a dangerous incident from occurring.

We were lucky enough to capture a video of one of the new hirees working on the Harlem Line, at the Cleveland Street crossing in Valhalla. The town of Mount Pleasant has recently revealed that they would like to close this crossing, to the detriment of the people that live in the neighborhood just over the tracks.

Hopefully such measures will capture the attention of the many drivers that make poor decisions around railroad tracks every day.

Read More

The Night of the Bus – North White Plains

I Ride the Harlem Line has never been much of a news website. While we’ll certainly talk about (and give commentary on) current events, we’re not really the place where you should be checking for breaking stories (if such a term hasn’t completely been shot to death by 24-hour news). Therefore, we don’t need to recount to you what happened last week. A truly sad event, that undoubtedly could have been prevented if one followed what ought to be common sense – don’t stop your car on railroad tracks. Ever. Instead, the proud Harlem Line ground to a halt and six people lost their lives.

Departure board at White Plains
By morning, the departure board at White Plains looked like this – all trains originating in Southeast or Wassaic were listed as cancelled.

North White Plains was just one spot where the men and women of Metro-North kept a railroad moving – even when there wasn’t quite a railroad to run. Riders were forced to take buses from North White Plains to Pleasantville and vice versa, bypassing the crash in Valhalla. The station was sufficiently far enough from the crash to hear the constant drone of helicopters swarming over the normally quiet Valhalla, but nonetheless still swarmed with news vans and reporters.

I spent that Wednesday evening in North White Plains, as my husband was one of the employees directing riders onto buses and helping them find their way home (or in the case of many Rangers fans, to the city to see their team win over the Bruins). Here are a few photos from that night…

                 

  
News reporters Greg Mocker of Pix11 (complete with man purse) and ABC7’s Anthony Johnson on scene at North White Plains…


By 7 PM the consist involved in the crash had made the short journey south to North White, and is pushed back into the yard. With that out of the way, workers could spend the night readying the track for a full train service restoration the next morning…

Read More

More old photos for a Monday morning… Part 2

It has been a few months since I last posted a collection of old photos, and I figured I would rectify that. I’m always purchasing things on eBay, and although it is nice to have a collection of things, it is just no fun if I don’t share. Plus, I’m away on vacation right now – getting a post full of pictures ready beforehand is easy! I wouldn’t want you all to miss me too much when I’m not in town… so without further ado, here are some photos ranging from the 50’s to the 70’s!

If you’ve missed any of the old photos posts, you can find them all below:
More old photos for a Monday morning… Part 1

Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 4
Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 3
Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 2
Even More Monday Morning Old Photos, Part 1

Monday Morning Old photos, Part 3
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 2
Monday Morning Old photos, Part 1

Trains & The Beautiful Harlem Valley – Never-before-seen Photos from the 80’s.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Read More

Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 7)

Admit it, readers – somewhere in the back of your head you were wondering when I’d get around to showing you more railroad-themed postcards. My postcard collecting addiction has been well documented, and roughly every other month I do a new post full of my newly acquired cards. Today’s lineup includes Amenia, one of the abandoned Upper Harlem stations, and Towners, another abandoned station. There are also a few cards of station buildings still around today, like Katonah, Bedford Hills, and Scarsdale.

Again, I must sincerely thank Steve Swirsky for his wonderful contributions to our extensive collection of postcards. The Dover Plains, Towners, and White Plains cards are all from his collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Have you missed any of our installments of “Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line?” Check out all of the old posts here:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 5
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 6
You can also view and search the whole collection of postcards through SmartCat.

Read More

Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line (Part 6)

It has been a while since I last posted some old postcards… so I figured we were due for an update. Two of the cards we’ve seen before, though these are alternate views and in color. And even though some of them are not necessarily railroad related, it is interesting to check out the landscape as it once was. The Wassaic House, right alongside the railroad tracks, is visible in the second postcard of the set. Built in 1851, the Wassaic House was a hotel owned by wealthy local Noah Gridley. Gridley was also a financial backer for Gail Borden’s milk condensery, which in addition to the railroad and Gridley’s own iron works, were the three most influential industries in the history of Wassaic.

Other lovely cards that show the world around the rails is an example from Pawling, with the lake visible alongside the tracks. There is also a nice view of what the village of Valhalla looked like – the train station is partially visible on the left side of the card. And the grade crossing in Bronxville, with the funky old-style railroad crossing sign is a nice old view.

My favorite card of the bunch, however, is the nicely detailed shot of Brewster station. It is the same station we know and love, with some different details – like the New York Central Railroad stenciled above the door. You can click here for a comparison shot of Brewster today. The card of Brewster was sent in by reader Steve Swirsky, a contribution which is much appreciated!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Because you can never get enough postcards, there will certainly be more a 7th part and beyond. You can also check out the old parts, in case you missed any, with the following links:
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 1
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 2
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 3
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 4
Sending Postcards from the Harlem Line, Part 5

Read More

Views of Kensico Cemetery

Dear readers, I am certain you are all acquainted with my terrible eBay habit. Lots of the old timetables, photos, and postcards find their way onto this site at some point in time. I must admit though, I love old things. Specifically, old paper things. Maybe it is because I am a graphic designer, and I love looking at old printed art, especially on pre-1900’s timetables and books. Though it is also possible that I’m just a nutjob destined to be one day featured on the show Hoarders. Either way, today I do want to share with you all my most recent acquisition, which is a little bit different than most things I come across on eBay.

If you’ve ever taken the Harlem Line north of White Plains, and past Valhalla, you are most likely familiar with the large cemetery that dominates the view in between stations. Kensico Cemetery shares a nearly mile-long border with the railroad, and astute observers can glimpse the main cemetery office, which once served as a railroad station, on the west side of the tracks. The choice of location of the cemetery isn’t hard to figure out – it offered both a beautifully rural final resting place, and was easily accessible from the city by the railroad. In fact, on the cemetery’s Board of Directors was Chauncey Mitchell Depew, whose name might be familiar, as I posted about him in April. He got his start as the legal counsel for the New York and Harlem Railroad under Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and eventually worked his way up to the presidency of the New York Central – conveniently the railroad running right alongside the cemetery. Not only did the cemetery have its own private railroad station, it also had a private railcar named Kensico which could be rented for funerals. In 1910, the rental price for a locomotive with the railcar Kensico attached was $60.00, which today seems like a paltry sum.

All of these things I’ve discovered about the Kensico Cemetery were gleaned from a little hand-bound booklet printed in 1910, titled “Views in the Kensico Cemetery.” I bought the thing just for the single photo of Kensico station, and after flipping through it, I’m glad I did. I love it for the silliest reason, too – at the time of printing, the United States used three-digit phone numbers. There are plenty of things that I don’t really think about, and anything but seven-digit phone numbers are one of them (despite the fact that I know Brazil uses eight digits for cellular numbers, and don’t even get me started about their downright bizarre method of placing long distance calls). The book is chock-full of photos of the cemetery with plenty of open land, a much different view than today’s cemetery with over 130,000 “residents.” Below you’ll find a few of my favorite parts of the booklet, including the photo of Kensico Station.

Read More

Metro-North and the Aftermath of Irene, Damage Photos

Edit: Metro-North has resumed most service. For the most current information, check the MTA website.

Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference addressing the damage after Irene has just completed. Of course, Chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Jay Walder was present to address the state of New York City’s transit system. The unfortunate news for Metro-North riders is that it was our railroad that suffered the most damage out of all of the MTA. Walder said there was severe damage to all three lines, including significant flooding and track erosion. Damage assessments are still going on, and there will be no decision on when service will be restored until these assessments have been completed.

What I must say, however, is that MTA has been keeping us in the loop via their Flickr account, which is much appreciated. From the photos we can see that there is severe flooding at Tuckahoe and Valhalla, on the Harlem Line. Valhalla also has power lines down, in the vicinity of Kensico Cemetery. There was a mudslide at Spuyten Duyvil and Scarborough on the Hudson Line. Beacon, also on the Hudson line, has massive flooding and is probably the worst station I’ve seen so far, with the parking lot and pedestrian underpass completely filled with water. Harriman, on the Port Jervis Branch also has a flooded parking lot. Thus far there has been no photos posted of the New Haven Line, but Governor Dannel Malloy has said that there was extensive damage to the catenary system, and on the New Canaan branch. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves… (all photos credited to the MTA)





  
 
  
 
  
 
   
  
 

Also interesting are a few photos from yesterday in Grand Central. Seeing the station this empty is a bit creepy. Although people say that this happens quite frequently at night, it is obvious that it is not night in these photos. You can see Grand Central Terminal empty – with the sunlight still streaming through the windows. That light makes these images even more amazing to me. I’m a bit jealous I wasn’t there myself to take photos of the empty station!


 

Read More

The Harlem Line, in panoramas

I’ve spent many months posting various panoramas of the Harlem Line stations. I’m now excited to be able to post the entire Harlem Line, viewed in panoramas. You can watch as the farmland and rural greenery morphs into the suburbs, before changing into the concrete jungle of New York City. If you want to see more photos from each of the stations, just click on the picture. Anybody have a favorite panorama? I think my two favorites are Tenmile River and Harlem-125th Street – the two of them are polar opposites in terms of the scenery visible while taking a ride down New York City’s oldest railroad.

For those who like maps, I place all of my panoramas on a Google map, which you can see below. I also add photos to Panoramio, which provides the photos for Google Earth.
[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=201855341830642549339.000490912cdb96bd7414e&ll=41.58258,-73.418884&spn=1.756506,2.622986&t=h&z=9 width=553 height=740 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Katonah

By now my little photography adventures have taken me to almost all of the Harlem Line stations (the only outstanding stations are Woodlawn, Williams Bridge, Botanical Garden, Melrose and Tremont. I’ve been warned for my safety at the last two). I’ve done a lot of fun things, and gotten to explore quite a bit. I’ve eaten an italian ice in Hartsdale with @kc2hmv, splashed in the river near Crestwood, and munched on good food in Mount Kisco, Valhalla and Tuckahoe. I’ve seen all the Arts for Transit pieces, and other randomly cute things, like the Commuter Rooster in Scarsdale. But despite all this, when I chatted with @bitchcakesny last night and she asked me my favorite station of all, I couldn’t quite answer.

There are so many good things about some of these stations, how could I pick just one? Wassaic and Pleasantville have my favorite Arts for Transit pieces, and I loved Harlem-125th’s art too, not to mention it was a great spot for photography. Bronxville has a unique station, and the shops surrounding Mount Kisco, Hartsdale and Scarsdale are cute and worth exploring. Chappaqua’s restored station building is a beautiful sight, and I’ve always been fond of Brewster’s old station building. What I was able to do though, is narrow it down by asking myself a question: If I had to be stuck at a single station for the entire day (maybe there was a big fire or something, shutting down Metro-North??), which would it be? And that answer is Katonah.

What makes Katonah special? The area around the station is very cute – full of shops and restaurants for eating good food. I will admit though, the Katonah Museum played a part in the decision. If you don’t mind walking the half mile from the station to this art museum, you really could spend the entire day here viewing art, shopping and eating. And if there was still time left you could hang out in the gazebo not far from the station, or go and visit the library which is two blocks away. Katonah is just another one of the nice places located along the Harlem Line, but one that certainly sticks out in my mind.







Read More

Nature along the Harlem Line: The Muscoot Reservoir & Bridge L-158

I thought it might be fun to do something different this Friday… Tuesdays I visit train stations, but I don’t talk much about what else is around the station. The Harlem Line has plenty of intriguing spots along the route, and many for the nature lover. I do get emails every once and a while asking me questions about doing things – people wondering what is within walking distance of the stations, and what they can get away and do. And for those who, like me, do not drive, or don’t feel like driving, you can definitely take Metro-North to get to interesting spots.

As I mentioned, there are many nature-related locales on the Harlem Line. Some of the obvious ones are the Botanical Garden and the Appalachian Trail, but there are many lesser-known spots. Pawling has the Pawling Nature Reserve, which is not far from the Appalachian Trail. At the end of the line in Wassaic is the trailhead for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail which follows the old route the Harlem Line once took further north. Lower Westchester has the Bronx River Parkway Reservation which is more than 13 miles long and stretches from Valhalla to Bronxville – and passes by North White Plains, White Plains, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, Crestwood and Tuckahoe stations.

One of the lesser-known spots is near and dear to my heart, situated in Goldens Bridge and not far from my house. In the evenings it is here that I make laughable attempts at running off the past nine years I spent sitting on my ass in front of a computer. In all seriousness though, it is beautiful and quiet little spot that few people other than fisherman and neighborhood residents (and some deer, swans and bullfrogs) know about. The trails are not extensive, but they surround the beautiful reservoir and provide access to various fishing spots. I went one step beyond that and purchased a boat for use on the reservoir as well (boat use is heavily regulated, this is NYC’s drinking water, after all). However, the most noteworthy part of this “Public Access” DEP area is the old railroad bridge.


I created this map based on my own explorations of the area. Maps are actually fun to make. :P

I’ve mentioned Bridge L-158 a few times before. It is one of the few remaining vestiges of the branch of the Harlem Line that ran from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY, but was moved in 1904 by the New York Central Railroad to Goldens Bridge. Although the original bridge carried two tracks, the Mahopac branch was a single track line and when the bridge was reconstructed the width was shortened for a single track.





If you’re interested in visiting this part of the Harlem Line, it is within walking distance of Goldens Bridge station. Although it is rarely enforced, you do need an access permit to use the land for recreational use. But access permits are easy to get – you can register for one online and print it out immediately. If you’re interested in fishing or boating, you’ll need additional permits, so I advise checking the DEP’s site. People fish in the reservoir all year long, as the Muscoot is one of the reservoirs in which ice fishing is permitted. Although it is a lot smaller than some of the other nature spots around it is at least worth visiting to see the historic bridge. There are some times where it gets so quiet, except for the crunching leaves under the foot of a squirrel or deer, that you forget that you’re not that far from the city… only until you hear a train go by, yanking you back to reality.

Read More