2017 in Photos

As we find ourselves in the final hours of 2017, I thought it might be a nice time to look back at some of the more memorable photographs to appear on I Ride the Harlem Line this year. As you likely noticed, posts were few and far between this year, as things were again, rather busy. Despite that, we still adventured to the Beacon Line, Grand Central for Amtrak’s temporary return, and the new Penn Station. While some may find 13 an ominous number, I tend to find it lucky – so let’s take a look at the top thirteen photos posted on the I Ride the Harlem Line website or social media pages this year.

#13 – Hartford, Connecticut

One of my favorite spots to catch Amtrak’s New Haven to Springfield line is this one at the historic Hartford Union Station. This shot from early April captures the Vermonter as it passes Connecticut’s capitol building and approaches the station.

#12 – Trenton, New Jersey

As the road bridge behind the rail bridge states, “Trenton makes, the world takes.” This drone view captured Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train number 125 as it departed Trenton for Philadelphia back in November.

#11 – Fort Erie, Canada

Norfolk Southern makes its way through Fort Erie, Canada at sunset – bound for the Niagara River just a few meters away, and the border crossing into the United States.

#10 – Buffalo, New York

As I captured this photo at the time of posting:
How exactly does one illustrate the challenges facing a revival of Buffalo Central Terminal in one photo? This may be as close as you can come. The Terminal, as seen from Buffalo’s City Hall, is quite obviously removed from the city’s core downtown area. Visible in the photo are the two most notable structures completed in Buffalo in 1929, though both in the art deco style, they may almost be worlds apart in terms of geography. The Rand Building is prime real estate in Buffalo’s downtown core, while the Terminal is approximately two and a quarter miles as the crow flies in what one can only describe as a far rougher neighborhood.

Neither is Buffalo Central Terminal located on one of the main spokelike thoroughfares (like Broadway, the diagonal running street seen in the photo) that lead from the suburbs into the city proper. While it may have been constructed in the most logical place along the railroad tracks (most train servicing Buffalo would pass the Terminal, however trains bound for the western US would not pass a downtown station), the location is hardly practical with how people interact with and move within the city itself.

Although many railfans and preservationists alike hope for an announcement that BCT will come alive again, the pragmatist in me believes it will not happen, and a new station will be constructed in the hip Canalside area of downtown Buffalo, not far from the current Exchange Street station. The final decision for Buffalo’s new (or old) station is expected later this year.

Spoiler: They picked Canalside.

#9 – Khairkhan, Mongolia

Both mountainous and desert-like, the landscape of Mongolia is always provides an interesting backdrop for train watching. To maneuver through the mountains, many switchbacks are used to overcome the steep gradients on approach to the city of Ulaanbataar. Forgive me for going all the way to Mongolia and China in July and sharing very few of the photos from that journey. I plan to make a few posts in 2018 with some of these images!

#8 – Grand Central Terminal, New York City

On the last day of Empire Service trains into Grand Central Terminal, I show off my Empire Service logo pin. We’ll call this one a tribute to the designer of said logo.

#7 – Harlem, New York

Shall we ride by train or by boat? Amtrak Empire Service train 233 has departed Grand Central and is enroute to Albany, captured while leaving Manhattan over the Harlem River Lift Bridge.

#6 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

All the way from California, to arrive in the snow… Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)’s first ACS-64 arrives in Philadelphia from the Siemens factory. Photo taken at the Jenkintown-Wyncote station.

#5 – Bear Mountain Bridge, New York

Let’s play a game. The game is called “Spot the Train.” Empire Service near the Bear Mountain Bridge

#4 – Waterbury, Connecticut

On a frigid March day, a Waterbury branch train arrives at the end of the line in Waterbury.

#3 – Storm King Mountain, New York

Amtrak’s Train 290, the Ethan Allen Express, is just barely visible as it approaches one of my favorite places along the Hudson, Pollepel Island, home to Bannerman Castle.

#2 – Harlem, New York

As part of the Penn Station Renewal program, six Amtrak Empire Service trains have been diverted to Grand Central Terminal. This was the first Amtrak scheduled revenue service train in 26 years to use GCT, or as Amtrak has dubbed it, NYG. Of course, I Ride The Harlem Line captured the first train in Harlem, with the backdrop of New York City behind.

#1 – Penn Station, New York

Photo credit: Amtrak / Emily Moser

Although this particular photo was not heavily promoted by me or this website, while doing a top photo list of the year, I’d be remiss leaving this one off. In fact, this is arguably the most viewed photograph I’ve ever captured in my life, after appearing on CBS This Morning, and in countless publications including AM NY and the NY Post. The photo was part of a set taken for Amtrak to be freely accessed, shared, and/or published by any and all media as part of the Penn Station Renewal program. I shared my experience taking these photos in a post here. As much as I enjoyed the experience of capturing the images in Penn Station, I think I will be retiring from pulling any future all-nighters as favors to my coworkers. ;)

And that wraps up our countdown! I’m looking forward to 2018 and have some interesting journeys already planned, so be sure to keep an eye out! Oh, and be sure to follow us on Facebook, as we post a tad more frequently on there!

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Devon Transfer

Giving Devon Transfer its own Tuesday Tour post may be a little bit of a joke, considering it is only a temporary station, nonetheless it is certainly worth a few minutes to check out. Intended to be in place for only six months, the transfer station facilitates passengers getting from the main New Haven Line over to the Waterbury Branch while Track 3 is currently out of service on the Devon Bridge for work. The v-shaped platform at Devon Transfer skirts the far end of the wye, allowing riders to essentially walk from the New Haven main line right over to the start of the Waterbury Branch and board their next train.

In some ways, Devon Transfer is not a true station – it is inaccessible to passengers in any form other than exiting a select main line train, or Waterbury Branch train. One cannot wait at Devon Transfer for any extended period of time – conductors, along with train masters and/or MTAPD are usually present to herd passengers from one side of the platform to the other and get on the connecting train, nor can one purchase tickets there. It does, however, have the typical trash bins one finds at Metro-North stations, lights for after hours, a public address system if ever necessary, as well as station name signs (I wonder who gets to keep these once work is done) on the platform. Utilizing the same wooden-style temporary platforms we’ve seen at other New Haven Line stations during track work, Devon Transfer is a decent substitute for keeping the Waterbury Branch running during the bridgework. In fact, it is arguably nicer than some of the permanent stations on the Branch (Ansonia‘s low-level platform comes to mind).

The Devon Bridge
The Devon Bridge, currently undergoing work, with a six month expected outage on Track 3 (the one closest to the photographer in this picture). Aerial photographs of the Devon Bridge via the Historic American Engineering Record, Jack E. Boucher, photographer, taken April 1977.

For most passengers, the transfer at Devon is relatively convenient, with the exception of anyone coming from/going in the direction of New Haven, who would have to make an additional transfer at Bridgeport for their journeys. Additionally, all New Haven Line trains stopping at Devon will have an increased running time of about a minute, due to the extra stop. However, all of the work here is necessary to address one of the banes of the New Haven Line – its ancient movable bridges. Crossing the Housatonic River, the Devon Bridge (also known as the Housatonic River Railroad Bridge) is a 110 year old, 1,067-foot long rolling lift bascule bridge. It was prefabricated by the American Bridge Company in Trenton, New Jersey, and installed in 1905. Although less problematic as the notorious swing bridges on the New Haven Line (namely WALK), it is well in need of some attention. Suffering from the same lack of standardization found on many of the line’s movable bridges – each one being unique, with its own exclusive mechanical components – it requires custom created parts to fix.


Read More

The branches of the New Haven Line, in pictures

Yesterday I featured the only outstanding New Haven Line branch station on our Tuesday Tour, Springdale. Now that the branches are complete, I thought it might be nice to post one of my favorite images from each station in a single gallery. It gives you a quick idea of what each branch is like, and a glimpse into the life of a commuter from each station. The locales photographed vary from outstanding examples of historical stations and well-known landmarks, to bare-bones, concrete platforms that are just barely stations. Each branch terminates at a historically-important station, though only one of the three is being used in its original capacity as a passenger station.

The photographs below were taken on eight separate days, ranging from early March to mid-October.

The New Canaan Branch:

The New Canaan branch is the shortest of the three (8.2 miles), and the closest to Grand Central. It is also the only branch that is currently electrified. The branch first came into being when chartered as the New Canaan Railroad in 1866. By 1890 it had become a part of the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

The awesome: New Canaan station may be the nicest station of all three branches (one could argue that Waterbury is more iconic, however it is no longer in use by the railroad, whereas New Canaan is).
Most underwhelming: Everything other than New Canaan.


The Danbury Branch:

Of the three New Haven Line branches, the Danbury Branch has the most stations, with a total of seven. Though the line continues further north, Metro-North service terminates at Danbury. The original Danbury station still exists, though it is not used by Metro-North. Service first began here in 1852, and the rail line was known as the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad. In the late 1800’s the line was leased to the Housatonic Railroad, and later the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. By 1925 the track was electrified, but due to a poor economic situation, it was de-electrified in 1961.

The awesome: Danbury’s original station, yard, and turntable, now occupied the Danbury Railway Museum. Bethel’s old station is now a bike shop (I never got a photo of it). Cannondale’s old station is also lovely.
Most underwhelming: Without a doubt, Merritt 7. It is the only New Haven Line station without the typical Metro-North station sign, and is probably the most bare-bones station listed here.



The Waterbury Branch:

The Waterbury branch is Metro-North’s easternmost branch, and it diverges from the main line just east of Stratford. Although service terminates in Waterbury, the tracks do continue further north, and are used by the Railroad Museum of New England. Waterbury is located 87.5 miles from Grand Central – making it the furthest from the city in rail miles. The branch was originally chartered in 1845 as the Naugatuck Railroad (named after the river the tracks run alongside), and construction was completed by 1849. It was merged with the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in 1906. Today, the branch has a reputation of serving both commuters and many sketchy people.

The awesome: Waterbury’s historical station (no longer used by the railroad) is one of, if not the most iconic structures in the city. The Naugatuck Historical Society is housed in their old station, which is also nice. You can get cool photos of the railroad bridge in Ansonia.
Most underwhelming: Beacon Falls and Ansonia. Oh, and don’t leave your car or any other valuables at Waterbury.


Do you have a favorite?

If I had to pick the branch that I liked the best, I’d have a difficult time of it. New Canaan is certainly my favorite station, but the rest of the branch is relatively boring. The Danbury branch has the adorably-cute Cannondale, and the old station which is now a museum. The sketchy people of the Waterbury branch make me weary of choosing it as my favorite, despite the fact that I like that little railroad bridge over the Naugatuck river. It is, however, undeniable that Waterbury has the most recognizable old station – though it is debatable whether people actually realize it was once a train station. We can settle this right now, with a poll. Vote for your favorite branch here:
[poll id=”2″]

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Stratford

Last week I finished up posting the stations on the Waterbury Branch – today we’ll visit Stratford, which one can call an “honorary” station on the branch. Stratford is actually considered part of the New Haven main line, but during peak hours one Waterbury Branch train stops in either direction. Unlike most of the Waterbury Branch stations, however, Stratford is actually pretty nice. There are original station buildings on both sides of the tracks, one which houses a coffee shop and restaurant, the other is a museum. I admit it is a little bit strange for a helicopter museum to be housed in a former train station. But remember, we’re in Stratford – the home of Sikorsky Aircraft. Igor Sikorsky‘s helicopter design was the first “practical” helicopter, and the first to be manufactured in a large scale. The National Helicopter Museum celebrates the career of Sikorsky, as well as other historical milestones related to the helicopter.

Back on the subject of trains, Stratford is located 59 miles from Grand Central. The estimated travel time into the city is around an hour and a half. The next station to the west is Bridgeport, and just to the east the Waterbury branch splits from the main line. The next station to the east, located on the main line, is Milford. Although the bulk of the train traffic is Metro-North, some Shore Line East trains do stop. Amtrak trains are visible passing by, but do not make stops at Stratford.

Did I mention that the old station buildings are adorable, and I want them? Unfortunately for me, they are all well used in Stratford, so if I tried to steal one in the middle of the night, somebody would notice.


Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Seymour

In my endeavor to finish up the stations of the Waterbury Branch, today we find ourselves at the last remaining station: Seymour. Seymour is a little town located in the Naugatuck Valley, named for the 36th Governor of Connecticut, Thomas Henry Seymour. There isn’t much of a “downtown” Seymour, but the closest thing to it is a series of shops located on Main Street. Not far from those shops is Seymour’s Metro-North train station.

Located 75 miles from Grand Central, a trip from Seymour station to the city takes a bit over two hours. Because there is no direct service, a transfer is required at either Stamford or most commonly, Bridgeport. The station has all of the Waterbury Branch amenities we’ve come to love: a nice wooden box serving as a low-level platform, and a lack of ticket vending machines. But as a Waterbury Branch rider, there is no additional fee for purchasing your ticket on the train.

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line:
Waterbury Branch:

Once upon a time (1910), trains to Seymour were this cool.

Other than the aforementioned details, Seymour is a relatively unremarkable station, and not extremely noteworthy for any reason – unless you count homeless people pushing shopping carts. But there is nobody that can tell the story better than Bobby in his post Life on the Waterbury Branch.


Read More

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.


Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Bridgeport

An older, and a bit more attractive Bridgeport station

Throughout my tour of the New Haven Line I have discovered quite a few beautiful train stations. Unfortunately, I would not include today’s featured station, Bridgeport, among them. The current station is a somewhat imposing concrete structure, amassed with people heading in all directions via Metro-North, Shore Line East, and Amtrak trains. And all of those people are a quite diverse lot, ranging from girls in rainbow fishnet stockings, to a guy with a soulpatch wearing a miniskirt and high heels. I’m totally not judging.

A literal train wreck at Bridgeport.

The current Bridgeport station was completed in 1975, though it not nearly as beautiful as the station it replaced. The previous station was built in the early 1900’s for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, but burned down in the 1970’s. The station is located alongside the water, and not far from the ferries to Long Island, as well as Harbor Yard. The station is a transfer point for folks riding the Waterbury branch, and it is approximately 55 miles from Grand Central.

Here are some photos of my visit to Bridgeport… I will state, for the record, there would be more, including a panorama of the M8 that passed by, had I not been visited by a police officer that told me picture taking was forbidden. I suppose the popo don’t realize that there are a lot of ways to secretly record things… I mean if I were a terrorist, it would be quite easy to secretly record the happenings at the train station without, you know, that big “terrorist device” known as a camera. Just sayin’.


Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Naugatuck

As a member of a younger generation in the US, trains for me are merely a method of transportation – a means for me to get to work, or to get into the city. I do know, however, that trains were not always for people, but for moving goods (of course there still are freight trains, but they are not nearly as abundant as they once were). Many local areas have identities based upon either the rail, or the items that were once produced there… though in most cases the rail is no longer there, or the items are no longer produced there. Canaan, for example, was known as a railroad town, at the junction of the Housatonic Railroad and the Central New England Railway. Despite the fact that rail service there ended long ago, and even after the historic station was partially destroyed by fire, Canaan still fiercely holds on to that identity.

Other towns hold onto their old identities as nicknames – Waterbury is the Brass City and Danbury is the Hat City. This week we’re hopping back to the Waterbury Branch, to take a look at Naugatuck. Naugatuck’s identity was based upon the rubber industry that operated there, and the railroad used for transporting it. The railroad arrived in Naugatuck in 1849, and much of the town’s success was based upon it, and the rubber. One of the last vestiges of that industry may be some old factory buildings, and the appropriately named street, Rubber Avenue, located not far from the railroad station.

Metro-North’s station in Naugatuck, located 82.5 miles from Grand Central, is the same small variety seen in the other stations we’ve been to on the Waterbury Branch. There is a small bus-style shelter, and there are no ticket machines. Platforms are low-level and accommodate one train car’s door for entering and exiting. Located alongside the station is the original Naugatuck station, which is now occupied by the Naugatuck Historical Society. The station was built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style and designed by architect Henry Bacon. Work on the station began in 1908, and it was completed in 1910. It remains in good condition, and is quite attractive. There is a museum inside, but I never got a chance to check it out while I was there.


Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Ansonia

On Saturday my family had a surprise birthday party for my father, and I was the one tasked with getting him out of the house while everybody assembled at my parents’ house. Due to the fact that I don’t drive, this was somewhat easy – I just had to get him to give me a ride somewhere. Somehow, I convinced him to go over to Ansonia station so I could take photos, and then to pick up some tools to work on my railroad sign/lights. I punched in the address for Ansonia in the GPS, and when we arrived my Dad was like, “So, where’s the station?” I pointed and said that it was right in front of us. He was confused, “No really, where is it?”

Needless to say, the Ansonia station is very small. I almost don’t even want to call it a station, it is a railroad stop. There is a track, a small low-level platform, a canopy and bus-stop style waiting area, and that is about it. Well, actually there were crows that were probably feasting on something a train had run over, and stacks of Watchtower magazines left by the delightful Jehovah’s Witnesses (people with propaganda love train stations!). On the 71 mile ride to Grand Central, you’ll have plenty of time to read that aforementioned propaganda – especially since there are no direct to Grand Central trains on the Waterbury Branch. Slightly more interesting than the station was the railroad bridge just south of the station, where the tracks cross the Naugatuck River. I waited for the late north-bound train, and didn’t even get that spectacular of a photo.


Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line – Waterbury

Ah, Waterbury… also known as the Brass City, or most affectionately the “Dirty Water.” Yes, Waterbury and I have a history, we go way back. Many years ago I attended UConn’s Waterbury Branch, and it was there I acquired my first job as a slave to the computer. From there I just went downhill, into the realm of phone line computer technical support (“my ethernet cord has a virus!”), and fixing college students’ virus-riddled computers after they downloaded copious amounts of pornography. But back then at Waterbury I was just a lowly computer monitor, though I would occasionally get called on various errands. One of those errands was to head down to the library and check out a computer that wouldn’t start. Now the campus was right in the middle of the city of Waterbury, and we’d frequently have crazy people just walk right in. Apparently one of them decided to walk right into the library and cannibalize the inside of one of their computers. It was no wonder why their computer didn’t start – anything easily accessible after whoever it was managed to get the case open was taken. There was no memory, they even managed to get the hard drive. I’m not completely crazy for telling this story – because I sort of hear the parking lot at the Metro-North station is pretty similar. If a random stranger off the streets of Waterbury had no qualms about stealing the innards of a computer where the librarian was right around the corner, they really will think nothing of theiving your car, especially when they know you’re on a train heading in the opposite direction. Apparently the situation has gotten bad enough for commuters to say they are boycotting Waterbury station. Plus, I haven’t seen a station as full of these signs as Waterbury:

I’ll try to not insult Waterbury too much (every time I go there I see another store has gone out of business!), but instead bring up an observation. Even if you’ve never actually been to Waterbury, even if you’ve just driven through, there are probably two landmarks that you are familiar with. The first is the big cross up on the hill, the mostly-abandoned (for the most part, except for brave urban explorers, and lawbreakers) Holy Land. The most iconic landmark in Waterbury, however, is the clock tower. Amusingly, most people don’t even realize the clock tower is part of what used to be Waterbury’s railroad station. The tower itself was a late addition, after construction on the structure had already commenced. Waterbury’s tower is modeled after Italy’s Torre del Mangia, and was designed by architecture powerhouse McKim, Mead and White. Today the building serves as the home of the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper, a wonderful example of iconic rail architecture being repurposed and given a second life (I’m not going to go too in depth here, as I’m hoping to arrange a tour of the place and devote an entire future post to the old station itself).

Alongside the old building is Metro-North’s small Waterbury station, which is, as you could well deduce, the terminus of the New Haven Line’s Waterbury Branch. At 87.5 miles from Grand Central, Waterbury is the furthest Metro-North station from the city (excluding the west of Hudson service). Although there are at least ten tracks by the station, few of those are actually used – a reminder of Waterbury’s status as a once-busy rail hub (in its heyday, Waterbury Union Station would receive more than 50 passenger trains per day). Today on a normal weekday the station has just eight trains departing for Grand Central, running approximately every three hours.


Read More