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!

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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″]

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Derby/Shelton

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

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

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

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


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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.


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