Spring Thaw on the Saratoga & North Creek

This past winter was long and cold for all of us, and thankfully everything is finally beginning to look bright. Upstate in the Adirondacks the Saratoga & North Creek Railway was hard-hit. Normally operating several snow trains a few weekends during the winter, much of February’s service was entirely cancelled due to the extremely cold weather. Prior to the cancellations, one train that did run broke down heading southbound, necessitating a school bus to carry all the passengers back to Saratoga.

I had been planning to photograph the railway in the snow, but the lack of trains cancelled those plans. Instead I visited in April, catching the Spring thaw along the line, with just a few bits of snow remaining along the banks of the Hudson. Although minimal freight operates on the line, I didn’t see any, only capturing the two passenger trains that operate each day.

Tourist trains have operated on this line since 1999, but the Saratoga and North Creek has only been running since 2011, operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings. They’ve only been carrying freight since 2013, a business they’d like to expand, as they’re losing money on their tourist trains (no doubt the harsh winter and cancelled trains did not help). Historically, the Delaware and Hudson Railway acquired this line in 1871, and ran on it until 1989 (an abandoned portion of the line, including a bridge, can be seen in a few of my photos).


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All the silly things people apparently want to know about Metro-North service delays…

If you’re a rider of the Harlem Line, most likely you were aware of some service delays on the line this morning. Social media never ceases to amaze me, as messages fly through text, twitter, facebook from others riding the rails. If there’s a delay or an issue, someone out there is talking about it online… and is probably even going to beat Metro-North to reporting it to the world. In today’s case, I did beat Metro-North to reporting over twitter that the Harlem Line north of Croton Falls was shut down, as I just happened to be on the train that was stuck. And then, of course, the questions began.

Now, I don’t mind answering questions (though the managers of Metro-North’s customer service department do – as I have received angry messages from them to “refrain from responding to customers” in the past), but I thought that perhaps I should answer them publicly for all to see. Since I’m sure Metro-North managers will be annoyed I’m doing this, I must reiterate that these are not official answers to anything. I do not work for Metro-North, nor do I represent them. These are, however, questions that I’ve heard, or have been asked on social media. I don’t want to say that this post is directed towards the other half of my readership – the non-railfan commuters – but it sort of is. These are, apparently, the things that you want to know:

Great. The trees are planking again. Now what? (and, yes, this was the tree that tied up the Harlem Line this morning)

Why is something like a little rainstorm delaying my train?
Each of Metro-North’s three main lines have a little “achilles heel,” so to speak. For the Harlem, it is trees. On the Hudson, it is water – flooding and mudslides. On the New Haven, it is the old caternary system. Issues on each line are not exclusively these things, as obviously a tree could fall anywhere. But in the case of the Harlem Line, that “little rainstorm” probably knocked down a tree somewhere. That “little rainstorm” likely had “a little bit of wind,” which can cause a lot more damage than you think.

If a tree is down in Southeast, why are trains delayed in Valhalla? – asked by @Crissteen.
Your train doesn’t magically appear in Valhalla. Most likely, your train originated at the trainyard in Brewster. Even if the service disruption is not near to you, it can still cause delays if your train can’t get there. Remember that train service is a carefully orchestrated system, and there are probably a lot more trains on the rails than you think.

The weather at the station isn’t even that bad! Why are there delays?
Believe it or not, storms not directly effecting the rails can still cause delays. Although Metro-North tries its hardest to prepare for this eventuality with extra crews on hand, if train crews can’t get to their trains, there will be delays. I can think of one instance earlier this year when there was a very minor snow storm, not bad enough to delay service on its own. However, a truck going too fast overturned on 84, blocking all lanes. With 84 effectively shut down, crews had difficulty getting to work. Obviously, the trains can’t go if there is nobody to operate them. This is a very rare instance, but is not outside the realm of possibility.

If there is a tree down, why does it take so long for someone to come and remove it?
Firstly, someone needs to be dispatched to the area. They need to drive there, then find a way to get over to where the issue is. All of that takes time, but really, the main consideration is the electric. Remember those third rails that power the trains? The power needs to be turned off so people can work without getting zapped. Then when the work is done, the power needs to be turned back on.

If trees are such a big problem, why don’t they cut all of them down?
Okay you environment-hater, even if Metro-North was going to consider something this silly, not every tree is on Metro-North property. Trees do get trimmed, but do remember that trees are kinda tall, and we can’t really dictate how they will fall over.

Why can’t you just go around the problem? Why is my train going in the wrong direction? – Wondered about by TrainJotting
You see, the difference between cars and trains is that trains have to run on these things called rails. You may have seen them before, actually. They’re the two long, shiny things underneath the train. Unlike a car, a train can’t easily just “change lanes” (FYI, they also can’t be hijacked and driven into the White House). There are spots where trains can cross over to other tracks, but they aren’t everywhere. Thus “going around the problem” might be easier said than done. In some instances the closest place to switch over to another track may be behind you – which means your train might have to move in the “wrong direction.”

Why doesn’t my conductor just do <insert some action here>?
Because in an instance like this, your conductor isn’t totally running the show. They’re likely on the radio talking to the Rail Traffic Controller, in the control center in Grand Central. The RTCs assess the situation, weigh all the options, and give the train crew instructions. All of this, of course, takes time, and quite often there is a dialog going on while the options are considered. In this morning’s case, the RTC wanted to know how many people were aboard the disabled train, in case an evacuation was necessary. Instead, the tree was cleared and an evacuation was not necessary.

Why didn’t the conductor tell me what was happening?
In the case of small delays, you might know more than your conductor! Metro-North has gotten pretty good about informing passengers about delays via text message – updates your conductor might not be aware of. Usually conductors announce what they know, but sometimes they do wait until something concrete is known before sharing. Above I mentioned how the RTC considers all the options – it would be silly for the conductor to inform everyone that the train might need to be evacuated – because in the end this is not what happened. Once they have all the facts, they’ll try to let you know!

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Photos: A snowy morning commute

Ah, yes – another bit of snow. Except this time I was actually able to go out and take a few photos of trains in the snow. Hopefully this snow will not be nearly as bad as the previous blizzard, but it is always good to look at Metro-North’s Guide to Winter Weather just in case. And yes, this time that link as serious – as opposed to my completely fake Preparedness Posters I posted the other day.


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Fall Roadtrip Day 2: Mountain Views & White River Junction

After day 1’s crappy weather, the sun on day 2 was quite pleasant. I won’t lie though, in the mountains it was pretty damn cold. My hands were seriously like cold icicles from holding the camera and taking pictures. I had a date with the alpine slide and a crazy zip line down the mountain, before heading to the summit for photos…


I also visited the train station at White River Junction for a few photos, before heading to some antiques place my dad was interested in seeing. There is a museum at the station, the New England Transportation Museum, but I knew it would be closed. They did have a restored engine outside that I was able to see. There was also a scenic train ride, but it didn’t really fit into our schedule.


Best part of the day? Vermont cheese samples everywhere. Cheese, om nom nom.

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Fall Roadtrip Day 1: Bennington Station, Vermont

Yesterday’s stormy weather played havoc on the trains and roads… perfect weather for the start of my fall roadtrip. Most of the stops I had planned (some of the old Harlem Stations) were postponed until Sunday, and perhaps the things I planned on Sunday will be cancelled. But determined to make the most of the situation, we headed straight up to Vermont where the rain was a bit lighter. Consulting the GPS for a restaurant around lunch time I noticed a place called “Bennington Station Restaurant”. I must say, the stop redeemed the day’s terrible weather.

Bennington Station, a station along the Rutland Railway, was built in 1897 and designed by architect William C. Bull. The style of the building is Richardson Romanesque, the same style I’ve previously mentioned when visiting Chatham. The outside is constructed of blue marble quarried in West Rutland, however with the rough finish of the marble, it resembles granite.

The inside is beautifully furnished with wood, and consists of a dining room and lounge. The food was great, and I definitely suggest a visit if you’re ever in the area!


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Enjoying the sun on the platform…

Yesterday was a pretty great day. On the platform in White Plains at around 5:45, the sun was shining. And all the riders that had formerly been hidden in waiting rooms and other dark places, came out to enjoy the sunlight. I was seriously amazed at how many people were out and about. Of course I had to take pictures.

I also passed out a bunch of cards. At times this was really hard for me. I’m not exactly sure what people think I am like based on what I say in this blog, but I can be incredibly shy at times. When you ride on the train you have a routine. I take the same train, and generally sit in the same seat. And you cross paths with other folks that also have routines. When I see these people often, it isn’t too hard to just go up to them and have a chat. But just going up completely cold, to a person I’ve never seen before, and handing them a card. Well it is a little hard. I was deathly afraid someone was going to totally reject me. I will admit I got a lot of funny looks. But there were also people that really enjoyed it. I even encountered the guy who runs the site TrainJotting and gave him a card. This is only the second time that I’ve been recognized by someone because of my blog. Too funny.

As for this morning, it was a little bit chilly, but it is supposed to be another good day. I haven’t seen any St. Patrick’s drunks yet, but I expect to see that tonight. I did, however, see the guy I refer to as Johnny. He was standing in front of the White Plains station and kept asking people walking in and out whether they wanted to see a baby hawk. He kept pointing. “It’s right there, look!” He pointed to the area over the door where the pigeons enjoy roosting. I only saw pigeons, no hawks. I figured he was joking, because after that he said, “There is a leprechaun up there too! And he was this tall,” as he motions to show that the aforementioned leprechaun was about a foot in height. I got Johnny to produce this amateur sketch:

If you happen to see the leprechaun, please let me know.

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Snow Angels on the Platform – Photos of Winter on the Harlem Line

Valhalla was slammed by snow this morning, enough for my work to close at 1pm. I headed over to Valhalla station to take the 1:27 train back to Goldens Bridge, and while I waited for the train took a bunch of pictures. And did something I haven’t done in a very long time. I made a snow angel. On the platform.

I figured this would be an opportune time to post a bunch of the pictures I’ve taken during the snow. Some of the pictures I know I’ve posted before, but I added them all to a nice new gallery called Winter on the Harlem Line. I have a lot more photos which I’ll be scrounging up and adding to the gallery when I can.

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Snowicane. Snowpocalypse. Snowmageddon. Everyone Panic!!!

This morning’s weather has already turned out to be rather wet and crappy. Many wet people, some of which forgot their umbrellas and looked like drowned rats, dripped on me during the ride in. But if you happened to be in White Plains this morning, several folks braved the horrid weather to pass out Nescafe coffee to the commuters. Unfortunately it was only packaged instant coffee, not cups of the stuff, but hey, it was free. And free stuff always cheers everyone up.

However, the weather is supposed to get worse, this rain turning into snow. Some have been calling it a Snowicane. The Snowpocalypse. Snowmageddon. The Weather Channel refers to it as February’s Fury. I urge you all to visit the grocery store and purchase several gallons of water, in case you somehow get stuck in your house and can’t come out. And most importantly, throw your hands in the air and begin panicking. Seriously now, Snowpocalypse? The supposedly respectable news sources use these terms, and I think it is a joke. I hardly consider myself a reputable news source. I could see me coming up with this junk, along with some fake pictures of pigeons pulling streetcars. But when the “real” news does, I just have to laugh.

As of right now Metro-North is running on a regular schedule with few, if any, delays. This may change as the day wears on, so if I hear anything I’ll let you all know. I’ll be tweeting…

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The Snowy Scene in Hawthorne

Due to the snow this morning a lot of people ended up leaving work early. I ended up getting a ride to Hawthorne from a coworker. I don’t normally visit that station, just in the few exceptions that snow has caused shuttle bus issues. Unlike what I am used to in Goldens Bridge, a good portion of the platform in Hawthorne is uncovered. So by the time I got there, there was at least an inch of snow covering over everything. Of course I took the opportunity to take some photos as I was waiting for my train.

And when the train passes by, who do I see with his head poking out the window? Peter, the conductor who used to be on my evening train who I haven’t seen in a few months. We caught up on our amusing train stories, and observed an odd woman wearing pajamas sitting a few seats away from me.

There is this crazy guy at White Plains that I nicknamed Mr. Chicago, because he talks to himself and will out of the blue just shout out, “The train to New York is late! … Because it had to stop in CHICAGO, HAHAHA!” Anyways, this woman could totally be his sister. They even look alike! Apparently she liked my hat, but the pompoms bothered her. She kept asking me, “but what are the pompoms for?” She waddled off the train in Katonah, at which point Peter asked me if I knew her. I had never seen her before in my life. Just one more of those interesting and odd people that I encounter on the train…

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A snowy and wet commute…

What a craptacular day this has started out as… Quite snowy and wet. Goldens Bridge had a bit of snow in the morning, but by the time I was walking to the train station, it had turned to rain. White Plains didn’t seem to have much snow, but it was rainy and a lot more windy. I got bored and took a few pictures of the delightful weather.

The platform was slippery as hell, I’m surprised I didn’t see anyone fall on their ass!

Our train when it arrived was covered in snow

Despite the weather, the trains always seem to be reliable. I suppose that is why I am sitting here at work, and none of my coworkers who drive have arrived yet… Though I must admit, I was rather amused watching too many people running around White Plains with collapsing umbrellas.


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