Bridges of Metro-North: The Harlem River Lift Bridge

Throughout the entire Metro-North system there are an array of movable bridges – bridges which as of recently seem to be a thorn in the rail system’s side. Much of the infrastructure on these bridges are old and prone to issues. Thankfully, updates are going on to get these bridges in better working order, and we’ll be taking visits to some of the more prominent bridges in the system in the next few weeks.

Today we feature the busiest bridge on the entire system, the Harlem River Lift Bridge. At sixty years old the bridge is not nearly as old as the issue-plagued WALK bridge, but it by far sees the most action, carrying nearly 700 trains per day for all three East of Hudson Metro-North lines. Over the past few months work has been moving along on the bridge – installing new cables that lift the tracks over the river for passing boats, and putting in new wiring, power supplies, and electrical control systems. Below the bridge a circuit breaker room that flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is experienced corrosion will be replaced. Gone will be an old crank control, updated to today’s standards with modern computers. In total, the overhaul has a $47.2 million price tag.

Previous railroad bridge over the Harlem River
The 1867 bridge over the Harlem River, note the construction of a temporary bridge to allow a new 1891 span to be constructed on the main line. Image from the December 1892 Scientific American.

Historically, several previous movable bridges stood at this very spot, carrying the New York Central over the Harlem River. The first bridge over the river was completed in 1841, and stood a mere eight feet over the water at high tide. Made of wood, that bridge was later updated with iron spans in 1867. Later, a four track swing bridge was built in 1891. This bridge connected with the new Park Avenue viaduct, raising the tracks above Harlem and allowing a higher crossing over the river.

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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.

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
  

Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: University Heights

Today’s Hudson Line tour takes us back to the Bronx for a quick visit to University Heights station. Located just less than 9 miles from Grand Central, the station is situated between Morris Heights and Marble Hill stations. The station is named after the section of the Bronx in which it is located – a name that dates back to 1894 when New York University built its Bronx campus here. Though the university is now called the Bronx Community College, after having been sold in 1973, the name University Heights stuck. The attractive campus is just a short walk away from the station.


Local timetables for the West Bronx, which includes University Heights.

The station at University Heights consists of a small island platform, accessible via a stairwell or an elevator on West Fordham Road. A ticket vending machine is located here at street level. Similar to Morris Heights, University Heights is sandwiched between the Harlem River and the Major Deegan Expressway. Unfortunately, the river view is not quite as great as the one near Morris Heights. From the platform you can see the University Heights bridge, which crosses over the Harlem River, and the waterfront space is taken up by a few industrial looking facilities. Though hardly one of the most interesting stations on the Hudson Line, it is at least worth mentioning that at one point in time University Heights was a joint station shared with the Putnam Division, at least until that line was shut down in 1958.

That is about all I have for University Heights, so without further ado, on to the photos…