A Journey Underground – East Side Access

Over the one hundred plus years of its existence, Grand Central Terminal has reinvented itself many times to keep pace with the needs of its customers. When long range passenger trains were the norm, passengers could sit and watch a movie at Grand Central’s theater while waiting for their train to depart, or sit in the Terminal’s grand waiting room in Vanderbilt Hall. Today, all of the long distance trains have disappeared, replaced with Metro-North’s commuter service where trains are frequent enough that one rarely has to wait long. While today’s dashing commuter would have little use for a theater, they certainly make use of Grand Central’s new market, where they can quickly grab the ingredients for the dinner they’ll make after the train whisks them home. Even the less-used waiting room (which in high-society days had segregated fancy areas for both men and women) has moved out of the large Vanderbilt Hall into the smaller Stationmaster’s Office, converted into event space to capture the wandering person’s interest. Yet even part of that event space is slated for a conversion into more on-the-go eateries for the dashing commuter, an alternate option to picking up the ingredients in the market.

All of this reinvention has kept Grand Central relevant – it has retained its character as a landmark, yet constantly refreshed itself to keep with the times, all while remaining dedicated to its primary purpose of being a train station. As we speak, Grand Central is in fact reinventing itself yet again, although you may not be able to see the changes quite yet – they are far below your feet and deep underground. As cars clog our highways and roads, public transportation on the east and west sides of Manhattan are almost islands unto themselves. The MTA’s two railroads, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, operate from separate stations with little linkage between them. Metro-North’s riders filter into the east side of Manhattan, while Long Island’s into the west. But what if we could change all that – give Long Island riders the option to arrive in the east side, and give Metro-North riders the ability to board trains to Long Island inside Grand Central, all while opening up a far easier public transit connection to JFK airport from the east side? All of these are goals of the ongoing East Side Access project, which is expected to continue for at least the next eight years. The project will create a link between the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, adding a new terminal below Grand Central with eight new tracks, as well as the addition of 22,000 square feet of new retail space.

 
Diagrams of East Side Access, how the new terminal is situated under current buildings (left), and how trains from Long Island will be routed into Grand Central (right).
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Black and White Photographs: Commuter Life

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know a lot of things have been going on for Metro-North this week. Though people have asked me whether I am going to cover the story myself for this blog, it is my decision to defer to others that have intelligently discussed it elsewhere. Unfortunately, such discussion is but a drop in the ocean of sensational and uninformed thoughts and opinions of everyone and their mother. Clearly, this is why idioms like back-seat driver and armchair quarterback have entered our lexicon. While the 24 hour media can tick seconds away debating whether trains should have seatbelts (no), whether “deadly” curves should be banned (remember that time when the tracks used to be more curvy, and we moved a river?), or whether trains are even safe (yes, and more so than cars), I’m content to allow the NTSB to conduct their investigation, and come up with their suggestions on how to make things safer. You know, the people whose jobs are to investigate accidents, that have Ph.D.s, and whose ranks include “one of the world’s foremost human fatigue experts.” I guess that’s why I like to go to a doctor when I have medical issues, as opposed to consulting some random guy walking down the street.

I will, however, not ignore the events that have transpired. How does a photographer go out and take Metro North photos, or continue blogging, and pretend like everything is awesome? It doesn’t feel right. You don’t want to focus on it, you don’t want to let it define you, but you don’t want to ignore it either. On Instagram I began a series of black and white photographs, which I titled Commuter Life, to try and capture the mood I was feeling. Black and white seemed appropriate – a little somber, a little mourning – the way I felt stepping out on Monday and boarding a train on my way to work. I tried to focus on the people that ride the trains, as opposed to the trains themselves. Four people lost their lives on Sunday, and they could have been any one of us. That person on the platform that we see every day as we both commute. It’s a way of life we share.

Included with every photograph was a short musing on my part. It was more of a stream of consciousness thing – none of the photographs were staged, nor were the comments planned in advance. I carried my camera, and captured the things that caught my eye – from people waiting for the train, to Hudson Line “refugees” playing cards on a packed train to pass the time. In most of the instances, the subjects were unaware I was even photographing them.

You will find the twelve photographs of the series, and their accompanying captions, below – presented with no further commentary.

Commuter Life
A relatively somber mood on the platform as we all head to work.

Commuter Life
We wait for the train, but others are in our thoughts.

Commuter Life
The trains, they are like a second home.

Commuter Life
The commute may be long, but we make it our own.

Commuter Life
And when the seats empty, we head home, only to repeat again tomorrow.

Commuter Life
And today, we ride the train again.

Commuter Life
Some of us ride south, but others go north.

Commuter Life
Sometimes we wait…

Commuter Life
And sometimes we run…

Commuter Life
Though the technology advances, some traditions hold through.

Commuter Life
Sometimes we invent creative ways to pass the time.

Commuter Life
The railroad is not faceless, and sometimes it becomes our friend.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Scarborough

Welcome to Scarborough, located 29.5 miles north of Grand Central, and the first stop we’ll be making on our tour of the Hudson Line. I felt Scarborough would be a good place to start, as it seems to reflect what the line is all about. Throughout much of its journey – from Grand Central to Poughkeepsie – the Hudson Line closely follows its namesake, the Hudson River. Some stations may be further from the river than others, but in the case of Scarborough, the station is right on the water. Because of this, the station is often subjected to cool breezes carried by the river – although nice in the summer, it is likely brutal in the winter. The river does provide a lovely backdrop, though, and on a clear day you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background.


Old station building at Scarborough. You can see the older station facilities that were recently rebuilt by Metro-North in the background. [image credit]

In the past few years, Metro-North has been doing significant upgrades on the Hudson Line, and Scarborough is no exception. The old overpass (visible in the photo above) was completely demolished. When rebuilt, elevators were added to make the station handicap accessible. The rebuilt facility, besides being much more attractive, provides more space for commuters to sit – both outside, and in the overpass, protected from the elements.


During construction on the new overpass, stained glass was installed as part of the Arts for Transit program. [image credit]

As part of the Arts for Transit program, some stained glass panels were created for Scarborough station, and installed in the new overpass. The piece, called “Untitled with Sky,” was a collaboration between artists Liliana Porter and Ana Tiscornia. The six glass panels were fabricated by Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, a company that has worked extensively with the MTA and the Arts for Transit program.


Rendering of how the glass was to look when installed in the windows of the overpass. [image credit]

Although originally intended for the overpass (and for a short time installed there), the glass panels were, at some point within the past year or so, moved to the platform. They now provide a screen from the wind for commuters at the station. Also part of the Arts for Transit installation are a few concrete shapes covered in mosaic tiles, which can be used for sitting. Both share the same attractive palette of purples and blues, and are a lovely addition to the station.

That is about it for the informational tour of Scarborough, now onto the visual tour:

 
 

 
  
 
  
  
 
  
 
 
 
 
 

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