Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Campbell Hall

 

Early 1900’s views of the Erie’s Campbell Hall station, which was on the Montgomery Branch. The current Campbell Hall station is now located on what was the Graham Line.

As we continue our tour of the Port Jervis line, the next stop we arrive at is Campbell Hall. While the Metro-North facilities here are rather dull, there is a little bit of interesting stuff that does go on at this station. What you’ll immediately notice are the multiple tracks – since the majority of the Port Jervis line is single-tracked. Stowed on a few of the tracks are various train cars, and maybe if you’re lucky you’ll see a locomotive. Though a few of them might belong to Metro-North or New Jersey Transit, the majority probably belongs to the Middletown and New Jersey Railroad, which operates through Campbell Hall.


Postcard view of freight on the Graham Line in Campbell Hall, 1971

Though the Erie did have a station at Campbell Hall, it was not located along this line. When Metro-North took over operations in the 80’s, a small facility was established here, as there were no stations on the Graham Line previously. Like many of the other Port Jervis line facilities we’ve seen, there is not too much here. The low-level platform is partially covered by a canopy, and there is a small shelter to protect riders from the elements. Located inside the shelter are two New Jersey Transit ticket vending machines. The station has a small high-level platform section to accommodate riders in wheelchairs, but is not considered a fully ADA accessible station. Dispersed along the platform are a few planter boxes containing trees… which would probably be a nice touch anywhere else, but we are pretty much located in the wilderness already.


Wilderness case-in-point. You can photograph both trains and wildlife at Campbell Hall. I’ve named this little fellow Paulo coelho.

 

Photos of the Metro-North station at Campbell Hall in the late 80’s. The station has been renovated since, and there is a far nicer shelter for riders. [photo credit]

Campbell Hall was certainly a lot more interesting in the past, with several railroads passing through the small hamlet – but today it is just serviced by Metro-North’s commuter trains, and some occasional freight. On the commuter side of things, a ride from Campbell Hall to Penn Station in the city will take you slightly less than two hours, and to Hoboken about an hour and a half.

Though my stormy-day photographs of Campbell Hall are hardly spectacular, thankfully they are not the worst photos ever taken here – I bestow that honor upon Metro-North itself. One of these days they are totally going to update their site, so it doesn’t say that Campbell Hall is “65.6 miles to Grand Central Terminal” – but that day probably isn’t today.

 
  
   
 
 
  
 
  
 
  
 

Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line: Suffern


Erie-Lackawanna train at Suffern in 1966. Photo by Carl R. Baldwin.

Welcome to Suffern, our first stop on our tour of the Port Jervis Line. As you are no doubt aware, the Port Jervis line is on the west side of the Hudson, its trains do not enter Grand Central, and the service is operated by New Jersey Transit. Suffern is a little bit of an island unto itself, however. Although it is located in New York state, Suffern is for the most part a New Jersey Transit station, and is operated by NJT. Unlike the rest of the Port Jervis Line stations, which are owned by Metro-North, the typical station signage which we are all familiar with is not present here. Although Metro-North keeps some ridership statistics regarding Suffern, it is generally not grouped with the rest of the Port Jervis Line stations for record keeping. But to keep everyone confused, Suffern does appear on Metro-North timetables, and Metro-North’s website does have a station page for Suffern.

 
   
 
Various historical photos of Suffern, ranging from Erie-Lackawanna days in 1968, Conrail in 1978, and more current Metro-North/NJ Transit service

As we tour the Port Jervis line, you will notice relatively quickly some of the major differences between service on the east and the west of the Hudson. While almost all east of Hudson stations are high-level platforms, all of the stations on the west are low-level. This arrangement makes things difficult for people in wheelchairs – so all handicapped-accessible stations have a small high-level portion of the platform to facilitate boarding. At first seeing these little platforms is strange, but when a train arrives it makes a bit more sense. However, you will not see one of these mini platforms at Suffern – the closest handicap-accessible stations are Harriman to the north, or Ramsey Route 17 (in New Jersey) to the south (or, as Metro-North suggests, Nanuet – though it is on the Pascack Valley Line, and not the Port Jervis).


Suffern’s old depot, destroyed in 1941

Although Suffern does have a small station building, it is a replacement that was built in 1941 – and not the original Victorian structure that dated to 1887. The current placement of the station is also not where it originally was – the platforms and the replacement station were erected slightly more south than before. A small structure, built in 1908 and used as a Wells Fargo mail depot, sits not far from where the original station was. The building was opened as a small railroad museum in 1998. Located just past the museum is a train yard that New Jersey Transit maintains.


Commuter rail guides – listing the “Erie-Lackawanna Railway” – and an Erie-Lackawanna ticket from Hoboken to Suffern

Unlike Metro-North’s other Port Jervis Line stations, Suffern has two tracks. Because the platforms are low-level there is a fence in-between the tracks to deter people from crossing over to the other side that way. The usual destinations for commuters from Suffern are Secaucus and Hoboken. A trip to Hoboken ranges from 45 to 70+ minutes, and a trip to Secaucus 35 to 50+ minutes. Riders can transfer at Secacus to get to Penn Station, or at Hoboken to get to the World Trade Center.

 
  
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
  
 

And on, to Port Jervis

For the past two years, just about every Tuesday we’ve explored a new Metro-North station. For the most part, these have been stations that you may have heard of before, but perhaps never visited. Most regular commuters are familiar with the three main Metro-North lines that terminate in Grand Central: the Harlem Line, the New Haven Line, and the Hudson Line. However, Metro-North owns the stations and funds the operation for two other lines, on the west of the Hudson River. It is there that we will now point our attention, starting with the Port Jervis Line.


Map of the west-of-Hudson lines, including the former Erie main line that was abandoned in favor of the freight Graham Line.

Though us commuters on the east side of the Hudson don’t purposely try to forget our fellows over on the west, it is at times easy to ignore them. One pretty big reason is that their trains don’t run into Grand Central. Another reason is that the service is operated by New Jersey Transit. Although the stations are owned by Metro-North, and the railcars usually say Metro-North on the outside, the conductor you give your ticket to is a NJ Transit employee (and you probably bought that ticket from a NJ Transit TVM). The lines may end in New York state, but they begin in New Jersey.


Ridership diagram of the west-of-Hudson lines, based on the number of rides to and from each station in an average week. Larger station names designate more rides.

However, one event in the past year has unfortunately brought news of the west-of-Hudson lines to the forefront. Last August’s impending Hurricane Irene led to an unprecedented shutdown of the entire MTA system, and although this helped significantly in mitigating damages, there were some places where it was unavoidable. After the storm had passed and the damage was surveyed, Metro-North was likely the worst hit, compared with the other MTA agencies. Although there was flooding at stations along the Harlem and Hudson Lines, it was the Port Jervis that bore the brunt of the storm’s fury. Service on the line was suspended indefinitely as washouts completely destroyed the track in some places, and entire parking lots were flooded. Photos of the damage became front page news – the Port Jervis Line had our attention – but for all the wrong reasons.


Selection of photographs showing the damage on the Port Jervis Line after Hurricane Irene. All photos from the MTA.

Aside from all that, the Port Jervis Line isn’t that bad a place. It is some of the most rural country on all of Metro-North’s territory, and riding a train through it all can be quite beautiful. My favorite part of the line, the Moodna Viaduct, I featured on the site several months ago. Most of the stations really aren’t much to write home about, but there are several former stations – like Middletown, and Port Jervis – which I also plan on showing you all.


1969 Port Jervis main line timetable, which includes the line’s original passenger stations, until that part of the line was abandoned in the 80’s. From the collection of Michael Jensen.

Before we begin the tour next Tuesday with Suffern, I thought it would be good to mention a little bit of back story regarding the line. As I mentioned previously, none of the current stations (with perhaps the exception of Tuxedo) are really noteworthy – part of this is because the route the Port Jervis line now follows was not the original route for passengers. The original Erie main-line diverted west just after Harriman, and passed through Monroe, Chester, and Goshen, before meeting back up with what is the current line just after Middletown.


Aerial view of the Erie main line running through the town of Goshen. This portion of the rail line was removed in the 80’s.

The route the trains now follow was called the Graham Line, and was used mostly for freight. Instead of having to maintain two sets of tracks in roughly the same geographical area, a portion of the main line was abandoned in favor of the better-maintained Graham Line. This also meant abandoning several historical passenger stations (like the beautiful Erie depot in Middletown, now a library), and building new, relatively utilitarian, facilities on the former freight line. And instead of running right through the center of several towns, trains run on a more circuitous route outside of heavily populated areas.


Other various area timetables, including the current combined Port Jervis and Pascack Valley timetable.

Since I have all of the Port Jervis stations photographed, I thought it might be nice to actually travel the line in order, starting with Suffern (which is really more of a New Jersey Transit station, though in New York state). Look for the Tuesday Tour of the Port Jervis Line, starting next week.