Best of 2012, a year-end review

2012 has been an interesting year here at I Ride the Harlem Line… we finished up touring the stations on the New Haven, Port Jervis, Pascack Valley, and Hudson lines, as well as visited some places far outside Metro-North’s territory. As if that wasn’t enough, we also began our Grand Central 100 for 100 Project, posting one image every day for 100 days, all to celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

As is customary around the end of the year, let’s take a look back at what was most popular on the site this year, based on the number of reads… presenting the top 15 posts of 2012:


Starting off our countdown at number 15 is a photographic look at the old Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis. Completed in 1899, the old station was renovated and turned into a hotel. An old train shed now offers an ice skating rink. This is one of a few posts on the blog about Minneapolis this year, from my visit there in April. Some of the other stuff from Minneapolis included the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted to pedestrian use, riding around on the Hiawatha Line, the old and new Minnehaha Station, and the classical music playing Lake Street – Midtown station.


14th most viewed for the year is our Hudson Line tour to Yonkers. The nicely restored brick station at Yonkers, built by the New York Central, is definitely one of the gems of the Hudson Line.


There are plenty of hoaxes and tall tales related to Grand Central Terminal, but only one of them made our top fifteen list this year. Coming in at number 13 is the 1929 hoax in the Information Booth. As the story goes, a tricky scammer convinced a fruit seller that the railroad was planning on selling space in the information booth, and that prime space could be turned into a fruit stand. Of course, it was a complete lie, and the scammer skipped town with a nice wad of cash. Amusingly, you can buy apple in the Terminal today – either in Grand Central Market, or in the figurative sense, the Apple store in the main concourse.


Another Grand Central themed post comes in at number 12 on our countdown – featuring the sky ceiling that nobody really knows about. This painting can be found inside Grande Harvest Wines – it is the last surviving remnant of the 242-seat newsreel theater that was once in Grand Central Terminal.


Our tour of New Haven Line station Mamaroneck makes the list at number 11. Mamaroneck has a lovely old station that was undergoing a transformation into a restaurant called the Club Car – we managed to get a sneak preview of the place, and shared it along with the station tour.


The Hudson Line tour of Tarrytown station also makes the list, likely for our coverage of the new and most wonderful Arts for Transit piece by Holly Sears. The 1898 Richardsonian Romanesque-style station at Tarrytown was built by architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, who are most known for their stations on the Boston and Albany railroad.


Ninth most popular for the year was my first foray into 3D modeling, and 3D printing. I decided I would try to model the Harlem Line’s Brewster station from historical photos – basically how it looked when it was first built. The interesting journey  was featured in various places around the internet, including the TinkerCad Blog, Shapeways Blog, Adafruit and Wired.


One of the more memorable things I got to do this year was to have a brief chat with Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut. Having been with Metro-North since its inception, the man has a pretty interesting viewpoint regarding the history of the Harlem Line. We talked about Metro-North’s formation from ConRail, Millerton, and other admirable rail systems, among other things.


Before touring the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, I wrote a brief introduction to the West of Hudson lines, which was the seventh most viewed post on the site this year. The intro included a few maps, time tables, and a look back on the damage Hurricane Irene wrought on the Port Jervis line.


Sixth on our top 15 countdown is a trip to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center. This is the workplace for the railroad’s Rail Traffic Controllers – one of the most stressful and possibly thankless jobs at Metro-North. The current OCC is certainly high tech, but we also got a glimpse of the old OCC, and an ad for one of the New York Central’s historical towers in Grand Central – which looked quite archaic in comparison!


One of the most memorable shots of Hurricane Sandy was this capture of a boat resting on the Hudson Line’s tracks in Ossining, which I couldn’t help but turn into an image macro. In other news, whoever happens to own that boat is probably a big asshole, as it seems to be named after a Nazi warship. I guess the owner never realized his boat would end up on the front page of several newspapers – or top 5 in our countdown.


Fourth most popular for the year was our April Fool’s prank about Harlem Line service getting restored up to Millerton, complete with two fake timetables and a fake ticket. Rumor has it, some folks in Metro-North’s customer service department hate me even more than they did before after this trick!


Coming in at third most popular is the Grand Central 100 for 100 project, featuring 100 historical photos of the Terminal in the hundred days leading up to its centennial. By now we’re more than halfway through, so if you aren’t following the project on Facebook, you totally should be!


It appears that everybody loves Dobbs Ferry station, as our tour was the number two most read post on the site for 2012. Featuring another Richardsonian Romanesque station by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Dobbs Ferry also has a nice location right on the Hudson River’s waterfront.


Everybody seems to say that the cat is the internet’s unofficial mascot, and it certainly seems that is true! By far, the number one most read post on the site was about Sadie the Subway Cat, of the New York Transit Museum. In addition to our March photo session with the popular feline, we updated you on Sadie’s subsequent retirement, and a humorous update on her new life outside the museum.

That just about wraps up 2012 – I’m definitely looking forward to bringing you new things in 2013… everybody have a Happy New Year!

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Taking a visit to the OCC – Metro-North’s Operations Control Center

Just yesterday I was reading an article about SEPTA’s “nerve center” – although cool, I must admit that Metro-North’s Operations Control Center is far nicer – at least in my opinion. Though the SEPTA article states that “nothing like [this control center] exists in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, or any other American city.” – it is really an argument of semantics – as the author makes the point that SEPTA’s control room monitors trolleys, trains and buses, and clearly Metro-North’s watches over just trains. But while their center is operated by a crew of three, Metro-North’s is staffed by many more. The control boards at the front and center of the room, however, are quite similar in both – and reading that article reminded me that not only have I not mentioned my visit to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center, I haven’t posted any photos of it either!


Back in the day, this stuff was considered state-of-the-art, and these were the people that watched over the railroad. Today, things are a bit more modern, and consolidated in a central location (no more towers – everything is controlled by the folks in the OCC).

For the record (and to my inevitable haters), the OCC is hardly a secret, especially when Metro-North themselves have posted photos of it online. And while I could say that I will not divulge the location of the OCC for security purposes, the New York Post has already spilled the beans that it is hidden in the upper floors of Grand Central Terminal. For additional security, I won’t even tell you how to decipher the large display boards – except for the fact that it, too has already been written about. And even WNYC has featured video on their website of the OCC… so I am hardly the first to offer a glimpse at the control center (or at least a realistic look at the OCC).

View of the old control center by user Triborough on Flickr.

The current OCC is relatively new, and you may recall Metro-North mentioning the updates back in 2010. If you compare the above photos with the new Operations Control Center, there is quite a big difference. The new facility is undeniably attractive, and far less antiquated looking than the previous.

Working out of the OCC are Metro-North’s Rail Traffic Controllers (or as they are more commonly known, RTC’s) – probably one of the most hectic (and thankless) jobs on the railroad. Besides monitoring where every Metro-North train is, and directing those trains when necessary, it is also their job to solve various issues that trains may encounter en route – like calling for police. I must take a moment here to thank Metro-North’s RTC’s for the work that they do – and especially for being quick with a call to police when there was a guy publicly masturbating on my train one evening (I wish I was kidding).

Metro-North’s system is divided up into various districts, each of which is monitored by a Rail Traffic Controller. The Harlem Line, for example, is split into Districts A (lower Harlem) and B (upper Harlem). The RTC watches over all trains in their district, which could be a hundred or more trains in an 8-hour shift. This includes Metro-North, Amtrak, or any other trains operating in that area, in revenue service or otherwise. All work on the tracks needs permission from the RTC, as to prevent any accidents from happening. While conductors are clearly the public face of Metro-North, a Rail Traffic Controller is generally someone you don’t see, but it is their job to keep you safe – passengers and employees alike.


Metro-North’s Operations Control Center

Overlooking the OCC is Metro-North’s “Situation Room” – the place where all the important people would assemble during a major incident or emergency (some of our previous major snowstorms, and even Irene, warrant use of this room). Not only can you watch over the RTC’s in the control center through a handy window, the room is equipped with several televisions that show the departures on all three lines, train arrivals, and even a realtime map of train locations.

The situation room… sans Metro-North senior management. I wonder which seat belongs to Howard Permut…

That’s about all I’ve got for today’s little tour of the Operations Control Center… now I’ve gotta go buy a particular RTC a cup of coffee! :D

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