Exploring the brand new Doha Metro

Although history and abandoned rail lines always seem to capture my interest, in a refreshing change of pace today we feature a brand new rail line in a country that up until earlier this month had no active rail service whatsoever. In this case, we’re talking about the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, where construction is happening at a frenzied pace in order to ready for 2022’s World Cup. Not only are new skyscrapers and stadiums being constructed, entire new cities are being built, and a futuristic driverless Metro will connect them all.

Initially, much of the plan for the Metro was based around Qatar’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, but was revived in 2010 when Qatar was awarded the World Cup. The Qatar Railways Company was birthed in 2011, and will oversee the Metro, a new light rail in Lusail, and the planned long distance and freight routes to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (which appears to be stalled, and the severing of ties between Qatar and its neighbors likely means it will be halted indefinitely).

Aesthetically, no matter where you travel through the system, you will ever be reminded that you are on the Doha Metro. The system itself has a unique identity, using locally-sourced sandstone for station exteriors, a nod to traditional architectural materials. Vaulted spaces evoke traditional Bedouin tents, stylized arched columns resemble the sails of time-honored dhow ships, and large panels of glass ensure that the stations will be lit by natural light, said to resemble the inside of an oyster. The visual cues continue on a line basis – as each will have their own identity and feature a distinctive wall finish and pattern. In the case of the Red Line (nicknamed the Coastal line, as it hugs Doha’s West Bay and terminates in the new planned city of Lusail), that pattern is iridescent mother-of-pearl, a reference to Qatar’s history of pearl diving.

The trains themselves were produced by Japan’s Kinki Sharyo, and are said to resemble Arabian horses. The three car fixed sets feature Gold class, with larger individual seats at 10 QAR (approximately $2.75 per trip) and family and standard classes, with typical subway style benched seating, at a price of 2 QAR (approximately 55 cents). Standard class trips are quite a bit cheaper than the Karwa bus service that operates in Doha, where a round trip ticket costs 10 QAR. For safety, station platforms have full-length barrier doors that only open when a train is ready for boarding. The system is fully driverless, and as a result the large windows at either end of the train are extremely popular with passengers to look out at the tracks ahead.

The Metro is a continuing work in progress, and as of the soft opening earlier this month, only 13 stations along the Red Line are currently open (10 underground, and 3 above ground). More stations along both ends of the Red Line are planned, along with a spur connecting Doha’s airport. Two other lines are currently under construction, the Green (Education) Line, as well as the Gold (Historic) line. Phase 1 of the system is planned to be complete for the World Cup and will have nearly 40 stations across the three lines, with central interchange point at Msheireb. A future Blue (City) line is also planned, and once fully realized, the Doha Metro is envisioned to have nearly a hundred operational stations.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed my visit to Qatar. Initially I had been fascinated with the city of Dubai, but many travelers to that city have stated that it feels a little “soulless” – they’ve given up much of their history to steam forward with glittery skyscrapers. In contrast, it seems that Qatar has found an interesting balance of ultra modern skyscrapers and planned cities, while respecting their rich history (take a visit to the traditional market Souq Waqif – you won’t be disappointed), and incorporating traditional elements in modern architecture, like on the Metro.

Read More

SmartCat Sundays: Restoring a Grand Central to Chatham Roll Banner

Original image of the roll sign Not everything you’ll find in my collection is printed on paper… Admittedly, I have a little thing for roll banners (I own three for the Harlem Division). Long before computers and other technology, these roll banners used to be displayed in Grand Central Terminal at each gate, letting passengers know what stops the train made. Each train had it’s own roll sign, which were stored in cabinets by the gate. The roll banner featured in this post was my third banner acquisition – but it was one I couldn’t resist, as it was originally an Upper Harlem Division banner. Sold by the SONO Switch Tower Museum on eBay as a fundraiser, their original photo of it is at right. As you can see, after the 1972 discontinuation of the Upper Harlem Line, those stops listed were blacked out. All of the banners were actually hand-painted by a real person, and when train names were changed, the signs were modified to fit – in the case of the black paint, some more drastically than others.

With the aid of old timetables, I was able to track the history of the banner, and the trains it once represented. Though the train number changed a few times, for the majority of it’s life, the it was for a Sunday-only morning train from New York to Chatham.

Unknown – 1958: Train 1053, which made a stop at Boston Corners.
1958 – June 30, 1964: Train 905. Ghent was blacked out in 1959 when it was removed as a stop.
July 1, 1964 – November 30, 1968: Train 909.
December 1, 1968 – March 19, 1972: Train 9009. Number was changed after the Penn Central merger.
March 20th, 1972 – unknown: Eliminated stations were covered in black paint, and used for Train 9013, a Saturday and Sunday train.

The lower level of GCT
Early photo of Grand Central’s lower level, showing two departure banners, and the cabinets the banners were stored in when not being used.

After purchasing the banner, I was slightly torn as to what I should do with it. Keep it as is, as a testament to what happened when Penn Central eliminated the Upper Harlem? Or should I restore it, to what it once was, showing all of the original stops? Part of what swayed my decision was that it was obvious that the writing underneath was not completely gone. You could just barely make it out under the black layer of paint, but it was still there. I decided to see how difficult removing the black would be, and to my surprise, it wasn’t that hard. With a little bit of elbow grease, I revealed a line once hidden under black – “Visitors not permitted through gate”:

Black paint slowly disappears

(more…)

Read More

Riding the Tunnelbana – the painted caves of the Stockholm Metro

It’s been about a month since the site has gone on hiatus (hope you didn’t miss me too much!), I figured it might be nice to slowly bring things back with a post about some of my most recent travels. If you happened to read the piece that Atlas Obscura wrote about me not too long ago, you may remember me mentioning that one of the transit systems I’d really love to visit was Stockholm, Sweden’s Tunnelbana (Metro). In between ending my old job and starting my new one at Amtrak, I actually took a journey to Sweden so I could finally visit the system, known for its transit art, for myself.

Though the Tunnelbana has a wealth of stations filled with interesting art, it is some of the stations located deeper underground that have captured the interest of many riders and photographers. As a unique design choice, during the excavation of these stations the bedrock was left exposed, creating the feeling that you are deep inside a cave. Each cavern is painted wildly by an array of artists – some in pink camouflage, and others in bright primary colors. While some are clearly unnatural, others evoke a real sense of a hidden cave – painted in subdued colors with primitive illustrations of a mammoth and of the sun. And even others create an interesting interplay between the rough exposed rock, and walls of colorful polished tiles. Suffice it to say, the Stockholm Metro is quite an interesting, and exceptionally unique system.

Words, of course, can’t adequately describe the varied – and in some cases, downright wild – decor of these stations, so let’s take a little visual journey together!

Tensta

Tensta

Tensta

(more…)

Read More