Saturday, August 2, 2014

Landrum, South Carolina: A Lesson in Preserving a Station

I could wax poetically about how the northeast takes a giant steaming dump all over their railroad history, particularly the city I called home for eight years (I'm looking at you Torrington, letting the station rot away until you had no choice but to demolish it.) but we'd be here all day, and the story I want to tell is the exact opposite of that.

I've written about the Saluda Grade before. My parents live in South Carolina, not far from a disused portion of the W Line owned by Norfolk Southern. About a mile north of where Norfolk Southern cut the line lies Landrum depot. In 1877, a guy named John Landrum gave the Southern Railway land to construct a station because the railroad had been extended into the northern part of Spartanburg county. The town of Landrum was founded in 1880 and was called Landrum Station until around 1900 when the "station" part was dropped. As like with many train stations, the structure standing today is not original because (you guessed it...) the original burnt down. Today's structure, however dates from the late 1800's, which is still super impressive. After the Southern Railway terminated passenger service to Landrum in the 1970's, the station changed hands and came into ownership by the "city" of Landrum (City is in quotes - because apparently a population of about 2400 counts as a city here...ha)

Since I've been coming down here (2008, for the record) it's been an interesting transformation to watch. Now, I never thought the station looked that terrible to begin with...then again being a Waterbury branch baby, my tolerance for dumpy stations is pretty high. However, apparently there were some structural deficiencies and a termite infestation, which are things that aren't usually readily apparent from driving by.

Landrum Depot circa June 2012
Station renovation last summer - bad white balance is bad.
In 2012, Landrum decided the station was being underutilized, and decided to renovate the station. $350,000 later, the building was finished in November 2013. Now the station is rented out for community use. The mayor of Landrum, Bob Briggs, has been quoted as saying that they don't intend to use the station as a revenue source, but they want it available for community use. So far they've rented it out enough that it's covered the maintenance and utilities for the year, which is a good sign, for sure. Apparently in the front part of the building has a mini-museum with some artifacts uncovered during the renovation like train logs, tickets, bullets, and Prohibition-era booze bottles. Unfortunately when I went poking around, the station was locked up tighter than a drum, I would have liked to have poked around inside too.

As I've said before, maybe one day there'll be trains running on these rails again...if the constant rumors that service will be restored over the Saluda Grade are true. Time will tell about that. However, it's nice to see a station maintain a relatively true appearance while finding new life with a new use instead of letting the station sit there to rot away from neglect. 

Circa 1982 - Credit: Jim Owens -
Panorama of how the station looks today (Click to expand)
Below is a slideshow of pictures I took just walking around the station on Sunday. As always, if your viewing device of choice isn't playing well with the embedded slideshow, click here to view it on Flickr.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If This Site Were a Child...

We would be commencing the terrible twos today. July 22nd was the date of the first post on this site in its current form.

Since the last time I wrote a post like this, traffic has quadrupled, I actually was on TV (although not strictly blog related, it was, however railroad-related - as short as my appearance was - yay for being a "interested member of the public" at a commuter council meeting), one of my photos from the tumblr days was featured on Buzzfeed, I was interviewed for an article about transit tweeting written by Columbia students, I started a "feature" of touring the original IRT stations (which I am slowly pecking away at), written arguably the most popular post ever (it exploded the day of, and is right now fourth most read on the site), bought myself a decent camera, I scratched a few lines off the "Heather needs to ride x line in it's entirety" bucket list (Harlem and Port Jervis, plus the A Train from 207 Street to Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park) among other things.

Not a bad second year of existence at all. Can't wait to see what the next year brings. A job on the rails maybe? At any rate, thanks for sticking around and reading my nonsense for another year you guys!

I suppose if I had to choose a photo of the year, this would be it.
A Waterbury branch train in the Naugatuck State Forest heading north to Naugatuck station.
And since it's a Tuesday, the post needs a video, right? This is a cover of the Altered Images song "Happy Birthday" of Sixteen Candles fame that I put on last year's post. This one is by the Ting Tings and was disturbingly enough, in little kid show Yo Gabba Gabba. At any rate, I insist upon listening to either (or both) versions on my own birthday, so it's only fitting I use it on my blog, no? :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday Video: An uneventful WALK bridge opening

In the intervening week since I last wrote about WALK bridge, the Coast Guard has decided to restrict openings of the bridge until emergency repairs have been made in an effort to not obstruct rail traffic. Saturday morning the bridge was opened to let several sailboats into the Sound that were stored in a marina upriver. The Coast Guard says that the bridge will be opened on a "limited basis" while repairs are made.

Someone shot video of the opening and closing Saturday morning, and it's interesting to see just how much effort is put into opening it. According to the accompanying post on, the opening was delayed about 50 minutes and 12 tries while they waited for clear signals on all four tracks, and it apparently only took 15 minutes to close the bridge and resume service. You know, instead of hours.

It's definitely some footage that's worth watching, and paints a pretty clear picture as to why the railroad is up a creek when it won't close.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Protips for Foamers

This post was inspired in part by a conversation I was having with a friend the other day, and also in part by my own experiences on nostalgia rides and the like. I like to say I'm not a foamer, because I consider obnoxious douchebags foamers, and I'm not an obnoxious douchebag. Logical logic is logical, k?

Presenting my version of a railfan code of conduct:
  1. If you're going to an event, take a shower...and put some damn deodorant on! - I must admit, outside of the transit nostalgia trips I haven't really found this to be an issue, but the unwashed masses seem to be a hallmark of the experience. This sticks in my mind from the R9 trip recently. It was getting warm, and therefore, P. freakin' U.
  2. You're not the only person taking pictures. Stop acting like it. - Again, inspired by the recent R9 trip. At Metropolitan Avenue, everyone wanted shots of the cars since the stop was a bit extended compared to Essex Street where the crew changed ends and the train was off again. There were 2 people (brothers I'd guess, they looked rather alike) who kept walking into everyone's pictures. You see a pack of people standing trying to take pictures, don't stop 12 feet in front of them to get yours. You seriously rank up there on my pet peeve list with tourists who stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk in midtown Manhattan. There is a way to get your shots without being a jerk. Just maybe if you stay out of people's way, they'll disperse and then you can get your shot without a million people in it. There, everyone is happy.
  3. If a little kid wants the railfan window, let them have it.  - You're 19 years old and won't give up the railfan window because you have to shoot footage for youtube when there's a 5 year old with their parent who is inevitably giving you the stink eye for being a douche? Nice job you tool. Let the little kid stare out the window in wonderment. And for the love of God, don't crowd the little kid at the window either. The world will not implode if you don't get your video.
  4. Respect your connections. - If you're fortunate enough to have befriended a railroader or 5 who give you insider info, don't be shouting said information from the rooftops. More importantly: DON'T GO POSTING THAT SHIT ON FACEBOOK, ESPECIALLY PICTURES OF INTERNAL DOCUMENTS. People can lose their jobs if someone wants to make an issue of it. Prove you can be trusted and you might even be the recipient of more cool stuff.
  5. If someone lets you into a sensitive area, don't advertise it. - This one kind of goes along the lines of the last rule. Nothing annoys me more than scrolling through instagram and seeing that some dumb foamer was allowed in the cab of an engine or God forbid, given a cab ride and plastering it all over the internet. If whoever let you up there gives you permission to take pictures, that's fine. Keep it on your computer, on your camera, on your phone - but not online. Again, prove that you're not a moron, and you might find these opportunities arise more often than you might think. Nuff said.
  6. Take reports with a healthy dose of skepticism. - Personally there's a grand total of two people whose information I don't apply this to because they work for railroads and they tend to not tell me things unless they're definitive, so they pan out. If it comes from anyone else, then I take their information with a large grain of salt, and if the other two are in the position to know more, I usually try to ascertain how legit it is ;)
  7. Things happen. Roll with it. - The railroad is there to do what's in its best interest, not the interest of railfans. You may have a reliable tidbit of information about some heritage engine coming your way and at the last minute it gets cut off someplace and sent elsewhere. Oh well. Test trains are another example of something that is super susceptible to change. Whining about it for the next week accomplishes nothing. Be upset for an hour and be done with it.
  8. Bragging is bad.  -Telling people about something cool you saw is one thing. Not shutting the hell up about it is another. It's a good way to make everyone want to punch you in the face.
    Don't be this guy.
  9. If you see someone taking video, shut up - Personally I'm too impatient to do videos, which is why I haven't uploaded anything to youtube in about a million years, but some people like doing them, and do them well. If you can tell someone's taking video, don't be the jerk who ruins it by talking loudly. (That happened to me once at Palmer, I was shooting the Vermonter changing ends and the person who was with me wouldn't shut the hell up. This is why I go train trolling solo most of the time.)
  10. Don't trespass - Don't be the moron giving railfans a bad name. End of story. Stay the hell off the tracks. You know where you shouldn't be, don't go there. You can get decent shots without trespassing.
    Doubly bad: Female railfans get enough shit as it is, this brilliant specimen isn't helping the cause.
    Credit: Subchat User aem7ac
Personally, those are my biggest pet peeves that people are guilty of. What do you see fellow railfans doing that annoys you? Leave your additions in the comments below.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Those Arnines

R9's above ground at Metropolitan Av
Last Friday I found out that the following day the MTA was planning on running the R9's in revenue service on the M line. (Until I confirmed this was actually true from a nameless reputable source I was skeptical: two nostalgia trains in a weekend? Sunday was a paid museum trip on the Train of Many Colors, which I wasn't going to.) The purpose of Saturday's run was to promote/celebrate the resumption of service on the M train to Essex Street in Manhattan on the weekends. This was announced several months ago and went into effect this past Sunday, which is when new picks went into effect for crews. Prior to this, on weekends the M train operated as a shuttle between Myrtle Av-Broadway and Metropolitan Av stations with travel beyond Myrtle Av-Broadway requiring a transfer to the J train. Sunday service to Manhattan had previously ceased in 1933, and Saturday service followed in 1958, so understandably, this is kind of a big deal.

I've written ad nauseam about the Arnines (or so it seems) in regards to the holiday train, so I really don't have much to say about them this time around. It was, however, the first time I have been on them above ground, since the holiday train runs between 2nd Av and Queens Plaza, so I was excited to get some shots of the cars in broad daylight for a change instead of underground since those never come out all that great.

The usual cast of characters were out in semi-full force. As I sarcastically tweeted Saturday, "It's not a nostalgia train without BO and arguments over rolling stock," both of which were present at either end of the train in the vicinity of the railfan window. The hoard seemed a little thinner than normal though, so it was a nice change of pace to, you know, actually be able to breathe. I think the crowd was tempered somewhat by a combination of the warm weather and the fact that this was announced by the transit museum with extremely short notice. They posted about it Thursday, and I didn't find out about it until Friday. Lack of knowing about it seemed to be a common complaint among some Facebook friends. As for the heat, it was by no means boiling hot out, but the R9's don't exactly have AC. In the afternoon, the ceiling fans weren't quite cutting it, so it got quite toasty on board. I ended up bailing in the early afternoon for lunch at Fresh Pond Road. (I was Yelping places along the route. Nerd.) If you're ever in the area, Taqueria Kermes is a short walk from the Fresh Pond Road station, and it's dirt cheap as well as delicious. (Yelp review is here, by the way.) Get some tacos and the plantains with crema and you won't be sorry! ;) After my lunch break it was a little more tolerable, although for the rest of the afternoon I was just thirsty as I had polished off my water I had with me at about 12:30.
Sunday I was looking up pictures from the run, and I found this one.
Caught yelping for lunch by @danascruggs on Instagram (across from bikes)
As usual, it was a day well spent on the octogenarian fleet. I met a couple of new people (one I had been Facebook friends with forever and the other was from twitter) and hung out with my usual partner in nostalgia train crime. (Hai Emily!!!) By now, you ought to know that my favorite thing about nostalgia trains are people's reactions to the equipment. By far the most entertaining was a girl who looked about 13 that boarded the train with her mother and grandmother. When she sat down, she proclaimed "Yo, this train is mad weird," and then gave the doors a bewildered and slightly terrified look when it took them a few tries to close. Mom and Grandma looked as amused as I did at her reaction.
I like how this lady is just kinda staring intently out into the darkness.
Below is a slideshow of my shots from the day embedded from Flickr. As usual, if your device of choice for internet consumption isn't displaying it, go here.
As an aside, some of the pictures came out like crap - and I suspect the UV filter I was using on my 70-300mm zoom is why. Remind me to not bother with it next time, especially since I have a lens hood.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tuesday Video: WALK Bridge (and the rest)

In my last post, I briefly mentioned WALK bridge in Norwalk having been stuck open and how finding the funding to replace the bridge would be a better use of everyone's time than crying about a Waterbury branch train being cut back to Bridgeport from Stamford and inconveniencing people a grand total of five lousy minutes. Unsurprisingly, train 1923 has been restored as a through train to Stamford because of the media whoring attention it got, and since then, the bridge failed to close yet again. This time it snarled Friday evening's rush, and the usual accusations of gross neglect by the railroad were being slung yet again by people who haven't got a clue. (In spite of this, don't take that to mean that I think a little attention to this issue will quickly cure it, I know that's not the hate mail comments plzkthx)

Take a look at this video. This is what 118 year old infrastructure on the country's busiest rail corridor looks like. Pretty insane, don't you think?

Heading up the "haven't got a clue" club this time around is our darling Governor Dan Malloy. Friday evening he was calling for a "crisis summit" with the MTA and Metro North, which was held yesterday. Newsflash Danny Boy: the vast majority of this is not the railroad's problem. Of course with the Governor alluding that the MTA and the railroad are to blame, the pitchforks come out in force, especially after the debacle that the last year has been. The following quote is what he said, clearly cleaned up from all the uh's and um's that normally accompany his speeches.
"This is now the second major failure in two weeks, leaving thousands of passengers stranded and causing unacceptable delays. Let me be clear, this is outrageous. In speaking with MTA and Metro-North, my administration has stressed that every procedure, protocol and engineering solution must get the immediate attention of the most qualified team of experts. It is of the utmost importance that these operating, maintenance, alternative service and customer protocols be completely critiqued and that near term solutions be found to ensure reliable service for Connecticut commuters."
Norwalk River bridge in Norwalk, also referred to as WALK.
The state of Connecticut owns the right of way, and has since 1982, the year before Metro North came to be. That means upkeep and replacement of the bridge is truly their problem. It cripples the Northeast Corridor every time it screws up, and things are only going to get worse until this stuff is fixed. The bridge is the oldest of the five bridges Metro-North's New Haven line deals with. It was built in 1896 and predates the next oldest by six years. However, the next oldest, the Pequonnock River bridge in Bridgeport, (aka PECK) was built in 1902 and was replaced in the 1990's as it was identified as being the most deficient of them all. In the 1980's, it was closed to marine traffic, and trains were restricted to 10 miles an hour over it. The new bridge opened in 1998, so of all five bridges, PECK is of the least concern at the moment. The other three bridges are also getting up there in years. The Mianus River bridge in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich was built in 1904, and the Housatonic River and Saugatuck River (SAGA) bridges in the Devon section of Milford and Westport respectively were built in 1905. As far as I'm concerned, they're all subject to failure at this point. None of them, however, are bad enough to be closed to marine traffic though, so the Coast Guard still requires the bridges to be opened for testing and marine traffic. From what I understand, both recent incidents were caused by required Coast Guard testing, and I've also read that WALK in particular opens for legitimate business purposes more than it does jackoffs out for a joyride on their yacht, so it's not like you can just say "Screw the boaters!". If you want my two cents worth, if the bridge doesn't need to be opened for a legitimate business reason (WALK is opened for deliveries of fuel and aggregate to a particular business, which is reasonable) then it needs to stay shut. If some rich prick from Greenwich wants to go out for a joyride in his yacht that requires Cos Cob bridge to be opened, he should be told to go fly a kite. Economy > Fun. Sure, opening the bridge for a fuel barge and it getting stuck as a result will screw with the economy when the railroad is messed up for several hours, but it's still a bit easier to justify than opening it for someone out for a joyride.

Now there's a whole lot of finger pointing going on, previous governors are being blamed (as they rightfully should be) as well as predecessor railroads, which I find laughable. New Haven went bankrupt and was looking to de-electrify anything east of Stamford to save money, so I'm pretty sure bridge upkeep and replacement (the latter of which was probably not an issue at the time) were bottom of the barrel priorities. Penn Central, which is what the New Haven folded into in 1969 was doomed from the start and sputtered along for eight years, six of which were in bankruptcy until Conrail came to be in 1976. Conrail's primary interest was divesting itself of money pit commuter service and eventually turning a profit - so in 1981 the Northeast Rail Service Act was passed and as of 1983, all of the trackage used by the commuter railroads was purchased by the authorities tasked with running them, with the exception of MARC in Maryland.

The only thing you can blame Metro-North for is acquiring inadequate amounts of buses to run between South Norwalk and East Norwalk (24 ain't gonna cut it in the heart of rush hour on a Friday.) and considering they were raiding MTA bus in the Bronx for said buses, I'm guessing closer agencies, like CT Transit (who is normally the chariot for the Waterbury branch when it craps out) didn't have any to spare. You can't magically conjure the buses, they have to come from somewhere. Maybe the busway, since they've shown those damn things off already.

Fingers do need to be pointed at every politician who allowed the special transportation fund to be raided. By definition it was implemented on July 1, 1984 to provide a dedicated fund for the financing of investment in the State's transportation system and to cover the cost of operating the Department of Transportation and all the services it provides. (Which would include rail service, no?) Instead it has been treated like a cushion in the bank to cover budget deficits. Here's an op-ed from the Hartford Courant which explains how it's been raided and why it needs to stop. The sad fact of the matter is, these bridges are going to be painfully expensive to replace, but it needs to be done. Considering Amtrak is also concerned, federal funding should most certainly be obtained. The New Haven line is part of the Northeast Corridor, which actually turns a profit for Amtrak and is the busiest stretch of railroad in the country. The fact that there are bridges over 100 years old expected to provide reliable service is beyond ridiculous. I'm not sure selling the state owned stretch to Amtrak is the answer either, but that's another post for another day.

I've said it before. and I'll say it again: