Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Video: Hey Blumenthal, You're Doing It Wrong!

Last week Connecticut's windbag in chief senator, Richard Blumenthal was served a bit of poetic justice when he was nearly taken out by an Amtrak Northeast Regional train coming through the Milford Metro-North station while he and a bunch of other political types were having a commuter safety press conference. If you haven't seen the footage yet (although at this point, who hasn't? This mess has gone viral.) it's quite hysterical, and I've included it at the bottom of the post.

I'm not going to get political with this, in fact I voted for the guy when he ran for senator because I liked him as attorney general. However, someone forgot to give him the memo that he doesn't hold both titles and he should leave the AG stuff to his successor, and that annoys me, but anyway...let me spare you from a diatribe about why the man now drives me nuts and will probably not be getting my vote again when he's up for re-election.

You would think as one of Metro North's most vocal detractors who spends most of his time ripping them to shreds over questionable safety and performance, he would have enough common sense to not be kissing the edge of the platform with his easel of charts. Apparently reading is pretty hard, considering "Watch the Gap" is painted on the platform. Amusingly had the train taken him out, Amtrak engines are already equipped with outward facing silent witness cameras, which would have shown that his ignorance was at fault. Why did none of his people have enough brains to tell him something along the lines of "Hey boss, you need to shift everything left about two feet"?

Of course had he been hit by the train, I'm sure they would have tried pinning the incident on Metro North's dispatching or something. Maybe Amtrak would be faced with immediate defunding (as if they're not constantly walking around with a target on their backs anyway). Perhaps there would be cries for requiring all trains to stop when they see people on the platform...

Maybe instead of crying that Metro-North needs to immediately implement PTC (and subsequently not funding his demand, because anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows lack of funding is a main roadblock to implementation of PTC on tons of railroads, not just Metro North) and install inward and outward facing cameras in the interest of safety, maybe there needs to be a movement to educate the public (and annoying politicians) on rail safety. (Hmm, where have I said that before?)

(Before people jump down my throat about the camera thing: Outward facing cameras are an excellent idea, and quite frankly I'm appalled that Metro North wasn't already using them, especially on the Danbury and Waterbury branches where grade crossing idiocy is rampant. Inward facing cameras, however, will accomplish absolutely nothing unless you find oodles of money to hire people to babysit video feeds for every train over the road and see if the engineer is falling asleep, on his phone, or whatever. Even then, what are you going to do, yell at the person on the radio? Unless there's some sort of shock device attached, what's going to be accomplished? Basically nothing. Besides, this incident proves that you can point all sorts of cameras at people and they're still not going to behave in a safe manner!)


Funnily enough, Blumenthal usually does not shy away from giving sound bites for pretty much anything that even concerns him a tiny percentage. I haven't heard anything in the news from his camp about why he was such an idiot last week.

Don't even get me started on the typical media BS contained in this video clip - as if the engineer could make that HHP-8 jump tracks and avoid the area..

I think I'll stop ranting now :)

What do you think about the whole situation? Leave your comments below.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Boston: Purple Trains and a Bridge

In the past couple of weeks I’ve spent a decent chunk of time in Boston, so there’s going to be a couple posts about that – considering last year I completely glossed over the fact that I went at all…which is pretty terrible of me. (It got to the point where I wanted to write about it and then never bothered for the mere fact that too much time had passed. OH HEY, IT’S APPROPRIATE TO WRITE ABOUT IT AGAIN THOUGH!) 

Last year, one of the things I wanted to write about was the North Bank Park foot bridge, which offers a pretty sweet view of the back of North Station (and TD Garden, ha!). The bridge offers some good angles for photography, although the links in the fencing require some creative methods. (Narrow holes, ugh.) The good news is, the ends of the part of the bridge that spans the tracks is free of fencing, and still offers a good vantage point to watch MBTA commuter rail and Amtrak’s Downeaster come and go from the station, so if you can’t get your camera to shoot through the links you’re not entirely screwed, especially if you have a decent zoom lens. (Even if you don't it's cool, I got some good shots with a super-zoom marginally okay point and shoot last year.)

If the weather is nice, you can walk the long way from North Station past the Museum of Science (or take the Green Line to Science Park – I’ve walked from Lechmere, but that was annoying. Science Park is closer.) The Charles River is pretty, and the viaduct that the Green Line runs on looks pretty cool. If the weather sucks (or you’re lazy) – you can access the bridge via Paul Revere Park, which is really close to North Station.(Figured that out this year when it was cold, raw, and pissing rain.)

Another point of interest along the bridge is the old Boston and Maine Railroad signal tower. Signal Tower A has existed in some form or another for about 120 years. I'm not sure what it's used for these days (someone can maybe enlighten me?) but there were a bunch of MBCR work trucks parked outside, so they must use it in some capacity, be it parking for trucks or maybe storing things inside? Back when it was in use for its intended purpose, the tower governed movement of trains at North Station.

Once upon a time, there was a really good post over on the now defunct Boston-centric blog “I Ride the T” about the bridge, but upon trying to hunt it down to link to it, it seems that he’s removed it. (*sob*) It’s a shame, because Tyler did a good job explaining the signal indications you see standing on the bridge so you could discern if and when a train is coming and where it might be lined to go. So sadly, unless someone wants to explain MBCR signalling to me (I'll reciprocate and try to explain Metro North's system to you...ha!) that information will not be contained in this post, and you can stand there and watch for trains coming in either direction. (as I have, because when I went the first time, do you think I consulted said post as a reference? OF COURSE NOT.)  Last year I went on a random Saturday and trains came at a relatively decent clip given the fact that it was a weekend and I had pretty low expectations about service frequencies.  You could always be proactive and look up arrivals and departures from North Station for the general time you plan on hanging around too. Last year when I went there, rumors were circulating that 406, the de-motored F40 NPCU heritage engine thingy that Amtrak has was on Downeaster duty, which was my main reason for going. Unfortunately it was nowhere to be found that day, whether it was on a train that was already in Maine by the time I turned up, or if I just had lousy information.
It made for an amusing game of "Spot the Foamer" though,
Either way, if you find yourself in the general vicinity of Boston, you should most definitely check out this footbridge. Below is a slideshow of pictures I've accumulated. The gloomy ones are from this year, the ones in decent weather are from last year. As always, if your preferred method of reading my stuff doesn't like Flickr embeds, view the set here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall

The next stop on our tour of the original IRT stations is Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. The station is a four track express station that is served by the 4, 5, and 6 trains today, and has been the terminus of the Lexington Avenue local (aka the 6 train) since 1945, when the infamous (andpreviously discussed) City Hall loop station was closed to passengers. (That's also when "City Hall" got tacked onto the name.) You can also transfer to the BMT Nassau Street-Jamaica Line (J & Z trains) here to reach the Chambers Street station, of which there are pictures in the slideshow at the bottom of the post because its half-abandoned state is pretty interesting, and partly out of spite, because some annoying middle-age hipster jerk came barreling into the station, saw me with my camera and loudly proclaimed “Tourist, get out of here!” (Because all tourists are going to hang around a semi-shady looking subway station and take pictures of abandoned platforms…but, I digress.)

As I mentioned above, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall is a four track express station with island platforms. There used to be local side platforms, but throughout the years those have been walled off through station reconfigurations as the platforms were pretty useless to begin with. The platforms saw light use since transfers required using the island platforms, so when trains were lengthened, nobody saw the point in lengthening these platforms accordingly. After about 6 years in service, use of them was discontinued in 1910. A renovation in 1962 widened the island platforms and sealed off the little local platforms. South of the station the local track splits into 3 tracks, the right-most of which leads into the City Hall loop. The other two tracks are little spur tracks that end just north of Fulton Street station and parallel the southbound express tracks. Until the 1960’s, these tracks merged with the line north of Fulton Street, but the connection has since been severed. The spur tracks are occasionally used to store trains.

Original tilework.
From a historical design standpoint, this is by far the worst station I’ve visited to date. Most of the original Heins and LaFarge design of the station has been lost throughout the years to various station construction projects. On the east wall of the uptown platform mezzanine area there are some original ceramics done by Grueby Faience (hmm, I think I might have figured out how to spell that…finally.) that are back to back B’s for Brooklyn Bridge. Unfortunately, the best original ceramic detail is hidden from the public now, Heins and La Farge designed an eagle with a shield bearing the double B’s. Luckily, similar eagles are found at 14th street and 33rd street.  It’s kind of a mystery as to why the eagle was used, at 33rd street it was used to pay homage to the 71st Regimental Armory which used to be above the 33rd street station. 14th and Brooklyn Bridge didn’t have armories nearby. Brooklyn Bridge’s eagle ceramics were crafted from a different mold than 14th and 33rd Streets’ ceramics, so there’s also a question if Grueby Faience even did the eagle ceramics for Brooklyn Bridge. The double B is a recurrent theme in the station though, it’s plastered all over the walls and also worked into railings.

Possibly one of my favorite parts of the station isn't even in it. Elevator access to Brooklyn Bridge City Hall is built into a replica IRT kiosk in the park above. The original kiosks were inspired by ones in Budapest, which is home to one of the oldest subways in the world – only the City and South London Railway, which is now part of the London Underground, is older. I’m a sucker for interesting subway entrances – Bowling Green is probably my favorite ever. (Hey, now there's an idea for another post...maybe.)

As I mentioned above, you can transfer to the J and Z train at Chambers Street via Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall - and that station was a nice little bonus. NYCSubway.org gives a far better summary than I could, so look at it. The unused platforms are like a weird time warp and I found it pretty fascinating, in spite of the aforementioned hipster douchebag yelling at me for taking pictures because he's, ya know, a hipster douchebag that has nothing better to do...
Abandoned platform, plainly visible from platforms still used in revenue service.
As always, below is the slideshow. If the embed isn't behaving, you can view the set on Flickr here.

Again, I have no original IRT stations banked and photographed, which means I'll take suggestions as to what station you want to see me do next. Leave a comment below if you feel like putting your two cents in! :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Breaking News from Metro North

Rocket aimed at ROW
(South of Naugatuck station)
Effective at 12:45pm this afternoon, Metro North has announced that all Waterbury branch line service has been suspended and alternate bus transportation will not be provided. Commuters have been urged to make alternative arrangements for travel to/from points on the branch beyond CP 261 in Devon, be it via taxi or calling up your baby mama.

Nobody seems to know why service is being abruptly suspended, however rumors are circulating that it is a combination of lack of funding from CDOT and due to immediate safety concerns in Naugatuck due to the relocation of some moderately influential rail blogger to the general vicinity of the station there. Apparently a massive rocket aimed at the right of way in Naugatuck is not enough to mitigate security concerns. 

The above mentioned moderately influential rail blogger may or may not be threatening to take P32AC-DM 201 and BL20GH 113 hostage in her yard the next time she sees them unless service is restored with these two locomotives exclusively providing service on the branch and their own dedicated mechanical team to keep them in top running condition.

It is unclear if Metro North will meet these deranged railfan demands in order to serve the greater Naugatuck valley community once again.

When asked about the impact on commuters, the local self-proclaimed "Commuter Advocate" from Darien that everyone loves to hate had no comment, although he could be seen gleefully rubbing his hands together at the thought of more money for the production of emergency water box supplies and station improvements in Darien, perhaps a method to keep the TVM change slots in sanitary condition.

(In case you've not figured it out: APRIL FOOL'S!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday Video: More about Bleecker Street

I was trolling the MTA's YouTube page the other day to see if they had uploaded anything amusing and vintage that I could use for a Tuesday Video post. No luck in that department, but I did find this video from the opening of the IRT to IND transfer at Bleecker Street, which goes with last week's post. Guess I should have trolled the MTA's YouTube sooner then. It talks about the benefits of the transfer, a little bit about the construction and it also discusses the Arts for Transit installation, "Hive", with the creator talking about his work.

My favorite part is probably Peter Cafiero's enthusiasm though ;)


Friday, March 7, 2014

Bleecker Street

Oh, hai there Katniss.
The next stop on our tour of the original IRT is Bleecker Street on the Lexington Avenue line. Nowadays it's serviced by the 6 train at all times and the 4 train during late night periods. Here you can transfer to the IND Sixth Avenue line's Broadway-Lafayette station, which is serviced by the B, D, F, and M trains. Until September 2012, a free transfer was only possible via the southbound IRT platform. If you wanted to transfer from the northbound IRT to the IND, it constituted an out-of-system transfer, and required the payment of an extra fare, unless you happened to have an unlimited ride Metrocard. A full free transfer had been planned since 1989, but it didn't come to fruition and fully open for another 23 years until September 25, 2012. In typical MTA fashion, the project was late and over budget. The original budget for the project was $91 million, and the transfer was originally supposed to open in 2010. Instead it opened 2 years after the fact and ended up with a final cost of $135 million. Some of these overruns can be attributed to increased construction costs, but the MTA also encountered a few unpleasant surprises along the way: they had to relocated a water main at Houston Street and had to foot the bill to shore up an unstable building adjacent to the construction because whoever owned the building couldn't afford to pay for the necessary work.

Bleecker Street is a standard four-track local station with two side platforms along the local tracks and two center express tracks which are utilized by express trains. Until a 1950 renovation, the platforms were only long enough to handle 5 cars. At that time, the platforms were extended in their respective directions (northbound north, southbound south) to accommodate 10 car trains.

27 restored pieces of ceramic?
The station has two different kinds of identifying tilework. The big oval tablets are made of 27 pieces of faience ceramic with poppies. There are also smaller cartouches with the letter B on them that also have tulips, which are an homage to New York's Dutch origins. Unfortunately though, the cartouches you see today aren't original Grueby Faience work. During the renovation that finished in 2012, reproductions were installed. Back in the day, Bleecker Street was used as a stop on a press preview months before the subway opened for revenue service because it was pretty much finished at that time. It was described by the New York Sun as "rich in dignified decoration as a Roman bath". Another feature of the original station that's no longer there today is the attempt to bring natural light into the station via skylights. Heins and LaFarge tried using this as a design element, but couldn't find a wide use for it.

If you walk into the station today, the most striking thing you'll notice is the newest Arts for Transit installation in the station complex. The LED-lit glass tubes look like a glowing honeycomb on the ceiling and were installed in 2012. This piece was designed by Leo Villareal, and the lights and colors (and intensity thereof) vary dependent upon the movement and volume of commuter traffic in the station. Sandra Bloodworth, who is the director of MTA Arts for Transit says that "the installation evokes not only the subway system's movement and transportation, but also that process of life." As you can tell from the slideshow at the bottom of the post, most of my pictures focus on the installation because I was mesmerized by it. Oooh pretty colors.

There is another Arts for Transit installation on the mezzanine of the complex in the IND portion, which is called "Signal" and was created by Mel Chin. It draws upon the history of Broadway-Lafayette as a trading route for Native Americans once upon a time. This work has been around since the late 1990's. The walls show figures from the tribes with their arms outstretched to one another. The support beams of the mezzanine have cone things at their bases which resemble campfires, and the lights within brighten upon the approach of trains, and dim when they leave. (Sadly, I didn't notice this little feature in action. Fail!) The holes punched into the campfire cones that the lights shine through are based upon tribal badge patterns. To be perfectly honest, this installation was entirely lost on me until I went to go look up information about it for this post. Oops :(

As of right now, I need to shoot more IRT stations to continue the tour, so I'm not entirely sure when the next one will go up. (In other news, I have an excuse to go waste an afternoon in the city with my new camera...score!) In the mean time, I should probably knock out some of the stations that are closed to the public, since I can't get into those anyway...so keep an eye out for those.

As always with the Flickr embed, if it's not playing well with your method of choice for viewing this post, you can visit it via this link instead!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: The (Overdue) Great New Jersey Transit Gallivant

This is from my gallivant around New Jersey Transit's territory on the weekend of the Super Bowl. I was going to write up a post about that, but alas, my ambition died with it, although I do have a restaurant post from it that I plan on posting sometime soon. Will someone hold a gun to my head and make me do that please?

At any rate, here is the link to the collection on Flickr. Enjoy. Below are my favorite random candids from the entire adventure.

Rahway Looker
Rahway, NJ

Rahway Bench Lady
Rahway, NJ

Bound Brook Foamer
Bound Brook, NJ

Bound Brook Trespasser
Bound Brook, NJ

Secaucus Profiles
Secaucus Junction  Lower Level - Secaucus, NJ