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. 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 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

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Century of Subways - Book Review

388 pages of electrified history?
The other day I finished reading "A Century of Subways - Celebrating 100 Years of New York's Underground Railways" by Brian J. Cudahy. Overall, it was a great book, although the title is a bit deceiving. You would think the book would primarily focus on the construction of the New York City subway, but strangely enough, it does not. One chapter is actually dedicated to the IRT in the beginning, and then the book goes on to discuss the T in Boston, the London Underground, and the Paris Metro before looping back around and discussing the other electrified railroads around New York. All of the chapters were really brief overviews of the origins of the topic subway/railroad and their reasons for electrification, and technical information pertaining to their rolling stock through the years. I suppose if it was any more in depth, it probably would have put me to sleep (which is saying something), but it still kind of left you wanting more information about each topic.

In spite of meandering across the world in rapid transit, the writer still drew similarities between the systems with the IRT in nearly every example. Aside from the chapter about IRT, I particularly enjoyed the chapter about New York's other electrified railroads, which gave a rather brief overview of why electrification became important in the city. (Steam engines crashing from lousy visibility in the Park Avenue tunnel anyone?) It discussed the origins of electrification by the Pennsy, New York Central, and New Haven, and LIRR as well as the further efforts of their successors. LIRR's push to expand electrification upon the arrival of the M1's was pretty extensively discussed, and the extension of third rail on the Harlem to Brewster North (Southeast...) after Metro North came to be was mentioned as well.

Protip: M3's don't have roof humps
(Click to expand.)
Some of the information is a bit dated - the M7's had barely hit the LIRR at the time of publication, and were still about six months away from revenue service on Metro North when this book was published, and there are some one pretty obvious inaccuracy, but the book is still worth a read for anyone remotely interested in transit since it's a good historical overview of several rapid transit and heavy rail systems. I learned some interesting tidbits about foreign subways though - the Paris Metro, as well as Montreal and Mexico city run rolling stock that use rubber tires as well as metal wheels - and the metal wheels are a back up to the tires. Even though the reasoning behind this is explained, I'm still not sure I buy it - but you know what, if it works for them, then so be it!

I've seen this book in paperback at the New York Transit Museum Annex at Grand Central for about $20 (I would imagine the regular museum in Brooklyn also has it, but I haven't been there in a while). It's available on Kindle for $10 as well as Nook for $12 (what happened to price matching?? Good grief!). Hardcover is $60ish brand new at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but look in the used offers on Amazon, I got my copy for $2 plus shipping - and it was an old library book, so it was in really good condition. (Looks like nobody ever checked it out to be honest!)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday Video: Danbury Drama

For a while now there has been a big stink locally about signal issues on the Danbury branch of Metro North. Given some recent media coverage, I was inspired to write this post. From what I understand, now that the branch has been fully signalized, the new system does not play well with the crossings and traffic light interface, particularly around Danbury and Bethel, which were the last parts of the branch to have signalization cut in. When the Danbury branch was dark territory, the crossing signals worked independently of each other. Now they need to be tied together with the signalling when they're in close proximity to each other - thus leading to multiple crossings crapping out at once. There have been instances where the crossing predictors have led the gates to drop with no train in sight, and conversely the gates also have not dropped when the train approaches. Obviously this is a problem, and does need to be corrected - without a doubt. If the gates are dropping for phantom trains, that leads to people becoming impatient and running the gates and complacency, and obviously gates not dropping for trains is also a problem. The railroad has a stop-and-warn protocol for crossing protection failures. If there's not already a cop or railroad employee there protecting the crossing and warning cars and pedestrians of approaching rail traffic and keeping the crossing clear, then the train has to stop, a crew member gets out and stops cars and pedestrians themselves. Once the crossing is clear, the engineer lays on the horn and the train creeps across the crossing. Once the first unit (be it engine or car, depending which way the equipment is running) gets completely across, the crew member can then get back on the train and the train can continue on its merry way. Stop and warns are time consuming and add time to people's commutes, which doesn't make people happy. Then when the schedule is awry, then some trains have to wait for others to pass (the Danbury branch is single track with passing sidings) thus compounding delays.

If I had to guess, based on unofficial accounts from people, this might be happening for a bit longer as the problem is apparently "in the ground" and the ground is frozen.

Perhaps Metro North, in conjunction with the Connecticut arm of Operation Lifesaver ought to be doing some awareness exercises in the area to remind people of common sense around railroad crossings, especially when they haven't been working correctly for a prolonged period of time. Personally, for me, it's second nature to slow the eff down and look both ways at a rail crossing, and I'm not even saying that because I like trains. I was raised by a school bus driver, and got the school bus driver situational crash course when I was taught how to drive.
Example exchange:
Mom: "Okay, well in the school bus when faced with (insert situation) I do this."
Me: "Mom, I'm not going to be driving a school bus, I don't care. Tell me what you do in a car!"
Regardless though, exercise common sense around a rail crossing. Are you just going to barrel through one that has merely crossbucks and flashers and no gates? No. Slow the hell down and turn down your stereo for 10 seconds and listen for a horn. Those things carry. Especially on the Danbury branch where the horns on the Brookville engines are annoying as shit. It's not difficult, and it goes with realizing that crossing protection is not failsafe - regardless of which railroad runs it. I slow down and look both ways at crossings around where I live - and you'd be lucky to see two movements a year over them - and if there was going to be a train, they'd be flagging it anyway...but it's a force of habit.

I hope this is fixed soon, because it does pose a safety hazard, especially in a society where everyone is in a big fat hurry to get someplace and ignore crossing gates even when they are working properly!

(Also of note, the other day a Danbury branch train hit a van at a crossing in Norwalk by Merritt 7 - completely unrelated to the signal issues, because the van was stuck in a snowbank and someone was trying to shovel it out or some similar such nonsense. Yet another reason why winter needs to promptly die in a fire. Can't really blame the van driver - he got the hell out of the way when he saw the crossing activate, what more can you really ask for?)

In closing - and why I can get away with calling this a Tuesday video post (and probably the most substantial one I've ever written) is because of the following video. It's a driver's ed scare-type video, but the analogy is why I chose it. Like I said earlier, my mom is a bus driver, and save for a handful of years in my mid childhood where she worked other jobs, she's been a school bus driver her entire life. When she started back up again, I was home sick from school and she had to bring me with her while she went to the bus company to watch the requisite new hire training videos, one of which was about rail safety for school buses. The whole your car is to a train as a soda can is to your car stuck with me. (And this was a good fifteen or so years ago), so...yeah. Just as a reminder: Don't be an inattentive, complacent jerk around grade crossings. Or don't listen to me because I'm just an insensitive a-hole about the whole situation apparently. If someone said it on twitter, it must be true, right? ;)