Welcome to I Ride the Harlem Line, home of the Metro-North Panorama Project, which toured all the stations across the entire Metro-North system. If you’re interested in history, check out the SmartCat Historical Archives, which contains old timetables, tickets, postcards and more from the old New York and Harlem Railroad. For other posts and information, use the navigation above, or to the right.
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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.
Last night the iconic Solari split flap display was removed from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to make way for a new, ADA-compliant digital board. I spent the day documenting the takedown, and here is a collection of some of my photos from then, and from other days.
Over the course of this year I’ve been lucky enough to get a chance to ride quite the array of long distance Amtrak trains and see some of the most stunning vistas our country has to offer. There is simply no better way to see the great landscape of America than a journey by train. While I certainly find beaches and mountains beautiful, I’ve found myself most impressed by the rugged landscape of the American southwest, as seen on both the Sunset Limited and, most recently, the Southwest Chief. There’s just something about the striated red rock formations I find ruggedly beautiful.
I will refrain from saying too much about the Southwest Chief itself, and let a collection of photos I captured along the way tell the story. The dining car, the lounge car, and the roomette all enjoyable portions of the journey, but that can be experienced in many other places. The views from the windows, however, are unique to this trip and are what I made an effort to record. Enjoy a small collection of my favorite visions of the Southwest onboard the Chief – from stations to rock formations, and a few views of the train as well.
Welcome back to our feature of photos from Mongolia, this is part two of the three part series. In our previous post, we got a chance to see some of the territory and the noteworthy curves and switchbacks that make the Trans Mongolian line interesting to ride and view. In this post we’re going to take a few visits behind the scenes to see some of the people that work to make this railroad run.
It’s worth starting out our feature about people with the photo below:
You’ll obviously spot yours truly in the center, to my right is Temuulen, who served as my driver and guide while in Mongolia. He’s an avid photographer of many things, including trains, and knows all the best spots for photographing the Trans Mongolian line. On the far left is Natsagdorj, Temuulen’s father, and on the right is Vasiliy. Both Natsagdorj and Vasiliy work for the railroad, they are two of Mongolian Railway’s track defect experts, or as you’d more officially call them, Head Engineers of the Road Diagnostic Center. Vasiliy is from Russia, but has been in Mongolia working for the railway there for the past 22 years. Natsagdorj studied at railway universities in both Russia and Mongolia, and has also been working for the railroad for 22 years.
Here’s an updated map, showing the places we’ll be visiting in this post with red dots:
In our previous post we got to see some trains around the Kholt area, this time we visit the small platform (complete with an old, abandoned signal house on the hill above), and get a chance to meet the local dispatcher. Trains through this area aren’t using any type of Centralized Traffic Control, instead a local dispatcher controls the siding outside, and when a train arrives nearby, heads outside to visually report its passage and log the consist’s rear car number and time of passage. On the station platform is a small, raised raised spot which the dispatcher stands on to observe the passing train. Next to the spot is a long sign that reads цэг хяналмын, which translates to control point.
Although another small station along the line, Khairkan is slightly more noteworthy than Kholt in that it has a building that doubles as a dispatch office and a small waiting area for passengers. Similar to the dispatcher shown in Kholt, the dispatcher here controls a small amount of local territory, and goes outside to observe trains when they pass. Local dispatchers keep in contact with a central dispatching office in Ulaanbataar, where traffic plans are created and new dispatchers are trained. Upgrades to a Centralized Traffic Control are planned for the area, in which case these local dispatcher jobs will become obsolete and the central office will instead control the train traffic from afar.
As one would expect, the main backshops for the Mongolian Railways is the capital of Ulaanbataar. Much of the equipment and work completed there reminds me of other shops I’ve seen at Amtrak and around the world – from the heavy overhead crane, to the truing of rail wheels. Unlike what I’m used to at work, there didn’t seem to be much in terms of PPE requirements.
On the Road
Not everything I did while in Mongolia was railroad related. One can’t miss some of the more traditional touristy things while visiting the country, including sleeping in a ger, or riding a horse. In the case of the first, ger is the Mongolian word for “home” – and is basically a round tent that’s really not too bad of a place to rest your head. The center of the one I stayed in had a nice wood stove to keep you warm through the night, and yes, it was electrified. You can charge your cell phone in a ger… though you do have to go elsewhere to use the bathroom.
Not far from the camp was the Aryabal Temple, which was built in the early 1800’s by Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhists. It was destroyed by communists in the 1930s, and restored in 2007. The temple is located on the mountain, and requires climbing 108 steps to reach it.
On the way back to Ulaanbataar was one of those tourist traps you’ll find in a lot of different places, because everyone likes animals. In this case, the animals for show were birds of prey. Of course, hunting with large eagles is a traditional part of nomadic Mongolian culture, so it definitely makes sense.
Either my arms are severely lacking in strength, or the bird was a lot heavier than it looked.
This wraps up part 2 of our feature on Mongolia, in our next part we’ll take a look at another popular tourist site in the country, one of the more remote train stations along the Trans Mongolian Line, and some views from high in the air.
Earlier this year I posted a collection of photos from some of my travels around the United States, mostly on Amtrak. While riding the rails here at home is always fun, I’m always curious about foreign rail systems, especially some of the more remote ones throughout the world. One such remote system I got a chance to photograph was in Mongolia. Many people have at least heard of the famed Trans Siberian Railway, which stretches from Moscow to Vladivostok (a distance of nearly 6,000 miles) – but that part of the route isn’t the entire story. There are a few notable branch lines, the primary of which is the Trans Mongolian line, which separates from the Trans Siberian near Ulan Ude, Russia, and goes south through Mongolia and eventually ends in Beijing, China.
Last year I got a chance to both photograph and ride the line (yes, I have quite the backlog of photos to go through!) and experience the very interesting and unique landscape that is Mongolia. Beside riding the trains, I got to camp in a normal tent, as well as the traditional Mongolian ger, hike a little, ride a horse, and visit some of the tourist locations – like the giant statue of Chinggis Khan (Chinggis being the more exact transliteration of who we usually call Genghis in English).
My Mongolian adventures started in Ulaanbataar, the capital city of Mongolia, which also happens to have the largest train station in the country. Not far from the station is also a locomotive heavy repair facility, which you’ll see in Part 2. Our photos here feature the city’s main Sukhbataar Square, as well as an intersection not far from the square – note the traffic congestion at the intersection, Mongolians are restricted from driving in the city on certain days based on the last number on their license plates. Despite the vastness of the country, nearly half of the entire population live in just this city. Additional photos show the main railway station and surrounding area in Ulaanbataar.
A lot of my travels didn’t take me far from Ulaanbataar, mostly because some of the most notable territory along the Trans Mongolian route is just south of the city. In order to traverse the mountainous territory south of the capital, the railroad curls in an almost never-ending set of switchbacks which are popular with photographers to the area. Khonkor is approximately fifteen miles southeast of Ulaanbataar, but over 600 feet higher in altitude. On approach to Khonkor, it skirts the towering Bogd Khan Mountain, which lies just south of the capital, and is visible in some of the photos below.
About nine miles south of Khonkor is Bayan, where more switchbacks have taken us up another 400 feet in altitude. Some of the mountains that the train passes through provide perfect perches for train watching, or if you happen to be a cow, usually a great place to graze. Unfortunately before my visit, little rain had fallen and much of the grass was brown (also unfortunately, the rain decided to fall frequently during my visit, even to the point of flooding Ulaanbataar. Apparently Mongolians have few qualms about fording rivers or flooded streets with their vehicles). The land here is known as the steppe – an area made up of grasslands and shrublands that form a crescent around the Gobi Desert, which is located further south on the Trans Mongolian line.
Six and a half miles south of Bayan you will find Kholt, about 260 feet higher than before. Just south of here is the highest altitude you’ll find along the Trans Mongolian, from here on out you’ll be slowly descending to 3,150 feet at the border with China. Similar to Bayan, this is steppe territory which is largely free of trees and pretty much anything else, for that matter. Looking at the desolate landscape makes you truly begin to understand how Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world. In fact, one of the few dwellings you’ll see in the Kholt photos are two houses close to the tracks, which were formerly for railway workers to stay in, but are now unused.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this initial introduction to the Trans Mongolian route. I have two more parts planned for the future – the second, which will feature the Ulaanbataar shops, a train dispatching office, and some of the people that work on the railroad. The third installment will highlight the mountainous territory of the line from the air, and show some of the more remote places you can find along the rails.
Nearly six months later, I’ve come to set the record straight – I’m neither dead, nor has this site been shut down. I’m still out there (somewhere), traveling, with a camera in hand. Last month I logged over 7,500 miles on the train, saw a lot of cool places, and met some awesome people. Here are some photos I liked from along the way…
As we find ourselves in the final hours of 2017, I thought it might be a nice time to look back at some of the more memorable photographs to appear on I Ride the Harlem Line this year. As you likely noticed, posts were few and far between this year, as things were again, rather busy. Despite that, we still adventured to the Beacon Line, Grand Central for Amtrak’s temporary return, and the new Penn Station. While some may find 13 an ominous number, I tend to find it lucky – so let’s take a look at the top thirteen photos posted on the I Ride the Harlem Line website or social media pages this year.
#13 – Hartford, Connecticut
One of my favorite spots to catch Amtrak’s New Haven to Springfield line is this one at the historic Hartford Union Station. This shot from early April captures the Vermonter as it passes Connecticut’s capitol building and approaches the station.
#12 – Trenton, New Jersey
As the road bridge behind the rail bridge states, “Trenton makes, the world takes.” This drone view captured Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train number 125 as it departed Trenton for Philadelphia back in November.
#11 – Fort Erie, Canada
Norfolk Southern makes its way through Fort Erie, Canada at sunset – bound for the Niagara River just a few meters away, and the border crossing into the United States.
#10 – Buffalo, New York
As I captured this photo at the time of posting:
How exactly does one illustrate the challenges facing a revival of Buffalo Central Terminal in one photo? This may be as close as you can come. The Terminal, as seen from Buffalo’s City Hall, is quite obviously removed from the city’s core downtown area. Visible in the photo are the two most notable structures completed in Buffalo in 1929, though both in the art deco style, they may almost be worlds apart in terms of geography. The Rand Building is prime real estate in Buffalo’s downtown core, while the Terminal is approximately two and a quarter miles as the crow flies in what one can only describe as a far rougher neighborhood.
Neither is Buffalo Central Terminal located on one of the main spokelike thoroughfares (like Broadway, the diagonal running street seen in the photo) that lead from the suburbs into the city proper. While it may have been constructed in the most logical place along the railroad tracks (most train servicing Buffalo would pass the Terminal, however trains bound for the western US would not pass a downtown station), the location is hardly practical with how people interact with and move within the city itself.
Although many railfans and preservationists alike hope for an announcement that BCT will come alive again, the pragmatist in me believes it will not happen, and a new station will be constructed in the hip Canalside area of downtown Buffalo, not far from the current Exchange Street station. The final decision for Buffalo’s new (or old) station is expected later this year.
Spoiler: They picked Canalside.
#9 – Khairkhan, Mongolia
Both mountainous and desert-like, the landscape of Mongolia is always provides an interesting backdrop for train watching. To maneuver through the mountains, many switchbacks are used to overcome the steep gradients on approach to the city of Ulaanbataar. Forgive me for going all the way to Mongolia and China in July and sharing very few of the photos from that journey. I plan to make a few posts in 2018 with some of these images!
#8 – Grand Central Terminal, New York City
On the last day of Empire Service trains into Grand Central Terminal, I show off my Empire Service logo pin. We’ll call this one a tribute to the designer of said logo.
#7 – Harlem, New York
Shall we ride by train or by boat? Amtrak Empire Service train 233 has departed Grand Central and is enroute to Albany, captured while leaving Manhattan over the Harlem River Lift Bridge.
#6 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
All the way from California, to arrive in the snow… Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)’s first ACS-64 arrives in Philadelphia from the Siemens factory. Photo taken at the Jenkintown-Wyncote station.
#5 – Bear Mountain Bridge, New York
Let’s play a game. The game is called “Spot the Train.” Empire Service near the Bear Mountain Bridge
#4 – Waterbury, Connecticut
On a frigid March day, a Waterbury branch train arrives at the end of the line in Waterbury.
#3 – Storm King Mountain, New York
Amtrak’s Train 290, the Ethan Allen Express, is just barely visible as it approaches one of my favorite places along the Hudson, Pollepel Island, home to Bannerman Castle.
#2 – Harlem, New York
As part of the Penn Station Renewal program, six Amtrak Empire Service trains have been diverted to Grand Central Terminal. This was the first Amtrak scheduled revenue service train in 26 years to use GCT, or as Amtrak has dubbed it, NYG. Of course, I Ride The Harlem Line captured the first train in Harlem, with the backdrop of New York City behind.
#1 – Penn Station, New York
Photo credit: Amtrak / Emily Moser
Although this particular photo was not heavily promoted by me or this website, while doing a top photo list of the year, I’d be remiss leaving this one off. In fact, this is arguably the most viewed photograph I’ve ever captured in my life, after appearing on CBS This Morning, and in countless publications including AM NY and the NY Post. The photo was part of a set taken for Amtrak to be freely accessed, shared, and/or published by any and all media as part of the Penn Station Renewal program. I shared my experience taking these photos in a post here. As much as I enjoyed the experience of capturing the images in Penn Station, I think I will be retiring from pulling any future all-nighters as favors to my coworkers. ;)
And that wraps up our countdown! I’m looking forward to 2018 and have some interesting journeys already planned, so be sure to keep an eye out! Oh, and be sure to follow us on Facebook, as we post a tad more frequently on there!
Labor Day has come and gone, schools have started back up again, and we find ourselves in the waning days of summer. The much-hyped transit “summer of hell” has also finished – and many seem to think it was a lot more swell than hell. For anyone with an interest in trains, it was always going to be rather swell. Amtrak would be making a return to New York City’s cathedral of railroading, Grand Central Terminal, after being gone for more than a decade. We welcomed the Empire Service trains with both open arms and camera shutters. I caught the trains in various locations along the reroute, and am presenting some of my favorite shots from the duration here. Until the next time…
It may be hot, but down in the bowels of New York’s Pennsylvania Station it’s not really hell. Befitting the city’s well-known nickname, nobody here is sleeping at 2 AM – the renewal of Penn Station is a round-the-clock job. On the night of July 21st anticipation has been steadily building for the final placement of one of the many puzzle pieces of the station’s new track infrastructure. Switch 69B – everything is named numerically based on it’s position, with letters indicating the facing direction – is a massive piece of hardware that was assembled outside the station. In the cover of darkness it will be rolled in on its side, due to its width – when laid flat it is wide enough to foul the tracks on both sides.
With the last Amtrak train in the house at 1:40 AM, there’s a brief lull until the first morning departure at 3:25 AM. It’s in this window that the switch is laid flat just beyond the mouth of the Hudson tunnels and loaded onto Amtrak’s Portal Krane-1, which will bring the heavy piece to the correct spot and lower it into position on the already prepared track bed. PK-1, as it is abbreviated, is a Transformers-looking beast, with movable legs that allow it to “walk” the switch into position. It’s controlled by a complicated looking panel mounted to the body of the operator – I can only think of it as a joystick on steroids, and idly wonder if the fellow is any good at video games.
The night’s anticipation reaches its peak as PK-1, fully loaded, begins moving at 2:23 in the morning. When the vehicle reaches the right position next to the empty track bed, the operator controls PK-1’s legs to gradually shift the position of the switch. After several lateral shifting motions, the switch hovers in the appropriate spot just above the track bed. After trimming pieces of the already laid rail to accommodate it, the switch is finally lowered into position.
Concurrently, another team is hard at work on the other side of the station’s tracks. Most of the infrastructure for Track 10, including rails and ties, third rail and catenary have all been removed for a complete rebuild. Here, too, anticipation mounts for the arrival of the cement truck for the night’s pour. Word comes on the radio that the truck is on the move, enroute to the Empire tunnels, complete with police escort. Of course, Amtrak’s cement truck is a hi-rail vehicle; before long it will slowly roll down adjacent to Track 10, ready to encase the already installed wood ties.
Several photographers have gotten the chance to document the milestones happening in Penn Station, and I am lucky enough to be one of them. If you have seen Amtrak’s Media Images site or the new NYP Renewal Update video, you may have already seen some of my photos. Now, perhaps, they feel a little bit more real. If you’re like me, you may gain a new respect for the hardworking folks renewing the station, investing quite a bit of sweat in the wee hours of the morning.
Credit for all photos: Amtrak / Emily Moser. For more Amtrak images and videos, please visit the Amtrak Media website.
For almost as long as humans have been walking on this Earth, we have used hats. Whether they be for protection from the elements (with or without cat ears), for symbolic purposes, or simply for fashion, hats still remain an important part of our wardrobe to this day. Some historical figures are even well remembered for their hats, like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats, or Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. Today’s little bit of railroad history is an unofficial railroad timetable distributed by a hat salesman in Oneida, New York. The subject has come up on this blog before, where I have admitted my love for unofficialtimetables.
If you ever wondered why many railroads began explicitly printing “Official Timetable” on their publications, it was certainly in response to the practice in the later 1800s and early 1900s for local businesses to distribute self-made timetables for the nearby train station with an ad for their shop on the other side. The marketing concept is both effective, and still commonplace today. If someone has something that is functional and useful that they will have close by that has your ad on it, there is a higher likelihood that when that consumer needs something, they will turn to you. Whether it be the unofficial timetable of yesteryear, or the box of matches (although not quite as common these days), fridge magnet, or wall calendar of today, all of these products are useful but also make you remember a particular business.
Although I try to focus my collection on the Harlem Division, it was hard for me to resist this purchase. Beyond my love for unofficial timetables, this card was probably the most quirky examples I had ever seen. And how can one say no to a cute puppy hiding in a hat? If I was looking for a hat in Oneida, surely I would have purchased one from Mr. Stone!
And how could you ever forget W. A. Stone, with this cute puppy timetable?
Watson A. Stone was born in 1847 and was a life-long resident of New York, spending much of his adult life in the Oneida area. Stone was an official sales agent for Knox Hats, a noteworthy New York City-based hat company that counted many wealthy and famous as patrons. According to popular lore every American president up until Kennedy wore Knox hats, and presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln was wearing a Knox-made stovepipe hat during his influential Cooper Union speech. In addition to his business selling hats and boots, assumedly to all the famous, well-to-do, and fashion-forward folks passing through Oneida, Stone was the Oneida postmaster from 1881 until his death in 1888 (which places the publication of this card at some point before that year).
The New York Central and the O&W Stations in Oneida
Other than being cute, the timetable hearkens back to a time when Oneida was traversed by several different railroads and was a maze of railroad tracks, simply a memory today. In the late 1950s and early 1960s several sections of the New York Central main line were relocated in upstate New York, including a section near Batavia (1957), and an area from Oneida to Canastota (1965). With that relocation, New York Central trains would no longer run through downtown Oneida, dashing anyone’s plans to hop off the train and quickly pick up a fashionable hat to wear.
Today, the former railbeds through town are an informal trail system, with plans to make it an official rail trail.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.