Exploring Greater New York

Text and Photos by Otto M. Vondrak

Many people consider the New York area to be a black hole of culture and communication. Most people think of urban blight, crime, and graffiti. The passenger trains that run here are bland state-subsidized commuter lines with little or no personality and look-alike equipment running through banal suburban settings. Not so!

The landscape of the New York metropolitan area is as varied as the people who live and work here. Lush forests, high ridges, valleys and streams, wide rivers, dense urban communities… they are all within miles of each other. With the recent increase of freight competition into New York City with the split of Conrail, we are seeing a great variety of freight as well. All come together to create an interesting and varied railfan experience.

As the commuter lines serve one of the most dense population centers in America, there is a great frequency of trains. On any weekday morning or afternoon, you can pick any station in the area and have hourly access to New York City. While the equipment may not be as exciting as a Challenger battling a grade in the high mountains, the charm of railroading is there nonetheless. While I have a collection of images of trains I have seen around the country, I never neglect the railroads right in my own backyard. While it may seem like a waste of film to record a train that makes daily trips to suburbia, you have to put it all in context. What is common today will disappear tomorrow!

I have assembled some recent pictures that I have taken around the area. While I grew up in the Hudson Valley, I took frequent trips across the river and into the city. Fifty-year-old subway cars are going through mass-retirement. New equipment to replace them arrives every day, making the old "Redbirds" even more special. As new locomotives and coaches for NJ Transit and Metro-North arrive everyday, the FL9 becomes an endangered species.

I hope that you enjoy this small collection of images, and that you are inspired to go out into your backyard and record those "everyday" images for posterity.

The evening rush hour is underway as Metro-North Genesis #204 pushes a train southbound at Croton, New York, on the Hudson Line. We are about 33 miles north of New York City, at the beginning of diesel territory. June, 2002.

In 1997, the Railroad Enthusiasts sponsored a fan trip on the Harlem Line using the ex-NYC ACMU's dating from 1956. This "farewell" trip was special, since ACMU's generally do not operate above North White Plains. Electrification was extended from North White Plains to Brewster North in 1984. The train is seen southbound crossing NY 22 near Croton Falls, New York, June 1997.

CP 5415 leads Train #505 north at Croton, New York. CP has trackage rights to operate a round-trip over CSX from Oak Point in the Bronx to Saratoga. Freight on Metro-North is rare, running in daylight even more so! This train runs north evenings three times a week. June 2002.

MN 2026, refurbished by CDOT, leads a morning shuttle train here at Towners, New York, on the Harlem Line. The former New Haven line to Maybrook crosses here. MN purchased the line (now called the "Beacon Line") and uses it for training and equipment moves. July 2002. We're about fifty-five miles away from Grand Central, in Putnam County.

MN FL9 #2012, painted to commemorate the New York Central, leads a Wassaic train with partner 2017, northbound at Dykemans, New York, on the Harlem Line. May, 2002. Conrail relocated the former New Haven interchange from Brewster to Dykemans in 1978, by constructing a connecting track near here to what is now the Beacon Line.

2012 and 2017 northbound, just near Wassaic, the new northern terminus of the Harlem Line. May, 2002. We are eighty-two miles north of Grand Central, in Dutchess County.

A train of M-4's is seen rushing eastbound at Glenbrook, Connecticut, on the New Haven Line. This area is famous for New Haven's 1940 experiment involved curved catenary structures (as seen above the train). The section of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor from New Rochelle to New Haven is owned and maintained by Metro-North. June, 2002.

What could have been? A northbound express pulled by MN Genesis #230 is seen here at Dobb's Ferry, New York, on the Hudson Line. These units were ordered by CDOT, and were painted in the McGinnis FL9 paint scheme to honor the old New Haven railroad. Since these units are in MN pool service, they often run far from New Haven rails. July 2002.

CP 5698 and 5677 is doing the honors tonight on Train #505, passing through the Dobb's Ferry station, July 2002. This station is located along the Hudson River in Westchester County.

Is this Wisconsin or New York? Lake Michigan or the Hudson River? The Soo Line hoppers may make you think we're in the Cheesehead State, but the third rail gives it away. CP 5698 and 5677 pull Train #505 at Scarborough, New York, on the Hudson Line. The Soo hoppers are empties returning from a stone customer in the city.

A train of Redbirds arrives at East 180th Street Station, on the No. 5 line. This line was a section of the New York, Westchester & Boston, a heavy electric railroad built by the New Haven and closed in 1937. In 1941, the City of New York purchased the section within the Bronx and integrated it into the IRT lines. The viaduct to the left is part of the original NYW&B mainline that headed down to its connection with the New Haven at Harlem River Terminal.

The replacements for the Redbirds. These trains still have that "new car smell" here at East 180th Street station on the No. 5 line. These cars are equipped with AC traction, automatic station announcements, and LED destination boards.

I always say that the best way to see New York is to leave it. This scene at 33rd Street Station in Queens on the No. 7 line says it all. We are looking at the skyline of midtown Manhattan across the East River. I spent some time shooting the "Redbirds" on the IRT lines as they are ending up as barrier reefs off Delaware, replaced by new trains. July 2002.

A train of Redbirds arrives at 111th Street Station in Queens. You can barely make out the Mets logos and banners commemorating the 2000 World Series, the first true Subway Series in almost fifty years. July 2002.

A Yankees train, in the shadow of Shea Stadium? This is Corona Yard, in Queens, near Shea Stadium, and the site of the 1964 World's Fair. Redbirds are being replaced by the newer Kawasaki cars that were delivered in the 1980s (seen on the right and left). July 2002.
And finally, we take a jump over to the other side of the Hudson River, to rural Orange County. NJ Transit operates trains to Port Jervis, New York, from Hoboken Terminal on behalf of Metro-North. This service runs over the former Erie freight mainline, now Norfolk Southern's Southern Tier Line. We caught this afternoon train on the famous Moodna Viaduct in Washingtonville, New York. This train has just made the station stop at Salisbury Mills-Cornwall, and the NJT GP40PH-2 is pushing towards Hoboken. August, 2002.