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Railfan & Railroad Classics - June 1994

Exploring Metro-North

Metro-North F10 413 rushes a three-car Wassaic Shuttle at track speed through Towners, New York, on the Harlem Line on May 27, 2006. All of the F-units were officially retired by Metro-North in early 2009.

Exploring Metro-North in 1994

By Richard M. Gladulich/photos by Otto M. Vondrak

Railfan & Railroad - June 1994One of the nation's busiest and most interesting railroads lies within one of its most densely populated regions yet is largely ignored by railfans outside of its immediate operating area. Although best known for its surviving FL9 dual-mode diesel/electrics and a horde of modern multiple-unit cars, this railroad has much more to offer the railfan. Let's take a closer look and see if you don't agree.

Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company, as it is formally known, is a subsidiary of New York's sprawling Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose other operations include the Long Island Rail Road and New York City's bus and subway systems. Operated independent of the MTA, Metro-North consists of 285 route miles of track within two states, New York and Connecticut. Each business day, the railroad runs 547 trains serving over 100,000 customers, most of whom begin or end their journey at New York's famous Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan. Metro-North consists of three divisions operated by its own personnel and an isolated division operated by New Jersey Transit known as the "West of Hudson" service.

The three main segments are the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Divisions which funnel traffic in and out of New York City. The "West of Hudson" division is the New York State portion of the former Erie commuter service between Hoboken, New Jersey, and Port Jervis, New York, along with three New York stations on NJ Transit's Pascack Valley Line. This is now operated as a convenience to Metro-North by NJ Transit, which assumed operation of all commuter service in New Jersey from Conrail in January 1983.

Lines operated by Metro-North

Certainly the best known of Metro-North's three divisions is the Hudson Line, the famous old New York Central "Water Level Route" main line west to Chicago. Extending from Grand Central Terminal north to Poughkeepsie, the Hudson Line closely parallels the Hudson River for almost the entire 74-mile route. North of Poughkeepsie, the line continues to Albany and is a main passenger and freight route for both Amtrak and Conrail.

Not nearly as well known is the Harlem Line, the former-NYC line which leaves the Hudson Line at Mott Haven Junction in the Bronx and continues 77 miles north to Brewster and Dover Plains. Closely paralleling the Hudson Line through Westchester and Putnam Counties, the Harlem Line was once part of a through route to Chatham, N.Y., where connection was made with the NYC's Boston & Albany Railroad. This route was severed in the 1970s and today terminates at Wassaic, 25 miles north of Brewster.

The Hudson Line by the way, is still owned by the Penn Central Corporation (recently renamed American Premier Underwriters), which leases it to the MTA. The same is true of Grand Central Terminal and the Harlem Line, which are owned by the New York & Harlem Railroad, making it the oldest incorporated railroad still in existence in North America. Negotiations presently underway between the MTA and American Premier Underwriters could lead to a long term extension of the lease and Metro-North's ultimate purchase of these properties.

The third portion of Metro-North's system is the New Haven Line, which is made up of the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad lines from Grand Central into Connecticut. Branching off the Harlem Line at Woodlawn Junction in the Bronx, the New Haven Line joins the Northeast Corridor at New Rochelle, N.Y., and continues to New Haven, Conn., where connection is made to the Connecticut Department of Transportation's Amtrak-operated "Shore Line East" service to Old Saybrook. This, by the way, is the only portion of Amtrak's Boston-Washington route that is not under Amtrak ownership or control, and it is not covered by NORAC rules. Although the portion between the New York State line at Port Chester and New Haven is owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), Metro-North operates all commuter service and dispatches all Amtrak and Conrail freight trains under contract to them.

In addition to the main line, Metro-North also operates three branch lines for ConnDOT. The first is the New Caanan branch which leaves the main line at Stamford and runs to its namesake community eight miles to the north. Next is the Danbury branch which leaves the main line at South Norwalk and continues 24 miles north to Danbury. The final operation is the Waterbury branch which connects with the main line at Devon and follows the Naugatuck River 27 miles north to Waterbury.

A Bit of History

Before continuing further, a look at the history of Metro-North and its predecessor railroads will help to understand today's operation. The oldest component of the Metro-North system is the New York & Harlem Railroad. Founded in August 1831, this was originally little more than a tram line using horses that connected Manhattan's City Hall area at Madison Square with the Village of Harlem at the northern end of Manhattan Island. By 1850, the line began to build north toward White Plains and Brewster and ended up building a connection with the Western Railroad of Massachusetts (Boston & Albany) at Chatham in 1852. Not long afterward, it gained the attention of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, a prosperous riverboat operator who saw the still-infant railroad industry as a potentially profitable venture.

Purchasing complete control of the New York & Harlem in 1862, the Commodore used this as a springboard to establish what eventually became known as the New York Central System. Not long afterward, he also purchased control of the parallel Hudson River Railroad, which at the time did not connect with the New York & Harlem. Wanting to route Hudson River trains into his new Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street from the old site at Chambers and Hudson Streets on Manhattan's lower west side (today's Amtrak Empire Connection to Penn Station), the Commodore built a short connection from the Hudson River's Spuyten Duyvil station to Mott Haven on the New York & Harlem. This was completed in 1871.

Meanwhile, in 1844, a group of investors independent of the previous roads chartered the New York & New Haven Railroad to run between the two points. In order to save construction capital and avoid problems with New York politicians, the New York & New Haven reached a trackage rights agreement with the New York & Harlem allowing the former's trains to use the latter's rails between Woodlawn Junction and Manhattan. Opening for through operation on December 29, 1848, the New York & New Haven Railroad subsequently became part of the J.P. Morgan-controlled New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

Over the years, the New Haven purchased control of two independent railroads that now make up Metro-North's Danbury and Waterbury branches. The first to be acquired, in 1885, was the Naugatuck Railroad which had been opened for operation in 1849 between Devon and Waterbury. The route that became the Danbury branch started out as the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad in 1852. This was taken over by the neighboring Housatonic Railroad which in turn was leased to the New Haven in 1892. The final branch between Stamford and New Caanan was constructed by the New York & New Haven and opened for business in 1868.

By the turn of the century, both the New York Central and New Haven were experiencing an explosion of growth in both local and through traffic at Grand Central Terminal. Although both roads had begun to explore electrification as a partial solution in the 1890s, a tragic and well-publicized collision in the Park Avenue tunnel near Grand Central forced work to move forward at a rapid pace. On January 8, 1902, a New York Central express rammed the rear of a New Haven commuter train killing 15 and injuring scores of others. A subsequent investigation found that the NYC engineer had run a red signal obscured by poor visibility due to coal smoke in the tunnel. Galvanized into action, the New York Legislature passed a bill in July 1902 which mandated reconstruction of the terminal and approaches as well as prohibiting the use of steam locomotives south of the Harlem River crossing within five years of the City's approval of final plans for the new facilities.

Exploring Metro-North

Electrification of the Harlem Line was extended from White Plains to Brewster in 1984, which helped increase the frequency of service on this bucolic suburban line. A southbound train of M-7's sails across the Saw Mill River Parkway near Katonah, New York, on October 31, 2010.

New York Central management took immediate action and appointed a special committee to study electrification and review options in reducing congestion in Grand Central Terminal. Headed by William Wilgus, a respected railroad civil engineer, the committee recommended construction of an extensive 650-volt d.c. third rail system covering the Harlem Division as far as North White Plains and the Hudson Division to Croton-Harmon. In both cases, these were the locations of steam locomotive roundhouses and servicing facilities and would be natural points for change between steam and electric power. Further, both were then the outer limits for most commuter traffic, allowing exclusive use of electric m.u. cars to cover this service.

Orders were placed for 180 steel m.u. cars from Pressed Steel Car, St. Louis Car and AC&F for commuter service and 35 "T" (later "S" class) GE electric locomotives for through passenger trains. In order to service this fleet, a new electric repair shop would be erected adjacent to the Croton-Harmon steam facilities, and another smaller satellite facility was planned for North White Plains.

Concurrent with the electrification program, the Wilgus committee was also required to plan for construction of a new Grand Central Terminal to replace the now-doomed existing facility. Because of space considerations, a novel two level station was planned that would meet the railroad's needs well into the foreseeable future. This required the digging of a 40-foot-deep pit 770 feet wide and a half-mile long Both projects began in 1903 and were completed ten years later at a cost of more than $100 million. The electrification program was constructed in stages with the Harlem Line completed in 1910 and the Hudson Line completed in 1913.

The New Haven meanwhile was an early experimenter with electrification. Along with several other branch lines in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the New Caanan branch was electrified with a 600-volt d.c. trolley wire system in 1898. Using two interurban cars especially purchased for the service, this line ran until in 1908 when it was re-electrified with an 11,000-volt a.c. system.

The very first main line railroad application of this Westinghouse a.c. technology, the New Haven main line was electrified from Woodlawn Junction to Stamford in 1905 and extended to New Haven in June 1914. Unique to this system was the requirement for dual voltage, since New Haven 11,000-volt overhead a.c. trains had to switch to the NYC's 650-volt d.c. third rail system south of Woodlawn. Although moved a short distance from Woodlawn to Pelham in September 1993, this changeover is still necessary, requiring all New Haven Line equipment to operate on both systems.

With the new physical plant in place, the NYC and New Haven commuter operations experienced a period of rapid growth until the 1930s, when the effects of the Great Depression were felt. Even though the New York State Public Service Commission froze fares at 1918 levels for decades, both railroads endured any losses and periodically added new m u. cars to their fleets.

The long road to public ownership really began with the passage of the Federal Transportation Act of 1958. This allowed railroads that were burdened with money-losing passenger service to bypass the various state regulating agencies and present any abandonment petitions directly to the ICC for a presumably more objective hearing. Realizing that both railroads now had the tools to discontinue some or all of their commuter service, the State of New York began to funnel money into the operation. Although Westchester County politicians managed to block any aid to the New Haven due to their deep concern over that railroad's precarious financial condition, the NYC was the recipient of $43 million from various state programs. Most of this consisted of using the state's credit rating to purchase new equipment which was repaid through lease payments spread over their operating life.

In February 1965, partially to facilitate the purchase of the financially troubled LIRR from the Pennsylvania Railroad, Governor Nelson Rockefeller proposed to the New York State Legislature the formation of the Metropolitan Suburban Transportation Authority. This new state agency would also be used to channel further aid to the NYC, which would also become the designated operator of the New Haven commuter service into Grand Central Terminal.

By 1971, both the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the State of Connecticut were subsidizing both services now operated by Penn Central, which had absorbed the New Haven in 1969. In response, PC created the Metropolitan Region which operated all Harlem, Hudson and New Haven Line commuter services independent of their freight service. This arrangement continued with the formation of Conrail in April 1976. However, by 1980, Conrail had not lived up to its expectations and required further infusions of Federal tax dollars to remain in operation.

In an attempt to make Conrail a financially viable operation, the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 was passed by the U.S. Congress. One of the provisions was that Conrail was permitted to exit from its money-losing but vitally necessary commuter operations in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia by January 1, 1983. Each of the transit agencies subsidizing these services would then become responsible for their operation. Although the bill gave each state the option of having an Amtrak subsidiary operate the service for them under contract, all of the agencies opted to operate these services directly.

Although the changeover resulted in bitter labor disputes and a long strike in Philadelphia and lesser problems in New Jersey, the Metro-North takeover largely went without difficulty mostly due to the existence of the Metropolitan Region and a history of close railroad cooperation with the MTA. Although Metro-North, like the other agencies, was hit with a strike shortly after the takeover, operations quickly returned to normal after the strike issues were sent to arbitration. Unlike SEPTA in Philadelphia and to a lesser extent with New Jersey Transit, most of Metro-North's employees came from the ranks of the Metropolitan Region and frequently went to the same positions that they held under Conrail. Many of the MTA employees sent to Metro-North had previously worked closely with their Conrail counterparts and likewise fit into the new organization rather quickly.

Metro-North today

Metro-North presently operates 547 trains each weekday, most of which originate or terminate at Grand Central Terminal. All trains are dispatched from the railroad's Operations Center in the MTA Building at 347 Madison Avenue. Trains between Grand Central and Mott Haven are now dispatched by a new state-of-theart Control Center located within the GCT building that will eventually replace the 347 Madison facility. Service levels on the electrified portions have not changed much since the Conrail and Penn Central days, with ten minute rush-hour headway on the Hudson Line and as little as three-to-five-minute headway on the Harlem and New Haven Lines. Outside of the commuting hours, hourly service is offered on the Hudson Line and half-hourly service on the Harlem and New Haven Lines where every other train terminates at North White Plains and Stamford respectively. On weekends and holidays, service is generally hourly with half-hourly service on the Harlem Line as far as North White Plains.

The biggest recent changes have occurred on the Upper Harlem Line between North White Plains and Brewster as a result of a 29.4-mile electrification project completed in 1984. The first major service improvement undertaken by Metro-North, this allowed retirement of a motley and rundown fleet of steamheated coaches and reassignment of the FL9 units that pulled them. Replaced by 142 M3 class electric m.u. coaches built by the Budd Company, this allowed both faster and more dependable service in an area that until recently was one of greater New York's most rapidly growing suburbs.

Also improved was diesel service on the Upper Hudson Line between Poughkeepsie and Croton-Harmon as well as the Upper Harlem Line between Brewster North and Dover Plains and on the Danbury and Waterbury branches in Connecticut. A fleet of new Bombardier coaches that replaced the steam coaches and rehabilitated FL9 units allowed more frequent and dependable service to areas that had been sadly neglected in the Penn Central and Conrail eras. During rush hours, half-hourly through service to and from New York is offered on the Upper Hudson Line with hourly service at other times and on weekends. Some of the off-peak trains, however, require a change to and from electrics at Croton-Harmon.

Exploring Metro-North

As seen from atop Breakneck Ridge, Metro-North train 8840 is southbound on June 16, 2001 with an FL9AC shoving. The Hudson Line was once part of New York Central's four-track mainline along the Hudson River.

On the Danbury branch, there are nine trains each way with three rush-hour trains each way running through to and from New York. Service on the Brewster North to Dover Plains segment and the Waterbury branch are essentially shuttle runs that connect with main line electric service. Trains run every other hour on the Dover Plains run with every three hour service on the Waterbury branch which terminate at Bridgeport. In 1991, one peak-hour through New York train each way was added to the Dover Plains schedule, while a similar run was added to the Waterbury branch. The through Dover Plains train proved to be popular, but the Waterbury run was recently discontinued due to disappointing ridership.

Amtrak on Metro-North

Metro-North hosts two separate Amtrak services which originate at Penn Station in New York. The better known of the two is the Northeast Corridor traffic which joins Metro-North at New Rochelle, N.Y., and operates to New Haven, where it continues on to Boston or Springfield, Massachusetts. Currently 13 daily Amtrak trains travel over Metro-North in each direction. Most are powered by AEM7 electric locomotives, with a few E60 electrics found on some of the heavier runs. In addition, Amtrak work trains, usually powered by E60s, will be found from time to time, particularly during the summer track season. This will increase in 1994 with major work scheduled for the corridor north of New Haven in preparation for the extension of electrification to Boston.

The other Amtrak route operated over Metro-North is the "Empire Service" to Albany, Buffalo and Chicago. Joining the Hudson Line at Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, these trains use the former NYC "Water Level Route" north of Poughkeepsie. At the present time, nine daily trains are scheduled in each direction. Most of these are handled by Amtrak's French-design Turboliners with Amtrak's FL9s and Amcoaches filling in as required. Several trains, such as the Niagara Rainbow, Empire State Express and Lake Shore Limited use FL9s south of Albany on a regular assigned basis. Unlike Metro-North's units, which are in push-pull service and always face north, Amtrak's fleet of six FL9s face in the direction of travel, making them somewhat easier to photograph.

Freight service over Metro-North

Except for work trains which move mostly during the summer track season and night-time locomotive-powered shop moves of dead m.u. equipment, Metro-North is an exclusively passenger operation. Over much of the railroad Conrail remains the freight operator as it was prior to public ownership. Most freight activity is on the Hudson Line, which is still the main Conrail freight route into New York City. One daily through Selkirk-Oak Point train operates in each direction, generally at night. This is a very heavy job that often handles 125 cars, mostly consisting of produce heading for the Oak Point food markets in the Bronx and interchange cars for the Long Island Rail Road. Symbolled SEOP and OPSE, these trains will sometimes be broken into two sections if they leave late and must operate during daylight hours. Metro-North operating rules will not allow freights to exceed 60 cars in length when passenger service is operating.

Another daily through train operates between Selkirk and Tarrytown in each direction to serve the huge General Motors assembly plant there. Symbolled TTSE and SETT, these operate at night and carry autoracks and large auto parts boxcars. In addition there is a local switcher that travels back and forth between Conrail's Croton North Yard just north of Harmon Shop and Tarrytown to feed cars to the GM plant as well as serve several other industries in Yonkers and the Bronx north of Spuyten Duyvil. On the Upper Hudson Line, one daylight job in each direction the daily WAPO, works between Poughkeepsie and Beacon. There are also two local Oak Point-based switchers,

Harmon 10 and Harmon 30, which serve local industries as far as Spuyten Duyvil where the Amtrak West Side Line meets the Hudson Line.

Although not as heavy as the Hudson Line, there is also considerable freight activity on the New Haven Line. Two daily crews symbolled WAOP20 and WAOP25 operate out of Oak Point and work as far as Stamford with side trips as necessary on the Harlem Line as far as Mount Vernon. Two counterparts are WANH 26 and WADA 88 which works out of Cedar Hill yard east of New Haven and operate as far as Stamford as necessary. All are daylight jobs except WADA 88, which works afternoons.

In addition to Conrail, three other freight railroads have operating rights over Metro-North. Guilford's Springfield Terminal operates one or two days a week as needed between Waterbury and Derby Junction, Milepost 8.7 on the Waterbury branch, while Providence & Worcester has overhead rights to reach Danbury via the New Haven Line and the lower Waterbury branch to Derby Junction where connection is made to a line owned by the Housatonic Railroad. The P&W also has overhead rights on the New Haven Line to South Norwalk as well as the entire Danbury branch. These rights and properties were sold by Conrail to the P&W and Housatonic in late December 1992. At the same time, Conrail sold running rights over the Upper Harlem Line between Wasaaic and North White Plains to the Housatonic Railroad. Due to the lack of on-line traffic, Housatonic has yet to exercise these rights.

The Metro-North electric fleet

Most of Metro-North's fleet consists of look-alike "Metropolitan" electric m.u. cars that at first glance look like refugees from New York City's subway system. Designed for high speed acceleration and exclusive high platform loading, these cars are efficient and comfortable to ride. The oldest are 178 M1 class cars nearly identical to those on the Long Island. Built by the Budd Company in 1971 and 1972, the Mls are 680-volt d.c.-propelled cars that operate in "married pair" configuration. These were joined 1984 by 142 nearly identical M3 class units which were among the last cars produced by the Budd Company before its demise in the mid-1980s. Eighty of the M1 cars and all of the M3 cars are owned by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and are leased to Metro-North.

Exploring Metro-North

The Danbury Branch connects to the New Haven main line at South Norwalk, Conn. CDOT FL9m 2027 with Train 6834 waits on Pocket 5, while the mainline connection departs from Track 3 at far left on June 5, 2005.

In order to serve the New Haven Line, the states of New York and Connecticut jointly purchased 244 M2 class cars in 1973 and 1975. Now reduced to 242 cars due to a collision in 1988, the M2s were produced by General Electric using bodies manufactured by Canadian-Vickers, a Budd licensee in Canada. Very similar in appearance and interior layout to the M1 and M3 cars, these very sophisticated and unique vehicles operate off both 12,500-volt 60 Hz a.c. overhead catenary and the 680-volt d.c. third rail system. Due to increases in traffic on the New Haven Line, New York and Connecticut purchased 54 M4 class cars in 1987. Operated in "triplet" configuration with a "blind" non-cab middle car, the M4s otherwise closely resemble their older M2 cousins and can be used with them when necessary. Unlike the rest of the fleet, the M4s were entirely built overseas by the Tokyu Car Company of Yokohama, Japan, using many U.S.-made components. Currently under construction at Morrison-Knudsen's plant at Hornell, N.Y., are 48 M6 cars which are virtually identical to the Japanese-built M4 triplet cars. Purchased jointly by the states of New York and Connecticut, these cars will accommodate the expected growth of New Haven Line traffic for the foreseeable future.

The final portion of the electric m.u. fleet consists of 61 ex-New York Central 680-volt d.c. cars purchased by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey from Pullman-Standard in 1962 and 1965. Known as "ACMU" or "1100s" on Metro-North, these cars are conventional in appearance and exceptionally rugged due to their very simple mechanical and electrical construction. Despite their advancing age, they are among the most dependable cars in the fleet, and as a result, Metro-North has no immediate plans to retire them. In 1990, two of these cars, 1164 and 1185, were outfitted by GE with experimental a.c. traction motors which they retain to the present time. Generally only used in rush-hour service, the ACMUs can usually be found on short turnback runs on the Hudson Line and the Harlem Line south of White Plains.

The diesel fleet

Although the electric m.u. fleet generates the most train miles, it is the diesel fleet that attracts the most attention. Today, Metro-North is the largest remaining operator of the classic EMD F-unit anywhere. Not only do they have the oldest F-unit in daily main line common carrier service, they also have the very last F-unit built. Most of these, of course, are the famous FL9 dual-power units built for the New Haven Railroad between 1956 and 1960. Although all but two (2010 and 2033) have been retrofitted with 500-kw Cummins HEP units, these units look substantially as they did when they were delivered nearly 40 years ago.

Even more significant is the restoration of the original New Haven "McGinnis" paint scheme to ten units now owned by ConnDOT and used on Metro-North lines. Of the 17 units still owned by Metro-North, the 2033 (ex-New Haven 2059, built in 1960) has the distinction of being the very last F-unit outshopped by EMD.

Also part of the fleet are seven FL9AC units remanufactured using the carbody and trucks of retired FL9 hulks. These state-of-the-art units feature a 3200-horsepower EMD model 710G3 engine, Brown-Boveri model 4073A a.c. traction motors and an inverter-supplied head end power capability. Remanufactured between 1991 and 1993 by ASEA-Brown Boveri, the FL9AC units have had some technical problems that are now being slowly resolved by ABB. For this reason, these units are largely confined to the Hudson Line in order to make them more readily available to ABB technicians headquartered at Harmon Shop.

More recent additions to the MetroNorth fleet are four EMD "F10" locomotives purchased from Boston's MBTA in 1992. Rebuilt from GM&O F3s in 1979 by the Illinois Central Gulf's Paducah Shops, these units are usually found on runs that do not terminate in New York. Of these, 413 (ex-MBTA 1152) is the oldest F-unit in daily main line service anywhere. Built in December 1946, the unit was originally GM&O 880A. A more complete "behind the scenes" look at how Metro-North obtained the units appeared in the January 1993 Railfan & Railroad.

Until recently, the railroad was also using two NJ Transit ex-C&NW F7s belonging to the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey. Now out of service, the 417 and 420 were leased for a dollar per year payment and were used as trailing units mostly on the Hudson Line. As part of the lease agreement, Metro-North is putting the units back into running condition and by this summer will paint them into a historic Lehigh Valley paint scheme before returning them to the URHS.

In addition to the F-units, Metro-North also has nine road switchers for use in switching and work trains. Until February 1994 this included seven ex-Conrail B23-7s that were leased from GE. Following a cost study which found that the purchase of rehabilitated EMD units was more cost effective than continued leasing of the GEs, Metro-North purchased from Conrail six Altoona-rebuilt "GP35R" locomotives which are essentially GP38s internally. Units 101-106 were delivered in a new paint scheme devised by the author at the request of Metro-North's vice president-operations, who felt that the F-unit tri-color scheme was too expensive to apply and maintain on a hood unit. At this writing, four of the six units have been delivered, with the last two scheduled for delivery by late March or early April. The B23-7s, meanwhile, were returned to GE Capital Corporation, which sent them to the Burlington Northern for continued service under a two year lease-purchase option. Pending completion of the last two GP35R units, Conrail is leasing B23-7 1991 to Metro-North.

In addition to the GP35Rs, Metro-North also inherited from Conrail a GP8, GP9 and RS3m. Both ex-NYC Geeps are used in the same service as the new units. GP9 750 is a former passenger unit which still has its as-built roof-top air tanks and boiler intact, making it an interesting photo quarry. Currently in the tricolor scheme, both Geeps will eventually be painted to match the GP35Rs with rebuild GPO 543 also receiving a chopped short hood. The ex-DL&W/EL RS3m 605, meanwhile, is owned by ConnDOT and lacks cab signals; this confines it to switching duties at Harmon Shop.

Metro-North also owns three E10B 680-volt d.c. straight electric switchers which are confined to Grand Central Terminal's yard areas. Purchased by MTA from Conrail in 1979, these 1000h.p. steeplecab switchers had been built by GE for the Niagara Junction Railway in May 1952. Because they lack cab signals and are geared for very slow operation, they almost never leave GCT's underground yard tracks and as a result are virtually impossible to photograph.

Exploring Metro-North

A rush hour train made up of 1960's vintage ACMU cars speeds north along the Hudson River at Scarborough, New York, just prior to their retirement in 2005. These cars were originally purchased by the New York Central.

The coach fleet

The backbone of the revenue passenger fleet is made up of 78 Bombardier coaches owned by both Metro-North and ConnDOT. Consisting of 32 cab cars and 46 trailers, these cars were purchased in three orders between 1985 and 1991. Although the ConnDOT cars are generally kept on the New Haven Line, shopping at Harmon and occasional equipment shortages will see them in the consists of Hudson Line and Dover Plains trains. These are pulled by one or two FL9 or F10 units which are always kept on the north end of the push-pull consist.

Metro-North owns three very historic streamline-era passenger cars which are used for track inspection trains, employee meetings, special events and, yes, charters by the public. Two of these are the observation/tavern/lounge cars from the DL&W's premier Phoebe Snow between Hoboken and Buffalo. Now numbered MN1 and MN2, they were built in October 1949 and sold to the Long Island after demise of successor Erie Lackawanna's passenger service. Sent to the Metropolitan Region in 1979 or 1980, they have remained in Metro-North territory ever since. Lovingly restored and cared for by a small mechanical force at Grand Central Terminal, these cars are operated in tandem with stainless steel coach MN3 that was originally built by the Budd Company for the New York Central's 1941 edition of the Empire State Express. All three cars were re-equipped for HEP operation in 1991 and 1992 and are kept in a secure shop area within Grand Central when not in use.

The freight car fleet

Surprisingly, Metro-North rosters over 150 freight cars used for various special projects and track work. Most numerous are 65 ballast hoppers, many of which are ex-PRR/Conrail H39 class 70-ton cars built in 1960-'62. The fleet also includes 15 Magor side dump cars purchased new by the MTA, approximately 25 flat cars (most o; which are of P&LE and PRR/Conrail origin) and four 75-foot ex-TTX flats that were originally built by the PRR in 1955 for their "True-Train" piggyback service. In addition, there are 25 rather well-worn ex-PRR/Conrail 1950-era G31 class gondolas that were recently replaced by 21 much newer 100-ton cars purchased from the P&LE estate.

Also in the fleet are eight 10,000-gallon DOT 103W type tank cars for firefighting and other services and four classic 40-foot AAR 1941-design steel boxcars built by Pullman Standard. Purchased by the author in 1991 from the U.S. Naval Weapons Station at Colts Neck, N.J., these cars, because of their low 14-foot height, are used to shuttle supplies between the Harmon Material Storehouse and the various facilities at Grand Central Terminal. Rounding out the active fleet are two ex-PRR/Conrail Pullman-Standard PS2 type covered hoppers used for sanding the rails in the fall "leaf" season and two snow flanger cars rebuilt from ex-Erie bay window cabooses.

Six steel cabooses, including two ex-PRR N5 class cars and four "Northeastern" style cars from the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central, are also rostered but are only occasionally used. Last but not least, Metro-North also owns a very rare double-end 680volt d.c. powered electric crane built for Grand Central Terminal when it was completed in 1914. One of only three known examples (New York Penn Station and NYC's Detroit River Tunnel were the others), it was built by the Industrial Crane Works of Bay City, Michigan. Numbered 001 and carrying the name "Wellington E. Whitney" for Metro-North's venerable master mechanic and wreckmaster, the 90-foot long, 100-ton capacity crane just celebrated its 80th birthday, having been built in February 1914. The oldest piece of equipment on the railroad, the crane is currently out of service parked alongside the North White Plains shop building.

Metro-North shops

Maintenance of Metro-North equipment is handled in four shop facilities located on various parts of the railroad. The best known and largest is Harmon Shop located at Croton-On-Hudson, N.Y., 33 miles north of Grand Central on the Hudson Line. Constructed in stages between 1909 and 1929, the Harmon complex is responsible for the heavy maintenance of all revenue equipment except the New Haven Line M2 and M4 cars. Covering more than 200 acres, the shop was given a $26 million restoration and upgrading between 1984 and 1985.

As currently configured, Harmon Shop is broken down into four major areas: the diesel shop for the locomotive fleet; the m.u. car running repair facility where all FRA-mandated inspections are carried out; the m.u. car program area where programmed eight-year overhauls are performed along with retrofit of improved components and systems, and finally the support shop where wheel truing, axle and bearing work, air brake component and traction motor repair as well as electronic component repairs are made.

Outside the shop is a toilet servicing area and an automatic car washer along with the usual locomotive fueling and sanding facilities. Harmon is also the site for the main storehouse and distribution center for all supplies purchased by the railroad.

Running and certain other repairs are performed at two other locations, both on the Harlem Line. The first is at Brewster where an ultra-modern 63,000-square-foot facility was completed in April 1987. In addition to running repairs to m.u. equipment operating on the upper Harlem Line, this facility is also capable of handling changeout of heavy components such as traction motors, wheelsets and motor-alternators. These are then removed and shipped either to outside vendors or Harmon Shop for repair. New or repaired spare components are then placed on the car, minimizing the shop time as well as lessening the work load at Harmon. Outside the shop is an automatic car wash facility and toilet servicing area.

The 28,000-square-foot North White Plains Shop, opened in December 1988, is essentially a running repair facility and is part of a much larger maintenance complex that includes a state-of-the-art paint booth, an MofW track equipment repair shop and the Communications & Signal Department training school.

In addition to ACMU, M1 and M3 equipment, North White Plains also maintains Metro-North's freight car fleet as well as the railroad's two heavy-duty hi-rail wrecking cranes. Based here is the wreck gang and wreckmaster, who is also the MofE shop facility director.

The final major repair facility is what is commonly known as the "M2 Shop" in New Haven. Opened in November 1974 by ConnDOT, this 57,500 square-foot building maintains both the M2 and M4 cars. Containing three tracks, the M2 Shop handles running repairs and FRA-mandated inspections along with removal of heavy components such as traction motors, transformers and wheelsets. At the east end is a separate building that contains the wheel mill. Since the M2 Shop, like Brewster, is not set up for repair of major components, these items are either sent to outside vendors or shipped to Harmon Shop for repair. In the not too distant future, ConnDOT plans to build a heavy repair complex at New Haven that will permit in-house overhauls of all New Haven Line equipment.

Likewise, work has begun on a new running repair facility at Stamford. Scheduled for completion in 1996, this will take some of the work load off the increasingly overtaxed M2 Shop.

Stamford also has one other facility that deserves mention. This is the railroad's wreck repair shop. Opened in July 1985 in a building originally used by General Electric to prepare the M2 cars for service, the "wreck barn," as it is known, turns out high quality repairs to equipment that has been damaged due to sideswipes, grade crossing collisions and other such incidents. Staffed by a small group of real craftsmen, the shop has saved Metro-North many millions of dollars in repair costs that would probably have been contracted out. Thanks to the wreck barn's efforts, Metro-North has permanently lost only two cars to accidents since its formation in 1983.

Exploring Metro-North

Metro-North's 1970's vintage M-2's continue to solidier on into the 21st century thanks to successful rebuilds and upgrades. A westbound train leans into the curve near Stratford, Connecticut, in November 2011.

Railfanning Metro-North

Unlike most other railroads, you can ride Metro-North trains almost anytime you like and at a very reasonable cost. It makes a really good way to scout for photo locations and get a feel for the operation -- which is to your advantage since it is virtually impossible to chase any train running on Metro-North. Traffic congestion on New York-area highways and the 80 m.p.h. speed of most trains makes traditional chasing out of the question. You are permitted to take photographs or videotape from any station platform, grade crossing or other public area throughout the Metro-North system. All the railroad asks is that you be considerate of their riders and take some common-sense safety precautions. As with other railroads, Metro-North shop locations are off-limits to all but employees on duty. This is strictly enforced, since live third rail and/or overhead catenary as well as many moving trains make shop locations particularly hazardous places for unescorted railfans.

All is not lost, however. As a state agency, Metro-North is proud of the accomplishments made with public tax money. In addition to permitting group shop tours arranged in advance, the railroad also holds a free annual "open house" at Harmon Shop each October. Held on a Saturday afternoon, it has become a popular local event drawing several thousand people each year. Various departments set up displays, tours of each shop area are arranged and best of all, a display is set up consisting of each type of Metro-North equipment including FL9s, FL9ACs, F10s, the work Geeps and even one of the elusive E10B electric switchers. Some of the units are open for inspection, while others are arranged for good roster-type photography, thanks to some railfan employees working at the shop. This year, the event is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 15. The normally beautiful fall weather in the Hudson Valley makes this an event that you don't want to miss.

Planning your visit

It is no secret that a stay in New York City, especially in the summertime, can be an expensive proposition particularly for a family. If you wish to save some money on your visit, consider staying either in White Plains, N.Y., or Stamford, Connecticut. Both are small cities with good lodging within easy walking distance of the Metro-North stations. Since hotels in these communities are geared for weekday business customers, attractive "getaway weekend" rates can be found at many of these places. The same can be said for meals, since both cities have a number of nice restaurants of all types in the downtown area.

Railfan & Railroad Archive

If you are bringing a family, there are several nearby attractions to look for in addition to the well-known sites in Manhattan proper. Close to the Fordham Station, which serves both Harlem and New Haven Line trains, is the world-famous Bronx Zoo. Nearby at the Botanical Gardens Station, which is served only by Harlem Line trains, is located the New York Botanical Gardens, an internationally-known horticultural garden and conservatory. Not too far away on the New Haven Line near the Rye station is Rye Playland, a large amusement and theme park with a bathing beach fronting on Long Island Sound. Metro-North, by the way, offers attractive discount packages to each of these attractions which include train fare. Also offered on weekends and non-rush hour weekday trains is a "Family Fare" which allows up to two children under 12 to ride for fifty cents each when accompanied by an adult rider. [Visit the MTA Metro-North Railroad web site for the latest fares and schedules. -Ed.].


Metro-North is one of North America's best-run passenger railroads, and it has much to offer both the railfan and the New York visitor. From the rich heritage of the lordly New York Central to the continued use of FL9s in New Haven McGinnis colors and trains sweeping along the shore of the beautiful Hudson River and plunging into America's most famous railroad station, it is a show that should not be missed. See you on the train!

This article originally appeared in the June 1994 issue of Railfan & Railroad.


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