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Archive for December 20th, 2011

corporeal presence

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Presented today are a few shots of a very common occurrence presented from a fairly uncommon point of view. The Amtrak train above is traveling down the Hudson toward Manhattan, approaching the Spuyten Duyvil bridge, and the vantage point is onboard a small boat bobbing around in the river.

From Wikipedia

The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge is a swing bridge that carries Amtrak’s Empire Corridor line across the Spuyten Duyvil Creek between Manhattan and the Bronx, in New York City. The bridge is located at the northern tip of Manhattan where the Spuyten Duyvil Creek meets the Hudson River, approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) to the west of the Henry Hudson Bridge. It was built to carry two tracks, but now carries only a single track on the east side of the bridge.

A wooden railroad bridge across the Spuyten Duyvil was first constructed by the New York & Hudson River Railroad in 1849. The current steel bridge was designed by Robert Giles and constructed in 1900; the piers rest on pile foundations in the riverbed. Trains stopped running across the bridge in 1982 and the following year the bridge was damaged by a vessel and left stuck in the open position.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amtrak runs a passenger line down the Hudson River which occupies a historic corridor of tracks. As is Newtown Pentacle policy on the subject, your humble narrator freely admits to “don’t know much more than squat” status about the rail system, but the Spuyten Duyvil bridge seems to have suffered a lot of bad luck over the years.

From Wikipedia

Spuyten Duyvil Creek (pronounced /ˈspaɪtən ˈdaɪvəl/) is a channel connecting the Hudson River to the Harlem River Ship Canal, and on to the Harlem River in New York City, separating the island of Manhattan from the Bronx and the rest of the mainland. The neighborhood named Spuyten Duyvil lies to the north of the creek.

Spuyten Duyvil Creek originally flowed north of Manhattan’s Marble Hill. The construction of the Harlem River Ship Canal to the south of the neighborhood in 1895 turned Marble Hill into an island, and in 1914, when the original creekbed was filled in, Marble Hill became physically attached to the Bronx, though it remains part of the borough of Manhattan.

Another realignment of the creek occurred in the 1930s, to the west of the original realignment. This had the opposite effect: It separated a portion of the Bronx and resulted in its attachment to Manhattan as a small peninsula where the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center is now situated.

“Spuyten Duyvil” literally means “Devil’s Spout” or Spuitende Duivel in Dutch; a reference to the strong and wild currents found at that location.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Several times have I encountered the rumors that these tracks are haunted, in both modern and historical accounts. A long history of tragedy, including a ghoulish 1882 collision, seems to be associated with this place. Fires, maritime and vehicular accidents, pedestrians crossing the tracks being struck, even the weather has nearly done this bridge in more than once. There were sightings of spectral locomotives in the 19th century along this stretch (and all up and down the tracks between here and Albany as well).


There has been much speculation concerning the origin of the name “Spuyten Duyvil.” Dutch in origin, Spuyten Duyvil can be translated in two ways, depending on the pronunciation. One translation is “Devil’s whirlpool,” and indeed, sections of the creek were sometimes turbulent during high tide. The second interpretation is “to spite the Devil.” This translation was popularized by Washington Irving’s story in which a Dutch trumpeter vowed to swim across the turbulent creek during the British attack on New Amsterdam “en spijt den Duyvil (in spite of the Devil).”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Practical, private, and stern- the iron visage of the laborers who captain these locomotives do not discuss such frivolous subjects with outsiders, and instead focus on craft and profession. It is a sad thing to see the rich folklore of the rails fade away from the American mind, since these were once the miracle machines of “progress”.

You don’t hear kids talking about “John Henry” or “Casey Jones” anymore, for instance, or threaten their parents with jumping onto a passing train and living life as a “Hobo“.

From Wikipedia

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak (reporting mark AMTK), is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. “Amtrak” is a portmanteau of the words “America” and “track”.It is headquartered at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

All of Amtrak’s preferred stock is owned by the U.S. federal government. The members of its board of directors are appointed by the President of the United States and are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate. Common stock was issued in 1971 to railroads that contributed capital and equipment; these shares convey almost no benefits but their current holders declined a 2002 buy-out offer by Amtrak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Folkloric to the generations of the latter 19th century, rail offers up some of the greatest stories. Here’s a couple:

Express Train to Hell, Lincoln Death Train.

From Wikipedia

With primarily passenger services, the Northeast Corridor is a cooperative venture between Amtrak and various state agencies. Amtrak owns the track between Washington and New Rochelle, New York, a northern suburb of New York City. The segment from New Rochelle to New Haven is owned by the states of New York and Connecticut; Metro-North Railroad commuter trains operate on this segment. North of New Haven, ownership again reverts to Amtrak, whose tracks stretch to the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The final segment from the border north to Boston is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Under Amtrak’s ownership, the Northeast Corridor suffered from several high-profile electric-power failures in 2006 and other infrastructure problems. Intermittent power outages caused delays of up to five hours for Amtrak and commuter trains. Railroad officials have blamed Amtrak’s funding woes for the deterioration of the track and power supply infrastructure, which in places is almost a hundred years old.

Amtrak owns Pennsylvania Station in New York, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore, and Union Station in Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passenger service is remarkably unexciting, of course, what you want to see are long chains of variegated freight cars hauling lumber and coal and who know what else beneath a stretching trail of steam and smoke painted across the sky. Unfortunately, New York isn’t in that kind of business anymore.

From Wikipedia

The tale of how Spuyten Duyvil got its name is said to be that Peter Stuyvesant, then Governor of New Amsterdam, got wind that the British Navy was going to invade the city. He dispatched Anthony Van Corlaer, to ride up to the northernmost point of Manhattan Island and blow his trumpet, a common means of summoning the people. As he neared the shores where the Hudson meets the Harlem River, Van Corlaer couldn’t cross. It was a stormy evening when he arrived at the upper end of the island, and as no ferryman was available he vowed to swim across the river “in spite of the devil” (Dutch: “in spuyt den duyvil”). Halfway across, legend has it that the devil pulled Van Corlaer under, and while he was able to escape his grasp, he was too tired to continue swimming and drowned there despite his escape. From then on, the little area in the Bronx where Van Corlaer would have come to shore is called Spuyten Duyvil.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the first of several postings detailing certain sites and scenes which were observed along the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers on a brisk Saturday in the month of November. The small boat I was on is operated by the good folks at Riverkeeper and a hearty thanks is sent for both their good work and for allowing me to ride along on one of their regular patrols.

From Wikipedia

The P32AC-DM locomotive was developed for both Amtrak and Metro-North so it can operate on power generated either by the on-board diesel prime mover or a third rail electrification system at 750 volts direct current. The P32AC-DM is rated at 3,200 horsepower (2,390 kW), 2,900 horsepower (2,160 kW) when supplying HEP, and is geared for a maximum speed of 110 mph (177 km/h)

The Dual Mode P32AC-DM is unique not only because of its third-rail capability, but also because it is equipped with GE’s GEB15 AC (alternating current) traction motors, rather than DC (direct current) motors as used in the other subtypes. The type is confined to services operating from New York City, where diesel emissions through its two fully enclosed main terminals are prohibited. The P32AC-DM are seen only on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor between Penn Station and Buffalo, the Ethan Allen Express, Lake Shore Limited (New York section), Adirondack, and Maple Leaf services, and locomotive-hauled Metro-North Railroad commuter trains to and from Grand Central Terminal. Metro-North Railroad Genesis locomotives have an escape hatch in the nose.

The Amtrak model third-rail shoes are for use on the over-running third-rail in Pennsylvania Station and the Metro-North Model are for under-running third-rail in Grand Central Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A proper historical workup of the bridge, with the patented Newtown Pentacle multi view technology in place, will be forthcoming at some point in the future. You’d be doing your inner geek a disservice by not clicking on the diagram rich PDF linked to below.

an in depth analysis of this bridge (with diagrams, plans, and detailed engineering), and the herculean task of maintaining it, can be found in this 2004 PDF at

The bridge was originally constructed in 1899 by the King Bridge Company for the New York Central Railroad, and served for many years as a key link for freight delivery by rail to the west side of New Y ork City’ s main borough of Manhattan. Freight rail service to Manhattan dwindled in the years after World War II, but continued through the takeover of the line by Conrail in the 1970s, and into the 1980s. In the 1980s, Conrail discontinued all service on the line. Amtrak acquired rights to the line and initiated a program to start passenger service on the line.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

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