The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘New York and Atlantic

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I got to ride on a New York and Atlantic Freight Train!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the New York and Atlantic’s newest ride – Engine 400. Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge my pal David Silver and his encyclopedic knowledge of all things rail for pointing me in the right direction on the original make and model of this particular locomotive engine. Originally built in 1966 for the B&O railroad, this model GP40 locomotive’s original configuration offered some 3,000 HP.

NY&A has recently (2018) had the thing rebuilt at Knoxville Locomotive Works to bring it in line with modern day Tier 4 emissions standards. It lost 700 HP in the conversion, it seems, but NY&A operates on fairly level terrain (by rail standards) in NYC and Nassau and Suffolk Counties. NY&A are a private company contracted by the Long Island Railroad to handle their freight duties, as a note.

Also as a note, I’ve actually photographed this unit before, at night in Maspeth at the Haberman tracks in March of 2019. Check that out here.

from wikipedia

The GP40 is a 4-axle diesel-electric road-switcher locomotive built by General Motors, Electro-Motive Division between November 1965 and December 1971. It has an EMD 645E3 16-cylinder engine generating 3,000 hp (2,240 kW).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ride itself was offered by NY&A, the Waste Management Company, and the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. A small group of invitees assembled at Waste Management’s Brooklyn waste transfer station on Varick Street, and there were three opportunities to ride on the thing along the Bushwick Branch tracks leading through East Williamsburg into Ridgewood and then Maspeth. I rode it twice, sitting out the middle trip so I could get shots of the thing coming and going.

This was actually pretty exciting for me, since my oft repeated “I don’t trespass” stance has often found a humble narrator staring wistfully at some trackway which I was dying to explore. Today’s post is proof of my pudding that eventually I will get to go where I want, in the company of the people who own the thing, and that I will be able to publish the photos publicly. A number of the officers of NY&A were onboard, notably the NY&A’s president James Bonner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hampering the efficiency of the line are the multiple “at grade” street crossings which the route follows. There are no signal arms or even flashing lights and bells to warn motorists or pedestrians or even – god forbid… bicyclists – that the train is about to cross the street along this section of the route. Procedure dictates that the conductor (apparently that’s what you call the guy, even though there’s usually no passengers) gets off the train and walks ahead of the engine, stopping approaching traffic the NYC way – standing in the middle of the street and waving his arms around.

James Bonner told me that this situation is something that the company is trying to fix with some haste, but for now the train moves through this section of the Creeklands at the limited speed which a conductor can walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train carried us roughly a mile into Queens and then reversed back towards the Varick Street location. A humble narrator got quite busy with the camera on this trip. Most of what I shot were pretty boring photos, which were recorded in a simple documentarian manner depicting and detailing the otherwise forbidden rail tracks. During the excursion, I was allowed to walk around on the engine’s catwalks. There were a couple of other photographers along for the trip, as a note. Assemblyman Joe Lentol of Greenpoint was onboard as well, along with other notables from Brooklyn. At one point, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation showed up and she made a speech.

The notables were riding in a little caboose at the back of the train set. I rode in the caboose on the last ride of the day, but during the first trip I was on the locomotive section. In between the two, there was a “slug,” which I’m told acts as a purely mechanical augment to the locomotive engine providing additional tractive effort assistance and extra braking capability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The engineer driving the train was a pretty good humored fellow, but I never did catch his name. He was seated at a console offering multiple digital indicators and gauges. I don’t have room for what the console looked like in this post, but if you want to get an idea of it – check out this photo of the setup over at flickr.

Of course I had to be a jackass at least once during the trip, and while standing on the engine’s catwalk at a street grade crossing in Maspeth, I spotted an attractive woman waiting for the train to pass. I shouted out “hey, what do you think of my ride?” to her, and she smiled and then winked her eye at me. It was probably just the sun, or dust, or a seizure, but I’m holding on to it being a wink – thank you very much. I’ve still got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train returned to the Waste Management facility at Varick Street, where bags of NY&A shwag were waiting for us. I got a neat baseball hat with a NY&A logo on it, and a pen with a logo too. Just behind the train, you’ll notice a fence line with some green material affixed to it. Right on the other side of that bridge is the loathsome terminus of the Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary, some 3.8 miles from the East River. The water is crossed by, and the Bushwick Branch tracks are mounted upon, the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge, which is roughly 3.7 miles from the East River.

I don’t come back here very often – remember that “I don’t trespass” thing? Also, this is a pretty far walk from Astoria. Saying that, check English Kills and the Montrose Avenue Bridge out at night in this 2019 post, during the day in this 2017 one, and for more on the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch tracks click through and all the way back to a simpler time in this 2012 post.

What a week I had!

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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

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It’s National French Fries Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one was invited to attend an event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s Nature Walk last week, and since I was planning on shooting the Kosciuszcko Bridge later in the evening at sunset, a humble narrator hung around for a few minutes taking in the scene at Newtown Creek.

If you haven’t been, the Nature Walk is part of the sewer plant, and is a sculptured public space designed by George Trakas. NYC is under an obligation to spend “1% for art” in all new municipal structures, and the Nature Walk was built as the 1% part. You can access it at the eastern side of Paidge Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a New York and Atlantic Railway switcher locomotive above, crossing Long Island City’s DB Cabin rail bridge – which carries the LIRR’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks – at the mouth of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. New York and Atlantic was moving freight cars between the Wheelspur Yard (to the west) and the Blissville Yard (to the east). New York and Atlantic is the freight contractor for the Long Island Railroad, which owns the tracks and yards of the Lower Montauk Branch, and the extant lead tracks connecting to it like the Bushwick Branch. Their freight service area includes NYC, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties.

There used to be passenger service on the Lower Montauk, but LIRR abandoned service to the stations along the Newtown Creek back in the 1990’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The particular engine seen in today’s post is an EMD MP15AC, the New York and Atlantic 151.

It’s a switcher locomotive, one which used to wear the brand colors of the LIRR. It’s a diesel powered unit, generating about 1,500 horse power and was manufactured by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division sometime between August 1975 and August 1984. Apparently, New York and Atlantic has four of these units.

Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

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viewless aura

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Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Blissville, for those of you not in the know, is the section of Long Island City which the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge connects to. One refers to this area as DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – as I like to stay ahead of the Real Estate Guys on this sort of thing. DUGABO is an M1 zone, meaning that it is zoned for heavy industry. A couple of blocks to the north, it becomes a “mixed use” zone, and there’s a scattered series of homes and commercial storefronts in the area – a lot of the building stock actually dates back to the 19th century.

The LIRR trackways run along the coast of Newtown Creek, and you’ll find several bits of railroad infrastructure along the shoreline. In focus today, the Blissville Yard, which has found new occupation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard is a series of trackways designed for storage of rolling stock. It connects to the Hunters Point tracks via a rail bridge that crosses Dutch Kills, and there used to be a connection to the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon terminal railway spurs via the Montauk Cutoff which is no longer an active track. The modern use of the Blissville Yard is governed by the New York and Atlantic company, which is a private corporation that handles freight services for the Long Island Railroad. If you see a black and emerald colored engine operating along the LIRR tracks, that’s them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too long ago, the Waste Management company, which enjoys a profitable relationship with NYC’s Department of Sanitation, opened a new facility on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek. Waste Management handles the exit from our municipality of the putrescent or “black bag” garbage collected by the municipal DSNY. The company has been operating for several years out of an enormous facility on Varick Street in what should be called Bushwick, but is referred to in modernity as East Williamsburg.

At Varick Street, Waste Management and New York and Atlantic operate the so called “garbage train” along the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR. Now, in Queens, they are operating another garbage train out of the Blissville Yard and the newish Review Avenue Waste Transfer Station – which is across the street from Calvary Cemetery. Those green box cars in the shot above?

That’s the Garbage Train.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUGABO proper, the street where you’ll find the at grade crossings for the garbage train is appropriately called Railroad Avenue. To the west, you’ll find the Blissville Yard and the SimsMetal company. SimsMetal handles the recyclable materials collected by DSNY and others. To the east, you’ll find other new arrivals (new as in the last decade, which isn’t even yesterday to “historian me”) like Waste Managements “Green Asphalt” facility.

This little roadway alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge has become a locus point for heavy trucks, literally thousands of heavy trucks loaded down with garbage, on a daily basis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The putrescent waste is processed at Waste Management, and loaded into these green boxes, which are then positioned onto rail cars. The garbage train(s) proceed eastward to the Fresh Pond yard. From Fresh Pond, they begin a long and circuitous journey which sees them leave Long Island via the Hell Gate Bridge and head north through the the Bronx via the Owls Head yard. Leaving NYC, they head most of the way to Albany, where another rail bridge allows them to cross the Hudson and enter the continent. Where they go after that seems to be a state secret, although I’ve been told that there are a series of tapped out coal mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia which are gradually being filled back up.

Future archaeologists are going to love us, I tell you.

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, this wasn’t the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks”, rather this was the center of town. 18th century residents would ask “what on earth could have happened to Maspeth Creek” were they able, and “where is the Town Dock which DeWitt Clinton himself used- where is it”?

What happened?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

19th Century residents and passerby would inquire what disaster occurred, that Haberman’s and Nichols Chemical and all of Berlin and Blissville have disappeared and been forgotten? What has happened to the great factories, the mills, and the hustle and bustle? Where have all the railroads gone, can one paltry freight line actually be charged with servicing all of Newtown Creek?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For your humble narrator, a good place to ponder this sort of question has always been the Clinton Diner.

This little oasis has hosted a full group from a bus tour I helped conduct, acts a central meeting point for all sorts of Newtown Creek functions, and has provided a much needed cup of coffee and clean rest room to a half frozen yet quite humble narrator on more than one occasion.

It’s also sitting pretty much on a shoreline that Maspeth Creek once flowed past.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, a “Happy Valentine’s” day shout out to the Clinton Diner is offered today.

It would be meaningless to offer you shots of its interior as it has been featured more than once in the cinema. Witness below the trademark dolly shot of Martin Scorcese in Goodfellas… The window booth that DeNiro and Liotta are sitting in is the one with the “Go Giants” signage in the shot above.

And a happy valentine’s day greeting is offered to you as well, lords and ladies… or a giddy Lupercalia.

The Clinton Diner is found at 5626 Maspeth Ave., Maspeth, NY 11378-2248 (718) 894-3475

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent financial setbacks and personal problems infect your humble narrator with a form of deep melancholy and a vast ennui. When such moments come upon me, there is a certain pizzeria in Greenpoint (Norman corner of Manhattan, near the train) whose offerings can be summed up best as: an actual and old fashioned “Brooklyn Slice”. On the day I spied this collection of rail cars at the so called “Bliss Tower” in DUGABO, I had scuttled forth from the rolling hillocks of my beloved Astoria in pursuit of one of these aforementioned slices, in an effort designed to brighten my mood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Errors and omissions mar my record when discussing the Rails, much to the chagrin of the knowledgable railfan community (whose helpful comments and corrections are always appreciated here at Newtown Pentacle). As such, what I can categorically tell you is that this a New York & Atlantic Locomotive, one of the 11 engine units which service the 269 miles of track operated upon by the Glendale based company in Brooklyn, Queens, and both Nassau and Suffolk counties. It shares much of its road with the passenger based Long Island Railroad, and NY&A’s distinctive emerald, white, and black engines are regularly observed around the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the Newtown Creek Watershed, one encounters a landscape built for rail. Long abandoned track beds lie buried in inches of road asphalt, pointing the way to industrial giants long absent. Train stops orphaned from their purpose, spars and switches which were rudely severed to make room for modernity. All of it operated at street grade, and the remnants of the iron road are often the only tangible remains of great concerns and financial largesse. If you follow the right spar, you’ll discover that the NYPD Barricades unit was once Thypin Steel, or that LaGuardia Community College was once the Loose Wiles bakery and part of the Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Within the communities which surround the Newtown Creek, a complaint often repeated concerns the presence of large numbers of trucks utilizing local streets in their quest to move goods from A to B. I had the privilege last year of attending a presentation by certain factions within the Port Authority that described a proposal which would eliminate several thousand truck trips a day throughout the City and over the George Washington Bridge, simply by shipping New York City’s garbage out to land fill utilizing locomotive rather than automotive means. Calculations about air pollution, road maintenance costs, and vehicular accident rates were presented at the time which compared rail quite favorably with truck based shipping.There was a maritime component to the plan as well, which was a bit hazy, but the train concept was spun gold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above represents an NY&A Locomotive making a drop off of a customer in Maspeth near the ill fated St. Saviour’s church site, where they will uncouple a car or two for the unloading or loading of certain cargo. An unthinkable amount of trucks would be required to carry the same tonnage. The subject of Green Technology and “Greening New York” is often bandied about by many these days. Too much of the conversation, however, is “cocktail party environmentalism”- which sounds great but just isn’t practical on a policy level.

I’ve developed this funny notion, however, that the way forward is actually to re-imagine and re-invent the heaviest industry of them all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rail infrastructure is what made Long Island City the factory of not just New York, but the entire world at the turn of the last century and multiple generations of capitalists and real estate interests founded vast fortunes because of the initial investment in it. Newtown Creek was the busiest waterway in North America, carrying more ship and barge traffic than the entire Mississippi for a time, and all of that maritime activity was fed by rail. Intermodal rail floats actually carried whole trains across the harbor to Manhattan, Staten Island, New Jersey and beyond. Imagine the benefits, in both individual wealth and environmental health, were we to try and save the future by looking for solutions in the past.

I’m still kind of forming this idea up for myself, but the key to it is containerization. More on this soon.

What do you, lords and ladies, think on the subject? Use the comments “Reply box” below, if you would like to start a conversation about it.

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