Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge

I have this thing for bridges. I love them. However, I have a particular thing for cable-stayed bridges. They are my favorite. I love the simplicity of them. They are modern, sleek, functional, graceful, and gorgeous, all at the same time. Boston has a cable-stayed bridge right next to downtown, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, by which I-93 crosses the Charles River. So naturally, while in Boston, I took a lot of photos of this bridge. Here are just a few.

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MTA Substation #13

I got to the MTA’s Substation #13 through the New York Transit Museum recently. The substation converts high voltage AC electricity from the grid and converts it to a lower voltage DC electricity that is used to operate subway trains via the third rail. The substation was originally built in 1904, and it fits into the category of “they don’t build them the way they used to.” The outside looks like a nice neighborhood building, and it has architectural aspects that I really wouldn’t expect from a substation. For example, an interior staircase has lovely decorative balusters.

Exterior of the Substation #13

Exterior of the Substation #13

Gorgeous stairwell inside the substation

Gorgeous stairwell inside the substation

Inside the substation are large rotary converters, specifically Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converters. The rotary converters are what used to transform the AC electricity to DC electricity. Now modern solid state rectifiers are used to transform the electricity, and they are much more compact. The old rotary converters were used until 1999, when this substation was switched to the new equipment.

Convertor

Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Convertor

Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Convertor

Positive and negative brush arms of Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Our guide was retired general superintendent Robert Lobenstein, who showed us around. He also showed us how workers used to have to do normal work, like changing switches and listening for crackling to make sure a wire was not live.

How workers used to change switches

How workers used to change switches

We got to go into the basement which had all sorts of old equipment.

I have no idea what this is, but it is cool looking

I have no idea what this is, but it is cool looking

We even got to go into a vault under the street where cables left the substation to go to the subway. The vault can be accessed through a door in the basement or through a manhole in the street. Normally this type of vault could only be accessed through a manhole. The cables go through conduits that are buried under the street. The cables are tagged, but it still looks like it would be difficult to find the right one if needed.

Cables leave the substation through the vault under the street with manhole access

Cables leave the substation through the vault under the street with manhole access

Inside a manhole. The manhole access is visible in the center of the ceiling.

Inside a manhole. The manhole access is visible in the center of the ceiling.

Back inside the basement, some of the equipment was still being used, but some was no longer needed, like some massive cables that were cut.

Old cut cables

Old cut cables

Branching cables

Cables come in from the ground from the grid and are then split before going upstairs to the transformation equipment.

We then went upstairs were the new equipment was, including the solid state rectifiers and the biggest breakers I have ever seen. The breakers are in the circuit with the third rail. They detect surges in the third rail and cut off power before a fire or some other damage can occur. There is a lot of redundancy with the circuit breakers. Our guide turned one off, so we could hear how loud it is, but because of redundancy, it had no effect on the subway.

Circuits connecting to breakers

Circuits connecting to breakers

Breakers for the third rail

Breakers for the third rail. The copper plates are the third rail.

The solid state rectifiers are very different in appearance, at least, from the rotary converters. [I understood very little about this.] What amazed me during the tour, was when I finally understood I was actually staring at the third rail. The long copper plates in the photos are the third rail, which leave the substation and go to the subway. The positive rail is the equivalent of the black or red wire in a house’s wiring. The negative is the equivalent of the white wire in a house’s wiring.

Third rail leaves converters

Third rail leaves the rectifiers. The positive rail “POS” goes to the subway. The negative rail “NEG” goes to a central location to complete the circuit.

Also upstairs was this amazing old series of electrical switches, dials, and gauges. None of this stuff is used anymore, but it really cool looking. I liked how everything was tagged out, never to have the tags removed again and be turned on again.

Old switches that are no longer used

Old switches that are no longer used

Gauges

Gauges

Finally at the end of the tour, they turned on the rotary converter for us. Below is a video if you want to see it in action. It is almost hypnotic. During a portion of the video, you will see five lightbulbs on a wooden board sitting on the floor. They are being powered by the converter. After it is turned off and slowly slows down, the lights dim and then turn off.

 

Lowlife Lab

Many people are familiar with New York City’s Highline, which has become a really popular spot with tourists and residents. It it is really cool, and beautiful all year round, in the dead of winter and in bloom. Because of the Highline’s success, some people came up with the idea of the Lowline. The Lowline would make use of of the abandoned Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal under Delancey Street, which is right next to the Essex Street subway station. However, the somewhat radical idea for the Lowline is that it would make use of sunlight to light the space, which is completely underground. To help design and work out issues with this idea, the Lowline Lab was created. It is now closed, but luckily about a month ago I got to tour it.

I encourage your to click the hyperlink to my photos of the Williamsburg Bridge trolley terminal under Delancey Street because in order to comprehend the challenge of this project, you really need to see the space as it is now.

Delancey Street with Williamsburg Bridge in background. Essex Street subway station entrance can be seen on left. Abandoned trolley terminal is right below street.

Delancey Street with Williamsburg Bridge in background. Essex Street subway station entrance can be seen on left. Abandoned trolley terminal is right below street.

Sunlight collectors on roof

Sunlight collectors on roof

Sunlight brought in from smaller vertical tube and reflected into sideways tube

Sunlight brought in from smaller vertical tube and reflected into sideways tube

Sunlight brought in vertically from roof collector and then reflected in sideways tube

Sunlight brought in vertically from roof collector and then reflected in sideways tube

Ceiling with tubes outputting sunlight and reflectors below

Ceiling with tubes outputting sunlight and reflectors below

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants, including vertical plant elements, and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants, including vertical plant elements, and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Display of plants and ceiling reflecting sunlight

Plants that may be used

Plants that may be used

Rain: Madgalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern

After touring the Houston Cistern, we took another tour of it with an art installation completely encompassing it. Rain: Madgalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern is a video  installation with the video projected from all sides onto and into the cistern while sound plays. I don’t think I can fully explain it other than to say it is really, really cool, and you can read more about it here. The sound sounds likes rain, but it is completely human made sound. The video starts off looking a little like rain falling then becomes something that looks like how Hollywood loves to portray cyberspace. It is incredibly neat to watch, and I love the way takes over the space. img_1013 img_1020 img_1026 img_1030 img_1033 img_1038 img_1040 img_1050 img_1064 img_1073 img_1088

Houston Cistern

I love hidden places. I love places that you can just walk by and not have any idea are there. It just makes them more magical. I recently found out that Houston has an underground drinking water storage reservoir, a cistern. I have passed by this place so many times not having any idea it was there. The cistern was decommissioned in 2007 after an irreparable leak was discovered. Buffalo Bayou Partnership and the City of Houston turned it into space for people to visit and learn about the history of it and also a space that can be used for art installations. When functioning, the reservoir could hold 15 million gallons, but now it just has about 6 inches of water across. Enough water is there just for a neat reflection of the columns in it.

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern, the dark round object seen on the left side of the roof is a new access shaft

Houston Cistern, when it was operational, this was the only access to it

Houston Cistern, when it was operational, this was the only access to it

The cistern sits below the grass. In the foreground in an access shaft to the cistern.

The cistern sits below the grass. In the foreground in an access shaft to the cistern.

Freshkills Landfill Turned Park

This past weekend, I got to check an item off my bucket list when I got a tour of Freshkills, the former landfill that is being turned into a park. This is probably not an item on most people’s bucket list, but I have heard so much about the landfill that when I found out New York City Parks Department gives tours, I jumped to sign up. The vast majority of the landfill has been fully capped and vegetated. The mounds are dotted by the landfill gas collection system with gas wells popping up from the high grass at regular intervals. The wildlife has already moved in. There were butterflies flying everywhere in the grass, and birds were everywhere. We also saw a family of deer. The wetlands are lovely and evidently filled with wildlife. Also, the view from the top of the mounds is spectacular. It will be a while before the area will be completely converted to a park and open to the public, but the transformation already is incredible. As an environmental engineer, I am incredibly happy to see it and proud of my profession that did it.

View of the last mound that has not been fully vegetated

View of the last mound that has not been fully vegetated

Amazing views with landfill gas well in foreground

Amazing views with landfill gas well in foreground

Landfill gas well

Landfill gas well

Bad photo of a family of deer

Bad photo of a family of deer

Osprey family

Osprey family

View of Manhattan

View of Manhattan

Landfill gas wells popping up in grass

Landfill gas wells popping up in grass

Wetlands in between mounds

Wetlands in between mounds

Coney Island Overhaul Shop

This past weekend, I got to tour the MTA Coney Island Overhaul Shop with the NY Transit Museum. The complex in which it is located is the largest rapid transit yard in North America. They overhaul subway cars with a scheduled maintenance system and also scheduled maintenance that is too intensive for the maintenance shops. They do maintenance on all parts of the subway cars including the electric motor, air brakes, compressors, and wheels and axles.

Newly cut wheels in cars

Newly cut wheels in cars

Wheels and axles lined up

Wheels and axles lined up

Overhauled axles

Overhauled axles

Wheels lined up

Wheels lined up

More axles

More axles

I think this is part of generator

I think this is part of electric motor

I think this is part of generator

I think this is part of electric motor

Rail service car

Rail service car

Inspection train, aka the geometry train

Inspection train, aka the geometry train

Car in shop

Car in shop

Old trains in the yard

Old trains in the yard

Snowblower

Snowblower

Tracks leading to overhaul shop and maintenance shop

Tracks leading to overhaul shop and maintenance shop

Old inspection train

Old inspection train

Trains in the yard

Trains in the yard

Rust

While I was photographing the ruins of the Elkins Roundhouse, I saw some rust on the big turnstile. Actually, I saw a lot of rust on everything, but the point is, I really started looking at the rust. It was beautiful. It was all variations of colors and textures. It was peeling paint cracking and folding and turning up to reveal other layers of paint, all being pushed away from the metal by the rust forming. It was rust forming on rust. It was Mother Nature laughing at the work of humans. It is one of those things where the average person would not give something the shortest glance, but I want to stop them and show them the beauty they are missing. Maybe you just have to be really detail oriented like me to see it. Maybe you have to be an engineer or scientist like me to appreciate rust. Or maybe you just have to be a crazy photographer like me to spend 15 minutes photographing rust. IMG_7772 IMG_7776 IMG_7779 IMG_7781 IMG_7783 IMG_7789 IMG_7806 IMG_7818 IMG_7828

Elkins Roundhouse

Before boarding the Cheat Mountain Salamander train, I had some time to wander around the area where the Elkins Roundhouse used to be. Not much is left. Of the actual circle where the turntable was, all that is left is the pit with a fence around it. Alternating concrete wedges and grass lanes where the tracks were are the remains of the stalls. The only other remains are random metal parts scattered about.

I don’t know why I like photographing ruins, but I do. Part of what I like is imagining what used to be there.

Former roundhouse with alternating concrete and grass in foreground

Former roundhouse with alternating concrete and grass in foreground

Former roundhouse turnstile pit

Former roundhouse turnstile pit

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Former roundhouse with end railing

Former roundhouse with end railing

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Metal ruins

Curved metal I-beams

Curved metal I-beams

Alternating concrete and grass of roundhouse with rail bridge truss in background

Alternating concrete and grass of roundhouse with rail bridge truss in background. I think the large metal structure in foreground used to be a turntable, but based on its label, it was not the original one.

Cass Railroad

Continuing my West Virginia railroad adventure, at Old Spruce Junction, we got off the lovely Cheat Mountain Salamander train and got on the Cass Railroad. The Cass Railroad took us to the top of Bald Knob, which is the third highest point in West Virginia. It has an overlook that gives amazing views, including a view of the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. The train is powered by a Shay Number 6 locomotive, which was built in 1945. The Shay Number 6 has most of its working parts on the outside, so it is rather fascinating to look at. It also requires a lot of oil, which then seems to end up on the tracks.

Transferring from the Cheat Mountain Salamander train to the Cass train

Transferring from the Cheat Mountain Salamander train to the Cass train

Shay Number 6

Shay Number 6

Shay Number 6 engine

Shay Number 6 engine

Water stop for the steam engine

Water stop for the steam engine

Red spruce

Red spruce

Along the Cass Railroad

Along the Cass Railroad

View of locomotive on a curve

View of locomotive on a curve

Along the Cass Railroad

Along the Cass Railroad

Along the Cass Railroad

Along the Cass Railroad

Stream along the Cass Railroad

Stream along the Cass Railroad

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob of Green Bank Telescope

View from Bald Knob of Green Bank Telescope