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

Nostalgia Ride

During the summer, the New York Transit Museum offers Nostalgia Rides, when they put some of their vintage subway cars back into service and bring a train full of passengers to some fun destination. Today I went on the Nostalgia Ride to Rockaway Beach. The train we rode on was two types of 1910’s and 1920’s BMT cars. The cars were complete with wicker seats, ceiling fans that “are machetes” according to the numerous warnings we got from MTA employees, and normal looking lightbulbs that are evidently powered straight from the third rail, which we were also warned not to touch. The ride is generally more exciting than the destination, and once we got to our destination, they offered some more rides back and forth for those who didn’t want to get off.

One of my favorite parts of nostalgia rides are the people in the stations we pass. They can generally be described in four different groups. The first, a small group, are those that see the train coming through but don’t seem anything abnormal about an antique train passing through. The second group, possibly the most common, are the ones that start smiling and waving, and grab their camera and start taking photos. The third group are those that just stare open mouthed or with a look that can only say, what the heck is that? The fourth and tiniest group are those that know we are coming and already set with photo and video cameras, sometimes with tripods. I once asked a Transit Museum employee about them, and she said they seem to know the route that the nostalgia ride will take before the museum does. Clearly there are transit fanatics spies about.

Another great part of these rides and a reason why I love New Yorkers, is when the nostalgia ride is ending. We all get on at the same location, but at the end, they stop at several large subway stations, so you can get off wherever is easiest. The train pulls into a station and stops. Normal subway riders start lining up to get on because a vintage 1920s subway train running on the A line is evidently a completely normal thing to New Yorkers.  [To be clear, you don’t have to be a subway aficionado to know that these trains look very different from the regular modern trains running.] New Yorkers are just so nonchalant about it. A subway train, of some sort, has arrived at the platform. They must get on. They have places to go, and a train has arrived to take them there. MTA employees have to stand in front of each door and say “off loading only”. Some of waiting passengers will ask why. Some waiting passengers start peering in, and normally either MTA employees or nostalgia ride passengers will have to explain. This part of the ride always makes me laugh.

One final note about the nostalgia ride, the train runs wonderfully. My sincere compliments to the MTA employees who keep the vintage cars maintained. Maybe they don’t run like they were built yesterday, but the ones we were on were 100 years old. To me it is amazing that they are still running at all.

Vintage BRT train used for this nostalgia ride in station

Vintage BRT train used for this nostalgia ride in station

Signs on the vintage cars

Signs on the vintage cars

In between rides, MTA employees cleaned the windows

In between rides, MTA employees cleaned the windows

While at the Rockaway Station, the train was in the station long enough for everyone to take photos, including a few police officers who boarded to check it out.

While at the Rockaway Station, the train was in the station long enough for everyone to take photos, including a few police officers who boarded to check it out.

Swing bridge to Rockaway open during one of our trips

Swing bridge to Rockaway open during one of our trips

Going over the swing bridge that was previously open

Going over the swing bridge that was previously open

One of the bridges to Rockaway

One of the bridges to Rockaway

View from train of Jamaica Bay with JFK Airport in background

View from train of Jamaica Bay with JFK Airport in background

Coast side of Rockaway Beach

Coast side of Rockaway Beach

View from bay side of Rockaway

View from bay side of Rockaway

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

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

To wrap up my trip to scenic railroads in West Virginia, my tour group visited Cass, where the Cass Scenic Railroad is based. Cass is now a state park, but it once was a company town, built to support the logging operations and mill. The company store and many of the  company houses are still standing. All the company houses were built the same and are basic, yet today, they still look charming. Cass was famous for having wooden sidewalks on all its streets. The town still does have wooden sidewalks, but obviously they are not the original ones. The mill burnt down, but remnants of it still remain. A newer train shop is there also, and if you are lucky like me, you can get a tour.

Cats company houses

Cass company houses

Cass jail in the basement of the building that has the mayor's office and council chambers on the top floor. [There is a modern day political joke in there.]

Cass jail in the basement of the building that has the mayor’s office and council chambers on the top floor. [There is a modern day political joke in there.]

The nicest house in Cass, originally built for the company owners.

The nicest house in Cass, originally built for the company owners.

Cass Company Store

Cass Company Store

The ovens of the former mill. In the third oven, stacks of wood are present. The mill was closed so suddenly that the wood was left still in the over.

The ovens of the former mill. In the third oven, stacks of wood are present. The mill was closed so suddenly that the wood was left still in the oven.

The ovens of the former mill.

The ovens of the former mill.

Part of the former mill

Part of the former mill

Mechanical rolling parts of the former mill. A metal saw used to cut the wood is in there.

Mechanical rolling parts of the former mill. A metal saw used to cut the wood is in there.

Part of the former mill

Part of the former mill

Coal pile to supply the Cass Scenic Railroad train

Coal pile to supply the Cass Scenic Railroad train

Inside the Cass shop

Inside the Cass shop

Inside the Cass shop with many machines to make replacement parts that can no longer be bought

Inside the Cass shop with many machines to make replacement parts that can no longer be bought

A short video of the Cass Scenic Railroad rolling to the station and stopping to pick up water.

Cheat Mountain Salamander Train

I went on a ride on the Cheat Mountain Salamander train this morning. Most of the route was along the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River. We stopped along the way at High Falls of the Cheat. The train was vintage, and the car we rode in was lovely and vintage with classic fabric seats.

Wetlands

Wetlands

Shaver Fork of Cheat River

Shavers Fork of Cheat River

High Falls of the Cheat

High Falls of the Cheat

Shaver Fork of Cheat River, taken at High Falls

Shavers Fork of Cheat River, taken at High Falls

Shaver Fork of Cheat River

Shavers Fork of Cheat River, end of train can be seen on right

Shaver Fork of Cheat River

Shavers Fork of Cheat River

Shaver Fork of Cheat River

Shavers Fork of Cheat River

Shaver Fork of Cheat River

Shavers Fork of Cheat River, in background are two fishermen and their dog

Shaver Fork of Cheat River

Shavers Fork of Cheat River

Wetlands

Wetlands

Cheat Mountain Salamander locomotive

Cheat Mountain Salamander locomotive

Durbin Rocket

I took a ride on the Durbin Rocket this afternoon. The Climax geared logging locomotive was built in 1910 and powers a vintage train, including an old postal car. The train is indeed a rocket, as it moves along at a whopping 8 miles per hour. At one point a butterfly passed us. The roundtrip route from Durbin, West Virginia, however is gorgeous as it follows the Greenbriar River in the Monongahela National Forest. The only problem is after seeing all the smoke the coal burning created, I feel the need to go plant an entire grove of trees.

The locomotive

The locomotive

A look inside the locomotive

A look inside the locomotive

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

An old telegraph pole

An old telegraph pole

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Locomotive and coal supply car

Locomotive and coal supply car

Coal fired steam engine blowing smoke

Coal fired steam engine blowing smoke

Irises by the Greenbriar River

Irises by the Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Durbin Rocket traveling by a field

Durbin Rocket traveling by a field

Refilling the locomotive with water on the return trip

Refilling the locomotive with water on the return trip

Stream where train stops to refill water for engine

Stream where train stops to refill water for engine

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Billy Bishop Airport

Billy Bishop Airport opened up its behind the scenes areas for Doors Open Toronto. The airport is located on a little island just off of downtown. By just off of, I mean late last year they opened a pedestrian tunnel connecting it to the mainland, so you can literally walk to the island. They pulled out a lot of the equipment they use for maintenance including snow removal and also for emergencies including fire fighting. They have so really cool equipment. One thing I found really interesting was that they don’t use a snow plow on the runways; they use a snow brush. The snow brush is better because of the short length of the runways. They use plows for taxi areas and places where cars go. The brushes also are used during the summer to remove rubber build up from the runways. Planes braking as they land leave rubber marks, and when enough builds up, it lowers the traction, so the rubber has to be removed. They spray a chemical to the runway, then come through with the brush to break up the rubber.

New pedestrian tunnel linking airport to mainland

New pedestrian tunnel linking airport to mainland

View from a hanger

View from a hanger

Snow brusher

Snow brusher

Front of snow brusher, the brush

Front of snow brusher, the brush

Snow plow

Snow plow

Fire truck in action

Fire truck in action

Fire truck

Fire truck

TTC Leslie Barns

As a part of Doors Open Toronto, I got to tour Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) Leslie Barns. Leslie Barns is a streetcar maintenance and storage facility, and it is brand new. It is not completely finished, but it is already being used. I had to ask several employees about this because I find it difficult to believe that it is being used at all. It is without a doubt the cleanest, neatest, prettiest maintenance facility I have ever been in. If you look at my blog at all, you will see I have seen a few. I love touring them. This place is ridiculously clean and organized. The pipes are not only labeled, but they are also color-coded. It makes my chemical engineering heart go pitter patter. The facility was built for the new street cars that Toronto is purchasing, which are very sleek looking. The place has a paint booth, maintenance areas, and car wash for street cars. Outside is a storage area for the street cars, and in the middle of it is a stormwater retention pond.

Pipes and ducts and everything else

Pipes and ducts and everything else

Overhead crane lift area

Overhead crane lift area

Maintenance area

Maintenance area

Work area between two tracks

Work area between two tracks

Brand new street car

Brand new street car

Pipes, ducts, and gantry galore

Pipes, ducts, and gantry galore

Look at these beautifully labeled and color-coded pipes

Look at these beautifully labeled and color-coded pipes

Ridiculously organized supply area

Ridiculously organized supply area

Street car in the paint booth

Street car in the paint booth

Doors for street cars to enter the facility

Doors for street cars to enter the facility

Street car in the storage area

Street car in the storage area

Stormwater retention pond in middle of storage yard with facility in background

Stormwater retention pond in middle of storage yard with facility in background

Storage area with view of downtown Toronto

Storage area with view of downtown Toronto