Here is the latest installment of the weekend train blog.
NEWSBLOG (WSAU) When I was 6-years-old my family moved from Brooklyn to the Connecticut suburbs. Our move was not unusual. It’s a very typical story about bad public schools and less-expensive real estate.
Gone was the bedroom window in our apartment where I’d watch the Brighton Line subways as I fell asleep each night. Now we had a split-level house in a cul-du-sac and a bedroom window that looked out on the maple trees in our quarter-acre backyard. No rattling subway trains. It was too quiet at night. After a young life spent falling asleep to the gentle hum of city streets, the sound of crickets was distracting.
But on a quiet night if the wind was blowing in the right direction you could hear the train horns from the New Haven Line. Fairfield station was about a half-mile from our home. It was be our link to all our family members back in New York City. It would also be my first taste of big-time railroading. (Most train-watchers don’t consider the subway to be a real railroad at all.)
It was 1975, a time of transition on the New Haven Line. The New Haven Railroad existed in name only. It was merged into Penn Central, which had also gone bankrupt just two years after its inception. Conrail, a new federally-created, federally-financed freight railroad, was running the commuter trains to and from New York. Soon the commuter trains would be turned over to state transportation authorities.
The train equipment was old, worn out, the wards of failed railroads that couldn’t afford new stuff for money-losing passenger services. The heat wouldn’t work in the winter. On summer days, open windows replaced air conditioning. Windows were broken. Floors and seats were dirty. But to a kid who’d just moved out of the city, this was big-time railroading along a four-track main line.
But the start of every train journey wasn’t easy.
Fairfield’s train station was built on big sloping curve. You didn’t see the train until it was easing to a stop, and the vestibules on the old coaches left huge gaps between the train car and the high-level platform. Adults would have to take a giant step when getting onto the train. For a little boy with his mother carrying a suitcase, the gap was too large. I’d scream getting onto the train, scared that I’d fall into the big space between. A conductor or another passenger would eventually lift me into the coach.
I loved our train rides to New York City. But the start of each journey was terrifying.
My mother explained to me that other stations weren’t built on curves. But without the curve at Fairfield, I wouldn’t hear the train horn in my bedroom. Without it, moving to the suburbs wouldn’t have seemed like home.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau