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Eastern Railroad Discussion > Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions

Date: 02/23/24 20:58
Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: trainmandan

Hello to the members of the Eastern Board!

I've starting thinking about summer vacation plans and have a desire to visit the NYC area to see Metro-North and NJ Transit trains, with the intent of capturing the diesel / electric heritage and commemorative units released by both companies over the past several months. Such a visit would likely be only 1-2 days and be during the week when the commuter rushes are at their heaviest. I recognize that due to the short time window of a potential trip, it's unlikely I'll be able to catch all the heritage / commemorative units on both rosters, so if given a preference, I'd say my priorities are (a) Metro-North, (b) NJ Transit diesels, and (c) NJ Transit electrics.

I was hoping I could get some advice in planning such a trip; here are my questions for a potential visit:

1) Are there any apps or other tracking methodologies (including webcams) to determine what trains the locomotives will be leading? Given that both companies operate several routes out of NYC it would be nice to know in advance where they might end up so I'm not chasing my tail instead of fanning trackside.
2) Are there any notable landmarks / stations that I should consider as a first-timer? What would be your top 3 spots to visit?
3) The Hudson River line gets a special shout out due to its scenery and traffic levels (Metro-North and Amtrak), plus it seems the MN heritage units wander onto that line more so than the others. Given that, what are the best spots /times along the river I should stake out, especially during the summer afternoon / evening hours?
4) Any rough neighborhoods I should stay away from? This might apply closer to downtown but I'm expecting to be more in the suburban areas anyway.
5) I have flashes for night photography, should they be needed. Is it likely that any of the units would make night runs on outbound trains, and if so, where should I consider setting them up?

Appreciate all the insights you can provide to help me with the planning process! Would love to make a trip out there work out, if possible. Thanks much!

Date: 02/23/24 21:55
Re: Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: pdt

You want scenery or traffic?

If you like the hudson line..im no help..but someone here will know the stations with the most scenic spots.
Or u can google earth it, and see where the stations are located.  Croton-Harmon and south to Sputen Dyvil  as the most traffic, but all of the additional traffic is MU's

Most passenger traffic....Secaucus jct in  NJ.  Amtk and NJT electric upstairs....NJT and MNR diesel downstairds.
Most mixed traffic...  Union or Roselle park on the NJT raritan line.   NJT. NS. CSX. but no good angles  from the island high level platforms.
Popular railfan spot.. Bound Brook on the NJT raritan line   NJT, CSX. NS

Things to see....Grand central, because its Grand central.......and Hoboken Terminal....Hoboken imho is a gem..last active NJ side of the hudson terminal thats till active, out of 5 originally.   Hasnt changed much in the last 100+ years.

Bad neighborhoods.....The NY Metro area is HUGE. would be inpossible to list individual  risky places to be.  Just stick with what ppl recommend..
No one going to recommend a bad neighborhood.


Date: 02/24/24 05:57
Re: Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: thebluecomet

Don't know if you are driving or using the trains to get around or where you will be staying.  Assuming NYC,  Grand Central Terminal is an ideal place to check out.  The terminal is as good in-person as you may have seen in media.  The platforms are open, but it is a bit dark.  If you want the most action on MetroNorth, jump on any train and get off at the first stop of Harlem-125th St.  Everything passes through here and, yes, it is safe to hang around.  All diesels are on the north end of trains, so you may have to fight the sun at times. One note here, Do Not Call Attention to Yourself.  Keep your camera in a bag or backpack and any long lenses out of sight.  I keep my camera in a simple grocery store plastic bag and take it out only when needed.  Also, keep your eyes moving.  Common sense in any urban area, but don't get engrossed in the action and lose track of your surroundings.
On the Jersey side, Secaucus Jct is probably the best spot for the most action.  One note here also, access to the NEC level is by ticket only.  If you arrive on the train, stay on the platforms until you are finished.  The waiting area, restrooms (top level) and access to the lower level (old EL) requires going through a turnstile and you need a valid ticket to get back down to the NEC (upper) level.  For the best use of time, take any train from Secaucus Jct to Hoboken around mid afternoon.  Hang out as the afternoon rush begins.  Hop on any train back to Secaucus Jct and spend the rush hour there.  All diesels out of Hoboken are on the west end so afternoon shots from the east end of the lower level platforms (open access there) will work.  For a different angle and a great sound show, follow these directions.  At the bottom of the escalators to the lower level go out the doors marked for the buses.  At the exit go left and walk back under the station building, go past the parking lot and go up the stairs to the local street that crosses over the tracks.  See this post:  https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?4,5763167,5763167#msg-5763167
Other places for good passenger action would be Elizabeth, see this post  https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?4,5713353,5713353#msg-5713353 and perhaps Rahway.
Bound Brook is about an hour train ride from Newark Penn and will get you both NJT trains and NS/CSX action.

As far as night shots go, most places where train sets are parked for the night are pretty much off limits nowadays.  Again, Hoboken might work with the NYC skyline in the background.  Suffern, NY may work as the highway runs alongside the tracks, but it may be a bit far out for the limited number of shots possible.

A few other tips: All of the above assumes you will  be riding the trains.  Unlike the western US, this area is very heavy with passenger service.  Freights are there, but not as easy to access.  Other than Bound Brook or trains on the M&E (old Lackawanna) which are more oriented east-west, most of the lines will have you fighting the sun in the middle of the day.


Date: 02/24/24 07:46
Re: Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: Passfanatic

General rule of thumb about railfanning NJT with the GP40PH-2s, F40s, and MNR GP40FH-2 units-stay on the Hoboken side. A good place to start would be during the evening rush hour going to the Hollywood Ave Grade Crossing and a small parking area in Ho-Ho-Kus, located on the Main & Bergen County Line. You should be able to see a true diversity of the diesels that NJT owns plus multiple MNR owned Geeps and F40s. The sunlight is right on the nose of the locomotives during the warmer months of the year, especially during the summer.

Maybe for both diesel and electric operations combined, head over to the Morris & Essex Line. For example, in Maplewood at and extremely close to the station, you can sample a true diversity of equipment in NJT's inventory-all of the diesels, including the dual modes. You will get to see the 45 year old Arrow III MU cars, which are going to be retired in a couple of years so this is the time to get your pictures of them. Suffern is an okay spot to railfan. You may be able to get nice shots of approaching trains in Suffern coming from the west but you would have to stand closer to former station building now a museum. The problem with Suffern Station during the pm rush hour is that there is a fence between the two tracks and it would probably pose a challenge for getting properly lit westbound train shots during the summertime. Ramsey Station and a piece of land just east of the eastbound platform offers nice pictures of approaching and departing trains.

The Pascack Valley Line offers wonderful picture opportunities for westbound trains during the late afternoon/early evening in Westwood and Hillsdale. On sunny days, the early morning pictures could be done at Park Ridge and I think Montvale Stations with westbounds and departing eastbounds. Because the Pascack Valley Line is predominently single track but with a few passing sidings, there are no reverse peak am rush hour trains on the Pascack Valley Line.

On the MNR East of Hudson Side, yes I agree that the Hudson Line gets a special shoutout. During the summer months, there are multiple stations where the sunlight is positioned nicely on the nose of northbounds and that includes the MNR dual modes. Maybe check out Scarborough Station which is amazing for rush hour photographing, both am and pm. The lighting in the am at Scarborough Station is better for eastbounds and in general, the cab car on MNR Shoreliner Sets leads eastbound. Amtrak power on the Hudson Line is presently always on the front end. MNR still runs its nostalgic M3A cars but mainly during the week. You are likely going to catch them running at rush hour over on weekends. The M7A MU cars still dominate MNR's third rail electric lines. Take a trip up to Croton-Harmon which is where 3rd rail ends and you get many trains stopping there including Amtrak. Yes, the heritage colored P32AC-DM units typically run on the Hudson Line but they have roamed other MNR East of Hudson routes.

As for rough neighborhoods, you probably will want to avoid spending a lot of time at Spring Valley NY Station, the last stop on NJT's Pascack Valley Line. That facility is in an undesirable neighborhood. The Highland Avenue Station, located on NJT's Morris & Essex Line in Orange, isn't in the best neighborhood. One tip about safety at the Bound Brook Station-not the greatest neighborhood. There have been reports of unsavory people, both railfans and nonrailbuffs, getting disorderly. The neighborhood there, overall, is ok. One station to probably not linger around alone very long is Plainfield-rough neighborhood around the station.

Just one point that I want to make about photographing NJT trains on the Raritan Valley Line-much of the motive power is dull. You mainly have the dual mode locomotives but a PL42AC will fill in pretty regularly. Every so often, a GP40PH-2 will cover a Raritan Valley Line train. The variety of motive power on the RVL isn't as good as it used to be. For a few decades, NJT F40PH-2CAT units dominated the RVL plus Geeps showing up regularly. Those days have been long gone.

Date: 02/24/24 08:26
Re: Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: Lackawanna484

Good thread so far.

I'll put in a good word for the parking tower on the west side of the NEC Elizabeth NJ station in the afternoon. Superb location to catch rush hour afternoon trains, with light on their noses, entering a slight easterly curve. Not unusual to have three or four trains in the picture at one time.

If you don't have access to a vehicle, it's a quick, three stop (airport, north elizabeth, elizabeth)  ride south of Newark Penn. The Newark light rail departs from the basement of Newark Penn Station. Great 1930s tiling and Art Deco environment.

Date: 02/24/24 09:03
Re: Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: Passfanatic

Yes that parking deck just west of the Elizabeth Station is very nice for afternoon rail photography. You will still see a diversity of NJT trains and Amtrak but you probably won't see any NJT EMD motive power like Geeps. You will see long NJT Arrow III consists of up to 12 cars. Just be advised that the neighborhood around the Elizabeth NJT Station, while in downtown, can still get a little dodgy. Linden Station is wonderful for photographing the evening rush hour and the same trains that travel through Elizabeth also run through Linden.


Date: 02/24/24 15:17
Re: Metro-North and NJ Transit Railfanning Questions
Author: NB1001

You got good advice from the first two respondents. To reiterate a couple of their points, if you are photographing the trains rather than just observing them and lighting matters to you, remember that the power on diesel hauled trains to Hoboken all point away from New York City. This favors afternoon photography. Similarly, the Metro North diesel hauled trains all point away from Grand Central Station. Given the geography of the lines, there is difficulty in finding well-lit morning locations other than the afore-mentioned 125th St Harlem station. Photography favors afternoon photography. NJT electric hauled trains run either pulling or pushing. There is no pattern to which end the motor will be on. If the weather is cloudy during your brief visit, none of this matters.

A  place to consider is in the Marble Hill, near the Metro North station. The afternoon shot is from a heavily used pedestrian walkway on a road bridge. 

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