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Morning Rush Hour at 125th Street Manhattan

New Haven Line Train 1819 from Danbury, Conn., to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan is passing milepost NY 4. Metro-North P32AC-DM 206 is pushing seven Bombardier coaches on Track 1 following its stop at Harlem-125th Street Station. Coming into the station on Track 3 is Train 711, the local Hudson Line train to Croton-Harmon with a Bombardier M7A m.u. set, May 26, 2023.

Morning Rush Hour at 125th Street Manhattan

September 2023William J. Skeats/photos by the author

I was looking forward to another photo session at the iconic 125th Street Station in Manhattan, New York City. I have been successful before, but my visit usually would be cut short with the haze rolling in which clouded the city skyline. The sun and blue skies would slowly disappear. On my first trip I used a Nikon 55-200mm lens, but was unable to get close to the NY 4 mile post. For future trips I invested in a 28-300mm Nikon lens to go with my Nikon D7200 camera. This combination worked well, as you can see in the photos.

I drove to Ossining from Long Island to take the train into Harlem-125th Street. Even though it appears that every train stops at the station, there are a few Hudson Line express trains that do not. There are numerous New Haven Line trains that do not stop, and the Harlem Line has four. If taking the train, make sure your train stops at Harlem-125th Street. I took Hudson Line Train 716 that departed Ossining at 6:50 a.m. The train reached Harlem-125th Street at 7:24 a.m. Perfect timing, before the sun would fully light up the four tracks on the viaduct. I walked to the south end of the track 1/3 platform to view the action.


ABOVE: Sometimes you get lucky. I was interested in a Hudson Line train to Poughkeepsie stopping at Harlem-125th Street Station, so I moved to the north end of the Track 3/1 platform. At this point outbound trains from Grand Central Terminal were operating on Tracks 3 and 1. I turned to witness a CDOT Brookville BL20GHM 126 pushing a “mini Bomb” set back to Grand Central Terminal on May 26, 2023. A Hudson Line qualified crew was on board. At GCT the train swapped crews and was ferried to Brewster on the Harlem Line. It was seen later in the week on a Danbury “mini Bomb” shuttle train between South Norwalk and Danbury. 

The three main Metro-North Lines – Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven – serve Harlem-125th Street. Passengers can transfer here to access the other lines for suburban travel, allowing customers to reverse-commute to the suburbs. One example is you can take a Hudson or Harlem Line train that stops in Harlem-125th Street and switch to the New Haven Line train to New Haven to access jobs in Stamford, Conn. Passengers can also continue their journey on MTA’s NYC Subway System. When leaving the train, exit to 125th Street, then walk west to Malcolm X Boulevard to access the 2 and 3 Line Subway. You can also walk east on 125th Street to Lexington Avenue to ride the 4, 5, 6 Subway.

Beginning about 7:30 a.m. during the longer days of the year, the Park Avenue Viaduct begins to light up. Just start taking photos or videos of the action. The speed of the trains leaving or passing through the station is slow enough to take multiple angles looking south towards Grand Central Terminal. If you like head-end views walk down the stairs from the 1/3 platform turn right and head up the stairs to the 2/4 platform. Hudson Line diesel trains operating to Poughkeepsie operate on track 4 out of Grand Central Terminal.


ABOVE: Train AMMO is returning to Grand Central Terminal from Croton Harmon shops after ferrying a dead equipment set for servicing. GP35R 102 is on Track 1 at Harlem-125th Street Station on August 24, 2018. 

Some equipment moves back to Croton-Harmon for service also operate on track 4. At about 8:35 a.m. Track 2 at the station is no longer shaded and the sun fully illuminates Track 2. You can now move back into the middle of the Track 1/3 station platform to compose the Harlem-125th Street sign into your images. You can also walk up to the northern end of the platform to work another Harlem-125th Street Station sign in your photo. When the morning rush hour is over, I usually head north along the Hudson to railfan Amtrak and Metro-North on the Hudson Line. If you’re hungry after your time at Harlem-125th Street Station, just hop on the train into Grand Central Terminal. There are many food vendors in the GCT food court.

Now a little history: The original station at 125th Street was built at grade level on Park Avenue in 1844. The current station, built in 1896-1897, was designed by Morgan O’Brien, who was the principal architect of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. It replaced the station that was built in 1874 when the New York Central moved the tracks up onto the present day Park Avenue Viaduct (the New York, New Haven & Hartford had trackage rights and shared the station). On October 15, 1897 a spacious new station in Harlem opened at 125th Street. The station became a Penn Central Station in 1968 when the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad merged. The New Haven Railroad was acquired a year later, making 125th Street a full Penn Central station.


ABOVE: CDOT P32AC-DM 231 is pushing seven Bombardier coaches towards Grand Central on Track 2. Hudson Line Train 830 from Poughkeepsie is viewed from the Track 3/1 platform May 26, 2023. The tracks at 125th Street are numbered, left-to-right, 3, 1, 2, 4. New Haven Railroad painted CDOT P32AC-DMs are numbered 228-231. Metro North is in the process of wrapping some of its locomotives; P32AC-DM 208 has been wrapped in the former Beachball scheme worn by retired FL9 locomotives. It is the first in a series to be wrapped in predecessor railroad schemes.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was created in 1972 to acquire all three lines, with Penn Central operating the lines under contract. Penn Central’s continued financial woes in the 1970s caused the station and railroad to be turned over to Conrail in 1976. Conrail absorbed most of Penn Central’s functions under the Penn Central bankruptcy, including the three Grand Central commuter lines. MTA took over Conrail’s commuter operations with creation of Metro-North in 1983.

MTA Metro-North’s former New York Central Hudson and Harlem lines, and Connecticut Department of Transportation’s New Haven line continue to serve Harlem-125th Street Station. After years of neglect, Harlem-125th Street Station underwent a six-year replication in which was completed in 1999. It was called a replication rather than a renovation because none of the original structure is visible…

September 2023Read the rest of this article in the September 2023 issue of Railpace Newsmagazine. Subscribe Today!

This article was posted on: August 20, 2023