December 15, 2001
Some days are better than others and every once in awhile you get to have a day that is GREAT! December 15, 2001 was beyond great. Not only did I get to ride a regularly scheduled train from Boston to Portland, I meet some really great people and, to top it off, a cab ride in a steam engine!
I started my day at Canton Junction by taking the 7:15 am Attleboro local to Back Bay, then the Orange line to North Station, arriving at about 8 am. Anyone going to North Station on the Orange line should exit to Causeway Street and walk directly across to the east entrance as this is the most direct. I was rather surprised that there were no banners or booths set up. The information booth has schedules, but I did not see anything indicating which ticket window to use if any. The gentleman at the information booth was quite busy and I did not want to stand in line to ask as I had my tickets and wanted to watch Train 680's arrival.
Shortly after my arrival the concourse started filling with more people who judging by their ball caps and pins were rail fans, like myself. I ran into my friend Sgt. McGovern of the Amtrak Police. He had been involved in security for yesterday's party train with all the big wigs. We chatted for a bit before he had to go back to work.
Train 680 arrived at 8:43 am. The equipment consist was P-40 #806, Coaches #44969, 44968, 44707, Club #48985, and NPCU #90213. Operation to Boston is push mode so the NPCU led in with the club next followed by the coaches and the power unit. From the large crowd that got off it appears that 680 was full. There were a lot of smiling faces, including two young men in overalls carrying a couple of bags of Maine potatoes.
At about 9:30 am boarding started. I got a seat in the lead coach. The person that sat across the aisle from me was a rail fan from New Jersey that I had met last year riding on the International from Toronto to Chicago. His name is Chris Blaise. We were shortly joined by another rail fan from Westford Mass. His name is Rob Butler.
Departure was exactly at 9:45 am. We quickly cleared the terminal area and were on our way to Maine. The first leg of the route is the old B&M New Hampshire Route as far as Wilmington. This route is now the MBTA Commuter Rail Lowell line. Beyond Lowell it is Guilford Rail System's freight only line to New Hampshire, going through the Granite State's two largest cities of Nashua and Manchester and to Concord, the state capital and gateway to the White Mts. The portion between Boston and Lowell opened in 1835 as the Boston & Lowell RR.
At Wilmington the Downeaster route leaves the Lowell line and continues on the Wildcat branch to the MBTA's Haverhill line at Wilmington Junction. This line was formerly the B&M's Portland Div. or Western Route to Maine. At one time the B&M had two routes between Boston and Portland. The other was the Eastern route and ran along the coast through Lynn, Salem and Portsmouth to Portland. The track speed on the Wildcat is slower than either mainline but it is only a little over two miles. Once on the Haverhill line it is a quick run to our first stop, which is Haverhill, MA. After crossing the Merrimack River the station is located adjacent to the downtown area and within walking distance. Haverhill is an old New England mill town that has rejuvenated itself. A number of recycled mill buildings can be seen from the train. Departure was at 10:38 am.
Soon after leaving Haverhill we are on Guilford tracks and in New Hampshire. Arriving at Exeter I see that the finishing touches are being put on the new station canopy. This station is adjacent to the old one. This building is of the Richardson style of railroad stations, which can be found on the B&A or in my hometown of Easton, Mass.
We departed on time at 11:03 am. Shortly an Amtrak passenger service representative asked if I would by willing to move so that a couple can sit together. Of course I say yes. She seated me with a live steamer group from Holliston, Mass. We have a great time discussing trains and I enjoy very much learning about their hobby of running small-scale steam locomotives. They have approximately 1,800 feet of track on a site in Holliston near the Milford line. (Unfortunately I neglected to note the precise length of track they have. I am working from memory so it may be that 1,800 feet is not correct).
We departed Durham at 11:19 am, four minutes late. This station and the track are right on the edge of the University of New Hampshire. This is a Friday, Saturday and Sunday stop only to serve the school. There are a large number of people riding today from the New Hampshire stops to either Portland or one of the other intermediate stops. They were trying out the train to see what it is like and I heard only favorable comments.
The coaches and clubs being used are former Metroliner equipment. The coaches are in the 60 seat configuration and have a lot of legroom. The club has three across seating with a food service area mid-car. These seats are being sold as Business Class and marketed under the name of Coastal Club Service. The food service is being run by a local caterer and is really quite good. The attendants are also still happy and smiling although shocked at the number of people who want to eat on the train. The menu included a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, light entrees, seafood, salads and beverages of all varieties, including several local beers. We left Dover at 11:22 am and Wells, Maine at 11:42 am.
Wells will be the station for the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunk. The Museum is thinking of running some type of shuttle from Wells to the Museum. Their website is at www.trolleymuseum.org for further information. The Saco-Biddeford station is still under construction and service is not yet available. The Old Orchard Beach stop is to be seasonal in the summer.
We arrived in Portland at 12:30 pm. The station is located in area called Thompson's Point. It is on Sewall Street and part of it is the Concord-Trailways bus depot. Presently, construction on an addition is underway that will double the size of the station. Across from the platform is small yard and layover facility for servicing the engines and coaches.
On arrival I rejoined Chris and Rob and rode Portland Metrobus #5 to downtown Portland. From there we walked to the Maine Narrow Gauge Museum. This took about ten minutes at a steady pace. The wind was blowing in off the water and by walking along quickly we got the blood flowing to keep warm. Once at the Museum we purchased our tickets and as there was about twenty-five minutes to the next train we wandered around inside the Museum looking at the displays.
While Chris went off to look at something that had caught his interest, Rob and I struck up a conversation with the engineer, Paul Hallett. It turned out that he had worked at Edaville from 1971 to 1985 running this same equipment. He then invited us for a cab ride to which we immediately said YES! We could not find Chris, unfortunately, so Rob and I settled into the cab. The fireman was Mike Chapman. Just as we were about to leave Chris appeared, however there was only room for two riders, I felt bad that Chris would miss this, but excited I would finally ride in a steam locomotive cab.
The track is single 2-foot gauge that runs for only a short distance along the Portland waterfront on the Grand Trunk right of way. It appears to be about one half mile, I would judge. From the station the engine runs tender first to the end of track at the entrance to Back Cove. They switch ends and run back past the station to India Street, change ends again and run tender first back to the station. About a twenty minute adventure. Chris rode in the caboose and took pictures.
Afterwards we headed back to downtown. Chris was staying overnight so he wanted to explore the waterfront and Rob and I needed to head back to the train, so we said goodbye and headed our separate ways. Rob and I could not find a cab so we hoofed it backed to the Metrobus downtown stop and rode it back to the railroad station.
We departed at sunset, 4:20 pm. This was Train # 686 which had P-40 #814 for power, Coaches #44799, 44926 and 44xxx (OOPS! I missed one sorry -- anyone that knows please let me know; thank you), Club #48980 and NPCU 90214. Rob and I spent the time talking trains and about our cab ride.
We did lose a little time along the way. Departures times were: Wells - 5:04 pm, Dover - 5:25 pm, Durham - 5:34 pm, Exeter - 5:49 pm, Haverhill - 6:15 pm. Arrival in Boston was at 7:08 pm, three minutes late.
Rob and I hung out a bit in North Station and then we said are good-byes. He was catching a Lowell train from there. I took the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, changed for the Red line to South Station. I then took the 8:45 Attleboro local back to Canton Junction and home.
THE END of a really great day.