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Trip Report

Virginia and Maryland Trip

December 25-27, 2001
Section 3 of 3


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Wednesday, December 26, 2001

MARC Train 891: Washington, DC to Frederick, MD

I didn't have to ride on one, but I secretly hoped my consist would be one of the bilevels. It wasn't. I later learned that of the three daily Frederick round trips, one bilevel and two single level consists are used. I got the single level, but more importantly, I was on my way to Frederick on MARC just nine days after the service made its debut.

The train departed Washington on time at 3:55 PM. It made very few stops, running along MARC's Brunswick Line. Had we been 10 minutes late, or made more stops, we might have been over taken by AMTRAK's westbound CAPITOL LIMITED, which leaves Washington at 4:05 PM.

At 4:15 PM we passed a CSX defect detector that counted our 16 axles and added "Safety First Always". Ironically we were not far from the site of the wreck between a MARC train and the CAPITOL LIMITED that happened in the Silver Spring area 5 or 6 years ago.

The terrain along CSX Metropolitan Branch on which we were riding changes dramatically once we passed the Shady Grove end of the Washington Metro Red Line. There is actually farmland along the tracks in this area. At Germantown, the crew announced that this was the last place that once could change trains if they were bound for points on the Brunswick Line. Our train would approach Point of Rocks, but Frederick trains cannot stop there because the new connecting track was built before (east of) where the station is. The sun began to bother me, as it was pretty low in the sky outside the window to my left.

The train slowed down at 4:46 PM, and we moved onto the connection at Point of Rocks. The train made what appeared to be a mini-Horseshoe Curve. Suddenly that annoying sunlight was on the right side of the train, and we were going east. We had now entered what is known as the "Old Main Line", because since this is heritage Baltimore & Ohio RR trackage, this was the original line to one of the namesake locations. It took about 13 minutes to get to Frederick Junction. We were either on single track or riding left-handed here.

Exactly 5:00 PM we slowed for a "medium clear" signal at Frederick Junction. We then curved to the left, so we were now travelling north.

This appeared to be a lonely track through a wooded area. I could hear the sound of the diesel engine echoing against the trees as if we were in a tunnel. A minute later we sped up a bit, only to slow down as the train approached the Monocacy Station.

The verdict is out as to how to pronouce this area. Obviously its origin comes from the battlefield by the same name. An engagement of the Civil War in 1864 took place near here. The crew announced it as "Minoxie", but somehow that did not sound correct.

The Monocacy station has a large parking lot for 800 cars, which so far has been underutilized. The lot is also used for parking for an MTA express bus that runs from Hagerstown to Frederick (actually Monocacy) to the Shade Grove Metro station. So it is hard to judge train ridership based on the parking lot usage because some passengers take the bus. One can also use this bus to connect to and from points west and the new train service. The Monocacy station is located behind the Riverview Plaza shopping center with a Home Depot & a Target and other stores. Across Route 355 from there is a large regional shopping mall called the Francis Scott Key (FSK) Mall. Around the mall are just about every hotel chain or fast food place one could think of. In retrospect it would have made far more sense to stay in a motel in this area, and use the Monocacy station. But then this railfan would not have made it to the end of the line in downtown Frederick.

As it is the more popular of the two Frederick stations, most passengers detrained at Monocacy. The rest headed further north into downtown Frederick. Arrival there was at 5:11 PM, a few minutes early. Frederick has a nice little station. Beyond the station is a bumping post. It was a bit too dark by this time to really see too much. And, I had a ride waiting for me.

Those from our Prodigy chats and the old Classic bulletin board may remember Lew Bevier, a.k.a. BigLew. He had read of my plans to travel to Frederick, and offered to come meet with me for a short while, as he lives not too far from there. He also drove me to my motel. Lew is doing fine, and says hello to the rest of the gang!

In Frederick

I had chosen the Econo Lodge based on price and the fact it appeared closest to downtown Frederick. It turned out that it was very convenient for somebody with a car, as it was right next to the entrance to I-70. But there was not much else in the immediate area, other than some car dealerships. I knew that most of the chain restaurants were in the vicinity of the FSK Mall. I walked south facing traffic along Urbana Pike, also known as MD 355. There was no sidewalk in places, making me walk in the road when there was no traffic. I walked about a mile south before I came to any further activity. In fact, I saw in the distance, the Riverview Plaza (Target, Home Depot) shopping center, behind which is the Monocacy Station. I had toyed with the idea of walking down to Monocacy in the morning, since I had already fulfilled my goal of riding this new line to the end. But this was a horrible walk, and it would have been much worse with my suitcase.

I crossed the street and walked along the perimeter road of the FSK Mall, out to Route 85. I walked back north on the side of Route 85, and had dinner at a very interesting Burger King that had a retro 1950's motif inside, complete with some booths shaped like old Chevy's with fins.

After dinner, I completed my 2-mile triangular walk by going north again on Route 85 to its intersection with Urbana Pike, right next to my motel. After that walk, I slept very well.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

In Frederick

After my fiasco in suburban Chicago two years ago, I did not wish to rely on calling a taxi to take me to the station. I had opted for the last of the three MARC trips into Washington in order to ride in daylight hours, so if I missed this train I would be in serious trouble. Instead, I relied on local bus service, operated by Transit Services of Frederick County (TransIT). From checking timetables before I left, there would be a bus on the system's White Line that would take me right from the motel to the MARC train station downtown. Luckily, the train station also serves as the downtown transfer point for all of the local buses.

Anyhow there I was at 6:15 AM waiting in the dark for a bus. It was scheduled to come at 6:21, but was a few minutes late. I had to flail my arms and jump up and down to catch the driver's attention, as there was no light at all in that bus stop location. Still, for a dollar this was a far cheaper and a surer thing than calling a taxi.

Once at the station I found an open door, pleased that my long wait for the 7:15 AM train was in a heated building. The station's interior was refurbished nicely, except one gets an empty feeling. The only furniture in there is a few folding chairs against the wall. Hopefully they will put in some type of wooden benches to make it look more like a waiting room. The people selling tickets were very friendly. A lot of people who had heard of the train, but never rode it, inquired about the train, the route, and the schedules. With people off from work or school for the week, it was a nice time to take an excursion.

MARC Train 894: Frederick, MD to Washington, DC

Around 7 AM, a train came into the station, engine in the rear, in "push mode". It stopped well before the bumping post or even the statin building, so everyone had to walk to the south end of the platform to board.

Once again it was a single-level consist. I learned later that usually the second of the three morning and afternoon trips gets the bilevel; I had ridden the first coming out and now the third going back into Washington.

This train was more crowded than the one I had taken to Frederick last night. We left downtown Frederick on time at 7:15 AM, and Monocacy at 7:25 AM with a good load of passengers. Two minutes after Monocacy we were curving westward onto the Old B&O Main. Here, we developed signal problems. Our crew was told that 892, the train before ours, encountered similar difficulties. We crawled, and even stopped, at Adamstown. The train sped up once more at 7:52.

The train rounded the curve at Point of Rocks at 7:55 AM. Unlike my outbound trip, this train made local stops. Because it was now late, it was picking up not only its own passengers but some for the following Train 880, a local that originates in Brunswick. By Germantown, people were standing in the aisles.

At Rockville, a station shared with the Washington Metro, more passengers boarded. I was surprised how many would rather take the train into work from here rather than taking Metro, which better distributes people to work locations around the city. But at Silver Spring, a city that is also served a few blocks away by the Metro, but the other leg of the Red Line, more people got off the train than boarded.

Arrival at Washington Union Station's Track 10 was at 8:53 AM, six minutes late. Now, I had a choice. I could either make a northbound AMTRAK train that was already boarding (174), or I could relax, have breakfast, and take one in an hour (184). I decided to go for 174, and went right from my arrival at Gate A to Gate D for my train. There was a short line, but it was moving. An AMTRAK employee and a policeman were checking everyone for possession of tickets.

AMTRAK Train 174: ACELA REGIONAL, Washington, DC to Metropark

I could see right away this train was going to be packed. December 27th, travel was still heavy. Everyone made it aboard at Washington on time for the 9:05 AM departure, but it would be the last time this train was on time at any of its stations. At New Carrollton, the narrow center platform was mobbed, indicating this train would have very few empty seats by Baltimore. Departure from New Carrollton was 9:21 AM, already putting us five minutes down. My coach and the one in front of it were beyond the platform at New Carrollton, but the passenger who boarded behind our coach still found their way forward and occupied every seat. Nobody collected tickets from the passengers in my coach for quite some time.

We passed Train 79, the southbound CAROLINIAN, at 9:30 AM. Seven minutes later, at our stop at BWI Airport, the train had to be spotted so that only the last four coaches would platform. Even some of those boarding passengers made their way forward. The opposite platform was occupied by 103, a southbound METROLINER.

I found out that we had left Washington before the arrival of Train 84, which runs from Richmond to New York. 84 was running very late, so its passengers were being handled by 174, hence the heavy loads.

At 9:45 AM, our engineer, acting on instructions from the conductor, radioed the station in Baltimore to have them announce that there were very few seats left, and only near the front of the train. At the same time, we passed ACELA EXPRESS 2181.

As we arrived in Baltimore, there was a concentration of people towards the north end of the platform, where they had been told to stand. Not all would get seats on this train. ACELA REGIONAL 181 was just departing Baltimore across the platform at this time, about 9:56 AM.

At each station, the detraining and boarding process simply added to the station time. We departed Baltimore 10:02 AM, a full 15 minutes late and with standees in all eleven cars.

After Baltimore, the engineer was again instructed by the conductor to call other stations down-line to let them know that this train had no seats, and than it could not handle "special needs" passengers. There was no room for any more people, let alone wheelchairs. At 10:03, there was the first announcement I had heard that the cafe car was open for business. Finally. However, if I got up, I surely would lose my seat for good. I knew too, that the more passengers on a train, the longer the line for food service, so I might not even need my seat again before Metropark. My ticket, by the way, still had not been taken.

At 10:08 AM we passed ACELA EXPRESS 2109, The conductor finally got to me at 10:20 AM, which was one hour 15 minutes into the trip, to collect my ticket. It may not seem like much, but one wants to put their seat back and relax, maybe even sleep, and you can't do that if you know somebody is going to collect your ticket soon. I was starting to hope my unreserved ticket would not be lifted at all; then I would effectively be getting a free trip another time just like with a Service Guarantee voucher. We passed ACELA REGIONAL 183 at 10:23 AM, and moved through Perryville, end of MARC's service territory, at 10:30 AM.

10:44 AM, METROLINER 107 passed by. We arrived in Wilmington at 10:50 AM, and the station work took about three minutes here. We were now 20 minutes off the advertised. The crew announced that we were carrying some passengers for Train 84, which was running somewhere behind us. They asked that if any passengers had intended on taking 84, it had plenty of seats so they were welcome to switch trains in Philadelphia. Passengers bound for Philadelphia were also advised to get up now, check around their seats, and begin making their way towards the doors, even though we still had 20 minutes to go.

Our crew asked the engineer to contact the Philadelphia station, informing them we had standing room only conditions, and also that the cafe car needed $100 in singles and $40 in quarters. This was my indication that the cafe was indeed crowded. It also meant that the angry passengers were throwing $20 bills. The change-making process slows the line even more, but one does not care once they are finally being served. At this time we passed by the southbound SILVER PALM, Train 89 headed for Florida. A few minutes later, we passed the relatively short mail-only Train 13. And then, just before entering Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, we passed Train 141, the ACELA REGIONAL from Springfield to Washington.

We spent six minutes at 30th Street Station, Track 4. The crew announced that this train was standing room only, and I saw a lot of people turn around and go back upstairs. Some potential passengers walked by the train looking in the windows, in hopes they would see a seat from outside and be able to enter the train and grab it. But there were still too many people standing and sitting in the aisle, so boarding passengers would never be able to get a seat.

At the same time we were in Philadelphia, ACELA EXPRESS 2153 came in and left on Track 5. By the time we left, we were now 25 minutes late. At 11:21 AM, the crew called for Trenton-bound passengers to begin the process of getting off. Meanwhile, a visitor who had boarded the train in Philadelphia to help another person with luggage, got trapped on the train and found himself headed up the Northeast Corridor towards Trenton. The conductor asked the Philadelphia station personnel to make an announcement for his girlfriend, who was still in the station, that he had gotten stuck on the train and would be returning on the next train from Trenton. Tonight she would no doubt be come his ex-girlfriend, since he was helping another woman with her luggage. Busted!

11:45 AM, the time I should have been getting off this train in Metropark, we were just going over the bridge from Morrisville, PA into Trenton, NJ. Near the bridge, we passed ACELA EXPRESS 2155. We also should have passed ACELA REGIONAL 95 too, but he must have been running late. A few minutes later, the Trenton stop, and the hole got wider as 174 was now 27 minutes late upon departure. At 11:56 AM. we finally passed 95.

As we sped through New Brunswick, passengers for Metropark were told to make their way to the exits. I collected my suitcase from the top, and my other bag, and had to do several "excuse me"'s to get to the door. I thought there would be some bloodshed as my precious seat was now available. Obviously an elderly lady who had been standing since Baltimore felt she deserved it more than the man in his 20's who had gotten on in Philadelphia, but it's every person for him or herself, and personal comfort takes a front seat to courtesy.

I was off this sardine can at 12:13 PM, and the crisp air never felt so good. Passengers boarded here with full knowledge that they most likely would not find a seat. One was going to Boston, but as you will soon find out, that person would never make it there on this train. I was finally able to write down the train's entire consist once I had left it:

910 AEM-7 locomotive 82043 Acela Regional CoachClass 82054 Acela Regional CoachClass 21246 Amfleet I coach (I was wedged in someplace in here) 82011 Acela Regional CoachClass 82031 Acela Regional CoachClass 44249 Amfleet I coach 21137 Amfleet I coach 82060 Acela Regional CoachClass 20036 Amfleet I cafe (not used as cafe, only coach seating) 20037 Amfleet I cafe 81502 Acela Regional BusinessClass

After stopping at the Woodbridge Center Mall for lunch, I proceeded home, getting there about 2:30 PM. What a day!

Later that evening while catching up on e-mail and the news of the past three days online, I found out that there had been a derailment at Canton Junction, MA involving this very same ill-fated 174 train. Here is more information on this incident that I posted on the Prodigy Trains bulletin board.


All in all, it was a very successful trip. I finally got my new trackage in Virginia, and was among the first to ride the Frederick MARC service in its second week of existence. Between this venture and the one on the previous Sunday to Maine, I had logged about 1600 miles on AMTRAK, plus more mileage on MARC, the Washington Metro, and Boston's MBTA subways. Not a bad way to end the year!

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