January 19, 2002
with portions by and
and photos by Jishnu Mukerji (except as noted)
(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 50K)
AppleFest 2002 was planned all in less than two months time. Originally, we were going to have a JerseyFest, instead riding the Newark City Subway to Bloomfield and AirTrain Newark. But the Bloomfield extension was delayed, so we decided to postpone JerseyFest until the new light rail line is open.
Once a second AppleFest was agreed upon, it was decided to focus this time on the Bronx and upper Manhattan, since this part of the city offers a lot of elevated lines and good connectivity between them. A website went up so potential participants could receive up-to-the-minute information about the itinerary, the guest list, and the costs for the day. I began creating the route guides that were handed out to participants, and eventually made public on my site. Alan Burden was an extremely big help to me, in checking my guides for accuracy of facts, proofreading them, and later printing the guides several days before the Fest took place.
Ten participants enjoyed the day. They came mostly from the New York and New Jersey area, plus from as far away as Philadelphia, Virginia, and Ohio. Most came to New York by train, except that Mike Hammond flew in from Cleveland to enjoy the weekend with us.
The AppleFest Pre-Fest, 1/18/02
Mike Hammond and Alan Burden had a Pre-Fest the night before AppleFest 2002, so that Mike could experience AirTrain Newark and Acela Express for the first time. They also rode some Metro North and Long Island Railroad trains. Following is Mike's report:
Mike Hammond's report on the Pre-Fest
Because of good tailwinds my flight arrived in Newark approximately 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I'm glad because I needed those extra 30 minutes. Since I carried my bag on board with me, I just left the aircraft and proceeded to locate AirTrain Newark to Station E where I would pick up my courtesy hotel shuttle. I actually got to ride the entire length of the monorail except the D1,2, and 3 lots this time around.
I arrived at the monorail station at approximately 130 and the hotel shuttle was there for picking up. Upon checking into my room, I then unpacked and got ready for a day of riding. I had left the hotel intending on catching the 2:11 PM NJT train to New York Penn, but I had gotten downstairs and realized that I had forgotten my Amtrak ticket. I then raced back upstairs and retrieved what I had thought to be the ticket and it turned out to be the Marriott folder that my key was in--similar in color to the Amtrak ticket jacket. I raced back upstairs again and back and then got the shuttle over to the AirTrain Newark station. There was a slowing of the monorail and I watched the 2:11 train as it left the platform. I then called Alan to let him know that I was running a little late. That was okay, as he was a little behind himself. I caught the 2:28 train and arrived in Penn about 20 minutes later, and found Alan waiting under the solari board. We actually had time to get tickets and catch the 3:03 PM Long Island Railroad train to Far Rockaway. We went to the machine as the human lines were fairly long and I was able to purchase a one-way disabled ticket for this trip. I like the fact that the machines now allow you to punch in the first letter of your destination--no more reading the codes. We got on this train which required a change at Jamaica and it was a crowded train; due to MLK weekend a lot of folks were leaving work a little early. After changing at Jamaica we still found a crowded train, but it did thin out as we got further out of the city.We arrived at Far Rockaway about an hour later and I was not immediately impressed. I found the area to be rather seedy. I had envisioned a large beach and beautiful landscaping. Instead we find more of an industrial area. We made our way to Mott Avenue and then caught the A train for the trip back in. I had a Metrocard from last years AppleFest, and Alan and I had discovered that I still had $7.00 value left on the card. This was great as now I would not have to worry about purchasing a FunPass for Saturday as I now had more than enough to cover it.
We then boarded the A train and I found this to be very scenic. I really enjoy seeing the ocean and was quite impressed as we got to go over a couple of bridges--crossing Jamaica Bay at several points. It was also neat to see JFK Airport at a distance. We then changed in Manhattan to a 4 train to Grand Central as we were then catching a Metro North train to New Haven at 6:30 PM.
While at Grand Central, we purchased a round trip ticket to Tarrytown as I was planning on meeting a work colleague for dinner on Saturday. It was also recommended by Kevin that I take the bus back to Newark Airport on Saturday evening as to not have to negotiate the subways late at night. We went outside to try to find the ticket office for this bus, but could not find it. So after some discussion between Alan and me, we decided that taking the subway would not be a problem after all.
Also while in Grand Central, we stopped for a light snack as it would still be a couple of hours before we would eat a good dinner. We then boarded our train to New Haven. This was an express train which meant that the first stop after 125th street would not be until East Norwalk. Our ride was uneventful, other than a lady who asked us and several other patrons and the conductor about the directional signs pointing in either direction for "crabcakes" or "crabgrass." This woman was bound determined to find out what these signs meant. We kind of chuckled over that.
Arrival in New Haven was close to schedule and we checked out the station and got something to drink. I had been having Dr. Pepper withdrawals since Thursday evening, so it felt good to drink one. We then went up to the platform to see the eastbound Acela Express train that was due at 8:27 PM. I was salivating as I for the first time, saw one of these trains up close, knowing that in a few short minutes it would be our turn to experience this.
Finally our train arrived and we took seats in the first class car. There was not a problem getting seats together as it was not full. Almost immediately we were served a bowl of warm peanuts along with a beverage at our seat and were handed a menu with a choice of entrees for dinner.
I think that I will invoke the Amtrak service guarantee as we were not given the hot towels that were given to other passengers--just kidding. This train was absolutely gorgeous. I had ordered the short ribs and Alan ordered the chicken. The meal also included salad and dessert-a raspberry type of dish inside a donut cake-very good--cruise ship quality.
All too soon this wonderful ride was over and we were back in reality in Penn Station. I experienced that reality when there was standing room only on the 10:35 PM NJ TRANSIT train back to Newark Airport.
AppleFest 2002 - The main event, 1/19/02
Meeting at Penn Station, and downtime at Grand Central Terminal
Michael and I came up to the city on NJ TRANSIT. Mike Hammond took an earlier NJ TRANSIT train from the airport, while Jishnu came in on a Midtown Direct train. Ross, Owen, and Isak were on AMTRAK 162, and Ellis and John came into Manhattan on different Long Island RR trains. Alan Burden arrived last, despite living closer to Manhattan than the rest of us. From a diverse mix of transit modes, we made it to our meeting place.
We convened as planned at New York Penn Station, under the departures board. I had expected 12 people, but another father/son team from South Jersey did not show. The ten of us left the meeting point at exactly 10 AM, and we headed for the Seventh Avenue subway. We caught a 1 train for the short ride to 42nd Street/Times Square. During the short trip, this local train diverted to the express track. One of the many trackwork projects taking place on this particular weekend involved running all Uptown trains on the express track from Times Square to 96th Street. We switched at Times Square for an S shuttle train to Grand Central Terminal.
We got to Grand Central Terminal at about 10:20 AM. We thoretically had time to catch the 10:23 AM train to Wakefield, an hour before the train called for in the itinerary. But one of us had to purchase a ticket, and I wanted to downtime for people to use the rest rooms, look around the terminal, and relax before we hit the trains once again.
So we had an hour to kill in the terminal. Many of us went to see the photo exhibit in the waiting room, "Faces of Ground Zero", a tribute to the heroes of September 11th. Many of us also found ourselves at the Transit Museum store. Inside it they had about half of the store dedicated to a display of the London Underground, one system that puts New York's to shame in terms of the number of routes. We also looked at the various subway-oriented gifts for sale, and noted the few minor mistakes since the map has been redrawn a few times due to September 11th events and two major planned changes that went into effect last year.
The group had a chuckle when I asked a vagrant for money. It's been a while since I have been in the city, but I have not lost my touch in keeping all of my hard-earned money while turning the tables on those who beg me to help them.
We all met near Gate 106 on the terminal's lower level, and together we walked to our train.
Metro North Train 9527, Grand Central Terminal to Wakefield
This was a rather routine trip on Metro North, a Harlem Line North White Plains local. Our 28-minute ride took us to the last stop in the Bronx (and New York City).
When we detrained at Wakefield, we could see the next station up the line, Mount Vernon West, which is in Westchester County. We looked around for some more train activity, but did not immediately find it. We walked up the stairs to the viaduct above, 241st Street. This viaduct runs over not only the Harlem Line, but also the New Haven Line, which is parallel to it at this point. Just south of here is where the New Haven diverges off the Harlem Line, just beyond the Woodlawn Metro North station. We did see a northbound and a southbound train on the New Haven Line as we walked over the bridge.
I had told the group in my itinerary that it would be about a six-block walk to White Plains Road, where the subway and also our lunch stop would be. Everyone seemed surprised how close it really was, not taking into account that we had already walked about three blocks while on the viaduct.
Once at White Plains Road/241st Street about 12:05 PM, we split up. Owen and I, along with our respective sons, opted for McDonalds, while the rest had pizza at a local place on the corner near the overhead subway. We decided to regroup at 12:45 PM, meeting on the mezzanine of the subway station for our afternoon subway blitz.
Five hours on the rails for a buck fifty
Our first subway ride of our Bronx blitz was the 2. This was one line we only had to ride in one direction because we had taken the quicker Metro North up to the city limits at Wakefield. For some of us, this was our first ride on a new R-142 car. These feature very bright interior lighting, internal LED destination signs, clear automated station annoucements both inside and outside the train, and stick maps with lights that go on and off to mark each stop the train makes (or skips).
As we got moving a little before 1 PM, it began to snow. And it only got heavier as the day progressed. We rode this train as far as East 180th Street, where we were to transfer to the 5.
Everyone enjoyed the ride on the 5 train between East 180th Street and Dyre Avenue, even though it was only operating as a shuttle between those two points. This is the right-of-way of the former New York, Westchester, and Boston RR. We were able to see the concrete abutments where there were once catenary towers.
We were lucky in that we got to experience three generations of subway cars in a relatively short amount of time. There are still plenty of "Redbirds" in revenue service even though they will eventually be dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. The middle-aged R-62 Kawasaki cars have become the workhorses of the fleet. Sadly, some of the brand new R-142 cars already had some "scratchfiti" on the windows. All three generations can be seen sitting side-by-side in the yards at East 180th Street.
One of the biggest snags in our itinerary was the scheduled trackwork along the lines. Some of this was announced on New York City Transit's website, while some was not. The biggest disruption to our schedule was the need to take three trains instead of one to get from Dyre Avenue in the Bronx to Lexington Avenue/125th Street in Manhattan. We had to take the 5 to East 180th Street, wait for and transfer to a 2, and then transfer again at 149th Street/Grand Concourse to another 5 train. A 4 would have worked on that last segment, but the southern segment of the 5 was originating and terminating at 149th Street/Grand Concourse on the 4 tracks so at least we were able to get seats. We took this 5 to Lexington Avenue/125th Street, where we would switch to a Bronx-bound 6 train.
Our only other run-in with a homeless person took place on one of the trains we caught at 125th Street. A man boarded, annouced that he was looking for money, and then said that he had AIDS. As he got closer to us, we could see that he was barefoot. (Keep in mind it was cold and snowing outside.) Not only were his feet dirty, but they had open cuts on them.
The ride on the 6 train was interesting. The northbound trip we ran express, following the same pattern as evening rush hour trains. We were on one of the newest R-142 equipped trains, and the signs and light displays were set for a <6> rather than a regular local 6. This allowed us to make back some of our lost time on the other trains, but it was not enough to allow us complete the Fest on time. In both directions we went over the AMTRAK line that runs between New York and New England, but did not see one train.
We used some time at the Pelham Bay Park endpoint to take our group photos. Then we rode the 6 southbound, this time making all local stops. Our destination was once again Lexington Avenue/125th Street, this time to change to a 4 train towards Woodlawn.
The other snag occurred on the 4 train. On the northbound segment, we sat outside of the Woodlawn terminal station for quite a while to await a departing train. We also had a short toilet break at this station. And then returning southbound, our train had troubles again -- in fact one stop appeared to be an application of the emergency brake. This train was taken out of service at 149th Street/Grand Concourse, but luckily for us we were detraining there anyhow to catch the 2 train. We also spent a lot of time at this transfer station, because our delays on the 4 meant we missed our intended 2 train. They were single-tracking the 2 because of platform and track work in this station, hence the cancellation of the 5 in this area.
When we finally got onto the very crowded 2 train, it was our last ride together as a whole.
Our group of ten split up at Lenox Avenue/110th Street, as four wished to make earlier returns home while the other six completed the itinerary. Since both groups were more than three people, there were technically two simultaneous Fests in progress. The smaller group, which included Ellis, Ross, Owen, and Isak, remained aboard the 2 train while the larger group got off the train at 110th Street. Before I bring you the completion of AppleFest 2002, let's have Ross Kudlick describe the activities of the Group of Four as they made their way to Penn Station, and ultimately Philadelphia, since there were three people together until then.
Ross reports on the Group of Four's Fest
We stayed on the 2 train as the Fest of 6 left, intending to ride to 34th St./Penn Station. However, the train crossed over to the local track and started making all local stops, even though the automated announcements continued stating that it was an express train. We then transferred to a 3 express to speed our trip to Penn station.
Once at Penn, we discovered that 159, my planned train home, would be leaving in just a few minutes, on time at 5:40 PM. However, Owen and Isak had reservations on 57 (The VERMONTER) which was running 40 minutes late. After confirming that their tickets would be accepted on 159, Owen, Isak and I said goodbye to Ellis and boarded Acela Regional 159 and continued a Fest of 3 to Philadelphia. Ellis was scheduled to depart at 5:47 to Long Island.
Opening the cafe car was delayed because the food was delivered late. Once open, we enjoyed an evening meal of AmFood. I discovered later (after the train departed Philadelphia) that the train almost left without being re-stocked. The food arrived just as the conductor was about to give the highball out of Penn station.
Our trip was generally uneventful except for the dragging equipment detector that stopped us south of Trenton. We were stopped for about 6 minutes to inspect the train. I was surprised during the inspection that a train passed us on the next track at speed while an assistant conductor was on the roadbed for the inspection. The crew announced that no defects were found except some built up ice and we were on our way, arriving in Philadelphia 10 minutes late at 7:13.
Kevin's AppleFest report continues
Back at 110th Street, the Group of Six continued with the last leg of the Fest. We crossed the island platform to await a 3 train to Lenox Terminal. A 3 came within a minute, and we were on our way northward once more. After the 135th Street station, beyond which the 2 diverges for the Bronx, we were now on trackage unique to the 3. The first stop, 145th Street, has a very short platform that can only accomodate the first few cars of the train. The line then curves to the west, and comes into an open area that is covered but out in the elements. The yard at Lenox Terminal sits just north of the station. A high concrete canopy shelters passengers from precipitation (lucky for us), but not the temperature.
We were, by now, beyond the scheduled ending time for AppleFest. We stood for a short while on the platform to allow the motorman to change ends. A conductor closed all of the doors, and then walked the length of the train and used a key to open just one door per car, presumably to keep the heat in while the train was in the station.
At 5:24 PM we were rolling southward once again on the 3 train, towards Penn Station. After our line merged with the 1 line at 96th Street, we had a nice smooth express ride to complete our subway travels. We got to Penn Station's subway station at 5:45 PM, and the itinerary for AppleFest 2002 was officially over. Mike Hammond commented that it had been 5 hours since we had entered the system at 241st Street in Wakefield, and he certainly got his $1.50 worth!
Being near the front of the train, we ended up using the smaller concourse under 32nd Street, the same one that the other group used between the subway and the station. We headed back into the LIRR concourse, and the six of us had dinner together at a pizza restaurant until we slowly broke up as our trains were due.
The next Fests
As is customary, we talked about where our next gathering will be. JerseyFest seems up in the air for now, until NJ TRANSIT gets its act together. It could be as early as March, or else because of my work schedule we will have to do it in the summer. What is more definite is what we've called the Boston "T" Party, a weekend-long rail extravaganza around the Boston area, which is tentatively scheduled for July 19-20-21.
Home from the Fest
Jishnu left to catch an NJ TRANSIT Midtown Direct train home. Then John had to catch his LIRR train back to Ronkonkoma. The other four of us went upstairs to the AMTRAK/NJ TRANSIT concourse to await our trains. Alan listened to his scanner to find out what tracks our trains would be on, to hopefully give us a head start. Mike would be taking an NJ TRANSIT Trenton train for Newark Airport. Michael and I could have been on the same train, but I did not feel like standing so we instead caught AMTRAK 661 which departed a few minutes later. That left Alan all by himself in Penn Station, to head home on the subway to Queens. Now that there were no groups of three or more left, our fest was really over.
Mike Hammond later reported that his NJT train was indeed standing room only. His Tarrytown dinner plans had been cancelled by the weather, allowing him to join us at Penn Station and then return to his hotel at the airport. When he got to the Newark Airport rail station, he remained on the platform for a little while to watch the trains. He saw the train that Michael and I were on, 661, make its stop there. He then went to AirTrain Newark and rode the entire system, going to the outer stations in Parking Lot D before returning to Station E to get his hotel shuttle.
Meanwhile, AMTRAK Train 661 was fairly empty, and it ran perfectly on time to Metropark through the snow. And then came the fun part, me driving us home through that weather. We made it, but not without seeing some less fortunate drivers skid and spin and in one case, leave the roadway. It was a harrowing experience going home, but it was well worth it after having enjoyed our fun day on the rails at AppleFest 2002.