New York-Boston-Albany-New York Circle Trip
April 21, 2002
AMTRAK Train 2290, ACELA EXPRESS, New York-Boston
I started off my journey in the Club Acela Lounge, where the regular attendant was apparently either late for work or on a break. She rushed into the lounge only 10 minutes before the 8:00 AM Acela Express to Washington, DC. She immediately announced that train and a minute later announced my train. Sadly I had not heard the call for my train on my scanner if there was one, or I would have left the lounge even before she made the announcement.
This delay forced me to stand in a huge line running from the east gate all the way over to the west gate. If I could have, I would have slipped down the west gate escalator. Since this particular east gate has side entrances for both of the seating areas, it took several minutes for me to get up to the gate. All in all I would say that at least 125 to 150 people boarded this train and quite possibly even more. I don't know if this is typical for a Sunday or if this was just a fluke. I also can't speak to the ridership levels on a Saturday. I find it odd that they killed 2290 if this is typical ridership.
My train was covered by Acela Express Set 7 with 2032 power car in the lead. We left on time give or take a minute (but arrived 10 minutes down in Boston). We popped out of tunnel #3 in Queens, which is normally used for inbound service. I could see no apparent reason for this, but then I suppose that they could have been doing work in the other tunnels. They now have signs alongside the tracks in Sunnyside announcing where the tunnels for the Eastside Access connection to the 63rd Street tunnel will come out.
We continued to pick up passengers at both Stamford and New Haven. I would not be surprised if there were over 50 people waiting at New Haven. An elderly couple boarded the First Class car at New Haven and was surprised to find out that they got breakfast as part of their ticket. She declined saying that they had just had breakfast, but he decided to go ahead and have the omelet.
I could tell that this was their first time on the Acela Express; however she apparently had taken trains to Boston years ago pre-Amtrak. She was pointing out various things to him along the way. I didn't inquire why they were going to Boston, but I could tell from the lack of luggage that it was a day trip. So I told them to make sure that they didn't eat dinner, since they would get that on the way home, and I told them about the Club Acela lounge in Boston.
We then parted ways at Boston and I went up to the Lounge to await the departure of the LAKE SHORE LIMITED (LSL). While the attendant didn't comment on my lack of luggage or my destination of Albany if he actually looked at my ticket, he did give me a rather odd look. While I suspect that they probably do get some riders from Boston to Albany, I rather doubt that any of those people do it in the sleeper. I however had elected to pay the premium, since it wasn't that much. That extra cost included my meals, albeit in the café car and it allowed me to use my scanner without having to wear my headphones. With a full day of riding the later offered a nice break for me. I also got to see the bulk of a movie that I hadn't seen before. Granted I probably listened to more of it since much of my attention was directed out the window at the passing scenery.
While in Club Acela, I took the opportunity to stock up on bottled water for my Albany-New York run, since I would have to pay for it, and also just in case the sleeper didn't have any. I also caught up on my reading on the Prodigy Trains Community BB, since I hadn't had too much time the day before to read everything. You've got to love those free computer terminals!
AMTRAK Train 449, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Boston-Albany
Around 1:30 PM the attendant let me go down stairs, without an escort. Just as I was hitting the doors to the track, they started making the general boarding announcement for 449. Again they had the tensi-barrier up and an employee checked my ticket before letting me board. I discovered that even though no one else had been up in the lounge, there were several people already in the sleeper. I don't know why they weren't up in the lounge.
I was in room 10 which is the good side of the car since you can face forward and still see the TV. If you hit the odd rooms, then you have to ride facing backwards if you want to see the TV.
Our consist was:
P-42 Engine 23 Amfleet I Dinette 20907 (Not used) Amfleet I Café 20030 Amfleet II Coach 25003 Viewliner Sleeper 62026 (Ocean View) Baggage 1709 Mail 1555
We pulled out right on time at 1:45 PM and hit Back Bay on time but left a minute down. My attendant Jose came by to introduce himself and see if I needed the grand tour, shortly after we left Back Bay. Since he saw me all settled in with my scanner on, my sneakers off, my flip-flops out, he figured I was a seasoned traveler, so he just asked me if I had any questions. I thanked him and told him that I was all set. He confirmed that I was getting off in Albany and then moved on to the next room.
Directly across in room 9 was another apparent rail fan, since he also was traveling with a scanner. He didn't seem inclined to talk, so when he closed his door I turned my attention to the passing scenery and the movie.
We left Framingham 4 minutes down and pulled out of Worcester at 3:05 now 19 minutes down. I wandered up to the café car in between the above stations for my free lunch. After showing the attendant my ticket stub, I grabbed a Turkey sandwich and a bag of Doritos. I was going to get a soda here, but she informed me that she would have to charge me for it, that the sleeping car attendant should have free sodas for me back there. When I returned to my room, after dropping my haul off, I went back to the service area. All that was out was bottled water and a bag of ice. Since I didn't see Jose, I took it upon myself to explore the various cabinets till I hit the jackpot and found my Slice. I grabbed a cup of ice and retired to my room.
I finally saw one of those Amfleet II coaches with the TV monitors, since I had to walk through the above coach to get my lunch. Although they didn't seem to be in use at the time I went through, it did indeed have the monitors on the luggage rack.
I had just barely finished my lunch and was still nursing my soda, when the most interesting part of my trip occurred. While I can't say for sure, I think that this was the first time I've ever ridden an AMTRAK train into an emergency stop. I've done it plenty of times on the subway and even a few times on the MU's from Metro North and the LIRR. I've come to know that hiss very well, although many New Yorkers don't seem to know what it means.
Nonetheless it was certainly the first time I've ever gone into emergency on AMTRAK, while listing to the engineer yelling into the radio that he's put the train into emergency. Of course one of the first thoughts that flashed through my mind was the Auto Train, since this was less than a week later. But since we weren't bouncing or bucking, just braking, I figured that we weren't going to jump the rails. We had just passed a lake on the left side of the train where there were lots of people standing on the side of the roadbed fishing. When I say roadbed they were actually just at the outer edge of the graveled area for the Maintenance-of-way vehicles to drive on when they aren't high-railing it. There was a freight train (Q436) in the pocket on our right waiting for us to pass. We were at MP 93.2 with the clock reading 4:10 when this happened.
My first assumption was that the people at the lake had somehow either done something to scare the engineer or maybe put something on the tracks. However once the train had stopped, the engineer having dealt with the repercussions of throwing the train into emergency, then again called out to both the conductor and the CSX dispatcher with the reason he hit the button. Apparently as he was paralleling the freight train and coming around a very slight curve, a 350 pound man stepped out from in between two of the freight cars, and almost directly in front of our train. The engineer was quite certain that he had not hit him with the engine, saying that he had jumped back, but could not say for sure that one of the cars hadn't clipped this fool.
Well naturally the conductor had to walk the train, not only to see if there was a body, but also to ensure that the emergency stop hadn't created any problems for our train. While he was out on the tracks he discovered why this moron almost lost his life. Yes we hadn't hit him thankfully, although he probably deserved it. It would appear that he and some of his buddies had taken the opportunity of the stopped CSX train to rob it. The conductor spotted 3 or 4 other people running off into the woods carrying stuff. He also spotted the moron walking away. Naturally the CSX dispatcher radioed for the police to come investigate the freight train, and we got underway about 10 minutes or so later.
My neighbor in room 9 stuck his head out of his room when we stopped. We of course both knew what was going on. We both couldn't believe it, not to mention that we couldn't figure out how this big guy squeezed in between two freight cars. I suspect that the two of us where amongst the very select group who knew what was going on, as the crew never made any announcements. At least there were none that we heard in the sleeper, although maybe they did make an announcement in coach.
Thanks to the fun above we didn't get out of Springfield until 4:37 PM, seventeen minutes off the advertised, and that was after cutting our layover to 5 minutes instead of the advertised 10. 448 pulled into Springfield about 3 minutes after we did. As we started pulling out I heard the CSX dispatcher calling 448. He told them that he was going to take away their signal and that he was going to hold them there for about 5 extra minutes. They were also to call him as soon as they could confirm that our train had cleared the station. It seems that he was still dealing with the Q436 freight stuck on that siding awaiting the police. So he needed to put another westbound freight into the station so that he could clear the track for 448. I heard 448 make that call about a minute after we left and the CSX dispatcher tell his other freight to pull in with extreme caution and stop to await further signals. After that I moved out of range and didn't hear anything more regarding 448 or Q436.
There's some great scenery from Springfield into Albany, at least on the left side of the train. I couldn't tell what was on the right the whole time since my buddy in 9 kept his shades down for part of the journey. We pulled out of Pittsfield at 5:47 for the final miles into Albany. As we approached Albany, I heard the station dispatcher tell our crew that they were going to hold us outside the station until 49 came in, stopped, and cleared. So we sat from around 6:45 till we hit the platform at 6:59, 4 minutes off the advertised. Train 49 went by us about 5 minutes after we had stopped outside the station.
Train 49's consist:
P-32 Engine 705 Baggage 1215 Heritage 10-6 dorm 2513 Viewliner sleeper 62015 (Island View) Heritage Diner 8519 Amfleet II Dinette 28014 Amfleet II Coach 25059 Amfleet II Coach 25031 Amfleet II Coach 25076
After we pulled in I grabbed my stuff, slipped Jose 3 bucks for his trouble, and told him he only needed to replace one washcloth that I had used as a towel. I then wandered around the platform as they started to assemble the combined consists. I have to tell you that the way they move around in Albany, I don't see how they are going to shave any time off to speed up the LSL with the new schedule. They are much more efficient in Philly with this stuff than they are up in Albany.
First they refueled our engine, while commissary cleaned the food out of our café car. Then they added Engine 72 to the front of 449. This was followed by their cutting off the two engines along with the dinette and the café car. They then parked the two food service cars on one of the sidings, cut off the engines and sent them up towards the bridge. Next up they backed up 49 onto 449 and cut off engine 705. However had they been smart, they could have backed up 49 while 449's engines were setting out the food service cars and probably saved 15 to 20 minutes. They then backed down the two engines onto the combined consist.
In the midst of all of the above, in pulls the MAPLE LEAF running about 15 minutes down. This of course meant that they had to pull some of the crews off the LSL to deal with the engine change for the MAPLE LEAF. Shortly after they cleared the MAPLE LEAF out of the station, in pulled Train 265 from NY.
Just to add to the confusion, of the three tracks that trains can platform on, the middle one is out of service. This is of course due to the new station and its necessary track realignment. While I'm not sure if they are actually numbered this way, since I didn't pay attention, the track nearest the station which I'll call track one looked to be finished. Track two the next out from the station had been realigned and was awaiting ballast. Track three also seemed to be redone and they were working on the bed for track four. The realignment of track two necessitated them cutting the corner off of the old center island platform.
The new station, at least from the outside looks largely completed and ready to go. I can't speak to the interior as I didn't try to walk over to it. All of the high level plats are up and ready to go, although the ends nearest the old station are still unfinished. They are obviously planning to lengthen the platforms once they can tear down the old station and its platforms. By now I was starting to get a little cold, since the temperature was down around 40, so I wandered into the station to warm up and hit the head. Also there didn't seem to be much activity on the LSL at the moment.
Around 8:10 PM I wandered back outside, after my 10 minute break above, since I was hearing more activity on my scanner plus in theory my train was supposed to leave at 8:15. They were still working on the LSL and had yet to pull it up for the roadrailers. I'm still at a loss as to exactly what happened with the ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS, but I do know that it didn't run its proper schedule. I know for a fact that passengers were bused from Rutland to Albany, as one conductor walking by asked me if I had come in on the bus. I didn't get a chance to talk to him to find out why they were bused over.
Where I'm unclear is whether the train still made any of its stops in NY State. I could here them talking to a train coming over the Hudson River bridge and saying that they were going to have to run him through the yard. The crew had to stop and align a manual switch to do this, and then they had to wait for another train in the yard to be backed up since it was fouling another switch that the ETHAN ALLEN needed to go over. What's weird about this though, is the fact that the train came in empty and I think, although I'm not sure, that it was the same consist from 265. Why it was sent over the Hudson River bridge onto the single track main line I don't know.
Finally around 8:25 PM they pulled the LSL up the platform a ways so they could tack the roadrailers on the rear. Still no sign of the ETHAN ALLEN, although more people were starting to wander out of the station also looking for it. (I didn't bother to mention the fact that I was Alan, since I wasn't the Allen that they were looking for!) Then to the confusion of many, they backed down a switching engine with one passenger car on the rear and three roadrailers on his head end, in front of the station. While I knew both from experience and the scanner that he was adding the roadrailers to the LSL, there were several who were wondering how they were going to fit all of the passengers for the ETHAN ALLEN into one car. So I explained it to those who were closest to me.
AMTRAK Train 296, ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS, Albany-New York
While they were doing this, our train pulled in on track 3. They unleashed the hoards at 8:30 and we headed for our train. While I didn't dilly dally, I also didn't bother to run since I had a Business Class seat and I knew that there wouldn't be many people in that car. I was right; there was one other lady besides me. We pulled out at 8:35 PM, 20 minutes late. Just before we pulled out the conductor of the LSL called into dispatch to confirm how many roadrailers they were adding. They had put on three, but his manifest said 8. Then he looked at the date and realized that they had given him Saturday's manifest. I think, although I'm not sure since the signal was starting to breakup due to distance, that the LSL finally got the high ball at 8:38 PM. In any event it certainly hadn't left prior to that time, which put it down over 50 minutes, this despite the fact that both of the LSL sections had essentially arrived into Albany on time.
The conductor came by a minute later for my ticket, and the lady who I gather is a regular since they seemed to know each other, asked him if he could turn off the AC. While he complied with her request, he seemed unable to turn on the heat so it got quite cool on the way to NY. Apparently heat was also a problem on the MAPLE LEAF, as I had heard them calling for someone to fix the heat in one of the cars while they were in the station. I probably should have complained and invoked my service guarantee for the lack of heat, because it did get quite cool. In fact I was forced to wear my coat from Poughkeepsie on down. I never got around to calling AMTRAK up however.
The rest of my trip was largely uneventful and since it was now dark there wasn't much to see. We hit Hudson at 8:59, Rhinecliff at 9:20, Poughkeepsie at 9:35, Croton at 10:12, Yonkers at 10:30, and arrived into New York's Penn Station at 10:53, 8 minutes down. Our train's consist had one engine on each end, which I thought was odd, but which also lead me to believe that 265 which I had seen earlier with two engines became 296. I also noticed during my overall journey that many of the defect detectors, in fact all but one that I heard, still claim that they belong to Conrail. They've apparently never been reprogrammed.
P-32 Engine 706 Amfleet I Coach 21002 Amfleet I Coach 21641 Amfleet I Coach 44671 Amfleet I Coach 21176 Amfleet I Café 20908 (also Business Class) P-32 Engine 710
All in all it was a day well spent on the rails!