Back     Home     Forums     Chat     Search     Site map     Print this page  
On Track On Line - Trip Report Menu
This Report:   Section 1   Section 2   Section 3   Section 4    

Trip Report

The Northeast by Commuter Rail
Section 2 of 4

December 22-31, 2002


Monday, December 23, 2002 (continued)

Part 13: MBTA Worcester Line Commuter Rail Train #524, Worcester, MA to Boston-South Station

Sitting right in front of Worcester Union Station, my consist changed from Train 513 into Train 524. They mixed up the crew a little bit (some stayed on, some were replaced), and went in "push mode" just like any other inbound train. That's a nice touch, not spewing diesel fumes into South Station's waiting area to go with the cold and wind already in there.

This time I got brave and rode in the upper level of a bilevel coach. There are a few single seats near the end, where a suitcase standing on end would not be in anyone's way. Along the way we appeared to be slower than normal. I later found out by overhearing the crew that a CSX dispatcher had routed us onto the wrong track, hence the reason for once again serving Grafton and Westborough on the wrong platform. Do I ever get to do one of these reports where I don't say a sarcastic "Thank you, CSX"?

The rest of the trip was uneventful, although there continued to be slow running. We appeared to be finally on the correct side, but we did not make much headway back towards Boston. As for me, we were due at South Station at 3:24 PM, and I had to leave at 3:45 PM, only 21 minutes difference. Had we been super late, I could have made my switch at Back Bay, Thanks for my foresight in purchasing the Providence ticket when I got the others, I had no need to wait in South Station. At 3:30 PM, after walking into the building from Train 524 on Track 4, I did a ceremonious loop through and around the Solari board, to see that my next Train 813 was already receiving passengers on Track 8. So I circled right out of the building, bidding South Station a very quiet goodbye.

Part 14: MBTA Attleboro Line Commuter Rail Train #813, Boston-South Station to Providence, RI

This trip also featured a mixed consist of bilevel and single-level coaches. Since I was late in getting to this train, and many seats were already taken, I ended up walking to the front, and finding the old reliable single-level coaches, which have plenty of luggage space anyhow. This trip would be about one hour, four minutes, over AMTRAK's regular Northeast Corridor route, which hosts the Acela Regional (Shore Line trains), Acela Express, and the TWILIGHT SHORELINER.

This train would take me into darkness, effectively completing my day on the MBTA rails (and some buses). For this twelfth and final MBTA conveyance, I was headed for Rhode Island's capital city. At least from this train I could get to see a few AMTRAK trains as they whizzed by us. Some of the trackage, particularly around Attleboro, is rated for the maximum 150-mph speeds, so it was quite a thrill when an Acela Express passed us while we were stopped at a commuter station.

Only event of note was that one passenger slept past his stop at South Attleboro, the last station in the state, and had to ride with us to Providence. Now awake, he told the conductor he would be seeing him in a few minutes for the return northbound into Massachusetts. This equipment turns as 820 back to Boston.

MBTA Train 813's arrival in Providence was on the money at 4:49 PM. I was finished with the MBTA portion of my itinerary. I still had one AMTRAK trip scheduled for this evening, and a cab ride to my hotel. But first, about 1-1/2 hours to kill in Providence.

Part 15: In Providence

I had seen the large mall from the trains on previous trips through Providence to and from Boston. The last time I had actually been in Providence, there was just an open field between the train station and the State Capitol building. The area has been developed into what is arguably one of the largest urban shopping malls in the country. Providence Place is several blocks long, and with its combined parking levels and shopping levels, it is half a dozen stories high. It definitely gives Philadelphia's Gallery at Market East a run for its money. And like the latter, this mall is very convenient to trains, one long block away from the AMTRAK/MBTA station.

Having never been there before, it took me a while to figure out the parking levels, which are lettered A-B-C going down, and the shopping levels, which are numbered 1-2-3 going up. Although I did not have a car, I had entered the mall on Level B, which I found to be a few stores but primarily parking. Anyhow, I made my way to the food court, which was my only reason for being in a shopping mall on December 23rd, violating my self-imposed annual boycott of malls between November 15th and January 2nd. I had dinner at a Pizzeria Regina, which was a Boston-based chain I had never heard of. They even have an outlet in one of the malls in Bergen County, New Jersey.

After dinner I dragged my luggage back through the mall, and outside once more. I would return to the train station to await my next conveyance, an hour-long AMTRAK trip.

Part 16: AMTRAK Acela Regional Train #177, Providence, RI to New London, CT

I didn't go crazy for consists on this vacation because of the crowds and the cold. I only noted, for instance, that this train had engine 660, an HHP-8 locomotive. This train was almost delayed because two northbound trains, Acela Regional 86 and Acela Express 2164 were both running about 25-30 minutes late, and were taking up both of the normal tracks used by AMTRAK. Luckily they were both on their way to Boston shortly before 6:16 PM, when 177 arrived into the station.

I was surprised to find so many available seats this time of year; certainly I expected to stand or at least have to sit next to someone. Of significance during this trip, the engineer was sounding the horn to a monotonous "tune" of "Jingle Bells" as we passed through each town. In one town, a local fire department was having a carbeque behind the fire house -- an intentional burning of a car presumably for practice.

Arrival in New London was on time at 7:16, exactly one hour after I had left Providence. Another day on the rails was history.

Since the station was open, I decided to purchase my Shore Line East ticket for the next morning, in the event I was running late. My plans called for me to ride, for my first time, one of the through trains that runs through New Haven to Stamford. So naturally I expected to buy a ticket from New London to Stamford. The AMTRAK agent was unable to accomplish this. It seems that they could only ticket me as far as New Haven. I was not going to argue, so I bought a ticket to New Haven, and figured on paying for an extended trip to Stamford once I was aboard. With my New London-New Haven ticket in hand, I went to find a taxicab on the street side of the station.

From here I took a cab to my hotel in neighboring Groton. I had no idea that my Econo Lodge was adjacent to the Northeast Corridor tracks, but I found out quickly upon hearing the horns from my room. I saw a few Regionals and Expresses pass by.

This hotel seemed to be deserted, considering it was the week of a holiday. I believe I was the hotel's only guest. It was not asking much when I called the woman at the front desk before retiring, asking for a 5:30 AM wakeup call. As a backup, I set my cell phone's alarm to also ring at 5:30 AM.

Fast forward to 4:18 the next morning. The northbound TWILIGHT SHORELINER came by running right on time, blowing its horn. It was close enough to awaken me, and I never fell back asleep soundly again. A little more than an hour later, my cell phone's alarm went off. Before going into the bathroom, I waited for the other shoe to drop, my wakeup call. But it never came. With one guest in the hotel they could not handle the volume of wakeup calls. What the hotel failed to do, the TWILIGHT SHORELINER succeeded.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I had arranged with my cab driver the night before to reserve a cab for 6 AM at the Groton Econo Lodge, to take me back to the New London train station. My first train would be at 6:29 AM. Well they were early -- and they got me to the station with plenty of time to spare.

As I arrived at the station, my Shore Line East train was just arriving from New Haven in "push" mode. It is a revenue run, Train 3600, but I did not observe any passengers detrain once it arrived. The train stopped on the far platform next to the water. The high-level platform was only a few car lengths, shorter than the 4-car consist.

Part 17: Shore Line East Train #3639, New London, CT to Stamford, CT

I boarded the train, now with the engine preparing to pull the train as 3639. There really were not that many passengers on board, but the train did fill up down the line.

I told the crew member collecting tickets that I wanted to go to Stamford, not New Haven as indicated by my ticket. He explained to me that there is a total crew change in New Haven, and that AMTRAK crews get off and Metro North takes over the train for the trip beyond there. He said they would collect my fare beyond New Haven.

Another first for me was the stop at State Street in New Haven. A lot of passengers who work in New Haven detrained here. Then it was a short way into New Haven Union Station. More passengers got off here, as did the entire crew from New London. Metro North employees soon boarded, and surprisingly so did some more passengers. Although this train only goes as far as Stamford, it provides a one-stop express ride, whereas most of the MU trains going to Grand Central make local stops in this zone before running express west of Stamford.

Now technically having changed from Shore Line East 3639 to Metro North 3639, the new crew collected a cash fare of $5.50 from me, the standard cash fare for this distance. I now enjoyed the express ride (on the inside tracks usually used by AMTRAK) to Stamford.

During this trip, I had my first migraine headache since May -- what a place for it to hit. I have always kept my Imitrex by my side just in case, and this case certainly qualified.

This train operated on time, and terminated in Stamford at 8:30 AM.

I had 15 minutes to kill, which I used to explore the new station, as well as purchase my one-way ticket to New York's Grand Central Terminal. It was my first contact with Metro North's new ticket machines, and I found it to be much, much simpler and quicker than the dinousaurs that NJ TRANSIT is using. After that, I explored the station some more. With all the platform construction I have observed over the past several years, I guess I should have realized that the station upstairs was being improved as well. AMTRAK now has a separate ticket window, behind the place it used to share with Metro North. Two Quick Trak machines were moved closer to the AMTRAK agents.

While on the platform awaiting my inbound Metro North train, Alan Burden called me so we could agree on our plans to meet later on that day. He just missed hearing the arrival of northbound Acela Express 2150, which came into the station soon after we completed our call.

Part 18: MTA/Metro North Railroad New Haven Line Train #1639, Stamford, CT to New York City-Grand Central Terminal

Train 1639, a typical Metro North MU consist, was right on time at 8:45 AM. This phase of my trip would cover AMTRAK's Northeast Corridor Line as far as New Rochelle, NY, where AMTRAK branches off the Metro North-owned line to the left.

Unfortunately this was not an true express train, as it made some stops in Connecticut and as far as Harrison in New York before turning into an express (with even a rare bypass of Harlem-125th Street station). The train was moderately patronized, not too crowded at all. We came to a stop on Track 108 in Grand Central Terminal's lower level at 9:40 AM.

Once in New York, I walked out to the corner of Lexington Avenue & 45th Street, where I had a late breakfast (standing up) at McDonald's. I then returned to the station and browsed in the Transit Museum Store.

I also went into a drug store for some needed toiletries I had either forgotten or used up earlier in the trip. And finally, I purchased my ticket for the next phase of my trip, another Metro North train up to Poughkeepsie.

Part 19: MTA/Metro North Railroad Hudson Line Train #821, New York City-Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie, NY

The reason for taking this side trip, rather than going via subway directly to New York Penn Station, was to cover more trackage shared by commuter rail and AMTRAK. In this case, I would be riding this Metro North train up to Poughkeepsie. AMTRAK joins this Metro North-owned line at Spuyten Duyvil. The AMTRAK routes that use this line are the Empire Service, the New York section of the LAKE SHORE LIMITED, the MAPLE LEAF, the ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS, and the ADIRONDACK.

This being an outbound trip on the eve of a holiday, it was the first of several very crowded trains I would encounter. In order to get a seat I had to ride this train facing backwards. This train used a typical string of Bombardier coaches used in Metro North's diesel territory.

We were running on time, until we made a sudden stop just before the Garrison station. I heard the air dumping and knew we had gone into emergency. The crew informed us that somebody pulled the emergency brake. We lost about 13 minutes here, which was cause for concern since my schedule called for just 15 minutes between this train's arrival and my AMTRAK train back to New York City.

Luckily, Metro North heavily pads their schedule into Poughkeepsie, so I still had about 10 minutes to walk around the station. The station was more crowded than I had ever seen it. Most people were waiting for a northbound AMTRAK train, 281, which was due a few minutes after my train. Alan kept me informed via my cell phone's e-mail feature of the progress of Train 294, so I knew it was running on time even though there is no departure board of any kind in Poughkeepsie.

Part 20: AMTRAK ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS, Train #294, Poughkeepsie, NY to New York City-Penn Station

At the same time my train was being announced, another crowd was gathering on the opposite platform for a northbound train, Empire Service Train #281 to Niagara Falls.

My train was right on time. I expected some sort of madhouse, given the other crowded trains I would experience that day. I thought I was in trouble when the conductor chose to lift my ticket on the platform before I boarded. But then he told me there were plenty of empty seats in the rear coach, and he was right.

It was a nice, uneventful trip south along the Hudson Line once more, and more pleasurable because AMTRAK trains make only the Croton-Harmon and Yonkers stops.

A little before Train 294 arrived in Croton-Harmon, Alan called me once more to finalize plans for New York. He would meet me at Penn Station for my ride out to Woodside and back on the Long Island Railroad. (Funny thing, he was coming from Woodside originally to do this!) He also would ride NJ TRANSIT and SEPTA with me down to Philadelphia.

My second arrival of the day in New York City was achieved right on time at 2:25 PM. Penn Station by this time was the crowded mess I had expected aboard that last train. I snaked my way expertly through some back corridors, and met Alan by the Long Island Railroad waiting room.

Part 21: MTA/Long Island Railroad Babylon Branch Train #126, New York City-Penn Station to Woodside, NY

Alan had pre-purchased my tickets for me, and had also ascertained that this train would be leaving from Track 18. We went right down to the train, and it was packed solid with people. Even in the rearmost car, we ended up having to stand in the doorway. Luckily it was only for an 11-minute trip through the tunnel. Our tickets were not collected because the crew never made it to us before we detrained.

This little jaunt on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) out to Woodside was to ride on AMTRAK-owned trackage between Penn Station and the point where the LIRR and AMTRAK diverge just beyond the Sunnyside Yard. AMTRAK trains serving this portion include all Northeast Corridor trains running between New York City and New England, including the TWILIGHT SHORELINER, VERMONTER, Acela Regional, and Acela Express.

Once in Woodside at 2:48 PM, we went upstairs into the station above the tracks.

Part 22: MTA/Long Island Railroad Babylon Branch Train #113, Woodside, NY to New York City-Penn Station

My original intention was to return to Manhattan on a train at 3:00 PM, which would have been a train off the Port Jefferson Branch, #1705. But we realized that we had not yet seen the train before it, due at 2:49 PM, so we opted to take that one when it showed up a bit late. Alan said we would need this extra time, in which to purchase our NJ TRANSIT tickets since he had observed long lines. It turned out to be another train off the Babylon Branch, #113. Although this inbound train was by far less crowded than the outbound we had just ridden, the crew once again never collected our tickets. The Woodside dogleg turned out to be free for us.

Part 23: At New York City-Penn Station

When we got to the new NJ TRANSIT concourse, it was mobbed. The time was about 3 PM, and people were heading home early from work early, as is customary on the eve of any holiday. There were long lines at both the manned ticket windows and the ticket vending machines. But the problem with the machines was complex: They don't work quickly enough. They are hard to figure out. Some take credit cards but not cash. And some don't work at all. NJ TRANSIT needs to look at its neighbors in New York, the two MTA-operated railroads, and improve its ticket vending machines.

NJ TRANSIT offers the capability of purchasing tickets through to Philadelphia. In other words, one transaction yields a ticket for the NJ TRANSIT portion of the trip to Trenton, and a second ticket good on SEPTA from Trenton to Philadelphia. There is no bargain here, but it saves having to purchase a SEPTA ticket in Trenton, which is welcome when there is a tight connection.

When we finally got up to the ticket machine, Alan purchased two such through tickets to Philadelphia, and then I later paid him back. No use having us tie up two machines with these simple transactions that the machines take so long to complete.

Part 24: NJ TRANSIT Northeast Corridor Line Train #3855, New York City-Penn Station to Trenton, NJ

We hoped we were right by the correct stairway to our train, but then our train was announced to depart from the worst possible location, Track 13. This lies outside the new NJ TRANSIT concourse, and is accessed throgh LIRR territory in the station. So for all the money they spent on the new concourse, we were still in stampede-like conditions, just from another part of Penn Station. And because the NJT concourse is at the east end of the platforms, the coaches at the rear of the train fill up the fastest. We hoofed it to the front of the train, and managed to find seats before the coach we were in became standing-room-only.

Train 3855, which managed to depart close to schedule at 3:36 PM, was a semi-express, really missing only North Elizabeth, Elizabeth, and Linden. We still would have to stop at Newark Penn, Newark Airport, and all stations from Rahway to Trenton, including the ridiculous Jersey Avenue-Main station, which is served by southbound trains only.

This train was so crowded that some people were standing as far south as Metuchen. It also meant that we got our third free pass of the day. The crews just could not make it through to collect tickets.

Arrival in Trenton was on time at 4:53 PM. We got lucky in that we used Track 5, and came to a stop very close to the rear of the connecting SEPTA train on the same track, resulting in a very short walk between trains.

Part 25: SEPTA R7 Trenton Line Train #4656, Trenton, NJ to Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA

Much shorter than the NJ TRANSIT train, and now technically a reverse-peak train instead of a peak one, there were still plenty of available seats. The SEPTA portions of the tickets we purchased in New York were collected soon after departure from Trenton.

SEPTA makes more local stops than any of the other railroads I rode on this entire journey. It takes about an hour to get to 30th Street Station, whereas AMTRAK takes a little more than half an hour between the same two stations.

This SEPTA train, numbered 4656, was headed to Center City Philadelphia, and then over the R6 line to Norristown. It was running about three minutes late. We got into 30th Street Station at about 6:00 PM.

Part 26: In Philadelphia

By this time I was ravenous. I headed straight for the food court. It had been a tiring day; not only had I been riding trains since 6:29 AM, but I had accomplished quite a feat. I had been on six different passenger railroads in just under 12 hours. How many people can boast they have done that?

So I enjoyed my respite at the station before my final short ride on NJ TRANSIT. My next and final train of this trip would be at 7:14 PM.

Once I had gotten settled with my dinner, Alan left for the Club Acela in advance of his much quicker trip back to the Big Apple. Soon after he left, Owen Sindler joined me as planned. He lives within walking distance of the station. Then Alan came back to rejoin us, since he found the Club Acela had closed early that evening. The three of us talked for a while, and then once again Alan went for his train and Owen left as well.

Part 27: NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line Train #4623, Philadelphia-30th Street Station, PA to Cherry Hill, NJ

Just another routine trip on a short portion of the Atlantic City Line brought me back to my car in Cherry Hill.

Phase One of my trip was complete, but I had another three days to go in the following week to complete my mission.

Continued in next section

On Track On Line - Copyright © 2003-2017 David Warner, Harry Sutton, & Alan Burden Back     Home     Top