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Trip Report

OTOL Windy City Rail Fest 2003

July 16-21, 2003
Section 1 of 6


Photos by Jishnu Mukerji, Alan Burden, and HaRRy Sutton

(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 47K)

Chapter 0: Introduction

Group at Purple Line station, at Linden Street in Wilmette Windy City Rail Fest 2003 is history!!! Sixteen people participated in at least part of four days of riding the rails in and around Chicago.

For a full list of participants, details about the planning, and guides to all routes we rode, see: Windy City RailFest 2003 Homepage

Chapter 0.1: Why Chicago?

Our OTOL Fest group agreed last summer in Boston that for our big summer gathering we would visit Chicago. Like most large cities, Chicago offers plenty of rapid transit riding, and commuter rail lines in almost all directions (Lake Michigan prevents one from going due east!). Planning the best route began almost immediately after the last trip report was filed for the Boston "T" Party, even though we would be having Fests in New Jersey and New York City before then.

Chapter 0.2: Planning and Preparation

Putting together the puzzle that would be our ultimate itinerary was not an easy task. Chicago's commuter rail and rapid transit lines have their anomalies, such as the Skokie Swift (Yellow Line) not running on weekends, or the Heritage Corridor running rush hours only, in one direction with the flow of the commute.

I tried to make the most use of METRA's 5-day weekend pass, and also combined most of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) riding into one day to get optimum use of that agency's Visitor's Pass.

A vote was taken from potential Fest participants, asking which routes they would most prefer to ride, how many days the Fest should be, and what the Fest should be called. Based on this information, the Windy City Rail Fest 2003 was born. The respondents said that a five-day Fest would be too long, and a two-day Fest would be too short, considering that many were coming from long distances and they wanted to get their money's worth. As a compromise, the Windy City Rail Fest 2003 became a three-day "official" event, plus one added day at the beginning that was dubbed the "Pre-Fest", meaning that the activities on that day would not be officially part of the event.

So the Pre-Fest was scheduled for Thursday, July 17th, with the main event on Friday through Sunday, July 18th through 20th.

I had said during those early planning days that I would not even create route guides for the Pre-Fest, but I eventually did, figuring it was not much more work to create a few more pages of information.

I got to work on the route guides in February, figuring I had plenty of time. I solicited help from Chicago-area participants in making sure the information was correct. Bob Benton gave me a lot of help in correcting and adding to the factual aspect of the route guides. As usual, Alan Burden proofread and printed the route guides and other information that was handed out to each participant.

Everything was going well in the preparation process, but then SBC Communications put a damper on things by deciding to do a major "consolidation" of our OTOL website and bulletin board on what had been Prodigy. With two weeks notice that this would take place the end of June, attention had to be focused on the preparation of a new forum that went online on July 1st. We succeeded in providing as much continuity as possible with the website and forum, but the Windy City Rail Fest 2003 suddenly became crunch time, as we realized that we only had a few days left before the route guides had to go to press, and not everything was completed.

There were a few further problems that added further headaches to the process of preparing for the Fest. METRA had a bridge fire between Kensington and Riverdale, cutting off service south of Kensington. While METRA got service up and running within eight days, this was a source of worry for me. I feared not being able to get down to University Park as planned for the final Sunday segment of the Fest. Luckily this was not an issue, but I did do a slight rewrite to the guide for METRA Electric, adding the part about the very recent fire.

Then David Korkhouse informed me that the westbound LAKE SHORE LIMITED had been running anywhere from 1-1/2 to three hours late for the past couple of weeks. Anything more than two hours late would have thrown out all of my plans for the Thursday Pre-Fest. I had to come up with an alternate plan, which would only be invoked if we were running two hours late or more. This involved getting off the LAKE SHORE LIMITED in South Bend and taking the South Shore Line in just one direction. Although it was never used, this alternate itinerary was later printed up and could have been slipped into the handout folders if it went into effect.

The guides did get printed on Thursday, July 10th, creating a bittersweet six days for me until Michael and I had to leave for Chicago. While I no longer had to worry about the route guides, I still had to pack for the trip and do some last-minute preparations, such as making a list of the cell phone numbers of all participants in case of emergency or missed trains.

Chapter 1: Getting to Chicago

They came from parts of the country as far away as California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. They came by air, and by AMTRAK. Some were from the Chicago area, so they simply jumped on a subway or commuter train to join us.

HaRRy Sutton flew Southwest Airlines from San Diego to Chicago's Midway Airport. He would miss the Thursday Pre-Fest activities, but he was in Chicago for most of the three-day main event.

Owen Sindler and his son Isak, both of Philadelphia, also flew to Chicago, but to O'Hare International Airport. They had an air/hotel package deal through that had them fly on United Airlines and stay at the Seneca Hotel on the Near North Side, east of Michigan Avenue. They flew into town on Wednesday.

While most of the east coast-based participants took AMTRAK's LAKE SHORE LIMITED leaving Boston and New York on Wednesday, Bill Antonides of Freehold, NJ took the THREE RIVERS instead, boarding at Trenton, NJ. He reported that the THREE RIVERS ran early at most station stops, and he even had time to walk around the streets of Pittsburgh during the train's layover there. Bill took Thursday's train from Trenton, and got to Chicago on Friday in time to meet us at Ogilvie Transportation Center for our first METRA run. He stayed at the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop.

Here now is how the trip to Chicago went, from my perspective, and how we met up with Jishnu, Alan, Skip, and David Korkhouse on the way.

Chapter 1.1: Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Michael and I began our trip when I picked him up at my parents' house. I made an exchange, our cat Fluffy, for Michael. My parents would be taking care of Fluffy for the six days we would be gone. She would be joining her biological sister Sheena, who lives with them all the time.

We had a straight shot up the Garden State Parkway, and got to Metropark with plenty of time to spare before our intended trip on AMTRAK Regional Train 174. I had decided to take AMTRAK since we had luggage and I did not want to risk having to stand in the vestibule or doorway of an NJ TRANSIT train.

When we got onto the platform there was a good-sized crowd waiting, which no doubt signaled that an NJ TRANSIT train would be coming first. One did, and we remained standing on the platform, as 174 would be right behind it if it was on time.

Chapter 1.1.1: AMTRAK Regional Train #174, Metropark, NJ to New York, NY

Train 174 was indeed running on time. We boarded the second coach of the train, and found that while it was not full, there were no seats together for us. We walked up to the front coach, which was labeled as the "Quiet Car", and there were plenty of available seats. I switched my cell phone off, and we settled in for our first of many train trips over the next six days.

The consist of Train 174(16) was:

941 AEM-7 locomotive 82038 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- * 82021 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82080 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 21252 Amfleet I coach 44696 Amfleet I coach 20035 Amfleet I cafe xxxxx Amfleet I Business class (# not seen) * Michael & I were here

In Rahway we passed the northbound NJ TRANSIT train that had previously stopped in Metropark. It was a quick trip into Manhattan, as we were not scheduled to stop at the Newark Liberty Airport station, and did our station work quickly at Newark Penn Station.

Many people aboard this train would ultimately have their trips ruined. After we left Newark, the crew announced that this train (which should have gone to Boston) would be terminating in New York. Passengers going beyond New York were told to go to one corner of the station, where a shuttle bus would take them to Grand Central Terminal. There, they would have to take a Metro North train to New Haven, and then switch back to AMTRAK there for points north to Boston. While this would not affect us, I felt for the passengers who would be inconvenienced. I later found out that the problem was a transformer fire in the Bronx, which resulted in a loss of power to the overhead catenary along the Hell Gate Bridge line.

Upon arrival in New York Penn Station, we went to the departure concourse and waited for Jishnu, who was coming in around the same time on a NJ TRANSIT Midtown Direct train. I also called Alan and found out that he was still busy with work, but would join us later, closer to the departure time. We had allowed 2-1/2 hours leeway, partially because of recent serious delays on NJ TRANSIT due to a derailment earlier in the week, and partially so we could eat lunch before boarding.

We met Jishnu under the large departures board (which showed plenty of delays and cancellations due to the transformer problem in the Bronx), and we then went into the nearby small food court for lunch. After lunch, we went into the main waiting room off the departure concourse. Since my unofficial definition of a Fest is three or more people, the Windy City RailFest had begun right then and there in the Big Apple!

Since we were going in coach class on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Michael and I would not normally have been eligible to use the Club Acela lounge, except that I had upgrade coupons from my AMTRAK Guest Rewards Select membership. Alan had said he would get Jishnu into the lounge as well with his AMTRAK Guest Rewards Select Club Acela card.

Chapter 1.1.2: Club Acela in New York Penn Station

When Alan arrived, he called me, and after we met outside the waiting area, the four of us walked over to the Club Acela and gained admittance. For Michael and me, it was our first visit to this particular Club Acela; we had been into the ones in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington. The room was a bit crowded, because passengers were also there waiting for the 3 PM ACELA EXPRESS to Washington, a 3:03 PM ACELA EXPRESS to Boston, and the southbound CRESCENT, which departs at 2:50 PM, the same exact time as the westbound LAKE SHORE LIMITED.

The four of us relaxed, but it was not long before we were called to board our train. We descended the escalator to Track 6 together, and then Alan went to his sleeping car while the rest of us were directed to a coach that was strictly for passengers traveling the entire distance from New York to Chicago. We settled into seats that were at about the middle of the coach.

At the time, we thought that Skip Howard, who was taking the Boston section of the same train, would change seats and join us after Albany. Jishnu managed to hold the seat next to him open throughout the entire trip. It helped that Alan also periodically came to chat during the trip, and utilized that seat as well.

Chapter 1.1.3: AMTRAK Train #49, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, New York, NY to Albany, NY

We had to wait at our platform while Train 284, arriving from Niagara Falls and Albany, came into the station about 25 minutes late. That train had priority in the tunnel that connects the station with the tracks along the Hudson River. Once 284 had come to a stop on adjacent Track 7, we were on our way, already twelve minutes late out of the gate. I hoped this would not be the shape of things to come.

Our train's consist for the New York to Albany portion of our trip looked like this:

716 P-32AC-DM locomotive 25037 Amfleet II coach 25056 Amfleet II coach 25097 Amfleet II coach <- * 8507 Heritage diner 62017 Viewliner sleeper "Majestic View" 62016 Viewliner sleeper "Lake View" <- ** 2514 Heritage crew dorm "Pine Fern" 1731 Baggage * Jishnu, Michael, & I were here ** Alan was here

Our train remained a little behind schedule. At Hudson, I called Skip to check on the status of his section of the train. He said was already standing on the platform in Albany. He also told me that he had upgraded to a sleeper for this trip, which meant he would not need the seat we had saved for him in our coach.

Many railfans do their thing with the traditional scanner, listening to the banter between on-board crew, the engineer, the dispatcher, and the crews of other trains. A growing number of railfans are now using Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) devices, which show the train's exact location by municipality, and the speed of the train. Jishnu travels with a GPS, and clocked our train at a maximum 97 mph in the stretch between Hudson and Albany.

We arrived at the Albany-Rensselaer station at 5:30 PM, just five minutes down, thanks to padding and the highest allowed speed limit for a long-distance train outside the Northeast Corridor. We came in on the station's Track 2. Next to us on Track 1 was Train 291(16), the northbound ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS for Rutland, VT. That train should have left already, but was also a little late. The Boston section of the LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Train 449(16), was over on the main track closest to the station. Adding to the congestion was the southbound ADIRONDACK, Train 68(16), which had arrived from Montreal about a half hour late and also needed a slot in the station.

Jishnu, Alan, and I left the train and stood on the platform to watch the activity involving our train, as well as that of the two other trains in the area.

When 291 (which most likely had to hold for 68 since there is only a single track between Albany and Schenectady) pulled out of the station, we then saw Skip, who was standing at one end of 449's sleeper car with a window open in the vestibule. We told him to come back and meet us for dinner once the trains were joined.

Train 449 out of Boston looked like this upon arrival in Albany:

161 P-42 locomotive 16 P-42 locomotive 1160 Baggage 62049 Viewliner sleeper "Winter View" <- *** 82071 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 25012 Amfleet II coach 28008 Amfleet II lounge "Pittsburgh Club" *** Skip was here

With two sections of the LAKE SHORE LIMITED, the non-passenger cars that had to join the LAKE SHORE, plus two other trains present, it was a logistical nightmare to coordinate all those movements. After Train 291 left the station heading for Vermont, Train 449 was pulled forward to clear a switch leading to a siding where the LAKE SHORE LIMITED's westbound express cars were waiting. 449 moved north to a point adjacent to the Rensselaer Yard. Then the express cars were moved by a switcher from the siding southward via the main track, and they were added to the rear of the New York section. Then, 68 was allowed to enter the station on Track 1, which had been vacated by 291.

During the operation, the P-32 engine was removed from the point of 49. Train 449 was then brought backed from the yard area onto the front of 49. As usual, the engines that had come from Boston would be used for the combined train to Chicago.

The consist of the southbound ADIRONDACK, Train 68(16) was:

709 P-32AC-DM locomotive 1854 Baggage 82005 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82508 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 20235 Amfleet I dinette 21167 Amfleet I coach

Chapter 1.1.4: AMTRAK Train #49/449, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Albany, NY to Chicago, IL

The consist of our combined train, from Albany to Chicago was:

161 P-42 locomotive 16 P-42 locomotive 1160 Baggage 62049 Viewliner sleeper "Winter View" <- *** 82071 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 25012 Amfleet II coach 28008 Amfleet II lounge "Pittsburgh Club" 25037 Amfleet II coach 25056 Amfleet II coach 25097 Amfleet II coach <- * 8507 Heritage diner 62017 Viewliner sleeper "Majestic View" 62016 Viewliner sleeper "Lake View" <- ** 2514 Heritage crew dorm "Pine Fern" 1731 Baggage 74064 ExpressTrak 74012 ExpressTrak 74055 ExpressTrak 74072 ExpressTrak 74021 ExpressTrak 410101 48' Roadrailer 460180 53' Plate Van 460051 53' Plate Van 462168 53' Duraplate Plate Van * Jishnu, Michael, & I were here and David Korkhouse later joined us ** Alan was here *** Skip was here

Despite all the congestion and movement of equipment, in addition to the late arrival of the New York section of the train, the combined LAKE SHORE LIMITED departed from Albany on time at 6:05 PM. We would find out from the defect detectors that we had 90 axles.

Alan waited with us in our coach for Skip to walk back from his sleeper. After Skip met us in our coach, the five of us all went to the dining car for dinner. We had answered a general call for dinner, since they were not doing any separate seatings. The diner had begun serving New York passengers before Albany, so some had already eaten. Our food and service were satisfactory, but the dining car had a problem with climate control. It was extremely cold, especially for the majority of the passengers who were wearing shorts. The lead dining car attendant kept turning the system on and off, although to me it never got too hot.

We began to lose some time, and in various ways. We made a double spot in Schenectady. About ten minutes out of that station, we made an unscheduled stop in the middle of nowhere because one of the Boston coaches was running rough. The problem turned out to be an over-inflated airbag, something that should have been repaired in Albany. We spent 15 minutes there before proceeding.

In Utica, we shared the platform with the Adirondack Scenic Railway tourist train. By the time we left Utica at 8:19 PM, we were 22 minutes down. Three times between Utica and Syracuse, the head end power (HEP) went out, but there did not appear to be any real concern among the crewmembers about it.

We arrived at the Syracuse station at 9:09 PM, and did not depart until 9:22. Thirteen minutes seemed like a long time for this station stop, but perhaps they were checking out that HEP problem. Still, we had made up some of the lost time, and were now only 16 minutes off the advertised.

We passed a detector at Centerport, NY that said we had 89 axles. A cause for worry? Had we lost an axle somewhere along the way? No, we forged westward; I guess miscounts of the axles are a common occurrence.

At this time Michael and I began preparing to go to sleep. When Michael came back he showed me what appeared to be an insect bite on his leg. I told him this was a wonderful place to tell me about it. He said he'd had it before and had shown it to his grandparents. I was a little concerned because it was inflamed. After Michael went to sleep, I decided to check in with my parents to see what they knew. But I had to wait until we got to Rochester, the next city where I figured there would be a better cellular signal.

During the ten-minute stop in Rochester, I called my parents (despite the fact it was after 10:30 PM), and they said that whatever Michael had was a lot worse the day before, so it was already healing. I'd sleep better knowing he'd be OK. When we departed Rochester at 10:43 PM we were now 17 minutes down.

I decided this was my cue to go to sleep as well. I wanted to get up early, because I had to make the decision in the morning whether to stick to our original plan, or go to Plan B, based on our timekeeping out of Toledo.

I was aware of an unscheduled stop that lasted roughly 20 minutes a little west of Rochester, but I had no idea what was transpiring. The last thing I remember about Wednesday is that we resumed our westward travel at 11:15 PM. Good night.

Chapter 1.2: Thursday, July 17, 2003

Thursday was the day that most of the out-of-towners arrived into Chicago, as well as our first day of activities, dubbed the Pre-Fest. We first continue as the group of five East Coasters makes our way west on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED.

Chapter 1.2.1: AMTRAK Train #49/449, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Albany, NY to Chicago, IL (continued)

I awoke at about 5:45 AM. We had just departed Toledo, OH, and had done so on time! We had miraculously made up our deficit overnight. So right away, I knew that Plan A, our originally planned Pre-Fest, would remain in effect. That meant we would ride through to Chicago instead of bailing out at South Bend.

I had arranged with Doug Heinrichs to call him and let him know the plan, despite the early hour and the time zone difference. I did so, and it was agreed that Doug would meet the group near Randolph Street Station before our scheduled 12:25 PM departure.

In addition, Bob Benton was expecting a phone message left by me around the same time, informing him of which plan we would follow. Bob was secretly hoping we'd be late, because invoking Plan B would have allowed him to take the South Shore Line with us, at least in one direction. He instead would go down to Union Station and meet us, and then he expected to do the Blue Line activities and lunch before leaving us and heading back for his afternoon obligations near home. Having left the message as planned, my early-morning telephone work was done.

I later informed David Korkhouse that we would be continuing on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED into Chicago, but he knew this already from discussing our progress with the ticket agent in South Bend.

Jishnu had eaten breakfast in the diner before the staff made any official announcements. He reported that he was seated across from an Italian character who said he was from Napoli, and that he was on his way to a religious convention in Chicago. Meanwhile, this so-called religious guy was hitting on girls as they walked by and telling him that he was some sort of religious musical composer. It would not be the last he heard from this individual during our week on the rails.

Skip, Alan, Michael, and I had breakfast together.

We passed through the town of Edgerton, OH at 6:42 AM EDT. That was a few miles from the Ohio/Indiana border. It was officially the time to turn our watches back one hour. All times expressed from here to this point in our return trip will be in Central Daylight Time (although in this part of Indiana, it's actually Eastern Standard Time).

We arrived at the Waterloo, IN station at 5:58 AM, and departed at 6:00 AM, now eight minutes late. Not bad, but things would deteriorate from here. Norfolk Southern was not having a good day. There were freight trains all over the place, many sitting on one of the mainline tracks. We had to stop several times to let one pass, and we could feel ourselves switching tracks quite a few times to pass freights in either direction. One place we stopped was at the Elkhart station, which is currently only served by the CAPITOL LIMITED. We sat there for about 15 minutes. It was very slow going from there to South Bend.

We also stopped for a while in downtown South Bend, a few miles from the station west of the city. By the time we arrived at the South Bend station, it was 7:41 AM, putting us 40 minutes late. Since we were not two hours late or more, I decided we would forge ahead on this train.

Our group grew by one as David Korkhouse joined us. He sat in the seat next to Jishnu that had remained vacant so far through our trip.

We departed South Bend at 7:45 AM, and continued slowly through the rest of that city. We finally sped up at 7:50, but we were not done dodging freight trains yet. We stopped again for a 16-minute period to await the passing of a freight train called 62A.

Moving westward once more, we passed through Chesterton and the junction at Porter. It was 9:05 at Porter, the time we should have been already approaching Chicago Union Station. David said that we should be about half an hour from our destination at this point. Unfortunately, slow speeds prevailed, and it would take more than an hour to get there.

I got a call from Bob Benton as we were approaching Union Station. He was to have met us and ridden briefly with us on the Blue Line before heading home for other obligations. Our late arrival meant he would only be able to say hello and then he would have to leave us. I felt bad for him making the trip from Deerfield to Union Station just to see us for a few minutes, but I figured he would be able to join us later in the weekend.

Continued in next section

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