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Trip Report

OTOL Windy City Rail Fest 2003

July 16-21, 2003
Section 6 of 6


Photos by Jishnu Mukerji, Alan Burden, and HaRRy Sutton

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

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Chapter 5.5: In Aurora

Interior of Aurora station Aurora station

I had been to Aurora before, but I could tell that the group was impressed with Aurora's station. A true transportation center also served by Greyhound and PACE suburban buses, the building was open on a Sunday morning. There were large, clean rest rooms available as well as multiple vending machines for snacks and drinks. The interior of the station is set up like a small museum, showing old photos of streetcars and interurbans that once crisscrossed the area. All in all, it was a delightful place to wait for a train!

We walked outside near Walter Payton's Roundhouse and through the parking lot, but soon it was time for the seven of us to return to trackside to catch our inbound train to Chicago.

Really cool METRA advertisement; shot Sunday morning in Aurora  BNSF logo on car in Aurora METRA engine on our train in Aurora

Chapter 5.6: WCRF Part C2: METRA BNSF Line, Aurora, IL to Chicago (Union Station)

Like the inbound UP-West trip from Geneva the day before, this inbound BNSF train was picking up a lot of passengers, mostly families, headed for a day in the big city. Somewhere along the line, I got a call from Steve Weagant, wishing us well. He said he used to live someplace along this line, so it was quite familiar to him. I also heard from Owen Sindler, who was at O'Hare Airport with Isak, preparing to fly home to Philadelphia.

The train did very well, considering the number of passengers boarding at some stations. We ended up being only a few minutes late when we arrived back at Union Station.

Once again, we decided to deviate from our intended itinerary. Agreed upon by all seven of us while still on the METRA BNSF train, we chose to have lunch at Ogilvie Transportation Center's (OTC) food court rather than Chicago Union Station, since the latter had let us down as far as the available choices of fare. Even though none of us were from Chicago, we had learned fast that Union Station and OTC are not that far apart, and in fact they are really only diagonally across the street from one another if one walks along the north side platforms to Madison Street.

One concern, though, was that the OTC food court might not be open, as it was a Sunday. Alan offered to run ahead to check out the status of the eateries at OTC, while we walked a little slower through Union Station. By the time we reached Madison Street, Alan was in the OTC food court. He called me and said that we should continue onward, as most of the places were open for business.

Chapter 5.7: Lunch relocated to OTC; WCRF Part C3 Changed

I had a very delicious Chicken Teriyaki meal from the Japanese place there, while others ate food from places throughout the large food court.

After we ate, our group was about to get smaller. Skip did not feel well, and so he opted not to take the METRA Electric portion of our Fest. He said he would meet us in Union Station later on before our departure. He later told me that he somehow worked his way into the Metropolitan Lounge (despite the fact he was only going to be traveling in coach that evening).

HaRRy, meanwhile, decided that rather than joining us for the first leg of our METRA Electric afternoon excursion, he would begin to head for Midway Airport early. He would travel with us to Randolph/Wabash, and then go on his own.

So now down to six (Jishnu, HaRRy, Alan, Mike, Michael, and me), we headed for a slightly different route to Randolph Street Station. Because we had lunch at OTC rather than Union Station, we were closer to the Green Line, which would give us a one-seat ride to Randolph/Wabash. This replaced our original plan to ride the Orange Line from Quincy/Wells (nearer to Union Station) around the Inner Loop to Randolph/Wabash.

Our half dozen took the three-minute ride to Randolph/Wabash, where we all detrained. Here we said goodbye to HaRRy. He would switch here for an Orange Line train to Midway Airport.

HaRRy later told me that he only had to wait about one minute for his Orange Line train, and then he nearly had a car to himself on the way there. He was able to check in for his flight electronically and early so he got an "A" boarding pass which placed him among the first group to board his plane after those who pre-boarded. So splitting from us early got him a great seat on the plane, and also allowed him some time to purchase an Italian sub that he smuggled onto the plane. He had a much better meal aboard that plane than those who had to settle for the airline's snack pack!

The rest of us, now down to five, walked one block over to Randolph Street Station, where we were a little early for our 1:00 PM departure for South Chicago. We sat in the waiting room for a while, staying near a rotating fan since the station, under heavy construction, has no other source of ventilation.

Unlike the other downtown stations, this one has turnstiles (as do most stations on the METRA Electric) that accept monthly passes. For those of us with the Weekend Passes, we just had to show ours to an attendant and we were admitted through. Presumably this is to keep undesirables away from the trains, but its intent is also to keep fare collection off the trains. Our tickets, however, were still checked aboard all METRA Electric trains despite the presence of the turnstiles.

Chapter 5.8: WCRF Part C4: METRA Electric District-South Chicago Branch, Chicago (Randolph Street Station) to South Chicago (93rd Street)

Michael, Kevin, Mike, & Alan at South Chicago station The group on Sunday the 20th at South Chicago

At 12:50 PM we were allowed through the turnstiles and headed for our train, which was boarding on Track 4. We departed precisely at 1 PM.

This trip was quite uneventful, operating right on schedule. We ran transit-like, making our local stops every few blocks. At 67th Street, the South Chicago branch on which we were riding split from the mainline. After passing through an underpass under the northbound METRA tracks and the Canadian National Railway (CN) freight line, we immediately encountered our first grade crossing.

The rest of the line is quite interesting, because although it passes through some rather poor neighborhoods, it runs in the median of a few streets, so one sees storefronts on both sides in places.

Although I had ridden the entire METRA system before, this particular trip represented a little bit of new trackage for me. Two years ago, METRA extended the South Chicago terminus from 91st to 93rd Street. The old location was rather decrepit, and residential and commercial buildings boxed it in. With the two-block extension, the train stopped closer to a busy street, and with a nice view of the Chicago Skyway and the Norfolk Southern bridge next to it (over which many AMTRAK trains travel, including ours in about six hours!)

At 93rd Street we took a few photos, and then reboarded the train for our inbound trip, as the layover here was just twelve minutes.

Chapter 5.9: WCRF Part C5: METRA Electric District-South Chicago Branch, South Chicago (93rd Street) to Chicago (Roosevelt Road)

Another quiet trip, as our fivesome retraced our previous ride. Although we were running on time, and could easily have made gotten off at Van Buren Street as planned to board an outbound mainline train, Jishnu suggested that we make our switch at Roosevelt Road instead. So we all got off there.

This gave us a little more time outdoors, and we thought we would be able to see the area where the old Illinois Central Station once was. As it turned out, the station is well north of its namesake thoroughfare, and its access and egress is via a pedestrian bridge that leads to and from the western side of the tracks. It would be a long, roundabout route had we tried to walk over to the site of the IC depot.

So we stayed put on the southbound platform for our 15-minute wait, along with numerous other passengers also originating here for points south.

Chapter 5.10: WCRF Part C6: METRA Electric District-Main Line, Chicago (Roosevelt Road) to University Park

Our southbound train for University Park was running right on time, and we soon boarded and found empty seats in one of the coaches. This would be the longer of the day's two METRA Electric round trips.

For those who had never ridden this line, it was not new trackage until we got past Kensington, where the South Shore Line and the Blue Island Branch turn off in their respective directions. Then our trip had a couple of highlights (or lowlights):

  • Alan heard on his scanner that there were problems on the Red Line back in Chicago, and thought he heard Irwin Davis' voice.
  • Soon after Kensington, we passed over the now infamous bridge that had been temporarily repaired in just a week after a disastrous fire.
  • At Richton Park, the second-to-last stop before University Park, we noticed all the storage facilities for METRA Electric equipment. True, this was once the end of the line, but since no trains ever start or end their trips at Richton Park, it means that they have to be deadheaded between there and University Park.

We arrived on time at University Park, where we waited near the train since we had just a 14-minute layover. There was some thunder in the distance, and dark clouds to match. I thought, "here we go again with the weather."

Chapter 5.11: WCRF Part C7: METRA Electric District-Main Line, University Park to Chicago (Randolph Street Station)

It was an uneventful trip back to Chicago. This would be our last commuter rail ride of the Fest in Chicago. It was the 17th commuter rail trip we took over the four days (including two on the South Shore Line), and the 12th train we boarded with our METRA $5 Weekend Passes.

The weather was dark and dreary once more, and we did encounter some rain in spots. The highlight of this trip was when AMTRAK's southbound ILLINI, Train 391(20), passed us on our right on the freight tracks on its way to Carbondale.

We ran on time, and arrived at Randolph Street Station at 4:56 PM. Unlike our previous arrivals here, our group did not split up at the station. The five of us all walked out of the station and west two blocks to the Lake/State station on the Red Line.

Chapter 5.12: WCRF Part C8: CTA Red Line, Lake/State to Fullerton

The reason for this little subway excursion, an out-of-the-way route to get from Randolph Street Station to Union Station, was to pick up a small piece of the Red Line that had so far eluded us. We had not yet ridden this line between the Grand/State and Fullerton stations.

Well, we had to stand for this entire trip on a crowded train. Most of the Red Line was in subway, until we came out through the portal near the Armitage station on the Brown/Purple Lines.

Perhaps most of us will actually be upset that we were now outdoors and could see the sights. To our left, on one of those infamous Chicago balconies not unlike the one that had tragically collapsed a few weeks prior, there was a Sunday party going on. One of the partiers decided to "moon" the train as we passed. This was not a pretty sight. It appeared that this was done on a dare, since some people near us in our subway car were in cell phone contact with the perpetrator, so they probably told him we were coming. Luckily, Michael missed the show!

At Fullerton, we detrained and then crossed to the other side by going one story down to a mezzanine level, and then up again to the southbound platform.

Chapter 5.13: WCRF Part C9: CTA Brown Line, Fullerton to Quincy/Wells

This would be our final transit ride in Chicago, one that would retrace a route we had taken earlier (although Mike Hammond had missed this because he was not with us on Friday). The five of us rode the Brown Line from Fullerton to Quincy/Wells. We got off there and walked our final three blocks along Adams Street to Union Station.

Once in the station, we had our final meal in the city. Skip found us and made it five people who braved the limited selection at Union Station's food court. This was still better than waiting a few hours for dinner on the train and ending up dining well past the time we should have been sleeping. (It would have been six people eating, but Alan just sat with us while he refrained from eating because he was entitled to his dinner on the train.) This time there was no loud band playing, and thus there were more seats available.

Michael had a hot dog and fries, while I had a Sweet & Sour chicken dinner from the 65 Chinese Restaurant, where I had also purchased some food on Thursday evening.

Chapter 6: Getting Home from Chicago

The Windy City RailFest had officially ended when we got off the Brown Line at Quincy/Wells, but many participants still had to travel home.

Chapter 6.1: Sunday, July 20, 2003

By Sunday evening, HaRRy was already in the air on his way to San Diego, eating a sandwich he had smuggled aboard his Southwest Airlines jet.

Mike Hammond was due to take a Greyhound bus home to Cleveland at 8:45 PM, long after we would be gone. Alan walked him towards the Greyhound terminal and then returned to the station, missing his time in the Metropolitan Lounge. Mike had a long overnight bus trip to Cleveland, where he arrived very early Monday morning.

Bill Antonides was still in Chicago too when we left, but only because he would be taking the eastbound THREE RIVERS, which departed at 10:30 PM, back to Trenton, NJ.

Chapter 6.1.1: AMTRAK Train #48/448, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Chicago, IL to Albany, NY

Although the scheduled part of the Fest was officially over, those of us taking the LAKE SHORE LIMITED still qualified as a Fest group.

Alan made it back to the train with plenty of time to spare, but he was one of the last sleeper passengers to board, thanks to his helping Mike find the bus terminal.

When Skip, Jishnu, Michael, and I got to the main waiting room, a long line had already formed for the coach passengers. The line wrapped around the room, and it was apparent that we would not get the best seats, and possibly not get seats together. The last time we had been in Chicago, we were pre-boarded based on Michael being under twelve years old. Somebody on the line told me that they had already made the pre-boarding announcement. Michael and I got off the line and went to the gate, where some AMTRAK guy was saying that the maximum age for kids pre-boarding was ten. Since Michael is eleven, that would have let him out. I just kept on walking, and I would have put up a fuss had we not been allowed through. If the rule had changed, weren't we entitled to some grandfather clause until Michael reached twelve? Besides, as a single parent I need more time getting my child situated than a complete family, right?

I noticed that most of the equipment on this train was the same as we had on the westbound trip. We were placed, as Chicago to New York through passengers, in the same exact coach just in front of the diner as we had been on our last trip four days ago. Since we did successfully pre-board, we had a choice of seats, and took some that were in the rear of the coach, in fact the last ones on the right side before the seat where the coach attendant sits.

I saw Skip boarding with passengers headed towards the front of the train, where the Boston section was. Jishnu soon boarded as well, and he was able to get a seat right across from us. But it was one of the last seats that was available in our coach. A couple who boarded later had to split up, one taking the seat next to Jishnu, and the other sitting in a single seat behind that pair that is usually reserved for mobility-impaired people. Jishnu later changed seats, so that this couple could sit together, while he took the single seat behind them.

Our consist out of Chicago, and as far as Albany, NY was as follows:

129 P-42 locomotive 96 P-42 locomotive 1714 Baggage 62049 Viewliner sleeper "Winter View" 25096 Amfleet II coach <- *** 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 plus 2 ExpressTrak cars and 3 53' plate vans * Jishnu, Michael, & I were here ** Alan was here *** Skip was here

Note that none of us could ever get back as far as the express cars at the rear of the train to record their numbers. Most of the coaches, the diner, and the New York baggage car were the same, although the Boston section got an Amfleet II in place of the Regional CoachClass car it had on the westbound journey.

It should also be of note that for the first time in recent memory, the express cars were already on the back of the train at the time of boarding, so we did not have to make a stop in the yard to pick them up.

Our coach attendant was Ira Lord. His initial announcements to all passengers about the trip, keeping the bathrooms clean, not flushing paper down the toilets, were met with chuckles. Since the seats he had blocked off for himself were right behind ours, and right across from the single seat where Jishnu was sitting, we had an interesting (but rather one-sided) conversation with Ira about his job, the trips he makes, and the trains he has worked on. He loved to talk about his experiences, but it was hard for anyone else to get a word in. I wanted to bring up my problem with the boarding process on Silver Service trains, but he talked over me each time I began to speak. Like the three of us, Ira also lives in New Jersey, and he used to work in the food service business before joining AMTRAK. He said he had worked on the CRESCENT before, but was glad he did not have to go to New Orleans during the summer months because it is so hot there. He has also worked the THREE RIVERS.

I have criticized before the process of serving dinner on eastbound evening trains out of Chicago. I made sure we had eaten in Chicago so we would not have to go through what we endured on the CAPITOL LIMITED in April. The only person who had to go to dinner was Alan, since he was in a sleeper and thus entitled to the train's offerings for dinner. He reported that he was among a group of sleeping car passengers who were picked by his attendant to be among the first to be seated for dinner. When it became time to fill in the available seats with coach passengers, they were not called immediately, but were rather given reservations. It was 7:48 PM when Melanie, the dining car steward, walked through the train giving dinner reservations to those who wanted them. So once again, while the process began just 48 minutes out of Chicago, there were some passengers who did not get to go to the diner until after 10:30 PM Eastern Time, almost two hours later.

Once again we had to dodge Norfolk Southern freight trains, moving from track to track and stopping for short periods of time to allow oncoming freights to pass. To me it seemed that NS had a near-meltdown of their operations on this line.

Then at 8:55 PM Eastern Standard Time (in Indiana, same as Central Daylight Time), we set off a hotbox detector on our way into South Bend. It was decided to proceed into the South Bend station and do the check of the train there.

We arrived in South Bend at 9:06 PM. Because of the required check of the train, we spent 14 minutes there. Our 9:20 departure put us 51 minutes late.

We were not finished with the freight delays. Once again our train made an unscheduled stop in front of the Elkhart station, spending about ten minutes there while traffic cleared.

At this point I turned my watch back to Eastern Daylight Time. Michael and I prepared to go to sleep. We were asleep before the train got to the Waterloo station.

Chapter 6.2: Monday, July 21, 2003

Mostly everyone who had gone to the Fest was home by now, except those headed east on the LAKE SHORE LIMITED and the THREE RIVERS. Bill once again reported that his train, the THREE RIVERS, arrived early at many of its stops. He had time once again to walk around Pittsburgh during Train 40's layover. His train got into Philadelphia early, but then it lost time on the Northeast Corridor due to a power outage that affected many operations between Philadelphia and New York City. His arrival into Trenton was a little late, despite the excellent performance of the train overnight.

Chapter 6.2.1: AMTRAK Train #48/448, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Chicago, IL to Albany, NY (continued)

AMTRAK Train #48 during Albany layover P-42 #129 at the point of Train 448, the Boston section of our train

I awoke from my sleep surprised to hear that we were already in Rochester, NY. That means I totally missed Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, and Buffalo-Depew. Who says one can't sleep well in coach class? Our stop in Rochester lasted about seven minutes. When we departed at 7:07 AM we were 33 minutes late.

Skip came back to see us at breakfast time. Michael did not want to go, instead opting to eat a bagel with cream cheese from the lounge car later. Jishnu had already eaten, and Alan was among the last group of passengers to eat breakfast later on. So it was just Skip and I at breakfast. It must have been an off time because nobody else joined us at the table for four. Like during our westbound trip, service was satisfactory; the food came in a reasonable amount of time, and the server was pleasant.

We found that many passengers had boarded overnight, and that the train was pretty crowded. Having boarded somewhere in Ohio overnight was an Amish couple, sitting in the seat that Ira had blocked off the night before. He had to forfeit his two seats in our coach to give this couple a place to sit together. Presumably he spent the night in the crew dorm. We did not see much of him until after Albany.

The stop in Syracuse lasted twelve minutes, as the train had to do a double spot there. We finally left at 8:31 AM, now 37 minutes off the advertised.

Just as we were approaching Utica, the dining car closed for breakfast (and ultimately for the trip!). In Utica, we were on the westbound track, which uses the newer, but shorter platform shared with the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Because it is shorter than the older eastbound platform, we lost more time since the train had to triple spot to accommodate all of the detraining and entraining passengers. When we departed Utica at 9:42 AM, our train was now running 52 minutes late.

An announcement by the lounge car attendant told us that we had to get food from the lounge car before Schenectady, as the lounge car would be closing. It would not reopen until after Albany --- but on the Boston section of the train. Those on the New York section get no lounge car, no diner, nothing. That includes sleeper passengers, who in these early afternoon hours should be entitled to lunch. Michael and I went and got our lunch at about 10:30 AM -- a bit early but it was better than starving!

Now, remember that guy from Napoli who Jishnu had dined with on the westbound train? It turns out he was aboard this train too. Small world! He had noticed the Amish couple sitting behind us, and decided to strike up a conversation, basically comparing religions. It took him about five minutes to be able to pronounce the word "Mennonite". The Amish are very independent people who prefer to keep to themselves, and I am sure that they did not appreciate this guy hovering over them. From about Utica all the way to Albany, this guy was standing in the aisle behind us (and right near Jishnu) talking to these people.

Our pattern of losing time at station stops was not broken in Schenectady. We spent nine minutes there, departing at 11:00 AM, 53 minutes later than we should have. The lounge car closed for good, which meant everyone headed for Croton-Harmon and New York were on their own.

As if that was not bad enough, the fact that most of the line between Schenectady and Albany is single-track was exploited due to our lateness. We spent another eleven minutes in the hole waiting for the northbound ADIRONDACK, Train 69(21) to clear the single-track section.

Skip walked back to our seats to say goodbye, as he had learned that the switching in Albany would prohibit him from joining us outside, since his train would be stationing at a different platform than ours.

We finally made it to Albany-Rensselaer at 11:35 AM, 45 minutes late. It's amazing what a little bit of padding will do to a train's timekeeping!

We got off in Albany to stretch our legs and watch the process of splitting the train into its Boston and New York sections. The two P-42's and the Boston section were separated from the rest of the train, and they proceeded south, as if they were going to New York. At the same time, the express cars were pulled off the rear of the train by a switcher. On another track sat our power from here to New York, P-32AC-DM engine #701. The dual mode engine was backed onto our train, coupling up with the frontmost of the three coaches.

The Boston section was backed over switches and onto the platform closest to the station building. The consist of Train 448(20) from Albany to Boston was:

129 P-42 locomotive 96 P-42 locomotive 1714 Baggage 62049 Viewliner sleeper "Winter View" 25096 Amfleet II coach <- *** 25012 Amfleet II coach 28008 Amfleet II lounge "Pittsburgh Club" *** Skip was here

Alan, Jishnu, and I remained on the platform, as we felt that going upstairs into the station would be risky. There is no set departure time for the New York section, since this train does not carry local passengers. As it turned out, the station personnel did make an announcement for "reboards" for Train 48. There were passengers in the station beginning their trips in Albany; they would have to take Train 284(21), an Empire Service train that originated in Niagara Falls, NY that morning and was running a little late.

Chapter 6.2.2: AMTRAK Train #48, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Albany, NY to New York, NY

As we left Albany at 12:02 PM for the Big Apple, here is what Train 48(20) now looked like:

701 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

After we left Albany, Ira came into our coach and asked the Amish couple to move elsewhere. He wanted to reclaim "his" seats, I guess because he had to be around to prepare this coach full of through passengers for their arrival at their destination. The people were good-natured about moving, possibly because they had been hounded by the character from Napoli. And where was he? Jishnu says that the guy got off in Albany and did not return, despite the fact that he had said he had luggage on the train and that he was going to Yonkers. Since our train would pass through Yonkers without stopping, it is assumed he intended to get off at Croton-Harmon and switch to Metro North for the last leg of his trip. Could he have missed the train in Albany (even with the re-boarding announcement)? Maybe he got his luggage off the train during the layover and took 284 from there? We'll never know, but he wasn't missed in our coach for the final leg of the trip, which was much quieter than before we got to Albany.

Jishnu reported that his GPS measured our speed at 100 mph somewhere between Albany and Hudson. The engineer was clearly trying to erase some more of our deficit and get us into New York City as close to schedule as possible.

Our stop at Croton-Harmon, the only one on this stretch, took just one minute. With our 1:39 PM departure, we were still 51 minutes late, and still had 33 miles to go.

There were no further incidents as we approached New York City. Ira began getting us ready for arrival by walking down the aisle of our coach collecting pillows and trash.

Once again, routine padding made our arrival into New York much closer to schedule than we had been running since Rochester. We arrived at 2:15 PM, just 25 minutes late. The passengers in our coach had been told to use the door at the front of the coach; for us, that would have meant being the last ones off since we had been sitting in the rear of the coach. But somebody from the dining car crew opened the door behind us, so we were able to detrain there.

Chapter 6.2.3: At New York Penn Station

We quickly said goodbye to Jishnu, who ran for a very tight connection with a NJ TRANSIT Montclair Midtown Direct train, from which he would transfer in Newark to a Hoboken-Dover train to his destination. Doing this allowed him to get home sooner than if he had waited for a regular Midtown Direct train.

Michael and I came up the elevator all the way into the main departures level of the station, where we met Alan once more. We said goodbye to him, and he headed for his train back to Queens. We could have easily made AMTRAK Train 647, a Keystone Corridor train to Harrisburg, but it was not scheduled to stop at Metropark. So we had to wait about half an hour and then take Train 85, a Regional train headed for Richmond, VA.

Chapter 6.2.4: AMTRAK Regional Train #85, New York, NY to Metropark, NJ

Michael and I boarded Train 85 as soon as the track number was displayed, and found seats on the moderately patronized train.

Train 85(21)'s consist was:

950 AEM-7 locomotive 911 AEM-7 locomotive 82012 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82027 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- * 44145 Amfleet I coach 44691 Amfleet I coach 85502 Amfleet I Regional cafe 81000 Amfleet I Regional BusinessClass * Michael & I were here

Our trip to Metropark was without incident, and we arrived there on time.

Chapter 6.2.5: Driving home

Once at my car, we headed for dinner at the nearby Woodbridge Center mall. Our trip was not over by any means, as we still had to contend with weekday evening rush hour traffic on the roads home. I decided to avoid Route 9 altogether, taking mainly secondary and back roads all the way home.

Chapter 7: Conclusion

As I say following any Fest, while I am glad that we had such excellent attendance and weather, and that we had a highly successful outing, I am also happy that it is over. I know everyone appreciates the work that goes into planning the routes, putting the route guides together, and keeping track of at what point participants join or leave the group. It's nice to be able to sit back and relax (and it will be even better once this report is completed!).

I do thank everyone who participated, and those who kept in touch with me and wished they could be there with us. The entire six-day experience was something we can look back upon and cherish for a long time. Because everything went so well, Windy City RailFest 2003 will hopefully set new standards for future events to follow, both in Chicago and elsewhere.

Chapter 7.1: What's next?

At each Fest we discuss where we might hold our next events. For our winter gathering in January 2004, I suggested another trip to Philadelphia/South Jersey, to take in the new Southern New Jersey Light Rail Transit (SNJLRT) line, which hopefully will be open by November of this year. We can surely add some SEPTA round trips that were not covered back in 2001, such as the two Chestnut Hill regional rail lines, Doylestown, and more.

We have a smaller gathering coming up in early October, but that was not discussed in Chicago. We will be heading to Connecticut for that one, featuring Metro North's branch lines. The next day, we will take a short trip to the new Secaucus Junction station in New Jersey, and then an afternoon round trip out to Montauk on the Long Island Railroad.

For our next summer meet, to take place the third week of July in 2004, several ideas were expressed:

  • The West Coast was mentioned, as there is certainly enough to keep us busy for several days in either the Bay Area or the Los Angeles/San Diego area.
  • Dallas is another idea, as the area boasts a nice (and expanding) light rail system, an expanded tourist streetcar, a tourist railroad, and a commuter rail line connecting Dallas with Fort Worth. In tandem with Dallas, if we take AMTRAK down from Chicago, we could make a stopover in St. Louis and ride that city's light rail line as well.
  • The other idea was Toronto. That would represent our group's first Fest outside the United States. The Toronto area now has three subway lines, one rapid transit line (essentially a fourth subway line but a different mode), and many streetcar lines. There are also quite a few commuter rail lines, although only one (Lakeshore) has service in both directions at any time of the day, while the rest are strictly rush-hour operations in one direction.

Not mentioned, surprisingly, was a return to Chicago. The truth is, I have already penciled in a possible itinerary that would take in everything we missed in Chicago this time: the entire CTA Orange and Blue Lines, METRA's SouthWest, NorthCentral, Milwaukee District-West, Union Pacific-North (beyond Evanston), and Union Pacific-Northwest lines, the people mover at O'Hare Airport, and the heritage streetcars in Kenosha, WI. Perhaps that can be considered for 2005, by which time the reconstruction of the Cermak branch of the Blue Line should be complete.

So while we did not reach a concrete decision on this, the idea will be voted upon soon and we can then begin the planning process all over again for the next OTOL event!

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