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Trip Report

Northeast Corridor in January

January 2004


Welcome aboard Amtrak Regional Service Train #161. The train is en route from Boston to Washington; my wife and I boarded at Penn Station where the train just departed at 2:13 (2:05). The main purpose of this trip is to attend the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington. My wife will do sightseeing and museum visiting while I'm in the meetings.

We started by a cab to Croton-Harmon Station [CRT] where we arrived about 12:10 for the 12:27 Metro-North Poughkeepsie-NY express. It was announced as "5 to 10 minutes late" but arrived only 3 minutes down at 12:30. The ride was fast and our Grand Central arrival was at 1:21. We entered the subway with the intent of taking the #7 to Times Square. However the escalators and elevator were blocked off and a Transit Authority employee advised, upon inquiry, "the 7 isn't running." So off through the passageway to the Shuttle where we just missed a train. Luckily a downtown #3 was waiting at Times Square. and we reached NYP at 1:50, the scheduled arrival time of our train from Boston.

Walking through the Long Island RR level we soon reached the Amtrak section where I heard someone say "Washington" and head for the stairs to Track 13. I followed and found that #161 had just pulled in so ran back upstairs to get my wife and the luggage. We boarded just before the gate upstairs opened so got two seats together with no problem. Soon, however, the train became overcrowded and some potential riders got off while others headed for seats in the Café/Lounge car. A large crowd boarded at Newark so we had even more standees after that stop.

The train consisted of 6 Amcoaches, 1 café/lounge and 2-business class Amcars. Our coach and the lounge have been through the Capstone overhaul and rode quite well. However, our car was rather warm. But we can't complain too much as we have comfortable seats and are traveling on free Guest Rewards tickets-10,000 points for the two round trips. The conductor mentioned that the normal Sunday consist should be 9 coaches but that the train often gets "shorted" with resulting standees and long dwell times at stations. Departure from NYP came at 2:13 (due at 2:05) and our arrival at Washington's Union Station was at 5:53 (5:30).

We met a friend on the train who stood to PHL but got a seat there. Around Baltimore he called a mutual friend living in the DC area and was able to arrange a ride to the hotels where we would be staying. Union Station was quite busy when we arrived and the cab line was about 50 deep so we were lucky to get the door-to-door service from our friend.

I was busy in meetings for the next two days but had some free time on Wednesday morning. We had heard some stories about the new "America on the Move" exhibits at the National Museum of American History, a part of the Smithsonian. In addition to the Southern Railway Pacific steam locomotive it now also houses a genuine 1959-vintage Chicago Transit Authority "L" car at a replica of a wooden "L" station as well as many other interesting transportation exhibits. A movie makes one end of the CTA "L" car appear to be moving with people getting on and off and the conductor opening the window, announcing stations, opening and closing the doors, etc. The announcements are the clearest "CTA" announcements I've ever heard! We went both ways to the museum via Metrorail from Woodly Park-Zoo station to the Federal Triangle station with a change from Red to/from Blue/Orange Line trains at MetroCenter.

Our return was on Amtrak Regional Train #148 which originates at WAS en route to Springfield, MA. We reached Union Station about 2:10 in ample time to do some exploring and make the 3:05 pm departure. We both miss the Great Train Store that used to be in the station. About 15 minutes before departure time, an announcement was made that the train would be delayed due to mechanical reasons. The gate opened about 3:05 and the train got moving at 3:18. The consist was 9 cars and we had a nice Capstone overhauled Amcoach. Once we got started, the train proceeded at good speed and encountered no further delays. A good load was on board and there was quite a turnover at BWI station. Most of those boarding and alighting had rollaway suitcases so the concept of air-rail travel is developing in the US if only on an informal basis. The only place having through ticketing of which I'm aware is the Newark Airport interchange between Amtrak and Continental, which supposedly has allowed the elimination of most CO flights between Newark and Philadelphia.

The train was nearly full but after PHL is was more than full with a few people standing here and there. A man seated across the aisle mentioned to someone on the phone that he was supposed to take an Acela "but it must have broken down someplace and now I'm on a regular Regional train." Indeed, when we reached New York, the arrival board showed the 3pm Acela from Washington to be 50 minutes late and the 4pm Acela to be 25 minutes late. I don't recall passing the Acela Express en route so perhaps it had not left WAS prior to our 3:18 departure. Or, possibly we did overtake it and I didn't notice it as I was pounding away on my laptop!

Our departure had been at 3:18 (3:05) and we arrived New York's Penn Station at 6:43 (6:25). In NYP we also noticed that Train 19, the Crescent, scheduled to depart at 2:50 pm was listed as "Delayed." Later came an announcement that it should be ready for boarding about 9 pm or about 6 hours after its scheduled departure. Train 97, the Silver Meteor, was announced about 6:50 for its 7:01 departure so I assume it got out on or close to schedule.

Since an Amtrak Empire Service train to Albany would be leaving at 7:10, we elected to use it to Croton-Harmon rather than making our way over to Grand Central for a Metro-North train. The boarding announcement came at 6:50 and we soon were comfortably seated in the 3rd car of the 4-car train. The snack car and two coaches were about 75% loaded while the 4th coach had only about 15 riders. Departure time came and went with no action but the conductor, an elderly gentleman with white hair, soon announced that "we really will be departing soon, I promise." Sure enough, about a minute later we pulled out at 7:21 (7:10) and arrived Croton-Harmon ten minutes late at 8:03. About an inch of snow was on the ground with more on the way. So we were back home again with another trip on the Corridor behind us.

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