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Chapter 0: Introduction
Another enjoyable, memorable, and very successful RailFest goes into the books! Twenty people played a role in the Philadelphia Area RailFest 2004 event, whether they rode the rails with us for the entire weekend, or just helped out with the planning process or the purchase of tickets.
Enjoy the ride as we take you through the planning process, the months of preparation, our participants' trips to and from the Fest, and each segment of the Fest itself.
Chapter 1: Planning and Preparation
There were several factors in the decision to hold our winter gathering in Philadelphia:
We had Fests in New York City the past three winters.
We'd not had a major Fest in Philadelphia since 2001.
There was, initially, the possibility that NJ TRANSIT's new River Line would be open by then.
Serious planning began in the fall of 2003. The usual series of web pages was created, including a restaurant listing and a participant list. Alan Burden researched and put together a page listing area hotels. Initially, two possible itineraries were posted, one that would have included the River Line had it opened in December as originally planned, and the other itinerary we eventually followed, which was strictly Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) routes since there was nothing new to ride in New Jersey.
I made several preview trips to Philadelphia in October, November, and December in order to get the route guides and restaurant listings as accurate as possible.
A series of costs pages was also created, explaining the different options our participants had in order to get the most for their money. Some could pay individual fares as they went, while others could make use of SEPTA's DayPass.
We found that most of us would be able to use SEPTA's Weekly TransPass, which offers unlimited rides anywhere on the entire system on weekends. This posed a problem for many of us, however, since the TransPass has to be purchased only during a seven-day period ending on Tuesday of the week in which you wish to use the pass. The only way to get them would be to have a volunteer from the area purchase them for us in advance and then be compensated. Bill Magee was our volunteer. He ended up making more than one visit to SEPTA ticket windows, purchasing a total of ten TransPasses. He transacted $187.50 in business, paying the money to SEPTA and then being reimbursed by the participants via PayPal or by check. Bill was eventually unable to attend the Fest, but his name remained on our guest list as an honorary participant for the advance work he did for us and the money he saved us by first suggesting, and then purchasing the TransPasses.
All that remained for me was to keep a daily watch on SEPTA's website to make sure that our itinerary would not fall victim to any weekend service disruptions. Thankfully, there were no disruptions, published or unpublished.
Chapter 2: Getting to the Fest
As with any Fest attended by people from all over the country, getting there is as much fun as the Fest itself. We had people coming by train, of course, and also by bus and by air. The majority of our trip, alas, was by car, although we did ride a train for the last nine miles into Philadelphia.
Alan Burden was the first non-Philadelphian to arrive in Center City, as he took a 2:00 PM Metroliner from New York, and was checked into his hotel room at the Hilton Garden Inn long before he had his late dinner at the hotel.
Michael and I got a later start from home than we had intended. I had to wait until he was home from school, and I had to complete getting the house in order and feeding our cat Fluffy three days-worth of food.
The first contact with anyone involved with the Fest came via a text message to my cell phone from Nick Gibbon, who gave me an updated weather forecast. The cold, but dry weekend I expected would now feature some precipitation, possibly snow or freezing rain, on Sunday. I also noticed a message on my phone from Alan, which said he had already checked into his hotel room.
Meanwhile, there was another matter. I had to meet with Bill Magee, in order to get the TransPasses from him and settle up financially. Originally, he had said he would meet me either at Market East or in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Hotel. But since we had gotten such a late start, I figured he would have to wait a long time in Center City rather than being able to go home to his family in Cherry Hill, NJ. So in our conversations as I was driving, I decided it might be better for Bill to continue east to Cherry Hill, and meet us at that town's NJ TRANSIT train station. He was agreeable to that idea.
Michael and I arrived at the Cherry Hill station at around 6 PM, well in advance of the 6:46 PM train to Philadelphia. We could have caught one at 6:05, but I still had to take care of the financial business with Bill. It was bitter cold outside, so I called Bill back after we had arrived and we arranged to meet in the warmth inside the Shop-Rite supermarket next to the station.
Bill and I completed our transaction just inside the supermarket. He gave me the ten SEPTA TransPasses, and I gave him a check for the balance of what was owed him. We worried with a chuckle that this might appear to outsiders like a drug deal taking place. Then Bill informed me that he had a bad cold, and hence he would not be able to join us for the actual Fest. Bill then left, and Michael and I went back to my car to await our train.
Our train, NJ TRANSIT #4622, arrived in Cherry Hill a little later than the advertised 6:46 PM, but the usual padding got us into 30th Street Station earlier than the expected 7:17 PM. Once there, we had a late dinner at the food court. Then we took the final segment of Friday's trip, a SEPTA Regional Rail train to the Market East station. (Normally, passengers arriving by NJ TRANSIT do not get the same free fare privileges as those who show an AMTRAK ticket stub; however at this time I had ten valid TransPasses in my pocket in the unlikely event we were asked for a ticket.) We then walked 1/2 block to the Hilton Garden Inn, and checked in.
Later in the evening, I left one TransPass at the front desk for Mike Hammond to pick up. He would be arriving early Saturday morning at the Greyhound Terminal across the street, and with his pass he could ride some trains in the early morning hours before the official beginning of our Fest.
Chapter 2.2: Getting there on Saturday
We'll start in Middlesex County, NJ, where Piotr Dzwonek and Jishnu Mukerji arrived by car from different directions (from South Amboy and Short Hills respectively) at the Metropark rail station. Together they took NJ TRANSIT's Northeast Corridor Line to Trenton, and then switched to SEPTA's R7 Trenton Line to Market East, where they met the group.
John Corbett had a longer trip to take that morning, coming in from New York City on AMTRAK's PENNSYLVANIAN, train 45.
Mike Hammond did indeed arrive early Saturday morning by Greyhound, and after getting the TransPass I had left for him at the hotel, he used it to go to his Four Points by Sheraton hotel near the airport to leave his luggage so he would not have to lug it around all day. Aside from his round trip on the R1 Airport Line train, he had little time to do any more exploring on his own by rail.
The three of us who had stayed at the Hilton Garden had breakfast at the hotel, conveniently located on the tenth floor, the same floor where our rooms were.
Our contingent staying near the airport came in on an R1 Airport Line train to Market East, although they were waiting for us on the opposite side of the station. We eventually met them on the platform.
And the rest came from various points in or around Philadelphia. Nick Gibbon walked to Market East, while Todd Woollam came in on an R2 Warminster Line train from Warminster. Charlie O'Hay boarded an R6 Norristown Line train at East Falls, and then remained on board since that train became the R2 Wilmington-Newark Line train the group took. Owen and Isak Sindler boarded that train at Suburban Station, and John Corbett got on at 30th Street Station after arriving on AMTRAK.
We also had a surprise participant, David Morrison of Harrisburg. He had come in that morning on AMTRAK Keystone train 644, and intended to join our group only as far as our Frankford trip on the subway before lunch.
Chapter 3: Saturday, January 17, 2004
Our travels on Saturday exploited the different modes of transit available in Philadelphia. Those who rode for the entire day got to take six trips on Regional Rail lines, one-way trips on two different trolley lines, and two movements on the same heavy rail line. In between, we had three healthy walks between trains, and meals (in various food courts) that negated those healthy walks.
Chapter 3.1: Part A1, SEPTA R2 Wilmington-Newark Line, Train #4209, Center City to Sharon Hill, PA
The first official ride of our Fest was aboard a train that we could have taken all the way to Wilmington, DE. Alas, our plans called for us to go only as far as Sharon Hill, which is only a few stops from Center City. We started out with a bang, as we had 16 participants aboard that train. Hopefully the large number of people detraining at Sharon Hill did not delay the train too much. By virtue of the very narrow platform at this station, we had to walk single file until we got to the stairway leading up to the street.
After that short train ride, we began our first healthy walk of the day. Our walk to the Sharon Hill trolley station was ten blocks: five long ones to the west, and then five short ones southbound along Chester Pike. It must have been quite a sight when our group of sixteen railfans walked across the very wide Chester Pike in a crosswalk.
Although the weather was cold, it was not as bad as it had been the day before. I had some concerns about accumulated snow blocking our way, but we had no problems negotiating the sidewalks, which were pretty clear.
When we arrived at the trolley station, the outbound car that was to turn as our trip had just gotten there. Many in our group saw the photo op and shot pictures of the trolley in the station.
#102 trolley at Sharon Hill Nick Gibbon photo
#102 trolley at Sharon Hill station Charlie O'Hay photo
Group boards #102 trolley in Sharon Hill Nick Gibbon photo
Chapter 3.2: Part A2, SEPTA 102 Sharon Hill Trolley Line, Sharon Hill, PA to 69th Street Terminal
As soon as the operator had switched ends, we were allowed to board. Some chose to continue shooting pictures, but eventually everyone climbed aboard the heated trolley and enjoyed the remainder of the layover in comfort.
David Korkhouse had brought name labels along, so while aboard this trolley we began passing out labels and a marker to each participant. Unfortunately with the cold weather and various materials in our coats that did not allow the labels to stick properly, most of our labels did not survive the day. It was a nice idea, but the conditions were not conducive to its success.
Our ride inbound was uneventful. We actually retraced some of our tracks from PhillyFest 2001 when we got to Drexel Hill Junction and joined the 101 Media Line tracks. The two routes run together from that point to 69th Street Terminal.
After our on-time arrival at 69th Street Terminal, we walked to the faregates for the Market-Frankford Subway-Elevated. Before we went through, some of our participants spotted an open rest room and made quick use of it. On some of my previous trips through there, the rest rooms had been locked.
Chapter 3.3: Part A3, SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway-Elevated, 69th Street Terminal to Frankford Transportation Center
Still sixteen people strong, our group walked up to the lead car of the waiting subway train, which departed promptly at 11 AM. Many of us took turns looking out the "railfan window" in the front of that car.
We rode the entire line, end to end. First was the grade-level run through Upper Darby and Millbourne, then the elevated section through West Philadelphia. Then after 46th Street we entered the subway tunnel, and continued through Center City. After 2nd Street we curved to the north and ran first in the median of I-95, and then once more on elevated tracks through Northeast Philadelphia to Frankford.
When we got to the Frankford Transportation Center, our group split up. Most of us deviated from the planned itinerary by taking an earlier train back, while Nick, Owen, and Isak decided to remain behind and take a subsequent train back to Center City. That was the last we saw of Owen and Isak, who were probably sitting in their own living room before we were done with our lunch break.
Chapter 3.4: Part A4, SEPTA Market-Frankford Subway-Elevated, Frankford Transportation Center to 11th & Market
New track structure at Frankford Transportation CenterCharlie O'Hay photo
So there were just thirteen of us on the return trip to Center City. However, having left ten minutes earlier than planned, we missed being joined by John Wireman, who had taken a bus to Frankford and expected to join up with us there. Luckily, Nick had stayed behind, so they rode the subway together back to Center City. Had all seventeen of us been together on one train, this trip would have taken the prize as the one with the most Fest participants aboard.
When our larger group detrained at 11th Street, David Morrison remained on board, headed for 30th Street Station and ultimately Harrisburg on the next Keystone train.