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Trip Report

Philadelphia Area RailFest 2004

January 17-18, 2004
Section 3 of 3


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Chapter 4: Sunday, January 18, 2004: Riding the Reading

On Sunday, our travels were limited to SEPTA's ex-Reading Regional Rail lines north of Center City. Those participants who spent the entire day with the Fest departed from various stations either along the R1 Airport Line or Center City at roughly 9:30 AM, and did not return to Center City until almost seven hours later.

Alan, Michael, and I had breakfast in Center City at a McDonald's at 10th & Market Streets. During our walk there was a wintry mix of precipitation falling, and some very slippery spots on the sidewalk where there was not much traction.

Chapter 4.1: Part B1, SEPTA R3 West Trenton Line, Train #4316, Center City to West Trenton, NJ

This train started as an R1 Airport Line train. David Korkhouse, Rich Ivins, Don Sillence, and Mike Hammond originated at the airport, while David Warner drove up from Delaware and boarded the same train at the Eastwick station. These people did not have to change trains in Center City; they were already aboard our train as the rest of us boarded at 30th Street or Market East stations.

Joining us at Market East was Todd Woollam, who took the R2 Warminster train inbound to meet us. Also, Piotr Dzwonek commuted down from Metropark for the second day in a row, taking NJ TRANSIT to Trenton and then SEPTA's R7 Trenton train to Market East.

Also boarding at Market East were John Corbett, Alan Burden, Michael, and myself, all of whom had stayed in nearby hotels.

Eleven of us made the first trip of the day to West Trenton. During this journey, we noticed as we proceeded north that the wintry mix had turned to a wet snow.

One event of significance on this trip was the immediate recognition of our group as railfans by the conductor. He never had that many people aboard the train near the outer end of the line.

Also, in the vicinity of the Woodburne station, we saw a CSX freight train on the adjacent freight-only track to our right. While the freight train seemed harmless on the other track as we passed it, it would play a major role in the next segment of our trip. When we arrived at West Trenton, our conductor already knew that the freight we had seen was behind us, and would be passing through during our layover.

Group awaits inbound R3 train in West Trenton Group awaits inbound R3 train in West Trenton CSX freight passing thru West Trenton station
Group awaits inbound R3 train in West Trenton (Todd Woollam photo) Group awaits inbound R3 train in West Trenton (Todd Woollam photo) CSX freight passing thru West Trenton station (Todd Woollam photo)

We detrained, and most of us made our way through the tunnel to the inbound platform. Some remained on the outbound side to photograph the freight train. Our SEPTA train departed and took the siding beyond the station, as they all routinely do.

During our layover time, we were covered from the elements by the station's long canopy. The weather here was all snow, with big flakes.

Well, we waited and waited and waited. The freight had not been moving too quickly, and it did not show up right away. In fact, our train could have easily crossed over the outbound track and to the inbound side to pick up the passengers and begin its run on time, but CSX held it until its freight had cleared. By the time it came through the interlocking and onto the inbound track, it was already ten minutes late.

Chapter 4.2: Part B2, SEPTA R3 West Trenton Line, Train #4129, West Trenton, NJ to Jenkintown-Wyncote, PA

I knew already that we potentially had a serious problem, since we had fourteen minutes for our scheduled connection to the R5 Lansdale-Doylestown train at Jenkintown. Any further delays could cause us to miss our train to Doylestown.

We did appear to be going slower than we had to, and our train got later. By some of our watches, we were a full 15 minutes late, meaning we would just miss our connection by a minute. I went back and told our railfan-friendly conductor about our plight, and he did not appear to be certain he could do anything. He initially felt we would still get to Jenkintown in enough time to make our next train.

I got a call from Nick Gibbon, who was aboard that R5 train that we were to be taking. I explained our problem to him, and asked him if he could alert his crew that eleven people would be transferring from a delayed R3 train, and see if they could hold a few minutes for us. He later told me that they were not receptive to his request, that they were more concerned with remaining on their schedule.

As we got closer to our stop, it became apparent that we had not made up any time, and that we were in danger of missing our train. I again pleaded with our conductor, asking if there was anything he could do to hold the R5 train. He nodded, and I figured he was going to do something. Soon, he was heading up to the cab, presumably to have the engineer use the radio for something.

Alan Burden had his scanner on, and he later told us that the conductor on the R3 train contrived a story to his R5 counterpart that he needed more ticket receipts. This transfer would delay the latter train a few minutes, long enough for us to make our transfer.

When we arrived in Jenkintown we luckily had a favorable signal at the junction just north of the station. When we pulled in, the R5 train was already there next to our first train. We ran to the stairway, and ran through the underpass to the outbound platform, then boarded the second train. Our luck in making this train was due not only to the generosity of the R3 conductor, but also that the R5 train had still had a red signal and thus could not proceed out of the Jenkintown station.

We thanked the crew of the R5 train for waiting for us, but the conductor claimed that they only held because of a signal. Meanwhile, others gave a thumbs-up signal to the R3 conductor, who saved our day with his action. End of near-catastrophe #1.

Chapter 4.3: Part B3, SEPTA R5 Lansdale-Doylestown Line, Train #2538, Jenkintown-Wyncote, PA to Doylestown, PA

During our mad rush through the station underpass in Jenkintown, John Wireman joined us, having arrived there by bus. Nick had chosen to sleep later and join us on the Doylestown phase of the Sunday Fest. So we now had thirteen people along, although eleven of us were out of breath, including one Fest leader who almost had to change his pants.

The R5 is SEPTA's longest ex-Reading line. We were running a few minutes late thanks to our ordeal in Jenkintown, but with a few skipped flag stops, a good meet beyond New Britain with an inbound train, and a padded arrival time in Doylestown, we arrived there on time. I figured we could relax there after our rough morning at the nearby restaurant I had chosen for the group. I figured wrong.

Chapter 4.4: Lunchtime in Doylestown

Near-catastrophe #2 took place just after we arrived in Doylestown. With a 43-minute layover during which lunch had been planned for the adjacent Boston Market restaurant, there was not much time for things to go awry. First, we found that the driveway that leads downhill to the restaurant's parking lot was a sheet of ice, and with the slippery ground it would be tough to negotiate. The driveway was in that condition for a good reason: The restaurant had closed permanently. The signs on the building and next to the street had been removed, and the inside was empty. Michael and I had just eaten there in the fall, when we took a preview trip up to Doylestown. At that time there had been no indication that the place was closing down.

This led to Plan B, which until then did not exist. I had found during my preview trip only the Boston Market and a coffee shop just to the north. I had never ventured to the south, so that is the way most of us went, trudging through the snow and slush on the ground. About one block south we discovered a Pizza Hut that I had not seen before. We were able to get individual pies to go, cooked in ten minutes. Our group created quite a rush on the restaurant, a run for the men's rest room, and a snow-covered crowd of railfans in the lobby. The place handled our group very well (considering our sudden arrival and the rush for individual pizzas), and we all got something to eat in the short amount of time we had in town.

Once we got our pizzas we walked back to the station. Some elected to eat outside under the canopy. Luckily the SEPTA crew opened the train's doors so we were able to board and eat our pizzas in the warmth of the train.

Like the Jenkintown incident, all worked out well in the end.

Chapter 4.5: Part B4, SEPTA R5 Lansdale-Doylestown Line, Train #2539, Doylestown, PA to Glenside, PA

Those who had not finished their pizza-to-go did so during this trip. It was a quiet run southbound through the continued snowy weather. The second of four meets we would encounter that day took place between Delaware Valley College and New Britain, and it went very well.

R5 train outbound at Glenside
R5 train outbound at Glenside (dcwarnerphoto)

This train was pretty busy, so surely the thirteen seats that we vacated at Glenside were certainly soon taken by other passengers. At Glenside we had a twenty-minute layover scheduled between the inbound R5 and the outbound R2 train to Warminster. Despite the weather, we welcomed this downtime, having tasted a very tight connection a few hours earlier in nearby Jenkintown.

The northbound platform where most of us waited has nothing more than a bus shelter, so most of us were outside in the snow, which was still coming down, albeit a little lighter than before.

One sub-plot of our time in Glenside was the desire of one member to use rest room facilities. Unfortunately, nothing was open within sight, so he found a nice cozy alley to take care of his need. SEPTA does not have on-board toilets, and it does not have many in its stations, most of which are closed on weekends anyhow. The motto when riding trains in Philadelphia is "Go before you go".

Chapter 4.6: Part B5, SEPTA R2 Warminster Line, Train #2134, Glenside, PA to Warminster, PA

Our R2 train came right on time, and soon we were off towards Warminster. We had a good meet with an inbound train between Willow Grove and Hatboro, having to stop only for a minute or so.

This was the shortest of the three lines we rode today, which translates into the longest layover at the endpoint station. We arrived in Warminster on time, which gave us our full 46-minute wait for the return trip.

Our train (left) and stored equipment at Doylestown SEPTA AEM-7 engine near Warminster station Our R2 from Warminster continued thru central Philadelphia to the airport
Our train (left) and stored equipment at Doylestown (dcwarnerphoto) SEPTA AEM-7 engine near Warminster station (Todd Woollam photo) Our R2 from Warminster continued thru central Philadelphia to the airport (dcwarnerphoto)

Once again we had a snowfall with large flakes. Some in our group went to take photos of the other trains in the yard, while most remained under the canopy. As soon as our train's crew completed their brake test, they allowed us to reboard the warm, dry train.

Todd left us here, since he lives in Warminster. He warmed up his vehicle while saying his good-byes to the group, and then he went home.

Chapter 4.7: Part B6, SEPTA R2 Warminster Line, Train #2147, Warminster, PA to Center City

For the final segment of our Fest, we returned to Center City with twelve happy railfans aboard. Despite the minor problems, it was a successful day. For many of us it had been a good weekend of riding the rails, since we accomplished everything we set out to do.

Our meet after Hatboro with the next outbound train went without a hitch, as both trains were running on time.

The snow continued as we made our way back towards Center City. Our group officially broke up as we approached Market East.

Chapter 5: Home from the Fest

Getting home from our Fests can be as adventurous as getting to them. Just as we got there by various means, we left Philadelphia in the same fashion.

Chapter 5.1: Going home on Sunday

Some participants remained aboard our train from Warminster to go back to their hotels, or to go directly to 30th Street Station for their respective trips home. Many of us got off at Market East. Alan, Michael, and I detrained there so we could retrieve our luggage from the Hilton Garden Inn. Piotr Dzwonek went with us since I was to give him a lift back to Monmouth County. Mike Hammond also got off at Market East, in order to take a post-Fest ride out to Marcus Hook and back on the other R2 line. John Wireman and Nick Gibbon each went home from Market East, with John taking a bus home and Nick walking.

David Korkhouse, Rich Ivins, and Don Sillence went to 30th Street with plans to take a round trip on NJ TRANSIT to Atlantic City. David Warner remained aboard our train, which became an R1 Airport Line train, back to Eastwick.

Piotr, Alan, Michael, and I, having returned from the hotel, boarded a train that was sitting at the Market East station for our final run to 30th Street Station. By coincidence, this was the R2 train that Mike Hammond had boarded for Marcus Hook; he was in another car of the same train. When we got to 30th Street Station, we noticed that we had a few minutes to make an earlier NJ TRANSIT train than intended, so three of us ran for it. (Thankfully Piotr and I had purchased our tickets the evening before.) Alan meanwhile went to the Club Acela to await his Metroliner back to New York. We thought we might see David K., Rich, and Don aboard, but correctly assumed they took the later train to Atlantic City after having dinner.

Piotr, Michael, and I boarded NJ TRANSIT Train #4619, which left Philadelphia at 4:49 PM and arrived in Cherry Hill at 5:13 PM. On the way north before getting onto the New Jersey Turnpike, we made a quick stop at a Burger King for dinner. Then once in Howell, I dropped Piotr off at a bus stop. From there, he took a NJ TRANSIT bus to Old Bridge, where he was picked up for the short ride back to South Amboy.

Chapter 5.2: Going home on Monday

Monday morning, John Corbett returned to New York using the SEPTA R7/NJ TRANSIT combination via Trenton. Our trio from Idaho, Michigan, and Indiana caught an ACELA EXPRESS train to Washington, from where they flew home. Mike Hammond caught the westbound PENNSYLVANIAN to Pittsburgh, and then an AMTRAK Thruway bus from there to Cleveland. I later learned that our Fest continued into Monday morning, since Mike, Don, Rich, and David K. were all on the same R1 Airport Line train from the airport to 30th Street Station.

Chapter 6: Conclusion

I was extremely happy with our turnout, considering that it was cold and snowy, and that many people had to come so far to reach Philadelphia. Everyone had a good time, and despite our experiences on Sunday, everything worked out for us almost as planned.

Chapter 6.1: What's next?

We'll do Philadelphia again, no doubt. Still left uncovered from the 2001 and 2004 Fests are the R8 Fox Chase Line, the R6 Cynwyd Line, the R5 Thorndale-Paoli Line beyond Overbrook, and the R2 Wilmington-Newark Line beyond Sharon Hill. There are also small segments of the R3 Media-Elwyn Line between Media and Elwyn, and the R6 Norristown Line between Norristown Transportation Center and Elm Street that we did not ride. On the rapid transit side, although it is completely underground, we have not yet ridden as a Fest group the Broad Street Subway south of City Hall, nor the Broad-Ridge Spur. We still have to ride the 34 and 36 trolleys on the Subway-Surface Lines. The NJ TRANSIT River Line is now available to us, and later this year, the restored 15 trolley line on Girard Avenue will go into service.

We did a couple of mini-Fests in mid-March of 2004 that featured some of these routes. However, all of the above routes and segments are candidates for another major Fest in Philadelphia in the future.

Meanwhile, where will our next major Fest take place? It appears that the majority, both from our discussions in Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, and our poll on the OTOL forums, favors going to Toronto. That city features three subway lines, one "rapid transit" line, numerous streetcars, and some commuter rail (although many lines cannot be ridden due to their rush-hour-only nature). We anticipate a Fest lasting three days in Toronto. The majority of the group would most likely use the MAPLE LEAF to get to and from Toronto. The Fest in Toronto will be held the weekend of July 16-18, 2004. In addition to Toronto, there will be an option to join us a couple of days earlier as we stop in Syracuse and Buffalo to ride rail lines in those cities.

We will surely return to New York City within the next year, and also will try to do something in the Baltimore/Washington area once more.

Long range, there is plenty to do in the Dallas area (with a possible stopover in St. Louis if we take AMTRAK), and returns to Chicago and Boston are always possible. Montreal has also been mentioned as a good summer venue for our Fests, although their Metro is almost entirely underground.

We have not even discussed California, where either Northern California or Southern California could keep us busy for six or seven days, not including the transcontinental AMTRAK trips!

In planning for future Fests, I continue to take our previous experiences into account. For example, if there are layovers between trains of fifteen minutes or less, I will always think of Jenkintown! I've learned to call restaurants in advance to make sure they still expect to be in business when our group will be arriving.

The possibilities are endless, so we will continue to have fun riding the rails as a group on a regular basis a few times a year!

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