Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I had been waiting over three years since the debut of the Acela Express to experience riding the train and finally today would be my turn. A few weeks earlier Alan, a rail friend of mine in New York, had said he would be coming up to Boston for an OTOL mini-fest on August 19, but was to ride the Acela Express up the evening before. I told him that I would join him on the Acela Express trip on the way up and possibly the mini-fest the next day. My plans were to take Acela Express #2163 from Boston to New York in Business Class, meet up with Alan, and ride with him in First Class on Acela Express #2168 that evening.
My day began quite early, around 5:00am, as I had to catch a 6:22am MBTA train out of Kingston to South Station in Boston. While #2163 wasn't to depart Boston until 11:15am I needed to be in the city early as I had also planned to ride out to Forge Park/Route 495 on the MBTA Franklin Line, a route I had not yet covered before. I left my house a little after 5:00am and it was about a 40-minute drive up to Kingston from the Cape. On the way I had to fill up my car with gas and I also grabbed some breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.
I got to Kingston a little early, around 5:45am, so I sat in my car and listened to some music. Around 6:10am the train was brought up to the station from the yards so I got out of my car and went to by my tickets at the local vendor in the parking lot. The train departed and we made all the local stops, picking up daily commuters. The train pulled into South Station around 7:20am. Once in South Station I went to my tickets for the Franklin Line from the MBTA ticket window. I had a short wait in the station as the Franklin Line train was scheduled to depart at 7:50am.
At 7:40am an announcement was made that the Franklin Line train was now boarding. A small crowd boarded and we were off on time. Going outbound the train went over the Dorchester Branch, missing the Back Bay stops. We got to Forge Park at 8:45am and I jumped off to use the restroom in the station. I boarded for the return trip and sat in the same car. Departure was at 9:03am. The train made all the stops, but skipped the Dorchester Branch. This time we joined the Northeast Corridor at Readville and made stops at Ruggles and Back Bay before arriving into South Station at 10:05am. Again, while past rush our, we still picked up a good amount of commuters and families headed into the city for the day.
Back at South Station I went to pick up my tickets from one of the QuikTrak machines. Even though I was in Business Class I got admittance into the Club Acela as I was returning in First Class. It was nice to be able to sit there for 40-minutes and relax in the quiet atmosphere. I had my self some orange juice and one of those pre-packaged cinnamon rolls you can buy from the snack bar onboard the train.
Boarding began at 11:00am for train #2163. I walked out to the platform and took a seat in the forward most Business Class car, which was right behind the First Class car and was a designated quiet car. Apparently, on every Acela Express Trainset the quiet car is located right next to the First Class car. I only assume this as there were permanent signs placed about the car stating it was a quiet car and the cell phone use, loud talking, and radios were prohibited. Stepping onto the train you walk into a large foyer area, which is much more welcoming than the stainless steel foyer of an Amfleet. The Business Class car is very spacious with 2-2 seating and a brightly lit interior. There is plenty of room for luggage in the overhead bins and in the luggage racks at one end of the car. One draw back I noticed was the seats. As soon as I sat down I found them to be very firm, not as comfortable as an Amfleet seat. There is also no room to store small belongings under the seat in front of you because of the design of the mechanism the seats are attached to. Each seat includes at footrest, reading lamp, and at seat audio (which didn't work on my trip).
We departed South Station on time at 11:15am and made our stops at Back Bay and Route 128. As we departed South Station the tilt was activated. The best way to describe the sound is retracting flaps on and airplane, but there's also a constant humming noise when the tilt is activated. I had set up my GPS monitor on my computer to keep tab of our speed. We didn't reach anywhere above 110mph all the way until after Providence. I was a little disappointed as I had though the Acela reached 150mph in Massachusetts somewhere around Attleboro. Once we departed Providence we did pick up speed. Just around TFG airport we hit our stop speed of 150mph as announced by our conductor. It was a pretty neat experience traveling that fast over land. However, the ride was not as smooth as ice and the train still vibrated and bumped about. In fact, when walking to the Caf‚ for lunch I found it a bit of a challenge to walk.
For lunch I had the cheeseburger, chips, and a Pepsi. Food is prepared a little different in the caf‚ on the Acela Express. First, instead of heating my burger up in the package the attendant put it on a plastic plate then heated it in the microwave. Second, soft drinks are poured into a plastic cup from a hose, which disperses the variety of drinks available. Beer is poured from a tap, not served in a can or bottle, as well. I was also given fresh lettuce and tomato with my burger. While the quality was still them same as any other caf‚ on the system, it was presented a bit nicer. The Caf‚ car itself is mostly just wasted space; half the car houses the snack bar and food galley, while the other half has some uncomfortable pedestal seating. There's also a high tech conductors office that houses a bunch of computer equipment monitoring the train and its speed. There's talk between Amtrak and Bombardier that the Caf‚ car may be remodeled with tables so the tables currently installed in Business Class cars can be removed and replaced with more revenue seating.
We pulled into New Haven about on time at 1:18pm. We departed New Haven and fell into the mercy of Metro North. Things went pretty smoothly as it wasn't rush hour, but the line all the way to New Rochelle can get pretty backed up and the Acela can't go any faster than 75mph. We made our stop in Stamford at 1:57pm. We soon were back on Amtrak's right of way after New Rochelle. After passing through the Bronx, over the Hell Gate bridge, and down through Queens, we arrived into Penn Station at approximately 2:45pm, a few minutes late. The consist of Acela Express #2163 was as followed.
2031 Power Car 3215 First Class End Car 3554 Business Class * 3549 Business Class 3302 Cafe 3555 Business Class 3417 Business Class End Car 2030 Power Car * I was here
When taking the escalator up into Penn Station from the platform I some how ended up in the LIRR section of the terminal so it was a bit of a walk to the Amtrak waiting area where I was to meet up with Alan as planned. I met Alan under the Solari board and to kill time we took a trip to South Ferry on the MTA #9 subway train. It was about a 20-minute trip from 34th Street/Penn Station. Once at South Ferry we went outside and walked over to Battery Park. It was a little hazy out, but I got a view of the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, as well as Governors Island. There was also lots of construction going on as a new ferry terminal was being constructed for the Staten Island ferries.
Alan and I decided to head back to Penn Station. We jumped on the #9 train at South Ferry, but about 2 stops down we transferred to and express train back to 34th Street/Penn Station. Doing that saved us about 10 minutes. At Penn Station we headed to the Club Acela to wait for Acela Express #2168 to Boston. Our train was ready to board at 4:45pm. I followed Alan who took a short cut to the lower level boarding area down to our platform. This avoided us having to wait in a long line of passengers to get our tickets inspected and it also gave us first choice seating.
Heading back I was in First Class along with Alan. The car is mostly the same interior wise as a Business Class car; however there is only one vestibule, a food galley, seating is 2-1, and the smaller of the two bathrooms is removed with a railfone booth in its place. We departed Penn Station on time around 5:00pm. There were three attendants in the car. One of them immediately came around with dinner menus, followed by a dish of snack mix, and then a cart from which drinks were handed out. After the drinks and snacks were given out one of the attendants came around to take our dinner order. I had the skewered seafood on top of creamy risotto. Our meals were served about 30 minutes later. Included were the main dish as well as a salad, roll, and pound cake. Portions were a bit small, but filling nonetheless. About this time we were rolling slowly behind a Metro North train on one of the local tracks. Arrival into Stamford was bout 15 minutes late at 6:00pm and New Haven about 20 minutes late at 6:50pm. We began to speed up once we entered Amtrak territory again, north of New Haven.
It was a quick trip all the way up to Boston, running about 20 minutes late the whole way and not making up any lost time. Providence came at around 8:10pm, Route 128 8:40pm, Back Bay 8:50pm, and Boston South Station at 8:55pm. Alan and I gathered our belongings, tipped the attendant, and headed toward the station. The consist of Acela Express #2168 was as followed.
2026 Power Car 3403 Business Class End Car 3523 Business Class 3310 Cafe 3503 Business Class 3502 Business Class 3203 First Class End Car * 2029 Power Car * we where here
From this point Alan was headed for the Red Line to his hotel near the JFK/U-mass stop. I had a 9:30pm train back to Kingston to catch. In the meantime I tried to sit in the Club Acela until 9:30pm, but later found it was closed even though the sign said it was open until 9:30pm. Well, there wasn't any action to be missed and the 4-hour late Lake Shore Limited was pulling in on track 10.
At 9:20pm my train back to Kingston was boarding on track 12. I got back to Kingston around 10:25pm and made a quick ride back to the Cape arriving home at about 11:00pm. Over all it was a nice trip and even though the Acela has not lived up to everyone's expectations, it's still a better way to get around the Northeast than having to deal with overcrowded and uncomfortable air shuttles.