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Trip Report


OTOL Big Apple RailFest 2005

January 14-16, 2005

by
with portions written by

and with photos by
- -

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


Chapter 0: Introduction

The Big Apple RailFest 2005 was another in a series of gatherings which began in 2001. Many participants came from the Tri State area as well as from Ohio and other parts of the country. Planning began back in the summer of 2004 following completion of the Toronto fest which was held in July. Kevin, our fearless leader, always puts on a good fest and this was no exception. Itineraries were planned and revised and route guides were printed and finally the fest was about to get underway.

I am not one to pay full price for hotel and always feel that I can do better than the published hotel rates on their web sites. I therefore went to Hotwire and chose a hotel in New Jersey for $77.00/night. After giving my credit card info and hitting the purchase button Hotwire then tells me what hotel it is. In this case, I ended up at the Hyatt Jersey City for which I was thrilled.

Chapter 1: Friday, January 14, 2005

Although the fest officially began on Saturday, participants were already in motion on Friday getting to the New York area. And that night, three members of the group had a short Pre-Fest run in Newark.

Chapter 1.0: Getting to the fest

I was to travel from Cleveland to Washington DC aboard Amtrak train #30 and then connect in Washington to train #94 going northbound. I began my journey on Friday morning, very early, scheduled to depart Cleveland at 1:08 AM. At about 11:30 PM, I received a call from Steve at the Amtrak ticket office in Cleveland telling me to delay my departure from home for about 45 minutes as the train was delayed. I then waited around home until about 1:00, and then decided to go downtown and wait there in case they would have made up some of the time.

The train finally came in about 2:45 AM, and we had to wait for the westbound #49 to come through first. I then settled into my sleeper and plugged in my scanner. Lo and behold a power surge occurred and wiped out my settings. I spent the next 45 minutes resetting the stations on the scanner. I carry my book with me in case this problem happens as it has in the past.

My sleeping car attendant was probably one of the worst attendants that I had as he did not take any time at all to show me where everything was in the room. It took me about 20 minutes to figure out where to turn the lamp off at as I had forgotten.

I then caught some sleep and got up later around 7 and went downstairs and took a shower. Afterwards went back upstairs and got breakfast. I have to tell you that I was really impressed with Patricia who was the waitress in the dining car. I had my stick with me so that I would not be rude and bump into someone and have them think I was an idiot. She offered to read the menu to me and of course that was not necessary. She then was very attentive to all of the other patrons in the car, especially the children traveling. She wanted to make sure that they were having a good time and even had some little games for them while they were traveling. I then ordered my meal of railroad French toast and it was way too much for me but very good. I didn't eat another thing until that evening.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we arrived in Washington at 2:08 PM, which was a little over 1- hours late. I then asked the sleeping attendant which track #94 was on if it was still there. It was, since it was also delayed. The attendant told me to check inside. No tip for him today.

I then walked out on the platform and saw other patrons going for the same train. Once we had gotten to the gate there was an Amtrak representative directing us toward the correct train. I got on with plenty of time to spare and even had a seat to myself as far as Philadelphia. Once past there the train filled up and I sat with someone. By the time we arrived at Newark Penn Station we were only 15 minutes behind schedule.

I was then to catch a PATH train to Jersey City and to my hotel. The challenge I was having was finding someone in Penn Station who sold the correct ticket media that I needed. Everyone seemed to only have the 11 trip and beyond which I did not need. I was looking at the NJT ticket machine which also sold those tickets when a lady came up to me and asked if she could help. I explained what I needed and then she said that she worked for NJT and had an employee PATH pass and would be glad to swipe me though on her card. I told that was not necessary but she insisted and I got a free ride to Exchange Place. Once there, I then purchased what I needed and went to my hotel. The hotel is adjacent to the PATH station so it was very convenient to me throughout the weekend. Both PATH and the light rail were right there.

After checking in and getting settled, I then went back to Newark Penn Station to meet Kevin, Michael and Skip Howard for an evening ride on the Newark city subway. I had about a half hour to kill so I went to the pizza stand and got some New York style pizza. No one in the country, Chicago included, knows how to make pizza like you get in the New York area.

After devouring that, I met Skip. Then Kevin and Michael arrived on their train from the Jersey Shore. After they checked into their hotel (the Gateway Hilton right at Penn Station), and Michael was situated in the room to go to sleep, Skip, Kevin and I then went to the subway to ride out to Bloomfield.

Chapter 1.1: NJ TRANSIT Newark City Subway: Newark Penn Station to Grove Street, Bloomfield

The ride out was uneventful. We enjoyed our after dark trip on the subway.

Chapter 1.2: NJ TRANSIT Newark City Subway: Grove Street, Bloomfield to Newark Penn Station

At the other end, there were some folks panhandling. They always seem to target Kevin and he said no. Aboard our return train, one woman also asked each of us to hold hands with her, but we declined. Thankfully she got off at Branch Brook Park, where she caused a small scene because she had not made any money on this trip.

Back at Newark Penn Station, we then called it a night. Skip and Kevin went upstairs and across the skybridge to the hotel, and I took the PATH back to Exchange Place to the Hyatt, and went to bed for the evening.

Chapter 2: Saturday, January 15, 2005

I arose early enough to get to the train and get to Manhattan in time to meet the group for our first ride out to Far Rockaway on the LIRR. I went to the PATH train and waited on the platform for Hoboken train where I would change at Pavonia for a 33rd Street bound train. I watched a couple of Newark trains go by. When the one came, the conductor asked me where I was going. He then told me to get on and change at Grove Street. It turned out that the Hoboken trains do not run this early on Saturdays from World Trade Center. I then caught both trains and got to 33rd Street.

A kind man offered to walk with me to Penn Station as I was a little bit unfamiliar with the area. Once I got on the right street heading west I would be fine. I then met up with Kevin at the escalators at Penn Station and joined the rest of the group.

Chapter 2.1: Meeting at Penn Station

Nine of us met at Penn Station. Besides myself, there were Kevin and Michael Korell, Alan Burden, Piotr Dzwonek, Nick Gibbon, Skip Howard, Ross Kudlick, and Ted Patchell. John Corbett and Ellis Simon would join us later.

Skip, Kevin, and Michael had come in on a NJ TRANSIT commuter train from Newark. Ross had stayed in a hotel in Raritan, NJ so he could ride his beloved former Central Railroad of New Jersey, now known as NJ TRANSIT's Raritan Valley Line.

Chapter 2.2: Long Island Railroad Babylon Branch: Train #6020, New York Penn Station to Jamaica

The group on the LIRR in NYP (NG) Our first ride of the day was the Long Island Railroad out to Far Rockaway. First we had to board a Babylon train to Jamaica, and then change to the Far Rockaway train, which comes from Brooklyn.

When we made the change at Jamaica we noticed John Corbett, who had arrived from Ronkonkoma. He was on an adjacent platform, where he could board the same Far Rockaway Branch train since the doors open on both sides.

Chapter 2.3: Long Island Railroad Far Rockaway Branch: Train #8814, Jamaica to Far Rockaway

An A train laying over in Far Rockaway (NG) Our ride out was mostly uneventful . During the trip, Kevin received a call on his cell phone from Ellis Simon, who was planning to meet us later and checking on our status. So far we were on time, so he would be meeting us either at the airport or at Broad Channel.

We then walked to Mott Avenue and to catch the A train.

Chapter 2.4: New York City Transit A train: Far Rockaway to Broad Channel

The group aboard the A train in Far Rockaway (PD) We took the A train to Broad Channel. We had a wait there for the next S shuttle train, but we were able to remain upstairs in the station and keep warm. The station gives a good view of the tracks in both directions, so we knew we would have plenty of time to get downstairs.

Ellis Simon had parked by the airport, so he arrived on a Far Rockaway-bound A train. The arrival of Ellis made our group eleven people, a number that would hold until lunchtime.

Chapter 2.5: New York City Transit S train: Broad Channel to Rockaway Park

The group on the Rockaway Park shuttle in Rockaway Park (NG) We rode the S shuttle train from Broad Channel to Rockaway Park. When we got there we had time to stand on the wide platform and chat before reboarding the same train to return to Broad Channel.

Chapter 2.6: New York City Transit S train: Rockaway Park to Broad Channel

The S brought us back to Broad Channel. This time we did not have to change sides, so we remained on the same platform to await our next A train.

Chapter 2.7: New York City Transit A train: Broad Channel to Howard Beach/JFK Airport

We took the A train one stop to Howard Beach. We then went through the AirTrain JFK fare gates, which require a $5 fare to either enter or exit at both Howard Beach and Jamaica. Some of us used a rest room before we all walked down to the boarding area for AirTrain.

Chapter 2.8: AirTrain JFK: Howard Beach to Federal Circle

Aboard the AirTrain, some of us stood up and looked out the front window of this train to see the trackage in front of us. We got off at Federal Circle to change to a Jamaica-bound AirTrain (via the airport terminals).

Chapter 2.9: AirTrain JFK: Federal Circle to Jamaica

After waiting a few minutes we got on our next AirTrain. One surprise came when our vehicle switched tracks to the one normally used only for intra-airport travel. We even got to ride some rare trackage as the train was on this track for most of the trip around the airport loop.

It was also good to see some new terminal construction going on. The terminal seemed dead at this time but when it opens in the near future it will be busy.

Our AirTrain continued around the loop, and eventually switched back to the proper track. After stopping once more at Federal Circle, we remained on board towards Jamaica. Then came the long trip over the Van Wyck Expressway through Queens to Jamaica.

When we got to Jamaica, we got off. We then walked into the LIRR terminal, across a bridge over all of the tracks, and then we split up and rode down two elevators which brought us directly to the subway station.

Chapter 2.10: New York City Transit J train: Jamaica/Sutphin Blvd. to Broadway Junction

We then took the J subway line, which brought us to Broadway Junction. This was a part of the fest that Kevin had to change at the last time. Originally, we were going to ride the J train all the way to Myrtle Avenue, and then ride the M train out to Metropolitan Avenue and then back to the Myrtle where we would resume our travel to Manhattan on the J. It was announced on the MTA's website that the M would be replaced by a bus. So Kevin instead substituted a ride on the L train to Canarsie and back. That is why we would be getting off at Broadway Junction.

Well it turned out that the J was not following any sort of schedule, due to some track work being done elsewhere in the city. They were using the J to substitute for the 4 train between Manhattan and Brooklyn. So we waited longer than anticipated at Jamaica/Sutphin Blvd. for our J train.

After an uneventful ride, we got off at Broadway Junction, only to find that the L also was not observing the printed timetable either.

Chapter 2.11: New York City Transit L train: Broadway Junction to Canarsie/Rockaway Parkway

After a rather long wait at the elevated station, an L train finally arrived. We rode it south to the end of the line at Canarsie/Rockaway Parkway. Some guys in our group suggested short turning someplace to make up some lost time, but Kevin was confident we would not be too far behind by continuing down to Canarsie.

Chapter 2.12: New York City Transit L train: Canarsie/Rockaway Parkway to Broadway Junction

The layover in Canarsie was not too long, and soon we were moving northbound towards Broadway Junction.

When we got there, we had no idea how long we would have to wait since the L and the J were both not running their usual schedules. Thankfully this wait was not long at all. By the time we had walked to the end of the J platform to be at the front of the train, one arrived.

Chapter 2.13: New York City Transit J train: Broadway Junction to Essex/Delancey

On our way towards Manhattan on the J train, we found out as we were at the Myrtle Avenue station that the M train was indeed running. Apparently they had cancelled the track work on this line as well as the substitute bus. We will get the M line next time we have a fest in New York.

When we arrived at Delancey/Essex, everyone had to detrain as the special J shuttle was on the opposite track. We had to negotiate the crowd and make our way to the F line downstairs.

Chapter 2.14: New York City Transit F train: Essex/Delancey to Herald Square

We took the F train to 34th Street, where we would be having lunch at Manhattan Mall.

Chapter 2.15: Lunch at Manhattan Mall

We had lunch as a group at Manhattan Mall. I went for Nathans and had a hot dog and everyone else went to their choice of restaurants to fill their stomachs.

After we ate, Ellis left us to return back to the airport and eventually home. Ross also departed for Penn Station, where he would catch a train to Newark and then another back to Raritan before driving home to Virginia.

Chapter 2.16: New York City Transit N train: Herald Square to Times Square

Now down to nine people, we went to the Broadway subway line and took an N train one stop to Times Square. There, we changed to the Seventh Avenue line.

Kevin made another slight change in plans here. Originally we were going to take a 2 or 3 express train to 96th Street and then change for a 1 local to Van Cortlandt Park. But since we were so late (thanks to the earlier problems with the J and L trains), he decided to kill some time since we would not be making our intended Metro North train in Marble Hill. So we would take the local 1 train the whole way.

Chapter 2.17: New York City Transit 1 train: Times Square to 242nd Street/Van Cortlandt Park

We did a good job of killing time as we made every single stop up from Times Square to Van Cortlandt Park.

The Fest group at 242 St #1 station on Saturday afternoon (JC) When we got there, we stood around on the platform for a while, further wasting time. Since we would be taking a later Metro North train at Marble Hill we did not want to get there too early.

John Corbett left the group here, to go to his father's home in Riverdale. Eight of us remained to complete the rest of the day's activities. We let about three or four 1 trains come in and leave before getting on one to go to 225th Street.

Chapter 2.18: New York City Transit 1 train: 242nd Street/Van Cortlandt Park to 225th Street

It only took us about four minutes to get from Van Cortlandt Park to 225th Street.

At 225th Street, we still had some time to kill since we would surely be missing the 3:56 PM Metro North train. Some people went into the stores to browse around. Kevin and Michael went into a McDonald's to get milk shakes.

Soon we all walked over to the Metro North Marble Hill station to await our next train. By this time of day it had gotten colder. The station's small waiting area had some heat, but that heat was lost to the air since the windows did not meet the ceiling.

Chapter 2.19: Metro North Railroad Hudson Line: Train #8738, Marble Hill to Grand Central Terminal

This train arrived right on time at 4:42 PM. It was crowded, so some of us had to stand the whole way. Luckily the trip took only 25 minutes.

Chapter 2.20: End of Saturday's activities

At Grand Central this was the official end of the Saturday activities. Ted, Nick, and Piotr went their separate ways. However the other five of us stayed together and rode the S shuttle train to Times Square. Then Skip, Kevin, and Michael took the 7th Avenue subway to Penn Station to take a NJ TRANSIT train back to Newark. Alan and I took the 8th Avenue line down to World Trade Center, and then caught the PATH train there back to Newark. When we got to Newark, Skip, Michael, and Kevin were waiting for us at the bottom of the escalator. We walked into the Gateway Hilton.

Kevin and Michael went upstairs to their room. The rest of us had a nice dinner and then parted company for the evening. I went back to my hotel and relaxed for the evening and got some sleep to be ready for another exciting day on the rails.

Chapter 3: Sunday, January 16, 2005

I arose at 7:00 AM to get ready for the day. As we were beginning the day from Hoboken, it was an easy ride for me to get there. I walked one block from my hotel and caught the Hudson Bergen Light Rail to Hoboken Terminal. My ticket had a 90 minute validity period, so it would be valid for our morning trip on the light rail as a group.

Chapter 3.1: Meeting at Hoboken

Upon arrival I met the group inside the terminal. There were eight of us involved today. John Wireman of Philadelphia joined us, having not been with us on Saturday. Also there, were Skip, Michael, Kevin, Alan, Piotr, and John Corbett. We went to various places to grab a snack before we ventured out on our travels.

Chapter 3.2: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail: Hoboken Terminal to Lincoln Harbor, Weehawken

We then rode the light rail to Lincoln Harbor, and also got to see the building where our fearless leader works so he can produce and run these fests. When we got there, we waited about six minutes before the same light rail car returned to take us back to Hoboken.

Chapter 3.3: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail: Lincoln Harbor, Weehawken to Hoboken Terminal

We then went back to Hoboken and made our way to the commuter rail part of the station to find out what track our Bay Head train would be on.

Chapter 3.4: NJ TRANSIT North Jersey Coast Line: Train #2381, Hoboken to Bay Head

This would be about a 90 minute ride. Once we left Penn Station in Newark the train would run non-stop to Long Branch and then make all local stops from that point forward. Our train remained on time throughout the trip.

It was a cold morning in New Jersey and some of us would experience that first hand at the end of the line for this train. When we all got off in Bay Head, it was time for lunch. Kevin had done some scouting around, and determined that there were no restaurants near the Bay Head station. However, there were plenty in Point Pleasant Beach.

Chapter 3.5: Lunch in Point Pleasant Beach

Jersey Mikes sub shop for lunch on Sunday (JC) Based on Kevin's research, everyone chose to eat at the flagship Jersey Mike's in Point Pleasant Beach. Kevin graciously offered to shuttle participants in his vehicle between the two stations as it is about a mile walk and then we would eat lunch in Point Pleasant before boarding an afternoon train back to Newark. Skip, Michael, and Piotr went with Kevin directly to Jersey Mike's. Alan, the two Johns, and myself decided that we were up for the mile walk to Point Pleasant Beach, and walk we did. It was a nice brisk day, not too cold but cold enough to keep us going.

At one point after dropping the others at the restaurant, Kevin returned to offer us a ride, but we declined. Eventually we got to Jersey Mike's and had our subs. We enjoyed them, especially after that walk.

When we all finished eating we realized that we could make a train an hour earlier than Kevin had originally planned. This would help us to end our day earlier and also to see more of the Raritan Valley Line in daylight.

New Jersey Transit train # 4733 on Sunday (JC) After lunch we had another four blocks to go to get to the Point Pleasant Beach station. Once again Kevin offered rides since he would be parking his car at this station. Only John Wireman and Michael accompanied him. Alan, Skip, John C., and I decided to walk. We were briefly held up at the Arnold Avenue grade crossing when a southbound train came through.

We finally made it to the station platform to join the others, and together we awaited our northbound train.

Chapter 3.6: NJ TRANSIT North Jersey Coast Line: Train #4736, Point Pleasant Beach to Long Branch

Our train came on time and shuttled us up to Long Branch. We would have to change trains at Long Branch to get to the New York-bound train. Our transfer was accomplished easily right across the platform.

Chapter 3.7: NJ TRANSIT North Jersey Coast Line: Train #7236, Long Branch to Newark

Our trip on the electric train from Long Branch to Newark was without incident.

When we got to Newark, the main part of the fest was officially over. One of us left the group to return home. That was Skip, who had to catch an Acela Express back to Massachusetts. The other seven of us went up to the platform for Track 5 to catch our train to Raritan.

Chapter 3.8: NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line: Train #2525, Newark to Raritan

This was an optional part of the fest since it was known that part of the return trip would be after dark. We were ahead of schedule by an hour, but we knew it would still get dark by the time we got back to Newark.

The seven of us enjoyed the ride. In Raritan, we had about 45 minutes layover. The nearest businesses are three blocks away, but being cold and almost dark nobody wanted to walk too far from the station. However, we were lucky to find the station's waiting room open. At least we were able to get out of the cold weather for a while.

Chapter 3.9: NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line: Raritan to Newark

Our return trip was uneventful. As expected, it was getting dark before we had gotten too far from Raritan. When we got back to Newark Penn Station it was fully dark outside.

Once we had arrived back in Newark, the fest was now officially over and most participants were scurrying to catch Amtrak, NJT, or PATH to their ultimate destinations.

Chapter 3.10: End of Sunday's activities

I waited on the platform with Alan until his train came and then I took the PATH train back to my hotel for the remainder of the evening. Piotr, Michael, and Kevin took a NJ TRANSIT train on the North Jersey Coast Line. Piotr was going home to South Amboy, while Michael and Kevin were headed for Kevin's car that he had left in Point Pleasant Beach earlier. They had another long trip ahead of them!

Kevin later reported that a wire was down between Little Silver and Long Branch, and everyone had to take substitute buses between those two stations. We were glad this did not happen to us earlier in the day!

Chapter 4: Monday, January 17, 2005

My train was not scheduled to leave Penn Station Newark until 12:52 PM, so I had plenty of time to relax. I slept late, and then took a round trip ride on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail to the 22nd Street-Bayonne end of the line. Then I got off back at Exchange Place, and took a PATH train to Newark Penn Station. I had arrived in Newark at about 11:15 AM and had some time to spare, so I got one last slice of New York style pizza. I then headed up to my platform to watch trains and await the arrival of mine. Since I was quite early I had made the decision to take the next earliest train that was scheduled at 11:52 AM.

While standing on the platform with cane and suitcase in hand, I noticed a southbound Acela Express come in, and watched it doing its station work. The conductor noticed me and asked me where I was going. I told him I was on the 11:52 to Washington. I could not believe my ears when he told me to come on, he would take me. I told him that I had an unreserved ticket and he said, no matter. Come on anyway. He then explained to me that my train was delayed and had standing room only and he did not want me to have to stand. Therefore I had an Acela Express Business Class seat for no additional charge. Not a bad way to start the trip home!

It was a fast ride down the corridor. We arrived in Washington on time. I again thanked the conductor for taking me and offered him a tip but he refused stating that we all have to look out for each other once in a while.

I then walked into the station and went to the Acela Lounge as I had a first class ticket for the ride home and then walked around the station for awhile.

Train #29 departed on time. Soon into my trip, I then enjoyed a nice steak dinner. I then relaxed all the way home. I got home around 4:30 AM Tuesday morning.

Chapter 5: Conclusion

Another successful fest was completed! We are looking forward to the next one and thank Kevin, Alan, and all those who worked and helped make this fest a success!!

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