A Visit to New York Cuty
February 19, 2005
A 3 day weekend provided an excellent opportunity for me to visit New York City with my sister. She was going to see a childhood friend, and I was going to help her navigate New York City, and hopefully railroading. After subtly (or maybe not so subtly) encouraging her to spend all day Saturday with her friend, I posted on Amtrak Unlimited forums to determine possible plans. Alan came up with the following plan, and offered to join me.
So on Saturday I got up at 9, had breakfast with my sister, and set out for Penn Station for an 11:00 a.m. meeting with Alan under the Solari. My sister and I were staying at the Marriott Financial center in lower Manhattan. I started off at Rector Street taking the 1 train one stop to Chambers to transfer to a 2 or 9 express train. The 1 train moved slowly through the ground zero area, and stopped for a few minutes before pulling into Chambers Street. I followed the lead of another passenger, and switched over to the express. The express pulled in within a few minutes, and about 10 minutes later I was at Penn Station. I must have walked out of the wrong end of the station at 34th street, because I had a longer walk than expected through underground passages to reach Penn Station.
I called Alan on my cell as he was finishing breakfast at McDonalds. He walked me through the ticket purchasing process at a machine, and we boarded the next train to Jamaica, where we would transfer to the train to Far Rockaway.
This particular train had equipment that allowed rail fans to stand at the front to watch the tracks. The departure out of Penn Station through the East River Tunnel was enhanced by Alan's explanation as to how one set of tracks crossed over another set while still under ground. One would never know this unless they had read up on it, or had Alan with them because this crossing was not at grade, but accomplished while each set of tracks was in a separate tunnel.
After a brief run down a right of way that included 4 tracks for most of the trip, the train arrived at Jamaica. This is the busiest rail station in the country, or one of the busiest. There are complex junctions at each end of the station, making it an excellent place to watch trains. Also, the station is being remodeled. It includes a connection to the Airtrain to Kennedy Airport.
After a 10 to minute wait, the train to Far Rockaway arrived. This train consisted of newer cars, and thus I was unable to get a rail fan perspective of this part of the trip. Alan continued with detailed explanations of each junction. Also, he knows all of the different types of equipment on the LIRR. Compared to Chicago, this was a vast, exotic network of railroads that promised years of enjoyment. I mentally noted to encourage my sister to plan frequent trips to New York to visit her friend. By splitting the cost of air and hotel, the trip is more economical for both of us.
On approach into Far Rockaway, the train moves more slowly along a right of way with many grade crossings and station. This part is much like an interurban. At Far Rockaway, we left the LIRR for a short walk (about 4 blocks) to the Far Rockaway station on the A line of the subway system.
At one point, a set of tracks connected the two Far Rockaway stations. Also, at one point, the LIRR owned all of the tracks and trains were able to leave Jamaica and make a complete circle to return back to New York City. The A train departs and runs on a concrete bridge structure all of the way to the causeway before arriving at the Broad Channel station. This was one of the more exotic stretches. The Ocean was in plain view on one side, and vast areas of land spread out on each side of the tracks. Buildings had once stood there, but were now demolished. New developments were planned, but not completed. Thus the landscape is barren.
Then the A train traverses a wye before crossing a body of water. A drawbridge breaks up the "el" structure. Riding a subway train across a drawbridge was another definite first for me.
At Broad Channel, we switched to the S train to go to Howard beach. There were restaurants and shops, so this was where we had lunch.
Then we rode the S train back to Broad Channel, changed to the A, and continued to Federal Circle where we transferred to the Airtrain.
The Airtrain was another fascinating experience. The train uses magnetic force (linear traction?) to move. Thus it can accelerate on steep upgrades. The Airtrain provides a grand tour of JFK airport. 7 terminals = one huge airport. The TWA terminal was interesting because I had seen it in movies. Alan pointed out a mural on another terminal. After leaving the airport, the Airtrain proceeded down a second branch which connects to the Jamaica station on the LIRR. This line runs high above the Van Wyck express. It looks like something out of I Robot. Pretty cool.
At Jamaica, I saw how well the Airtrain station is connected to the LIRR and to the subway. It possible to walk from the Airtrain station to the walkway across the tracks at Jamaica without going up or down escalators or elevators. That is efficient. After walking through the LIRR station, we used an elevator to descend to the subway system, which was underneath the LIRR station. Thus this is a station with 3 levels, basically.
We boarded a J train bound for Manhattan. This is section is almost entirely above ground. At one point, we passed through Broadway Junction, a place where several lines intersect and transfer traffic. No tracks cross at grade, and the junction is a huge multi level structure in the sky. Pretty amazing sight.
A short while later, we got off the J train, rode the M to the end of line and back, and reboarded the J for Manhattan. The J crosses the East River on a bridge before entering the subway. The views of the skyline were fantastic.
Alan and I transferred twice to connect to the 8th Avenue subway where we rode to Times Square. Thus I was in position to meet with my sister and her friend to go see Dame Edna.
As far as I'm concerned, this was the perfect day of railroading. Alan was a great tour guide, and we also had a great time discussing Amtrak issues.