Philly On $25 A Day
March 4, 2005
I took my second and last preview trip today for the Philadelphia Area RailFest 2005 event, which starts just two weeks from today. I had to do it as cheaply as possible, given my tight budget. I decided I did not want to spend more than $25 for today's trip. Doing it on a weekday meant not having to pay for Michael, who would be along if I did this on the weekend.
I figured that to save money I would get to and from Philly by taking the RiverLINE and PATCO Speedline. Furthermore, I would park in Florence for free at one of the RiverLINE's Park & Ride facilities. I chose that one since it is very close to Exit 6A off the combined New Jersey/Pennsylvania Turnpike near the bridge over the Delaware River.
On my list of things to do in Philadelphia were:
I started out at about 7:20 AM, soon after Michael was picked up by his school bus. I drove west on I-195, then south on the New Jersey Turnpike and its Pennsylvania Spur to Exit 6A (which is beyond the barrier toll for Exit 6). Then south on U.S. 130 about a mile and I was there. The time was 8:03 AM. I had just three minutes to catch a train to Camden. I ran to the island platform, where I could see the lights of the train already approaching. I purchased my ticket and validated it while the machine was still figuring out my change. I made the 8:06, which is one of the "tweeners" added when 15-minute headways were instituted during weekday rush hours. (Normally weekday southbound trains call at Florence at :21 and :51 after the hour.) It was my first time riding the RiverLINE during its 15-minute service period.
As I sat down and relaxed on my first transit ride of the day, I took stock of what I spent so far. The Turnpike toll was just 85 cents, charged to my EZ-Pass. Parking was free, and the RiverLINE cost just $1.10 for the one-way ride. I would get all the way to Camden's Walter Rand Transportation Center having spent just $1.95, leaving me $23.05 for the rest of my day.
It was a smooth ride to WRTC, where I detrained at 8:47 AM and went directly into the station. There, I purchased a PATCO Speedline round trip farecard between this station and Philadelphia for $2.30. After a short wait, I was on the scheduled 8:51 AM train towards Philadelphia. One bridge, two stops, and seven minutes later, I was at 8th & Market Streets.
On the north end of the PATCO station, the Ridge Avenue Spur of the Broad Street Subway runs directly overhead. That would be my next ride, since it was right there in front of me. I first walked over to the Market Frankford Line portion of the station, where I knew there were token machines. There, I could buy two SEPTA tokens for $2.60, instead of paying two two-dollar fares. I then used one token to enter the Ridge Avenue Spur station, which has no connections of any kind within its paid area.
At 9:04 AM I was moving northwest on the Ridge Avenue Spur towards Olney. Once it joined the main Broad Street Subway it ran up the express track, making limited stops.
When I got to Olney everyone had to detrain. I changed across the platform to a local train for the one stop ride to Fern Rock.
At Fern Rock the train ran through the loop around the yard and came in facing the opposite direction. That was nice because I could retain my seat in the front car for the southbound trip.
Now I rode the Broad Street Subway in its entirety from Fern Rock to Pattison. At Pattison, I walked across the platform to catch the next train out.
Finished documenting this line for the fest, I sat down to check my finances once more. So far, I had spent 85 cents for the Turnpike toll, $1.10 for the RiverLINE, $2.30 for a round trip on the PATCO Speedline, and purchased two SEPTA tokens for $2.60 (of which I used just one for my current subway jaunt). I had now spent $6.85, and still would have to pay for three Regional Rail trips, lunch, and the RiverLINE back to Florence. I had $18.15 left in which to accomplish this.
I got off the Broad Street Subway at City Hall, and walked through the corridors into Suburban Station. There, I bought a Zone 2 ticket for $3.00 for the R1 line to Eastwick. I went downstairs to location 3B and awaited my train. This was the 10:30 AM departure towards the airport. It was running a couple of minutes late.
I took this train to Eastwick. After detraining there, I first walked over to Bartram Avenue, where I went to see how far the walk might be to the hotel I booked for the fest weekend. Then, back at the R1 station once more, I began to time the walk from there to the trolley loop at the end of the 36 line. It was chilly and windy, but my brisk walk took about 14 minutes.
I should have been there in time for an 11:10 AM departure from the loop, but there were no trolleys to be found either in the loop or down the track. At about 11:20, two trolleys came together, followed by a third. Can you say, "bunching"? I boarded the first one that came, using the second of the two tokens I had bought downtown. Because there had been such a gap, it soon became standing room only. Thankfully I had one of the single seats, so I was able to sit down throughout my trip and not have any company.
Due to the heavy boarding, the trolley lost more time. The operator even skipped some stops where there were crowds of people waiting, so he could make up some time. More than likely the trolleys behind us had plenty of seats anyhow.
It was close to 12:00 noon when I finally arrived at 30th Street Station. I had to walk through the subway station, out through its new headhouse at 30th & Market, and across the street to the rail station. I walked straight across the Amtrak concourse and up the ramp to the SEPTA area in order to buy my ticket for the R8 train to Fox Chase. Yes, without breakfast or lunch yet, I was starving, but I had to catch this 12:08 PM train or wait a full hour for the next one. I figured I would eat during the layover in Fox Chase.
I had already decided not to rush home to be there when Michael gets home. He's a big boy now and could survive a hour or two without me in the house.
I bought my round trip tickets for Fox Chase, which amounted to two one way tickets for three bucks a piece. Then I had just enough time to go upstairs to Track 2 and catch my train. Luckily for me it was operating one minute late.
I got to do my homework for this line, all the way out to Fox Chase. It was easy, because most of the trip is on common trackage used by other lines. There are only five station stops unique to the R8 Fox Chase line once it splits from the ex-Reading trunk at Newtown Junction.
Arrival at Fox Chase was on time at 12:42 PM. The train would be returning to Center City at 1:10 PM, which meant I had 28 minutes downtime. I had seen a McDonald's from the train as it arrived into the station, and that is where I headed first.
I ordered a gourmet combo meal of ten Chicken McNuggets, French Fries, and a Diet Coke. I'd like to say the chef got right to work on my chicken. But it was already boxed and sitting under a heat lamp ready to go. My lunch set me back just $6.30. And the barbecue sauce was free! After inhaling my food, I left the restaurant and walked back in the direction towards the train station. I wrote down the names of a few other restaurants along the street, and then made my way back to the train so I would not have to wait an hour for the next one.
Precisely at 1:10 PM, the same equipment left Fox Chase, bound for Center City and Chestnut Hill West. Having now completed my documentation for the fest, I relaxed and checked my PATCO timetable. If we remained on time, we would arrive at Market East at 1:37 PM, and I could catch a PATCO train at 1:44 after a two block walk.
My train did run on time all the way into Market East, and I got off there. I made my way through the Gallery Mall towards the PATCO Speedline station. It seems every obstacle that could possibly be in my way for that two block trip was put in my path. Slow walking shoppers, maintenance people with dumpsters, physically challenged people in walkers, and some entertainment where people were shooting basketballs, all conspired to slow me down and make me miss my 1:44 train. I did not want to miss it, because I would be making one more connection in Camden.
Somehow I made it through the crowds. When I finally got to the PATCO Speedline faregates, I put my two-ride ticket (purchased earlier) through and proceeded down to track level. After a very short wait, my train came. Off to New Jersey!
I got to Camden at 1:51 after another swift seven minute ride over the Ben Franklin Bridge and through the subways of Philadelphia and Camden. I had twenty minutes before the next northbound RiverLINE train would be arriving.
Since it was cold, I waited inside the western head house of the WRTC until it was near train time. During this time I bought my final transit fare, another $1.10 ticket for the RiverLINE which I promptly validated as well.
The train came a few minutes early, and that gave a uniformed NJ TRANSIT police officer enough time to canvas the two car DMU train for fare evaders. Once he was done, it was 2:11 PM and he detrained so that we could leave on time.
Michael called me on my cell phone, as instructed, when he came home from school. At the time, I was just approaching the Cinnaminson station. He heard the automated announcements for the station stop over the phone. I told him I would be home between 3:30 and 3:45.
I arrived right on time in Florence. No problem finding my car in this underutilized parking lot.
I then retraced my earlier trip, and arrived home at about 3:40 PM as promised. The only other expense incurred was another 85 cent toll charged to my EZ-Pass.
So let's see how I did. I successfully completed everything on my list. The tolls, RiverLINE round trip, PATCO round trip, two SEPTA tokens, and three SEPTA Zone 2 Regional Rail tickets came to $17.80. Add $6.30 for lunch, and I ended up spending $24.10. The extra 90 cents could be thrown in for half a gallon of gas. I did not really figure in gasoline, since I would have used about the same amount of gas no matter where I drove to catch a train.
Now that my research is done, I can complete the route guides for our upcoming fest on March 19th & 20th.
Thanks to Rachael Ray for the inspiration for this report.