OTOL Philadelphia Area RailFest 2005
March 18-20, 2005
(Photos to be added soon)
Chapter 0: Introduction
Once again our wonderful group got together to ride the rails. We returned to Philadelphia once more.
We had not had a major railfest in the month of March since 2001 (although we had two one-day minifests in the Philadelphia area in March of 2004). There were several reasons for hold this fest when we did. First, it was coordinated with a visit east by HaRRy Sutton. Second, I felt obligated to make up to the group for not holding a fest in October of 2004, when I had to travel to California for my brother's wedding. Third, it was a test to see how much participation we would get from a fest held in March, as opposed to January when the weather is typically colder.
This Philadelphia Area RailFest featured both the old and the new. We rode some regional rail lines, trolley lines, and subway lines that we had ridden before at our PhillyFest 2001 and Philadelphia Area RailFest 2004 events. We also took some trains that we had not taken together as a group before.
This fest was hot on the heels of the OTOL Big Apple RailFest 2005 event, held this past January. So the lead time to prepare the handouts for participants was just two months. What made life easier in doing the route guides was the repetition of some routes. Those guides were just dusted off from the previous fests in Philadelphia, updated a bit, and they went to press. Still, we had to scramble during the days prior to the fest to get everything proofread, printed, and placed in folders. Alan Burden once more did a wonderful job with this.
Due to the success of the SEPTA TransPass in saving us money during the 2004 event, we once again had Bill Magee pre-purchase them for us. Bill deserves our gratitude as well for handling the requests and making the multiple transactions at a SEPTA sales window.
Finally, with the preparations complete, we were ready to convene in Philadelphia and ride trains!
Chapter 1: Friday, March 18, 2005
Friday was simply a travel day for many. Many of those who were not already in the Philadelphia area converged on the city. There were a few, however, who would be participating just one day, who decided to travel on Saturday morning instead.
Chapter 1.1: Getting to Philadelphia
Out of those participants who were coming from places other than the Philadelphia area, HaRRy Sutton was the first one to arrive in town. He had flown into Philadelphia on Thursday the 17th. He had some non-Fest business in town to attend to. Bill was able to get HaRRy's TransPass to him on Thursday, so he could start using it before everyone else arrived in town for the fest.
Skip Howard came down from Massachusetts on an Acela Express. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, he took he own pre-Fest trip on the R3 West Trenton line, since he missed riding it at our fest in early 2004. After that, he made his way to the Eastwick station on the R1 Airport line and walked to the Hampton Inn.
Mike Hammond also flew into Philadelphia from his hometown of Cleveland. His arrival was supposed to be a little past 9 PM. He was staying at the Sheraton Suites near the airport. Since I would have my car, I offered to pick him up at the airport.
Meanwhile, Alan Burden and Nick Gibbon made their respective ways down to Philadelphia on Amtrak sometime on Friday afternoon. Alan stayed at the Doubletree hotel in Broad Street, and Nick stayed with his own family.
Michael and I left home around 4 PM, and made our way through some heavier than normal traffic. We got to Cherry Hill around 6 PM. We ate at an Old Country Buffet, located in the same shopping center as the NJ TRANSIT Cherry Hill station. After this, we drove over the Walt Whitman Bridge and quickly found our way to our Hampton Inn by the airport. We checked in, and I also found out that Skip was one floor above us. While Michael was safely situated in our hotel room watching television, Skip met me in the lobby later on and we went out together to pick Mike Hammond up at the airport. Mike had called me to inform me that he had caught a slightly earlier flight, so he was already approaching the gate before 9 PM.
We picked Mike up and drove him to his Sheraton Suites hotel. We arranged a time to meet the next morning, and then Skip and I returned to the Hampton. Skip later took a walk on his own to the Eastwick station, so we would know where the best place to walk would be the next morning. He then went into a nearby restaurant for a late dinner.
Michael and I retired early, knowing we had two busy days ahead of us.
Chapter 2: Saturday, March 19, 2005
Day One of our gathering turned out to be the nicer of the two, as we had heard that inclement weather was predicted for Sunday. We enjoyed sunny skies and temperatures that went into the 50's.
We would be making two movements on SEPTA's R5 Thorndale-Paoli Regional Rail line, one on SEPTA's R7 Trenton Regional Rail line, one on SEPTA's light rail 100 Norristown line, three on SEPTA's Broad Street Subway, one on SEPTA's Market Frankford Line, two on NJ TRANSIT's diesel light rail RiverLINE, and one on the heavy rail PATCO Speedline.
Chapter 2.1: Meeting on the train
Due to the through nature of SEPTA's system, we had no organized meeting place to kick off the fest. (Of course, one could say that smaller meetings did take place at Market East and 30th Street Station, where most folks boarded the train.) Participants instead boarded at various stations along the R5 Regional Rail line on the way to Thorndale.
Boarding at Market East were Mike Hammond, Skip Howard, Nick Gibbon, Michael, and myself. Already on board this train, having boarded it near his home in Wyncote, was Burton Eisenberg, who is a member of the NRHS Philadelphia Chapter. Then at Suburban Station, Alan Burden boarded. At 30th Street, we were joined by Sloan Auchincloss, HaRRy Sutton, Bill Magee, Jishnu Mukerji, and John Corbett. Already a healthy group of 12 leaving Center City, we were not done yet.
Chapter 2.2: SEPTA R5 Thorndale-Paoli Line: Train #1519, Center City to Thorndale
We had a nice ride west through the Main Line communities. However, we did experience very rough track at some locations; it seemed for a while that we were rocking so much we would leave the tracks. Thankfully owner Amtrak is now undertaking the task of substantially improving the quality of the ride through this area.
As if a dozen railfans was not enough, we picked up two more on the way to Thorndale. Ted Patchell got on our train at Bryn Mawr, and John Wireman joined us in Paoli. From that point until later in the day at the Walter Rand Transportation Center, we were 14 people strong.
Other than the rough ride, and the passing of Amtrak Keystone Service train 660 headed for New York, it was an uneventful trip to Thorndale. Once we got there, we remained on the platform for our 17-minute layover. After the crew changed ends and performed the necessary checks of the train, we were permitted to board once more.
Chapter 2.3: SEPTA R5 Thorndale-Paoli Line: Train #1542, Thorndale to Villanova
A much shorter trip was in store this time, since we would be getting off in Villanova. Once again we had rough trackage, particularly in the Paoli area. Between Exton and Paoli, we passed Amtrak Train 611 on its way to Harrisburg.
Knowing we represented a rather large number of people that would be detraining at Villanova, we got up as the train left Radnor and lined up at the door. Still, I am sure we had an impact on this train's timekeeping with all 14 of us getting off before the inbound passengers could board.
Chapter 2.4: Walk across Villanova University
Our first healthy walk of the weekend was the shorter of the two. As soon as we stepped off the train from Thorndale, we walked across the campus of Villanova University. We only had to cross one major street as we got close to the light rail station. Because we had walked briskly, we made an earlier 100 light rail train to 69th Street Terminal than our itinerary called for.
Chapter 2.5: SEPTA 100 Norristown Light Rail Line: Villanova to 69th Street Terminal
After the 14 of us boarded, we had a nice smooth ride to Upper Darby's 69th Street Terminal. The operator skipped a few stops where there was no business. We had ridden this line in its entirety at our fest in 2001, so it was not new to most of the group.
At 69th, we all detrained and walked together to the Market-Frankford Line faregates. Once all of us made it through, we made our way down to the platform and towards the front of the train that was standing in the station.
Chapter 2.6: SEPTA Market Frankford Line: 69th Street Terminal to 30th Street
All of us piled into the front car. The "railfan window" was a tight fit, so only a couple of us at one time could watch out the front.
We had no more than a five minute wait, and then we began moving east. Our trip to 30th Street was uneventful.
We all detrained at 30th Street and made our way to the mezzanine level of the transit station, and then up into the street through a new headhouse that was installed just last year. (Although the headhouse is new, its elevator was out of order.) Our group then crossed 30th Street and entered the Amtrak station.
Chapter 2.7: Lunch at 30th Street Station
We all split up and ate at the restaurants of our choice. 30th Street Station has a nice variety of eateries on its south side concourses. Mike, Michael, and I found a new KFC Express that had not been there before.
Our 14 participants reconvened in the suburban concourse. Together we walked up to the platform for Tracks 3 & 4, from where our R7 Trenton train would be departing.
Chapter 2.8: SEPTA R7 Trenton Line: Train #1717, Center City to Trenton
This is one of SEPTA's most popular routes, mainly because of the transfer at Trenton with NJ TRANSIT to North Jersey and New York City. We expected a bigger crowd, but we were pleased that on this particular run we had our choice of seats together.
The highlight, or rather lowlight, of this trip was when two members of our group were told by the conductor to stay away from the front window. Since SEPTA has no photo ban, it was apparent that the conductor was nervous about somebody being in the way in the event an impending collision would cause the engineer to leave his post and move into the body of the train. Whatever the rules are, whether in the book or made up by this conductor, he was a sourpuss who could have been a lot more pleasant while remaining tactful.
We arrived in New Jersey's capital city on time. In the station, some members took a rest room break, one patronized the Roy Rogers, and the rest went directly across the street to the RiverLINE platforms. Soon everyone had assembled next to the diesel light rail vehicle. We waited a few minutes outside, and then validated our tickets and boarded.
Chapter 2.9: NJ TRANSIT RiverLINE: Trenton Station to Entertainment Center
The big story about this trip was the enforcement of fares. Two of our fellow passengers who boarded at Trenton were snagged trying to travel without either purchasing or validating a ticket. They were taken off the train in Bordentown and processed by the fare control officers. Our group continued to the end of the line at the Entertainment Center in Camden without delay, and with no further incidents.
Chapter 2.10: NJ TRANSIT RiverLINE: Entertainment Center to Walter Rand Transportation Center
A quick ten minute ride through Camden brought us back to the Walter Rand Transportation Center. All but one of us got off there.
This is where our group began to get smaller. The first to leave us was Jishnu. He remained on the RiverLINE back to Trenton, where he would catch an NJ TRANSIT train back to North Jersey.
Bill Magee, who would be taking the PATCO Speedline in the opposite direction to Woodcrest, near his home in Cherry Hill was the second to leave. We actually all went down to the island platform together, and then Bill waited for his train on the Lindenwold-bound side.
This is where our timekeeping went astray. Somehow we just missed a Philadelphia-bound train, and had to wait about 12 minutes for the next one. This would make our subsequent activities later too, but we really didn't mind because all we had left were dinner and the rides on the Broad Street Subway. Bill had to wait for his train about 20 minutes after our departure as eastbound service was disrupted for some unknown reason.
Chapter 2.11: PATCO Speedline: Broadway to Center City (8th & Market)
When our train finally came, the twelve of us had a routine ride over the river and into Philadelphia. Although someone had surmised we might wrong rail over the Ben Franklin Bridge due to single tracking, everything was normal.
We began to lose more participants as some people had other plans to attend to. John Corbett had a sporting event to attend at the Sports Complex, so he remained on board the PATCO Speedline train to the end at 15th-16th-Locust, where he changed to a southbound Broad Street Subway train. Nick Gibbon detrained with us and walked back to his parents' home. Burton Eisenberg also left the group here. Nine of us remained for dinner and an after dark subway ride.
Chapter 2.12: Dinner at The Gallery at Market East
We split up at the Gallery to get dinner. The food court was mobbed, so we were lucky to find a table with several seats available. Luckily, more nearby seats soon became vacant so most of us were able to eat together.
Once our bellies were full, we proceeded back through the Gallery to the same station complex where we had arrived on the PATCO Speedline. We instead went to SEPTA's Broad Ridge Spur, and our group of nine entered the system with our TransPasses once more.
I expected a longer wait, since we were now off our schedule. However, so was SEPTA, so we did not have to wait long for a train to arrive from Fern Rock. Its operator quickly changed ends, we boarded, and soon we were departing on the post-dinner portion of our fest.
Chapter 2.13: SEPTA Broad Ridge Spur: 8th Street to Fern Rock
Our ride on the actual spur was quick, as was our train's express run up the Broad Street Subway. Before we knew it we were arriving at Fern Rock. I had expected us to go around the loop, giving us a nice evening view of the yard. However, we went right up to the platform.
Since our train would be returning to 8th Street as a Spur train, we had to change trains. We waited about ten minutes or so for a mainline local train to arrive. That train did, in fact, go around the loop.
John Wireman said farewell to us here, as he would catch a bus home from Fern Rock. The remaining eight participants boarded our next train.
Chapter 2.14: SEPTA Broad Street Subway: Fern Rock to Pattison
We rode this line from its northern terminus to its southern one. But along our way, one more person left us. Sloan Auchincloss got off at City Hall, so he could travel to 30th Street and catch an Amtrak train back to Harrisburg.
When the seven of us got to Pattison, there was a train on the opposite side of the platform that would be departing first. We ran across and caught that one, thus making up a few minutes on what would be the final official ride of Saturday's activities.
Chapter 2.15: SEPTA Broad Street Subway: Pattison to City Hall
Now moving northbound, we retraced our very recent travels back towards the hub of SEPTA's system at City Hall. Alan left us at the Walnut-Locust station since it was closest to his hotel. Now what had been a group of 14 during the day had diminished to just half a dozen. The rest of us got off one stop later at City Hall.
Chapter 2.16: End of Saturday's activities
Our Saturday post-fest was officially over when we detrained at City Hall to go our separate ways. HaRRy caught an eastbound Market Frankford Line subway to 11th Street. Ted Patchell went west and headed home to Drexel Hill. That left Mike, Skip, Michael and me, the Eastwick Four, to catch an R1 Airport train back to Eastwick. We walked over to the Hampton Inn, and I then drove Mike back to his hotel.
One day was over, but another exciting day was just hours away!
Chapter 3: Sunday, March 20, 2005
Our plans for Sunday were to ride all of four trolley lines, the 34, 36, 101, and 102, although things did not work out entirely as we had planned. We also rode portions of the R1 Airport and R3 Media-Elwyn lines, and also the R8 Fox Chase line in its entirety. We would also get another ride in on the West Philadelphia portion of the Market Frankford Line.
Skip, Michael and I checked out of the Hampton Inn, and we drove over to the Sheraton Suites to pick up Mike. Then the four of us returned to the Eastwick station, where I parked my car on the west side of the tracks. We took an R1 Airport train inbound to Center City. This time we got off at 30th Street Station rather than continuing to Market East. Then we caught another R1 Airport train, this one an official ride associated with the fest.
Chapter 3.1: Meeting on the train
This was the same drill as Saturday morning, as we were on a train going westbound through the commuter tunnel. The differences were that there were fewer people, and we were on an R1 train rather than the R5 from the day before. This time HaRRy had boarded at Market East, Alan at Suburban Station, and then Ted, John C., Mike, Skip, Michael, and I got on at 30th Street Station.
Chapter 3.2: SEPTA R1 Airport Line: Train #2115, Center City to Eastwick
It was another uneventful and on-time trip on this train. The eight of us alighted at Eastwick to begin our walk to the 36 Trolley.
Chapter 3.3: Walk through Eastwick
This was our longest walk of the weekend. We walked about half a mile on desolate Mario Lanza Blvd., a wide street without sidewalks and without any homes or businesses. Then we went across the parking lot of Penrose Plaza towards the trolley stop.
We paused briefly on the shopping center's sidewalk to get some shelter from the light rain. Then when we saw a trolley arrive and discharge its passengers, we continued to the station. It turned out that this vehicle would represent our inbound trip, but the operator sat in the loop until the departure time before coming around to pick us up.
Chapter 3.4: SEPTA 36 Trolley: Eastwick to 40th Street
We had a nice ride, primarily along Island Avenue and then Elmwood Avenue. However, heavy boardings delayed us just a bit. I began to get nervous about us making our connection at 30th Street, so I proposed that we get off instead at 40th Street. This station is located in a plaza just outside the subway portal.
Our wait turned out to be thirteen minutes. We might have made it at 30th Street, but it would have been a very tight connection that involved going up one stairway, walking across a concourse, and going down another stairway. So changing at 40th Street turned out to be a wise and popular move.
Chapter 3.5: SEPTA 34 Trolley: 40th Street to Angora Loop
After we boarded our 34 car, we sat back and enjoyed our short trip. Our ride to the Angora Loop would be just 21 blocks, or a little over one mile. On the way, somewhere along Baltimore Avenue, HaRRy pointed out where his first childhood home was (1941-45).
We passed 58th Street, where we would be catching a Regional Rail train a little later. Our trolley pulled into the Angora Loop at 61st Street, and we all disembarked.
After walking around a little, we reboarded another trolley that was preparing to leave the loop on its inbound trip.
Chapter 3.6: SEPTA 34 Trolley: Angora Loop to 58th Street
This was a short, three block trip. Sure we could have walked it, but it was raining a little bit. Besides, that gave us a little more trolley mileage!
At 58th Street the eight of us all got off the trolley and walked the short distance on 58th to the Angora station. Once down at the track level, we awaited our outbound train. The rain had gotten harder, so some of our participants stood under the street overpass to stay dry.
Chapter 3.7: SEPTA R3 Media-Elwyn Line: Train #8309, Angora to Clifton-Aldan
Eight people boarding an outbound train at Angora had to be a major event for SEPTA, who had considered closing this station. Hopefully our group validated the continued existence of Angora as a station stop.
Once we all had boarded the R3 train, there were John Wireman and Nick Gibbon sitting in the lead car. We were now up to ten people.
Our ride was relatively short, and before we knew it we had arrived at our destination, Clifton-Aldan. The heavy load that had boarded at Angora now detrained in Clifton-Aldan, two people stronger.
After we had all gotten off the train, we walked downstairs, under the rail overpass, and across Springfield Road to the trolley stop. We would be riding outbound to Sharon Hill first, and then returning inbound to Drexel Hill for lunch.
Chapter 3.8: SEPTA 102 Sharon Hill Trolley: Clifton-Aldan to Sharon Hill
Our outbound ride to Sharon Hill came right on time. We were happy to board after waiting about twenty minutes in a slight drizzle.
The trip was uneventful. Since one pays upon detraining on the former Red Arrow trolley lines, we showed our TransPasses to the operator as we got off at Sharon Hill.
We had a 19 minute layover here. Some of the guys went to a nearby store to look around, while the rest stayed by the station along Chester Pike and either took photos or discussed trains with their friends.
After our operator had switched ends, we boarded the same car from the other side. Those who had wandered from the station had returned by that time, so we were all accounted for.
Chapter 3.9: SEPTA 102 Sharon Hill Trolley: Sharon Hill to Drexel Hill Junction
Our time on board transit vehicles tended to be shorter than our dwell times. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our quick, 14 minute ride from Sharon Hill to our lunch stop at Drexel Hill Junction.
We detrained there, and walked one block south on Shadeland Avenue, and then another block west on Garrett Road until we came to the nearest pizza restaurant.
Chapter 3.10: Lunch in Drexel Hill
HaRRy's homecoming continued. He pointed out a funeral home that had handled his father's funeral in 1952. The place still has the same name.
Ten of us descended on Cocco's Pizza at the same time. This unfortunately overwhelmed the restaurant, and they were slow in preparing our food. We began to realize that we would not be able to keep to our itinerary.
A picture on the wall of the restaurant depicted Drexel Hill in earlier days. HaRRy asked the people in the pizzeria if certain landmarks still existed.
We got out of Cocco's half an hour later than expected. We decided that we would not go out to Media on the 101 trolley. We would instead head west to Scenic Road and then board the inbound trolley that we originally would have been on had we gone all the way into Media.
Chapter 3.11: SEPTA 101 Media Trolley: Drexel Hill Junction to Scenic Road
We waited about ten minutes for our westbound 101 trolley. This station is literally right at the junction of the 101 and 102 lines, so some of us were fascinated by the switch that routes the trolleys onto their respective routes. We also saw a spring switch on the inbound track where the two lines merge.
We headed west and then got off the trolley at Scenic Road. There, we detrained and waited a few minutes for our inbound trolley.
Chapter 3.12: SEPTA 101 Media Trolley: Scenic Road to 69th street Terminal
Now back on track with our schedule, we rode this 101 trolley all the way inbound to 69th Street Terminal. On the way, HaRRy recalled more of his childhood memories, such as the high school that educated him.
Once at 69th Street, we made our walk down the ramp into the station, and then over to the subway faregates that we had just used the previous day.
Chapter 3.13: SEPTA Market Frankford Line: 69th Street Terminal to 11th Street
It was deja vu all over again as we rode the Market-Frankford Line eastward out of 69th Street. This time we did not grab the front car; we were more near the rear of the train.
And this time we stayed aboard past 30th Street, getting off at 11th Street so we could do the last segment of this fest, a round trip to Fox Chase on Regional Rail.
A surprise to all of us was the appearance of Bill Antonides, who had been in the city on other business. He decided to join us for the final segment of our fest. He boarded the subway at 30th Street, and managed to walk into the very car that carried our group.
So for a few minutes as we walked from 11th Street into the Market East station, our group had grown to eleven people. But then we had to say goodbye to Mike Hammond, who had to get to the airport for his flight back to Cleveland. Mike caught the next R1 Airport train on Market East station's westbound island platform to its namesake destination. I explained to him that the R1 only goes as far as Terminal E, while Mike's flight was to depart from Terminal F. He would have to walk a little bit once he got to the airport.
The other ten of us went down to the eastbound platform to await our R8 Fox Chase line train.
Chapter 3.14: SEPTA R8 Fox Chase Line: Train #2836, Center City to Fox Chase
Our last outbound trip was one of the best, as many had never ridden this line before. Since its truncation in the 1980's from Newtown to Fox Chase, it is by far the shortest of the ex-Reading rail lines.
On weekends, the R8 Fox Chase line runs as an express, making no stops between Market East and Olney, the first station on the line after it leaves the ex-Reading trunk line. That means we skipped Temple University, North Broad, and Wayne Junction stations.
After Newtown Junction where we turned onto the Fox Chase line, John Wireman got up and gave us a commentary on this line. He explained that a deal was struck between SEPTA and CSX in that SEPTA would run their trains on one track while CSX would use the other. A passing siding was being built to accommodate multiple trains on the Regional Rail line.
Our ride was swift, and we soon arrived in Fox Chase. It was raining moderately when we got off, but some of us took a walk anyhow in search of snacks, ending up at a Wawa store on Oxford Avenue.
HaRRy had arranged to meet a friend here, Mickey Laganella. She would ride back with us into Center City. Now up to eleven once more, we all reboarded our train in preparation for the last movement of this fest.
Chapter 3.15: SEPTA R8 Fox Chase Line: Train #2837, Fox Chase to Center City
We lost one member at the first intermediate station, Ryers. John Wireman decided to leave us here, in order to catch a bus home on Cottman Avenue. The ten remaining members continued towards Center City. Once again it was an express ride from Olney to Market East. At that time, our fest was officially over.
Chapter 3.16: End of Sunday's activities
At Market East, Michael and I got off, in order to catch an R1 Airport train back to Eastwick and my car. Nick got off and walked back to his parents house. HaRRy and Mickey detrained here as well. The rest stayed aboard to Suburban and 30th Street Stations in order to make their connections home or retrieve luggage from their hotels.
Bill and I chatted for a bit on the Market East platform, until the R1 train came in. He then took the Market Frankford Line back to his car in Northeast Philadelphia, while Michael and I boarded this train, now totally separated from all other participants.
Michael and I got to our car, and headed back over the Walt Whitman Bridge into New Jersey.
HaRRy stayed in town a few more days before flying back to the west coast. Mike was already in the air at this time on his way back to Ohio. Skip took an Acela Express back to Massachusetts. Alan took a Metroliner to New York. Nick stayed in Philadelphia as he would be leaving with his family in a few days for Florida.
Chapter 4: Conclusion
Considering that Sunday was Palm Sunday, we had an excellent turnout. All told, sixteen people were involved in our fest, at various times. We never had fewer than eight people through much of both days, and we had a maximum of 14 for most of Saturday; both facts are remarkable.
Valuable lessons are learned at each fest that can be applied to future events. This time we learned not to schedule our lunch at a sit-down restaurant.
There is not much more to do in Philadelphia that we have not already done as a group. We await the return of the 15 Girard Avenue line, once the NIMBY issues have been resolved. We also have a few segments of the Regional Rail that we have not yet hit on a major fest:
We will schedule our next fest in Philadelphia on a Friday and Saturday, so that we can ride out to weekday-only destinations on the R6 Cynwyd and R2 Wilmington-Newark lines.
Meanwhile, planning continues for our big OTOL Eagle RailFest in Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas, taking place this July. We also are working on a return to Washington, DC for later this summer. For next year, almost certain is yet another gathering in the New York area, and a summer trip up to Montreal. Of course we hope you will all join us on those trips!