The Train to Maine Runs Mainly on a Plain
April 30-May 1, 2005
Usually at this time of year I am reporting on a trip to Florida. Well for several reasons, we did not go to Florida this spring. For one thing, Michael's school break was scheduled very late in the year. Our trip would have conflicted with my parents' preparation to come north for the season. Another reason is that the only northbound train through Tampa, the SILVER STAR, was detouring in Florida, skipping Lakeland and Tampa due to some track construction in North Carolina (??!!). Finally, the need to keep costs down was a factor as well. With the need to have a pet sitter come into our home twice a day in our absence, a weakling trip just would not be possible.
So we set our sights elsewhere. We would stay home and get some house cleaning done during the week. We planned a weekend trip up to Portland, ME on the DOWNEASTER. I also planned to take an Acela Express round trip between Metropark and Boston, but those plans were scuttled by the problems that sidelined the Acela fleet.
Our trip would instead include a substitute Metroliner for the northbound trip, and a Regional in Business Class for our trip south from Boston to Metropark. Amtrak Guest Rewards altered their awards structure to allow members to use Metroliners and Regionals between qualifying cities and still get 500 or 750 points per trip, so this worked out for me as well.
Beforehand, I e-mailed some local members of our group and advised them of my plans. Alan Burden, John Corbett, and Skip Howard were able to join us for all or part of our two-day trip.
Michael and I got to Metropark well before the scheduled 11:21 AM departure of Train 2250. However I knew it would be at least a few minutes late, since at that time Amtrak had not changed the timetables to account for slower running. In short, a Metroliner was operating on an Acela Express schedule. So it was bound to pick us up late, and I expected it to be even later into Boston. Amtrak did not let me down.
We left Metropark at 11:44 AM, already 23 minutes late. The train got into New York's Penn Station at 12:13 PM, still 23 minutes off.
The consist of Train 2250(30):
* (Michael and I were here)927 AEM-7 locomotive 44967 Amfleet I Metroliner coach 44915 Amfleet I Metroliner coach * 43358 Amfleet I Metroliner cafe 44789 Amfleet I Metroliner coach 44719 Amfleet I Metroliner coach 48971 Amfleet I Metroliner First Class **
** (Alan was here)
We left New York at 12:23 PM, 20 minutes late. Alan meanwhile had boarded in New York, and he took his seat in the First Class section of the train. We would not gain any more time. By New Haven, we departed half an hour late at 2:01 PM. We then had a good express run to Providence, but it was just not the same as Acela. In the stretch in Rhode Island where Acela normally runs 150 mph, our Metroliner probably ran at its maximum speed of 125 mph.
At Providence, our 3:36 PM arrival made us 48 minutes late. There were a few people boarding this train for Boston, which probably added to our dwell time in the station. Just north of the station, we noticed on our left some Acela Express trainsets in storage.
Route 128, Back Bay, and South Stations came in succession at 4:05, 4:16, and 4:23 PM respectively. Our arrival was 48 minutes after the advertised time, but again this was expected. We still had plenty of time for dinner and making our way across town to North Station for our DOWNEASTER trip.
Michael and I waited for Alan to come up from the First Class car at the rear of the train. Alan was unpleasantly surprised that the First Class offerings on this substitute for Acela were nothing like he was accustomed to on Acela. Apparently somebody canceled the Acela Express food contract when those trains were pulled from service.
When Alan, Michael, and I got into the station, we met John Corbett. John had come from Long Island on the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry, and had taken an earlier Regional train up to Boston.
Since we were going to Downtown Crossing for dinner, the four of us walked along Summer Street rather than waiting for (and paying for) the Red Line to go just one stop.
At the Corner Mall food court, we had a nice but early dinner, and then we just sat and talked for a while to kill time. Eventually we decided to make our way to North Station. We walked out a back door of the food court, through an alley, and then down Tremont Street half a block to the Park station of the Green Line.
We had to wait a while before a Green Line car arrived that would be going as far a North Station. One finally came, and we boarded it for the short ride. Upon arrival at the North Station superstation, temporarily the last stop on the Green Line, we went upstairs and crossed Causeway Street.
Then we got a little surprise. A new entrance/exit kiosk was now open adjacent to North Station/TD BankNorth Garden (the new name for Fleet Center) on the correct side of Causeway Street. We didn't know about it before, but now we do! No longer does one have to cross busy Causeway Street to get between the subway and railroad stations at North Station.
We still had close to an hour before our 5:45 PM departure. I used some time to purchase from the Quick Trak machine some of my Amtrak tickets for Eagle RailFest.
A lot of people were going down to the train, parked on Track 7, long before it was announced. When we saw that these people were able to get onto the train, the four of us began to walk through the gate as well. Just as we began our trek to the train, it was in fact announced.
The DOWNEASTER was equipped from its inception in 2001 by surplus Metroliner coaches. Unfortunately, those were recently called back to the Northeast Corridor to function on Metroliners. Instead, we were pleased to find refurbished Amfleet I cars instead of the older, worn ones I had expected.
The consist of Train 689(30):
* (We all were here)194 P-42 locomotive 82532 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass * 82538 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82546 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 48140 Amfleet I Cafe 161 P-42 locomotive
We were also surprised to see two engines, instead of one engine and one cabbage as is usually found on the DOWNEASTER. With all the equipment being shuffled around the country, one can expect anything!
We departed Boston right on time at 5:45 PM. Our train was well patronized. The trip is not the most scenic, but then that did not matter once it got dark.
One reason for us taking this trip was to experience the faster speeds, as the Boston-Portland trip time for all trains was shaved by 15 minutes as of the April 25th timetable change. As it turned out, we arrived in Portland about seven minutes late, so we lost some of that advantage. We must have had some minor slow orders along the way, since our train never dwelled too long at any of the stations.
When we got off in Portland, we saw the refurbished station for the first time, as it had been under construction to double its size when many of us had taken our first trips on this train. The walkway between the train platform and the station building was now covered and enclosed, something that is surely welcome in the winter months. The station indeed is twice the size it used to be, although Amtrak and Concord Tramways continue to share the same waiting area.
We walked across the parking lot and down a small street in the dark to our Doubletree Hotel. There, we all got our rooms and agreed to meet in the morning for breakfast.
Sunday morning, we met in the lobby and went to have breakfast together. Alan got two free breakfast vouchers with his diamond Hilton Honors membership, one of which he gave to John. I didn't mind paying for Michael and me, as long as putting it onto our hotel room would someday bring me closer to a free stay from the extra Hilton Honors points it would bring.
After breakfast, we all checked out and walked back to the station. Our train was soon announced, and we went out to the train. There were much fewer people boarding this train this morning than had detrained here the night before. We noticed that we had the same crew as on 689 last night, but different equipment.
The consist of Train 682(1):
* (We all were here)90213 Cabbage 48161 Amfleet I Cafe 82531 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass * 82539 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82519 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 153 P-42 locomotive
Once again we departed right on time. We made all of our stops seemingly on time, yet we began to fall behind a bit by Exeter. 682 was five minutes late there, and we remained five minutes late right into Boston.
Coming into North Station we had to wait a short while for some traffic to clear. Then we arrived on Track 3, which is the lowest track number any of us had ever seen assigned the DOWNEASTER (usually it is observed on Track 7 or 8).
The four of us went outside and this time took the new entrance into the subway station. Alan had found out from his scanner that the Orange Line had a service disruption, although trains were still running south of North Station. When we got down to track level, an Orange Line train had just departed. We figured that a Green Line trolley would be next. Since this was a superstation, we just had to turn our attention to the opposite side of the same platform. A Green Line car soon came, and we packed into it and were on our way.
We rode it to Park, and then walked down Winter Street to Downtown Crossing. We tried to get into the same food court where we had eaten the afternoon before, but since the building does not open until 12 noon on Sundays, we had to wait outside about ten minutes.
Once inside the food court we once again had a leisurely lunch. We were disappointed to find very slow service at the Subway restaurant. Also the Sbarro had converted from a full Italian food restaurant to just pizza.
After lunch we once again walked on Summer Street to South Station. When we got there, we were unsure if we were allowed to use the Club Acela. The four of us were booked in Business Class on a Regional train, which technically (according to the Guest Rewards temporary point structure) is a substitute for Acela Express First Class. To make a long story short, all four of us ended up using the Club Acela although we never found an attendant and thus were never challenged to show our Amtrak tickets. When we saw that Regional 135 was boarding, we let ourselves out of the Club Acela and proceeded to our train.
The Business Class car was at the very front of this train, so we had quite a walk. Not every seat was taken, but the train would fill up down the line. We saved a seat for Skip Howard, who would be boarding this train at Route 128.
The consist of Train 135(1):
* (We all were here)929 AEM-7 locomotive 81503 Amfleet I Regional Business Class * 85501 Amfleet I Regional Cafe 82535 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82551 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82085 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 21616 Amfleet I Coach
Skip joined us so that he could take a point gathering trip down to Stamford and back. He would detrain there and take Regional 194 back to Route 128. By riding in Business Class both ways, he would earn an easy 1500 Guest Rewards points.
So from Route 128 to Bridgeport, our group was at its maximum as we had five people on board, all riding together in Business Class.
John was headed for Bridgeport, where he would catch a ferry back to Long Island. He knew he had a very tight connection to make. If we were delayed and he saw that he would miss the ferry, then he would ride down to Stamford with the rest of us and detrain with Skip to take the next northbound Metro North train back to Bridgeport and catch the ferry's next run. Since he had purchased a ticket for Stamford to get the extra Guest Rewards points, it would not cost him any more to remain on this train, although he would have to pay for a Metro North ticket for Bridgeport.
We did end up arriving in Bridgeport a few minutes late. John felt he could make it. He left the train in a hurry, bolted down the steps and under the railroad bridge, and across a parking lot to the dock, where we watched him actually board the vessel. Just to make sure we knew he had made it, John called me aboard the train from the ferry with the good news.
Stamford soon came, and it was time to say goodbye to Skip. Skip would have to wait about an hour at the Stamford station for his return train to Route 128.
That left Alan, Michael, and me returning to New York. Our business class car was pretty crowded, and somebody took Skip's former seat next to Alan after Stamford. So there was not much talking between us for the rest of the trip.
When we got to New York City, Alan got off and went home. Michael and I remained on board Train 135 as an almost new compliment of passengers boarded and took every seat on the train. Through passengers are definitely in the minority on trains that run through New York City! We would only have another half hour or so of travel with this crowd.
Soon we had arrived at Metropark, and we got off there and returned to my car for the 40-minute drive home.
It had been a quick two-day trip. But we got to ride what was up until now a rare electric hauled Metroliner substituting for Acela Express, a round trip on the DOWNEASTER, and a business class trip on a Regional train. It was fun, and as always it was good to see some of our friends once more as we rode the rails.