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Trip Report

Keystone Corridor Day Trip

October 4, 2005


Michael had the day off from school, and we hadn't been on a train since late August. So, since Michael is just 850 points away from attaining Amtrak Guest Rewards Select status, we decided to take a short day trip that would get him (and me) an easy, cheap 200 points. In addition, it had been some time since I had been on the Keystone Corridor, and I wanted to take what could perhaps be our last trip on bumpy stick rail before improved service starts next year.

We drove to Cherry Hill, and took the 10 AM NJ TRANSIT train to Philadelphia. That train, although it was about ten minutes late in picking us up, got to 30th Street Station's Track 9 almost right on time at 10:30.

At 30th Street, we had one hour 15 minutes layover time, during which we ate lunch and did some exploring. The suburban SEPTA commuter concourse is under heavy construction right now, with about half of it closed for repairs. However a new sight was the extension of the concourse past where it used to end at the escalator to Tracks 3 and 4. Now there is daylight coming in from Arch Street. A pair of escalators leads up to the new parking garage. Soon they will also provide access to the new Cira Centre office building that sits adjacent to the station.

Amtrak's PENNSYLVANIAN arrived from New York on time at 11:20. We joined the line that soon formed at Stairway 7 for this train. They began to let people down to the train at 10:35, ten minutes before scheduled departure. This followed an engine change from electric to diesel (with the diesel placed on end opposite where the electric engine was located). As Sloan experienced on a previous trip, the train was nowhere in sight, and neither was anyone to direct us. However a quick search showed some equipment at the north end of the station, with the red markers from the rear car evident. Everyone had to walk to this end of the station to board the train. This is done to minimize diesel fumes coming into the station.

After we had walked almost clear outside of the station, we were directed into the coach closest to the front of the train. This was its only Amfleet I, which they use as a "local" car. Previously, it had handled New York-Philadelphia passengers. Now it was being used for Philadelphia-Harrisburg people. The three Amfleet II's behind it are for through passengers headed for western Pennsylvania.

For some reason, we did not leave until 11:55 AM, ten minutes late. We stopped again to allow what appeared to be a yard movement coming off Track 9 go out before us. Most likely this was the equipment from Keystone Corridor train 610, which terminates in Philadelphia.

The consist of Train 43(4):

57 P-42 locomotive 21069 Amfleet I coach * 25086 Amfleet II coach 25078 Amfleet II coach 25035 Amfleet II coach 48180 Amfleet I club-dinette **
* (Michael and I were here)
** (Cafe and Business Class seating)

We moved at a pretty good clip through the Main Line suburbs. The train was jostled as we rode over stick rail for much of the trip. We had to use the local track for much of the journey due to the ongoing construction on the express tracks.

Our first stop, Paoli, came at 12:19 PM, seven minutes late. We had actually gained three minutes on this first stretch. Then came Lancaster, one of the only high level platforms on the Keystone Corridor (the others are Philadelphia, of course, and also one of the Harrisburg platforms). However, its functionality was partially lost because we did not stop on a track adjacent to the platform. Bridge plates were used to allow the train to do its work. The time we had gained between Philly and Paoli was lost in Lancaster because of this process. Our 1:04 PM departure from Lancaster was 12 minutes down.

At 1:20 PM we passed this train's counterpart, Train 42, running from Pittsburgh to New York. It appeared to be on or very close to schedule.

Just east of Middletown, we came to an interlocking called Roy. The track conditions here are exceptionally bad; I felt like I would be shaken right out of my seat. After Middletown, as we passed Harrisburg International Airport, I looked for evidence of station or platform construction. I could imagine where one would be, across the parking lot from the airline terminal building, but I could not see any evidence of construction.

Padding helped us arrive into Harrisburg Transportation Center at 1:37 PM, just seven minutes late. Not too bad, considering the trackwork taking place and the condition of the infrastructure right now. We detrained, and waited around until the train left for Pittsburgh at 1:43, six minutes down.

We walked around Harrisburg, moving west on Market Street until we came to the river at Front Street. Then we retraced our steps, walked a little bit north on Second Street, then returned to Market and explored the Strawberry Square mall. We found that to contain a nice little food court that includes a Subway and an Arby's, along with Japanese, Chinese, and pizza places as well. Too bad we had already eaten lunch in Philadelphia!

We returned to the station around 2:25 PM, about half an hour before our scheduled 2:55 PM train back to Philadelphia. We checked out the rest of the station, including its bus terminal downstairs and the newsstand on the Amtrak level.

Boarding of Train 656(4) began at 2:40. This little train was just an engine and three coaches:

4 P-42 locomotive 82512 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 44703 Amfleet I Metroliner coach * 21153 Amfleet I coach
* (Michael and I were here)

Coincidentally, we have been behind Engine 4 before on the Keystone Corridor. The Metroliner coach was an unexpected bonus. We headed straight for that one, bypassing the older Amfleet I coach in the rear, and the refurbished Regional coach in the front. It would be nice to have foot rests and curtains for our two-hour journey!

Departure came at exactly 2:55 PM. Unlike our previous trip, which had stopped only in Paoli and Lancaster en route to Harrisburg, this one would be making ten intermediate stops before reaching Philadelphia.

Our stop in Middletown demonstrated why Amtrak will be getting rid of it once the nearby station opens at the airport. There is no platform on the south side of the tracks, so passengers boarding or detraining from eastbound trains have to cross what is normally the westbound track to access the only platform on the north side. I am sure that protection is granted if there is an oncoming train, it's still an accident waiting to happen.

Just past Middletown, we passed Keystone train 613, which was also running on time. We made our stops at Elizabethtown (which even our train's crew called "E-Town") and Mount Joy right on the advertised. I remarked to myself however how poor these two stations look -- almost taking a page out of SEPTA's book with the cracked asphalt platforms that are in dire need of replacement.

We lost a minute or so at Lancaster, because once again we had to station one track away from the platform (the eastbound platform this time) and a bridge plate was in use here as well.

I looked for signs of station construction as we passed through Paradise, but like at Harrisburg Airport, I did not see anything. Our Parkesburg stop at 3:58 PM was one minute late. We lost a little more time between there and Coatesville, stopping there at 4:05, three minutes down. At Coatesville, there were passengers on the opposite side platform waiting for a delayed Train 645.

Between Coatesville and Downingtown, we passed by SEPTA's terminus station, Thorndale. Amtrak does not stop here, but we went through on the track adjacent to the platform anyhow. Our train had to sound its horn since there were passengers awaiting SEPTA service there.

Our subsequent station stops at Downingtown, Exton, and Paoli were all three minutes late. At the latter, the station was full of reverse-commute passengers headed into the city -- most were awaiting a SEPTA train. Only a handful boarded our Amtrak train. We had to make a second stop in Paoli to pick up one straggler who otherwise would have missed this train.

By now it was the early rush hour, and we were in the heart of commuter territory. We passed an endless parade of Paoli and Bryn Mawr Locals, all carrying their blue R5 signs in front.

Our final intermediate stop, Ardmore, was made at 4:40 PM, four minutes late. Would we get to Philadelphia late, or on time?

We came into 30th Street Station on Track 8, coming to a stop right adjacent to the main stairway at 4:51 PM. That was two minutes early! The Keystone Corridor is no stranger to Amtrak's schedule padding.

After taking the escalator up to the concourse, we emerged on pure bedlam. Amtrak had two problems to deal with. First, its northbound Regional, Train 94 from Virginia to Boston, was running one hour 45 minutes late. Many passengers from that train who were headed for New York and points as far as New Haven rebooked on Train 148, the next northbound Regional. That train goes to Springfield. So the line had already formed for 148 with essentially twice the normal passenger load preparing to board. The line stretched clear across the station, the long way.

Amtrak's second problem was that there was a tanker truck accident on a highway in the Bronx, which caused power problems on the adjacent Amtrak line. Service was suspended between New York and New Haven. Passengers awaiting the northbound train were being told that they would be taken only as far as New York, where they would have to take Metro North to New Haven, and then another Amtrak train to their final destinations. This caused utter confusion, since many passengers on that long line were already displaced from their normal train, and now they were being told they would be dumped in New York. Some looked like they did not know if they should be in the line at all. The announcements did not say how Amtrak would get passengers across town in New York between Penn Station and Grand Central; odds are that the passengers would be on their own.

Train 148 was eventually called, and like that old college prank where as many students as possible crammed their way into a telephone booth, all passengers from that line appeared to have been accommodated on the train. No doubt some would have to stand.

We watched all this while awaiting our NJ TRANSIT train back to Cherry Hill. We had a 45-minute layover which turned into 47 minutes with our early arrival.

Our NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line train was called at about 5:25 PM, for Stairway 2, Track 2. We left right on time at 5:38 PM, and headed out of the station. There was a bit more excitement to our right as we saw a massive traffic jam at the I-76/I-676 interchange, caused mainly by a SEPTA bus that was surrounded by emergency vehicles.

We alighted from our train in Cherry Hill right on time at 6:03. After making our way back to the car, we drove to a different part of the same shopping center, and had a very nice dinner at Old Country Buffet.

Then in the dark we made our way home. It had been a pleasant day trip on the rails, but as always I was happy to be home so I could begin reporting on our trip!

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