OTOL New Jersey RailFest 2006
March 18, 2006
Chapter 0: Introduction
Just how many RailFests can we create on the East Coast? The possibilities are endless! For this event, we decided to showcase New Jersey, by riding all or part of its three light rail and two heavy rail systems. In between, we would ride commuter rail between Trenton and Newark.
This one-day Fest took place after the opening of a new segment of Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in Northern Hudson County, but we would miss out on the newest segment of the Newark City Subway, which was still under construction.
Fifteen people partook in the activities. Although we spent most of our time in New Jersey, we officially started in Philadelphia and ended in New York City.
Chapter 1: Preparation
It was not hard to prepare an itinerary for this trip. Except for the commuter rail trip along NJ TRANSIT's Northeast Corridor Line, all of our travels would be on rail transit lines that operate frequently. We would therefore not have much pressure to make trains if we were running late.
This trip was planned around the same time as OTOL Big Apple RailFest 2006. The websites were created about the same time, and in fact the two shared a hotel listing for the New York City/North Jersey area. As always, the homepage for this March Fest also had links to restaurants, the itinerary, scanner frequencies, and other information.
I pre-purchased tickets for most of the group ahead of time. This was accomplished in several trips to various parts of the state. I erred on the side of caution and purchased more than we needed for each line. At press time, I still own some of those surplus tickets and am gradually "burning" them as I ride the trains again.
Chapter 2: Friday, March 17, 2006
Some of the participants who began with the group in Philadelphia stayed overnight in that area Friday night. Rick Metcalfe came down from the Boston area on the Acela Express and stayed in the Embassy Suites in Center City. Alan Burden rode Acela down to Washington, and then came back up to Philadelphia and spent Friday night in the Hilton Garden Inn near the Market East station.
Michael and I went by my own personal transportation to Voorhees, NJ where we stayed in a Hampton Inn. The reason for this was to have the car in the area to be able to store our luggage. We were also very close to the Lindenwold PATCO/NJ TRANSIT station which would make it easy to both get to the starting point in Center City on Saturday morning and return from 30th Street Station on Saturday evening. We had a very nice steak dinner in Lone Star Steakhouse next door to the hotel.
Lou Petrillo traveled from New Haven to Philadelphia on an Amtrak Regional train, and then took NJ TRANSIT to Lindenwold. Since he was staying at the same Hampton Inn, I picked him up in Lindenwold at around 9 PM.
Chapter 3: Saturday, March 18, 2006
Saturday was the only day of our New Jersey RailFest.
Chapter 3.1: Meeting in Philadelphia
After leaving our hotel in nearby Voorhees, Lou, Michael, and I went in my car to the Lindenwold station. We took an inbound PATCO train directly to the other end of the line at 15-16-Locust, our official meeting place for this Fest.
On the way, we encountered the first curve that was being thrown to us. Trackwork on PATCO had slightly altered the schedule for this particular weekend. We noticed that they were single-tracking between Ashland and Lindenwold, the easternmost two stations. For the official Fest travel, it would mean departing from 16th & Locust just three minutes later than planned.
Sloan Auchincloss had come by Amtrak Keystone Service from Harrisburg, and he had made his way to the same meeting place underneath the corner of 16th & Locust. Alan Burden took a PATCO train from 8th & Market near his hotel to the meeting location. Rick Metcalf walked over from his hotel.
Maurice Carson came in from suburban King of Prussia to join us, while Ted Patchell came into the city via SEPTA trolley and subway from Drexel Hill. Piotr Dzwonek and Jishnu Mukerji came down on the NJ TRANSIT/SEPTA R7 combination from Metropark in New Jersey to Philadelphia's Suburban Station, and then they walked down 16th to meet us.
The only person who intended to begin with us in Philadelphia but had not yet shown up was Mike Hammond. He was coming from Cleveland on Greyhound, and was running a little late. He would join up with us in South Jersey.
Once the ten of us were assembled, the exchange of money and train tickets began. Since PATCO tickets were included in many of the packages, the transactions had to be done before we passed through the turnstiles.
I informed everyone of the trackwork, and added that I felt confident we would not be adversely affected because we had a lot of dwell time in Camden between PATCO and the RiverLINE.
We all entered the PATCO system and went downstairs to board our train, which had already arrived.
Chapter 3.2: PATCO Speedline, 16th & Locust to Lindenwold
We rolled out of the 16th & Locust station promptly at 8:33 AM, right on the money according to the altered timetable. Ten eager railfans were aboard looking forward to a long and exciting day on the rails.
However, our trip took half an hour instead of 25 minutes, thanks to the aforementioned single-tracking. Our arrival in Lindenwold was at 9:03 AM. We had seven minutes dwell here before returning westbound on the same equipment to Camden.
Chapter 3.3: PATCO Speedline, Lindenwold to Broadway
At 9:10 we slowly moved west once more past the construction zone, and then went faster after Ashland. For Lou, Michael, and me it was actually our third ride in a short period of time along this line. We arrived at the Broadway station at 9:26 AM.
We met Mike Hammond on the platform. He had taken PATCO outbound from Philadelphia to meet our inbound train.
We all went up into the western headhouse, which has direct connections with the RiverLINE. There, we met Randy Resor, who had arrived from his home in nearby Merchantville.
Chapter 3.4: NJ TRANSIT RiverLINE, Walter Rand Transportation Center to Entertainment Center
At precisely 9:47 AM, our group, now twelve strong, boarded a RiverLINE train bound for the Entertainment Center terminus in Camden. This trip was over in eight minutes, and we then endured the usual 20-minute dwell near the Tweeter Center before heading in the opposite direction towards Trenton.
Chapter 3.5: NJ TRANSIT RiverLINE, Entertainment Center to Trenton Rail Station
Our northbound trip was uneventful. We carried a good load of passengers throughout our end-to-end ride, testimony that even after two years of service, the RiverLINE still attracts plenty of weekend pleasure riders.
We had a pretty tight connection in Trenton. Having arrived on time at 11:28 AM, our next train was due to leave at 11:36. That gave us 8 minutes to walk across the street, through the station, and to board the train that was already in the process of boarding.
Chapter 3.6: NJ TRANSIT Northeast Corridor Line, Train #7830, Trenton to Newark
Our trip up NJ TRANSIT's Northeast Corridor Line was also uneventful. We remained on time throughout our trip, arriving at Newark Penn Station at 12:30 PM. The twelve of us detrained there, to search out some food. At the station, we were met by Ed Findlay, Bill Magee, and John Corbett, making our group now 15. We would keep this maximum right through the rest of our time in New Jersey.
Chapter 3.7: Lunch at Newark Penn Station
We went separate ways briefly for lunch, according to our various tastes. Several of us ended up at the pizza place, which has very limited areas at which to eat said pizza. So we got it "to go", and roughed it by eating on the benches in the station's main waiting room. This was by far not gourmet style dining, but we did what we had to do to survive, knowing we had a long run before dinner.
Chapter 3.8: NJ TRANSIT Newark City Subway, Newark Penn Station to Grove Street, Bloomfield
The second of our three light rail properties of the day to conquer was the Newark City Subway. We rode its original route and extension, between Penn Station and Grove Street in Bloomfield. Our only regret was that we would not be able to ride the new branch to Broad Street Station, as it would not be opening until the summer. Oh well, there's an activity for yet another fest!
After lunch we went downstairs to one of the outbound platforms. There has been much construction in the area in preparation for the new branch, so we followed signs to the one open platform.
We departed from Penn Station at exactly 1:13 PM, as per the timetable. We were due at the other end, Grove Street, at 1:33 PM. However, our 20-minute ride somehow turned into 24 minutes. We got to the outer terminus at 1:37, which meant we all had to hustle a bit to the ticket validation machine to stamp our second tickets. Newark City Subway tickets have a valid period of just 45 minutes, which is not quite enough to do a round trip on one ticket (including the several-minute layover at the end). Due to leave at 1:39 back to Penn Station, we quickly boarded the same car that had brought us here.
Chapter 3.9: NJ TRANSIT Newark City Subway, Grove Street, Bloomfield to Newark Penn Station
Well, it had arrived late, so it left late too. Our departure was at 1:41 PM, two minutes past the advertised. Again we lost a little time, this time taking 22 minutes to complete the trip. Arrival back at Penn Station was at 2:03 PM, four minutes late. The only thing we could think of that would consistently cause delays, was that there were some slow orders in the subway tunnel near where the new Broad Street Station line will branch off.
We encountered no fare inspections during this trip, not even at the foot of the Penn Station escalator where inspectors usually are found.
We now were set to leave Newark on PATH, but we would encounter just a slight glitch in our plans.
Chapter 3.10: PATH Newark-World Trade Center Line, Newark to World Trade Center
PATH was single tracking through Newark and Harrison on this particular date. They were only using the outbound track and platform at Penn Station; the normal entries to the PATH from Tracks 1 and 2 were closed. Therefore, we would be boarding at Platform H, normally the discharge-only platform.
Most of us had paid Piotr for use of his own QuickCard, so we all would get a slight discount on our PATH rides. So we filed through the faregates as he carded us through.
There was a bit of crowding, since the trains were not operating on their regular schedule due to the single tracking, and because inbound and outbound passengers had to mingle when the train was in the station.
In the confusion, we somehow became separated. Most of us ended up in what would be the rearmost car on our way to the World Trade Center station. Meanwhile, the train departed at 2:19 PM, four minutes behind schedule.
We were already in the tunnel under the Hudson River when we counted just 13 heads and realized that two people were missing. We determined these to be Lou and Mike. We thought that they might have gotten off at Exchange Place, since that is where we were eventually supposed to leave the system.
It was 2:41 PM, four minutes late, that we came to a stop at the World Trade Center station. We simply stayed aboard, as we were to ride the loop and go back into New Jersey to alight at Exchange Place. During our brief layover, which amounted to just 3 minutes, I quickly ran out to survey other cars and see if our two members who had gone missing were aboard. Nervous about missing the train myself, I did not go too far. I reboarded and joined the group seconds before the chimes rang and the doors closed for the New Jersey-bound run of this train.
Chapter 3.11: PATH Newark-World Trade Center Line, World Trade Center to Exchange Place
Departing at 2:44 PM, we were just two minutes behind schedule. Knowing we had 12 minutes available at Exchange Place to catch our first Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLRT) train, I was not too worried.
Four minutes after departure, we arrived at the Exchange Place station, and everyone detrained. That included our two wayward members, who had simply boarded another car of the train back in Newark and were indeed safe and sound and along for the entire ride!
We went up to the street level, and then walked across the plaza about one block to the light rail station. Here is where things got a little hairy concerning our group having valid tickets throughout our ride.
Chapter 3.12: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Tonnelle Avenue-West Side Avenue Line, Exchange Place to West Side Avenue
Arriving there about seven minutes before our scheduled 2:58 PM departure for West Side Avenue, we all proceeded to do the right thing. That was to validate our first of two tickets so that we would be legal while standing on the platform in case there were any inspectors. My previous calculations for the entire journey started at 2:58, not 2:51. Riding the entire system and ending up back at Exchange Place as planned would take exactly 2-1/2 hours, with us ending up at 5:28 PM where we started. Ticket validity on the HBLRT is 90 minutes. So since we validated early, and since one cannot validate their second ticket while on board, we had to therefore validate our second of the two tickets we had earlier than expected.
We would therefore eventually run short and risk fines if inspected near the very end of our ride, since our second ticket would expire by then. Using three tickets would have been safer, but that is not what eventually happened. Read on.
Our first HBLRT ride was on time, leaving Exchange Place at 2:58 PM and arriving at West Side Avenue at 3:13 PM. We had a 10-minute layover here before reboarding the same train.
Chapter 3.13: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Tonnelle Avenue-West Side Avenue Line, West Side Avenue to Liberty State Park
Our next segment was just seven minutes, as we rode from West Side Avenue to Liberty State Park, where one can transfer to the 22nd Street Line towards Bayonne. The schedule is such that a Bayonne-bound train leaves this station just before the train from West Side Avenue gets there. One usually sees it go by when approaching the junction. The wait is therefore 13 minutes, almost the maximum since the trains run on 15-minute headways.
Piotr lost something on board the train, and he remained on the train for one more stop to Jersey Avenue in order to look for it, albeit unsuccessfully. He then boarded our Bayonne-bound train at Jersey Avenue.
Chapter 3.14: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Hoboken-22nd Street Line, Liberty State Park to 22nd Street, Bayonne
Our next train came into the station (with Piotr already aboard) at exactly 3:43 PM. So far, the HBLRT trains were operating like clockwork for us. Another flawless ride brought us into Bayonne's 22nd Street station ten minutes later.
We now faced a four-minute layover. During that brief time we decided that it would be best to validate our second tickets since our first ones would expire before we got to our next terminus station, Hoboken Terminal. After we all had our tickets stamped by the machine, we reboarded this car for an end-to-end journey from Bayonne to Hoboken.
Chapter 3.15: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Hoboken-22nd Street Line, 22nd Street, Bayonne to Hoboken Terminal
3:57 PM was the scheduled departure time for this train, and 3:57 PM it was indeed. However, this trip would not be a perfect one. At the Richard Street station in Jersey City, we had a problem with the doors that necessitated our operator leaving his seat to address the problem personally. We sat in that station about four minutes. For the rest of this trip through Jersey City and into Hoboken Terminal, we ran four minutes later than scheduled.
As we approached the "T-intersection" at the northern end of the Newport development, Randy told us that NJ TRANSIT internally calls this "Dekalb Avenue". While there is no Dekalb Avenue in Jersey City, at least not at this location, it was named after New York City Transit's busiest interlocking, located in Brooklyn. After making the right turn there, we coasted into Hoboken Terminal, Track H-1, ending this run at 4:31 PM, 4 minutes late.
Our transfer meant changing tracks and platforms, so we all had to walk around the bumping posts to the platform for Track H-4 to await our next train.
Chapter 3.16: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Tonnelle Avenue-Hoboken Terminal Line, Hoboken Terminal to Tonnelle Avenue, North Bergen
Due to our one and only late train on the HBLRT, our wait time was less than expected. Our Tonnelle Avenue-bound train departed on time from Hoboken Terminal at 4:38 PM. We now emulated our run on the side of the cliff on the west end of Hoboken, and to Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken during the OTOL Big Apple RailFest 2005 event. This time we went beyond Lincoln Harbor, for many brand new trackage. One more stop in Weehawken is at Port Imperial, across the street from a major ferry terminal. Then the line curves to the west and runs through an old railroad tunnel under the Palisades. One intermediate stop at Bergenline Avenue in Union City is entirely within the tunnel. After the exit portal, it is another short run until the terminus at Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen. Here, I pointed out that there are lay-up tracks as well as a large loop around them. So depending on how they wish to operate, the motorman can either switch ends or run around the loop thus retaining his seat for the return trip.
We got off here and let the train that had brought us here leave without us, because we would be awaiting another train that bypasses Hoboken Terminal to go directly back to Jersey City. During our dwell of about eleven minutes, some of our participants went upstairs to look at the loop from the walkways and to see what the station area looks like at the surface.
Chapter 3.17: NJ TRANSIT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Tonnelle Avenue-West Side Avenue Line, Tonnelle Avenue, North Bergen to Pavonia/Newport
For our final HBLRT segment, we were once again aboard a train headed for West Side Avenue. We departed promptly at 5:05 PM.
It was during this trip that I had to make a decision regarding the rest of our journey. Since we had validated our second tickets in Bayonne (22nd Street) rather than Hoboken Terminal as I had intended, we would not make it all the way back to Exchange Place without our time expiring. So instead, we decided to take this train as far as Pavonia/Newport and switch to the PATH there instead. Although we were running according to my itinerary, this would save us a little bit of time and get us to dinner a few minutes earlier.
We got off there, headed through the tunnel underneath 499 Washington, and crossed Washington Blvd. to the PATH station. Once again most of us entered the system on Piotr's QuickCard. He was carding each of us in. We had a good laugh though, as some people who were not part of our group ended up on line behind us and almost were admitted to the system on Piotr's QuickCard.
It was here in the Pavonia/Newport PATH station that our group began to break up. Piotr decided to make it two states instead of three, and opted to return to Newark and eventually his car in Metropark from there. Randy went with Piotr to Newark and caught the same train. He remained on it back to Trenton, where he would take the RiverLINE back to Camden.
Chapter 3.18: PATH Journal Square-33rd Street Line, Pavonia/Newport to 33rd Street
The remaining twelve participants took the next PATH train from Pavonia/Newport towards 33rd Street in Manhattan. Our train left at 5:36 PM. This was before PATH suspended the World Trade Center-Hoboken Line on weekends, so we did not have to dogleg into Hoboken.
Mike Hammond then left us at 9th Street to go to Famous Ray's Pizza for dinner. Now we were 11.
We arrived at PATH's 33rd Street station at 5:51 PM. This was just 8 minutes earlier than we were supposed to arrive had we stuck to the original plan and taken the HBLRT to Exchange Place.
This fest ended at the same spot where OTOL Big Apple RailFest 2006 had begun two months earlier.
Chapter 3.19: Dinner at Sbarro near New York Penn Station
Our official train riding over, it was time to get dinner. We decided upon our favorite Sbarro, the one with the view of the 34th Street/Penn Station subway station on the Seventh Avenue Line. We had eaten there in January as well. Lou decided he did not want this, and left the group to head back to Grand Central Terminal and eventually home to Connecticut. That left ten of us, namely Sloan, Alan, Maurice, John, Ed, Rick, Jishnu, Ted, Michael, and me. Dinner was good. Highlight of the meal was Ed spilling his soda, and then playing maintenance person and mopping up his own mess.
Following dinner, we all went our separate ways. However, we by definition still had a fest going on, as four of us made our respective ways back to Philadelphia on Amtrak.
Chapter 3.20: Amtrak Train #57, VERMONTER, New York to Philadelphia
Maurice, Sloan, Michael, and I rode the VERMONTER from New York to Philadelphia. Our trip was uneventful.
When we got to Philly, Sloan would switch to Keystone Train #615 to return to Harrisburg, which Maurice made his way back to King of Prussia. Michael and I had a very close connection with a NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line train, which we took back to Lindenwold to complete the cycle we had started that morning.
Chapter 3.21: End of Saturday's activities
For everyone, the fest was over. However I did not wish to drive all the way home from Lindenwold, so we spent another night on the road. We stayed at the Doubletree Suites in Mount Laurel. The next morning we set out for home, completing another successful event.
Chapter 4: Conclusion
Our group of 15 had a great time, seeing a good sampling of New Jersey's heavy and light rail lines, as well as one commuter line. Some folks wondered what I could possibly conjure up for another fest in this area. Rest assured that some interesting rail gatherings are planned that will include, at various times, New Jersey, Philadelphia, or New York.
The next scheduled fest was the OTOL Montreal RailFest 2006 event, taking place between July 18th and 23rd. This trip focused on Montreal's Metro and some of its commuter lines, and it also featured a tour of VIA Rail that took us to both Toronto and Ottawa. While in Toronto we rode the regular route of the 506 Streetcar that we missed in 2004. In Ottawa, it was North America's first diesel light rail line, the O-Train. We had a blast, but the details will follow in yet another report!