OTOL Mid Atlantic RailFest 2006
August 23-25, 2006 Section 1 of 2
Photos by Don Weinstein and Alan Burden
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Chapter 0: Introduction
The OTOL Mid Atlantic RailFest 2006 had several purposes. It allowed us to go to Baltimore and ride the Maryland Transit Administration's (MTA) Light Rail (newly double-tracked over most of the system) and Metro subway, as well as two MARC commuter rail lines. And in Philadelphia we rode a few Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) commuter rail lines to their ultimate termini (two of which are only possible on weekdays) and rode the refurbished 15 streetcar along Girard Avenue.
Chapter 1: Preparation
Originally, this fest was supposed to be a four-day event. I had figured on two days in Baltimore and two in Philadelphia.
It ended up being our first fest that took place entirely on weekdays. Due to my work schedule and employment situation at that time, I was not free on weekends over the summer. The choice was to either not have a fest in August, or do so on weekdays only. After consulting with some of our regular participants, the decision was made to hold the fest on a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Baltimore would remain two days, while Philadelphia was cut back from two days to one.
The activities that had been scheduled for that second day in the Philadelphia area included the SEPTA R3 Media-Elwyn Line to the end at Elwyn, and the entire NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line. Those two round trips will be part of another event in the future.
With those unfortunate cuts made and the dates and activities set, preparations continued. As always an official website was created to inform potential participants about this fest and give them information such as the itinerary, the guest list, suggested hotels and potential places to eat, scanner frequencies, etc.
Intense planning took place within five weeks, as we had just held our OTOL Montreal RailFest 2006 event in mid-July.
Chapter 2: Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Some of our participants started making their respective ways to Baltimore on Tuesday. Alan Burden rode Acela Express 2117 from New York City to Washington, and then returned to Baltimore on Regional 148. He stayed both nights at the Inn at the Colonnade, a Doubletree property.
Chapter 3: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The official fest activities would begin in the early afternoon and proceed through that evening as we rode three MARC trains as far north at Perryville, MD and as far south as Washington, DC. However, before that, the rest of us had to get to Baltimore!
Chapter 3.0: Getting to Baltimore
The travel day began well up in New England, where Skip Howard boarded Acela Express 2151 at the Route 128 station outside of Boston at 5:29 AM. He rode that train all the way to Washington, DC, where he would do a little bit of riding on Washington's Metro, before meeting the group during our brief time in that city. He would ride the MARC Camden Line train with us back to Baltimore.
Jishnu Mukerji drove to Metropark in Iselin, NJ and took Amtrak's Regional 183 from there to Baltimore. He kept in contact with me throughout our respective trips via text messaging (something we all mastered on our recent Canada trip!).
Michael and I got up early, drove to Cherry Hill, and took NJ TRANSIT's Atlantic City Line Train 4608 to Philadelphia. I had originally considered taking Regional 183 and joining Jishnu for the trip to Baltimore, but it would have been a tight connection had our commuter train been late.
Well, we got there in time to see that a line had already formed for Regional Train 183. I was glad we had chosen a slightly later train since it appeared that 183 would be crowded.
It was a short time before the announcement came for the CAROLINIAN, Train 79. The train arrived and departed Philadelphia on time.
I kept in contact with Jishnu, who was about 20 minutes ahead of us on 183. He arrived and found Mike at the station as 79 continued into Baltimore on time.
Also making his way up to Baltimore from his home in Fairfax, VA was Ross Kudlick. He would meet us later in the day, right before our first MARC trip to Perryville. He planned to ride just the round trip back to Washington. He came up to Baltimore on an earlier MARC Train, 418.
Later in the day, Rick Metcalfe would take an Acela Express down from Boston to Baltimore. He did not plan to join us on Wednesday, but he would check-in at the Mount Vernon Hotel that evening and join us for Thursday's activities.
Chapter 3.1: First Meeting in Baltimore
When Michael and I detrained, there were Jishnu and Mike standing on the platform. Now we were four, and our fest was unofficially in progress. We would be whole when the rest joined us later in the day.
Chapter 3.2: Wednesday midday happenings in Baltimore
Jishnu was staying at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront, located in the Harbor East section of the city. Our mission was for Jishnu to check-in and dump his suitcase. At the same time, Jishnu graciously offered for me to leave my luggage in his room as well so I would not have to carry it around on the commuter trains.
One of the "improvements" that came from the Light Rail double tracking project was that in order to send more trains northward to Timonium, the short spur to Penn Station became a shuttle. The scheduled run for this shuttle is only a minute or two, but it is supposed to connect conveniently with other trains running on the mainline.
Well our first taste of Baltimore's MTA was quite sour, and it was one of many problems they had today. Our one-minute trip became about eight minutes, when we sat unexplainably just beyond the Penn Station platform. When we finally got to the transfer station, University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal, we had just missed a southbound train.
The normal mode of operations has the Penn Shuttles crossing over the northbound mainline track and stopping at the southbound platform at University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal. There are signs telling passengers who are going towards Penn Station to board this train on the southbound platform. People were visibly upset having waited for longer than expected for this train.
A southbound train finally came, just before the shuttle would have returned to the same platform once more. We rode it down to Lexington Market, and then walked the short block to the Metro station. Here we did not have too long to wait before catching an inbound train for a two-stop trip to the Shot Tower station. Shot Tower is the closest rail transit station to the growing Harbor East area, but it was still quite a long walk, possibly the equivalent of 8-10 blocks, to reach the Marriott. We walked mostly along an inlet that comes off Baltimore Harbor, so we did not have to cross many streets.
Once at the hotel, Jishnu checked in, and then I went upstairs with him and dropped off my suitcase.
After we left the Marriott, we retraced our steps back to the area of the Shot Tower station. Now it had been my original idea to have lunch at Lexington Market, while we would be making the transfer from the Metro to the Light Rail. However, because we had lost considerable time with the longer than expected walk and the delayed Penn Shuttle train, we decided to instead eat at a McDonald's in the vicinity of the Shot Tower station since we were passing close to it anyhow.
After lunch, we went to Shot Tower, entered the Metro, rode to Lexington Market, walked to Howard Street and took the Light Rail back north to the University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal station.
Here we ran into more difficulties with the MTA. We knew already that once we got off the northbound Light Rail car, we would have to cross over to the southbound platform to catch our Penn Shuttle down to the rail station. At least in theory, that is what the signs said. Soon we saw the shuttle come up the hill and approach the University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal station. However, it unexpectedly took the northbound track instead. Around the same time, a southbound run came into the station on the southbound track. Michael and Jishnu managed to cross over to the other side well in advance of both trains. However, I did not want to take the risk with Mike, so we remained on the southbound platform. Now both trains blocked the pedestrian walkways, so there was no way for us to make our intended shuttle train. After both trains cleared the station, there were Michael and Jishnu still standing on the northbound platform. I was fuming mad because we were supposed to have been at Penn Station by now, and we had just missed this shuttle and would be waiting for the next one.
When the shuttle appeared the next time, it arrived on the "correct" southbound track. Thankfully, we were able to be on the same platform, so we made it this time! Still, we agreed that with the need to dart across the tracks at the last minute, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Somebody unfortunately is going to be hit by the train one day.
Chapter 3.3: Second Meeting in Baltimore
The four of us arrived at Penn Station a little before 1 PM, but that was later than I would have preferred. I was not very happy with our host transit agency at the time.
At the station, we met Ross and Alan, who were sitting in the station, near the top of the stairway up from the Light Rail platform. We were now a group of six.
Those who had not done so made use of the remaining time to take care of getting our MARC tickets. This would eliminate hitting the crew with multiple cash transactions upon leaving Perryville, where there is no agent middays. Amtrak's agents issue MARC tickets on Amtrak stock. Amtrak Quik-Trak vending machines in Baltimore and Washington also have MARC tickets.
Chapter 3.4: MARC Penn Line Train #520, Baltimore Penn Station to Perryville
The train schedule did not exactly match the times I had in my itinerary. Somewhere before our fest, the departure time of Train 520 was changed from 1:17 PM to 1:27 PM. However, this would not have any adverse effects on our day because there would be a long layover in Perryville.
After its passengers from points south detrained, we boarded the train, which departed at exactly 1:27. Our trip north was uneventful.
Just before our train arrived in Perryville, it switched over to the southbound local track, the only side where a platform exists in Perryville. This also positioned it for its next trip.
At Perryville we detrained at 2:12 and began a rather long 48-minute layover. During this time, Mike Hammond and I took a walk to a convenience store to get some refreshments. We then returned to the station and rejoined the other five.
Chapter 3.5: MARC Penn Line Train #535, Perryville to Washington Union Station
The same consist was now MARC Train 535. We were allowed to board at 2:50, ten minutes before the scheduled departure. It was nice to be able to sit in the air-conditioned car after being outside in the heat.
We departed on time at 3:00 PM from Perryville. Our train remained on time throughout its trip. There were not many passengers on the Penn North section of the line, but once we got to Baltimore business was a little better.
During our trip, I proposed a change to our original itinerary. As we would find out later, this change turned out to be a very smart move. My proposal was that instead of catching the next Camden Line train back to Baltimore at 5:18, we instead eat dinner at Washington Union Station, and then take the second departure at 5:51 PM. We would be able to be more relaxed as we ate, and we would have some energy for later. All participants concurred.
Our end-to-end trip wrapped up on Track 8 at Washington Union Station. As is common practice, MARC puts two train consists on the same track, which meant it was a long walk past another train and the bumping post to reach the station.
Chapter 3.6: Dinner at Washington Union Station
For a while we became eight people, as Skip Howard met us inside the station and joined us for the rest of the day.
We took over several adjacent round tables in the lower level food court, and took turns getting food from the various stands. The change of plans had given us close to an hour, rather than a more rushed half-hour layover.
Ross now left us to go back home to Virginia, leaving us again with a traveling party of seven.
At about 5:40 PM, MARC Camden Line Train 852 was displayed on the station monitors, for Track 8. Again it was not the consist at the bumping post but one further north along the platform. We walked the walk once more, to find out that 852 was getting the same exact consist we had arrived on as 535.
Chapter 3.7: MARC Camden Line Train #852, Washington Union Station to Baltimore Camden Station
Train 852 departed promptly from Washington, DC at 5:51 PM. This would be an express train, getting us to Baltimore's Camden Station in an hour 10 minutes. The previous train I had picked (850) would have taken one hour 17 minutes.
Out of the gate, this train skipped Riverdale, College Park, and Greenbelt. It called at Muirkirk, Laurel, and Savage, skipped Jessup, made the stop at Dorsey, skipped St. Dennis, and finally terminated at Camden Station. We had been moving at a good clip, and ended up arriving at Camden Station 6:57 PM, four minutes earlier than advertised! No arguments here for being early!
Our group of seven got smaller here. Alan decided to go north on the light rail towards his hotel north of downtown, so he would be leaving us here. Rick also could walk from Camden Station to his hotel, so he left us as well.
Chapter 3.8: Wednesday evening in Baltimore
Our evening in Baltimore deserves a chapter all its own. For as you will see, our troubles with MTA's Light Rail worsened.
Skip, Jishnu, Mike, Michael, and I decided to walk from Camden Station east to Jishnu's hotel. I had to pick up my suitcase from his room. Then the other four of us would make our way to Hunt Valley where our hotel rooms were.
The walk was quite a long one, probably close to one mile. The first part of our walk was complicated a bit by walking against the flow of people all dressed in orange headed for an Orioles game. Then we encountered crowds of tourists as we walked through the Inner Harbor area. We then continued east and south until we got to the Harbor East neighborhood and finally the Marriott Waterfront.
After I had retrieved my suitcase from Jishnu's room, Skip made a suggestion. Now you may remember from our OTOL Windy City RailFest 2003 event in Chicago that Skip was one half of the Skip and HaRRy team who had shared a cab from a museum to Union Station instead of riding rapid transit. Well Skip's suggestion was to take a cab to a light rail station. At least this time the cab ride was instead of a long walk. It was still quite hot outside and we were all tired from the walk we had just taken. We all readily agreed to this.
A taxi was summoned outside the Marriott, and the four of us piled in. We asked the driver to take us to the University of Baltimore/Mt. Royal Light Rail station. We felt we would avoid the slow street running portion of the line by doing this. Well the driver started taking us in the right general direction, but as we got closer I could tell we were headed for Penn Station. When I advised the driver again that we wanted to light rail station, he changed course. We eventually ended up on a limited access highway, which caused us to pass right by the area to which we had asked to be taken. When the driver took the first exit, it put us on a street that passed by another Light Rail station, North Avenue. When I spotted the station, we asked him to let us off there.
Just as we pulled into the lot, we saw a Light Rail train headed for Hunt Valley. We knew we would miss it, and figured that it would be roughly 15 minutes until the next one. Well, we had figured wrong.
We waited for the next Light Rail train to Hunt Valley. And we waited, and waited. There were no announcements, and no way of knowing why all service had ceased operating. There was a fare inspector also waiting to board a northbound train. She was friendly, and definitely sympathetic to our plight, particularly that we had been out all day in the heat and wanted nothing more than to get to our hotels in Hunt Valley. Nevertheless, she also had no contact with her employer to find out why there were no trains showing up.
After we were there close to an hour, a car bound for Timonium appeared. We did not board, figuring we would have to wait yet again in Timonium to go further north. The fare inspector also decided to stay at North Avenue with us awaiting the Hunt Valley train. A few minutes later, a car bound for Hunt Valley came. The four of us, along with the fare inspector, were finally on our way.
However, the fun was not over yet. We were on our way to being dumped! Because the delay had caused the trains to bunch, ours could not enter the single-track area near the northern end of the line. So the operator was told to discharge his passengers at Timonium Business Center. Luckily for us, the next Hunt Valley train was almost right behind the first one. The first train quickly departed Timonium Business Center with only its operator on board, and moved to a siding. We were on our way once more in a couple of minutes. This was yet another inconvenience the MTA put us through that day!
Our adventure together ended at Pepper Road (the second-to-last stop). Mike remained on board to the last station at Hunt Valley Town Center, as his hotel was across the street from that station. Skip, Michael, and I detrained at Pepper Road to walk to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Hunt Valley. We checked in around 10 PM.
Chapter 3.9: End of Wednesday's activities
After the first day of our gathering, it was time to relax in our hotels. We still had two very busy days ahead of us.Continued in next section