We have been doing rail fests every year in New York City since 2001, with the exception of the year 2004. Since 2001, as a group we have conquered a vast majority of the MTA New York City Transit subway system. At the earlier AppleFests and Big Apple RailFests, I concentrated on elevated and surface lines so that we would have scenery to look at. This year's event came with the disclaimer that we would be spending most of our time underground, but that it would include a little elevated running just to get to, from, and between those points.
I included in this fest a Friday activity as well, namely riding the inner portion of the 7 subway line, and the Lower Montauk Branch of the MTA Long Island Railroad. The latter sees only one train per day in each direction, so our short Friday itinerary had to be planned around that.
For the Sunday commuter rail excursion, we took the MTA Metro North Railroad's Harlem Line to and from its northern terminus at Wassaic.
Chapter 1: Preparation
Preparation is easy when you do the same city every year. In the fall, I reorganized my website so that there is now only one set of transit, commuter, restaurant, hotel, and scanner frequency guides for each particular city, rather than for each fest. Therefore, much of the needed information was already there from previous fests in the New York area.
The fest had the usual home page, which contained links to useful information such as the itinerary, the participant list, and the now standard New York City scanner frequencies, hotels, and restaurants.
The itinerary was labeled temporary until the day before the fest. True to form, two weeks before the fest the MTA began throwing us some curves with its scheduled weekend maintenance resulting in deviations to the routes. We lost out entirely on riding the G line, and had to substitute a beginning-to-end ride on the F line instead. The Brooklyn-bound F meanwhile, was rerouted over the A line between West 4th Street in Manhattan and Jay Street in Brooklyn. A trains were running local over their entire route, replacing canceled C service. Bronx-bound D trains were sharing their tracks with N trains in Brooklyn.
One important sidelight to this entire weekend was Piotr Dzwonek's return to the fest circuit. Piotr missed our MARF 2006 and Keystone Excursion 2006 events after he had a serious foot injury at work last August. Still dependent on crutches to get around, Piotr was determined to make all three days of this event. I have to admit I was nervous about having him along and worrying about him falling on one of the many stairways I knew we would encounter in the subways. I was concerned also about our ability to keep our schedule, since it was assumed he could not keep up with our quick pace. As things would work out, Piotr was never a factor in our timekeeping. In fact, we finished our subway day a little earlier than planned!
Chapter 2: Friday, January 12, 2007
This was the first day of our New York area gathering. We would travel together in the evening only, and we would venture as far east as Jamaica, Queens and as far west as Jersey City, NJ for dinner. Today's activities included a total of nine people.
Chapter 2.1: Meeting at Times Square Subway Station
I started out alone from home, as Michael was still in school. We had arranged that Michael would take NJ TRANSIT's 67 bus up to Newark Penn Station and meet me there in the evening.
I parked at Metropark, and took an NJT Northeast Corridor Line train into Newark. I then walked across the bridge and checked into my hotel room at the Hilton Newark Penn Station (formerly Hilton Gateway).
I returned to Newark Penn Station and started to purchase my tickets for the weekend from a machine when my cell phone began to ring. I voided my transaction and answered the call. It was Nick Gibbon, trying to tell me he had encountered a delay. I had a hard time hearing him, as I was in a busy, noisy, cavernous place at rush hour. I went outside, but the noise of idling taxicabs and buses didn't help either. What I could understand was that Nick was delayed and that he would try to meet us at Vernon-Jackson or the LIRR station in Long Island City. After the call, I went back to buying my tickets.
I contacted both Jishnu and Piotr by text messaging, and found out they were aboard the same NJT train from Metropark, which also happened to be the next one I would be able to board from Newark to New York. They had not seen one another at Metropark, and thus did not know they were both on the same train. When I boarded, I found Piotr and we rode together into New York.
At New York Penn Station, I went with Piotr to the LIRR ticket machines so he could purchase his tickets for that evening's activities. While he was doing his transaction, I spotted Jishnu doing the same thing at another machine. Now we were three.
We took a very crowded 3 train one stop from Penn Station to Times Square, and then made our way to the meeting place outside the Wachovia Bank ATM center near the S shuttle platform. There, we met Mike Hammond, Skip Howard, and Alan Burden. Mike had flown from Cleveland into LaGuardia Airport, and then Alan met him in Queens, where they did some subway riding before coming to Times Square. Skip had come down from Route 128 Station in Massachusetts on Amtrak Acela Express2163. He made his way by subway to our meeting point.
We waited a little while until John Corbett also joined us. (John had come in from Ronkonkoma on the LIRR.) I informed the others that Nick had called me about being delayed, so we decided to begin our travels a little ahead of schedule.
Chapter 2.2: MTA NYCT 7 train, Times Square to Queensboro Plaza
We walked over and down to the 7 platform, and boarded a <7> express train that departed at 4:10 PM. We were eight minutes ahead of our itinerary on this first segment of our Friday activities.
Our thirteen-minute trip from Times Square to Queensboro Plaza was uneventful, except for when Piotr got off our outbound train at Vernon-Jackson to get a head start on the walk to the LIRR.
This segment completed our group's travels on the 7 train. We had missed the inner segment of this line on a previous fest in 2003 when it was closed for trackwork.
At Queensboro Plaza, we went downstairs to the inbound platform to await our next train.
Chapter 2.3: MTA NYCT 7 train, Queensboro Plaza to 45th Road-Court House Square
Only two minutes after we had arrived there, we were aboard an inbound 7 train. At 4:25, we were now 12 minutes ahead of schedule. When we began to move, I received another call on my cell phone from Nick. It turned out that he had gotten to the meeting point at Times Square on time, but we had already left. He was on an outbound train trying to hook up with us. When we got to 45th Road-Court House Square station, we saw Nick get off his outbound 7 train and run down the stairs to make his transfer to an inbound train. We decided to get off the train we were on, to ensure that he would not miss us. The time was 4:27, and we were still well ahead of schedule, so doing this put us in no danger of missing our LIRR train later.
Chapter 2.4: MTA NYCT 7 train, 45th Road-Court House Square to Vernon-Jackson
Nick had come up from Philadelphia doing the combination of SEPTAR7 and NJ TRANSIT's Northeast Corridor Line. There was a silver lining to Nick's delay, as he told us that he got to ride on NJT's new bilevel consist from Trenton to New York.
When Nick joined us on the 45th Road-Courthouse Square platform, we were back up to seven people. Almost as soon as our previous inbound train left, we saw the approaching headlights of the next one. We actually left this station a little more than a minute after we had arrived.
At 4:36 PM, we arrived at the Vernon-Jackson station. That was still five minutes ahead of schedule. Now we had a healthy walk over to the LIRR Long Island City station, whose entrance was a lot closer to the river than I had pictured it. Still, we had plenty of time to make our commuter train. Piotr was there waiting for us when the group arrived, so we were now at our maximum for the day, eight people.
Chapter 2.5: MTA LIRR Lower Montauk Branch, Train #560, Long Island City to Jamaica
There are several trains that depart in the evening from the Long Island City station, but only one runs along the Lower Montauk Branch between there and Jamaica. The others go via Hunterspoint Avenue and the Main Line that comes out of Penn Station. In the morning, the same thing happens in reverse. Besides the subway station we just walked from, there is also ferry service to and from Manhattan run by New York Water Taxi.
This particular train was actually an Oyster Bay Branch train, bound for its namesake station.
Our train departed one minute late, and was a little slow getting out of Long Island City. Some in the group lamented that we did this trip in darkness. Had it been during the summer months there would have been a lot more to see.
Once we got going, our train made no scheduled revenue stops. However we did go into an emergency stop once along the way. We arrived in Jamaica three minutes late, at 5:18 PM. Our official riding for the day was now over.
John left us here to catch a Ronkonkoma Branch train back to his home in Ronkonkoma. The other seven went to an inbound platform to take the next train to Penn Station.
Chapter 2.6: MTA LIRR Babylon Branch, Train #131, Jamaica to Penn Station
We had a twenty-minute wait, as our train, which was coming from Babylon, was slightly delayed. We finally departed from Jamaica at 5:18 PM.
Now the interest turned to me. I had to get back to Newark Penn Station in order to meet Michael, who was scheduled to arrive by bus at about 6:13 but could be getting there as soon as 6:00. I had figured on catching a 5:54 NJT Northeast Corridor Line train out of New York, getting me to Newark at 6:11. However, with our LIRR train running late, I was resigned to missing the 5:54 and taking the next one at 6:03.
We eventually came to a stop in New York's Penn Station at 5:52. A rarity for a fest, I left the group and broke into a fast a run as my 46-year-old legs could carry me. Luckily, the 5:54 NJT train was departing from Track 12, not far from where we had arrived, and it was also delayed a bit. So I ended up making the train I thought I had missed!
In my travels I spoke to Michael aboard his bus, and found out that he was running late too by about 13 minutes. So upon arrival in Newark, I had time to go over the bridge to the Hilton, visit my room to drop off my bag and use the facilities, and then return to the bus stop at Newark Penn.
Michael and I were finally united, and then we made our way to PATH to rejoin the group in Jersey City.
Meanwhile, Alan, Piotr, Mike, Skip, Jishnu, and Nick walked from New York Penn Station to Herald Square and caught a PATH train to Pavonia/Newport.
Chapter 2.7: PATH Journal Square-33rd Street Line, 33rd Street to Pavonia/Newport
An uneventful rush hour trip brought these half dozen railfans from the 33rd Street station in Manhattan to Pavonia/Newport in Jersey City. They went across Washington Blvd. and into the Newport Centre Mall to begin their dinners at the food court.
Chapter 2.8: Dinner at Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City, NJ
Michael and I arrived at Pavonia/Newport after taking two PATH trains (changing at Journal Square). We made our way to the food court and found the rest of the group.
Chapter 2.9: End of Friday's activities
After having a nice meal and talking trains, we broke up for the day. Piotr would be staying with relatives in Manhattan, and Alan was returning home to Queens, so they took an inbound PATH train.
Mike Hammond was on his way to Newark Airport to meet Steve Weagant's arrival. Jishnu was headed home, but he would rejoin us in the morning. Nick, Skip, Michael, and I were going to the Hilton in Newark. All six of us took PATH to Journal Square, and then changed for the Newark train.
When we got to Newark, Jishnu and Mike left us. They would be on the same NJT Northeast Corridor Line train going to Metropark and the airport respectively.
Those of us at the Hilton made arrangements to meet for breakfast at the McDonald's within Newark Penn Station, and then we went to our respective rooms and called it a night. Day One was over, but the biggest and busiest of our three days loomed ahead.
Chapter 3: Saturday, January 13, 2007
Saturdays are always the heart of our weekend activities in New York City as we ride around on the subways all day, coming out only to eat lunch. This particular Saturday, life was made easy for me because all thirteen participants were present from start to finish.
Chapter 3.1: Meeting at Herald Square
I had arranged our group meeting place to be the same as the previous year. We would assemble at Herald Square, at the north end of the PATH 33rd Street station. This location would give us easy access to the D train, while making it easy for people coming in on PATH. Furthermore, it is only a block east of Penn Station.
Returning from the previous day were Alan, Piotr, Mike H., Skip, Jishnu, Nick, John C., Michael, and I. Joining us today were Ellis Simon, Maurice Carson, Lou Petrillo, and Steve Weagant.
John C. and Ellis came in on separate LIRR trains to Penn Station, and then walked over to Herald Square. Jishnu came into Penn Station on an NJT Midtown Direct train, and walked to Herald Square. Piotr, who had been staying up in Washington Heights, came down by subway. Lou arrived from Connecticut on Metro North and made his way by subway to Herald Square. Maurice came up from Philadelphia on Amtrak Regional 150 and walked from Penn Station. Mike H. and Steve came in on PATH from Pavonia/Newport, where they had been staying at the Courtyard Newport. Skip, Nick, Michael, and I had breakfast at the McDonald's in Newark Penn Station and then took PATH right to the meeting location.
Except for Alan, everyone was accounted for by 8:40. We began moving towards our first conveyance of the day. Alan had also come in on the LIRR and walked to Herald Square. Not finding us at the meeting point, he went downstairs and met us on the subway platform.
Chapter 3.2: MTA NYCT D Train, 34th Street/Herald Square to Norwood/205th Street
First trip segment was the D train from Herald Square to its northern terminus at 205th Street in the Bronx. Our train was three minutes late, possibly due to congestion in Brooklyn because of the N train diversion on the D tracks. We departed Herald Square at 8:48 AM.
At the Tremont Avenue station in the Bronx, our engineer appeared to have missed the stop. We had not seen anything on the MTA website about a skipped station in the Bronx. It appeared that some passengers who had intended to get off there, as well as the conductor, were surprised the train did not stop. Instead the conductor told them to get off at the next station, 182nd/183rd Streets, and take a Manhattan-bound D train back to Tremont.
We also sat for a long time at the second-to-last station, Bedford Park Blvd. While this is a crew change point, we wondered if the delay had anything to do with the previously missed stop.
We arrived at Norwood/205th Street at 9:28 AM, four minutes behind schedule. We switched to another D train across the platform, since it was indicated as the next one to depart. However, we sat for nine minutes until finally departing.
Chapter 3.3: MTA NYCT D Train, Norwood/205th Street to 145th Street
This D left Norwood/205th Street at 9:37 AM, nine minutes later than called for by the itinerary. The predominantly southbound trip made all stops and was thus uneventful. We arrived at the lower level of 145th Street in Manhattan at 9:59 AM. Here we had to walk up two levels to a mezzanine, and then down one level to the Uptown A platform. Luckily we did this quickly, because four minutes after getting off the D we were on our way north again on an A train towards Inwood/207th Street.
Chapter 3.4: MTA NYCT A Train, 145th Street to Inwood/207th Street
We had actually made up a little time since our transfer at 145th took less time than expected. Our departure at 10:03 AM was just two minutes later than planned. We now expected the worst since we were running on the local tracks rather then the normal express tracks.
For some unexplained reason, we sat at the Dyckman Street station for seven minutes. This lost us a few more minutes overall, and we were seven minutes down when we got to the Inwood/207th Street station.
Here, we made our way across the platform to an awaiting A train, and boarded it.
Chapter 3.5: MTA NYCT A Train, Inwood/207th Street to 8th Ave./14th Street
This train departed from Inwood/207th Street right on time, according to our itinerary. The time was 10:24 AM. I allotted some extra time for this trip, since we would be riding local all the way down to 14th Street. We actually got to 14th Street at 11:02 AM, which was two minutes faster than I had expected.
Transfer between the A and the L was up to a mezzanine and then a few flights down.
Chapter 3.6: MTA NYCT L Train, 8th Ave./14th Street to Broadway Junction
Ahead for the first time, we were able to catch an L train early as well. The L schedule was out of kilter because of a forced change of trains at the Broadway Junction station. We left 8th Avenue/14th Street at 11:08, still two minutes early. However, we lost the time we had gained because of a very long stop at Wilson Avenue. The tracks were congested ahead of us because of the trains turning at Broadway Junction. We got to Broadway Junction at 11:42, four minutes later than my itinerary called for. Due to the forced transfer, they were using the center island platform for both directions. Therefore, we had to go up and over a bridge, then down again into the main part of the station, where we went to the outbound J platform.
Chapter 3.7: MTA NYCT J Train, Broadway Junction to Jamaica Center
Our time off trains at busy Broadway Junction turned out to be just six minutes. At 11:48 AM, we were on our way towards Jamaica on the J, by my watch one minute ahead of schedule. Only the short segment between Sutphin Blvd. and Jamaica Center was new trackage for us. Our group has ridden the whole J line (some segments of it a few times), except for a few stations in Lower Manhattan. I hope that we can rectify that in 2008!
This trip was uneventful out to Jamaica Center, where we arrived at 12:13 PM a minute early. We needed that minute, due to the expected construction at this station. We had to exit on the south side of Archer Avenue, although our destinations, the restaurants, are on the north side.