OTOL Florida RailFest 2008
July 19-24, 2008
Photos by Eric Minton, Jishnu Mukerji, and Piotr Dzwonek.
Click small photos to see larger
Chapter 4.0: Amtrak SILVER STAR, Train #91, New York, NY to Tampa, FL (continued)
Around 2 AM, Michael awoke feeling the effects of Red Velvet. Normally the toilet in our roomette serves as no more than a step to the upper bunk (we walk to the lounge car if needed), but an exception was made due to the dire situation. I don't blame Michael, but that was the end of sleep for me. Although I had slept through Cary, Southern Pines and Hamlet, I was able to write down our train's arrival and departure times at Camden, then an unscheduled stop while a freight train passed, and then Columbia, Denmark, and Savannah.
As is the custom, our group did not arrange to eat breakfast all together. People arise at different times, and the diner does not take reservations for breakfast anyhow. Since many of us wanted to get off the train to stretch our legs in Jacksonville, we had to make sure we went early enough that we would be done eating before arriving at the Jacksonville station.
We all made it through breakfast with plenty of time to spare. The train arrived into Jacksonville at 7:55 AM, exactly one hour late. Our timekeeping overnight was not that bad and the padding into Jacksonville didn't hurt! After walking around a bit on the platform, watching crews water the train and fuel the engines, we boarded the train once again. Our departure at 8:19 AM was one hour four minutes down.
At both Palatka and Deland, we departed one hour six minutes off the advertised. Then we went through Sanford, and just as I had pointed out the Lorton Auto Train terminal the day before, I did the same for the Sanford terminal. The Auto Train that had arrived that morning had arrived early at 8:37 AM. The process of getting cars back to the passengers appeared to have been completed as we went by at about 10:35.
By Winter Park, we had made up several minutes, departing there at 10:56 AM. Then we came into Orlando at 11:15 AM, 58 minutes late. We dwelled there for the expected 14 minutes, and were on our way 11:29. Kissimmee station also came 58 minutes down at 11:53 AM.
We knew we still had well over an hour before we would be getting to Tampa. At about 12 Noon, we ventured into the dining car for our second lunch of this trip.
From the diner at about 12:20, I pointed out Auburndale Junction. On the two Amtrak trips after this one, we would be utilizing the connecting tracks to and from the south. However on this trip we went straight through from east to west. As we finished up our meals, we made our Lakeland stop at 12:34 PM, 54 minutes down. We were finishing dessert when we bumped over the diamonds at Plant City. At that point we returned to our accommodations to prepare for our arrival into Tampa.
The crew made an announcement about our approach to Tampa, and said something about us "going right in". However, we knew the train had to be wyed and backed through Ybor City and into Tampa Union Station, and that is exactly what happened.
Our first big Amtrak ride of this fest came to an end as we officially arrived at Tampa Union Station at 1:22 PM, 48 minutes late. Considering the delays we had endured in Washington and just to the south of there, we had done fairly well. The eight of us detrained, and were met by Mike Hammond and Steve Weagant on the platform.The ten of us walked to the south side of the station building and split up here. Some opted to take taxis or call hotel shuttles to get to their respective hotels. Before we split, it was agreed that we would meet again at 4:00 PM at Dick Greco Plaza to take our official TECO Line Streetcar ride.
Chapter 4.1: In Tampa, FL
Eric was headed for the Sheraton by complimentary shuttle. Bill took a cab to the Marriott, while Jishnu and Piotr shared a cab to the Hyatt. Steve, Mike, Grace, Alan, Michael, and I walked three blocks east to the TECO Line Streetcar. After just missing one, we waited about 15 minutes for the next one. It delivered Grace, Alan, Michael, and me right to the Embassy Suites where we were staying. Mike Hammond also had moved from the Marriott to the Embassy Suites for his last night in Tampa. Steve returned to the Marriott (which was right across the plaza from the Embassy Suites) to rejoin Rosalyn.
With the temperature in the mid 90's and high humidity as well, I think everyone welcomed the few hours of downtime. The rare midday shower that I took was certainly refreshing!
Shortly before 4 PM, our group began to assemble downtown. Eric had made it from his Sheraton to the lobby of our Embassy Suites, despite the fact that his hotel had not heard of Dick Greco Plaza or its old name, Southern Transportation Center. The Plaza could not have been a more perfect meeting place, as it sits right between the Embassy Suites and the Marriott Waterside. It is no more than four blocks from the other hotels where our participants were staying. At the Plaza we met Rick and Rosalyn, so with the ten who had been at Tampa Union Station, we now had twelve people.
Chapter 4.2: TECO Line Streetcar, Dick Greco Plaza to Centennial Park
At precisely 4 PM, a streetcar was ready for boarding. We rode the entire line from here to the Centennial Park station in Ybor City. The operator tried to convince us to get off at the Central Ybor station, the second to last one, so that we could head right back on another car. We opted to go with him to the end of the line, which meant laying over for ten minutes while he changed the trolley pole and took a rest. We detrained at 4:20 and remained near the streetcar so that we could reboard once it was ready to leave. I had allowed half an hour for the entire trip, but it had been done in 20 minutes. Therefore we were already well ahead of schedule.
Chapter 4.3: TECO Line Streetcar, Centennial Park to Cadrecha Plaza
We were back aboard soon, as we awaited the car's 4:30 PM departure. Right on time, we were once again moving, this time westbound. Our destination was Cadrecha Plaza, the station closest to the Spaghetti Warehouse.
It only took about five minutes to reach our stop, and soon a dozen hungry people detrained. We walked around the block and soon found the entrance to the restaurant.
Chapter 4.4: Dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse
Our dinner experience was superb. Our waitress, Constance, handled our group cordially and proficiently. She had no problem with our requesting separate checks.
Chapter 4.5: TECO Line Streetcar, Cadrecha Plaza to Dick Greco Plaza
After dinner, we walked back to the Cadrecha Plaza station to await a streetcar back to downtown. As expected, one came right at 6:20 PM, and we boarded it to complete our round trip journey.
We arrived back at Dick Greco Plaza at 6:35 PM, our bellies full. We said goodbye to Rosalyn and Bill, who would not be joining us for the Miami leg of the fest. Both would be flying home on Monday morning.
Chapter 4.6: End of Sunday's travels
That ended a very busy day. The twelve of us retired to our respective hotels for the evening. Most of us would be meeting the next morning for our tour and then our travels to Miami.
Chapter 5: Monday, July 21, 2008
Monday promised to be another busy day. Besides our morning guided streetcar facility tour, we also rode Amtrak from Tampa to Miami.
Bill and Rosalyn each travelled by cab on Monday morning from the Marriott to the airport and flew to Philadelphia and Chicago respectively.
Chapter 5.1: TECO Line Streetcar tour
Jishnu had to back out of the tour because he had forgotten to bring some medicine. He would meet us later at Tampa Union Station before our departure. That left nine of us who met at Dick Greco Plaza at 9:45 AM, baggage in hand. Our only company there was a two-man crew repairing the ticket vending machine that we found broken the day before. As it turned out, we would not need the machine today.
At 10:00, a TECO Line streetcar entered the station area. It stopped at the discharge area, and a man in a conductor uniform got off and approached us. The streetcar continued into the tail track and the operator changed the pole and prepared to run the car in the Ybor City-bound direction. The "conductor" turned out to be Peter Mikos, HART's Assistant Manager for Streetcar Operations. I had spoken with him over the phone and arranged our tour for this morning. Since the operation normally begins revenue service at 11 AM (too late for us given we had a scheduled 12:45 PM Amtrak departure), he had told me they would pick us up at Dick Greco Plaza in a test car.
Our first pleasant surprise was when Peter told us not to worry about tickets. The tour was complimentary. It was therefore a good thing the ticket machine was under repair, or we all would have purchased day passes. The nine of us boarded, and soon we were rolling.
Peter began giving us his commentary on the TECO Line Streetcar's history and operations. Since we were not in revenue service, no station stops were made along the way. We came to a stop at the Cadrecha Plaza station, where the operator got off and switched the pole. He then changed ends and ran the car in the opposite direction onto a track connection leading into the TECO Line's maintenance facility.
We were allowed to leave our luggage on board the streetcar, as we went inside to see behind the scenes. We saw how the cars are washed, how they run around a loop track within the building, the pits that allow mechanics to get underneath the cars, and how the fare boxes on each car are handled when the cars finish up their daily runs.
Besides its fleet of nine yellow Gomaco streetcars (of which four are normally running during regular operations), there is also one restored original Birney car on the property used only for special events. We were allowed to board this car in the yard. There is also one open air Breezer car in the fleet. This car was in service both days we were in town, but unfortunately we did not get to ride it. Although it carries revenue passengers like the other cars, the Breezer's primary purpose is to earn more money by displaying advertising on its sides.
After our tour, Peter offered us transportation to the Amtrak station. This was another totally unexpected favor on his part. He had one employee take our luggage in a van, while Peter drove us in a company car. It took him three round trips to get all nine of us over there. The first group watched everyone's luggage outside the station until everyone had arrived. Then we went inside the air conditioned station to await our train.
Chapter 5.2: At Tampa Union Station
Upon arrival we learned that our train was running late. Not only did the announcements and a message board next the ticket window tell us, but we also had a man aboard the train. Jack texted or called me to give updates on the train's status. At about 12:14 PM, the train was running one hour 19 minutes late and had just left Kissimmee.
Jishnu joined us during our wait, and we were up to ten people. At 1:03, we found out from Jack that the train was in Lakeland, so it was now one hour 23 minutes down.
At about 1:35, the boarding process began, minus the train. A conductor who was starting his run at Tampa collected tickets as the passengers went through a gate behind the station building. Everyone then assembled on the one platform used by Amtrak trains. Later on, the sleeper passengers were told to go stand further up the platform. Steve and Mike went up to that location. Coach passengers were told to form two groups. Those going to Miami were told to stand at one location, and those going to all other stops were told to go to the other. This was repeated several times. We had originally envisioned all of us riding in the coach portion of the train together. This meant we had to split up. Rick, Jishnu, Michael, and I were ticketed for Miami, so we stood with that group, which appeared to be destined for the front most coach where Jack had told us he was sitting. Grace, Alan, and Piotr were ticketed for Hollywood, so they assembled with another group of people who would most likely end up in the coach behind that one. Eric was ticketed for Miami as well, but we had earlier convinced him to get off in Deerfield Beach so he wouldn't travel past his hotel location in Cypress Creek and then have to double back on TriRail. He therefore stood with Piotr, Grace, and Alan.
At 1:50 Jack reported to me that the train had begun its backup move from the wye into Union Station. It came into view at 1:57, and two minutes later it came to a stop. Many passengers detrained, and then it was time to begin the boarding process. The coach attendants began seating people where their records showed they had empty seats. Their process angered some of the people waiting to board, because they were taking people travelling alone to fill in empty single seats, and larger parties who needed to travel together. However our party of four never made it aboard this coach. Eventually the attendant said that her car was all full. Now regardless of our destinations, we were told to walk back to the next car, where the other four people in our group had already boarded. It was doubtful that any of us would be sitting together being among the last to board. Then another attendant opened up the rear coach and said he had plenty of room. So now we were sent to a third location and the four of us finally were able to board. This coach had plenty of room since most of those boarding in Tampa had already been stuffed into the first two coaches.
The result was that our group (now eleven people) was fragmented into four different locations on the train. Mike and Steve were in a roomette and Jack was still in the first coach as he had been since Washington. Grace, Alan, Piotr, and Eric were in the second coach, and Jishnu, Rick, Michael, and I were in the fourth coach.
This was yet another experience with the ineptitude of the crews in properly boarding passengers. The conductors, station personnel, and coach attendants are rarely on the same page as to where to board passengers. They still cannot get this simple task right. It reminded me why I don't often travel in coach class anymore. The problem leads to anarchy among the passengers. It makes a station stop longer than necessary because passengers have been told to stand in the wrong location, and then they have to hustle with their luggage to the correct one. I am amazed that this still goes on every day, and that nobody can figure out a better system.
Chapter 5.3: Amtrak SILVER STAR, Train #91, Tampa, FL to Miami, FL
Finally, with the boarding nightmare over, we were all aboard our train. The train left Tampa at 2:12 PM, one hour 27 minutes down. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that lunch was still being served in the diner despite the train's tardiness. Not everyone went to the diner; some opted for food from the lounge car instead. Most importantly though, we all did eat as we knew we would be getting to our hotels rather late and would thus be having a late dinner.
By having members of our group throughout the train, it did make the process of getting our consist a lot easier. Only our engine and the baggage car were unknown, but we knew we would be able to record them in Miami after detraining. Here is what this train looked like:
* Mike and Steve (TPA-MIA) were here152 P-42 locomotive WAS-MIA 1721 Baggage 62017 Viewliner sleeper "Majestic View" * 62040 Viewliner sleeper "Summer View" 8505 Heritage Diner: Temoinsa rebuild 28024 Lounge "Philadelphia Club" 25101 Amfleet II coach ** 25021 Amfleet II coach *** 25081 Amfleet II coach 25012 Amfleet II coach ****
** Jack (WAS-FTL) was here
** Grace, Alan, Piotr (TPA-HOL), Eric (TPA-DFB) were here
*** Rick, Jishnu, Michael, and Kevin (TPA-MIA) were here
We did not make up any time into Lakeland or Winter Haven. Between the two we took the southwest quadrant connection at Auburndale Junction. At Winter Haven, we were one hour 44 minutes late when we departed at 3:27 PM. Ten minutes later, we had a rolling meet with Train #92(21), the northbound SILVER STAR. I noticed that this train had the same equipment as our #91(19).
The fact that we were separated meant little, as some of us in coach walked through the train socializing with fellow fest participants. We were still fairly late as we made our stops at Sebring and Okeechobee. We seemed destined to arrive in Miami about 7:50 PM.
Soon we passed the Mangonia Park TriRail station, which to me is the official gateway to the Gold Coast. From here on, all stations except the last one would be shared TriRail stops. Since TriRail has double tracked their entire line, logic would dictate that there would not be any further delays. However, we did have to negotiate a meet with a TriRail train between Mangonia Park and West Palm Beach. This is because Amtrak has to use the platform closest to the station building to facilitate handling of baggage. So Amtrak is still limited to one track at some of its stops, which necessitates TriRail operating on the opposite track. Often this results in left-handed running, which can be confusing to novice TriRail passengers waiting for departing trains.
Despite the delay getting into the West Palm Beach station, we had made up a little bit of time. As we pulled in at 5:48 PM, we were one hour 35 minutes off the advertised. We now figured on making up a little more time since the southbound station stops are only for discharging passengers for the rest of the run.
Delray Beach came at 6:08 (one hour 31 minutes late), and it featured the only double spot on our trip today. Delray used to have its own Amtrak station about a mile north of the town's TriRail station. However, both now stop at the TriRail location, meaning less platform space for Amtrak.
Our next station stop would be Deerfield Beach. We arrived there at 6:21, one hour 21 minutes late. Here is where our group would begin to split up for the night. Eric was the first to leave our train. He would catch TriRail Train #643 at 6:39 PM, and end up in Cypress Creek ten minutes later. He was staying at the Sheraton Suites just west of the tracks.
When we arrived at the Fort Lauderdale station at 6:36 PM (now just one hour 24 minutes late), Jack was next to leave us. His hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott, was a short walk from the Fort Lauderdale Airport/Dania Beach station. So he too had to take TriRail Train #643 for just one stop. He left Fort Lauderdale proper at 6:56 and got to the airport station at 7:03 PM.
Next to leave the SILVER STAR were Piotr, Grace, and Alan. They detrained in Hollywood at 6:47 (one hour 19 minutes late) in order to take TriRail further south. Piotr would be meeting us at the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer station, while Grace and Alan would continue to TriRail's terminus at Miami International Airport where they would take a hotel shuttle to the Embassy Suites. Guess which train they took? That's right, Train #643! TriRail will never know that their #643 train on Monday evening had become a "sweep" train, running about 20 minutes behind the SILVER STAR and transporting five OTOL fest participants over different segments to get to their respective hotels. The three left Hollywood at 7:11 PM, and then Piotr arrived at the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer station at 7:33, and Grace and Alan got to the airport station twelve minutes later.
That left Rick, Jishnu, Mike, Steve, Michael, and me still aboard last segment of the SILVER STAR into the Miami station. Our ride on #91 ended when we pulled into the Miami station at 7:10 PM, just one hour five minutes late. Padding had helped this train to recover over half an hour of its worst deficit.
Chapter 5.4: End of Monday's travels
The six of us walked through Hialeah from the Amtrak station to the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer, a distance of about seven blocks. By the time we arrived, we could see the famous TriRail Train #643 in the distance. We waited there for Piotr to arrive. Unfortunately, the train came in left handed, stationing on the east side platform. We were waiting on the west side platform, which has the only connection to MetroRail. Piotr had to take an elevator upstairs, cross over a bridge, and come down by elevator to the other side.
Once we were all together, we headed for MetroRail. We were delayed further by its antiquated fare collection system. Dollar bills must first be changed for either dollar coins or quarters in order to pay a cash fare.
Once everyone had cleared the fare gates, some of us got lost. To get to the track leading to downtown, one must go up one level to a mezzanine, walk through an underpass, and then up to the far side platform. We took an elevator directly to the wrong platform, the one for trains heading to Palmetto. After the seven of us had finally made it to the correct platform, we did not have long to wait before a train came.
We headed together towards downtown Miami. Rick was the first to get off, doing so at Government Center. There, he would switch to a MetroMover train to the Hyatt Regency where he was staying.
Steve and Mike got off at the next stop, Brickell, also taking the MetroMover a short distance to their hotel, the J.W. Marriott. They reported that the transfer is not very seamless, as one has to go downstairs to the ground level, and then up another set of stairs to the MetroMover. While there are also elevators, the lack of signs makes the transfer point quite user-unfriendly.
Four of us remained on MetroRail two more stops to Coconut Grove. Once there, we walked across the street and another block to our Hampton Inn. After getting settled in our rooms, we met again in the lobby and walked to a nearby Burger King for dinner.
That ended quite an eventful day for our group, as we retired in our respective accommodations knowing we had another big day to look forward to!
Chapter 6: Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Tuesday was the only day out of six that nobody in our group would be riding Amtrak. There was, however, plenty of train riding to do, as we planned to conquer the entire TriRail line and the MetroRail and MetroMover in Miami.
Chapter 6.1: Meeting at TriRail/MetroRail Transfer
The official start of our fest on Tuesday took place at the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer, as we began our official travels by riding the southernmost segment of TriRail. To get to that station, our group had to converge from many different directions.
Eric and Jack took TriRail Train #P613 from their hotels, respectively in Cypress Creek and Dania Beach. We would meet them aboard the train at the Transfer station.
Joining our group for the first time was Jason Goldfield, of Lake Worth. Jason had informed me a few months before our trip that he would like to participate in our day of rail travels in the Miami area, but that he is visually impaired and requires a canine companion to get around. We certainly looked forward to meeting Jason and having him enjoy his day with us.
I had asked Eric and Jack to look for Jason on the #P613 train coming down from Broward County. However they could not find him. Jason later called me from the Miami Airport TriRail station, so I figured out that he had gotten to the Lake Worth station a little early, and had boarded the previous train, #P611. I told him to wait there at the Miami Airport station until we all arrived.
Rick, Steve, Mike, Piotr, Jishnu, Michael, and I took Metrorail from our respective Miami hotels to the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer station. Once there, we went to the ticket agent to purchase our TriRail tickets for the day. We were truthfully unclear as to what we needed to buy since we would be covering the entire line, but some of our trips would be in short segments. The agent, after seeing that a number of us were making transactions more complicated than necessary, told us that all we had to do was to purchase one round trip ticket between Miami and Mangonia Park, and it would be valid all day.
Chapter 6.2: TriRail Train #P613, TriRail/MetroRail Transfer to Miami Airport
Not long after the seven of us has purchased our tickets, our southbound train arrived, and we boarded. A pleasant surprise was that this train was made up with demonstration Colorado Railcar DMU equipment. As we met Eric and Jack on board, the nine of us had an unexpected bonus (albeit it was only twelve minutes for most of us).
This train operated right on time, leaving the Transfer station at 8:33 AM and arriving at the Miami Airport terminus at 8:45. After we detrained, we met Jason. We also saw Grace and Alan, who had recently arrived at this station via their hotel shuttle. We had reached our maximum for the day, twelve people.Continued in next section