OTOL Florida RailFest 2008
July 19-24, 2008
Photos by Eric Minton, Jishnu Mukerji, and Piotr Dzwonek.
Click small photos to see larger
Chapter 6.8: MetroRail Green Line, Palmetto to Brickell
Our train began its next trip at exactly 3:15 PM. During our trip to Brickell, the train became more crowded as we continued to pick up passengers mostly destined for the downtown Miami stations. One such passenger was a man who clearly looked like a derelict. He sat down at the rear of our car and started causing a disturbance. We had a short delay as the problem was removed from the train by a security guard at a subsequent station stop.
At Brickell we all detrained. It was 3:45 PM, still 15 minutes later than our itinerary. Now it was time to begin the MetroMover part of our day.
Thanks to Steve and Mike having done this drill the night before, we knew that in order to transfer to MetroMover, we had to go down to street level, and then up another flight to MetroMover. As they had reported to me, signage was terrible. There were elevators for those who needed them, but they were quite slow. This is where our schedule really began to deteriorate. What I had estimated would be a five-minute transfer in reality took eleven minutes.
Chapter 6.9: MetroMover Brickell Loop, Brickell to Financial District
Chapter 6.10: MetroMover Brickell Loop, Financial District to Government Center
The same car quickly reversed direction, so at 3:58 we were headed back the other way, towards the downtown loop and Government Center. We were 20 minutes behind our schedule when we arrived at Government Center at 4:15.
Chapter 6.11: Break at Government Center
I had scheduled a rest room break here at Government Center, figuring it was to be about three hours between our bathroom equipped TriRail trains and our dinner stop at a shopping mall. The break was supposed to be ten minutes. It wasn't.
When I had scouted out Government Center two years prior, there had been a food court on the upper level called MetroFare, and it had convenient rest rooms with the entrance located between two of the eateries. Well sometime in the past two years, MetroFare was replaced by something called Bottegar Express. While it may still have had facilities, one would have had to walk through a restaurant. The restaurant also appeared to be almost closed for the day, as it most likely caters only to the lunch crowd.
The bottom line is that we had to go searching for other rest room facilities. Somebody directed us to go to the lower level. We found two unisex rest rooms on the lower level. One of them appeared to be occupied. A man tried the door and found it unlocked, and when he entered we could see a homeless person inside. The man did his business anyhow and left. However, knowing what was in there none of us wished to share the room with him. Instead, the twelve of us had to take turns using the one remaining bathroom. Naturally this took a lot of time, but it was a need we all seemed to have to fulfill.
After about half an hour, we finally were able to resume our MetroMover riding. We headed for the same platform we had arrived on from Brickell to await our ride on the Omni Loop.
Chapter 6.12: MetroMover Omni Loop, Government Center to School Board
The cars on MetroMover's Outer Loop are supposed to alternate between the Brickell Loop and the Omni Loop. However, two Brickell cars came before an Omni car showed up. Needless to say, the car was quite crowded. We finally left Government Center at 4:52 PM, 47 minutes off our intended schedule.
The car we were in, besides being overcrowded, also had some door problems, making passage through them difficult. Our sweaty trip took 19 minutes. Once at the School Board station, our train quickly reversed within a minute and we headed back towards Government Center.
Chapter 6.13: MetroMover Omni Loop, School Board to Government Center
Going inbound, our car was a little less crowded, but there were still a lot of people due to the service gap that we had experienced. This trip took eleven minutes; it was shorter than the outbound trip because it has to traverse less of the Outer Loop. We were back at Government Center at 5:23 PM, 48 minutes off our itinerary.
At this time, our group started to get smaller. Jack decided to leave us here, to go visit a friend in the area. The other eleven of us went to the Inner Loop platform, as we prepared for our final MetroMover ride.
Chapter 6.14: MetroMover Inner Loop, Government Center to Government Center
The Inner Loop runs basically the same route as the Outer Loop, only in a clockwise direction and with no diversions to Omni or Brickell. The view from this route would have been totally redundant to what we had already seen, except that in the southwest part of the system, the Inner and Outer Loops split and run over parallel streets in order to straddle MetroMover's maintenance and storage facility.
We left Government Center at 5:26, and arrived back in the exact same spot at 5:37. Now it was time to complete our MetroRail travels. We paid our fares once more and headed upstairs to MetroRail's island platform.
Chapter 6.15: MetroRail Green Line, Government Center to Dadeland South
It was 5:44 PM as we left Government Center with most of us standing on another packed train. However, seats did open up for all of us down the line. When we stepped off at the Dadeland South station at 6:04 PM, we had aced all of the Miami area's rail lines in a single day. We were 47 minutes past the time called for in our itinerary.
Here, Jishnu left us in order to have dinner with a friend. That left ten of us to walk over to the Dadeland Mall for dinner.
Chapter 6.16: Dinner at Dadeland Mall
The walk to the mall took about ten minutes. We found a group of available tables in the center of the food court, and then took turns going to get the delicacies of our choice.
Some were wisely looking ahead at connections they would have to make that night. While Jack had already left us, Eric and Jason would have to catch a northbound TriRail train. TriRail's frequency lessens considerably after the rush hour, so they wanted to make sure they could catch a 7:57 train from the Transfer station since the next one would be 1-1/2 hours later. To get there in time meant making sure they caught a MetroRail train at 7:00. In turn, that meant we had to leave the mall by 6:45 to allow time for the walk.
Therefore, we ended up rushing through dinner and getting up to leave. Unfortunately we somehow lost Rick, but he later caught up with us. The ten of us got back to the MetroRail station in time to make the intended train.
Chapter 6.17 End of Tuesday's travels
Piotr split from us at Dadeland South. He wanted to take a ride on the busway that extends south from the MetroRail station. That left nine of us heading north on the 7:00 MetroRail train.
We all said goodbye for the day aboard the train, as we had various destinations. Jason had been a wonderful addition to our group, and he was delighted to have spent the day with us. We also bid farewell to Mike Hammond, who would be flying home from Miami to Cleveland the next day.
Michael and I got off at Coconut Grove to return to our hotel, leaving seven aboard the train. Rick, Steve, and Mike got off in downtown Miami, so there were just four people left on the MetroRail train going to the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer.
At the Transfer station, Grace and Alan took the next TriRail train south to Miami Airport, while Eric and Jason did make their 7:57 northbound TriRail train, to Cypress Creek and Lake Worth respectively.
Jishnu and Piotr each eventually returned to the Hampton Inn. On his own, Jack rode the portion of MetroRail that he had missed with the group, and then he caught the last TriRail train of the night back to Dania Beach.
Another day of our Fest was history, and now we had the final phase ahead of us, our northbound return trip.
Chapter 7: Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Wednesday we began our trips home. For most of us, that meant catching the SILVER METEOR in South Florida.
Mike Hammond rode MetroRail and then took a TriRail train to the Miami Airport station, where a shuttle bus completed his trip to the airport. He flew home to Cleveland that morning.
Meanwhile, Piotr, Jishnu, Rick, Michael, and I took MetroRail to the TriRail/MetroRail Transfer station. Piotr took a TriRail train to Hollywood, where he could make an easier transfer to Amtrak. The rest of us walked over to the Miami Amtrak station, and entered the Metropolitan Lounge.
Chapter 7.1: Metropolitan Lounge, Miami, FL
In the lounge we met Steve, who had taken an earlier MetroRail train from downtown and walked to the Amtrak station ahead of us. Also there were Grace and Alan, who had taken their hotel shuttle to the Miami Airport station, and then TriRail to the Transfer station before walking to Amtrak.
There was no advance boarding call for first class passengers. When we left the lounge after the general announcement, we ended up on line with the rest of the train's passengers who had already queued up. The Redcaps were driving golf carts taking those who needed extra assistance. Piotr took them up on the offer.
The rest of us walked with the coach passengers, eventually passing them and their coaches to head for the train's sleeper section.
Chapter 7.2: Amtrak SILVER METEOR, Train #98, Miami, FL to New York, NY
Seven of us departed from the Miami station on time, on a consist looking like this:
* Eric (DFB-WAS) was here90 P-42 locomotive MIA-WAS 51 P-42 locomotive MIA-WAS 657 HHP-8 locomotive WAS-NYP 1735 Baggage 62035 Viewliner sleeper "Shore View" **** 62041 Viewliner sleeper "Summit View" *** 62007 Viewliner sleeper "Colonial View" ** 8551 Heritage Diner/Grill 28003 Lounge 25001 Amfleet II coach * 25047 Amfleet II coach 25058 Amfleet II coach 25034 Amfleet II coach
** Grace, Alan, Rick (MIA-NYP), Piotr (HOL-NWK), Michael, and Kevin (MIA-PHL) were here
*** Jishnu (MIA-NYP) was here
**** Jack (HOL-NYP) and Steve (MIA-NYP) were here
One surprise was that breakfast was being served to sleeper passengers out of Miami. Only a few partook of the offer, since we hadn't expected it and thus had eaten something at our respective hotels.
Our first stop up the line was Hollywood. Here, Piotr rejoined us after his short northbound TriRail trip. Jack also boarded here, having taken TriRail south from Dania Beach. Although we had left Miami on time, we left Hollywood at 9:08, four minutes late. We were also down four minutes as we left the Fort Lauderdale station.
At Deerfield Beach, our northbound travel group was complete as Eric boarded. He had taken TriRail northward from Cypress Creek to Deerfield Beach. Like our southbound journey towards Tampa, Eric was the only coach passenger from our group. However, we made sure to visit him frequently throughout the trip and included him with our group at meal times. It was 9:43 AM as we departed that station, now five minutes in the hole.
We left our next stops at Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, and Sebring about two minutes late. So far it was looking like we would be keeping fairly close to schedule throughout the trip.
Around 12:00 Noon, the ten of us went to the dining car to have lunch. While there, we made our stop at Winter Haven on time at 12:30 PM. Then we came to the junction at Auburndale, and stopped for a few minutes. We soon saw the reason we were stopped as the southbound SILVER STAR, Train #91(22), came across the junction headed for Tampa. After it passed and the switches were realigned, we were on our way again.
After an on-time departure from Kissimmee at 1:16 PM, we began to have some problems. We stopped a few times again, later finding out that some of the grade crossing apparatus was malfunctioning. We saw a few crossings where the gates were in the upright position. These had to be flagged by a member of our crew to ensure safe passage.
Schedule padding helped us recover some of the time we lost. When we arrived in Orlando at 1:48 PM, we were just five minutes late.
Alan had arranged to meet some friends from another board during our brief layover in Orlando. Most from our group detrained and chatted with them for a while. Our train then left Orlando six minutes down at 2:03 PM. Winter Park came next at 2:26 PM, twelve minutes off the advertised.
I knew that we would be meeting our southbound counterpart, the SILVER METEOR, Train #97(22), somewhere in the stretch between Winter Park and Jacksonville, depending on how late it was. A call to Amtrak's Julie confirmed it had left Palatka late. I expected the meet to be handled somewhere between Winter Haven and Deland. When we got to Sanford (no longer a station stop), we began running quite slowly. We turned onto a siding. As we passed the former Sanford station, there was #97 on the mainline, with some of its crew on the ground on the now unused platform awaiting #98's passing.
Meanwhile, I rode in Steve and Jack's sleeping car, so that I could point out the Sanford Auto Train terminal to them. Neither had been with us on our southbound trip.
With our meets with other Amtrak trains out of the way, we soon took the main once more and went back to track speed. We made the Deland stop at 3:29 PM, 33 minutes late. Palatka was next at 4:21 PM. We were now 35 minutes down.
Our group had wisely agreed on a dinner reservation for 7:00 PM. That was because we didn't want to miss Jacksonville, our last opportunity of the day to stretch our legs. This also allowed for us to be a little late, which we were. We arrived in Jacksonville at 5:28 PM, just 18 minutes late thanks once again to padding. Our dwell there, during which time most of us did walk around, was 15 minutes. At 5:43 PM, we were on our way north, now just ten minutes late.
At 7 PM, our party of ten headed for the diner, and we were seated promptly. At 7:07, we made our station stop in Jessup, GA, 14 minutes down. We were finished eating and back in our various accommodations by the time we arrived in Savannah, GA at 8:03 (six minutes late). We departed at 8:11, now eight minutes tardy.
We lost some more time in southern South Carolina. We left Yemassee, SC at 9:32 PM, 40 minutes late, after a ten-minute stop that blocked traffic at a grade crossing. By this time, we'd had our beds taken down, and we were beginning to retire for the night.
I was still awake when we left Charleston, SC at 10:32 PM after an approximately ten minute station stop. We were 44 minutes late by this time. I went to sleep after Charleston, and I am happy to say I slept much better than I had on the southbound journey.
Chapter 8: Thursday, July 24, 2008
On our final official day of the fest, most of us arrived home, while two others continued their trips.
Chapter 8.0: Amtrak SILVER METEOR, Train #98, Miami, FL to New York, NY (continued)
When I awoke we were in Virginia. In fact we had already passed Richmond. It was initially difficult to judge how late we were since I didn't know our exact location.
Michael and I eventually went to breakfast. Our group did not all go together because we figured we would arise at different times. Alexandria came at 8:09 AM, meaning that we were 49 minutes late. Therefore, overnight we had lost another five minutes.
We arrived at Washington, DC's Union Station at 8:31 AM, 45 minutes down. Here most of us detrained to say our final goodbyes to Eric, who would be leaving us here. We also watched the engine change process. Our dwell was about 20 minutes.
Our train arrived in Baltimore 59 minutes late at 9:40 AM. Wilmington came at 10:29, making us 54 minutes down. Michael and I then said goodbye to the other seven fest participants still on the train, and prepared to get off in Philadelphia. Arrival there was at 10:53 AM, 53 minutes late. Michael and I then took an NJ TRANSIT train at 11:40 AM to Cherry Hill, where we proceeded home by car.
The METEOR meanwhile continued northward, reaching Trenton, NJ 54 minutes late at 11:29 AM. Its next stop was Newark, where Piotr detrained at 12:08, still 54 minutes down. He took NJ TRANSIT from there back to his car at Metropark.
Steve, Rick, Jishnu, Grace, Alan, and Jack were aboard Train #98 as it arrived at its final destination, New York's Penn Station. It arrived at 12:30 PM, 56 minutes late.
Chapter 8.1: End of Thursday's travels
Once in New York, Alan took his mother to the bus station so she could continue her travel home to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Rick, Jishnu, Jack, and Steve went to the nearby Stage Door Deli for lunch. Jishnu then took an NJ TRANSIT train home.
Rick and Jack later took Northeast Regional #86 back to their respective Massachusetts stations. #86 was the designated connection from the SILVER METEOR, so they were pleased to have made it with time to spare. Their train left New York on time, but they got to their destinations a little bit late.
Steve, meanwhile, headed for the Club Acela in advance of his next and final long distance rail trip aboard the westbound Lake Shore Limited. He would ride that train's entire route to his hometown, Chicago.
Chapter 9: Friday, July 25 through Thursday, July 31, 2008
Steve had a good trip into Chicago, arriving there on Friday morning at 9:59 AM, just 14 minutes late.
Eric's vacation lasted well beyond everyone else's. He remained with family in the Washington area, and also visited other places on the east coast. He then flew to California, where he visited more family before finally returning to Hawaii on Thursday, July 31st.
Chapter 10: Conclusion
OTOL Florida RailFest 2008 was relatively short, but it was still plenty of fun. We enjoyed riding the rails in the two Florida cities, and we certainly had a good time aboard our three Amtrak trains.
As is customary, we did discuss future fests during our time together. We knew we would be meeting in a little over four weeks for the OTOL Garden State RailFest 2008. We also talked about meeting in Boston in November and returning to the New York area in January. The advance excitement over next summer's OTOL Southern California RailFest 2009 was unprecedented!