OTOL Metro New York RailFest 2009
January 16-18, 2009
Photos by John Corbett & Lynn Hammond
Click small photos to see larger
Chapter 0: Introduction
We've been having winter Rail Fests in the New York area almost every year for quite some time. In each of our previous ones, we featured a number of subway lines, as well as one or two commuter rail lines. These Fests in 2001 through 2003 were called AppleFests. We took a break from New York in 2004, but when we resumed in 2005, they were called Big Apple RailFest, or BARF. Those lasted through 2008. In all those years, we covered every subway line in the city at least once.
Realizing that we still had a lot to cover with commuter rail, this year's meet was the Metro New York RailFest. Other than going between New York City's two train stations, we would not be riding subways together as an official Fest activity.
Instead, we made our Friday activity a round trip to High Bridge on NJ TRANSIT's Raritan Valley Line. Our rides over the weekend would focus on completing two MTA Metro North Railroad lines of which we had previously only ridden a portion. Saturday would be a one-way trip to Poughkeepsie on the Hudson Line, and then we would take an Amtrak train back in order to get us directly back to Penn Station. To fill out the early part of the day, we also took a ride on AirTrain Newark. On Sunday, we did a round trip on Metro North's New Haven Line to New Haven, and also extended our trip out to Old Saybrook on Shore Line East.
Chapter 1: Preparation
The usual series of web pages was created to give participants information on our itinerary, the guest list, scanner frequencies, etc. The itinerary, as it existed since the middle of 2008, remained intact as we were not affected by late service disruptions. There were a number of diversions on MTA New York City Transit over that particular weekend, but they were of little concern to us.
Chapter 2: Getting to the New York area
Travel to this Fest began on Wednesday, January 14th with Steve Weagant's trip on Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited. His trip started out with a departure delay related to the derailment of another Amtrak train at Chicago's Union Station earlier that day. En route, half of the toilets on his train were out of commission, possibly due to the extreme cold weather. His train ended up coming into New York's Penn Station on Thursday evening about an hour late.
Lynn and Mike Hammond flew from Cleveland to Newark on Thursday, arriving that evening. They were also delayed; in fact the original plane that took off from Cleveland had to return to the same airport when it lost one engine. Ironically, this was the same day that the US Airways plane landed in the Hudson River after losing both of its engines.
Chapter 3: Friday, January 16, 2009
We met on Friday afternoon for the exclusive purpose of riding the entire NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line out to High Bridge and back. Four years earlier, as one of our Sunday activities during Big Apple RailFest 2005, we rode this line to the end of its double track territory in Raritan, and returned. This time, because it was a weekday we were able to go all the way out to High Bridge.
Steve, Lynn, and Mike had planned a little subway riding on Friday morning before the scheduled afternoon activities. They rode the 6 line up to Pelham Bay Park and back. I left a little early in order to possibly join them, but I ran into traffic and ended up about fifteen minutes behind them. I met them in the Bronx by getting off at Parkchester and boarding their inbound train. We then rode back together to Union Square in Manhattan, took an L train to Sixth Avenue, and then PATH to Newark via a change of trains at Journal Square. We arrived in Newark around noon, well in advance of our train to High Bridge but with ample time to have lunch at the station.
We were joined in Newark by Chris Wyatt, Jack Suslak, Lou Petrillo, Rick Metcalf, John Corbett, Maurice Carson, and Alan Burden. That made eleven people; we expected twelve. Missing was Piotr Dzwonek. Piotr was on his way up to Newark from Metropark, but his train was delayed.
Chapter 3.1: NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line, Train #5725, Newark-Penn Station to High Bridge
Piotr got to Newark in time to see the tail lights of our train depart from Newark Penn Station's Track 5. Despite the fact we left three minutes late at 1:09 PM, he was unable to make his connection. His train was even later. Poor Piotr could do nothing today but travel back where he came from.
Our trip was rather uneventful. We remained about three minutes behind schedule throughout the trip. However, thanks to the magic of schedule padding, we arrived at High Bridge at 2:30 PM, twelve minutes ahead of the advertised.
Having come in early meant we had more time to spend outdoors. The cold and wind were awful as many of us huddled near the closed station building. A few took a walk and found coffee shops or restaurants where they could buy a hot drink and spend some time in a heated place.
Chapter 3.2: NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line, Train #5742, High Bridge to Newark-Penn Station
We departed on time, and stuck to the schedule throughout the trip. Our train got back into Newark right on time at 4:40 PM, arriving on Track A.
Chapter 3.3: End of Friday's activities
Once in Newark, Alan, Jack, Chris, John, and Maurice went their separate ways. All would join us again on Saturday. The latter two went home to the Philadelphia area only to return the next day.
Michael had gone to school just like any other weekday. He then took a bus up to Newark to meet me at Penn Station. The bus was scheduled to arrive just fifteen minutes after our arrival back from High Bridge, so it worked out perfectly. I went outside to meet him, and then we returned to the group, which now consisted of Lou, Steve, Lynn, Mike, Michael, and me. We took PATH to Pavonia/Newport, including a change of trains at Journal Square.
After much deliberation earlier on the trains, we had finally decided we would eat at Bertucci's in the Newport section of Jersey City, just steps from where most of us were staying. The six of us had a very nice pizza dinner together, and then Lou went to his hotel in Manhattan while the rest of us walked to ours.
That ended Day One. It had been a cold experience. We knew we had to rest up for two more full days of rail travel and being outside in the elements.
Chapter 4: Saturday, January 17, 2009
Saturday morning we would ride AirTrain Newark, and then in the afternoon we would take a round trip to Poughkeepsie, making use of Metro North's Hudson Line outbound, and then returning to New York on Amtrak.
Nine of us got together in Newark's Penn Station. The group of six who had stayed in Jersey City included Jack, Steve, Lynn, Mike, Michael, and me. We were joined in Newark by Sloan Auchincloss, who had arrived there on a Keystone train from Harrisburg, PA. Also returning from the previous day were Maurice and Rick.
Chapter 4.1: NJ TRANSIT North Jersey Coast Line, Train #7229, New York-Penn Station & Newark-Penn Station to Newark Airport
Only Lou and Alan boarded this train in New York, at separate parts of the train. They left on time at 9:07 AM.
Our larger group of nine boarded the same train at 9:25 in Newark Penn Station for our five minute trip to the airport. We arrived on time at 9:30. When we got off the train, we met those who had originated from New York on the platform, and headed together up the escalator into the station.
Chapter 4.2: AirTrain Newark, Rail Link Station to Terminal A
A ride on AirTrain Newark was originally scheduled as part of our JerseyFest 2002 event. However, that day there was a problem with the trains, and they were running substitute buses instead. Since we did not come there to ride a bus, we chose to instead continue with our activities elsewhere. We ended up leaving the system having paid both the entry and exit fare but never riding. Several months later, those of us involved did get refunds from the Port Authority.
So this time we wanted to make sure the trains were in fact running before we went through the fare gates. Well, they weren't. We saw some workers on the track, apparently correcting a problem with the switch just outside the station. Initially, we saw no trains running. Then we saw one testing through the switch in question.
We finally saw a train approach the station on the "wrong" rail, and we then paid our fares and went down to the track level of the station. We boarded a train that we thought would be next to leave, but then station personnel told us to get off that train and board another on the opposite side.
We finally left the Rail Link station at 9:55 AM, fifteen minutes later than planned. I had built in 24 minutes leeway in case of such delays, so we would be cutting it close if we went to the other end of the line at Parking Lot P1. Because we faced the possibility of further delays returning to our origin station, it was agreed that we would short turn at Terminal A, rather then riding through the parking lots.
We got to Terminal A at 10:10 AM, and walked across the island platform to await the next train back to the Rail Link station.
Chapter 4.3: AirTrain Newark, Terminal A to Rail Link Station
Two minutes later we boarded a train in the other direction. We didn't encounter any serious delays, so we got back to the Rail Link station in fifteen minutes, at 10:27 AM. We figured we would have to wait until 11:00 for the intended NJ TRANSIT train to New York City.
When we passed through the fare gates, we noticed that there was an NJ TRANSIT train sitting on Track A. Perhaps we could catch an earlier train into New York and have more time for lunch. We hurried downstairs, but the train's doors were not open. It was sitting there full of passengers, but the boarding process had already been completed. At the time we thought this was the scheduled 10:26 departure a few minutes late.
The train finally moved, but it went in reverse, towards Elizabeth. Apparently there was a problem up the line on this track. The same train later passed us by on Track 1 on the other side of the platform.
Chapter 4.4: NJ TRANSIT Northeast Corridor Line, Train #7822, Newark Airport to New York-Penn Station
The eleven of us waited in one of the indoor heated waiting areas on the platform level for the next train. Unexpectedly, a train arrived at 10:45 AM, and came to a stop on Track 1. This was a delayed Northeast Corridor Line train from Trenton, #7822, running 19 minutes late. This is the train that should have been at the Airport station at 10:26, which means that the train we saw first was in fact the 10:15 departure, also very late.
John Corbett was aboard this train, having come up from Trenton after taking SEPTA from Philadelphia. So although he did not meet us on board, there were now twelve of us on the same conveyance.
We arrived in New York's Penn Station at 11:15 AM, still late for this train but fifteen minutes ahead of our itinerary. We still did not meet up with John since he had been in a different part of the train, but he made his own way to Grand Central. The eleven of us who had been at the airport went to the express platform to await a subway train to Times Square.
Chapter 4.5: MTA New York City Transit 2 train, 34th Street/Penn Station to 42nd Street/Times Square
Here was one subway diversion I hadn't researched. When we got to the express platform we realized that there would be more trains operating on the local platform. This is one of the few subway stations where local and express trains in the same direction don't share a platform. So we decided change to the local platform, which necessitated going downstairs, underneath the tracks, and then upstairs again.
We left the 34th Street/Penn Station subway station on a 2 train at 11:30 AM, and one minute later we arrived at Times Square. From there, we walked over to the shuttle platform.
Chapter 4.6: MTA New York City Transit S train, Times Square to Grand Central Terminal
We did not have to wait for an S train, as one was just discharging its passengers as we arrived. Our very short journey to Grand Central began at 11:35 and ended at 11:37. Then we walked into the terminal itself. Some of us took care of purchasing our tickets for our Poughkeepsie and New Haven trips. Then we headed downstairs to the station's food court for lunch.
Chapter 4.7: Lunch at Grand Central Terminal
We managed to find some empty tables together, and took turns getting our food while the others watched the tables and our belongings. Joining us during this period were John, Chris, Piotr, Nick Gibbon, and Bill Magee. There would be sixteen of us together for the remainder of our rail travels.
After eating, some used the remaining available time to walk around, visit the Transit Museum Store, use the rest rooms, or purchase snacks to consume on the upcoming trip.
Chapter 4.8: MTA Metro North Railroad Hudson Line, Train #8829, New York-Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie
At about 12:30 PM we headed for the gate to catch our train to Poughkeepsie. We walked up to the front of the train, and scattered among two cars to get available window seats. Almost everyone wanted to sit on the left side of the train to get a view of the scenery.
Our train departed from Grand Central Terminal one minute late at 12:46 PM. We enjoyed a nice, quick ride up the Harlem and Hudson Rivers. Of note was that much of the Hudson River was frozen, more so as we continued north. Despite our slightly late departure from New York City, we arrived in Poughkeepsie at 2:30 PM, five minutes early.
When the scheduled departure time got close, we went to wait out in the station's connecting overhead corridor. It was quite cold there, but I did not want us to risk missing the Amtrak train if it had made up some time. When we finally saw the train approaching, we went downstairs to the track level.
Chapter 4.9: Amtrak Train #292, Ethan Allen Express, Poughkeepsie to New York-Penn Station
The Amtrak train departed from Poughkeepsie at 3:26 PM, twenty minutes off the advertised. Four of the sixteen people were in Business Class, which was the rear section of the cafe car. That group was comprised of Maurice, Lynn, Mike, and Steve. The rest of us opted for Coach Class for the scheduled 89-minute trip. Again we were spread amongst more than one coach, as people wanted to sit on the river side of the train.
Chapter 4.10: Dinner at T.G.I. Friday's
As has become our usual protocol, Steve had phoned ahead from the train to reserve dinner space for fifteen people. The group had agreed upon T.G.I. Friday's.
A year ago we had gone to the one inside Penn Station, but this time we opted for one a block to the north at Eighth Avenue & 34th Street. We were seated at three different tables in an upstairs dining room, but we all had the same server. This meal represented our traditional splurge for a nice sit-down dinner, and the place did not let us down. It was a bit crowded and noisy, but that was just a microcosm of the city we were in. There is no doubt our group added to that atmosphere!
Chapter 4.11: End of Saturday's activities
After dinner, everyone headed back home or to their hotels. Time to call it a day, but with great expectations of one more day on the rails!
Chapter 5: Sunday, January 18, 2009
Sunday was the final day of our Fest. Our focus today was on Connecticut, namely a round trip on Metro North's New Haven Line and also on Shore Line East.
Chapter 5.0: Meeting at Grand Central Terminal
Through various means our Sunday participants made their respective ways to Grand Central Terminal. We began to assemble by the information kiosk in the center of the main hall around 9:30 AM. A few would not be returning from the previous days, but we had some new faces along.
Back from Saturday were Maurice, Alan, John, Piotr, Lynn, Mike, Bill, Jack, Steve, Lou, Michael, and me. Joining us for our Sunday trip were Ellis Simon, Steve Montero, and his father Craig. In addition, with Lou was his wife Lisa, who had stayed with him over the weekend in Manhattan and was returning home to Connecticut. Our peak for the day therefore happened at the earliest part, as we had a group of 16 people riding together.
As soon as our track was announced, our crowd headed for the train, and walked up quite a bit to get decent seats. Settled in, we awaited our scheduled 10:07 AM departure.
Chapter 5.1: MTA Metro North Railroad New Haven Line, Train #6518, New York-Grand Central Terminal to New Haven
Our train departed from Grand Central on time. We remained pretty close to schedule throughout the trip. At Milford, we dropped to 15 people as Lisa got off to head home. Lou would join her later after our Old Saybrook turn.
We arrived in New Haven two minutes late at 11:54 AM, on Track 14. We were instructed to go downstairs and then up to Track 8 for the Shore Line East connection. We said goodbye to Steve Weagant here, as he would be catching an Acela Express to New York's Penn Station, in order to take that afternoon's Lake Shore Limited home to Chicago.
Chapter 5.2: Shore Line East (SLE), Train #3618, New Haven to Old Saybrook
Our SLE train left New Haven on time at 12:02 PM with our group of 14 people. During this trip, Lou gave us some commentary on the route since this area is his backyard.
During our layover, some stayed aboard the train to take advantage of its heat, while others explored the station. A few went upstairs, over the elevated walkway, and down to the other platform. While we were there, an Acela Express passed by going westbound on the normal eastbound track. This was the train Steve W. was waiting for in New Haven. I texted him that his ride was on its way.
Soon our 1 PM departure time approached. Everyone made sure they were back on board for the return trip.
Chapter 5.3: Shore Line East, Train #3637, Old Saybrook to New Haven
This train departed from Old Saybrook at 1:01 PM, a minute down. One lowlight of our trip was when a member of our crew took a nasty fall as he was making his way down the aisle collecting tickets. The floor was a bit slippery, plus he also tripped over part of somebody's bag that had fallen into the aisle. Luckily, the guy was not hurt seriously.
During this trip, we stayed in touch by text with Steve. He told us the only available seat on the Acela ended up being next to a baby. Needless to say, he wasn't delighted!
At 1:43 PM we arrived back in New Haven. We would be taking our lunch break here. Lou headed home from here. We also would be losing Bill and Jack here as they planned to break away and catch Amtrak Northeast Regional trains home.
Chapter 5.4: Lunch at New Haven Union Station
Bill ran to get a quick bite to eat at Subway before finding out his intended Amtrak train, Northeast Regional #163, was running late. Jack also went to the waiting room, only to find out that the train he was reserved for, Northeast Regional #82, was three hours late. Luckily he was able to rebook onto another train, #164, which itself was running late but not as seriously as #82. Because both of their trains were delayed, we saw Bill and Jack once more in the station after we had finished our lunch.
We waited in the station's main waiting room for our final official conveyance of the Fest, a Metro North train back to Grand Central. Soon it was posted on the Solari board for Track 14, but the board also said it had originated in Boston! We knew the Boston part was not true, and we would soon find out that there was a second mistake.
About 15 minutes before our scheduled 2:55 PM departure, the remaining eleven Fest participants went up to Track 14, but we found no train there. A few minutes later, Alan heard on his scanner that the wrong track had been displayed on the board, and that our train was on Track 8. We began making our way downstairs to the tunnel and then up to Track 8 before an announcement was made. Indeed there was an MU consist on this track, so we boarded.
Chapter 5.5: MTA Metro North Railroad New Haven Line, Train #6541, New Haven to New York-Grand Central Terminal
The eleven remaining participants left New Haven on a nearly full Metro North train. We were right on time, and would remain that way throughout the uneventful trip.
As we came into New York City, I began to circulate and shake hands, saying goodbye to members of our group. Past experience has shown that we tend to lose one another in the crowd once we reach our final destination. (Little did I know at the time that all 11 of us would end up riding one more train together.) We arrived at Grand Central exactly on time at 4:38 PM, and made our way to the subway station.
Chapter 5.6: End of Sunday's activities
Although the official Fest was over upon our arrival at Grand Central, we remained together for a short while. Ellis, Craig, Steve, John, Piotr, and Maurice had trains to catch at Penn Station. Lynn and Mike were headed to a Broadway show, and Alan went with them to show them the best way to get to the theater from the complicated Times Square subway station. Michael and I were going to PATH at Herald Square to get to my car in Jersey City. All eleven of us were therefore on the S shuttle train from Grand Central to Times Square.
At Times Square, Michael and I left the group and took a downtown N train one stop to Herald Square, where we switched to PATH. Alan, Lynn, and Mike went in another direction, while the rest went to take a downtown Seventh Avenue train to Penn Station. Their wait turned out to be longer than expected. John heard of a subway delay on his scanner, so he gave up and decided to walk from Times Square to Penn Station to ensure he would catch his NJT train to Trenton. As John's luck would have it, soon after he hit the streets, a 2 train came in and our remaining five participants together boarded it for the short trip. Finally, they all went their separate ways, although Steve and Craig later saw John aboard their NJ TRANSIT train when they were preparing to detrain in Metropark.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Monday, January 19th saw most of us already home and back to our respective daily grinds. Steve Weagant arrived by train in Chicago on this day, and Lynn and Mike flew home to Cleveland.
That ended yet another winter RailFest in the New York area. Accomplishing what we did in those three days finally completed all of NJ TRANSIT's commuter rail lines. For Metro North, our group has done everything except the Waterbury Branch. We still have a lot to ride together on the MTA Long Island Railroad. That of course lends itself to future meets in the area.
At the time of this Fest my employment situation, thus my ability to hold any future RailFests, was uncertain. Good news has come since then, so we now look forward to our summer event as we visit Southern California and ride trains across the country to get there and back!