OTOL Metro New York RailFest 2010
January 16-17, 2010
Chapter 0: Introduction
We seem to find ourselves in the New York City area almost every January! This year was no different, as our group ventured over two MTA Long Island Railroad (LIRR) branches, one MTA Metro North Railroad (MNRR) line, and also did a little bit of riding on MTA New York City Transit (NYCT). Fifteen people were involved in all, coming from as far away as Ohio, Illinois, and for the first time, Tennessee.
Chapter 1: Preparation
Given the intense freezing temperatures we experienced at our OTOL Metro New York RailFest 2009 event, plus everyone's need to save some money in a bad economy, it was decided to just have official events on Saturday and Sunday this year.
The usual homepage was created, linking to other important helpful pages. The biggest stumbling block to creating our itinerary was figuring out how long a dwell we needed in Jamaica in between our two LIRR trips. When a small group of us was at the Jamaica Station area back in 2001, we did not find too many places to eat at that time. So the original plan was to have a dwell of one hour 48 minutes, during which time we would ride the subway one stop to Jamaica Center where it was known we had a larger variety of eateries, and then come back.
However, Alan Burden took a preliminary trip to Jamaica and confirmed that there were more places to eat near Jamaica Station, if we were willing to walk more than a couple of blocks. (He prepared a map showing the locations of all the eateries he discovered.) The area has been built up more over the course of the decade. With AirTrain JFK now part of the station complex, there is more foot traffic through Jamaica. I was therefore satisfied that 48 minutes was sufficient for us to eat lunch during our dwell between trains.
Other than that, scheduling just three commuter rail round trips and some subway trips was simple. Coming back via Brooklyn had been planned all along, but the opening of the revamped Atlantic Terminal (formerly Flatbush Avenue Station) just a week before our Fest was a pleasant surprise.
Chapter 2: Friday, January 15, 2010
With no official activities planned on Friday, it was still a travel day for many. Some participants did cross paths today in their travels and later for dinner.
Chapter 2.1: Getting to the New York area
Those participants who lived out of town made their respective ways towards the New York/New Jersey area.
Preston Holland of Nashville, TN arrived Friday afternoon on Amtrak's Crescent, having come up from Atlanta. Preston met up with Alan, and they rode some subway lines for a few hours.
Steve Weagant and Mike Hammond had flown on Thursday evening from Chicago and Cleveland respectively to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, and stayed in Baltimore. On Friday they rode the entire MTA light rail system, and then took a MARC commuter train to Washington, DC. Then they traveled on an Amtrak Acela Express train from Washington to New York City.
Lou Petrillo came into Manhattan from his home in Connecticut on a MNRR train. Meanwhile, I parked at Metropark, took NJ TRANSIT to Newark, and then PATH to 33rd Street. I checked into my hotel off Herald Square.
Chapter 2.2: Dinner in New York
Those who would be in town on Friday evening had agreed to have dinner together at the Stage Door Deli.
Lou made his way there across town from Grand Central Terminal, and I walked several blocks west from my hotel on 35th Street. Jishnu Mukerji also joined us. Mike and Steve had recently come in on Acela, and Alan and Preston were back from their subway exploration.
We had a nice dinner there, after which some of us went to Penn Station to purchase our LIRR tickets for Saturday morning. We all went our separate ways to get some sleep in preparation for our Fest activities the next day.
Chapter 3: Saturday, January 16, 2010
Today we would ride two Long Island Railroad lines, and end our day with short subway trips.
Chapter 3.1: Meeting at Penn Station
The meeting location was our usual spot outside the LIRR waiting room. We began standing there around 8:20. Some who had gotten into the city earlier spent some time in the Club Acela before joining us. Twelve people assembled there within the next 20 minutes. After seeing them Friday evening, joining me again were Steve Weagant, Lou, Mike, Preston, and Jishnu. We also met Sloan Auchincloss, John Corbett, Piotr Dzwonek, Bill Magee, Steve Montero, and Ted Patchell. Three others would join us later. When our first train of the day was announced, a dozen railfans walked down to it and boarded.
Chapter 3.2: MTA Long Island Railroad Port Jefferson Branch, Train #7620, New York-Penn Station to Huntington
Our first conveyance was the electric portion of a scheduled trip out to Port Jefferson. It takes two trains to accomplish this in each direction, since the tracks are not electrified beyond Huntington.
We departed precisely at 8:51 AM, heading east towards Long Island. At the train's first stop in Woodside, Alan boarded. Then in Jamaica, two more joined our trip. Lou had walked over from his hotel on Hillside Avenue. Ellis Simon transferred from another LIRR train. At this point we had reached our peak for the day, and the entire Fest, of 15 people.
An uneventful trip brought us to Huntington, where we arrived at 9:55 AM. After everyone detrained, our equipment moved forward into a yard. Then our next train, one hauled by a diesel engine, came into the station from another yard and we boarded it.
Chapter 3.3: MTA Long Island Railroad Port Jefferson Branch, Train #6608, Huntington to Port Jefferson
As always, almost everyone wanted window seats, so our participants had to scatter over the two levels of our coach. We left Huntington at 10:03 AM. Arrival in Port Jefferson was at 10:51 AM.
Chapter 3.4: In Port Jefferson
Once off the train at Port Jefferson, the fifteen of us split up during our 51 minute layover. Some walked in search of coffee and snacks. Bill took a brisk walk down to the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry dock and back, and the rest hung out inside and around the station building.
Chapter 3.5: MTA Long Island Railroad Port Jefferson Branch, Train #6611, Port Jefferson to Huntington
The equipment on which we had arrived remained adjacent to the platform during its Port Jefferson layover. So those who hadn't strayed far from the station reboarded well in advance of our train's departure.
At 11:42 AM, we were moving westbound out of Port Jefferson, with all 15 of us reunited. Our train's destination was Huntington, where we once more would have to change trains. We got there at 12:29 PM, to go through a similar platform drill to the one we had experienced earlier.
Chapter 3.6: MTA Long Island Railroad Port Jefferson Branch, Train #7703, Huntington to Jamaica
It would take one more train for us to get to our lunch stop in Jamaica. Our electric train originated and departed from Huntington at 12:36 PM. We got into the Jamaica station right on time at 1:17 PM.
Bill remained on board this train from Huntington directly to Penn Station, and then he returned to his car on NJ TRANSIT from there. The other 14 of us alighted in Jamaica for lunch and an eventual transfer to our next train.
Chapter 3.7: In Jamaica
We had 48 minutes here. Once again we split into smaller groups and went to various fast food places for a quick bite. Upon return to Jamaica Station some of us thought we might use the rest room, but did a quick about-face when we saw how unsanitary it was.
We met upstairs at the designated platform for the train to Hempstead. Little did we know at the time that we were about to leave somebody behind.
Chapter 3.8: MTA Long Island Railroad Hempstead Branch, Train #6752, Jamaica to Hempstead
We left Jamaica at 2:05 PM heading for Hempstead. One of the shorter branch lines, this train got to its destination just half an hour later.
Chapter 3.9: In Hempstead
Our dwell in Hempstead was 44 minutes. During that time most of the group remained near the station. Although some did go and wait inside, it was nice enough by this time in the afternoon to stand outside in the sun. A few ventured over to the bus terminal across the street as well.
It was during this time that I got a call from Sloan, asking where we were waiting for the train to Hempstead. With the aforementioned itinerary change, we left Jamaica an hour earlier than he expected. Apparently with an old copy of our plans he thought he had more time in Jamaica, and we'd inadvertently left without him.
About ten minutes before our scheduled 3:19 PM departure, we began walking back to the train, and boarded the same consist on which we had arrived earlier.
Chapter 3.10: MTA Long Island Railroad Hempstead Branch, Train #6757, Hempstead to Atlantic Terminal
Obviously nobody was counting on the last run, but we now knew we had 13 participants aboard this train. We left on time, and had a quick inbound ride. In Jamaica, we picked up Sloan, bringing our group back up to 14 for the rest of the day's official travels. The group remained on this train until its final destination, Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal. On the Jamaica-Brooklyn segment, the ride through the long tunnel and subsequently on the viaduct is always a novelty as it's a bit different from the line that runs to Penn Station.
We got to Atlantic Terminal on time at 4:12 PM, and easily found the new section of the facility.
Chapter 3.11: In Brooklyn
Having opened very recently, this was new even to the regulars in our group who live in the area. Since we only had subway riding ahead of us, I decided we could linger here as long as necessary so that those who wished to could take in the new features of the terminal. Some walked up the staircase to see what the entry looked like at street level. Others walked around the main subterranean level a bit to explore the passageways.
During the time we were there, some of us began to discuss our plans for dinner that evening. We wanted a nice place to have a sit-down dinner, but one where we could get separate checks and not endure too much of a wait. Ellis recommended a sitdown pizza restaurant on 44th Street called John's Pizzeria.
After about 15 minutes, it was time to move onward to the subway portion of our trip so we walked through the complex station to the Pacific Street platform of the Fourth Avenue subway.
Chapter 3.12: MTA New York City Transit R train, Pacific Street to Whitehall Street
Originally, I had figured on taking the 2 or 3 lines and transferring to the 1 at Chambers Street, but it would have taken us too far north. By taking the R train, we could get off at Whitehall Street, and then use the new free transfer to the 1, which would force us to walk through the new South Ferry station (our reason for this mission).
From this point I was no longer recording our departure and arrival times. We took the next R train, and rode about 10 minutes until we arrived at Whitehall Street, the first station in Manhattan.
We then did as intended, both using the transfer and admiring the relocated South Ferry station. We kept walking onto the 1 platform and boarded the train that would be leaving next.
Chapter 3.13: MTA New York City Transit 1 train, South Ferry to 42nd Street/Times Square
Our final ride of the day, we took this local train northward to Midtown. The itinerary had called for the day's activities to end at Penn Station, but now many of us intended to eat at John's Pizzeria.
The plans therefore changed so that we would remain on the 1 train one more stop to Times Square. Only Ellis got off at Penn Station to take an LIRR train home. Sloan had other plans to attend to in the city, so he left us at the Times Square station to continue on another subway line.
Chapter 3.14: End of Saturday's activities
The rest of us walked north on Broadway to 44th Street through a mass of humanity. When we got to the John's Pizzeria, we found out that they had a 40 minute wait, and we chose not to do so. The group walked west on 44th Street and then south on Eighth Avenue. As we walked, our group got smaller and smaller as folks decided to find dinner on their own. By the time we got to Penn Station and had decided to settle on fast food type pizza, only seven were left together.
After dinner the remainder of our group totally dispersed, as we headed for our homes or hotels. Most of us had another day of train riding ahead of us!
Chapter 4: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Sunday was our Metro North day, and this year our group would ace that railroad's lines with a round trip to Waterbury.
Chapter 4.1: Meeting at Grand Central Terminal
Most of those going on our Sunday excursion met near the center kiosk in the middle of the terminal's great hall. Starting out that morning were Sloan, Alan, Maurice, John, Mike, Bill, both Steve's, Lou, Ellis, and me. Preston had planned to join us again but he didn't feel well. Ted had only planned on attending Saturday. Piotr and Jishnu would join us later that morning.
Chapter 4.2: MTA Metro North Railroad New Haven Line, Train #6518, New York-Grand Central Terminal to Bridgeport
The eleven of us boarded our train, and departed promptly at 10:07 AM. During our trip, Jishnu and Piotr boarded our train in Stamford. Both had taken Amtrak there from New Jersey to avoid the cross-town shuffle in Manhattan.
Now up to our peak for the day of thirteen people, we arrived in Bridgeport on time at 11:27 AM and detrained there. We waited on the platform for our diesel train to Waterbury, which was laying up on one of the express tracks just west of the station.
Chapter 4.3: MTA Metro North Railroad Waterbury Branch, Train #6918, Bridgeport to Waterbury
Our next train came into the station just before the 11:32 departure time, and picked up the passengers headed for stations along the Waterbury Branch. It was a scenic trip, as the tracks mostly follow the banks of the meandering Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers.
Our trip ended as we arrived on time in Waterbury at 12:27 PM. We had 51 minutes to find lunch and get back to the train before our return trip. Things did not turn out to be so simple.
Chapter 4.4: In Waterbury
Someone had scoped out for me some various restaurants a few blocks from the station. Unfortunately, since that was done a couple of years back (and on a weekday), things were not as expected. On our brisk walk through the city, we found that everything was closed on Sundays. This quickly became Dining Disaster #2 of our Fest.
What saved us was a 7-Eleven convenience store that somebody had spotted when we had been closer to the station. Most of us were able to put together a small meal there, which we took with us to go. We then walked back to the station, where we consumed our super fast food near or aboard the train.
We said goodbye to Lou, who decided to take a CT Transit bus home to the New Haven area. There was a little confusion as Lou didn't know exactly where the bus would pick him up, but he eventually did find his ride.
Chapter 4.5: MTA Metro North Railroad Waterbury Branch, Train #6937, Waterbury to Bridgeport
The other twelve of us departed on the same equipment as our previous trip, headed back south towards Bridgeport. The uneventful trip left on time at 1:18 PM, and we got back to Bridgeport also on time at 2:11 PM. When we got there, we went into the station. Some had time to use the facilities and get another snack to top off that gourmet lunch we'd gobbled down.
Our Fest was officially over as we dispersed at Bridgeport. Most of us would be taking Amtrak's Northeast Regional #163 to destinations between New York City and Philadelphia inclusively. Sloan opted for the connecting Metro North train #6537 and venturing across Manhattan on the subways, so he departed before the rest of us.
Chapter 4.6: Amtrak Train #163, Northeast Regional, Bridgeport to various points
We had ten participants left, some of whom took Business Class, while the rest were in Coach Class on this train. It was a nice quick means to get where we had to go, after two days on commuter trains. Most of us got off this train in New York City, while some remained aboard to Metropark or Philadelphia.
Chapter 4.7: End of Sunday's activities
Everyone returned home, or to their hotels for one more night. Being a holiday weekend, those who had come a long distance opted to travel home on Monday, so they were still in town.
Chapter 5: Monday, January 18, 2010
Monday was not an officially scheduled day of the Fest, but since it was a holiday, some decided to ride more trains. The two Steves, Alan, and Mike took the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island, and then the MTA Staten Island Railway (SIR). They got off the latter at New Dorp and walked over to Gennaro's Pizza for lunch. On my way to work by car, I met them there.
After we ate, I drove Steve W. over the Bayonne Bridge to Bayonne, where he took NJ TRANSIT's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLRT) to Hoboken. He then spent time in Manhattan before making his way to Newark Airport (via an Amtrak train) to catch his flight home to Chicago.
The others went back on the SIR and the ferry to Manhattan, and eventually dispersed. Alan rode with Mike out to Queens, where Mike would be flying home from La Guardia Airport.
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Everyone left our Fest happy as always, despite its brevity. Chalk up another successful weekend in the New York area! We still have several LIRR routes to ride, so we'll be back in the area once more.
Meanwhile, our group left New York looking forward to the summer, when we met in a new and exciting place. Our travels took us to Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver as we held our OTOL Pacific Northwest RailFest 2010. Besides riding light rail, streetcars, commuter rail, and Amtrak Cascades trains, many of us would also take other various Amtrak trains across the country.