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Trip Report

OTOL Long Island RailFest 2010

August 20-21, 2010


Chapter 0: Introduction

It was rare for us to have a second Railfest during the summer when so much was put into our previous July trip to the Pacific Northwest. However, the rail activities we still needed to do in the New York area called for a summer outing, so that we would take advantage of the longer daylight on weekday-only services. Also we needed to ride the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) West Hempstead Branch before its weekend service was eliminated in September due to MTA budget cuts. Besides that one, we also had not yet officially ridden either the LIRR's Oyster Bay Branch or the Long Beach Branch.

Chapter 1: Preparation

As always some plans existed well in advance, but it wasn't until the dust had cleared from the July event that anything was formally announced. Even after it was, the elements of Saturday's travels were rearranged to provide us with optimum use of our day and plenty of time to eat lunch. We were a bit constrained by the bihourly shuttle nature of the West Hempstead Branch and its poor connections with the Long Beach Branch at Valley Stream. In addition to frequent e-mails, prospective participants were kept up to date via this homepage and the links from it to related pages.

Besides the elimination of the above LIRR weekend service, another of the MTA's budget saving actions was the merging of the old M and V subway lines into a new M route that involved use of a connection in lower Manhattan that hadn't seen revenue service for many years. Since this change had already gone into effect, a subway excursion was added to Friday's activities so we could partake of the "new" trackage.

Alan helped me in the planning of our Friday activities by riding the M train to see where one could change directions without having to pay another fare. Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn would have been a perfect spot, since it would have allowed us to ride through the connection and over the Williamsburg Bridge before turning around back to Manhattan. He however discovered that the first place where one can do this is at Myrtle Avenue, a transfer station where the J and M lines diverge. With a slightly longer trip, I made our Friday start time a bit earlier.

Another issue that required our attention during the planning process was a loophole we discovered in the LIRR's fare structure. With the last itinerary revision (the one we ultimately followed), we would be going from Long Beach to West Hempstead. The first common point where the two lines meet is Valley Stream. However, since the Long Beach Branch runs hourly, and the West Hempstead Branch ran every two hours before the demise of weekend service, it meant that we would have to wait in Valley Stream either four minutes or one hour and four minutes. To me, a four minute connection is not safe; I would never schedule one on a Fest. So the longer layover was planned. Online, the LIRR indicates that this transfer should be made at Jamaica, not Valley Stream (which would require yet another transfer at Valley Stream in the other direction), but the fares are based on simply changing once at Valley Stream. The discrepancy meant quite a difference in what the ultimate Long Beach-West Hempstead one way fare would be, since the Jamaica alternative meant crossing zone boundaries into and out of the city zone.

Alan took this matter up with an LIRR Customer Service person at Penn Station. He was assured that no matter where we transfer, we would only be responsible for the lower fare since it was not possible to purchase tickets for this station pair with a transfer point of Jamaica. Although they admitted the inconsistency in their information, there remained a concern that a crewmember might have an issue with us riding into and out of Jamaica. Confident we had a leg to stand on and vowing to bring hardcopies of the conflicting information along with us, everyone was told to purchase the lower fare for switching at Valley Stream, yet the longer trip via Jamaica remained on our itinerary. There was enough time within those 64 minutes to ride inbound and outbound (with a 35-minute layover in Jamaica) and still make the same train to West Hempstead.

Chapter 2: Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday activities included the aforementioned subway excursion, as well as an LIRR round trip to Babylon whose outbound run would include some segments our group has not yet ridden together.

Chapter 2.1: Meeting at Herald Square

It was decided to begin our time together at Herald Square, so that we could step right onto the M train for our Brooklyn trip. Our meeting point at this location was where we've met before at the northern end of the PATH terminal station at 33rd Street.

There were seven of us on this journey, namely Maurice Carson, Piotr Dzwonek, Mike Hammond, Stephen Montero, Jishnu Mukerji, Lou Petrillo, and me. Alan would join us later in the day as he had something to do in New Jersey.

Chapter 2.2: MTA New York City Transit M train, 34th Street/Herald Square to Myrtle Ave.

At about 2:25 everyone expected was accounted for, so we made our way downstairs to the downtown local platform. An F train came first, so we let it pass. Soon after, an M came, and we boarded. We left 34th Street at 2:33 PM, two minutes earlier than planned.

About 2:45, we reached the reason for this trip, the short Chrystie Street Connection. All too soon it was over, as we merged with the Nassau Street Line (J) and then stopped at the Essex/Delancey Streets complex. Next came our trip over the Williamsburg Bridge. We went five stops into Brooklyn and detrained at the Myrtle Avenue station at 2:55 PM. We went downstairs and then up another set of stairs to the inbound platform.

Chapter 2.3: MTA New York City Transit M train, Myrtle Ave. to 42nd Street/Bryant Park

Four minutes after arriving, we had boarded another M train headed back towards Manhattan. The time was 2:59 PM. Our official itinerary had us departing from here at 3:12, so we were 13 minutes ahead. We retraced our previous trip and went one station beyond our original boarding point. 42nd Street/Bryant Park came at 3:24 PM.

Because we had sat near the front of this train, we had quick access to the connecting passageway to the 7 line's Fifth Avenue station. It took just four minutes to walk approximately half a block and board our next train.

Chapter 2.4: MTA New York City Transit 7 train, 5th Avenue to Vernon-Jackson

The 7 left Fifth Avenue at 3:28 PM. It took us ten minutes to get to the first stop in Queens, Vernon-Jackson. The subway portion of our afternoon was complete at 3:38 PM. This was 19 minutes earlier than expected, and it gave us 50 minutes before our LIRR train was due to leave.

Once out of the subway station, we walked along Vernon Blvd. and Borden Avenue to the tiny station entrance. The "station" at Long Island City consists of one ticket machine under a small bus shelter. For some reason there was also a bottle of hand cleaner on the ground next to the machine. Alan joined us about ten minutes after we got there.

We assumed our train would be departing from the one platform visible from this point. But it did not look like there was any activity towards getting one of the two trains sitting on Tracks 2 or 3 to leave. An LIRR worker later came over and told us our train would leave from Track 7. Some of us were unaware that there was even another platform. We had to walk around the bumper posts of several tracks to reach the hidden platform between Tracks 6 and 7. Sure enough the doors of the rear cars of the train sitting on Track 7 were open, so we all boarded.

Chapter 2.5: MTA Long Island Railroad Montauk Branch, Train #2778, Long Island City to Babylon

We left the Long Island City station on time at 4:28 PM. Our train curved underneath the Long Island Expressway and soon came to a stop at Hunterspoint Avenue. Most of the diesel trains that run west of Jamaica originate or terminate here. The Long Island City station is used more as a yard than a station, so Hunterspoint Avenue is the first or last stop as they deadhead between the two. We sat there for about ten minutes while passengers boarded the train, as its scheduled departure from this point was not until 4:44 PM. During our long layover we watched activity on the adjacent tracks as Amtrak and other LIRR trains went into and out of the East River tunnels, and MTA New York City Transit 7 trains also passed through their own tunnel portals.

We left Hunterspoint Avenue on time, joined the Main Line and ran nonstop to Jamaica. We lingered there for a much shorter period than we had at our previous station. We picked up many more passengers, most of whom had transferred from other trains.

Our express run stopped only at Mineola and Hicksville. Just after we passed by the Bethpage station, the Central Branch split from the Main Line, and we followed the former as planned. There are no stops along the Central Branch, although there appears to be a lot of industry that could support a station in Farmingdale near Republic Airport.

We joined the Babylon Branch just west of the Babylon station. Despite our quick run, we were two minutes late as we got to Babylon at 5:46 PM. Our train would be continuing to Patchogue; however our plans called for us to change directions here and return to the city. We detrained, and changed platforms by going downstairs and then up another set of stairs.

During our downtime in Babylon, we just watched the action, particularly a very late westbound diesel train that came from Montauk and another train that got there on time from Patchogue. This was significant because it meant our Babylon Branch train would be taking transferring passengers from two other trains, so it could potentially be crowded.

Chapter 2.6: MTA Long Island Railroad Babylon Branch, Train #135, Babylon to New York-Penn Station

Because of the delayed westbound diesel train coming in out of its timeslot, our electric train, which starts in Babylon, had to wait a little longer to leave its yard. We did not leave Babylon until 6:12 PM, six minutes down.

This train operated express to Jamaica as is called for in its schedule, making only one intermediate stop at Freeport. We however remained six minutes late throughout the trip. Between Valley Stream and Jamaica, Babylon Branch trains remain on the Montauk Branch via St. Albans.

After Jamaica, this train became a local, making all intermediate Queens stops at Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, and Woodside. At the latter, Alan got off to head home, and Jishnu and Piotr detrained as well to take the 7 train to the east side of Manhattan. The rest of us remained on board into Penn Station, where our first day of travel together was over.

Chapter 2.7: End of Friday's activities

On Day One of this Fest we accomplished everything we set out to do. As we said our goodbyes for the evening, we looked forward to a full day on the LIRR. A few of us had dinner together in a food court near the Amtrak departure area before going our separate ways.

Chapter 3: Saturday, August 21, 2010

The main and longer day of our Fest featured round trips over the last three lines we had not yet ridden together as a group.

Chapter 3.1: Meeting at Penn Station

Our Saturday morning meeting location was in the LIRR concourse, just outside the main waiting room. Returning from the previous day were Lou, Jishnu, Steve, Mike, Piotr, Maurice, and me. Joining us were Ross Kudlick and John Corbett. We would be first be taking a Ronkonkoma Branch train to connect with our diesel Oyster Bay Branch at Jamaica.

Chapter 3.2: MTA Long Island Railroad Ronkonkoma Branch, Train #8012, New York-Penn Station to Jamaica

As soon as it was announced, the nine of us went down and boarded the train's front car. We departed on time at 8:16 AM. When we got to Woodside at 8:28, Alan boarded, bring our morning total to ten people. Our first train arrived in Jamaica Station's Track 7 on time at 8:37 AM.

Chapter 3.3: MTA Long Island Railroad Oyster Bay Branch, Train #6502, Jamaica to Oyster Bay

Although our diesel train to Oyster Bay would be across the platform, it had not yet arrived. It came in on Track 8 soon after another train from New York had come in on Track 7 and discharged its passengers. We were, however delayed in leaving Jamaica. Our train left at 8:52 AM, three minutes off the advertised.

Oyster Bay Branch trains run express to Mineola, and then after stopping there they turn left onto the actual branch and make all local stops. We remained a few minutes behind schedule over our entire trip. On the way, we saw some unhappy passengers who were waiting for a very late inbound train that had not yet showed up. Down the line we later passed that equipment. Some of the stations on this line, particularly those in the Glen Cove area, are very close together. One wonders whether all of them are really necessary. Our train arrived in Oyster Bay at 9:48 AM, five minutes down.

Chapter 3.4: In Oyster Bay

The scheduled layover between trains was 37 minutes, though that was reduced by five minutes thanks to the late arrival. Most of us stood on the platform, while a few walked around the area seeking exercise or a rest room. South of the tracks is primarily residential. To the north there is a large park between the station and the actual Oyster Bay, an offshoot of the Long Island Sound. Within that park are rest room facilities.

Chapter 3.5: MTA Long Island Railroad Oyster Bay Branch, Train #6507, Oyster Bay to Jamaica

At about 10:15 AM we were able to board the same equipment set for the run back to Jamaica. We departed on time at 10:20, and remained on time as we ran on the Oyster Bay Branch. However, we ran into some congestion on the Main Line due to single tracking, and ended up coming into Jamaica at 11:29 AM, 15 minutes late. Luckily we had almost an hour until our next train, so we suffered no ill consequences from the delay.

Chapter 3.6: In Jamaica

Once back in Jamaica, we were joined by John Wireman, our eleventh and final participant of the day. We stood primarily on the upper level concourse over the tracks, with some of us breaking off at times to use the facilities or purchase snacks. We also kept an eye on the LIRR action beneath us, and a few went over to peek at AirTrain JFK as well. Around Noon we went down to track level to await our Long Beach Branch train.

Chapter 3.7: MTA Long Island Railroad Long Beach Branch, Train #6820, Jamaica to Long Beach

This train, which originated at Penn Station, was a little late getting to Jamaica. We departed at 12:11 PM, three minutes down. This train runs over the Atlantic Branch between Jamaica and Lynbrook, and then diverges onto its own trackage to head south towards its namesake destination. We remained several minutes late throughout the trip. Our train arrived in Long Beach at 12:46 PM, down four minutes.

Chapter 3.8: In Long Beach

There certainly was a variety of places where we could have eaten in Long Beach. However all of us gravitated to the Five Guys Burgers & Fries right across the street from the station. The place was quite popular, particularly when a large group of people arrived in town on a train as we had just done. There was a short line, but it moved well. We luckily had until 2:26 PM for our next train, so we were not in much of a rush. The only downside to our visit was that there was an issue with the rest rooms; at times there was a wait as everyone had to share what was supposed to be the Ladies Room. Some in our group opted to use the facilities in the train station instead.

Chapter 3.9: MTA Long Island Railroad Long Beach Branch, Train #6855, Long Beach to Jamaica

Back at the station, the eleven of us boarded our inbound train at about 2:15 PM. We departed on time from Long Beach at 2:26 PM.

Now remember that discrepancy with the fares? This was our first train of the Long Beach-West Hempstead trip in question. The crewmember that checked our tickets noticed the transfer at Valley Stream and gave us the appropriate seat check, which they removed before arrival in Valley Stream.

At 2:46 when we got to Valley Stream, five from our group decided to bail and thus avoid any possible confrontations with the crew. Those five were John Corbett, Jishnu, Ross, Piotr, and Steve. They would endure the 64 minute wait, during which time they watched trains go by. One would later have an issue with the crew of a passing train over taking photos on the platform.

The other six, namely John Wireman, Lou, Mike, Maurice, Alan, and I, remained on the Long Beach Branch train to Jamaica. Since our seat checks had been removed, it appeared that we had not yet paid. A different member of the crew came through, and when we said we were going to change at Jamaica, that was fine with him. Our train took the Atlantic Branch into Jamaica. We got there on time at 3:00 PM. and detrained.

Chapter 3.10: In Jamaica

Half a dozen of us were visiting Jamaica Station for the third time today. Aside from purchasing more snacks or refreshments, we waited together in roughly the same spot as before. About 3:30, we went down to the platform once more to board our next train on Track 6.

Chapter 3.11: MTA Long Island Railroad Far Rockaway Branch, Train #8856, Jamaica to Valley Stream

This was a Far Rockaway Branch train from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to Far Rockaway, the designated connection for the West Hempstead Branch shuttle. It was exactly on time when we left Jamaica. We then went via the Atlantic Branch once more. The crewmember on this train that inspected our tickets did raise his eyebrows and ask why we didn't switch in Valley Stream, but he didn't hang around for an answer. So those of us who did the Jamaica turn had succeeded in exploiting the fare issue with no negative results. Remaining on time, we arrived in Valley Stream and detrained at 3:45 PM to rejoin rest of our group. Interestingly, it was someone in the group who opted for the longer wait in Valley Stream who got in more trouble than any of us who made the shorter transfer in Jamaica.

Chapter 3.12: MTA Long Island Railroad West Hempstead Branch, Train #6954, Valley Stream to West Hempstead

Until three weeks after this trip, when weekend service ended on this branch, the weekend trains operated as shuttles between Valley Stream and West Hempstead. Depending on the various timetable changes either Far Rockaway Branch or Long Beach Branch trains connected with them at Valley Stream to and from the city terminal zone stations. Our train was therefore originating here, but because it would interfere with both eastbound and westbound trains it had to layover somewhere on the adjacent Montauk Branch and then switch over to serve the Valley Stream station.

Our train got there late, and we departed at 3:55 PM, five minutes late. Our train remained five minutes late over the course of our 15-minute run, and got to West Hempstead at 4:10 PM.

Chapter 3.13: In West Hempstead

Once in West Hempstead we walked out to the street and then split up to get refreshments during what turned out to be a 40 minute layover with the late arrival. After the gang had assembled back at the train station, we then tried to figure out which train on either side of the platform would be the next one out. The one we had arrived on seemed to be out of service, but the one across the platform appeared to be preparing for departure despite our not seeing any LIRR crew in the area. The doors finally opened and we boarded. The train was a bit hot inside, having been sitting in the sun without its air conditioning system turned on.

Chapter 3.14: MTA Long Island Railroad West Hempstead Branch, Train #6955, West Hempstead to Valley Stream

At exactly 4:50 PM, our new ride pulled out of the West Hempstead station and headed southwest towards Valley Stream. There was decent patronage at the intermediate station stops, surely what seemed enough to justify continuing the bihourly weekend shuttle service on this branch.

Our train arrived in Valley Stream at 5:05 PM, where everyone disembarked to change trains to head towards various city destinations. We remained on the platform as the empty train moved to a siding to allow through trains to make their stops at Valley Stream. It would be another hour before this equipment would return to West Hempstead on its next run.

Chapter 3.15: MTA Long Island Railroad Far Rockaway Branch, Train #8859, Valley Stream to Jamaica

Our next train was another Far Rockaway Branch train. The only problem is that these trains go to Atlantic Terminal on weekends, so we would have to change again at Jamaica to get to Penn Station.

This train was two minutes late at Valley Stream, departing at 5:12 PM. Nine minutes later we arrived in Jamaica on Track 3, where we were told we would have to walk across the platform to Track 2 for the next train to Penn Station.

Chapter 3.16: MTA Long Island Railroad Babylon Branch, Train #6121, Jamaica to New York-Penn Station

Our final train of the Fest was a local train that had come from Babylon. Lucky for us, it too was late, so we were not rushed in making our transfer. We departed Jamaica at 5:23 PM, just one minute down, and arrived into New York's Penn Station at 5:45 PM, right on time thanks to some padding.

From here, we walked down to the western end of the platform, and out through tunnels that run underneath Eighth Avenue and the Farley Post Office building (which will be Moynihan Station in the future). We came out a subway exit on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street, right where we had to be for our dinner stop.

Chapter 3.17: Dinner at Stage Door Deli

Dinner was at the old reliable Stage Door Deli. They have served us very well in the past. One cannot beat the convenience of its proximity to whatever trains our people ultimately had to catch to go home.

Chapter 3.18: End of Saturday's activities

And that ended another successful RailFest. After dinner people headed home or to their respective hotels to bask in the memories of another great event.

Chapter 4: Conclusion

With this Fest behind us, we had ridden at least once every existing rail line in the New York City area. We returned to the New York area once more for our next Fest in the winter. And we look forward to next summer, when we will head to Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis.

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