OTOL New York Area All Request RailFest 2011
January 15-16, 2011
Chapter 0: Introduction
The New York Area All Request RailFest (NYAARRF) was the first of a new generation of RailFests whereby the participants chose what they wanted to do instead of it being planned exclusively by me. Since the group has completed everything there is to ride in the area, recognition was given to those who may not have been able to join our previous Fests over the past ten years, allowing them to pick the segments they haven't yet ridden. In addition, with various Amtrak corridors in the area, a one-day round trip on that railroad was a contender.
One of the choices was to ride ACES in one direction, and a combination of NJ TRANSIT's Atlantic City Line and Amtrak in the other. Luckily that option was not chosen, because approximately one month before our Fest, ACES went to a seasonal schedule and was not in service in January.
What we ended up with were an Amtrak round trip to Springfield, MA, and a return to two of the Connecticut branch lines of MTA Metro North Railroad, namely Danbury and New Canaan. It was decided to do the Springfield turn on Saturday, when Amtrak is less busy, and the Metro North trips Sunday. In all, we had 14 participants on a cold winter weekend.
Chapter 1: Preparation
Once our activities were in place, it was time to put together the usual web pages, including a homepage and an itinerary. Planning also began with regard to our meals, particularly Saturday dinner. Extensive research was done in a search for a suitable and affordable place to eat. Restaurants in boroughs other than Manhattan were considered as well, provided they were near a train station. Ultimately it was decided that a diner within walking distance of New York's Penn Station would best suit our needs. Our lunches would be in our travels in Connecticut.
In the month or so leading up to our Fest weekend, the Northeast experienced a few blizzards and other large storms that dumped record amounts of snow in many areas. A week before the Fest, parts of Connecticut got over 30 inches of snow in one storm. There was some concern over whether we would all be able to meet and ride our planned trains. Even if the trains planned for the Fest itself were running, some folks had to travel longer distances to get to and from the New York area.
Chapter 2: Saturday, January 15, 2011
Saturday was our Amtrak round trip to Springfield. What adventures we would have! Our intended trip would consist of four segments, including a Northeast Regional and a Shuttle going north, and the reverse coming back. A break in between the Shuttle and Regional was planned at New Haven, so that we could have a late lunch together. Eleven of us enjoyed the Festivities today.
Chapter 2.1: Amtrak Train #160, Northeast Regional: Various points to New Haven, CT
Our group usually meets at a predetermined location in a station before we set out on our first train. However sometimes we instead have a rolling meet, whereby our participants board our first train at their most convenient station and others join along the way. Such was the case here, as we had participants get on Train #160 as far south as Philadelphia and as far north as New York City. There were some mini-meets in stations as a few participants boarded at the same locations.
Bill Magee was the first person to board Train #160, doing so in Philadelphia. He was joined at Metropark by Piotr Dzwonek and Jishnu Mukerji. Having stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Newark overnight, I was next to join them in Newark.
Then in New York City, we gained five more as Chris Wyatt, Mike Hammond, Alan Burden, Steve Weagant, and John Corbett started their respective journeys for the day there. So it was nine of us who made our way into New England for our first adventure there. We had expected another person, Steve Montero, but he was delayed and would join us later.
This trip was the only one of the day that was perfectly on time, as we arrived in New Haven at exactly 10:36 AM. Once there, we were joined by Lou Petrillo, who lives in the New Haven area.
Chapter 2.2: Amtrak Train #460, Shuttle: New Haven, CT to Springfield, MA
We expected a quick cross platform connection here, but it was not to be. The train representing #460 was not there, and in fact it did not show up for quite a while. When it did show up the train looked like it had just been dug out of the snow. We'd find out later why it looked that way.
The ten of us were finally on our way out of New Haven at 11:14 AM, 31 minutes late. There was immediately some concern with our 35-minute layover in Springfield. We hoped that the same equipment set would be turning as #463 later. Our crew seemed fairly sure that this was the case.
Because we were running so late, we met another train near Meriden. One track is normally used here to facilitate use of the station on one side of the tracks. We had to use another track, one that had not been used since the heavy snowfall of a few days ago. We came upon a grade crossing that had been plowed in a manner that the tracks were totally covered by a mound of snow. We would see it in front of us, and wondered how we would get through it. Our train continued forward, running right through the pile of snow sending up a white cloud as we went through it. This was our visual highlight of the day!
With no further incidents, we arrived at Springfield's Union Station at 12:43 PM, 38 minutes late and three minutes after we should have been leaving southbound as #463. Because of the quick turnaround, we remained aboard. We did cause the new crew to scratch their heads as to why we were on the train before they officially began boarding passengers for the New Haven-bound run. Some just switched seats to face forward, while a couple of people from our group detrained briefly to explore the station.
Chapter 2.3: Amtrak Train #463, Shuttle: Springfield, MA to New Haven, CT
Train #463 left Springfield at 1:04 PM, 24 minutes late. There were no incidents with snow banks as we had on the northbound trip, although travel was still slow due to the conditions.
We could breathe a little easier on the southbound trip since we had a previously planned two-hour break in New Haven. Rather than making the immediate connection to #163 and arriving in New York too early for dinner, we instead opted to take #135 which allowed us a late lunch and a reasonable dinnertime in New York.
Arrival into New Haven Union Station was 2:35 PM, half an hour behind schedule. The character of the group changed as some split from us while others joined us for the rest of the day. Piotr left us to head home on Train #163. Lou left the group here to head home. Meanwhile we were joined in New Haven by Maurice Carson, who had come up from Philadelphia on Train #164, and Steve Montero, who arrived on Train #82. Also, we were met at the station by Jan Von Eyck.
Chapter 2.4: Lunch in New Haven
The gang split up, to have lunch at either Subway or Sbarro. Most went to the latter on the station's lower level, where we had an in depth discussion with Jan mostly about DMU's. After we had eaten but were still conversing in Sbarro, those who had been in the station on the main level informed us that we had an issue with our intended Train #135. It had first been displayed as 90 minutes late, and then it was later completely annulled due to an engine failure. There had apparently been some equipment trouble in Boston. Either way, we knew we'd be in New Haven a lot longer than intended. We decided to curtail the conversation and head to the Amtrak ticket windows to find out what was going on.
We were told that the next train running would be #57, the southbound Vermonter. Having come from where we had been earlier, it too was delayed a bit. The agent told us that our tickets for #135 would be valid on #57.
Jishnu decided to take Metro North back to New York; he would meet us later for dinner. Jan eventually left us as well to return home. We ended up with nine of us awaiting the Vermonter: Bill, Maurice, Chris, two Steve's, Mike, Alan, John, and me.
Chapter 2.5: Amtrak Train #57, Vermonter: New Haven, CT to New York, NY
At 4:45 PM the Vermonter arrived. Its two diesel engines (one on each end) were replaced by one electric at the point. We finally left New Haven at 5:05 PM, 2-1/2 hours after we had arrived. Not too bad, considering we'd originally planned to spend two hours there.
Despite the fact that this train was handling #135's passengers from this point to Washington, there were plenty of seats available. Those who would have taken #135 from anywhere between Boston and New Haven did not have this luxury, as they would be accomodated by Regional #165 . We made one extra stop not normally covered by #57 as a convenience to boarding passengers.
We got to New York Penn Station at 6:37 PM. Here we further broke up for the day. Maurice and Bill remained on #57 to Philadelphia to return home for the evening. Jishnu rejoined the other seven of us, making it a party of eight for dinner.
Chapter 2.6: Dinner at Skylight Diner in New York
We walked a few blocks to the Skylight Diner. We were served professionally and promptly by the staff there. The food was filling and delicious.
Chapter 2.7: End of Saturday's activities
From there we went our separate ways, either home or to hotels. We had one more day of fun on the rails ahead of us!
Chapter 3: Sunday, January 16, 2011
Our Sunday travels featured Metro North, with our goal to ride the Danbury and New Canaan Branches. A total of twelve people were involved today.
Chapter 3.1: MTA Metro North Railroad New Haven Line, Train #6510, New York-Grand Central Terminal to South Norwalk, CT
The group met near the information kiosk in the middle of Grand Central Terminal. We started out with just half a dozen people, but more would join us later. Starting out from there were Ted Patchell, Steve Weagant, Sloan Auchincloss, Chris Wyatt, Mike Hammond, and myself. We left on time at 8:07 AM. Joining us at Harlem-125th Street was John Corbett. At Stamford, Jishnu Mukerji and Piotr Dzwonek joined us; they had taken Regional #150 from Metropark to Stamford to avoid the trip between stations in New York City.
Our train arrived at South Norwalk two minutes late at 9:08 AM. We had to go downstairs and then up the other side to access our connection to Danbury. The last time we did the Danbury Branch the connection was on the same side. Lou Petrillo joined us here, having taken a westbound Metro North train from New Haven.
Chapter 3.2: MTA Metro North Railroad Danbury Branch, Train #6810, South Norwalk, CT to Danbury, CT
Our connecting train left South Norwalk at 9:16 AM, five minutes down. The trip up the branch was uneventful. With a little padding at the end we arrived just one minute late in Danbury at 10:03 AM.
Chapter 3.3: In Danbury
This gave us 37 minutes dwell in Danbury. Several of us stayed near the closed station, while others took a walk to get coffee and other hot drinks.
Chapter 3.4: MTA Metro North Railroad Danbury Branch, Train #6825, Danbury, CT to South Norwalk, CT
The same equipment represented our train back to South Norwalk. This train ran perfectly on time, departing Danbury at 10:40 AM and getting into South Norwalk at 11:28 AM.
Chapter 3.5: MTA Metro North Railroad New Haven Line, Train #6525, South Norwalk, CT to Stamford, CT
This time we had a same-platform transfer. However, the electric mainline train was late coming from New Haven. We left South Norwalk at 11:38 AM, getting into Stamford 11:54 AM, five minutes down. Now it was lunchtime!
Chris remained at the station to catch Amtrak Regional #161 to New York. He was replaced by Steve Montero, who started his day with us with lunch having taken Amtrak from New Jersey.
Chapter 3.6: Lunch in Stamford
A few remained at the station, having lunch at the Subway in the lower level corridor. The majority took a walk to Stamford Town Center, and ate in the mall's food court. With two hours between our scheduled trains, we had plenty of time for the several block walk and eating leisurely.
Back at the Stamford station, we were joined by Maurice Carson, who had come up from Philadelphia on Amtrak #164 to join us. He got there literally minutes before our scheduled New Canaan departure.
Chapter 3.7: MTA Metro North Railroad New Canaan Branch, Train #6730, Stamford, CT to New Canaan, CT
New Canaan trips are quick, as the whole branch line takes about 17 minutes to traverse in each direction. The eleven of us on this phase of the trip were the two Steve's, Maurice, Lou, Ted, Mike, John, Piotr, Sloan, Jishnu, and me.
We left Stamford on time at 1:57 PM, and remained on time into New Canaan getting there 2:14 PM. With just 13 minutes dwell, we walked around briefly before reboarding the same equipment.
Chapter 3.8: MTA Metro North Railroad New Canaan Branch, Train #6737, New Canaan, CT to Stamford, CT
Another uneventful, quick, on-time trip brought us from New Canaan back to Stamford, where we arrived at 2:43 PM. Our Fest was essentially over here, save for everyone's travel home. Lou caught an eastbound Metro North train back to New Haven.
Chapter 3.9: MTA Metro North Railroad New Haven Line, Train #6537, Stamford, CT to New York-Grand Central Terminal
Ted and John took a local Metro North train to Grand Central Terminal, and made their respective ways home from there. Sloan, Mike, and Steve W. took the connecting Metro North express train to the same place.
Chapter 3.10: Amtrak Train #163, Northeast Regional, Stamford, CT to various points
The other five of us took Amtrak Regional #163 to various destinations. This group included Jishnu, Steve M., Maurice, Piotr, and me. #163 picked us up in Stamford 3:22 PM, 26 minutes late. It remained behind schedule as it dropped off Fest participants in Newark, Metropark, and Philadelphia.
Chapter 3.11: End of Sunday's activities
And that put a wrap on this Fest. Our participants travelled home, some of them remaining in the area before going home on Monday.
Chapter 4: Conclusion
Another successful winter Fest ended, with all of our goals completed despite weather concerns. While it was not snowing during our travels, there was certainly a lot on the ground from the past week. We endured the one cancelled train with an ample substitution. It was an enjoyable weekend!
Certainly we will have these Request Fests again. To shake things up and make things more interesting, we'll do them in other areas when the opportunities present themselves. Meanwhile, thanks to all who came out in the cold and snow to ride the rails together!