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Trip Report

OTOL Philadelphia Area All Request RailFest 2012

January 28-29, 2012


Chapter 0: Introduction

Philadelphia Area All Request RailFest 2012 was built upon the success of the previous January's event in the New York City area. Several choices of activities were proposed to potential participants, who then gave feedback as to what they preferred. As things turned out, a couple of people who had expressed their favorites ended up not attending, so the result was a heavy local flavor as the majority of participants were from the area. Still, it was a good time for everyone!

This was the first Fest in our 11-year history that had to be postponed. Work obligations prevented me from holding this event at our conventional time over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. It ended up being just two weeks later, but the lack of the extra holiday travel day most likely figured into our smaller group with ultimately no participants hailing from outside the Northeast.

Chapter 1: Preparation

Having done everything there was to do in the Philly area during our 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008 visits, a program was put together to include the member requests as well as to exploit the different modes of SEPTA travel available and the transfer points between them outside of the city proper. This would inevitably include trips to Norristown, Media, Darby, Fern Rock, and Chestnut Hill. Also thrown in was a Paoli round trip on Amtrak's Keystone Service, which would take a little over an hour of our time at the end of the Fest.

As always, a number of web pages were created for this event. The homepage, with links to the others, will live forever here.

Chapter 2: Saturday, January 28, 2012

Our first day would include trips out to Norristown, Fern Rock, Darby, all of which were supposed to be over different outbound and inbound routings. (One of the three didn't quite go as planned.) We capped off the evening with a round trip on the southern end of the Broad Street Subway.

Chapter 2.1: SEPTA Market-Frankford Line, Center City to 69th Street Transportation Center

The nature of Philadelphia's system calls for "rolling meets", which has the group getting together on board a train, since we would be boarding at different stops along the way, based on convenience to hotels and previous transit connections. First to assemble at 11th Street Station were Alan Burden, Lou Petrillo, and me. The three of us boarded a westbound Market-Frankford Line train in the front car, so that others down the line would be able to find us easily. We left on time at 9:27 AM.

Next to board was John Corbett at 30th Street. The four of us continued to the end of the line at 69th Street Transportation Center, where we arrived on time at 9:44 AM. We were met at 69th Street by Ted Patchell, who had brought his brother Dave out for a day of train riding as well.

Chapter 2.2: SEPTA Norristown High Speed Line, 69th Street Transportation Center to Norristown Transportation Center

Now at six people strong, our group boarded the 10 AM trip of the Norristown High Speed Line. It was the first trip for our group since SEPTA got rid of the 100 designation and began treating it more like a heavy rail rapid transit line rather than a trolley.

Our uneventful trip ended on time at Norristown Transportation Center at 10:29 AM, still right on schedule. We were met there by our seventh participant, Maurice Carson. We had about 25 minutes there to explore and position ourselves on the inbound regional rail platform.

Chapter 2.3: SEPTA Manayunk-Norristown Line, Train #213, Norristown Transportation Center to Market East Station

The first Regional Rail segment of our weekend began one minute late as Train #213 left Norristown at 10:55 AM. Our 35-minute run brought the seven of us to Market East Station at 11:30 AM. Time for lunch!

Chapter 2.4: Lunch in Philadelphia

We took up residence at a group of tables in the main food court of The Gallery at Market East for our lunch break. Two hours was allocated for this. Meeting us there was Nick Gibbon, who joined right in with the conversation over lunch. After eating we continued talking before continuing with our day's train riding.

We walked through the mall to the 8th Street Station of the Broad-Ridge Spur, and were met there by John Wireman. This increased our peak participation to nine people for the day.

Chapter 2.5: SEPTA Broad-Ridge Spur, 8th & Market to Fern Rock Transportation Center

Our subway trip on the Broad-Ridge Spur began just a minute late at 1:26 PM as we moved northwest towards the mainline Broad Street Subway. Once we joined it, we had a nice express ride up to Fern Rock. At Fern Rock we pulled straight into the station on time at 1:42 PM. As we observed other arrivals, it appeared that Broad Street Subway trips that had come up from South Philly were going through the yard and around the loop to enter the station from the opposite direction.

With a scheduled 26 minutes before our next conveyance, we walked slowly towards the Regional Rail station, and in fact stood upstairs from the rail platform to keep out of the wind. During our stay we watched subway trains ride around the loop, and observed people crossing the railroad tracks illegally between the subway station and destinations east of the tracks. We went down to the inbound platform a few minutes before our scheduled 2:08 PM departure.

Chapter 2.6: SEPTA Warminster Line, Train #439, Fern Rock Transportation Center to Suburban Station

Our train, which happened to be headed from Warminster to the Airport via Center City, came five minutes late. Thus it was 2:13 PM as we began moving south from Fern Rock Transportation Center.

Arrival at Suburban Station was at 2:34 PM, four minutes down. Our itinerary called for us to take the 13 trolley outbound to Darby. Rather than getting on at 15th Street as my original plans called for, it was agreed we would walk over to 13th Street for a better chance for all of us to find seats.

Chapter 2.7: SEPTA 11 trolley, 13th & Market to Darby Transportation Center

Here is the only time this weekend that things went awry for us. Most 13 trolleys go as far as Yeadon Loop and turn around there. Only a select few continue beyond there to Darby, namely pull-out trips. We therefore were watching for a 13 car displaying "Darby" on its sign. Although we saw a 13 going to Yeadon, none came with display of "Darby".

However there had been an incident on one of those 13 cars with a lost child. The child was brought into our station and the operator turned him over to another SEPTA employee who later found the child's parents.

John had a phone app that tracked SEPTA vehicles, and he showed us that a Darby-bound 13 was indeed on its way to Darby having already left Center City. We deduced that the operator of the car where the child was left behind understandably overlooked changing his sign, so we had let it pass us by while we stood there.

Since there were no more 13 cars scheduled to go to Darby within the next couple of hours, a Plan B had to quickly be devised. We decided to take the next 11 car to Darby, and then come back the same way as originally planned.

We finally left 13th & Market on the next 11 car at 3:04 PM, 14 minutes after we had intended to depart. A slow 41 minutes later, having encountered some delays at traffic signals, we got off the trolley at the Darby Transportation Center. The time was 3:55 PM.

Dave left us here to head home. The other eight of us waited for the next inbound trolley.

Chapter 2.8: SEPTA 11 trolley, Darby Transportation Center to 15th & Market

The next inbound 11 trolley left Darby Transportation Center at 4:02 PM, which was 17 minutes after we had intended to do so. Coming back took less time, and we got to 15th Street at 4:37 PM.

The group began continued to disband for the day. All but four of us broke off here and returned either to hotels or home. The only remaining participants I believe were John W., Ted, Lou, and me.

Chapter 2.9: SEPTA Broad Street Subway, City Hall to AT&T Station

Our trip south left at 4:45 PM. It was uneventful, and seemingly quick despite the lack of express service on this end of the line. When we got to the end at AT&T Station at 4:57 PM, we remained on the same train as it would be returning north after a five minute layover.

Chapter 2.10: SEPTA Broad Street Subway, AT&T Station to City Hall

The same four people rode our last conveyance of the day. Only two made it back to City Hall. Lou and I got off one station sooner at Walnut-Locust, from where he would walk to his hotel, and I ran to catch the PATCO Speedline back to New Jersey.

Chapter 2.11: End of Saturday's activities

With the first day in Philly a wrap, we all went our separate ways, most with plans to convene once again the next day. Aside from the issue with the 13 trolley, our day was a success.

Chapter 3: Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day Two brought us round trips to Chestnut Hill and Media over different routes, and an Amtrak round trip to Paoli.

Chapter 3.1: SEPTA Chestnut Hill East Line, Train #3710, Center City to Chestnut Hill East

Our second day started much like the first, by meeting aboard a moving train. This time, however, it was on Regional Rail rather than the subway. The first to board our train was John Corbett, who got on at University City after transferring from another inbound train. Then at 30th Street Station, Ted, Lou, and I were joined by Sloan Auchincloss, the only person who had not been with us on Saturday. Now five people strong, we made our way through the downtown tunnel. At Market East, John Wireman and Alan boarded, bringing our total to seven. Our train made its stops at all Center City stations two minutes late.

We did not lose any more time en route despite a single tracking segment that had us "wrong rail" at many of the stations beyond Wayne Junction. Arrival at the end of the line at Chestnut Hill East was at 10:19 AM, still two minutes off the advertised.

From here, we walked along Bethlehem Pike, slightly uphill to the center of the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Then it was down a set of stairs to the Chestnut Hill West station.

Chapter 3.2: SEPTA Chestnut Hill West Line, Train #824, Chestnut Hill West to 30th Street Station

We had 28 minutes to walk up the hill and be on the inbound train before departure. Our group got to the platform before the train arrived from Center City, so we had a short wait before we could board. We departed at 10:47 AM; like the previous train we were two minutes down already. We lost another minute in our travels, getting to 30th Street Station at 11:14 PM, now 3 minutes down. The group detrained here, and we temporarily split up to pursue the various lunch options. This time we only had about one hour off the rails.

Chapter 3.3: Lunch in Philadelphia

A few people ate together, but we were on hiatus from train riding for a short while. It was an early meal since we would need to be aboard our next train by 12:14 PM. During this time we gained Maurice, who returned to ride with us for the rest of the day.

Chapter 3.4: SEPTA Media-Elwyn Line, Train #7313, 30th Street Station to Media

Our next round trip involved Media. The outbound trip was on Regional Rail. Our train departed from 30th Street Station exactly on time with our group represented by eight people.

This train arrived right on time in Media at 12:45 PM. For the second time today, we had a slight uphill walk of a few blocks to reach our next conveyance. The 24 minutes allocated to accomplish this were more than enough.

Chapter 3.5: SEPTA 101 trolley, Orange Street, Media to 69th Street Transportation Center

To get back to Center City we would be taking a trolley to Upper Darby, and then the subway the rest of the way. The trolley arrived in the outbound direction on the line's single track, and as soon as its operator changed ends, we were allowed to board.

The now-inbound trolley departed from Orange Street at 1:09 PM, right on time. Our trip to 69th Street Transportation Center was quick. The trolley operates on a flag stop system at many stations, and thus doesn't need to stop if nobody is boarding or alighting.

We came into the terminal station at 1:38 PM, three minutes early. We walked through the building towards the Market-Frankford Line.

Chapter 3.6: SEPTA Market-Frankford Line, 69th Street Transportation Center to 30th & Market

The final official SEPTA ride for us on this trip was our inbound return from Upper Darby to Center City. Because our trolley had arrived early, it enabled us to catch an earlier subway as well. Our 1:40 PM departure from 69th Street was ten minutes earlier than planned, as was our arrival 13 minutes later at 30th Street.

Once at 30th Street, we had a long walk first up to the surface from the subway, and then across the station's namesake street to the rail station itself. Even after the walk, we still had approximately 45 minutes before our Amtrak departure. Downtime once more allowed us to rest and recharge ourselves for the final part of the Fest.

Chapter 3.7: Amtrak Keystone Corridor, Train #665, 30th Street Station to Paoli

As is customary in Philadelphia, the line for our Amtrak train started to form as soon as the track was posted, and well before departure. We decided to get on line too, in order to secure choice seats for our 25 minute journey.

After everyone had boarded, our Keystone train departed on time at 2:45 PM. After going a mere 19 miles on a trip that cost most of us just 8 bucks, the eight of us arrived at Paoli. Sloan remained on this train to return home to Harrisburg. The other seven got off, walked over the street bridge over the tracks, and returned to the eastbound platform to await our next and final train. Total layover here was 17 minutes.

Chapter 3.8: Amtrak Keystone Corridor, Train #670, Paoli to 30th Street Station

Also running right on time, this train departed from Paoli at 3:27 PM. Being one of the last stops before Philadelphia, some did not get the window seats they craved. But the suffering lasted only 28 minutes. Arrival back at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station was punctual at 3:55 PM.

Chapter 3.9: End of Sunday's activities

Sunday ended up with no hitches. Everyone had a good time doing the seven rail trips and two healthy walks. With this winter Fest officially over, we quickly split up to begin our respective trips home.

Chapter 4: Conclusion

Although it happened over a different weekend than usual, we still had a decent turnout for this event. Thank you to all who participated. Since the Fest took place there is already a short new piece of trackage to ride on the 15 trolley. So we definitely will be back there again in the future!

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