Location: [Home] [Train Travels] There and Back Again
It takes a certain amount of madness to plan a trip like this, one I don't actually intend to repeat! Nevertheless, it worked, and that counts for a lot.
What am I talking about? Well, on long-distance schedules, Amtrak will rarely guarantee a connection when the arrival time of the first train is less than three hours before the departure of the second. In setting up this schedule, I set up a schedule in which a group of three arrived in Boston, did its business, and was on the train home in less than two hours. Whew!
To get these tickets, I went to the station. I already had a New Haven to Boston ticket remaining from an aborted trip earlier this year. What I needed was a return ticket, plus tickets for my daughter (whose medical checkup was the point of all this) and my father, who was accompanying us. I could have made the reservations on the Internet, but I wasn't confident that I'd get an appropriate round-trip rate, so I went to the station. The clerk was one of the more helpful I've run into there, and understood what I needed easily -- and as with most of the clerks there, who are employed by Metro-North Commuter Railroad, asked for my AAA card so I'd get that discount.
I booked Custom Class tickets for the return to New Haven. The upgrade doesn't enhance comfort a great deal -- although the extra leg room and foot rest are really nice -- but it makes it much more likely that three people can find seats together. Coach between New Haven and Boston is frequently crowded, and finding two seats together, let alone three or four, can be daunting.
Trip Segments: [New Haven to Boston] [Boston to New Haven]
The parking garage next to Union Station was pretty full when we pulled in around 8:30 in the morning; we had to drive to the roof to find a space, but the one we found was at the end overlooking the station and the platforms, right near the elevator. Looking over, I saw an F-40 backing onto an Amtrak train -- that was the power for the first three cars, which had now become train 412 bound for Springfield. Those three were a baggage car and two Amfleet Is.
The board in the station's main waiting area announced that train 412 was boarding on track 10, and warned that some of the cars on that track were going to Springfield, and others to Boston. Amtrak had also put up new signs about the new Northeast Corridor services which are coming along with the new high-speed trains at the end of the year.
Though the All Aboard sign did not show for 12, we headed for the track anyway -- I really hoped that moving fast would make it more likely to find seats together, perhaps even the always elusive facing seats.
To my delight, we found a set vacant, but now three-year-old Rebekah protested that she wanted a tray. She uses it for her Winnie-the-Pooh figures, and experienced train traveller that she is, that's what she wanted. So my daughter and I settled into a vacant pair of seats and my father took a seat just ahead of us.
The car had been renovated fairly recently; the old orange walls in the corridor between the rest rooms had turned to white, and there were electrical outlets at each seat. Gazing out the window, I saw what was, to me, an unusual sight: Metro-North GP-35-R #104 pushing a train slowly into a shop building (I think it may be a coach washing facility). The only car I could see was #8919, a self-propelled M-4 electric coach. The entrance to the building was too low for a raised roof pantograph (New Haven has 11,000 volt AC overhead catenary), thus the need for the locomotive.
We left at 9:02 am, right on time, and had a pretty quiet ride. I made a trip to the cafe car at the rear (one car behind us) for coffee and ended up with a breakfast sandwich as well. Rebekah played happily and drank orange juice and had me read books to her. Occasionally she'd make her way around the seat ahead to play with her grandfather.
We met south bound Amtrak trains in Old Saybrook and New London; we had to stop for the Old Saybrook meet. The train we met in New London -- 93, the NortheastDirect/Virginian -- was led by an F-40, but the second unit was a road switcher configuration. I think it was probably one of Amtrak's seven GP-40PH locomotives. I didn't get a great look at it, let alone the number, but it seems most likely. It was wearing a phase III (red/white/blue stripe) paint scheme.
Shortly afterward, we passed a Providence and Worcester mixed freight; the P&W has trackage rights on these Amtrak-owned rails.
The heaviest spots for wire work were Mystic and then later north of Providence. I noticed brand new signs on the platform in Mystic, including a couple of the new signs about northeast service I'd noticed in New Haven. The irony is that Mystic probably won't get high-speed service, as I didn't see any signs of a train-level platform going up. But then, I didn't see one in New London, either, and I find it difficult to believe that Amtrak won't make the Foxwoods connection with the new trains. More to come, I expect.
We arrived in Boston about 10 minutes after the 12:20 pm scheduled arrival, and made our quick way to the Red Line Rapid Transit stop below the station.
Locomotive: F-40PH -- I don't know what number. I wrote down "140", but there's no such thing on the roster. I was in a rush at the time.
The Red Line to Charles/MGH station and a block's walk brought us to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, which is a well-known route for us. We had a delay on the ground floor, as I'd forgotten the ever-important blue card (don't leave home without it), but equipped with a new one we got Rebekah to her appointment on time.
Now came the anxiety: would we have time to get back to South Station? This is where my errors of thought became somewhat obvious. An ordinary coach ticket on the Northeast Corridor is unreserved; it is good for any train between the two cities named on it within a certain date range. Custom Class is train-specific. I'm pretty sure that if we'd missed the train the rail fare portion of the ticket could have been used for another train, but we'd have lost the Custom Class upgrade.
The doctor, however, had said that he would see her promptly and that the checkup would be brief, and we've learned to trust him. He was, in fact, as good as his word. By 1:30 we were done, and hurrying back to the Red Line.
We arrived at South Station at about 1:50, and didn't even have time to sit down, because the boarding call for Train 175 was sounding. We went straight from the subway stairs to the track platform.
We passed the Club Class car at the train's rear and stepped into the second to last car for Custom Class. The car was marked "Metroliner" between the vestibule doors and the first set of windows and painted in the phase IV, wide blue stripe below narrow red and white stripes colors. Its interior was like nothing I'd seen on Amtrak before. The seats had the familiar blue covers, and were spaced for Custom Class (or Metroliner) service, but the ceiling had a different plastic design and the white sidewalls had a subtle dark grey splatter pattern. The most obvious feature was a red LED signboard at each end of the car replacing the usual light-up signs for the cafe and rest rooms; it ran a fairly lengthy series of announcements and directions, including the rest room locations, Amtrak statistics, invitations to the cafe car, and the fact that this was a "Concept 2000" car.
Someone would have to fill me in, but I believe that this was one of a trainset prepared for demonstrating Amtrak's proposed improved service. I don't know how many of the ideas in the Concept 2000 car have or will actually become standard practice.
In any case, it made for an attractive, comfortable car. We'd had no chance for lunch, so when the announcement was made that the cafe car was open we made our way forward to it. The cafe attendant, however, was not ready, so we stood and waited while he tried to get everything prepared. He, sadly, got rather frustrated by the scrutiny, and eventually asked us for our orders more to get things moving than because he had things to his liking.
The menu was an improvement over past experience with Northeast Corridor cafe car food. My father and I had a chicken roll-up sandwich, heated, with Caesar's dressing, which I enjoyed. Rebekah had pizza -- I can't tell you how much I would have paid for pizza for the kids on our trip home from Washington last October! We ate on the tables at our seats (it wasn't a Cafe/Dinette), and strangely enough, the trays for my father and I wouldn't unfold flat. Rebekah's did, but it's a mystery to me why the others wouldn't.
Rebekah was having a great day -- she played merrily, had me read books to her, and smiled and laughed a lot. I was really glad her grandfather was along, because I was really, really tired. Somewhere near the Connecticut border I persuaded her to sit with her grandfather for a while, while I put back the seat across the aisle and took a nap. It was a pretty effective one: I didn't fully wake until we were about fifteen minutes from New Haven.
I did have time to look and finally find something I'd been looking for on the wrong side of the rails -- the junction with the Branford Steam Railroad. This is a short line which runs from the Shoreline route in Branford, CT, to a Tilcon quarry in North Branford, CT, which is about six miles from my house. I'd been fooled before because the main line runs over a rail line near where I thought the junction should be, and I've seen open-top hopper cars on it. I thought that meant that the BSRR entered the main line from the south. The road beneath the main line, however, turns out to be simply a siding in actual practice. The real junction comes in where I'd first thought it should, from the north; a southward train from the BSRR would end up heading west on the Shoreline.
I spotted it because I was actually seated on the right (north) side of the train for once, and because a string of orange Amtrak Maintenance of Way hopper cars were sitting there at the junction.
We had a small crisis in picking up the toys before we arrived at the station, which I include for its potential value to other parents travelling with small children. One of Bekah's Winnie-the-Pooh figures (Rabbit) had fallen from the chair arm against the window where she was playing with it. Well, we looked around, and it was not to be found on the floor. I finally found it caught between the chair arm and the inward curve of the wall. If you can't find something, that's another place to look!
We arrived in New Haven very close to on-time, though I didn't record our arrival.
Then, getting off the train nearly provoked a major crisis. Bekah insisted that she carry her two baby dolls, Emily and Michael, until the very last second, when she told me to put them in my backpack. I told her I would after we got off the train. Well, stepped off, and I began to put the dolls away, but she only had one. "Bekah, where's Emily?"
"On the train."
Fortunately this was New Haven, where the train stops for a power and crew change. I had plenty of time to dash in and pick up the doll from our seat. At other stations I might not have been so lucky.
With all our stuff assembled (now) we made our way back to the car we'd left on the parking garage roof about eight hours before. From there, we could see the locomotive pull away, and another F-40 back the two coaches from Springfield (Train 475) onto the front of the train. We lingered a short time to watch that (and for me to change a diaper) before getting in the car to head home.
Locomotive: F-40 #xxx