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Working on the Train

Boston, MA to New Haven, CT

  1. Amtrak Train 175, NortheastDirect/Patriot, Boston South Station to New Haven Union Station, Custom Class--February 9, 1999

My wife, daughter, and I were in Boston again for a series of medical appointments, spaced out somewhat through the day. As with February 2, I had to get back for a meeting, while my wife decided to rest overnight in Boston before returning home.

I reserved this ticket at the same time as made the reservation for a similar trip on February 2 on Amtrak's Web site, and picked up the ticket at the New Haven station from a QuikTrak automatic ticketing machine around the end of January. The combination works very well, especially if you use the same credit card in the machine as you used on the Web site to purchase the tickets. You don't have to provide the reservation number, though I always have it along anyway.

I anticipated being able to get a meal before leaving Boston on this train, so I skipped Club Class for Custom. I prefer having the reserved seat, and more of the Custom Class cars have outlets at each seat than the standard coaches. I knew I would need to do some computer work on this trip.

South Station, Boston, MA to Union Station, New Haven, CT

As I'd hoped, I was able to have lunch with my family in a restaurant on Cambridge Street before heading for the train station. I had a small quandary: where to go to catch the subway? The closest MBTA stop was the Blue Line's Bowdoin station, but it would take two changes to get onto a Red Line train which runs to South Station. I could walk another block or so to get the Green Line at Government Center, but that's only one stop from its junction with the Red Line at Park Street. Which, in the end, was where I decided to go. The day was brisk but not overly cold, and I appreciated the exercise, if not the weight of my computer's briefcase on my shoulder.

The walk crossed about six or seven city blocks -- it's hard to tell how many. Boston is not laid out in squares, like New York City. The street I followed curved around the base of Beacon Hill (there could well have been a shorter route over it, but I think I'd have run into the back of the Capitol). I passed some famous Boston sights along the way: City Hall (ugly), King's Chapel (the first Episcopal church in Boston, it is now home to a Unitarian Universalist congregation), and the Old Granary Burying Ground, where several Boston notables from the Revolutionary War are laid to rest.

Park Street Station is at the northeast corner of the Boston Common, and often feels like the hub of the MBTA Rapid Transit light rail system. When I lived outside Boston, travel usually included changing from the Green to the Red Line and vice versa at Park Street. The upper level serves the Green Line streetcar (overhead catenary) trains which run to the west. This level has an Art Deco feel to it, with some mosaic work in the tiles on the wall, and interesting punched sheet steel designs in the lamps. The lower level serves the Red Line subway (third rail) trains which run north and south. Its platform has less of the Art Deco feel, but is a change from the more common plain white tiles of most MBTA stations.

I made my way to the south bound platform and had a short wait for the next train. Two stops later I was at South Station. Yes, I might have walked it, and nearly did, but I wasn't certain enough of the time it would take, and I had a train to catch!

As it turned out, I had plenty of time, which I spent reading. About fifteen minutes before the 2:05 departure the speakers called for boarding 175, without a special call for early boarding. I think it may be that the station platforms are at the same level as the station itself; passengers walk through automatic sliding doors to reach the tracks, and a wide walkway allows access to any track platform from any door. I've noticed that those who use Red Cap services, however, generally get out to train early.

As with the previous week, the Custom Class car was just beyond the Club Class car on the platform -- or second to last on the train. I walked in, found a seat close to the center of the car, and plugged in my laptop. As I'd hoped, each seat had a single 120 volt outlet on a power strip that ran the length of the car. Many's the time I've simply relaxed on a train trip, but this time I had plenty of work to do, so I just got to it.

The meal tray made an adequate support for my Apple Macintosh PowerBook Duo 2300, though the fit was somewhat tight. I did not flip down the legs on the back of the computer, as I thought it likely they'd end up sitting on the lip of the tray -- those tables have a small raised edge all around them to prevent things from sliding off. The tray slid back close enough to me to make typing reasonably comfortable, if not ideal.

I spent the time doing Web site work for the Connecticut Conference, UCC. I really concentrated fairly hard on that, but I did glance up once in Massachusetts or northern Rhode Island and realized that there was wire up over the northbound track. I noticed, in fact, that the catenary work had made real strides even over the preceding week, which augured well for the anticipated startup of high speed service between Washington and Boston at the end of 1999.

A couple hours of typing, staring at an LCD screen, and thinking (after a difficult day) finally got to me, however, so as we left New London I closed the computer, packed it away, and headed for the cafe car. As I presented myself (and my Custom Class ticket stub) at the service area, the Assistant Conductor who had been working my car joked, "Charge this guy double." I grinned back and replied, "Gee, I've been so much trouble!"

After I got my cranberry juice and peanut M&Ms I started back, and the same conductor told me he thought it was good that I could get some work done on the train. I told him that was true, but with just a little bit to go I thought it was time for a break. He laughed.

At 5:23, eight minutes late, we pulled into New Haven. I got my stuff and started looking for my father and son, who were picking me up -- I'd thought on the platform. They weren't there, but I walked quickly along the train (too fast for numbers, but slowly enough to get the paint jobs), and then descended into the tunnel for the walk to the station. There they were in the seats of the main waiting room when my head rose above floor level on the escalator, so I followed them into the parking garage for the car trip home.

Consist Train 175:

Locomotives: F-40 #xxx and F-40PH #413, elephant style (both cab forward)

http://www.computerseraph.com/Trains/Travel02091999.html -- Revised: 15-Feb-99
Copyright © 1999 Eric S. Anderson

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