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The Joys of Unreserved Tickets

New Haven, CT to Boston, MA and return

  1. Amtrak Train 12, NortheastDirect/Fast Mail, New Haven Union Station to Boston South Station, Unreserved Coach--February 18, 1999

  2. Amtrak Train 169, NortheastDirect/Evening Metropolitan, Boston South Station to New Haven Union Station, Custom Class--February 18, 1999
    Amtrak Train 177, NortheastDirect/Senator, Boston South Station to New Haven Union Station, Unreserved Coach--February 18, 1999

Things don't always go as planned, particularly when dealing with medical concerns. So an unreserved ticket can have its benefits...

Like many of the recent trips in these travelogues, this was a quick visit to Boston to bring our daughter Rebekah to see her doctors. I had scheduled the medical appointment during my previous trip to Boston, during which I had left all of 90 minutes between trains to get to the hospital, see the doctor, and return the station. And I'd had reserved tickets for the trip home, too!

I decided not to repeat that experience, and planned to take Train 177, the Senator, back to New Haven. Its 4:20 pm departure time left, I thought, plenty of time for a short visit to the doctor, getting back and forth, lunch (hadn't had much time for that two weeks before), and I thought I might even do some shopping while I was there.

A journey to Amtrak's Web site showed me that neither train I was planning on taking offered any kind of seating upgrade, so I ordered three unreserved tickets each way, for myself, my wife, and our daughter. As I have of late, I made a run by the station to pick them up at one of the QuickTrak machines.

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

We arrived at Union Station about quarter to nine, well before the Fast Mail's 9:02 am departure. Evelyn stopped in the lower Dunkin Donuts (there are two Dunkin Donuts in Union Station; one opposite the ticket windows in the main hall, and one in the tunnel on the way to the platforms) to get coffee and bagels for us, as Bekah and I waited outside the door and I wondered if we'd find seats for three together on the train.

I was right to wonder. We boarded the last coach, just ahead of the cafe, and walked forward. There was only one empty pair of seats, and we passed that up in the hopes of finding two pair together. Nothing doing in the coaches, so we returned through the train (have you ever tried to turn a stroller around in a train aisle? not easy!) and check the cafe car. Here we found an empty pair, and some other empty seats as well. We were just starting to put stuff in the racks when a conductor came along, noticed us, and asked a woman who was the only one in two pairs of facing seats to exchange with us, explaining that they like to reserve those for families. She did so willingly, and we thanked both her and the conductor.

Rebekah, it must be said, objected initially. She likes to have a tray table to play and draw on, and the facing seats don't have those. She was overruled, and fussed. The same conductor, who was young enough that I wonder if he isn't a new father or uncle, very nicely offered her a glow stick -- one of those plastic things that glows after you bend it. She didn't like it at first, but it became a very nice toy later on.

Our car had been renovated; the cafe cabinets had white facings, not the old orange fronts, and there was an electrical outlet at each seat pair -- though I noted that there was only one for the two pairs of facing seats!

We pulled out promptly at 9:02 by my watch, rolling out into the rainy day. Evelyn and I both agree that the Connecticut shoreline is beautiful in all weathers; the mist of a gray day has its own attraction.

We continued to see progress in the catenary work along the shoreline, including wire work between Saybrook and New London, and more of the complex rigging on the poles elsewhere. In various places along the way I looked up at the other track to see catenary wire suspended, waiting for an electric locomotive's pantograph to brush along it.

We met three Amtrak trains along the way: 171, the Mayflower met us as both trains crossed the bridge over the Connecticut River between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme; a single F-40 led six Amfleet cars and a Material Handling Car. We waited quite some time just before the New London station for train 93, the Virginian, and its two F-40s and seven Amfleets. We were held once more outside Providence for 173, the Yankee Clipper, which I missed going by.

Around noon, before we arrived at the Route 128 station, a rumble to the side announced that we were passing a northbound MBTA commuter rail train. It was rather fascinating watching the cars slowly move by as we overtook them. An F-40 was pushing 5 cars, all of the double-level type.

A few minutes later, we passed a Conrail freight train stopped on a siding. Two diesel locomotives led a very short train, which makes me think it must have been a local job, picking up and setting out cars at industries along the railroad. I have noticed, over the last few months, several companies with rail service along the way.

Rebekah spent the time coloring (with no tray table, she found she could happily use a clipboard), playing with her beanbag Tom and Jerry and her baby dolls Emily and Michael, and listening to stories read by Mom and Dad.

The train arrived at South Station seven minutes late, which was pretty good after the long holds at New London and Providence. We gathered our belongings and headed for the subway.

Consist Train 12:

Locomotives: F-40PH #206 and #207, back to back

Things didn't go precisely as planned with the doctors. There weren't emergencies, but things took longer, and we saw a second doctor we hadn't expected. The result was that we stayed far longer than expected, and we didn't return to South Station until about 4:45 pm, after the Senator had left. But that's the beauty of unreserved tickets -- they were still good on the next train!

We decided to see if we could get an upgrade, however, as we were dog tired and I always feel better with a reserved seat. So when we arrived at South Station, I headed for the ticket windows. The Amtrak employee who served me was gracious, competent, helpful, and even enthusiastic about what he was selling. When I explained what I wanted to do, he checked to see that there were Custom seats available, took my previous ticket, ran a credit on that, and ran the new ticket, assuring me that I'd enjoy the extra service. I really felt he set a standard for the entire company, much as the young conductor had on the train that morning.

We got a light meal in the South Station food court, and waited for the boarding call.

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

As we waited for the announcement, I couldn't help noticing Amtrak GP-40PH #194 at the near end of Track 8, a few feet from an Amfleet car. When the pre-boarding announcement came, it was for Track 8: #194 must have pulled the train in. The first call was for Custom Class, but to my surprise there was no conductor at the end of the platform and lots of people were walking out to the train.

We joined the crowd. The last car (that is, first along the platform, but rear car of the train) was marked Club, but when I asked for Custom Class the conductor motioned us aboard. The car was an Amfleet I Club/Dinette, with the cafe area serving the entire train and the Club seating rated as Custom Class. With three of us, it made it easy: we took a pair of seats and the single opposite. Rebekah merrily went back and forth between for some time on the ride home.

We pulled out on time at 6:20 pm, and the cafe attendant began to welcome the Custom passengers, when elsewhere in the train a conductor began the welcome for all passengers. The attendant waited until her speech ended, and then supplemented it by telling us about the free beverages and newspaper which came with our Custom ticket -- one of the few times I can remember that happening aboard an Amtrak train.

The trip was mostly uneventful. Rebekah fell asleep before we reached New London, and Evelyn napped, too. I took advantage of my Custom ticket for some hot chocolate, but showed the ticket to the attendant after he'd made it. He told me that if I'd showed it earlier I'd have received a different cup, for whatever that's worth. It didn't matter much to me. I just read, both to myself and to my daughter, and waited for our arrival in New Haven around 9:15 pm -- which was a few minutes early!

I didn't get numbers on the consist this time, as we really wanted to get Rebekah home and into bed. Of course, we wanted to get ourselves to bed, too...

Consist Train 169

Locomotive: F-40PH #xxx

http://www.computerseraph.com/Trains/Travel02181999.html -- Revised: 21-Mar-99
Copyright © 1999 Eric S. Anderson

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