Location: [Home] [Train Travels] Aboard the Acela Regional
Regrettably, Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express service has not begun racing the Atlantic seaboard between Boston and Washington yet; its cars and locomotives are not yet ready. But Amtrak did begin its move toward rebranding its service with the invented name "Acela" this February. Now two trains each way each day bear the name Acela Regional, providing somewhat faster trip times and all-electric service from end to end--no change to diesel in New Haven!
The new schedule worked very well for this trip, yet another of our journeys to Boston for a medical appointment. It allowed us both a later departure time and an earlier return home, to our great delight.
I made these reservations through Amtrak's toll-free telephone service at 1-800-USA-RAIL rather than their web site. All reservations made via the web have to be prepaid, which wouldn't have been a problem except that I had a gift certificate to use, and the web site couldn't see that. So I turned to the phone.
I decided to try the automated system, which involves the usual "Press [a number] for [an action]" with which we're so familiar. It worked quite well, providing me with a reservation for three people in Business Class on the right day and right trains. What it didn't do was ask if any of the passengers was a child, and to my consternation, it hung up when the reservation was complete. So I called again and got a human being, who very nicely made that correction.
I've always had good experiences with the agents at 1-800-USA-RAIL, and the automated system has always required me to make corrections with a person. It's very odd.
I picked up the tickets at Union Station three days before our departure, and found that station renovations had separated the Amtrak ticket windows from Metro-North. The person who gave me the tickets wore an Amtrak uniform, too. I suspect dividing the two will help the flow of passengers through that area. I also noticed some other work being done in the station interior, but didn't give it any thought.
One other thing: for this trip I began experimenting with a Palm OS program by Landware called "Gulliver." It's an itinerary database, and I really like it. It's very airline oriented, so my train numbers were called "flights," but it kept the reservation number, train numbers and arrival times very nicely for me, plus allowing me a notes section that helped me write this travelogue. Plus, each "flight" was entered as an appointment in the calendar. Good stuff!
On that Wednesday morning, my wife, daughter and I got in the van later than we're accustomed, since our train had a 10:14 am departure rather than Train 12's 9:02. When we got to the station, however, we found a big sign announcing that the parking garage was full. Other signs directed us to use the New Haven Coliseum parking ramp, which is about four blocks away--and at this point New Haven's one way streets nearly did us in. We couldn't find the way to the one open garage entrance for several minutes, and even took a brief tour of a space underground. When we finally parked the car, we had only eight minutes to get to the station.
A sign marked the stop for a free shuttle bus to the station, but we had no idea what the schedule was. However, we saw a bus coming marked "Union Station," and waited the few seconds it took for us to realize it was a regular bus and it was going on by. We ran for it, and caught the bus at the next corner. The driver was a little surprised that we wanted to pay a dollar each for such a short ride, but when we told him we needed to catch a train he understood.
We became something of a cause celebre aboard the bus that morning, as other passengers offered us different opinions of the time, and cheered us on as we hopped off the bus in front of the station.
We made it, but not by much! A conductor at the top of the platform stairs told us to "step right on the train, please," and we did; it started north only about a minute later. He directed us to Business Class in the rear of the train, and we headed back.
All the coaches were in the new Acela Regional paint scheme on the outside, and had the new blue seats and carpeting on the inside. Red LED signs at each end told where the cafe car and restrooms were. Overall, I think it's a very pleasant and rather bright interior.
We found the Business Class car beyond the cafe car, and it was nearly full. Evelyn, who was ahead, came back to say that she didn't see three seats together, and I looked at a table between facing seats just at the entrance where I was standing: only one man occupied it with his laptop computer. We joined him, and just sat and breathed hard for a minute after our run through the city and the station.
Rebekah, our four-year-old, was being fairly charming but also feeling rather active and excited after all that, and I'm afraid we drove our seat companion off fairly quickly. It left us facing each other over a table, one of two at each end (I think) of the car. They have leaves toward the seats that fold up, leaving a wider space toward you if you prefer. I quickly tried it out with my own laptop, and found it worked admirably for that--though there are only two outlets along the wall for four potential keyboard pounders.
I'm pretty sure we were out right on time at 10:14, and I didn't see a lot of the trip. I spent most of it working at my laptop. At times our progress did seem noticeably faster than previous trips, and I didn't notice a lot of slow territory. We certainly never stopped for another train.
The cafe car was a Cafe/Lounge, all tables except for the service area in the center. It had had some interior work done (no more orange walls!) but had not been changed to the Bistro design which is apparently the future of Acela Regional service.
In New London, Evelyn called my attention to a tall ship at a dock south of the bridge. It was the US Coast Guard's training bark Eagle, which is more usually tied up at a quay near the Academy, north of the bridge. We saw people up in the rigging on the foretopsail yard, though what precisely they were doing I couldn't tell in the time we saw them.
I did notice two F-40s sitting rather forlornly, I thought, in the small yard at Readville (once a major shop facility of the New Haven Railroad). The Route 128 station's car height platforms are now in use, and the canopies are up, though there is still construction going on with them. The new station building is clearly not ready.
Somewhat to my surprise, there was still a noticeable diesel smell in the tunnels going to Back Bay. I'd always assumed that I mostly smelled our own train's engine fumes, but apparently they linger.
The turn from Back Bay into South Station revealed the continuing work of the Big Dig. It's still a big mess. Equipment, workers, and dirt are everywhere. Maybe when they're done they'll actually start digging to connect Boston's North and South Stations!
As we came into South Station, we came in across the platform from the waiting Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, waiting for its 1:00 pm departure for Chicago. P-42 #82 led an F-40 at its head. On the track beyond (the last track on the right entering the station) was Train 12, which had arrived only 24 minutes before.
We walked down the platform along the train, and I discovered an F-40 spotted on the track ahead of us, presumable in case of trouble with the electrics.
We then followed our usual path to the Red Line Rapid Transit station, which has also been under construction for months. It still was, but workers had opened a new stairway (though not for use) which will lead to the new token sales area. It finally offered some promise for a reasonably attractive MBTA South Station.
We rode the Red Line to Charles/MGH, and headed for the appointment.
When the doctor's appointment was over, we took the Red Line back to South Station for the evening Acela Regional heading south. The station was full of people, but not quite as bad as it would be when the offices really started to empty in another 30 to 45 minutes. I had enough time to visit the book kiosk (spend some money) and for Evelyn to get some soft pretzels before the boarding call for Train 133 sounded.
Somewhat to my surprise, there was no advanced boarding call for Business Class, but we were still among the first to enter that car, the first along the platform. Laptop users, however, had already claimed the table seats, so we took four seats across. Despite a full load of Business Class passengers, I had no seatmate until New London (our daughter generally insists on sitting with Mommy).
Again, I spent most of the time working at the laptop, this time balanced on the fold-down tray table. My old Apple Macintosh PowerBook Duo 2300 would have fit quite nicely, but my PowerBook G3 is a little too big for it to be comforable. At one point I got up to throw away a cup, and returned to find it had slid about half its width!
I still managed to get a fair amount of work done, but not to see much scenery.
For a meal, I got a ham and cheese sandwich which was quite good. Despite the packaging it tasted fresh, and I quite enjoyed it. Evelyn likes the crackers and cheese packages Amtrak carries in their cafe cars, and so does Rebekah.
In New London, I took care to look at the wharf where the Eagle had been in the morning, and she was still there. She now had lights mounted at each masthead, and nobody in the rigging. It made for a very pretty sight.
We arrived in New Haven about five minutes late, and left the train. In the below-track tunnel we discovered fliers for the shuttle bus service to the Coliseum parking ramp. It had been a long day, and Bekah was tired, so we decided to wait the twenty minutes for the bus. It appeared on time and swiftly delivered us to the Coliseum, where we recovered our car and headed home.
Note: I only know for certain the number for our own Businessclass car on this train, but it was exactly the same one we'd come north on, so I'm assuming the entire trainset was the same. I'm not that confident of the power, however, even of how many locomotives there were, so I'm not including numbers for them.