Location: [Home] [Train Travels] Back to Boston
This train also illustrates the "joys of unreserved tickets." I originally bought the tickets for a scheduled trip to Boston on February 25. That trip was snowed out (in truth, we could have gone, as the storm wasn't nearly as bad as predicted), but I still had the tickets, which were good for travel for quite a while. So when it came time to return to Boston for another doctor's visit, there they were.
On the way to the station, we made a quick stop at our local Dunkin Donuts for my wife's coffee and cinnamon roll and my hot chocolate and bagel. Our daughter, who had a cold and had already had breakfast, surprised us both by having nothing, and insisting that she doesn't like chocolate munchkins -- a new piece of information to us, and possibly misleading.
We arrived about twenty-five minutes before the Fast Mail's 9:02 am departure, and saw it pulling in as we walked from the parking lot to the station. Unusually, we parked in the lot beyond the parking ramp, as cones blocked its entrance.
From the lot I could see AEM-7 #948 at the head, followed by a Springfield-bound MHC (#1523).
Evelyn and Rebekah walked out to the platform while I got a pocket schedule from the Amtrak information area. As I headed down the escalator to the tunnel beneath the tracks, the first call for boarding the Boston section sounded.
The Fast Mail divides in New Haven, with the first two coaches heading to Springfield and the last four heading to Boston. When we boarded, the Springfield cars were still on the platform, but the connections had already been closed. Still, the conductor warned several times that this was a Boston bound train!
It was a fairly full train, and we did not find a vacant pair of facing seats (which are rare); we did find two empty pair across from each other in the car ahead of the cafe. The car was an odd combination of old and new; it had an old design of reading lights which use a sliding tab to adjust them in one plane only, and it had been fitted with an electrical outlet at each seat. In addition, it looked like a plastic sheeting had been layered over the original surface on that overhead area beneath the luggage racks. Strange.
The crew, as I noticed when the conductors came around, was the same as our most recent trip on Train 12. I first recognized the younger conductor who had given Rebekah a snap-and-glow light, but the senior conductor was also the same.
We pulled out on time at 9:02 am, and as we did two F-40s led another Amtrak train (probably #95) southbound into the station. From where I was seated on the left side of the train, I got a very good view of the trackwork that leads to Hartford and Springfield, and into the Cedar Hill freight yard complex. I noted the old catenary bridges at the entrance to the yard area and within it which once supplied the New Haven Railroad's electric passenger and freight trains with power. Oddly enough, they have been removed from the line between the yard and their junction with the Shoreline route closer to the station.
The day was sunny and bright, and allowed a lot of sightseeing. Evelyn and Rebekah had a lovely view of the Sound on the south side of the train.
At 9:20 am we slowed to pass an Amtrak work train in Branford which included several hopper cars; not the wire train I'd expected it to be!
Just beyond the Old Saybrook station, at 9:45, we met Train 171 southbound, again led by two F-40s. A few minutes later we passed through Rocky Neck state park and met a short freight (I didn't get a good luck at the locomotives, but it would almost have to be a Providence and Worcester train).
Coming out of the New London station, I was able to look north along the New England Central's rails, and saw several freight cars parked in the small yard there, with a lashup of three NEC locomotives moving slowly north, probably bound for the head of its train, or possibly still switching. Shortly after we met Train 93's two F-40s pulling six Amfleet I's.
Quite a bit of the new catenary wire is up in Rhode Island, and I saw several Hi-Rail wire trucks parked just north of the Providence station.
At Route 128 station, I saw that the new platforms now have roofs, although the stairs and what appears to be a shops area are still mostly frames. Just north of there, near the MBTA's Readville stop (and the location of one of the New Haven Railroad's heavy maintenance facilities) I saw a short train of gondola cars led by Amtrak MP-15 switcher #537 and trailed by Amtrak caboose #14007.
Approaching South Station, the train stopped to let an MBTA commputer train pushed by MBTA F-40 #1080 cross ahead from another line go in first. Shortly after we pulled in as well on track 10, precisely on time at 12:20 pm.
Waiting at the end of track 8 was a bright red private rail car named "Caritas" to greet us as we walked out when the announcement for Train 177 was called. Private cars are not an unusual sight in Boston's South Station, and I think this one in particular is often there.
Like the Fast Mail, the Senator is an entirely unreserved train, with no Custom or Club Class seats. Is it any surprise that it uses the same trainset? Walking down the platform looking at numbers as we walked out to the train on track 9, I thought they looked familiar -- and in checking later, I found I was quite right. It was the same trainset.
This train was crowded. We were not in the forefront of passengers walked out, and the cars were already filling. We turned in at the first door of the third car and found seats already getting scarce. We were fortunate to find two empty pairs behind each other on the right side of the train, and a few minutes later, another couple found that they had to take the empty seat with me and seat the husband elsewhere in the car. I wonder if there were standees somewhere!
Not only did we have the same trainset, we also had the same crew, which I suspected when I recognized one of the morning's crew members coming up the platform, and confirmed when the conductor began his announcements. As with the morning, he was very specific about where this train was going. I think he'd had more than one experience of passengers boarding trains going the wrong direction!
The Senator pulled out promptly at 4:20 pm, and was a pretty uneventful trip. I did wonder where the passengers who boarded at Back Bay Station were going to sit, and those at Route 128! Quite a few were travelling to Providence, however, which relieved some of the crowding, and my seat companion was able to go join her husband. A boarding passenger (headed for NYC, I think) joined me, and we continued on in companionable silence. I did a lot of reading.
In the Amtrak maintenance yard north of Providence I spotted two more of their MP-15 switchers lashed together, #536 and #530.
Around 6:30 pm, near New London, I wandered back to the Cafe car to make a phone call -- I needed to ask one of my colleagues to cover an error I'd made in scheduling at work. Oddly enough, I had difficulties finding the RailPhone, despite the fact that it was just where I thought it would be. The attendant set me straight, and I headed for the back of the car where the crew was gathered. The senior conductor noticed me, as I waited for one of his folks to make room for me in the aisle, and asked where I was going. I said to the phone, and he said, "Oh, okay, I couldn't imagine where you'd be going!" One of the crew joked, "Maybe you'd like to check out the mail car," and I replied with a smile that I didn't think that would be much help.
The phone call worked fine, and fortunately I completed it just before a red flash warned me we had entered a no-service zone. Whew!
Between Old Saybrook and New Haven the seats emptied enough that my companion from Providence ambandoned me to "stretch out" in an empty pair of seats. So my wife came back and joined me, leaving our sleeping daughter to stretch out herself. I started stirring again when I noticed we had passed behind the Lowe's home center in New Haven -- a landmark I recognize both from the train and the streets -- and we started assembling our gear, and getting Rebekah's coat on. We slowed down soon after to make the passage through the cut that leads into Union Station and its various junctions; I'm told that the track upgrades for the high-speed service will allow better speeds through this area later this year.
Those last slow minutes aside, we arrived in New Haven a couple of minutes before the 7:26 scheduled arrival. I picked up Rebekah and we headed off the train as the lights went out with the change from diesel to electric power -- and, of course, the addition of the Springfield section of the train.
We walked back out to the parking lot, and were home before 8:00 pm.
Locomotives: Two F-40s, back to back (didn't get the numbers)