Location: [Home] [Train Travels] Day Trip to Needham
Vacations, not business trips, are the usual stuff of travelogues, but the old New Haven Railroad's old Shoreline Division is a beautiful route--and it makes non-auto commuting practical and comfortable.
I had been asked to come spend about half a day working on a new client's computer, dealing in great part with making the adjustments required in going from one platform to another. From my point of view, one of the best things about this client was that her office is in Needham, Massachusetts, a block away from an MBTA commuter rail stop. After going back and forth about meeting at the Amtrak Route 128 station, we finally arranged that I would take the train all the way to Needham, having made an easy connection at Boston's South Station. And so it was arranged.
The schedules have changed since September 1997, and the train is now known as the Twilight Shoreliner, but some things have not: when it arrives in New Haven in the wee hours, there are not a lot of waking people aboard! I have occasionally had difficulty finding a seat, not because the train is full, but because most people have stretched out across two seats. On this particular day, however, I found nothing of the sort, and soon I, too, was snoozing--though I find sitting back more comfortable than curling up.
I awoke around Providence, and watched the darkness lighten as we headed north to Boston. We were running late, which is not unusual for this train. It always seems to be held up long before it arrives in New Haven. About half an hour behind when I boarded, it was nearer forty-five minutes late into South Station. Fortunately I'd left plenty of time for my connection, and I still had about half an hour.
I purchased my tickets and got some coffee, and within a few moments I was called to the train. I'm was riding the Needham Branch, which follows the very line I'd come in on back south to around Forest Grove, then bears off on a single-track branch to the west. The cars were bi-level commuter cars, and at this hour of the morning (around 8 am) were nearly empty. Of course, we're going out of the city; when this train makes its return trip I suspect it is near capacity. The seats are molded plastic, and arranged three and two on the upper level. I got a good view of a lovely marsh after leaving the branch below Forest Grove as we headed towards Needham.
The work went well, and around mid-afternoon I was waiting for the commuter train to return to South Station. I was somewhat early, so I stood out on the platform. There is a small shop on the platform, but I did't go in, which would have saved me some trouble later. I watched the train make its westward journey, and a few minutes later it reappeared (I was at the second stop from its western terminus). Westbound (outbound from the city) an F-40PH wearing the MBTA's purple stripe led; eastbound a bi-level cab car headed the train.
When it stopped at the station, only one door opened--right opposite the shop I didn't enter. I was a way down the platform, and the conductor wasn't happy to wait for me as I trotted to the steps. I chose a lower level seat this time, and found that the center of the car has a table between two facing sets of seats, a nice arrangement. A group of teenagers out of school boarded at the next stop and took one of these tables, talking about school, relationships, and what they were planning to do in Boston that afternoon.
I had more time to wait at South Station this time, so I got something to eat and wandered through a bookstore-kiosk in the station. I really like this terminal a lot. A renovation in the early 90s retained the glorious old stone facade, and added a glass-enclosed atrium area behind the old stone back walls. This enormous open area has lots of small tables and chairs, various kiosks selling books, magazines, ice cream, pastries, beverages, and snacks; the entire effect is spacious and attractive. Some fast food lurks inside one old wing of the building, and includes various mall food court selections. My favorite is the Cajun place, though I it isn't great Cajun. On this occasion I had good luck in the bookstore, as they had Carl Sagan's Contact in paperback. I'd seen the movie recently, and was very curious about the book--which, incidentally, I think is better than the film.
Soon enough my train was called, and I made my way down the platform to the train. South Station is a real terminal, and one walks out parallel to the tracks to board the train. I usually pass the first car door to enter, on the theory I'll find empty seats farther along the train; it usually works.
The trip was comfortable, and I have leisure to read; if I'd driven I'd have been concentrating on the "what-ifs" of other drivers on the Massachusetts Turnpike. I also got some great scenery as we passed along the Connecticut shoreline, particularly between Rhode Island and Old Saybrook. The line passes right behind the beach at Rocky Neck State Park, and crosses two long bridges with a draw in them: one over the Thames River at Groton/New London, and one over the Connecticut at Old Lyme/Old Saybrook. Along the way we passed other NortheastDirect trains heading to Boston, and Shoreline East commuter trains running between New London and New Haven.
About fifteen hours after I'd left it, I returned in New Haven and picked up my car in the garage. I'd done some good work, and had a good trip. I'm hoping that this client will have me back some time--though I suspect I can support her system quite adequately by phone and email.