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Dan Chazin's Trip on Amtrak's Twilight Shoreliner
& NortheastDirect (Evening Metropolitan)
New York-Boston-New York

It's 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, November 11, 1998, and I've just arrived at Penn Station, New York where I will be boarding the Twilight Shoreliner to Boston. I took the 11:19 p.m. #171 bus on Route 4 (which I almost missed because the driver didn't see me at first) to the George Washington Bridge Bus Station, and then had to wait for about 15 minutes until an A train (at this hour, local all the way down to Penn Station) arrived. My Train #66 is scheduled to arrive from Washington at 12:15 a.m., so I was quite certain that it would already be in the station by the time I got there. But, to my surprise, the arrivals board showed the train as being 30 minutes late arriving from Newport News (where it originates). So I purchased my Custom Class ticket from a machine (I had already made the reservation over the Internet) and sat down in the waiting area to await the arrival of the train. Parenthetically, I noticed that the sign at the entrance to the waiting area now stated that the area was for "Amtrak and NJ Transit" ticketed customers only. This represents a change from prior policy, when only Amtrak patrons could use the waiting room. I would guess that there were a lot of complaints from NJ Transit riders who had no place to sit down while waiting for their trains, and I suppose that this was the cause of the new policy.

About 12:55 a.m., I decided to walk down to the lower level and see if the train might have arrived already. Although I did not notice any Amtrak trains on the platforms below, I did see an Amtrak employee walk down to Track 12. I followed him down there, and he confirmed that Train 66 would be arriving on that track. Sure enough, at 1:03 a.m., the train arrived on Track 12. I walked down to the Custom Class car, put my belongings down, and went back outside to record all the car numbers.

As usual, tonight's Twilight Shoreliner includes three 84- seat coaches, a 20000-series cafe car (without tables) for coach passengers, a Custom Class car, a lounge car for Custom Class/sleeper passengers, and a Viewliner sleeper. But there is one oddity to tonight's train. Instead of the specially decorated Twilight Lounge that is usually on this train, tonight's lounge is car #48224, a combination coach/dinette, with tables on only one side of the car. And, what is even stranger, car #28390, which served as the Twilight Lounge the last time I took this train, is part of tonight's train -- but it has been placed in front of an MHC car, obviously being deadheaded to Boston. Exactly why this is being done, I have no idea, but it does make for a rather unusual appearance for tonight's train.

I thought we might promptly load all the passengers and leave soon afterwards, making up some time, but this was not to be the case. Right after we arrived at Penn Station, the engines were detached to permit an additional MHC car to be added to the train. I walked through the train and counted about 35 coach and 7 Custom Class passengers. Then, about 1:25 a.m., with our engines still missing from the train, I walked upstairs, where I noticed that the departing track for our train had still not been announced. (Generally, departing trains are not announced until the engines are back on the train, as otherwise there will be no lights in the cars when the passengers board -- a potentially unsafe situation.) Finally, at 1:30 a.m., the engines were reattached, and we pulled out of Penn Station at 1:40 a.m. We were now 40 minutes late, having made up very little time during our 37-minute stay at Penn Station.

While standing on the platform, one of the attendants told me that we would have to wait for Train #189 to arrive from Philadelphia, since the cafe car attendant somehow got left behind in Philadelphia, and he would be coming in on that train (scheduled to arrive at 2:10 a.m.). However, another Amtrak employee soon came by to inform him that a substitute attendant had been found, so we would not have to wait for that train. (The same attendant also mentioned to me that the cause of the delay to our Twilight Shoreliner train was an electric engine added to the train in Washington, which did not work properly and had to be replaced.)

Soon after we left Penn Station, Tony, the attendant for my car, came by to give me a blanket and pillow, and to ask if would like anything to drink. This is the first time that the attendant on the Custom Class car on this train has offered to bring me a drink. I was very pleased with his attitude, and I asked him for orange juice, which he promptly delivered.

I watched us cross the Hell Gate Bridge, but I fell asleep soon afterwards. Although I did wake up a few times, I slept pretty soundly until we arrived at New Haven at 3:18 a.m. I thought of walking down the platform to see the diesel engines being put on our train, but it was raining lightly, so I decided to remain in my seat. Our stop lasted for only ten minutes -- about the time that it takes to change engines. Since we are scheduled to spend about half an hour in New Haven, we succeeded in making up some time here.

I again fell asleep, and slept for another hour until we arrived in New London at 4:26 a.m. Now it was raining very heavily. I went back to sleep, but woke up for all the minor stops that we make on our way to Providence.

We arrived in Providence about 5:35 a.m. We were 25 minutes late in arriving here, but the train is not scheduled to leave until 6:00 a.m. (in order to kill time, so as not to arrive in Boston too early). So we had now made up all our lost time. I walked down the platform and recorded the numbers of the MHC car added in New York and the two diesels (#245 and #288) that had been put on the train in New Haven. By now, the rain had stopped. I walked through the train and again counted only about 35 people in all four coaches and about ten passengers in Custom Class.

We departed Providence at 6:01 a.m. I went to the lounge car and got a cup of coffee. But when I tried to sit down in the one section of the car that had the tables, I was told by the attendant that it was for sleeping car passengers only. (The Twilight Lounge car which is normally used on this train has tables on both sides, and the smaller tables in the front of the car are open to Custom Class passengers, too.) I thought that under the circumstances, I should have been allowed to sit at one of the tables, but it didn't make that much of a difference to me, so I returned to my seat with the coffee. It was now just beginning to get light out.

I observed us cross the Canton Viaduct at about 6:30 a.m., and noticed the metal railings recently installed. Soon we made brief stops at the Route 128 and Back Bay stations, and we arrived on Track 10 at South Station at 6:53 a.m., two minutes early. On the way into the station, I noticed F-40-TC engine #197 at the front of the consist on the adjacent Track 9. It seems that this engine is regularly assigned to pull equipment from the yards into South Station. Then I boarded my Red Line train for Harvard Square. I spend most of the day meeting with a professor at Harvard Law School. About 5:15 p.m., I went back to the Harvard Square station and got back on the Red Line train, which I took to South Station.

I arrived in South Station about 5:55 p.m. I noticed that the track for my Train #169, the Evening Metropolitan, scheduled to leave at 6:20 p.m., had not yet been posted, nor was there any sign of the train itself on any of the tracks normally used by Amtrak. An MBTA commuter train with double-decker cars was loading passengers on Track 10, so I briefly boarded to train to see what the inside was like. I found it rather interesting, with a small door-level area inside to accommodate handicapped passengers, and a number of single seats in odd places (besides the normal 3-and-2 seating). Then, at about 6:05 p.m., I noticed an Amtrak switch engine pulling the consist of our train onto Track 8. The rear car, I could see, was a combination club car/dinette #48150, which will be used tonight as a Custom Class car. (I later found out that I had once ridden in this car from Montreal to New York on the Adirondack, where it was also in service as a Custom Class car.) There was a rope barrier to prevent passengers from boarding the train, and no announcement had yet been made of the track from which it would be departing.

I then went to the ticket window to purchase my ticket. I inquired about the availability of Custom Class, but was told that it was not available. So I purchased a regular coach ticket for $40.50 (including my AAA discount). I went back out to the concourse, and noticed that the rope barrier was still up (although a number of passengers were waiting behind it). Not until 6:15 p.m. -- only five minutes before our scheduled departure time -- was the train opened for boarding! I put my belongings down on a seat in the second coach (only the rear two coaches were open), and walked down the platform to record the consist. Tonight, our train is pulled by two F-40 diesel engines and includes five coaches (three of which are closed off) and the club car/dinette. But I didn't even make it to the front of the train by 6:18 p.m., at which point I decided I better head back to my car. Sure enough -- and rather remarkably -- we actually left at 6:21 p.m., only one minute late.

We stopped briefly at the Back Bay station and departed Route 128 at 6:44 p.m., three minutes late. Right after we pulled out of the station, a woman asked the conductor if she could get off the train, since she had boarded only to assist another passenger. Of course, the conductor responded that this was no longer possible, and that she would have to get off at the next stop, which was Providence.

Soon I decided to go back to the dinette car, where I purchased a jar of cranberry juice and a bag of potato chips, and took out a can of sardines and some crackers for dinner. Except for the two conductors and three boys playing cards, the dinette section of the car was practically deserted. I stepped off the train briefly when we arrived in Providence at 7:16 p.m., but otherwise remained in the dinette car (which was quite comfortable, although the lighting as a whole was rather dim), and did some work with my computer. This car -- along with the two open coaches -- had recently been retrofitted with electric plugs at every seat, so that when my batteries ran low, I was able to plug the computer in at my seat. The train seemed very empty and quiet.

When we arrived at Westerly station at 7:59 p.m., I walked through the two open coach cars. A total of only about 50 passengers were on board, and there were plenty of unoccupied pairs of seats. The conductor mentioned to me that on weekdays, this train is usually rather empty, but that on Friday and Sunday nights, it is often quite crowded.

We arrived in New London at 8:32 p.m. The north track, adjacent to the station, is now back in service (when I last rode this train in October, it had been closed for the installation of new track), and we pulled in on this track. On the scanner, I heard the station agent (I think) ask the conductor to step off the train to talk to him on the platform. So I decided to step off the train myself and walked down the platform for one car- length. When we departed New London at 8:34 p.m., we were 12 minutes late (due largely to some slow running between Mystic and New London).

As we left New London, I heard the conductor call the dispatcher to inform him that we have a drunken passenger on the train, and that we will need police assistance once we arrive in New Haven. Earlier in the trip, I had heard mention of a drunken person who had passed out, but when I walked through the cars, I did not notice anyone visibly drunk. At least, it would appear that this person was not annoying other passengers. (I might add that when we got to New Haven, I saw no sign of police activity or any drunk person being removed from the train.)

At 8:55 p.m., just before reaching the Old Saybrook station, we came to a stop. On the scanner I heard the engineer say that he doesn't know why we are being held here, and that he has been unable to reach the dispatcher. The conductor then made an announcement that there will be a short delay, although he does not know the reason for it. Six minutes later, the conductor announces that we still haven't been given any reason for what is going on. Then, at the suggestion of an attendant, the conductor himself decided to call the Shore Line dispatcher, and found out that a Shore Line East train was in the station ahead of us, and that we were being held for that train. Finally, at 9:04 p.m., we started moving again, and we pulled into the Old Saybrook station two minutes later. We were now about 25 minutes late.

Our station work was promptly concluded, but we remained there for another few minutes, then moved ahead only briefly and stopped again. Then the conductor called the dispatcher, and a train order was dictated over the radio giving us clearance to proceed ahead on the #1 track (presumably, against a red signal). The conductor copied it down, and then he had to walk up to the engine to hand it up to the engineer. Not until 9:23 p.m. did we start moving again. Had we been on time, we would have already arrived in New Haven one minute ago! In the meantime, I was sitting in the dinette car, writing this story and doing some other work, so I didn't really mind the delay.

Now we starting moving ahead fairly rapidly. I decided to go back to my coach seat for a while. No sooner had I arrived there, than we started slowing down again. I turned on the scanner and heard that we are at Guilford and that Train #176 is approaching from the other direction. Then I heard that a passenger on Train #176 who wanted to go to Springfield apparently got into the wrong car in New Haven and is headed for Boston rather than Springfield. So, she now wants to return to New Haven (where she can board the next train to Springfield), and would like to transfer to our train! We slowed down, and the door of our train was positioned opposite the door of the other train. (Interestingly, both trains seem to be running the wrong direction on the tracks we are assigned.) We stopped, and the woman climbed down from Train #176 and boarded our train. Once again, we were ready to move. We are now nearly an hour late, according to my calculations.

Finally, we arrived at New Haven at 10:12 p.m. It had taken us an hour to get here from Old Saybrook, a distance of only 33 miles! I stepped out to the platform and watched as our two diesel engines were taken off and replaced by an electric engine. On the opposite platform was Train #148, headed to Springfield, which was on time. (I guess the woman from Train #176 was able to transfer to this train.) The engine change was accomplished quite quickly, and we pulled out at 10:24 p.m., but we were now 49 minutes late. We might make up about 10 minutes' time, but I don't think we will be arriving in Penn Station any earlier than midnight.

After we left New Haven, I went back to the dinette car, where I spent most of the rest of the trip going through some accumulated mail. The ride now was quite uneventful, with no further delays. We made our brief scheduled stops at Bridgeport, Stamford and New Rochelle. When we went over the Hell Gate Bridge at about 11:50 p.m., I headed back to my seat, and started packing up my belongings. At 12:00 midnight, we arrived on Track 14 at Penn Station. I walked up to the main concourse, where the departure of Train #169 to Philadelphia was already being announced -- only two minutes after the train had arrived! I was also surprised to see a large crowd of about 75-100 people boarding the train. Despite its very late scheduled arrival in Philadelphia (the train is supposed to arrive there at 1:10 a.m., and it looks like tonight it will arrive even later than that), it seems like there will be more people riding this train from New York to Philadelphia than on any other segment of the route.

I then went up to the street and walked over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, I had obviously missed the 12:00 midnight bus that I had originally planned to take, but I arrived in plenty of time to make the 12:30 a.m. express bus.

The trip to Boston -- my third in about two months -- worked out quite well. The train coming back was a little late, but I accomplished a lot on the train, so I did not mind the fact that the trip took a little longer than it was supposed to. Having the dinette car on that train also made a big difference, since it is much more pleasant to sit at a table for most of the trip than to spend all of the time in a relatively cramped 84-seat coach.

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Dan Chazin / Other Writers

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