It's 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, January 15, 2003, and I've just arrived at Penn Station, New York, where I will be meeting Robert Madison and boarding Train #66, the Twilight Shoreliner, to Boston.
This "triangle" trip - New York to Boston, Boston to Albany, and Albany back to New York - has two basic purposes. The first is to meet Robert Madison, a regular on the All-Aboard List, who is traveling around the country on a North America Rail Pass. The second is to cover some new mileage. I've never previously traveled by train between Worcester and Springfield, and I've traveled between Boston and Worcester only on MBTA. This trip is reminiscent of the trip I took last February from Portland to Seattle, Seattle to Spokane, and Spokane back to Portland, which was also designed for me to travel with some friends from All-Aboard and to cover new mileage. I will be spending only a few hours in Boston, and even less in Albany, so there is no real transportation purpose associated with this trip.
I had originally hoped to meet Robert in Penn Station when his Adirondack train from Montreal arrived at 8:20 p.m. But I decided to attend a Boy Scout roundtable and to give a Scout from Bergenfield a ride to the roundtable and back. As a result, I did not get back home until 10:00 p.m., and it took another half an hour for me to gather my belongings and get ready to leave. I then walked over to Route 4 to get a bus or a "Spanish van" to New York, via the George Washington Bridge. Usually, these vans come by every five or ten minutes. But at this late hour, I had to wait 25 minutes before a van finally came, about 11:00 p.m. When we got to New York, I went down to the 175th Street subway station, where I was treated to the rather unusual sights of a diesel engine pulling a southbound work train and a deadhead "C" train proceeding north to the 207th Street yard. Finally, my "A" train arrived, but at this late hour, all "A" trains operate on the local tracks and make all stops. So I didn't get down to Penn Station until about midnight.
Robert was waiting for me. I had hoped to show him some of the sights of the city, but there wasn't really any time for that now, as our train was scheduled to depart at 1:30 a.m. So we just went into the waiting room and talked for a while about his trip. About 12:50 a.m., we walked over to the recently-opened NJ Transit East End Concourse, and I showed Robert this new and relatively attractive facility.
Our train was scheduled to arrive at 1:00 a.m., but when we looked at the arrivals monitors at 1:00 a.m., no track was shown, even though the train was still shown as arriving "on time." We walked down to the lower level of the station and looked down at the various tracks, but no train was in sight. Finally, at 1:10 a.m., the arrivals board posted Track 14 as the track on which our train would arrive. We walked down to that track, and at 1:20 a.m., our train pulled in.
Tonight's Twilight Shoreliner is pulled by AEM-7 engine #941 and includes two baggage cars, an MHC car, an unreconditioned 84-seat Amfleet I coach, two Acela Coachclass cars, a combination Club/Custom Class car with a food service counter, and the Viewliner sleeper Prairie View (which is somewhat of a misnomer, as you can't see very many prairies on the trip from Newport News to Boston!). Interestingly, this is the first time that my records indicate that I've traveled behind engine #941.
Since we both had Business Class tickets for this trip, we took seats in the Club section of the food service car, which was the Business Class section. There were only three other passengers in this section of the car, which features spacious and very comfortable 2-and-1 seating. We each appropriated a pair of seats.
In the past, the Twilight Shoreliner would switch out some mail cars in New York, and it required at least half an hour to perform this maneuver. Thus, I told Robert that we would never be able to leave Penn Station on time. But it seems that this practice has now been discontinued, and no cars were taken off or added to our train. As a result, we pulled out of the station at 1:32 a.m., only two minutes late.
After the conductor collected our tickets, I walked through the three coaches on the train. I counted about 65 passengers, most of whom were in the two Acela Coachclass cars. Then, I watched as we crossed the Hell Gate bridge, which offers an expansive view of the Manhattan skyline.
It was now about 2:00 a.m., and I decided to try to get some sleep. So I reclined the seatback, and stretched out as best as I could. I don't think that I actually slept very much, though. The lights were kept on for the entire trip, which was a little annoying, although I was able to cover my face with my sweater (I guess they had to keep the lights in the car on, as the food service counter was open for the entire trip). I was awake for all of our stops, and we ran pretty much on time for the entire trip, never arriving more than ten minutes late at any stop. It was dark out, so I couldn't see very much, but I did notice the new station at State Street, New Haven and the new Old Saybrook station, built just west of the former station. I also noticed that there are now high-level platforms in service at the New London station.
I finally fell asleep for a while about 5:00 a.m., after we departed from the Kingston station. I woke up briefly about 5:25 a.m. during our stop in Providence, but quickly fell asleep again.
About 6:00 a.m., an announcement of our Route 128 stop was made over the loudspeaker. This was actually a "wake-up call" to all passengers, as we would be arriving in South Station, Boston in less than half an hour. I was still a little tired, but decided to get up for good. After walking through the train (I now counted about 55 coach passengers, rather evenly distributed through the three coaches), I asked the attendant for a cup of coffee. He replied that neither coffee, nor any other hot drink, was available this morning, as the water tanks for the car had frozen! Instead, he offered me soda or juice. I obtained a can of orange juice (complimentary) and took it back to my seat. Then I watched as we crossed over the Canton Viaduct and passed the reconfigured Canton Junction station. Soon, I packed up my belongings and prepared to detrain.
After a brief stop at the Back Bay Station at 6:18 a.m., we arrived on Track 10 at South Station at 6:24 a.m., four minutes late. Robert and I detrained, and we walked into the station and rang the bell for the Club Acela (formerly known as the Metropolitan Lounge). Since Robert had reserved a sleeper for his trip to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited, he was entitled to use the facilities of this lounge. The attendant buzzed us in, and we went upstairs, where Robert showed her his ticket.
The attendant hesitated for a second and then delivered the bad news. She had been informed that there would not be a sleeper on the Boston section of the Lake Shore today! She continued by informing Robert that she could exchange his ticket for a coach ticket and arrange for a refund to the credit card on which the ticket had been purchased. Robert inquired as to whether he could at least get a room in a New York sleeper from Albany to Chicago, and was informed by the attendant that there were no sleepers on the New York section of the train today either!
Well, there wasn't too much that we could do about it, so we settled down to enjoy the facilities that this Club Acela offers. The Boston Club Acela is one of the nicest in the entire Amtrak system. It occupies the upper level of a majestic space that formerly served as the main waiting room for the station. When the station was renovated in the early 1990s, the space was divided into two levels, with the ticket windows (and back-office space) on the lower level and the Metropolitan Lounge on the upper level. Although the space was chopped up in a rather inappropriate way, the elegant plaster ceiling of the original waiting room was kept intact, and it now serves as the ceiling for the Club Acela. The space is quite attractively furnished, with comfortable chairs and desks. There are also several phones and telephone jacks, in addition to two computers.
I promptly plugged in my computer and signed online to AOL, checking my messages and talking online to several friends. I was going to let Robert use my computer to check his AOL messages, but he decided instead to sign online via aol.com, using the lounge's computer. I also called home to check my messages. There were only a handful of people in the lounge, and it was a far more pleasant (and much warmer) place to wait than the large concourse of the station, where tables, chairs and benches are provided for waiting coach passengers.
At about 9:00 a.m., I called Amtrak to make a reservation for my forthcoming trip from Fort Worth back to New York on the Texas Eagle and Capitol Limited. Ordinarily, I would have made the reservation on the Internet and paid with my credit card, but this time, I wanted to use a $195 voucher that I had obtained from my friend Nancy Friedman, to compensate for a delayed arrival on an Acela Regional train that she took with her daughter to Washington last spring. To do this, I had to purchase the ticket from an agent, since I would be using the voucher to pay for most of the cost of the tickets ($300.75) and charging the remainder to my credit card.
After making the reservation, I started to pack up my belongings and, about 9:20 a.m., we went downstairs. I stood in line to purchase my ticket, and was quite amazed that the entire transaction was processed in less than two minutes! In the past, these split transactions have taken quite a bit of time for a ticket agent to process. It was now about 9:30 a.m., and Robert and I sat down at a table to wait for the posting of the track for the Lake Shore Limited, scheduled to depart at 9:50 a.m.
Our trip on the Twilight Shoreliner worked out quite well, and now I'm looking forward to the remainder of my "triangle" trip.