Trip Report by Chris O'Halloran
Below are my rather longwinded random observations based upon a recent NEC trip, enjoy!
My wife and I departed South Station Boston on Friday 5/14 at 12:30PM on Train 163. This would be the last week an Amtrak NEC train would be using the Southwest Corridor out of Boston for a few months due to electrification construction. I board at South Station as opposed to the far more convenient Route 128 simply because, being a railfan, I like to ride from the terminal point when given the chance. My wife was fortunately tolerant of this as this as it necessitated a commuter train ride from Canton Junction into the city.
We were fortunate in that we rode on a newly refurbished Amfleet coach. I gave it high marks: new blue seat fabric with gray tones on the ceiling and upper walls versus the tan and red on older cars. The smoothness of the ride, although still not great, was improved (I am told due to new air bags). I am also told that the cars received a new soundproofing package, the benefits of which I found to be noticeable.
The consist was pretty standard: 7 Amfleets and a single F40 (the single loco is somewhat unusual as efforts have been made to double up for better acceleration through the construction zones and constant track changes). We had a single AEM7 west of New Haven.
The ride west was relatively uneventful on the virtually full train. Electrification construction is ever present and the schedule has been padded accordingly. Just to give you a taste: Track 2 from COVE (near Back Bay) to PLAINS (near Forest Hills) to track 1. Back to 2 at Mansfield, and back to 1 somewhere west of Providence. There are still a handful of grade crossings in RI by the way. The crew was efficient, courteous, polite, and informative on all accounts. This includes the rides east and west and covers crew changes at New Haven and NY in both cases. So despite some of the negative things we hear, at least in my humble opinion, the majority of the crews out there do take pride in their jobs and attempt to serve the customer. For example, when we arrived in Providence, there was an Eastbound due any minute. Apparently four people who wanted to go to Boston got on our train despite the clear labeling of track assignments. The Conductor radioed the engineer who radioed the dispatcher for permission to make an unscheduled stop in Kingston to drop the folks off in time for the next westbound. Yes, this probably cost us 5 minutes, but there was nothing behind us and the schedule padding absorbed the stop without a problem (I wouldn't expect the same accommodation to be made on Acela). Overall, on time performance was good. We were about 10-15 late in NY but made it up via the layover. We wound up six minutes early in Philly with a straight shot through NJ stopping only at Newark.
While spending the weekend near Paoli, PA, I managed a few brief railfan ventures. Hanging out on the old Pennsy mainline is a railfan's dream. I can just imagine what it must have been like in the heyday. Anyway, I'm amazed that a large portion of the four track main remains jointed rail. It also bums me out to see Genesis locos handling Keystone service beneath perfectly good catenary, which appears unused west of Septa service. On Sunday, I observed the westbound consist of Train 41, (NY-CHI), which was an odd-looking lot but likely a good indication of the future of Amtrak long distance trains: 2 Genesis locos back to back; 7 MHC's; 1 baggage; 3 Amfleet II coaches; 1 Horizon dinette; 1 Heritage sleeper (Pacific Beach); and 4 Road Railers. I also saw from a distance the new electric High Horsepower loco at 30th St: very Euro-looking.
The ride home on Monday the 17th on train 84 was enjoyable. The consist of 6 Amfleets and one MHC was hauled by a single AEM7 and then a pair of F40's (elephant style) east of New Haven. The train was sold out the whole way, which was great to see. I must admit that as excited as I am to see catenary in my neck of the woods, I was feeling more than a bit melancholy as I watched the engine change at New Haven. It hit me that this was likely the final time (after countless trips) I'd ride behind an Amtrak F40 on the NEC. The arrival of the F40 to Amtrak coincided with my birth as a railfan at the age of 8 or 9 and I feel like I've grown up with the now old but ever-faithful units. They have served us well! I suppose in a very small way I'm experiencing what the generation before me experienced through the demise of steam. By the way, it seems that we're constantly seeing posts to the email lists regarding some railroad purchasing refurbished Amtrak F40's giving them a second life. There is no greater testament to their endurance.
There is a great deal of activity around New Haven. It would appear that the construction of a more expedient approach on both ends of the station is well underway and one track in the station is completely torn up.
It's always amazed me how different the "feel" is on the three legs of my usual NEC trips: BOS-NH, NH-NY, NY-PHL. The Boston-New Haven run features picturesque views including the Atlantic Ocean, farmland, and many small quaint New England towns. The ride even feels different (for now) with the slow gradual acceleration of the diesels and the occasional whiff of exhaust. The stretch between New Haven and NY is without a doubt the most challenging from an operational perspective due to the heavy Metro North traffic and the constant switching from track to track. The difference in acceleration is highly noticeable after the change to electric. However, it seems almost as if as soon as the train reaches track speed, the brakes are applied for a restricting signal of some sort. Finally, the NY-PHL stretch feels as if the whole state of NJ is one straight line of track (I clocked us as holding at 110MPH virtually the whole way).
Anyway, those are my random observations from my trip. Feel free to email me with any comments, questions, corrections, or clarifications.
Author: , Stoughton, MA
Copyright 1999 - Chris O'Halloran, RailroadInfo.Com
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