• An Acela Fun Trip

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by lstone19
Last month, after wanting to for a number of years, I finally achieved two goals – riding an Acela Express and riding the Northeast Corridor east of New London, CT. But getting to that ride is a story in itself.

Start by backing up 37 years to A-Day (start of Amtrak). I was a teenager living in New Jersey with grandparents living in New London. I would occasionally visit them by taking Amtrak from New York up to New London – usually sitting in the front dome of the TurboTrain! After graduating from college and moving to California, those trips mostly stopped although there was a last trip in 1986, part of a cross-country trip I made by train. My grandmother died in 1991 and there was no reason to go back to New London. After 1986, my Corridor riding was confined to very occasional commuter trains as part of trips to the east coast . I had not been on an Amtrak train on the Corridor since 1986 unless you count NYP to the Empire Connection tunnel as “riding the Corridor” (three NYP to Albany trips post-1986)!

Fast forward to late June of this year. I now live in the Chicago area and work for an airline with all the usual airline employee flight benefits. A family event brings my family and my parents (who also get flight benefits) to Boston. My family made it home Sunday evening as planned but my parents were waiting until Monday morning to head back to California. It’s not just any Monday, it’s June 23. If you don’t know the significance of that date (as far as the Northeast Corridor is concerned), you will in just a few more sentences. Getting on a flight out of Boston to anywhere is not going well but the CSR (Customer Service Representative) at the gate tells them that due to an equipment substitution (to a larger plane!), there’s good availability out of JFK to LAX if they can get to New York. So they call their travel agent … I mean me … and ask about Amtrak to New York. I immediately say “Oh ‘fiddlesticks’” (or something like that) as I know the Thames River bridge outage is that week, I just don’t know if it starts that day or the next. It’s been 22 years since any of us have ridden a train on the Corridor – who could have ever thought the exact day of the outage would be relevant to us. Fortunately, it’s the next day. I checked Amtrak availability, booked them on an Acela Express leaving in 90 minutes, directed them to the Silver Line to South Station, and they were on their way to New York and across the bridge’s movable span in its final 24 hours of productive life.

So now I’m thinking I managed to get my parents on an Acela Express, what about me. And given the state of the airline industry, who knew if I’d have flight benefits a year from now. So doing something soon seemed like a good idea. I had plans for a solo vacation to Las Vegas leaving on a Monday in late July. With the weekend before free, I decided I would fly to Boston first thing Sunday morning, take an afternoon Acela Express to Washington (in First – might as well do it right!), then fly to Las Vegas on Monday from Washington rather than Chicago.

Of course, nothing goes to plan and by two weeks out, it’s apparent that trying to fly to Boston Sunday morning is risky. So I booked a hotel in Boston for Saturday night figuring I have all day Saturday to get there. It would also give me time to do some T exploring – never a bad idea. As the weekend approached, any flight to Boston is looking risky but New York looks good. Just more train riding up to Boston! By Friday evening, even New York is questionable and the only things looking good are the three Washington area airports. In fact, they look good all day and while one option would be to try other things first and then go to Washington late if needed and take 66 at 10:00pm or 150 at 3:15am, I really don’t want to be half-asleep on the Acela Express ride.

So, I said what the heck, let’s just go to Washington early. I booked 88, the 11:25 out of Washington to Boston, in Business. I then went back to the flight information to create my standby listing and oops – the first flight to Washington National has cancelled. I changed plans again and decided to go to Baltimore assuming that there’d be no problem boarding with a Washington ticket at BWI (and there wasn’t although a friendly Amtrak res. agent warned me that I needed to get the ticket at BWI before the train left Washington – since I had a web booking discount, she couldn’t change it without increasing the fare).

Saturday morning, I headed to O’Hare and things definitely looked better when I arrived at the gate to find my name already on the “cleared” (off of standby) list. First Class too! At BWI, I took the shuttle down to the rail station, got my tickets, and waited (I had about 90 minutes to wait). 82, the hour earlier Boston train, was showing sold-out in Business and was a lot more expensive in Coach so I didn’t try to change. A good thing too as you'll find out. Finally 88 arrived and I was off. No window seats left in Business so I took an aisle on the left side. As soon as I pulled something out to plug in to the power outlet (planning to route it well around my seatmate), he offered to switch. Ding!

At Philadelphia, I was surprised to see another same-direction train across the platform from us. I couldn’t figure out what it was from the timetable. It left a few minutes before us. The thought did cross my mind that something happened to 82 and that was it across the platform. We continued east but came to stop at Holmesburg Junction with the announcement that a disabled train was ahead of us. Meanwhile a Septa train passed us on Track 1. A couple of minutes later, we were off and crossed to Track 3. I never saw us pass anything on Track 2 – we held 3 to Morris so perhaps he was waiting on the other side of the flyover for us to go ahead at that point. Back to 2 and then 1 for the Trenton station stop. But at this point, I didn’t know we had passed him.

Fast forward to New York and during boarding, an announcement was made that passengers with tickets for 82 could board. So now I knew we had passed him. We continued East, made it through New Haven without an engine change for the first time for me, and then finally at Shaw’s Cove, we crossed to Track 1 (Track 2 still being out of service over the Thames River), made the New London station stop, and then we were off on what for me was new track. Made it to Boston where I checked and found 82 was about an hour behind us. Real glad I didn’t try to change.

At Boston, I headed via Red Line to my hotel in Cambridge. I bought a one-day T pass (24 hours, not a calendar day fortunately – I wasn’t sure until I asked there) so I was ready for my exploration. With still some time, I did a little exploring Saturday night – Red Line back to Park Street, Green to Lechmere (my first time seeing the new North Station Green/Orange station), back to Government Center, Blue to Airport, and the Silver Line back to South Station (not rail but I was curious about the Silver Line), and then Red back to the Hotel.

At 2am, the fire alarm went off. So much for not being half-asleep on the train back to Washington. An hour later, we had the all clear.

My main goal for the morning before going to South Station was to ride the Mattapan – Ashmont PCC trolleys. Did that, then back to South Station. Silver Line out to Silver Line Way as I was curious to see how they did the electric – internal combustion changeover. As I got ready to board a bus back to South Station, I was wondering how often the bus trolley poles miss the wire. Of course, my bus promptly had a pole miss the wire! I still had some time so I figured I needed to work some Orange Line into the trip. Up to North Station, then back to Park Street on the Green. Back at South Station, I headed to the Acela Lounge to kill the time until departure.

While waiting, I checked Amtrak.com to see if anything had sold out that day. I was surprised (given that everything had had availability the previous day), that everything was sold out to Washington. Further checking, everything sold out to New York but everything available to Stamford and everything available New York to Washington (in fact, my train would greatly thin out, at least in First, after New York). So at least on that day, Stamford to New York was the critical segment limiting what Amtrak could sell.

Finally the moment arrived. I took a single seat on the left side. And we were off. We missed some of the 150 mph running as we actually stopped for a few seconds at the Mansfield station. But things do go by quickly at these speeds. Approaching New York, my head was on a swivel looking at Sunnyside until I realized we seemed to be doing a lot of crossing-over and then realized we had no railroad to our left and were on Track 1 through the East River tunnel – I’ve never “wrong-railed“ it there before (not that it really is since it is signaled for both directions). Out of New York, we were about eight minutes late. We’d be 20 late into Washington so I missed out on a sub-3 hour NYP-WAS ride by a couple of minutes. I do remember seeing Princeton Junction, looking down at something for what I though was just a couple of minutes, looking up to see us approaching a station, assuming it was Hamilton, and then realizing it was Trenton already (and yes, I know at track speed, PJ to Trenton is less than five minutes but even with that, I was surprised how quickly it went).

First Class service was good although the meals (since I was going the whole way, I was offered both lunch and dinner) were a little disappointing both in selection and quantity.

Once in Washington, I headed to the Metro and then it was on to Las Vegas the next morning.
  by David Benton
Wow , a busy weekend .thanks for the interesting report .
  by Kaback9
What a trip, thats all i'm going to say.