Leave No Station Unphotographed: The Blog of SubwayNut.com


Stuck at barely sheltered stations in the rain, Getting the Wolverine up to Pontiac and Metra’s UP North and Northwest Lines plus the Kenosha Streetcar

Greetings from Highland Park where I am back for one final night!

Yesterday was a day and through midnight adventure getting back to Chicago from Detroit. Awhile back I was doing research to see if I could get any additional Amtrak Stations by city bus from Detroit and discovered that SMART could take me all the way up to Pontiac where the 3 daily Wolverines terminate. The day started out with a morning walk of about 3 miles from the youth hostel to the Detroit Amtrak Station where I photographed the second Chicago-bound Wolverine of the day in the station from the street and a sketchy, unmarked, missing no trespassing signs, staircase up to the railroad embankment.

Next I was off on SMART Route 460, part of the suburban bus system, riding relatively crowded buses northward that will soon be downgraded to peak hours only service. The first bus I took was to the Royal Oak Amtrak Station. It has just a few awnings on the actual platform but the Transit Center for SMART across the parking lot is considered a waiting area by Amtrak and contains a QuickTrak machine but was unfortunately locked, only open until noon on Saturdays. The station was located in the town center with the train crossing at a grade and I was fortunate enough to get a CN freight going through.

Next I got back on Route 460 and took it up to the Birmingham Station also just an AmShack with just a small plastic bus shelter with two overflowing trash bins inside. The reason this mattered to me was while I was there I got caught in a brief but intense rain and frozen rain thunder storm and had to seek refuge inside for about 15 minutes. It was not a great place to wait for anything; I could hear the frozen rain pelting the top of the shelter. It was almost as bad as being outside. It luckily stopped quickly and I got my photos before walking back to the main drag, Woodward Avenue (the one street that my adventures took me on for the entire day) and eating lunch using my iPhone to dash out when I thought the once hourly bus route 450 up to my final stop, Pontiac would depart shortly at 3:00.

Unfortunately that bus never showed up and I was stuck waiting an hour until 4:00 for a standing room only bus that took me up to Pontiac. That town though was dead and I got some photos of my Wolverine train set stopped in the station ready to go back to Chicago. Since it is double ended and the seats are kept half each facing each direction there is no work for the crew to do to reverse. There was a modern glass Transit Center type building with benches and a waiting room with just a Greyhound ticket agent for one bus a day but it is only open during the week. I walked downtown trying to pick up something for dinner but found nothing appealing that was open except for a terrible slice of pizza. I eventually boarded the train at 5:10 (after being kicked off early for boarding too early) for our 5:49 departure to Chicago. This train consist had the same two P42s, one at either end but all four coaches were Horizons but an Amfleet-I Cafe/Business Class Car.

The train ride on the late night Wolverine train #355 was uneventful, feeling like a bit of a commuter train with all the little stops out through Detroit that I had spent the day working my way through photographing. The Horizon Coaches are also feel like any Comet or Shoreliner car (they are all based on the same design). The tray tables are even at an odd upward angle. Detroit is listed in the public timetable as a three-minute stop but it was clearly not a fresh air stop as passengers quickly boarded. Walnut Creek the crew change point was also extremely quick. I never briefly got off the train. We did have a few delays mostly to meet our counterpart two eastbound Wolverines. Outside of Chicago things were not great hitting freight traffic and we even had an announcement we were waiting for the Lake Shore Limited (unseen) to cross in front of us. We eventually arrived at 11:46pm, 40 minutes late. The last Amtrak train to arrive on a Saturday evening, there was something strange (the monitors in Union Station, unlike at New York’s Penn Station do not just scroll and start showing tomorrow mornings departures) about being the last train to arrive with the Amtrak Departures monitors blank and Metra showing just three after midnight trains. There were quite a few people in the station though waiting for them.

I left Union Station and walked over to my least favorite Youth Hostel (the HI) but choose it because of convenience for the night.

The next day was my day to try and get started on Metra for the website, buying one of their only $7 weekend passes, which are one of the best deals in railfanning for commuter trains. I thought they were valid for just one day of the weekend but it turns out their valid for the entire weekend. I was only able to make two long round trips. I started off on the Union Pacific Northwest Line originally planning to take it to the opposite end in Harvard but it ended up being ten minutes late mostly because of crowding so I decided to save the terminus for another trip (my layover would have been only 5 minutes) and get off at Pingree Road a Park and Ride Lot stop opened in 2005, traveling 42 miles from Chicago. I walked the mile into downtown Crystal Lake and get some pictures of the rolling stock spending the weekend in their yard tracks fully viewable from grade crossings and took the next train back to Clybourn. There I have 20 minutes before my other destination of the late afternoon, Kenosha, and the earliest of the there Sunday trains that run that far north. I get to Kenosha only at 4:15pm. The schedule is not designed for day trippers from Chago.

The reason for going all the way up to Kenosha is to ride and photograph their little heritage streetcar system that runs a two-mile, 15 minute loop through downtown. The one car in service this Sunday is decked out for Halloween with the outside trying to look like a jack-o’-lantern and the inside full of decorations like spider webs. It even has a trick-or-treat bowl. I pay my $1 and ride a bit more than a loop the line skidding under damp brakes and traction issues from leaves as it starts to rain. I get some photos and end up finding no place open to sit and wait for my 6:49 train, the next departure. The former station house has been turned into a fast food restaurant that is closed. I find refuge in a Subway Restaurant (buying a sandwich) but it closes at 6:00. It is a cold and rainy (there are canopies) wait for our train that comes in to drop-off passengers at 6:15 before reversing into the yard, in view of all of us, even coming back to the platform to drop-off a family that hopped on for Chicago upon its arrival wanting its nice warmth. Metra does not seem to like people boarding early, even though were all freezing and the crew looks like their just sitting hanging out as the train finally comes back to pick all of us up at 6:47 just two minutes before an on time 6:49 departure. It has an intercity train feel for those getting on at Kenosha, the last of just three Sunday trains, many passengers have luggage after weekends away and I finally got back to Highland Park at 7:32pm.