Leave No Station Unphotographed: The Blog of SubwayNut.com

 

A Four Day Pre-Election Day Trip to New York to Drive to a Wedding on the Jersey Shore

Two weeks ago Louise and I flew back to New York City (her first visit with me) to head down to a weeding on the Jersey Shore in downtown Lakewood New Jersey. When I thought I might be heading down to this Saturday evening wedding alone I thought I might save the money on a hotel room and just take the 24-hour Route 139 bus down for the evening. I thought the middle of the night bus right might be sort of fun (at least to blog about). With Louise joining me booking a room in the Ramada in Toms River sounded like a much better idea good idea. Also realizing that the Ramada doesn’t have one seat ride bus service and wanting to enjoy some time exploring the Jersey Shore (and visiting friends on Staten Island one direction) borrowing my parents car felt like the right call.

This didn’t mean our weekend wasn’t transit heavy, on Friday I put Louise on the 6:00am non-stop flight to Newark (she wanted some time to explore New York on her own – as a student her work is also mobile – something I really miss, now with an 8 to 4:30 desk job), waking up at 5:00am to drive her to the airport and then leave her car at her house. I took the 5:25 flight and was going to take an Uber after work at 4:30 but 4x surge pricing meant it was nearly $40.00 so I after leaving work a little early I took the 4:20pm Route 4 Bus which was running a few minutes late with its long deviation to the Excel Center and the Amtrak Station didn’t get me to the airport until about 4:50. For once there was a line at security, due to an Allegiant Air flight at 5:50, I got through at 5:07 (3 minutes before the 15 minute boarding cut-off) and walked to the gate without putting my shoes back on. I panicked for a moment when I saw a closed boarding door but luckily (after talking to another passenger) I found out boarding hadn’t started yet. The flight ended up boarding shortly after I arrived and sat on the tarmac at the runway for 20 minutes because of “evening congestion at Newark”, waiting for a slot time, they luckily let us use our phones briefly. The flight there was uneventful. I arrived, decided not to deal with the AirTrain and took a crush-loaded  NJ Transit Route 62 to Newark Penn Station, where I hopped on the next NJ Transit Train into Penn Station. I found my Louise in the Starbucks at 35th and 8th, and we hopped on the A train uptown to my parents, getting up there at about 9:10pm (not all that long a commute, less than 5 hours after leaving work in South Bend).

Saturday we drove down to the wedding via side trip to Staten Island where I wanted to see friends. Driving by I got a decent picture of the New Dorp Station house before construction began on Monday, closing this entrance.

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On Sunday after a fabulous wedding we decided to go out to a nice brunch and the internet directed us to the town center of Manasquan(13 Photos) and the Committed Pig. While we waited for our table I got some more photos of the train station that hasn’t gotten a platform in the more 3 years since my other visit.

 

After a nice brunch we spent the afternoon driving up following the shore as much as possible. We stopped for a great hour walk in Asbury Park on it’s historic boardwalk, and stopped following the shore when we got to Sandy Hook. I had one required more required stop on the Jersey Shore, getting the Middletown, NJ(72 Photos) train station. The only stop I hadn’t previously photographed. I left Louise (who was doing the driving, a Californian her major preference to being a passenger) who had a nice nap as I spent longer than I thought I would photographing the original low-level and new high-level platforms, walking the length of both to check out the pedestrian tunnel at the other end of the platforms.

   

We then drove back to my parents in New York City.

With Election Day off I rearranged my work schedule to take Monday off and make it a 4 day weekend and a real genuine trip. Monday was our one tourist day. I saw the evidence of the W train on signs in the Fulton Center. I need to spend the time doing the busy work of getting the BMT Broadway Line correct again with the new routing changes, I might be lazy and just wait until the Second Avenue subway is actually open and I have a chance to visit it to make the major changes.

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Tuesday we went on a real transit adventure when I discovered that we could take the Delta Shuttle for $60 Each to O’Hare, I realized the timing was also perfect and booked us on the Capital Limited back to South Bend (about $7 more total, not bad) for the more pleasant and nearly double the speed faster trip back. We decided that having lunch in Jackson Heights would be a fun adventure and took the A train to the 7 train (slightly slower but so much much scenic than the E train).

After a nice Tibetan Lunch at a hole in the wall restaurant, I realized that the one downside to leaving from the Marine Air Terminal was transit access. The Q47 direct bus route runs every 20 minutes, and I wasn’t going to take my chances on Port Authority Shuttle Buses from the Main terminal area if we had taken the Q70 SBS with the fact the main terminal area is a mess from construction. We ended up in an Uber for $12.18 (only $7 more than the bus since it had been more than two hours since we got on the Subway). There I was blown away by the historic architecture of the original terminal.

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There was virtually no line for security (the line-up was actually across an active path), with just Shuttle flights to Chicago and Washington leaving from this small historic terminal. We were through within 10 minutes (felt like South Bend, even with an Allegiant Flight) and into the lounge-light boarding area. There was shelving in the small modern addition of a boarding lounge of free newspapers and magazines that we took reading material from for the flight.

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Taking off we saw the planes of both Hillary, and Trump. While we taxied the less well logoed Trump plane had a logo on the outside of it. Now Vice President-elect Pence, coming to New York from my new home state of Indiana for what became Trumps victory party (at that point I was thinking a nice final trip as a soon to be unknown VP candidate before Pence returns to Indiana). We voted in Indiana a week ago!

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The Delta Shuttle flight was uneventful with the added benefit of a free beer (a can of a nice local ale from Long Island) for each of us and the downside of just peanuts and premium nut mix (that the flight attendant handed out each interchangeably) and no Biscoff cookies.

We got to O’Hare at 4:30pm Central Time and had a very long (non premium experience feeling) walk from the end of the E pier to the CTA. There I bought two $5 premium Airport Ventra one time use tickets that were specially marked for the marathon. It wasn’t the most pleasant CTA ride, the Blue Line lurching and a bit overheated. We were happy to get off at Clinton.

From there we had a nice outside walk to Union Station. We stopped at the ribs place for some pulled pork and a spare rib sandwich and got on the Capital Limited, heading out passed the Veterans Cabbage unit on the Pere Marquette.

 

Boarding for the Capital Limited was a bit of an Amtrak crew being lazy cluster****. We were told along with a large Amish family and a few others to wait by the conductor who soon opened the then empty last coach for us. We boarded, chose seats and ate our nice good dinner.

As the train prepared to leave the conductor announced they were closing the last car. There was quite a bit of scrambling. I asked if it was because of a group and was simply told they did a count and realized that they only needed two Coach cars to accommodate all the passengers tonight. The Coach attendants clearly wanted to be lazy and not provide the most comfort to all customers instead packing everyone in. Luckily they had been good about saving sets of seats so Louise and I were able to still sit together. If I had been alone in Coach, told to double up because the crew wanted to have a car to themselves (I looked back and witnessed the crew hanging out in it) I would have been very annoyed at what I would know would be a night sleeping much less. We enjoyed an Amish couple and their tiny baby in a nice tiny Amish bonnet sitting across from us. We also spent a lot of the ride in Sightseer Lounge Car enjoying the nice darkness (compared to the South Shore Line), on the non-stop ride to South Bend. We arrived in South Bend basically on time if not a little early just before 9:00pm. There were a good dozen of us getting off too. I called an Uber from the platform, it came from downtown in about 5 minutes and it was a straight shot down Orange Street that becomes Colfax Avenue, a 5 minute and 27 second ride, that took us 1.76 miles and cost just $4.69 (probably offsetting the small price of Amtrak tickets by requiring us not to pay for an Uber, and the $1 airport fee home from the Airport Train Station).

At home it was a hard evening and night due to the election that put a bit of a damper on a really nice four day trip!

A Drive the Closed Bangor Station (Cafe) via Dowagiac

A newly formed weekend routine between me and my lady Louise is going to find a cafe/coffee house work in. Me on this website, her on philosophy (she’s a grad student).

We also love driving to random places nearby South Bend and this led me to see if any of the farther flung smaller towns (we’ve already done New Buffalo, Holland and St. Joesph, which I still need to write up). This led me to searching if places like Waterloo – a website that’s two years old said a coffee house is coming soon – and Bangor which much to my surprise had would sounded like a decent coffee house in the station open Monday through Saturday. This past weekend we decided it would be a fun little road trip up to Bangor. Google gave me an option of going via Dowagaic so we added that in too (Niles I’ve been too by bike but my camera was dead so I need to revisit it).

We set off on a nice late autumn afternoon, some leafs still in the trees. It’s maybe a half-hour drive up to Dowagaic(46 Photos) where we head and park at the train station. It’s a beauty and has been restored by the city and is even open a Saturday afternoon. I get my photo essay.

  

I notice there is an express train scheduled to pass through soon but it hasn’t left Kalamazoo yet. We’ve noticed a historic Main Street a block away and head over there to explore. Dowagaic is a neat town and we gravitate into a super neat used bookstore. After 15 minutes inside I realize that it’s time to head back and try and catch the midday Wolverine. I leave Louise inside and walk over to the station, meeting another railfan also from elsewhere getting out of his car for some photos of Train #353 screaming by.

 

I return to the bookstore and find Louise where I’ve left her. We then walk Main Street some more and find an authentic historic soda fountain where we stop for a milkshake right at closing time (4:00pm). We vow to return to Dowagiac and try some of the interesting restaurants in town.

We get back in the car and drive literally straight north for 23 miles up to Bangor (well we have to make one left turn when the state highway turns to stay on the county road north).

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Once we get to Bangor(33 Photos), which has a much less cute downtown, we drive to the train station and before getting out of the car, notice the Railroad Cafe is clearly closed. Signs on the doors list it’s new much more limited hours, 6:00am to 4:00pm on Weekdays, 6:00am to 2:00pm on Saturdays. I leave Louise in the car as I get my photo essay of the station with a decaying platform. Unhappy I can’t enter the depot.

  

We then need to salvage some work time before heading home to South Bend. Wefind a place courtesy of Google – we hope, in the midwest the internet has served us wrong so many times compared to the coasts where were from – open until 8:00pm (after the milkshake we know a late dinner will be fine) in St. Joesph. We arrive there right before sunset and take a little walk onto the bluff that overlooks the Amtrak Station.

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The cafe in St. Joe is open till 8:00pm and is perfectly adequate. We go to our favorite brewery in Silver Harbor, happy about the days adventures even though they didn’t go really as planned.

Enjoy the new stations! (Next up will be finishing up the North Jersey Coast Line!)

Re-starting the Jersey Coast Line: the final 3 stops from Bay Head

This weekend I’m flying back to New York primarily to go to a wedding of some friends on the Jersey Shore. I was looking through my archive for my two primary trips down the shore line 3 years ago: Riding the North Jersey Coast Line all the way to Bay Head, and a North Jersey Coast Line Shore Express Bike Ride to remember if I’d forgotten any stations. I realized it’s just Middletown that’s un-photographed although were driving down, I’ll definitely make the stop. I realized I typed summaries of the final 3 stops but new made the pages (since I was going for continuity), so to start here they are:

Enjoy! The rest of the line will require more work, typing station summaries, so don’t expect it too soon!

More Harlem Line: Mount Kisco, Chappaqua, and Pleasantville

Last Monday when I was on the train to Milwaukee I felt like doing something mindless on my computer that would help the website. I remembered I had done the writing for some more Harlem Line Stations (I do have a gap, I don’t have photos – I visited the stations once but photos were lost in hard drive crash – of Mount Pleasant and Hawthorne), so I decided to do the easy work of completing the station update:

The Rebuilt Milwaukee Station Platform Area – Getting their via the South Shore Line to the Hiawatha

This past week I spent at a training for work in Milwaukee with a colleague. At my job the assumption is that we’d drive to the training but my boss was willing to let us take the train when I showed him that with the Indiana and Chicago area Toll Road Tolls and and parking we’d break even on price. My colleague was also game not to deal with the Chicago area traffic. The extra travel time was just an hour to 2 (not accounting for what would have probably been terrible traffic) by train, Google estimating the drive at 3.5 hours.

I didn’t really take any pictures of the journey (and didn’t take detailed notes), just pictures of the impressively rebuilt Milwaukee Station but might as well summarize this comparison for a trip that was almost equal Amtrak, equal Commuter Rail for distance travel, must time wise much longer on the slow Interurban South Shore Line.

Monday evening up: We get a ride (I actually drove, and with a colleague in the car to drive the company car back to the office) to the Airport South Shore Line Station for the 4:45pm ET South Shore Line Train. We might have taken a Transpo bus but the timing is terrible, we’d need to leave the office at 3:50 and wait 28 minutes at the airport. The headway is half an hour. We deal with getting a poorly itemized receipt for our round-trip tickets ($13.25 each way) from the TVM with our company credit card. We end up saving our ticket stubs to make sure the state board of accounts is satisfied. The 4:45pm train has begun many trips for me on Friday afternoons and I’m used to it being fairly crowded. On a Monday night it’s nearly empty, and much shorter with just 3 cars instead of 5 to 6, as we make all of the stops into Chicago. Unlike on a Friday night when I’ve had to double up, there just a handful of passengers even when we leave Hegewisch for the run up Metra Electric (where the track always feels smoother).

We get off at Van Buren Street at 6:05 pm, the train running 5 minutes early not really facing any delays. We have a two hour layover in Chicago and start walking the mile crosstown. At this point I’ve examined our Amtrak ticket for the Unreserved Hiawatha and notice that our return date is for Friday so I make a note to stop by the ticket office (it’s a rare Amtrak ticket not booked by me). We stop at Giordano’s Pizza we ask how long for a deep-dish pie, we get the reply of 45 minutes and decide we should have enough time. We order a pizza to share and I decided to walk to Union Station while we wait to ask at the ticket office. They tell me I don’t need to change the ticket, Hiawatha trains are unreserved and the ticket will be accepted on Thursday instead of Friday. I’m slightly surprised, somewhere I thought the travel date was the first day of validity and then the ticket would be valid for a year, I guess I’m wrong. I also add my AGR number for the measly points on the $25 ticket (half the number of points, just 5o base instead of the old 100, No more points runs). We return and the pizza arrives just as I’m getting nervous.

We head over to the station for Hiawatha Train #341 scheduled to leave at 8:05 (really 8:00 to me because of the 5 minute boarding gates closing rule). Boarding is a bit confusing at 7:50. Were in the boarding gate area towards the front of the line (no ones being all that pushy), there is a second priority line outside the boarding area that I believe is just for 10 trip and monthly pass holders. It’s unclear to me if anyone is enforcing it this second line. An Amtrak policeman announces “Now Boarding!” before an agent runs up and says 10 trip and monthly pass holders first, holding us back, it’s not long before we board and walk out towards the front of the train where I think it will be less crowded.

The Amtrak Hiawatha is basically just a commuter train. The legroom of the Horizon Cars is much appreciated for the quick and dark 85 minute, 86 mile trip up to Milwaukee. After two and half hours on the South Shore Line, Amtrak’s generous legroom is night and day. The evening train is quite empty on a Monday night. I end up doing some website work for the first time in awhile (update soon) with an outlet, generous legroom and feeling too tired to read after the time change.

As we arrive in Milwaukee(6 photos) at 9:25, and I’m blown away by the lights of the new station, grabbing my camera.

 

We use the nice blue overpass structure that fits within the roof (I’m quite impressed by it) to get over to Track 0 and the exit before walking 10 minutes to our hotel.

Tuesday Photo Walk: On Tuesday as soon as our training’s over around 5:00 with evening fast approaching (something I’m less used to happening at 6:00pm in late October now that I live in the extreme western side of the Eastern Time Zone, right now it’s barely twilight when I go to work at 8:00am) I head out to get some photos of the station from public areas(22 photos). I start by walking by the station and then head up (there’s barely a staircase) to get some photos from the cable-stained overpass of North 6th Street that crosses over the exposed extreme ends of the overpass.

   

I quickly get that photo set. I then want to finally get photos of a Hiawatha Train going over its first grade crossing of 2nd Street basically leaving the station, going through the post office building that surrounds it’s former mail car platform. It’s a spot I remember thinking about on my first Hiawatha trip 5 years ago. Hiawatha Train #340 is due to leave at 5:45 (there no arrivals in the short time frame I have before it gets dark). I get to the crossing just in time for some photos:

  

Thursday Afternoon, coming back: Our training finishes before Noon, so we grab a leisurely lunch and head to the station at 12:40 for the 1:00pm Hiawatha Train #336. We get to the station and I show our ticket (well a print out) again to the ticket office to be sure (no one is in line), they confirm that yes that ticket will be accepted. I enjoy the advertising of the new Saturday late night 11:00pm-ish trains in each direction (it’s replaced the 6:00am early morning train in each direction) with ads saying “Take your bride to dinner and a show without the hotel room.” The schedule change was a pilot just over the summer and will now be made permanent. I wish we had a later South Shore Line train back to South Bend, the last leaves at 9:15pm CT (arriving at 12:40am due to the time change). I finally took the Lake Shore Limited home at 9:30pm a few weeks ago and that will become the new late night routine.

Boarding in Milwaukee(9 Photos) is a line up also except strangely two lines are formed. We stand in what becomes the much shorter line, with one line forming back into the terminal from the cordoned off area. I’m out with my camera as the line of people heads out to the overpass.

 

The final call is at 12:55 (Milwaukee now having the gates close 5 minutes prior to departure rule, I wish Amtrak would become Metro-North at Grand Central and publish this time, not the actual departure time (at Grand Central always 1 minutes after to give passengers time to board.

It’s another nice pleasant ride on a relatively empty train down to Chicago with the usual ticket check between Sturetvant and Glenview when most riders our on-board, no seat checks. In Chicago, where we arrive four minutes early 2:25 the crew is a bit annoying, were sitting in the second car from the front of the train, the first car is open for passengers, but no crew member comes to open the doors in that vestibule forcing us to double-back as we leave the station. I spend the ride getting my new Milwaukee Station photos processed to update the website.

The next train home to South Bend is the 3:57 evening Express Train, I’ve contacted a friend who works across from Millennium Park and has flexibility so we grab a quick coffee after he shows me his impressive 12 floor office (in a coworking space) with nice views of Lake Michigan. Chatting he walks me to Millennium Station where I reach the platform to the conductors saying East Chicago, Dune Park and South Bend only. The train is extremely long. I get on a car towards the rear and the doors soon close, knowing I’ll have to walk up for the short 3 car platform in South Bend. We make the usual stops to pick up passengers at Van Buren Street, 11 Street-Museum Campus before the final Metra Stop at 57th Street for almost no one.

When the conductor comes (most seats are taken in my car but no one has to double-up) the conductor warns that all of us going to South Bend will have to move up after Dune Park. The train is extra long because it’s transporting 150 school children home to Dune Park and were going to have to drop some cars in Michigan City. I text my lady who’s picking me up that I’m going to be a little late because of this. I spend the first part of the trip trying to do other website stuff on my computer (I’m also sitting at the one outlet in the car) but the tightness of the seats on the South Shore Line makes this hard. I won’t try again and will normally just read a book.

In Dune Park the stop takes a good five minutes and I see 3 school buses followed by loads of school children. The conductor at this point is ushering all of us to walk 3 cars towards the front of the train which I do, finding plenty of seats, and eventually my colleague who’s sitting at the very front (the most crowded car) where she was directed to board when she got on in Chicago).

At Carroll Avenue-Michigan City where the yard is I see two yard men in florescent vests waiting on the platform, we pull up slightly into the yard, I hear the break pressure dropping. We’re on our way within 3 minutes. The South Shore Line really has mastered dropping cars in Michigan City, something many late night runs that deadhead back due as part of the schedule, trains will become just 1 or 2 cars when they leave.

It’s then the past trip through the woods (past a lake, we skip Hudson Lake even, not the usual flag stop) before the slow ride along Bendix Avenue, down the marry-go-round curving around into the airport station at 7:05, 10 minutes late, the express train not breaking that scheduled less than 2 hours mark this evening.

Holland & New Buffalo Amtrak Stations

I’ve been trying to get myself on a better and regular website update schedule, but life keeps getting in the way…

This update is of two Amtrak Stations taken on different evenings this summer on short day trips from my new home in South Bend by car, both cities in Southwest Michigan have rail stations in slightly touristy downtowns with plenty of nice restaurants.

Enjoy!

Hammond-Whiting: A bizzare suburban Chicago Station

In this small update (my goal is to get my life in order to try and update the website at least weekly) again, I had a chance to process the Hammond-Whiting(59 Photos) station that I got on my one real trip into Chicago just to bicycle alone back in June and not be social. I’ve taken the South Shore Line into Chicago a number of other times, including a couple other trips with my bike, but this was really the only pure rail fan trip I got to this summer. I got this station by getting off at the Hammond South Shore Line Station, and then riding into Chicago (riding along the Metra South Chicago branch and getting it’s stations as well). It’s truly one of the most bizarre Amtrak stations, the page has a full history.

   

Enjoy!

An Uncomfortable Night: Coach to Rochester via sunrise in Cleveland

Well this post is only two months too late (and just before the next holiday long weekend). Over July 4th Weekend I went on a slightly insane adventure to visit my grandmother in Syracuse. The trip consisted of taking the Lake Shore Limited on Friday night to Rochester, where my parents picked me up in order to spend the afternoon with family friends who own a vineyard on the Finger Lakes, Saturday night in Syracuse, driving back to New York to then spend Sunday night and most of July 4th, before flying back home to South Bend on the one daily non-stop which is an evening flight on United Express (50 Seat ERJ-145).

The trip on July 1st, began with me leaving my sublease for the moment near Notre Dame around 8:00, a new friend had given me a ticket to this First Fridays Meet Me on the Island celebration that would have fireworks! A quick weekend trip meant just a backpack so I brought my luggage. Since South Bend is the last county in Eastern Time the firstworks didn’t go off until after 10:00pm since dusk in Summer is so late.

I was thinking of walking to the Amtrak Station, only 2 miles away, but the neighborhood it’s in is fairly rough and with an offer for a ride I decided not to, with an offer for a ride. Driving over to the station I realize just how dark the walk would have been (perhaps worse than the walk from downtown Charlotte to that Amtrak station Robbie and I once did).

This means I get to the South Bend Amtrak Station(5 Photos) at 11:00pm, an hour earlier than necessary. I go up to the friendly agent to pick up my ticket. I’m ticketed all the way to NYP because it was cheaper; Saver fares only available to there, a SOB-SYR ticket would have been $30 more. I tell the agent I’m actually going to Rochester, he says my best bet is to probably just tell the conductor. He types a bit in ARROW before saying, “Are you definitely getting off in Rochester? I say yes, and he’s surprisingly able to issue me a $12 eVoucher. I get some photos of the station and the waits a bit brutal. Around 11:30 a Pakistani student at Notre Dame just in for a summer course comes in an insists on talking to me. I try and read by book but give up and chat with him. He’s taking the train to New York (where he has relatives), his family not understanding why. He has two weeks in the States after his course is over, and our conversation ends with me getting the National Amtrak timetable and recommending he take the Zephyr out to San Francisco.

The station agent makes a few announcements that the train has made it through Porter, only losing 10-15 minutes and should be on time. Around midnight, I lead myself and the foreigner out to the platform. We start a trend of the couple dozen people also waiting for the Lake Shore Limited following us outside all. Almost immediately the boarding call comes from the agent (who then gets on the electric cart to drive the luggage out). He also tells us to walk down to the light-post with a 2 on it.

The long train arrives, just 10 minutes late; it has a single Amfleet P42 locomotive, the Viewliner Baggage Car, 3 Viewliner Sleepers, a Heritage Dining Car (on it’s last legs, due to equipment shortages effective 7/20/2016 the diner would be removed and replaced by a second Amfleet II Lounge car, a poor substitute), an Amfleet II Lounge Car, 5 Amfleet II sleepers, and a deadheading (out of service, Amtrak why not make some extra revenue) Viewliner Sleeping Car bringing up the rear.

I head to the door, as the attendant asks for any parties of two, I don’t recall any. I’m then given a seat assignment, in this one case I sort of am happy about the seat number. I know the train is full and it avoids the awkwardness of picking a seat mate. I’m already in the mindset of having the aisle seat.

This time the attendant is not worrying about gender. (See my Upgrade to Tucson Trip) My seat mate is a woman, she’s a bit cute and younger than me. We don’t udder a word to each other for the entire trip. The train leaves at 12:13am, 14 minutes late.

I listen to my music and doze on and off. I’ve brought a sleep mask from a recent JetBlue flight. It definitely helps a bit, wanting to pack light I only have a collared shirt for warmth and the rest of my cloths in a pillow case. I’m definitely aware of the Elkhart stop where my bus system runs, paying close attention (the best I can from an aisle seat) as we aslo follow US-33 down to Goshen. I’m fully awake though when we pull into Toledo(13 Photos) at 2:51 am, 1 minute late. This gives me half an hour and I take a walk into the station and head to the passenger drop-off area. I skip the platform since I’ve experienced plenty of morning Lake Shore Limited fresh air stops in daylight.

 

It’s another 3 hours of tossing and turning that is sleeping coach on an aisle seat in the middle of the night. The next thing I know were pulling to Cleveland(43 Photos) 13 minutes early at 5:22am. Since it’s only a few weeks after the summer solstice, this means a nearly half-hour layover as I step off the train into the dawn light. I also finally have a genuine description of the station!

   

As the photos show I have one of my best Amtrak fresh air stops ever, a photo set I may print some images of for a series called Dawn in Cleveland, and one I won’t forget. I also finally get interior shots of the waiting room and the like.

I doze on and off some more as we leave Cleveland and continue east, Erie is definitely a town I want to stop in at some point. It has a super-neat Amtrak station up on a viaduct. If I’m ever driving the I-90 corridor it will definitely be a quick stop. I try and doze some more before we get to Buffalo-Depew(7 Photos), where my seat mate gets off a few minutes late. I scooch myself over to the window and get off again for a few minutes.

We leave Buffalo 7 minutes late at 9:06. I get two seats to myself for the final hour of the ride. I eat some breakfast I pack at my seat, no paying for the dining car Entering the Rochester Station(20 Photos) is painful sitting in the back, we stop for awhile by what’s clearly a high level platform under construction. First its a stop for baggage, then for the sleepers before the coaches finally pull up to the temporary 2 car platform. I get off and it’s a crowded walk past passengers waiting to board, on a walkway through a construction site (the new station will have two tracks around an island platform on siding tracks away from pesky freight trains), past a temporary AmTrailer wherer I duck into for a few photos. The train finally leaves Rochester 33 minutes late at 10:23, the construction really dragging on what should be a 5 minute stop. I find my Dad outside with my mother blocking a row of parking since they can’t find a place to park because the small parking lot for Amtrak is literally full!

   

It’s a long day I spend drinking plenty of caffeine, dozing in the car and wishing being horizontal for the night wasn’t some obscene amount like $400 more. I sleep very well that evening.

The following day we drive back to New York City. July 4th I spend mostly at home before heading to meet a few free friends for a drink near Penn Station before the fast New Jersey Transit ride to the awful and slow Newark Airtrain. I get on an 8:50pm flight back to South Bend I’ll never forget. We taxi with random fireworks in all directions and take off to the big New York show just getting off. It’s a cloudy night so no looking out at fireworks as we head west. We arrive in South Bend to random fireworks in all directions around 10:50. I have my roommate pick me up to save on dealing with awful and expensive South Bend taxicabs (Uber’s been banished by the airport), we pass far too many cop cars packed in random places.

My South Bend Train Stations

Life has once again (doesn’t it always) gotten in the way of this website, between settling into life in South Bend, making friends, and moving into my permanent apartment that needed furnishing, I did not have as much time as I expected this summer to update this website. It’s definitely time though to bring the two train stations in South Bend onto the web:

As a bonus, I got the nearest South Shore Line Station in Hudson Lake(24 Photos) onto the web. I went for a long bike ride into Central time on my second weekend in town to get it.

Enjoy!

The Dinner Dome Train on my First Trip to Indy – Iowa Pacific Business Class on the new Hoosier State

On Friday, I found myself with a half-day off I have to take off, and yet again no real weekend plans in my new home of South Bend. I leave the house in the morning bicycling to work (normally I walk the half-hour, biking takes ten minutes, so I could get to the South Shore Line Station for the midday 12:49 train) with a change of cloths and necessities not to come home that night but unsure if I am spending the night my relatives in Chicago (who are extremely unreliable about making plans), at a hostel in Chicago, or taking Amtrak somewhere else. I flirt with a City of New Orleans to Memphis tonight for shortish bus ride to Little Rock midday Saturday and the Texas Eagle back to Chicago Sunday (in a sleeper) but when I realize that low-bucket I could do sleepers on both legs round-trip for the same amount as the current price for the City of New Orleans in coach (or an equal ratio of AGR points) I scrap that idea. A final goal on my task-list that’s harder to pull off since on Saturdays it’s the Cardinal is taking the Hoosier State, in business class to enjoy their new all-inclusive dome car service (~$40 ticket, plus a $40 upgrade) to Indianapolis, spending the night, and then taking a 4:00pm bus straight home to South Bend.

I leave on my bicycle at 12:15 and seriously consider locking up at the Amtrak station (so I have a way to get home), taking Transpo to the airport and then just getting back on the Lake Shore Limited that leaves 9:30pm to at least have a Friday evening in the windy city. The last South Shore Line train on a Friday is extremely early at 7:15. I circle the Amtrak station on my bike and realize there’s no bike rack at this station (and since it’s closed in the middle of the day, can’t ask the ticket agents) I stay on my bike and ride to the Airport, locking my bike next to one other on the rusty bike, I at least have the only U-Lock. I then go and buy a one-way ticket to Millennium. I originally ask for a ten trip but the agent (who’s only there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) lacks a credit card machine and I don’t want to risk missing my train fiddling with the TVM, so I just hand over $13 cash and then board my train.

I board the train and unlike my trip last week and am disappointed to find out only the rear 3 cars are open for passenger use (the font of the train being saved for passengers boarding down the line).

We leave on time at 12:49. I’m currently book-less. A situation I don’t like being in but couldn’t find anything I’m interested in in the couple of Indy used bookshops in Downtown South Bend. The rain on Thursday evening kept me from bicycling out to the mall where Barnes and Noble is. I spend the ride feeling quite relaxed zoning out to podcasts and catching up on email. I enjoy passing the more empty yard in Michigan City and then slow ride down the middle of 9th Street through downtown Michigan City.

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It’s the normal South Shore Line trip, I’ve only ridden once before but will soon become second nature. We pass trough and stop in the sad downtown of Gary (that I will capture for the website even though my colleagues love to discuss how unsafe the city is). In Gary there is some trackwork going on, as the South Shore Line is just wrapping up 7 weeks of a special construction schedule that is installing new high speed switches to try and decrease travel times. The Hegewisch Stop has a strange split identity with both Metra and South Shore Line signage, although only the South Shore Line stops because we’ve entered the city of Chicago but haven’t joined the Metra Electric Line yet.

We eventually curve onto the Metra Electric Line, and skip many of the stops that seem to be every 5 blocks (Metra is the commuter railroad with the largest number of stations at over 200, I have my work cut out for me!), stop at the University of Chicago at 57 Street where a few passengers try and get on although the South Shore Line here is discharge only (like the New Haven Line at Fordham), as we make the final two quick intermediate stops in downtown Chicago at Museum Campus/11 Street, Van Buren Street, I feel like I’m on a tourist train with the conductor announcing the various museums and attractions at each stop. Since the electric line is along and in places under the Lakefront parks getting to these Chicago tourist attractions is extremely easy. I get off at the last station, Millennium Station and get some photos of the South Shore Line that has it’s own waiting area just beyond the bumper blocks where South Shore Line trains layover during the day.

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At this point I’m thinking I might just take the South Shore Line back (the last train on a weekday night, including Fridays to South Bend is at 7:15, arriving at 10:45 Eastern Time, South Bend really needs an evening train, even with a late arrival time because of the time change) so I stop at the ticket office, verify that a 10-trip is valid for a full year and purchase one.

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I then take a walk, just taking in that I’m finally in a bustling metropolis with crowded streets for the first time since Memorial Day. I notice the construction of the new Washington/Wabash stop, that will consolidate the Adams/Wabash and Madison/Wabash stations into one stop, along with the previous Madison/Wabash Station that has been demolished (I’m still trying to decide how to incorporate this station closing into the ‘L’ section of the website).

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I then decide it’s time for real culture and to slightly abuse my student ID (I still haven’t gotten my proper diploma) yet and join the Art Institute of Chicago for $50 for a year will the ability to guest one friend into the museum on each visit, a very good deal for a museum that’s now nearly $30 a visit. I also have a feeling that it will be a good place to spend time between train arrivals and Chicago engagements who’s timings might not quite match the train schedule. I enjoy the museum for a good hour and a half.

I leave around 4:15, trying to decide where to go and what to do for the evening. I first head to a bookstore and finally buy a book. I check the Hotwire App and notice that a four star hotel with a 95% Like rate is on sale in downtown Indy for only $90 after fees. This seals the deal, I’m going to take and have dinner in the dome car of the Hoosier State this evening. I can probably get a slightly lower rate with Priceline, but don’t bother. My last-minute business class Amtrak ticket is $80, evenly split between the railfare and the upgrade fee. I consider trying to use one of my upgrade coupons but don’t feel like I have the time to call AGR to initiate. I walk to Union Station, trying my cousins one last time, who as I expect don’t answer. At 5:20 I buy my ticket on the Amtrak app on the stairs of Union Station. I head to the Metropolitan Lounge at 5:25, the departures boards just say South, no gate or track listed, the agent when I ask tells me to go straight Gate B since the train has already boarded from the lounge.

It’s a nice easy walk out to the train. The trick to Union Station I’ve learned is to board late and skip the awful queue of general boarding, and not worry about a seat assignment. An Amtrak conductor and , with a few staff directing me out to the nice Dome Car I’ll be riding in this evening, Summit View. It’s also the last car, the proper place for a dome.

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I board and find a white table cloth car with a bunch of glasses and bar station in the middle of it. I’m encouraged to sit near the rear of the car by the other parties, all couples. I first sit down at a lounge table before moving up to a tableclothed table. The rest of the passengers are couples, with a few train enthusiasts. I look over the menu, with sandwhiches and chicken brest as the primary option. We have a crew of 3 Pullman attendants all in white suits with bow-ties, and all are about my age or possibly younger. There is a 4th train manager who helps out some with the service and helps out otherwise. Soon the main waiter comes, introduces himself, he does a great job with service although he’s defiantly a bit too casual if I were in a fine restaurant in the northeast. The Iowa Pacific specialty as their only listed cocktail along with Bloody Marrys is clearly Margaritas and I order one.

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We leave Chicago on time and slowly role out of Chicago, with the usual yard view, leaving the City takes the usual long period of time. As we leave the train yards behind the Iowa Pacific Train manager invites me out to the open rear platform seeing my camera to get the best view of Chicago you can ever see.

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I return to the dome drinking my margarita chatting a bit with the passengers at the other tables, the man behind me just retired from Union Pacific and tries to chat with other passengers, even sharing a few photos on his phone of the cars were riding on sitting on jobs we’ve visited, although his wife is clearly unhappy he’s trying to chat with other passengers and not just focused on me. I turn around to ask him a couple of questions throughout the trip, he clearly wants to share his knowledge, but this keeps annoying his wife. It’s a strange social situation to be in. The service is nice and leisurely. There isn’t a more pleasant way to end the week than sitting at a white table-clothed table with a Maragetta and lays potato chips (Iowa Pacific needs better cocktail snacks, a nut mix would have been perfect) leaving Chicago to visit the Capital of my new home State of Indiana, a City I haven’t visited and have just stepped off the train briefly in twice. There is wifi (it’s different, a network and password, although a bit slow) and even a power outlet installed at every seat but using these doesn’t feel right.

We get to Dyre and it’s around now that my blue plate special arrives. It’s relatively small, salmon, asparagus, rice and a warm roll, but as good as anything I’ve had on the train.

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I even order a second Margarita with a nice salted glass. I notice deer out the window, screaming something, the couple across from me think I’m saying beer as in the beverage.

The ride south continues uneventful, with the train clearly running on time. We’re making good time, and after stopping in Rensselaer, there is a nice sunset in the dome. I learn that Iowa Pacific has it’s own points program called Rail Barons that requires giving them your email address while onboard, it’s simple 100 points for business class, 50 for coach, 200 points gives you a free coach to business class upgrade, requested onboard (I can’t find this published anywhere on the web, just that you get 3¢ off per point with 1 point for dollar spent so this is definitely a better return). I move on to dessert of delicious Key Lime Pie, and peppermint tea that’s a nice ending. I t to get a consist photo on a curve, the train is overpowered with two locomotives, a pullman car for the crew (that I can’t quite figure out), two coaches and our dome, a short overstaffed (two Amtrak conductors, the engineer, plus 4 Iowa Pacific Crew) gem of a train, it’s amazing what non-Union employees can do compared to Amtrak.

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I don’t take many pictures of the scenery or worry too much about this blog post, just enjoying the ambiance. There are some wind turbines off in the distance that provide a nice contrast.

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We get to Lafayette, and I don’t realize for a few minutes that were 10 minutes early so I get off and get some nice evening photos (I’m sharing here as a blog post, not as part of a new Amtrak station. I want photos of the actual station first, and it also has a unique history).

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It’s an easy trip to Crawfordsville and the crew is talking that we could be up to 20 minutes early into Indianapolis because of recovery time. Fine with me since I have a generic Hilton Hotel Room waiting for me (At one point I though about doing this trip and then getting on a 2:00am MegaBus back to Chicago, I’m too tired and old to do this, I’ll never forget that that’s how I finally got up to Grand Rapids to ride the Pere Marquette). We hit a snag ten minutes outside of the Indianapolis Station, track gangs. They delay us a good 15 minutes, although there is a show of orange sparks, like welding I’ve never seen from some rail grinding work trains, reshaping the rails to their proper shapes through welding. Here’s a final photo of the darkened dome.

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We finally enter the Indianapolis Train Station(14 Photos), arriving 6 minutes late.

 

It’s a very quick trip back to reality getting off the train onto a dimly lit platform, and down the white staircase into the dreary and dimly lit shared with Greyhound waiting room.

The historic train station is still there, surrounding the grim Greyhound station, unforchunately it’s been turned into private use as the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

I have a perfectly okay 10 minute walk to the Hilton, Indianapolis definitely has a more visible homeless population than South Bend, where I check in after midnight to the most bizarre cavernous ADA hotel room ever with two peepholes, a sitting area with a coach and a chair and a large king bed but even more wasted space. Double doors lead to a closet that I almost think is an attached suite or second room. It’s what I expect from Hotwire, a bizzar hotel room that isn’t standard and the hotel doesn’t want to give to anyone else.