Transit Adventures

A 4 Hour Full Stomach, and Hydrated Ride on Acela Express First Class from Newark to Boston

The First Class car has one door at its far end by the currently rear locomotive. The attendant comes out, checking our tickets telling us “She has one getting off”. I and and a group of 3 businesspeople board in Newark, along with the Amtrak cop who is walking through the first class car before the train leaves the station (I don’t know if he hopped back off or rode into Penn Station). I go and sit on nearly the only open set of two seats. All the single seats are taken (2 by 1 seating is the nice feature of Acela First Class). Most people on the train are clearly about to get off.

An attendant comes, folds up my ticket and puts it on a little magnetic claps directly on my seat (above my head), hands me a small bottle of water (they keep them in their aprons), and gives me a menu asking me if I would like a beverage. It is very clear that there is going to be no time for (the Washington catered) breakfast before lunch. Soon the other attendant (there two) comes through with hot towels (the one bonus I get for the short jaunt). I get my ginger ale, a full clan and a real crystal glass with ice (different than the glasses in the dining car and it has the Acela logo on it) as we go through the Meadowlands and Secaucus. I open the menu and am happy to see its the menu with the Amtrak Signature Steak on it, one of the four menus that Acela rotates through.

We get to Penn Station 4 minutes early at 12:42 (thank you recovery time). Which makes for a 21 minute layover. During the layover I move up to have one of the single seat tables to myself and try that relatively unique Acela First Class experience. The car is empty for a bit and the two attendants are in the tiny galley (between first class and the rest of the train) helping the station staff fully restock and transfer from breakfast to lunch. I notice one man with a hard hat doing the restock. Another Amtrak cop, this one with a sniffer dog walks the train during the layover and I try and read. The train gradually boards and the attendants get drink orders from passengers. One then comes through trays of ramekins holding mixed nuts, “Tom Douglas Rub with Love Train Snacks.” I’m quite hungery and start eating mine, there good but nothing that special.

We leave Penn Station on time 1:03, I realize something, I haven’t heard a single announcement.
The train heads through the South Tunnels and at 1:09 we enter Queens and pass Sunnyside Yards. At this point I really start to appreciate just how much larger Acela’s Windows are compared to the usual AmCan AmFleet-Is.
At 1:12 leave the LIRR and head over to the Hellgate.
1:13 — join the new York connecting railway going over Astoria.
1:14 &mdsah; Astoria Ditmars and get on the Hellgate. Speed doesn’t feel faster than a normal train. The train crosses Randals-Wards Islands and I get a nice view of the sewage treatment plant. We then start heading up along the Bronx River, going under the 6 train where I notice Concrete Plant Parks.

The conductor come by and scans my ticket on the back of my seat. I’m looking out the window and don’t even notice. I ask “Am I all set?” He says “Yes.” We then chat briefly because he notices the book I’m reading about highways, and he recommends one on the building of the Alaska Highway. I am clearly lucky that my upgrade went through infe. The Arrow system that supports Amtrak upgrades clearly needs improving multiple people are asked by the conductor to call 1-800-USA-Rail because their upgrades didn’t go through according to the ticket scanners or their listed on the iPhone manifests twice in the case of another party. The conductor is doing a good job making sure everyone gets scanned as a first class passenger, important for getting the full 750 Acela first class points.

As we go through Pelham Bay Park I order the steak and white wine. I I decide I might as well see if Acela’s wine selection is at least drinkable. The attendant seriously enough that I reach for my wallet asks me for my ID but doesn’t bother to look at it saying if you were underage you wouldn’t have reached for your wallet so quickly.

We pass Party City, north of Pelham Bay Park that is about the Westchester City Line, and go through leafy Pelham Manor before joining Metro-North track.

1:28 — Pass New Rochelle on the far track, the New Haven Line doesn’t fully switch in until beyond the station. We enter the middle express track on Metro-North and pass the New England Thruway toll plaza. The train becomes jerky because Acela can’t use its tilting mechanism on Metro-North territory and it seems like we’re going no faster than a Stamford express.
1:32 — enter Connecticut as we inch along.
I use the neat Acela bathroom, it has a window! We pull in on the far right track for Stamford at 1:44. I don’t notice anyone getting off but a few get on. We leave at 1:46, 3 minutes late. We keep running slowly on the far right track.

It’s a slow ride through Connecticut. My steak arrives and I almost start to laugh. It’s tiny, about an eighth of the size of steaks from the dining car. It is served with about half a cut up carat and an equal amount of a potato. It’s almost too hot from heating. The taste and the sauce though is extremely flavorful. It is on nice white real plates with the Acela logo. My silverware has a piece of paper with the Acela logo holding it together but a regular Amtrak knife and spoon, plus an unmarked steak knife. The white wine I’m not liking all that much and order my own decent size bottle of Pierre. I’m a big water drinker and this seems better than having to consume a bunch of the tiny half-pint water bottles the attendants keep in their aprons. Don’t think the Acela First Class attendants would serve me a pitcher of water from the Amtrak tap that I drink all the time on every other ride. We slowly continue down the New Haven Line felling no different than a regular metro-north train.

At 2:23 go through West Haven a stop under construction that’s nearing completion, scheduled to open in 2013.

We arrive in New Haven at 2:26. The conductor makes an announcement, the first I hear on the trip. I think I’m on Amtrak California since it opens with the same dual-tone alert before it. I linger on finishing my desert, its the creme brulee moose and quite rich and sweet in a square plastic container. We’re 2 minutes early and leave 1 minute late at 2:29. I see a Shoreline East train waiting to enter.

I extend our speed to now increase but at 2:31 were still going slowly pass New Haven State Street. We leave the Springfield line and I enter new trackage as an adult (the last time I took the train to Boston was way back in 2004, that included my only ride on Acela so far). The shoreline is pretty. We finally pick up some speed going trough tunnels. We run between a highway and houses going over some of the scenic bodies of water. I should mention my favorite feature of Acela is the much larger windows compare to the Amfleet-Is.
2:38 — Pass Branford directly along its single platform on the south track. We gain speed going through woods the ride feels smoother with tilting on. The coastal towns are pretty across wetlands.
2:43 — Pass Guilford switching over to the north track briefly for some reason.
2:45 — The train starts shaking a bit and we slow down for another SLE stop, Madison.
2:47 — Another SLE platform, Clinton.
2:48 — A golf course
2:50 — Pass Westbrook, the only SLE station left with a low level platform which has a high-level platform under construction
2:52 — Old Saybrook
2:54 — Slow down to cross a neat long bridge with a nice view of the ocean.
2:58 &mdsah; We emerge right along the Long Island Sound, this is why the south side of the train is place to sit, although I think I’ll chose the left side next time, I enjoy seeing the trains were passing. The attendant comes back to ask for orders and I say I’m still hungry. She says I’m welcome to anything on the menu. I ask if I could have the Shrimp and Pasta. I also order another bottle of Pierre. We keep hugging the sound. We curve inland along rocks.
3:06 — slow way down entering New London and cross that bridge. We then go by the grade crossings. 3:07 slowly go past it’s station with the short high level platform built after Acela began,
3:12 — Keep going by the water, I see the attendant in the galley clearly heating up my second tray meal.
3:17 — Pass Mystic along the sound, which comes and goes. I get my second tray meal, which has four pieces of ship on another small portion of pasta with a nice lobster sauce that even has a few shavings of lobster meat. It’s a slightly awkward messy meal because the lemon pepper shrimp have the skin still on the end of the tails something I get my hands covered in sauce removing. Luckily I have the second cloth napkin of my meal in my lap! This napkin is wrapped with an nondescript white band and the fork and regular butter knife have the Amtrak logo but the spoon has the Acela logo (Out of my two sets of silverware the only one with the proper logo, I thought Amtrak might not bother having the Acela logo on any silverware!).
3:23 &mdsah; Westerly, Rhode Island with a nice historic station (I boarded here once in 2000).
3:26 — Leaving Westerly we finally start speeding up for the fastest high speed section that sees speeds up to 150mph.
3:33 — The speed has increased even more and we keep going even faster through the the Rhode Island woods. Then zoom through Kingston at 150mph. This station is the only Amtrak-only station that has mini-high platforms. Now I feel like I’m back in Europe.
3:37 &mdsah; Wickford junction, the new MBTA station and terminus. The train passes houses and boats as we start seeing Narragansett Bay.
3:42 — In warwick as we pass the TF green airpot MBTA station.
3:44 — Announcement for Providence Rhode Island, a nearby highway has bumper to bumper traffic. The attendants come through and hands us back our tickets.
3:49 — Pull into the underground Providence Station across from an Acela information panel on the platform. It is mostly about Acela (these normally are at small little stations). A good portion of the car gets off. We leave 5 minutes since its a L station, you can board the train but it might leave early. The platform is crowded as a southbound Acela enters.
3:53 — Leaving Providence, the sign of service ending, we get more hot towels passing southbound traffic as dusk descends.
3:57 — south attleboro and speed up. People ask for final caffeinated soft drinks, they come with blank paper cups of ice (something I haven’t seen on another Amtrak train), not the crystaline glasses for everthing else. Strangely there no Amtrak coffee mugs (long distance trains have them), hot drinks come in paper cups. The MBTA track through Massachusetts is extremely fast and the other stretch of 150mph running.
4:03 &mdsah; another MBTA station. The difference between this commuter track and Metro-North feels significant.
4:07 — passing another MBTA station we slow down with an announcement for Route 128. The deceleration is extremely quick. We’re not quite there.

We arrive into Route 128 20 minutes early at 4:11. About half the train is getting off into the disk. We leave at 4:12 18 minutes early. The conductor annouces “2 more stops on our train ride today: 8-10 minutes to Back Bay, 10 to 15 to South Station.” we pass a freight yard and regain what feels like better speed than on the slow Metro-North track.
4:17 — reach the orange line and stop along it.
4:19 — Roxbury crossing and I hear the diesel locomotive of a commuter train as it passes.
4:20 — Ruggels. There like 5 of us left.
4:22 — Back Bay, one of two station stops in downtown Boston that even Acela makes. We leave at 4:24. Just a few minutes to South Station, there like 5 passengers left. It’s stop and go going through the yard as I put my coat on. We slowly enter platform 9. Passing the Gillette world shaving headquarters sign.

We arrive at Boston South Station at 4:29, 11 minutes early, a stomach full, 3 hours and 36 minutes after leaving New York-Penn Station. (One minute faster than Google claims it will take to go between the two stations without traffic).