Transit Adventures

A Short Day Trip to Philly for a Points Run on the Pennsylvanian and Doing a Station to Staiton of the Trenton Regional Rail Line

Today it was time for another day trip and points run to Philadelphia. I did it with my one old railfan friend Robert so it was slightly less intense and adventurous than many of my trips with a very leisurely start for a day trip to Philly. We only booked it the night before so MegaBus cost more than it should of.

The day began for me on the A train to 34th Street where I would have taken the M34SBS if one was coming, but not one was it site. This became a power walk to the MegaBus stop at 34th Street and 11th Avenue outside the 7 train construction where they have been relegated because of the trash and noise associated with their sidewalk bus stops. My friend Robert was earlier than me and in line. No one minds when I cut the line to go join him. We finally board at 9:10, after the driver apparently said boarding would begin at 9:00 a bit earlier. Flashing one boarding number for two of us from an iPhone (cost $26.50 total for two) is perfectly acceptable and we climb up and grab the front row seats in the upper level. As always MegaBus leaves a few minutes late at 9:18. The bus leaves and heads through the Lincoln Tunnel with a bunch of commuter buses deadheading back to New Jersey before they will make the same deadhead trip all over again before the PM Rush Hour. The bus lane along 495, the Lincoln Tunnel approach is still in operation at this hour and, as always, I enjoy watching the nearly endless line of buses flowing into Manhattan. It then is a relatively uneventful ride down the ‘scenic’ (in a satire way) New Jersey Turnpike. I had forgotten about the widening project that will double the width of the turnpike and give the turnpike Express and Local Lanes (a total of 12 lanes) all the way to Exit 6, the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension. Eventually the bus gets off the Turnpike and takes the local traffic fulled boulevards with their traffic lights over to the Ben Franklin Bridge. MegaBus makes two stops in Philadelphia and knowing that we will be buying Independence Passes get off at the Independence Hall Stop to avoid a bus ride through the streets of downtown Philadelphia.

We get to Philadelphia at 11:16am and the first stop is finding some lunch which is uneventful. Next we have a slight adventure trying to buy Independence Passes. First we simply descend to the 13th Street Market-Frankfort Line Station and the cashier says he doesn’t sell Independence Passes. We go back up to the surface and buy them at the Pass Store inside SEPTA headquarters. Then we go back down to the subway station and have a quick MFL Ride to 30th Street Sation.

We get to 30th Street Station at about 12:15 and walk passed the baggage claim and up the stairs to the club Acela. I flash my Select+ card and iPhone to show were both boarding the 12:42 departure of the Pennsylvanian to the friendly agent. She tells us that she should be able to send us directly down the elevator to board the train. The Philadelphia ClubAcela is an extremely nice long and narrow club with a nice view through the glass into the main halls of 30th Street Station down below and a wall of elevators that lead down to the tracks. The furniture is more luxurious and leather instead of the blue cloth chairs that make up the awful New York ClubAcela that pales in comparison. There maybe two other people inside. I notice it has a fancy coffee machine that you put a packet in and I make some quite good hot chocolate. Their even lids for the coffee cups! The afternoon snacks are already out (no muffins) and we help ourselves to pretzels and sit and wait for the boarding call.

I do check my iPhone and notice that the Pennsylvanian has arrived at 12:16 for its nearly half-hour engine change. An Acela boarding announcement is made with an apoligy that the track has been changed to one that lacks elevator access from the ClubAcela so these passengers must board via the main concourse and a few people leave the lounge. At 12:32 (I tell myself I would ask the attendant at 12:35) the attendant makes an announcement that the Pennsylvanian will be boarding at elevator 3 and we walk over there. She has to call the elevator by putting her keys in the elevator buttons. It takes the elevator a good three minutes to arrive. The attendant then makes sure the button marked platform has been pressed, leaves the elevator and we descend to the platform before general boarding has been called. She reminds us the Pennsylvanian will be on track 6 with train #91 the Silver Star stopping on Track 5. Strangely there are no sleeper passengers boarding the Star at least in ClubAcela. We go down to the platform clearly before general boarding has begun and settle into some nice comfortable Amfleet-II seats with their extra legroom for the half hour ride to Paoli.

The half-hour ride out on the Main Line to Paoli is uneventful, I pass my iPhone and the conductor scans both of our tickets ($8, the Pennsylvanian was in its high bucket, $6.50 is the norm) at once. We arrive at Paoli at 1:12 and its a very slow entrance. I then realize that were pulling in on the express track and the train needs to line up with the wooden boards. The slow entrance is caused by the conductor needing to give the engineer a detailed spot at the platform. It’s a longish stop with quite a few people getting on and off. The Pennsylvanian leaves and an outbound Regional Rail train arrives on the inside local track (the reason the Pennsylvanian couldn’t stop on the usual local track).

We have an uneventful photo stop in Paoli, although I notice the yelling at photographers, power hungry station agent is still in the ticket office. I do stop inside the ticket office and use the QuickTrack machine to print the second half of our Multi-City Tickets for an extra 100 AGR points. At 1:59 the next westbound Keystone Train arrives led by its AEM7. The conductor opens the door and yells “I want to know who here is going only to Exton.” We’ve clearly popped up on his iPhone manifest. I say us and we board. He scans our tickets and I try and explain AGR, he doesn’t get it but is perfectly nice to us. We get to Exton at 1:05, photograph our train leaving and use the crossunder back to the Philadelphia-bound track.

The westbound Pennsylvanian for another $8 high-bucket ticket back all the way to Philadelphia (the next Philly-bound Keystone train isn’t for two hours so no getting the full quafecta today) arrives on time at 2:12. I immeadately notice a last car that’s private varnish. There is a reason for being at a high bucket. It’s packed with people. We end up sitting across from each other. The conductor comes and scans Robert’s iPhone (with my ticket and AGR number also on it). After the stop at Paoli, the first intermediate stop (except on the NYC subway downtown) we’ve made today, we manage to find two seats together. In every seat pocket is a magazine called In New York, its basically a tourism thing. The last page has one of the worst subway maps I’ve ever seen. A tiny portion of it shows Brooklyn and Queens but without the G train. The G has been totally obliterated from the map. I end up having a nice nap in my reclined Amfleet-II seat, the leg rest and foot rest up as we head back down the Main Line to Philadelphia. We arrive back at 30th Street station early at 2:50.

The PM rush hour activity is doing the Trenton Regional Rail line so I can finish my goal of getting every stop on the NEC between New York City and Philadelphia. There is a 3:04 train and we head up to the upper level Regional Rail platforms for boarding. This train comes in and is packed, this is because the crew have decided to open up only one set of doors and two cars of the five car trainset. Eventually we find to sets of aisle 3 across seats. This train we take to Bridesburg with the conductors asking where were going so they can charge us the $5 fee if were going to Trenton. This is an ongoing theme during this afternoon station to station. At simple Bridesburg we photograph a Keystone train, the southbound Crescent, along with a single NS freight locomotive with no cars attached, Acela, and the Pennsylvanian train we just got off of, now operating in the opposite direction from our trip aboard it. The next Regional Rail train at 3:47 we take one stop to Tacony. Here we photograph a Southbound Regional and continue on the next train at 4:18 to Homesburg Junction at 4:20. This is a real junction station with a freight spur going off. We hear a freight train and are along the freight spur waiting for it to arrive when the southbound Silver Meteor zooms through the station. It’s an impressive sight with two AEM7s pulling a baggage car, 3 Viewliner Sleepers, a dining, lounge car and two cars of Private Varnish on the back. Then the NS locomotive shows up.

One more Regional passes through before we take the 4:47 train to Torresdale. Here I get my photo essay along with a southbound Keystone Service Train plus two Regionals that pass within the station. The 5:17 Express train shows up using one of SEPTA’s push-pull train sets with an AEM7 that are running with the doors open between stations. We take this to the unique Cornwells Heights station that is SEPTA largest Park & Ride station and has a fleet of 3 SEPTA minibuses that shuttle commuters from the Regional Rail platforms to their cars. All parking is in various parking lots. Amtrak does stop here twice a day in each direction. The only evidence is their bridgeplates on the mini-high platforms. I nearly miss the next northbound train at 5:40 getting my station photo essay of the two offset platforms. We take this train that skips Eddington to Croydon which is a much less interesting, the one modern SEPTA high-level platform and have nearly a half-hour layover. We double-back on the 6:15 train to Eddington and 12 minutes is the perfect amount of time for the extremely simple station who’s purpose (it lacks parking lots and the sidewalk on the nearby overpass only exists at the station) we can’t figure out. It also has extremely limited service. We take the 6:30 train to the interesting Bristol Station (that stops at Croydon, the only intermediate stop on Regional Rail we haven’t gotten off at) arriving at 6:36. The 6:58 train takes us to Levittown, the last stop before New Jersey and the $5 fee that Independence Passes require to travel there.

We got on the last bus of SEPTA bus route 127 at Levittown to head to Trenton. This lets us avoid the $5 extra fee that SEPTA assess on Independence Pass Regional Rail travel to and from New Jersey. The bus pulls up right on time at 7:16, making a turn in from the shopping mall. On the bus I glance at DepatureVision for Trenton. I’m so used to NJ’s Northeast Corridor Line running about every half-hour that I didn’t bother to check the schedule. Were due to arrive in Trenton at 7:49, NEC trains leave at 7:44 and 8:31, what a terrible connection, 45 minutes in the Trenton Transit Center. The bus takes its round about route through Morrisville, over the Delaware River and into Trenton that feels like a ghost town in the dark. There is no one outside. 40 minutes (or maybe taking the 9:07pm train to be more leisurely) should be a perfect amount of time to find dinner. A few blocks from the Trenton Train station I see a Kebab Place that has its lights on (there is also a depressing and open Chinese take-out Restaurant). We pull the cord and hop off the bus. We walk up to the door of the restaurant and find it locked although there is an open sign in the window and people inside.

Not knowing where else to try and find dinner we continue walking to the station. I go buy a Donut from the Duken Donuts in the station to tide me over until we get back to New York. The friendly worker asks me if I want a second one free and buy one for Robert. We buy our NJ Transit tickets to Newark. Trenton has a mix of robo-voice announcements and announcements made live by an actual human mainly for Amtrak trains passing through. This includes the Northbound Carolinian including quite a few reminders that the train is discharge only and passengers are prohibited from boarding the train. We see its Amfleet-Is (part of a complex arrangement with the State of North Carolina) stop in the station. Eventually at 8:20 the automated voice saws our train is ready for boarding but there is no sign of a train yet. Soon a train of Arrow-IIIs enter and we board for a local run. I spend the 69 minute ride reading and taking a very uncomfortable cat nap that does the trick but isn’t nearly as comfortable as my Amfleet-II nap on the Pennsylvanian earlier.

We get to Newark at 9:38 and dash across the platform to tap our SmartLink Cards and board PATH, it leaves at 9:42 and we get off at World Trade Center at 10:06. Were on the E train up to midtown for a
late night Japaneses noodle dinner. I spend longer at dinner than I mean to and at 11:15 I hop on an overcrowded 1 train to 59 Street where I wait a few minutes before what must be one of the first Local A trains of the late night service. I get home around 11:45, a bit later than I wanted.

All in all it was a good but not totally redicous day in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvanian to Keystone to Pennsylvanian Points run (12:40 to 3:00) is an excellent use of less than 2 and a half hours for 300 AGR points and it was nice to get a short ride in Amfleet-IIs. It was also nice to get the Trenton Line done so I can finally start SEPTA by simply extending things south from NJT in Trenton.