Transit Adventures

An Add-on day trip to Philly via the Keystone, doing the Fox Chase Line a Keystone points run from Downington and BoltBus back

Today I did another points run and more SEPTA stations trip to Philadelphia that I put onto my itinerary back from via Keystone Train Syracuse. It was a $10 addition.

Im running late, and leave the house at 8:45. I get off the A train at Penn Station at 9:12.
At 9:17 I’m entering the ClubAcela as the board says ‘Stand By’ for my train. I’m Immediately told by the agent 8 West. I grab a muffin and coffee and leave to go stand by the escalator. The cops are outside with their table to search bags but no sign of an usher. Although the track hasn’t been announced, a line slowly forms behind me. Only at Penn Station can you arrive less than. 15 minutes before and be first in line! That is ClubAcela service.

  • 9:22 – Escalator reversed after agent goes down, asking the cops to watch the gate. The line has gotten longer behind me. She stops the escalator and comes back up.
  • 9:24 – PA announcement “Assemble at 8 west.” We have been asked by the usher (not the police) to leave a path in front of the gate. People try and cut the line but the usher tells them to walk back.
  • 9:25 – Finally flashing my smartphone to the usher, cops say nothing, don’t select me and I’m first to go down the escalator. The agent making sure I’m first. I go downstairs and head towards the front for our train in push mode. The cab car is closed and I board the front open car realizing that it will be the most crowded since its closest to the escalator. It fills up, I should have walked to the quiet car in the back.
  • 9:32 – Leave and the conductor comes through as we go through the east river tunnels. They announce “Welcome aboard train 643”, the station stops and “the last car is the quiet car to maintian a library like atmosphere. Please have all eTickets and smartphones out and ready to be scanned” this is said by the other (I think Keystone trains only have two) conductor as my phone is scanned. I get a pink keystone ticket check, full seat checks for Philly, halves Trenton (a few business folks on expense accounts I assume), punches for the Keystone stations beyond, some but not too many.
  • 9:38 – In the meadowlands
  • 9:39 – Zoom through Secaucus.
  • 9:45 – Make one of two stops on this express run, Newark with “please watch you step if your getting off”. The train is ‘R’ receive only here! We slowly leave Newark, following PATH and nearly stop. An NJT train passes with MLVs pushed by two locomotives a P40 and old Diesel.
  • 9:51 – Speed up on the middle track. We soon start going down the fast express tracks as I take a nap.
  • 9:58 – Rahway
  • 10:01 – even skip Metropark
  • 10:05 – pass one NJT train and then full speed through New Brunswick.
  • There is something really nice about the quiet and fast ride compared to NJT or the bus. Two totally different but slower environments. I have a nice nap and wake up for the second intermediate stop of Trenton at 10:22. The conductor comes through removing seat checks.
  • 10:26 – across the Delaware before briefly following it. We pass a campground/mobile home park on its banks. There’s something fun about going through all the little stations I recently visited.
  • 10:34 – Bypass Cornwells Heights with its fleet of parking lot buses. I see the 3 of them parked in a corner.
  • 10:38 – Pass an abandoned station with a cinderblock shelter. Then Bridesburg.
  • 10:40 – Over a street and under the MF
  • 10:43 – Pass an Acela and through north Philly.
  • Our Philly entrance is extremely slow, we’re going to be a few minutes late! Arrive 10:52, 4 minutes to be exact.

I go buy my Independence Pass and realize taking the 11:02 to Trenton back the way I came makes the most sense to start by getting North Philadelphia and North Broad. The train comes  in on time and we rejoin the corridor, passing a northbound regional and come to a stop at 11:09 by the zoo. We soon move again and my pass doesn’t get punched before I get off at North Philadelphia at 11:14.

I do my photo essay on the feeling modern yet abandoned station with 2 island platforms and both elevators boarded up, plus the two low-level platforms on the Chestnut Hiill West line both low-level connected by an underpass. There is a boarded up building north of the station at what is an empty parking lot. The grand original depot is now a cheap furniture store.
I walk down to the North Broad Station that sees little service on the ex-Redding main line out of Philadelphia and get a photo essay.

I’m go down to the Broad Street Subway and miss the next local waiting for someone arguing with the ticket agent to get my pass dated. I take the following local to Olney and wait ten minutes for the 18 bus.

The 18 bus begins my trip to visit the 5 stations on the Fox Chase Line. I get off the bus at Olney, get my photos and get back on the next 18, a more crowded, shorter bus. I take this to near the Lansdown Station, and walk over to the station. I just miss the 12:47 northbound train and walk up to modern Cheltenham where a CSX freight on the non electrified track of the 2 track line (SEPTA is single tracked here) comes through. I continue walking to the also recently rebuild and just a single track Ryers Station. Bus route 24 arrives and I take that to Fox Chase arriving at the same time as an outbound train that I will be riding back. It’s a modern station with low level and mini-high platforms, the small modern station house has LEED Silver-2011 engraved in the glass.

  • 2:11 – Leave fox chase over the one grade crossing with two trainees on board they head up to cab with non-uniformed no ID tag engineer. Then we increase speed on the single track line by houses to Reyes at 2:13 and stop in the middle of the bridge at the station.
  • 2:14 – Barely accelerate into Cheltenham.
  • 2:16 – Lawndale, along a golf course
  • 2:19 – Olney
  • 2:20 – Join the main Redding Line
  • 2:25 – arrive at Wayne Junction where a new high level platform is being built including a new ticket office with currently a temeperary ticket booth. Im happy I got to that station in its old, shambled state. We go over the Chestnut Hill West Line, that this train will be routed via after Center City and pass a huge SEPTAs bus depot.
  • 2:28 – Join the Norrestown Line. Then bypass North Broad.
  • 2:29 – pass Temple University and come into it’s station
  • I get off a Market East and grab a quick lunch at Redding Terminal market. I need the 3:10 Regional Rail train to Downington for today’s 300 TQP AGR points (550 with bonuses) for $6.50 run. A trian going only to 30th Street comes in, the conductor checks my ticket and I ride that to Market East that I need more photos of. I buy way too many pretzels for $2.

The train comes in at 3:12 for the crew change and its new Silverliner Vs. I grab the second row behind the front door. The front seat is as always corded off. I notice the manufactured in 2010 plaque.

We leave at 3:15 and head onto the viaduct into 30th street. The voice announcing connections to Market Frankfort Line, regional rail and New Jersey transit. It’s slow going. We come to a stop before the station arriving at 3:20. Leave 3:21.
We curve out of 30th street and speed up on the main line, but slow down again to keep switching.

  • 3:27 – were finally on the right track and pick up speed, passing SEPTAs Overbrook maintenance facility with the scrap line of older Silverliners. We’re still on the local track through Overbrook 3:29.
  • 3:32 skip Ardmore that I will visit on Amtrak later. I do love the front window view (if only they’d let you sit in the front row), I’m amazed Philly didn’t go with full width cabs.
  • 3:33 – arrive Bryn Mawr, let the local ride begin. The recordings still say ‘This train will bypass certain stops, consult your schedule’
  • I spend this ride buying travel: my multi-city Amtrak ticket for $6.50 and then deciding what bus to take home? MegaBus at 9:30pm last night was $5 but has gone up to $15 (the walk-up fare). I check BoltBus and its 9:00pm is $13 (with a $1, not 50¢) transaction fee. I decide to take that. Getting to penn directly at the A train at 11:00pm sounds a lot better than 7th avenue and 28 street at 11:30. Maybe I’ll just make the last express. I buy the BoltBus ticket.
  • 4:01 – Beyond Malverne pass a random NJT Comet
  • 4:06 – pass Whitford. Platforms are nestled beneath a steel railroad overpass. That stop I look forward to going to during my next Exton layover.
  • Next stop Downingtown for connections to Amtrak, Bee-Line and Kraft transit. I get off at 4:11 and use the underpass to the opposite platform.
  • Train #652 comes in two minutes late at 4:23
  • 4:27 – conductor walks by without his scanner. I sit in the first car, the quiet car.
  • 4:31 – Arrive at Exton, my only intermediate Amtrak stop on this points run, leave 4:33. I see the conductor issuing paper tickets to people taking Amtrak instead of SEPTA, I think I hear that he’s charging them $8, not the disconted $6.50 fare I paid with OFF-PEAK-NOT VAL 9A-6:59P FRI & SUN. Also Thanksgiving Weekend. He comes up, scans my ticket and asks me where I’m going. I guess all three of my segments appear on his iPhone (only one segment gets phones since your on the same train) since the train is unreserved I say Paoli, he tells me next stop. We arrive at 4:47.

I use the overpass to catch a crowded express train one stop to Malverne and have too little time to get a real photo essay. I head back towards Philly. As I stop at Exton again, a kid trespasses across the tracks to try and catch the train. He makes it but the conductor has noticed. The conductor screams at him: your not riding this train, you were trespassing, its illegal! I wish a cop was around. Trespassing is extremely dangerous and something I never do.

At Berwyn (wish I had gotten off) a Keystone train passes with a cab car with an odd looking front. I get off at Devon, and do a photo essay. Outbound I am debating a 0 minute layover to double back for my next Keystone train at Paoli to get the Berwyn Station. I decide to not press my luck. My next outbound local arrives at 5:23, 2 minutes late. My next silverliner IV is dark, the A/C not working. The train I might have taken to do Berwyn comes into Paoli at 5:48, the connection would have been fine.

5:54 – Keystone leaves. two doors open at Exton and a lot of people get off. This conductor also confirms that I’m going to Ardmore since I also have a Philly ticket. I say eventually but not on this train. Last time my different segments weren’t noticed. I get an odd ripped seat check to indicate Ardmore, he is removing all of the solid, Philly seat checks. I stand up and forget to grab mine. I don’t have any NEC seat checks in my collection.

At Villanova we pass a second MU trainset. I get off at Ardmore and dash through the underpass to catch an outbound train, assuming I will visit Ardmore again on another AGR points run. I just make an outbound train to Haverford.

I saw an add on a billboard (up at North Broad Street) that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is suggested donation on Wednesday evenings and I decide I’m sick of railfanning and its time for culture. I also what to experiment on not using my ARD-PHL segment to see if I can use it in a few weeks, hopefully in the opposite direction. I photograph another push pull express going outbound and take the next inbound train to Center City.

My inbound train (the same train I would have taken had I waited at Ardmore, a station I know I’ll end up at again on my next points run) arrives at 6: There are 3 foreigners who clearly don’t understand the concept of a Quiet car. The conductor comes up multiple times saying this is the QuietRide before finally saying shush. That they understand but their not completely quiet.

I get to 30th Street station’s upper level, like where I left from. As I leave 30th street, I hear the final call for my Keystone train #654 continuing into New York that I got off at Ardmore. (I later track it and it doesn’t leave until 7:18, 28 minutes late, it arrived 7 minutes early).
I walk up the busy  Schuylkill River bike path to the art museum, give them a dollar, and have a great hour plus. I will plan my next trip to Philly on a Wednesday and look forward to exploring more of the art museum.

I end up leaving the museum earlier than I need to and get back to 30th Street Station at 8:30. I decide its time for ten minutes in the ClubAcela. I tell the attendant I’m catching SEPTA (can’t admit I’m taking one of Amtrak’s bus competitors). The club is open until 9:00pm. I rehydrate and enjoy some pretzels. It’s too hot out to use the neat coffee maker. I have the 10 minutes I need to relax before dealing with BoltBus.
Go around the construction on the west side of the station following signs for MegaBus and Bolt Bus, I arrive at  8:45 as and see a crowd and a dark BoltBus.

8:50 – Driver opens the door and is not in uniform and on his cell phone as he says A boarding passes and flash our confirmations
9:00 – Standby passengers for $15 (I saved $1 by booking earlier and getting my choice of seats) board. We leave at 2 minutes late, every seat taken but few doubled up. The lights turn off and I realize I’ve made the mistake (to look out) by choosing a window partially obstructed, wrapped by the bolt. Wraps are a pet peeve of mine.

Unlike MegaBus (I’ve only ridden it to Philly, never back) we take the highway over to the Ben Franklin bridge. I can’t wait for them to finish the I-95 interchange on the PA turnpike for a continuous highway finally from New York to Philly. I am generally anti highway but that project makes sense.

  • 9:23 –  pull up somewhere. It’s the Cherry Hill Mall stop for 3 people. Didn’t know this bus stopped there but a very quick 2 minute stop.
  • 9:33 – through the toll plaza and onto the turnpike.j
  • 10:21 – On the turnpike it’s stars poring, I’ve had good luck with the weather today.
  • 10:52 – down the Lincoln Tunnel Helix
  • 11:02 – arrive in front of Tick-Tock (a diner as the website describes the location) 2 minutes late. The bus was 40 minutes slower (2 hours, versus the 1 hour and 20 minutes it took me to come down on my Keystone Service Express Train).

One thing I BoltBus has better than MegaBus is the stop is directly next a subway entrance. There is no walking anywhere. Just dash twenty feet through the rain drops. I swipe in and find tape on the downtown platform. All downtown trains are running express. First stop is the uptown express platform that has signs saying A trains stop at the local platform after 10:29. An E comes and I take it to 42 street to avoid the 34th street dash. I see a downtown C train pass.
At 11:10 an A train arrives on the local track. Signs say 8 Ave Local. On the bus I checked the pre-Sandy schedule on my phone and it claims the last A Express is at 11:00 from 34 Street. At 59th they confirm I’m on an A local. I’m at 181 Street at 11:37. The ride home less than an hour longer. The bus is definitely faster than the SEPTA to NJT shuffle. If only I could read on it.