Transit Adventures

A Day Trip to Philly to finish the Norristown High Speed Line and a Late Keystone Points Run, nearly missing my Regional Home

This weekend I’m off to Syracuse to visit my grandmother and also ride the Adirondack Scenic Railway from Utica north to Thendara on Saturday, with intermediate SYR-UCA Amtrak fares $18 one-way and the unreliability of the busy CSX Empire Corridor these days I decided we’d just drive. We’ll I’ll do the driving I don’t like driving with my grandmother anymore. The Adirondack Scenic Railway and Amtrak’s schedules don’t work at all for riding the train as a long “stopover” going to and from New York so Saturdays I’m going to be driving to and from Utica to ride the train. Although I’ll be driving to Utica I’m still calling this trip the 1300 AGR Points and the Adirondack Scenic Railway because part of this trip is getting closer to Amtrak Guest Rewards Select+ for next year, I’m currently just over 7,000 TQPs.

Then it came to booking the trip. I realized it will be another Friday-Monday trip and on the trip up I decided I might as well add on a day-trip to PHL two days before (for an extra $9ish) and do the NWK-NYP points run on Thursday. As much as I like Yonkers (and considered NYP-YNY for the points run), I want to get ClubAcela boarding for the Maple Leaf on Friday and also bite the bullet and finally do a layover (longer than I might like) to finally visit Amsterdam, this and Utica are the two stops on the Empire Corridor I haven’t visited. There is enough of a town around to find lunch.

The night before I’ve been out late and check bus fares down to Philly. The 8:30 and 9:45 MegaBuses are still $5.50 I end up going for the 9:45 since I’ve been on a bit of a late sleep schedule lately. Since Empire Service fares are barely bucket influenced I decide I’ll wait until Wednesday evening to decide on my return and if I’ll make another day-trip to Philly or just do the usual Yonkers and Newark points runs closer to home.

The Day of the Trip:
I’m running a little late. The A train is off this morning with 181 Street much more crowded then usual, luckily a train quickly comes and I get to Penn Station at 9:25. My hope is to find a Citibike for the three block trip crosstown to 34 st between 11th and 12th Avenues where MegaBus has been relegated to because of its crowded sidewalks. I get to the racks outside of Penn Station realizing that half of them are now gone because of a construction project. I stalk the racks a minute and decide I might as well just speed walk or take the bus if I see it. I get over to the MegaBus stop, across from a rack with plenty of citibikes at 9:39. There is a bit of a line for Philly. I see them load the last of the 9:40 bus to Washington. They start loading us at 9:42 and are quite efficient about checking numbers. I’m on the manifest this time, the last number; I bought the ticket last night. I go upstairs and find a plenty of seats and get the last row to myself.

At 9:47 I hear them say last call for Philadelphia and were off. The trip trough the tunnel is quick but we hit traffic at the helix partially due to the fact were down to two lanes because of the bus lane that has some buses but not the normal constant line since the rush hour is basically over. It’s stop and go traffic through the Meadowlands and I look longingly at Acela passing us. We finally get on the turnpike at 10:09 as I see two maintenance trucks making the last pass through the bus lane to pick up the cones, it has now closed for the day. I try and get some photos of Secaucus Junction as we pass at 10:13 but there is glare from the glass.

After that it’s a relatively uneventful ride. I do make a point of lying down across all 5 seats and my 6 foot frame can fully do this. I don’t try and read because of the motion of the bus. We finally get off the turnpike at 11:25 for the long drive trough the suburbs and strip malls to the Ben Franklin Bridge. We luckily don’t have to stop at the Coach USA MegaBus lot on our way into Philly along the highway to the Benn Franklin Bridge. At 11:43 were crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge and I prepare to get off at the first Independence Hall stop at 11:51, it’s just over a two hour ride.

I head over to Market East Station and visit the ticket office to buy my Independence Pass. I then decide I might as well bite the bullet and just have one goal for today, finishing the Norristown Line. I got most of it last November but the fact all the stops are flag stops with the push buttons to tell the cars of this unique line to stop I know it will take longer than I think. I do my missing stops on the Norristown Line and end up at Bryn Mawr a little before 3:30.

The second evening half of my day is doing a 300 points one-way Keystone run just like I did on my last trip to Philly. I get on the 3:34 Express Train bound Thorndale with a number of prep school students commuting between intermediate stops on the Main Line. I buy my 3 segment, multi-city DOW-EXT-ARD-PHL ticket for $6.50 on this train (if only the mobile app supported these purchases!). I get off at Downingtown at 4:11 and use the underpass. There now Amtrak baggage templates on both platforms.

Keystone Train #652 is 3 minutes late at 4:25 and I take it the two stops to Paoli. I even get a written seat check. One woman gets on saying she made a reservation to New York yesterday but didn’t write down any numbers. The conductor looks her up by name and she’s all set, as long as the new crew doesn’t do a full rescan of the train in Philly. Arriving in Paoli at 4:37 I use the overpass and dash over to the other platform. I take the 4:41 outbound SEPTA train to Malvern wanting a few more photos of this station and because I don’t feel like sticking around Paoli. From Malvern I take the next inbound train at 4:58 to Strafford and arrive at 5:11 and quickly do a photo essay. I double-back on the 5:16 train to Berwyn getting off again. I take the next train at 5:41 that terminates in Paoli scheduled at 5:50 (the same time that my Keystone train is scheduled to depart). Knowing from experience this SEPTA train arrives early at 5:48.

I dash over the overpass but as expected Keystone Train #654 is a few minutes late. I run in and pick up a paper ticket at the QuikTrak machine since I’m worried about my iPhone dying. It finally arrives at 5:53, 3 minutes late and there is quite a lot of unloading and loading. Paoli’s crowds mean it really could use high-level platforms. I take train #654 to Ardmore arriving at 6:07. Getting to Ardmore I decide I’m in the mood for a walk and walk down to Wynnewood. I probably could have gotten another stop but I’ve decided with sunset arriving I have had enough. I get my photo essay here and take the 6:37 train back to Ardmore.

I’m quite hungry and find a Corner Bakery Café just below the station tracks and head instead for some dinner, I start tracking my final Keystone train of this points run, Train #656 and find out its running about 15 minutes late, a delay occurring somewhere between Parkesberg and Downingtown. I relax in the Corner Bakery finally going up to the platform at 7:15. There is one other man waiting I can tell for Amtrak because he is holding an eTicket.
My phone dies, he tells me he’s called Amtrak and they told him the train is 15 minutes late. A SEPTA train comes in on time at 7:26 and I nearly get on, worried I’ll miss my 8:00 Regional that will cancel my entire trip to Syracuse unless I can find an agent or conductor to take pity on me, well I am connecting from another Amtrak train. I ask the conductor about Amtrak and he simply says he should be right behind us and late. I decide to wait it out. I realize that the ClubAcela time at the nice just refurbished Philadelphia Lounge isn’t going to happen.

At 7:35, about a half hour late, Keystone Train #656 finally arrives. I go find a seat and tell the conductor I’m connecting to #138. I plug in my phone and it takes the longest time to wake up, please do so I have something to show the gate dragon in PHL. I really know I have no time for the nice ClubAcela. The conductor is able to look up track 4 on something (or via radio) and tells me where to go. I finally arrive in PHL at 7:51. It’s right up the stairs and down at the gate (letter B maybe) to track 4 where my phone receives heavy scrutiny from the gate dragon. There isn’t a line since the masses have already been let down to the platform.

Northeast Regional Train #138 arrives early at 7:56. I board the Quiet Car with the dimmer lights. The conductor comes and there isn’t a beep. I tell the conductor this who is mad at me talking. The conductor says he’s quieted his beep since I’m sitting in the quiet car shushing me. We leave on time at 8:00 and the Keystone train I got off of is still sitting in the station.

We stop in Trenton at 8:25, there quite a few people boarding, all seem to be Amtrak employees flashing their IDs to the conductor. I’ve chosen to take yet another local Northeast Regional home today, just like my trip in July back from Philly. We stop next at Princeton Junction at 8:38, we do switch onto the express track bypass New Brunswick (that I stopped at on my last Amtrak trip up the Corridor) and pass a NJT local train before switching back for Metropark at 8:58. At 9:11 we stop at the airport across from an arriving NJT train. The lights come on as we approach Newark and the conductor grabs all the seat checks. I’m only ticketed to Newark and realize that there is no way they will know that I was only ticketed to Newark and not Penn Station. I decide to stay on, just wanting to get home and not deal with PATH.

We arrive in Penn Station at 9:29 one minute late on Track 10, nearly but not quite a West End Concourse Track. I see what I think is the Keystone train #656 that I got off of and look it up, it arrived at 9:21 passing us somewhere between Trenton and Newark where it runs non-stop and we make 3 extra stops. It only left Philly a minute after us.