Transit Adventures

To Philly and into Delaware finishing the Wilmington Line

Yesterday, I realize I’ve gotten all my work done for the week and with my boss away I might as well go on a trip somewhere. It becomes a toss up between DC and Montreal. When I find out low bucket (non-14 days in advance) Amtrak fares the short way to DC are now over $80; the choice of Montreal becomes obvious because with a Thursday through Sunday trip I realize can enjoy Ocean View both ways at the fixed Adirondack Prices for less than a trip to DC or Boston!

As I do my fare search, remembering the trip to Philly that used to nearly make the trip cheaper but is now $1 to $2 more (probably a good thing). I also discover that this now (and I think has always been the case) only works for the cheaper now $65 Monday through Thursday and Saturday fares. A PHL connection on the more expensive peak Friday & Sunday fares ($71) don’t allow a PHL add on leg and brings the fare up to $90ish. I can though add on a points run to Metropark for a dollar more and do that. On the northbound trip, I realize I’ll only earn 200 AGR points with no time to turn that leg into a real points run because of booking so late. In an idea world I would have gone down on Monday with the usual NWK-NYP, and NYP-YNY runs to tide me over to Thursday. Southbound I decide to eek out 500 points using YNY-NWK as one leg and adding on NWK-EWR-MET the next day. I’m just happy this is all on a return trip where if something comes up and I don’t ride the segments I don’t lose anything other than the AGR points. I’m also only 768 points away from keeping Select+ and I kind of like the idea of being 68 points (just one segment away) and not just re-qualify.

My original plan for the day isn’t to do anything on SEPTA at all but instead use the new Pennsauken Transit Center and finally ride out to Atlantic City. To make the connection to the required RiverLINE train I need the 9:01 Express train. I’m running late finishing up some things at home and end up checking the MegaBus app and discover the 9:45 bus is still just $5:50! It will be an Independence Pass Day now finishing the Wilmington Line. There is rain in the forecast and if this happens I’ll just be a tourist!

I leave the house at 8:50. To make matters worse I just miss a downtown train and the next one doesn’t arrive until 9:02. I think I should be find but it looks like I’ll be jogging down 34 Street. I get off at Penn Station at 9:22 and walk briskly down 34 Street getting to the stop at 9:35. I get on the line that has already started to move, perfect timing. I’m too late for the rear bench again. The bus seems slightly more crowded since my last trip at the beginning of this month but no doubling up.
The other reason I decided on MegaBus is because I forgot to charge my iPhone and its old age self doesn’t even hold a full charge for a day of railfanning anymore. I nearly panic when I plug it in and nothing happens. Once the driver starts the engine things start to charge and we leave on time at 9:45.

I arrive in Philadelphia at 11:40, getting off at the first MegaBus stop by Independence Hall, not wanting to take the bus the rest of the way to 30th Street Station. I immediately start walking to the Market East Station the few blocks and buy my Independence Pass at the ticket office. My plan for the day is the Wilmington Line (so I can continue my quest to get as many Northeast Corridor Stations as possible, the ones in suburbs closest to Philly are easily walkable), unfortunately the trains leave Center City on roughly the :30s to :40s so its a long time before the next on.

I decide to take the next Airpot Line train at 11:55 to get University City. On board I Google Transit the time it would take to ride the #11 Subway-Surface Line down and get Darby before boarding the Noon hour train to Marcus Hook. Google Claims the connection will work but it will be tight. At 30th Street I get off the Commuter Rail and walk outside to the subway surface. First a #34 comes and I take it to 37 Street thinking I’ll give up and walk over to University City. A #11 comes in right behind and I take a slow ride out to Darby content that I’ve missed SEPTA and will walk the mile from Darby to Citrus Park. I’m also tracking Amtrak trains and notice there is a glut of long-distance trains, the Silver Star and Crescent both due to pass at similar times The trolley gets me to Darby faster than expected at 12:45. I quickly do a photo essay of the simple station, getting a Regional passing. The southbound SEPTA train arrives 12:49, 2 minutes late as an Acela Express zooms by.

I take this the quick one stop to Citrus Park and spend longer than I should have (to get equal time at the three close together stations), getting the Silver Star, Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains. I then walk the few blocks to Sharon Hill, getting one of SEPTA’s push-pull trainsets dead heading and the obligatory Northeast Regional. I continue Folcraft getting some quick photos before the next southbound SEPTA trains arrives at 1:54. I take this to Norwood, I got Glenolden on my first Wilmington Line Regional Rail trip a few years ago.

I get Norwood and then walk the short distance to Prospect Park, I take the 2:55 train to stops to Crum Lynne. At this point I’ve mastered a plan to get the remaining Wilmington Line stations except Newark and Wilmington itself including going all the way southeast into Delaware to get Churchman’s Crossing. Crum Lynne I realize will have to be a 50 minute photo stop to accomplish everything. The station is overly simple for me and I take out my iPhone and figure out I can take a SEPTA bus to Chester that I really could use some more photos of. I end up doing this and get the historic station that is the only Wheelchair accessible one on the entire line within Pennsylvania (with just mini-high platforms).

My Newark, Delaware-bound train arrives at 3:52, we stop at Highland Avenue (last trip), Marcus Hook and leave Pennsylvania were treated to nice views of the Delaware River estuary. Then its one of Amtrak’s prototype Viewliners sitting along the NEC as we pass the Wilmington Shops.

We arrive in Wilmington at 4:13 and there is a delay. A three car Amtrak train passes us and through the station not stopping. It’s clearly a charter train with the ex-Metroliner first class conference car bringing up the rear. There is some jerking, people walking through the train, it getting more crowded and we eventually leave at 4:19. I look back and see that what was previously a four car is now just two cars as we’ve left another two cars behind in the Wilmington Station. As we leave some Amtrak shunting locomotives pass going up the corridor and we finally regain a bit of speed. We keep switching tracks continuing south of Wilmington before finally regaining speed trough Forests and trees. Without too many stops the line here is fast.

I step off at the single low-level platform “Fairplay Station at Churchman’s Crossing” at 4:28. I hear a train and wait for it before exploring the entrance to the station. Soon the southbound Crescent zooms by (second LD train of the day!). I’m then up the strange staircase that includes a track based wheelchair lift to the stations parking lot and six bay bus loop (with shelters) that seems overbuilt with not to much bus service. The station isn’t near anything and I soon return to the platform.

At 4:52 the same two cars come back with the same conductors and are fairly crowded with people coming from Newark, there a good dozen people boarding at Churchmans Crossing with me. We come back into Wilmington, arriving at 5:02, were not scheduled to leave until 5:06, the rest of the train I arrived on isn’t there and I consult my timetable realizing it returns to Philly as the 4:44 train. We are arrive in Wilmington on the same low-level side platform and the 5:06 train to Newark has already arrived and is idling on the high-level island platform normally used by Amtrak. If my train was the newer Silverliner Vs with more doors I might have stepped off but don’t, we leave at 5:07. We pass Wine interlocking and then speed up passing the Wilmington shops and see the stay prototype Viewliner sleeper and regain speed along the estuary of the Delaware River, passing a Northeast Regional train then the southbound Silver Meteor, if only I had gotten lucky and photographed that train too! I arrive in Marcus Hook, PA at 5:17 and slowly get my photo essay.

I double-back into Delaware to get Claymont on the 5:30 train that terminates there, its the only SEPTA train on the schedule that does but the Silverliner IV still has a grey Claymont, DE via Center City manually placed sign at the entrances to each car. I get my photo essay of Claymont and notice the station with a sign saying it dedicated in 1990 has a clearly older (the walls are make of bricks) underpass with DelDot installing another wheelchair track lift system up each staircase to make the station ADA compliant. There also seems to be a little both that always has a security guard.

At 5:58 my last SEPTA train of the day comes into Claymont, Delaware, it’s a Silverliner V, and is quite crowded with passengers from Wilmington. I double up at the Railfan window seat and enjoy a nice local station ride as dusk and darkness descends. Coming into Eddystone I see kids trespassing.

I arrive at 30th Street Station at 6:35. No sign of my train boarding so I go into the ClubAcela. I’m immediately told by the agent to turn right around since Keystone #654 is leaving from track 9 that lacks direct elevator access. I grab some soda and pretzels and head back out. The train I know has arrived (at 6:18, 7 minutes early). The line at the gate hasn’t started moving so I stop at a QuikTrak machine to pick up my tickets for this trip. I want the podium to have an actual ticket to stamp “Canada.” Keystone Train #654 boards at 6:42, just a few minutes before departure. I head down and board the ex-Metroliner cab car choosing the seat just in front of the cab. It’s quite empty.
At 6:49 I hear “Keystone #654…good night!” In the cab car. I hear the bell of the doors closing and my train, finally a real express run, the bare minimum for a non-Acela, just Trenton and Newark leaves. My last 2 point run trips in similar situations were all quite slow. One made every single Amtrak stop in New Jersey and the other not quite. The only downside to choosing a Keystone is that they apparently almost always depart from the tracks that lack elevators. For this short run on an express versus a local, I’ll take the cattle line over that!
I go over the Delaware and see the nicely lighted “Trenton Makes, The World Takes.” We get an announcement the not all doors will open, I presume to keep the rift-raft off and stop at 7:18. Leaving in time at 7:19 taking the express track
7:25-Princeton Jct. The rumble of some express trains going the other way as we go up to 125mph

7:32-Jersey Avenue and all the Comets home in the yard just north of the station. Now having finished my pretzels I decide to read. Sitting at the back of the cab car above the wheels, things feel a bit more jerky than normal but not so bad.
7:44-I don’t look up from my book again until I realize we’re already skipping Elizabeth, slowing down slightly.
At 7:49 we pull into Newark with an announcement to walk up one car if your in the Quiet Car. Were five minutes early and discharge only. We leave at 7:51.
7:53-Pass through Harrison
7:59-Into the north River Tunnels and 3 minutes from NYP.
I pull into Penn Station at 8:03 on track 10, 14 minutes early 1 hour and 15 minutes after leaving Philly.

A very successful day in Philly before what I hope will be a fun trip and long-weekend in Montreal.