When I was doing my research on Metro-North One-Day Getaways I discovered that the Danbury Railway Museum in the historic station and rail yard in Danbury also has a one-day getaway. I found the price from Fordham (a round-trip ticket and admission) is only $15.25, cheeper than the regular intermediate round-trip fare of $17.50 (if you need a round-trip ticket from Danbury to Fordham buy the package even if you have no plans to go to the museum!). I decided it would be a good adventure to take with my old railfan friend Robert. He lives in Brooklyn and I’ve met him on many of our adventures. Although the museum has weekday hours the website also claims that the package is only available on weekends and this Saturday seemed like the right day to go. Robert lives in Brooklyn and has met me directly aboard Metro-North trains getting on in Grand Central on many trips. When I tell him the package price from Grand Central is nearly $10 more at $24.75 and the fact were planning to have dinner together uptown he decides to sit on the D train and meet me at Fordham.
I leave with plenty of time to walk through the park to Fordham (I’m in-between Unlimited Ride MetroCards, and with Thanksgiving don’t want to buy another). When I get to Fort Tyron Park I check my camera and realize I’ve left my memory card at home. I dash back home, grab the card and end up on the Subway to the Bx12. I’m running a little late (I still arrive with ten minutes to spare) and have Robert buy the package for both of us. The total comes to $32, $16 each. The table of package fares on MTA.info is slightly wrong, we’re paying 75¢ more for the tickets! It’s still less than a regular round-trip to Danbury. Taken on top of the heating rail on the Comet Shuttle train (like my tickets when I went up to DIA Beacon on Monday)
I get off the Bx12 and go down to the normal northbound platform. It’s mobbed with people waiting for both White Plains and Stamford Locals. I find Robert waiting on it. They announce a track change (both a computer and human voice) for both the 9:42 (running five to ten minutes late) and our train that will depart from the opposite side of the station and wrong-rail into the station. There is a total scrum at the main staircase into the station house, its a total jam of people (the super busy Fordham station has major capacity issues with just two staircases up from each platform). We end up dashing over using the staircase at the extreme southern end of the platforms and walking up to the normal end of the normal GCT-bound platform, really hoping the track won’t change again.
The track luckily doesn’t, the 9:51 local train comes in 9 minutes late at 10:00 wrong railing in on the normal Grand Central-bound track. Some southbound express trains pass us left-hand running. Were taking this train an hour earlier than we need to with the plan of having an hour in South Norwalk to find some lunch. Robert’s found a well reviewed bakery/cafe.
We crawl through Botanic Garden (10:04) and then gain some speed still wrong railing through Williamsbridge.
We switch back before Woodlawn and onto the New Haven Line gaining speed
- 10:09 – Stop in Mount Vernon East 11 minutes late. I don’t bother writing local train stops on routes I ride all the time anymore.
- 10:30 – Between Rye and Port Chester an express train of M2s comes up alongside us and passes us, we think it’s our connecting express train to South Norwalk that better wait.
- 10:37 – At Greenwich we barely stop.
The schedule has a bunch of recovery time and we enter Stamford very slowly. Stopping short of the station at 10:47 for no apparent reason. We finally arrive at 10:50, they’re doing trackwork along the normal express track. It’s total mayhem of trains and lateness with the work zones on each side of the station. Stamford doesn’t have real departure screens on any of the platforms so you basically have to listen for announcements. The hourly New Canaan Shuttle gives up on making the connection with our express train and pretty much leaves on time, a northbound Amtrak train stops on the normal southbound platform.
At 11:15 The next half hour’s local arrives, wasn’t even supposed to make our connection! Our express train clearly got caught behind this train (it leaves Grand Central 4 minutes before it, I assume because of the track work.
Our Express (and now local beyond Stamford) New Haven-bound train finally arrives at 11:20, a full half-hour late! The conductor comes as we slowly leaves and doesn’t bother to punch. The train is quite crowded.
We arrive at 11:34 in South Norwalk. We planned an hour here to find some lunch. I check TrainTime and notice that it claims the 9:34 train is delayed. It eventually leaves the screen. We arrive and see the shuttle with the locomotive strangely on the South Norwalk-bound end at the platform.
The plan is to spend an hour getting an early lunch. We have less time but find a very good bakery and have an excellent and quick lunch. We return to the station a little before noon and find out the bridge at the western end of the platforms has been completely rebuilt without stairs up to the platforms anymore. We’re forced on to a ridiculous detour up into the eastbound station house, through the tunnel and back to the westbound station house. We get some photos and board at 12:13, only one Shoreliner can fit on the tiny siding platform and it’s already relatively crowded we walk up to the second car that can’t open on the tiny platform and is nice and empty for the 12:15 train.
12:19 – The connecting New Haven-bound train arrives, 9 minutes late.
We finally leave at 12:25 after they announce all passengers must have a ticket otherwise the fare will be $9 along the Danbury Shuttle. Some of the intermediate stops don’t have TVMs. We switch off the Main line and head up the branch line with the remains of catenary towers (this branch was electrified until the 1960s.
12:36 – Merritt 7 one low-level platform that is relatively long with a passenger waiting to board and an extra wide bus shelter. I notice a mobile lift. We pass rocks and trees continuing up the single track banch line.
12:40 – Follow a river a bit as we head north passing houses. There some trees but with no foliage on the trees the houses offer much better views of the line.
12:42 – Stop in Wilton with an island platform for a siding that has a red station house and a grade-crossing at its northern end. We follow a stream out of Wilton
12:44 – A swimming pool, tennis courts and a playground.
12:45 – Cannondale, a nice old station house at a grade-crossing before the high-level platform. It has ugly new signs that aren’t illactized. We leave at 12:46 after “You have to listen to the announcements, you can’t be delaying the train like this”.
We go back to trees along a stream and through plenty of grade-crossings. The stream continues to follow us.
We follow the stream into Branchville at 12:52. A family is boarding through the door of the cab car. There is a high-level platform and station house turned cafe and antique store. There loud and clearly a family not used to train travel. The conductor explains pleasantries with them but doesn’t seem to collect tickets. I then notice one has a ticket purchased on board already in her hand. We go back to yards.
- 12:55 – Pass a farmhouse and barn
- 12:56 – A grade-crossing and large houses. There is also some water.
- 12:57 – In a wetland clearly in a valley.
- 12:58 – West Redding with a more modern fully gabled canopied platform. We slow down to pass a grade crossing that I think has finally gotten gates.
- 1:01 – Pass a lumber mill.
- 1:03 – We reach a siding and some warehouses with overgrown further sidings that clearly once had rail access. Then the a ramp yard of the day.
- 1:04 – The conductor opens the middle door for no apparent reason. I think were in Bethel but later learn we’re not. There is the remains of another second track. It turns out that he’s opened in front of the pre-1996 historic Bethel station but not the current one a slight ways north to accommodate a high-level platform and parking.
- 1:08 – We finally stop in Bethel and the family gets off. They can’t use the cab car door since there isn’t one on the right side.
- 1:11 – We come into more industry, passing a Sperry Rail Car on a siding. We pass a Metro-North ad for the Danbury – Brewster Shuttle bus. It’s in the same format has the normal Improving non-stop ads.
- 1:13-Pass some burned out locomotive and see the diesel trainsets that make rush hour runs opposite the museum.
We arrive in Danbury at 11:15 and photograph our train leaving the modern Metro-North Station at the grade-crossing that leads into the station with a parking lot in part of the circle of tracks that was once the Danbury Yard and is now the Danbury Railroad Museum’s train collection.
We walk around the tracks and into the historic entrance into the museum. We stop at the admissions desk and the volunteer on duty says: “Give me a minute I need to ask what I do with these” when we hand him our green event tickets. They then ask if we want to buy tickets for their Railyard local for the reduced price (part of the Metro-North package) of $2 (normally $3) running an old 1920s Redding Railroad Car departing in just a few minutes. It also includes a turntable ride. We decide why not. We take a quick glance at the museum and they ring the bell. We head outside to the Danbury Museum’s Railyard, to get there we have to use a Private Railroad Crossing of the Metro-North yard:
We head out and board the consist a shunting locomotive, the ex-Redding Coach and a Caboose. We head to the other end of the yard where they stop the train and invite all of us off for a turntable ride. We get off and us humans go and stand on the turntable (without any rail cars and a loud diesel engine) to pull a full 360 turn. I later ask and find out that the turntable is also used by the museum to get their cars around the yard.
We re-boarded the train and went down another yard track to extend the ride (on the opposite side from where we first entered) and then came back, we stopped at the turntable platform where we arrived and then headed back to the platform where we got on, it was probably the shortest train ride I’d ever been on but at least I can cross turntable ride off my bucket list! We spend a portion of the ride also chatting with the volunteer crew, mostly ex-Railroad employees.
When we got off the locomotive engineer invited us up to look in the cab. (I noticed cab rides $10 on the price list as well).
Then it’s time for a self guided tour of the yard, a few cars publicly accessible (and just open for enjoyment, no docents inside!) and most not. It is a cold winters day and we particularly enjoyed the 1970s CN Caboose and the in running condition RDC. The historic mail car (that I’d been inside during the Grand Central Parade of Trains was also quite neat):
Were out at the other end of the yard when the next and final departure of the rail yard local comes in as we photograph it.
There a few other people randomly in the same place and a crew member gets out says “It’s cold out here” and offers us a ride out back to main track. We accept and half a nice final chat with the volunteer crew hearing about the museum’s collection and stories of carriers working on the railroad. We say good buy to the yard (we’ve been exploring it for about 2 hours) and cross the grade crossing again.
Then its time to fully tour the little museum, my favorite two items on display, track information signs from Grand Central in yesteryear:
We leave the museum around 3:45 (it closes at 4:00) although the next Shuttle train doesn’t leave for Grand Central until 4:39.
To Pass the time I decide we might as well take HARTransit down to the next stop on the Shuttle at Bethel. We walk the couple blocks to PulsePoint, the downtown bus hub where buses pulse on the hour (with some weekday half-hourly service during peak travel times). Some routes are late and the drivers are radioing each other. We finally leave at 4:08 after lots of waiting for connections on a clearly ex-Bee Line Bus. The bus makes an extra loop to serve some residences and very soon at about 4:30 we see the historic Bethel station. The bus than loops up to serve a retirement community and pass the new 1996 station just a very short ways north of the historic station.
We walk through the parking lot and into the station I get some photos but especially with the historic station (used until 1996 just south of the current stop) I will definitely plan on coming back here to get a more comprehensive photo essay.
The train comes in on time at 4:42. It’s a ride in the dark.
5:15 – Stop in Merritt 7 for two people. The conductor has already announced to exit between car 1 and 2. It’s a quick stop. We start seeing lights as we enter Norwalk.
As we arrive in South Norwalk they apologize that only the front car of the train will open (on the two car siding) because the locomotive is in the front of the train for better fall traction. (It’s still push-pull, maybe it’s so the first trip of the day gets the locomotive with its sander).
We arrive at 5:32 on the same track 6, our connecting train is five minutes late. We wait in the crowded, but nice and warm station that is part of the parking garage. Our connecting train arrives at 5:40, 5 minutes late. It’s M2s and M4s and quite crowded with the usual walk back for seats. The conductor comes and glances at our tickets, not bothering to punch them as the middle segment or give us seat checks.
Our 6:00pm local train of M8s arrives and departs very quickly right on time on the minute, just behind our express train. We board the last two cars (empty obviously since its the first stop), its nice to no the entire train is open for occupany.
We make all local stops uneventful my making good time until 6:41 when we come to a stop (waking me up from a quick catnap) at Wakefield Junction. We soon leave arriving in Fordham about 5 minutes late at 6:47.
We head to the Bx12 SBS, missing a bus because the stop is still off east of the station and not in front of it even though the major street construction project seems completely done. It’s a cold wait for the next one to 207 Street to the A train.