Wednesday 4 July 2018

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - to Ottawa and South - PART 2

Part 2: New England and Amtrak!
We're not in Canada any more...

With that Ottawa trip finished and a whole day (yes, one entire day) back in Halifax to recuperate and pack, I hopped in a car at 5am on May 30th to head off to the USA. As I mentioned at the beginning of the last post, a group of us were headed to the New England/Northeast Railroad Prototype Modelers Meet (NERPM) in Enfield Connecticut. The meet was on June 1st and 2nd, so we decided to leave on May 30th and take two full days to make the drive, mostly railfanning along the way. We caught a lot of trains along the way, including some really neat stuff. I’m not going to chronicle this entire trip here, because my goal with this blog is to primarily focus on my passenger train travels (and the connecting trips), so what I’m going to do instead is focus on only the passenger rail aspects of this trip – the passenger trains I photographed, and the ones I rode.

I will be posting some of the other neat stuff, including CN, NB Southern, St. L&A, PanAm, and some other New England odds and ends, over on my Flickr page in the near future. So keep an eye on that if you’re interested:

The first day was all freight, as was most of the second day. But by late in the afternoon on May 31st, we had made our way to Warwick Rhode Island to visit the incredible (and I mean really, really incredible) AA Hobbies. An absolute must for all HO scale model railroaders, and one of the many highlights of this trip!

In addition to AA Hobbies being an amazing shop, it also happens to be right next to the Northeast Corridor, and very close to one of the 150mph sections for Amtrak’s Acela express. On our way to the shop we scouted a location, and stumbled upon a great spot. A quick check of online live tracking and schedules showed that there would be a south/westbound Northeast Regional and a north/eastbound Acela within a roughly half hour period, so we set up and waited. It wouldn’t be long before the NER train came blasting through, maintaining a solid 125mph clip. Wow!

Northeast Regional at 125mph, with a still fresh Siemens ACS-64 leading an 8-pack of Amfleets.
As fast as it arrived it was gone into the evening light...

Then the real show unfolded a short while later, as the Acela came tearing through at a blistering 150mph. Again…wow. The rush of a train blasting by at that kind of speed is incredible, and the sound is something else. It’s also very difficult to photograph clearly…

This is what 150mph looks like.
Within seconds of this photo, the train was completely out of sight.

Just as we were packing up to head off, one of the guys shouted “train!” After the NER went through we had noticed the high-speed crossover re-align for the nearest track, which is non-electrified, so we knew something different must be coming through soon. Lo and behold, an MBTA train arrived (at a much slower clip), led by one of their unique MPI HSP46 locomotives. After that, we packed it in. All in all a successful, short visit to the NEC trackside.

Diverting from the electric line. Good thing this funky MPI unit has a GEVO engine under the hood...

Our next run-in with passenger trains came during one of the days of the meet (June 1), when we decided to head away to check out another nearby hobby shop in Connecticut. We checked the passenger timetables and live tracking info, and saw that we should be able to catch the Vermonter at Windsor Locks, which was on our way back to the meet. As it turned out, due to delays we would be able to catch both the southbound *and* northbound Vermonters within minutes of each other at Windsor Locks!

Windsor Locks is a small station on the Springfield-New Haven line. It’s a typical “Amshack”, with no staff or ticket facilities. It’s basically a park-and-ride, with just enough platform to accommodate the two paired end vestibules between Amfleet I coaches. We had a bit of a wait, and then saw the lights from the northbound train. As we waited, we realized that it had taken the siding just to the south, as it awaited the southbound train that had just left Springfield. So the southbound Vermonter arrived first, then after the meet the northbound rolled through.

Windsor Locks CT. Park and ride with an Amshack.
Southbound Vermonter, behind P42 #13.

Crew member looks around as the train pulls away. I noticed that it seems to be common practice on Amtrak to open the Amfleet doors on approach and departure from a station, and only drop the step trap as the train stops. On VIA this doesn't happen - doors must be closed and secured before the train moves, and the doors can't be opened until the engineer gives the go-ahead. Some crew members do, however, open the dutch doors on the HEP fleet.

A few minutes later, the northbound Vermonter behind #9. Lots of low numbered P42s around. This particular unit would make another appearance at New haven a couple days later (keep an eye out below). A few passengers got on and off here.

The Vermonter departs, and shows off just how filthy an Amcan can get.
As the meet wound up, we had allocated ourselves another two days for the trip back, with no hard deadlines set in stone. I mentioned that I really wanted to work in a quick Amtrak trip for fun, and somewhat to my surprise, everyone else in our car was also on board for the idea! After studying our options and taking inspiration from our visit the day before, we decided to board Amtrak shuttle 405 at Windsor Locks and ride it south to New Haven, where we could check out the activity there, and then return on Amtrak shuttle 460 in time to still get to other places we wanted to see that day.

We arrived at Windsor Locks about 20 minutes ahead of our train. There are no ticketing options there, so I had downloaded the Amtrak app and bought our tickets in advance. Like VIA, Amtrak’s app allows you to open a boarding pass on your phone with a QR code that the conductor will scan. Unlike VIA, which gives individual passes for each passenger, Amtrak actually lumps group bookings onto a single pass. So I had one code, which could be scanned a single time to cover all four of us. Neat! Amtrak’s system also seemed to work more smoothly than VIA’s.

The train arrived on time, with ex-Metroliner cab car 9645 leading. The consist for our train would be the same in both directions (just running the opposite way).

Amtrak Shuttle 405/460 – June 3, 2018
108 P42DC
82523 Amfleet I coach
9645 Ex-Metroliner cab car

Our train arrives! I didn't catch it in a photo, but the strobes were flashing on the top as the train arrived (as were the ditch lights).

Our ride to New Haven. The door opens, and we climb aboard!

Boarding the train was really smooth. The conductor directed us up and into the Amfleet I coach, and we found available seats. The train was mostly empty, but would fill up substantially at Hartford and a few other stops. The shuttles that Amtrak operates between Springfield and New Haven are all aligned to act as connections with Northeast Regional trains between Boston and New York. There are also a few regionals that originate and terminate in Springfield. I had initially hoped to ride one of those too, as it would give us a train with a longer consist and a café car, but the shuttles made the most sense in our timing.

View from our seats. Finally inside an Amfleet!

The conductor scanned the one ticket, and placed a check above our seats. Simple as that. Only the coach was being used – the cab car was gated off.

This was my first time in an Amfleet coach, and I must say that I was reasonably impressed. This was one of the cars that has not been re-done in the current Amfleet interior overhaul program. I was glad of this, as I was hoping to have a baseline for what the cars were like before seeing how the refurbs compare. The seats are comfortable, and remind me somewhat of the seats in VIA’s HEP1 coaches, just with less recline and no leg rest. The tray tables look very similar to the ones in the HEP1s, likely a similar design owing to their Budd heritage. The seat spacing in the AM1s is comparable to an LRC, so is clearly ideal for short-distance travel. The layout actually reminded me of the LRCs quite a bit, with the location of luggage racks and the design of the bathrooms, and the sliding vestibule doors, but obviously they lack the galley for food service and the exposed overhead luggage racks are also more like VIA’s HEP1s.

Amfleet I seats: quite comfy.
View down the coach. Luggage rack to the right. Note the exit lighting along the floor.

Looking forward. Note the lighted displays, automatic sliding doors (like many of the LRCs), and bathroom on the right.
On the shuttles Amtrak has arranged the cars with 50/50 forward/backwards seating, but they did it the opposite way that VIA has done in their LRCs – the seats at each end face the ends, with 4-seaters near the ends of the car. VIA has instead opted for the seats facing the centre of the car, with facing pairs mid-car. I think I like the Amtrak setup better.

The windows in the Amfleets are indeed small, but I didn’t find them as bad as I thought I might. The centre divider also wasn’t overly distracting, but of course at the end of the day any of VIA’s equipment does win for overall better view. One of the effects of the small windows is that the car is darker inside in daylight than an LRC of HEP1/2 would be. It’s a little more like in the Renaissance cars – of course in those, the culprit is high-mounted seats that block the windows, rather than small windows themselves.

Looking out an Amfleet I window.
The ride in the car was comfortable, though much of this is likely thanks to the track along the line, which has been upgraded for new commuter service and higher-speed Amtrak operation (both of which started after we were there). The most annoying element of this trip was the PA speakers in the car we were in, which had heavy distortion and sounded awful.

There was lots of neat stuff to see along the way, then next thing we knew were in New Haven.

Passengers are off, and our train prepares to head to the yard until it is needed for the return trip.

Side view of the funky ex-Metroliner cab car. Clearly there is no left-side visibility for the crew.

Our train heads for the yard, which is just off the right.
After getting off the train we waited around on the platform for a Northeast Regional (195) that was due shortly, and watched some of the unique commuter equipment around the station. New Haven is a busy place, with no shortage of passenger activity…even on a Sunday!

Really unique looking MetroNorth commuter equipment. These trains were all over the place, and looked nice inside (from what could be seen through the windows)

Northeast Regional 195 arrives at New Haven. This is the onward connection to New York for passengers on shuttle 405. The ditch lights are mid-flash, hence only one showing up...

Café car on Amtrak 195.

Businessclass car on Amtrak 195.
A friendly conductor has a bit of a laugh as Amtrak 195 pulls away. Once again, he rode with the door open like this pretty well to the end of the platform.
Looking over to the Amtrak yard by the station. Note the P&W loco (there are actually two back-to-back), and our train (with red markers on) just to the left.

Evidence of railway heritage - Penn Central sign still visible through the rust.

Behind one of those funky Metro North trains is an ex-Amtrak P42 operating for Connecticut commuter rail.

On the side of that P42 you can clearly see where the Amtrak logo was covered and the Connecticut commuter logo was added. This won't be around for long, because Connecticut commuter services are being rebranded as "CT Rail".

Another sign of railway heritage that won't be around much longer...Connecticut's commuter rail has used the classic New Haven logo and even a variant of their paint scheme on much of their equipment, but this will soon disappear as the CT Rail branding takes over.

The main thing we were waiting for was the Northeast Regional 157 from Springfield that would be following us, as it would be switching locomotives here from diesel to electric, to complete its run to New York. That train arrived as expected, with a pair of P42s on the lead. The operation was really neat to watch, and in a short while the ACS-64 had the train back on its way.

Northeast Regional 157 arrives from Springfield, and to my surprise has two P42s (the first of which was a familiar face from two days earlier) on the head end.

Amtrak crews prepare to cut out the two P42s, as an ACS-64 waits on the track ahead. Once disconnected, the P42s will take the switch to run around on the track to the left.

With their train cut off (which was a bit dramatic - the air wasn't shut off when they first cut, so there was a lot of hissing and blowing until it was shut off!), #9 and 110 head off to the yard.

ACS-64 643 rolls in to connect to the train.

ACS-64 643. These Siemens locomotives have replaced Amtrak's venerable AEM7s as the workhorse electric power in the Northeast Corridor.

Now running electric, #157 heads off on its way to New York, as two other Siemens electrics rest in the yard.

After this activity we headed inside to check out the station (really impressive!), and then wandered up the street to see what we could see of the Amtrak facility.

New Haven station, from the platforms.
There are quite a few tracks! The numbering was not at all clear in terms of which track followed which - I suspect there's a history behind all that.
When you descend from the platforms (by elevator or stairs) you arrive in these tubular tunnels. Pretty neat.
As I said before, New Haven is a busy place - this is the Sunday schedule (from 10 to 12:30), and its quite a bit quieter than a weekday would be. Our shuttle for the return (460) is on the board. Amtrak trains are blue, Metro North in red, and Connecticut commuter in grey.
Ascending to the main New Haven station.
Inside the station! Ticket wickets along the left, restaurants/shops along the right. You can't really see it that well here, but each bench is topped with models of various New Haven trains (in larger scales).
The new look - CT rail. The machine on the left has a sign advertising the soon-to-launch commuter service on the Hartford line (New Haven to Springfield). Service was delayed starting and would ultimately get underway later in June.
I didn't think those wooden benches could recline...
History of the restoration of New Haven Union Station.
Amtrak yard at New Haven. There is a small shop here, and quite a bit of power on hand.


Interesting power in the Amtrak yard - a few switchers, a Dash 8, and...

...a former GO Transit GP40TC! Now rebuilt and classified as GP38H-3.

We didn’t have a lot of time to kill, so before long it was time to grab something to eat (Subway to take on the train did the trick), and make our way back out through the tunnels to our platform, where the same train we came down on was waiting to take us back.

Our train, once again, ready to return - locomotive leading this time.

We ended up in the same coach once again. I had hoped to ride in the cab car, but it was already filled up, so we settled for the coach. I did peek in, and saw that the block of seats nearest the cab end was barred off.

The trip back was smooth and uneventful, just like the trip down, and we arrived just a few minutes behind schedule. We hopped off, photographed the train as it left, and then headed back to our car and were on our way.

Just as we saw it at the start of the day, but now with red markers illuminated, our train heads off to its final stop at Springfield.

As we got loaded back in the car, I snapped one more photo of the little station at Windsor Locks. Simple and functional.

Overall, a really fun little trip! There’s a lot more Amtrak travelling I want to do in the future (Acela, various regional and long-distance trains), but for now this was a great first taste of America’s national passenger railway.

The return trip had only one bit of passenger content – an MBTA commuter train at Shirley MA. This featured another HSP46, and a display of the rather unusual MBTA practice of running single-level and bi-level equipment in the same consist.

An MBTA commuter train rounds the corner into Shirley MA, horn blaring for the crossing right at the station. The train is outbound from Boston, nearing the end of its run on the Fitchburg Line.

One of the coolest things about MBTA - running bi-levels mid consist with single level equipment! They even have a consistent paint scheme that sensibly flows between the two car types! The bilevel is one of the newer Hyundai-Rotem cars - the design is very similar to the earlier Kawasaki orders (still classed BTC-4, just different order), and I don't know the ins and outs of the differences. Interestingly the end doors are all a step-trap design - at high level platforms, at least some cars have automatic doors that can be opened by trainline - but at low level platforms (like this one), a conductor has to manually open any doors that will be boarding. It's somewhat odd to see after being used to commuter operations like GO and AMT (and even the O-Train) where all doors automatically (or at the push of a button) open at each station. In the case of AMT, their mixed high and low level door designs allow this at both high and low level platforms.

Single-level Bombardier CTC-1B cab car. Those windows make the Amfleet I windows look generous.

This stop at Shirley also gave us, by incredible coincidence, an opportunity to catch something else really cool (but not passenger-related)….keep an eye on my Flickr page to see that!

I thought we might get a chance to see the Downeaster, but the next day began rainy and our timing didn’t line up well. So we made the rest of the trip home, with just a few more stops to check out freight activity along the way.

So that’s all for now. Until the next time…

The little station at Shirley MA. This looks fancier, but it amounts to basically the same thing as the Amshack at Windsor Locks - a small, partially enclosed waiting area, timetables posted outside, and just enough platform for the station stops.