A DAY IN NEW YORK/1997

This item originally appeared on the old CompuServe TrainNet Forum.


New York was a "side trip" on my way back to Chicago, after my almost annual trip to Richmond VA to visit relatives. I rode east from Chicago to Washington on Amtrak's Capitol Limited. #30 arrived DC a half hour late, but still in plenty of time to pick up lunch at that wonderful Food Court at Washington Union Station. I continued on to Richmond on Amtrak #91, the Silver Star. And after a couple of days in Richmond, I headed north on Amtrak #94 to New York.

This was on Sunday May 18, and I arrived New York just as the NY Knicks were being eliminated from the NBA playoffs. Being from Chicago, it's good that the Knicks weren't playing the Bulls. I checked into the Hotel Pennsylvania, across 7th Avenue from Penn Station. This hotel's famous phone number became the song "Pennsylvania 6-5000", which is played during the automated telephone voice system.

Newark

My first "excursion" in New York was New Jersey Transit's former CNJ Raritan line. I had last ridden this line in 1980, and at the time NJ Transit was using converted long distance coaches with these frosted glass windows, which were useless in trying to look out of. I got very little out of that trip so I needed to go back. Now the line is in excellent shape, with welded rail and new CTC signals. I know that much of the line once had 4 tracks, it appears that in most areas it was the south 2 tracks which were removed. I turned around in Somerville as, according to the timetable, the westbound train would meet an eastbound train between there and Raritan. Although a closer examination of the timetable revealed padding of westbound arrivals, and I wondered if I could have actually turned around in Raritan.

Somerville

I went out from Penn Station, transferring in Newark. Returning, the train was one of the "Waterfront Connection" runs into Hoboken. The various connecting trackage is fascinating, including for the new "Kearney Connection". I decided to return to Manhattan using NJ Transit's #126 bus to the Port Authority Terminal, an immensely huge bus station. And after a short ride on the IND 8th Avenue line, I was back at Penn Station and the hotel.

Staten Island Ferry Terminal

On Monday I made 3 transit "excursions" in the New York area. First the BMT "R" subway south to Whitehall Street, where I easily found the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The ferry ride to St. George lasted 25 minutes. Being from Chicago, I'm not used to the idea of water transportation being an integral part of a mass transit system. But it was interesting riding one of those big old ferry boats, with two levels for passengers and a level below for automobiles. Passengers would generally sit on these wooden benches on the inside, although one could go outside.

Staten Island Ferry

I then rode the Staten Island Railway a short distance to the Old Town stop. That line seems not too different from the regular NY Subway, except that it still has color position light signals, which resulted from its historic association with the B&O Railroad. About a block from the Old Town stop on Hylan Blvd., I found the S79 bus which took me over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, to the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. From there I took the "R" subway into Brooklyn, then the IRT #4 express to Grand Central Terminal. GCT is kind of a mess now as it undergoes repairs. I then walked through the Broadway theater district before returning to Penn Station on the subway.

Transferring from the S79 bus to the R subway, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Excursion #2 took me to Far Rockaway. First the Long Island Rail Road, changing at Jamaica. I last rode the LIRR in 1980, the electric MU cars have since been overhauled and look more bland in simple stainless steel, without the original blue stripe. LIRR just began a major track rehabilitation project between Penn Station and Jamaica, which is expected to affect off peak trains for the next several weeks.

Jamaica

Far Rockaway is actually part of Queens, NY. Parts or Far Rockaway are run down, but other parts are typical of New York, with many little shops run by immigrants. After walking a few blocks, I found the terminal for the subway "A" train, which really is elevated at that point. It was a long and slow ride back into Manhattan. Even where there was some distance between stations, the train never got up to the kind of speeds I'm used to with the CTA in Chicago. Although things got somewhat better in the 4 track subway section, where the "A" service is express. And after a change of trains, I made it to the World Trade Center.

Far Rockaway

And there is where I started my third excursion. After riding the PATH train to Hoboken, I rode out on the old Lackawanna electrified line in New Jersey. I had also not ridden this line since 1980, when they still had the old DC electrification with MU cars from the 1930's. Now everything has been modernized. The catenary now does a zig-zag to spread the wear across the pantograph plate. And the line has "normal" looking color light signals, instead of those weird Lackawanna color light signals which I never did understand.

I made it as far as Summit. I would have loved to stay on that train over that classic single track line to Gladstone, but I had to get back to Penn Station to catch Amtrak #49, the Lake Shore Limited, back to Chicago. I returned from Summit on one of the new "Midtown Direct" trains. And that ride gave me a better understanding of the Kearney Connection trackage. Although I didn't expect the power to go off there briefly. I suppose this is normal, as they make the switch between the two different electrification systems.

I'm more used to power failures or other problems on Amtrak, and these problems developed on #49 on Metro-North trackage immediately north of New York. The new dual powered GE locomotive, #700, was acting up. And we left Croton-Harmon nearly an hour late after adding a Metro-North locomotive. I believe that this was M-N's one and only GP7, #543, and it did not improve things at all. Apparently this locomotive was incapable of Amtrak's normal 90 mph operation, and it was set out at Poughkeepsie. And as it turned out, unit #700 got us the rest of the way to Albany at a respectable speed, with no further problems. Meanwhile, Amtrak had dispatched an FL9 and an F40PH south from Albany, just in case. Those rescue units ended up returning north, unneeded, sort of "pacing" us on the other track from near Rhinecliff, on the 2 track CTC equipped line. Once at Albany, we would automatically get different locomotives anyway. A pair of F40PH's. They would be the only F40PH's I would ride with on Amtrak, it's strange that one can now feel nostalgic about Amtrak F40PH's.

We were about an hour and a half late at Albany, and we would make up a bit of time before arriving Chicago. Reflecting on that day in New York, I started to think about why they built such a major city with all this water impeding transportation routes. But New York City was originally built there BECAUSE of the water, built during an era when water was a primary means of transportation. Luckily during the early 1900's, various companies built this terrific system of tunnels under the rivers to accommodate various kinds of trains. In these days, such a system of tunnels would be viewed as an expensive undertaking, and the more likely areas for new developments would be areas where it is easier to construct highways. But there already is this great city surrounded by all this water. A city with this infrastructure which, despite the various financial challenges, must be maintained.

So this was 24 hours in New York well spent, and I did just about everything I had hoped to accomplish in this limited time. I'm not sure when I'll return there, but I'm sure I'll be back.