BOSTON BOUND ON THE SILVER METEOR
By Jack M. Turner
The opportunity to ride a passenger train from Boston to Hyannis, MA was the impetus for a visit to the Northeast and a chance to ride Amtrak from Jacksonville, FL to Boston was a bonus. The northbound Silver Meteor rolled into the Jacksonville station around 5:00pm on October 10, 2013 and my first experience with using an e-ticket was thankfully smooth. Up front the train had a pair of P42 engines as usual, however, there was something unusual trailing the locomotives. An Amfleet II coach was substituting for the baggage car which created some logistical maneuvers for the crew as checked bags had to be loaded through the vestibule rather than the normal oversized baggage doors. Once inside, baggage had to stacked atop seats rather than the voluminous empty spaces normally found in baggage cars.
Loading the impromptu Amfleet II baggage car at Jacksonville.
My sleeper, car number 62022 “Mountain View” (line number 9812) was right behind the pseudo-baggage car and I found roomette 3 to be in good order. This was to be my first ride in the “Mountain View”, something I take note of as I have traveled in well over half of Amtrak’s Viewliner sleeper fleet. Unfortunately Amtrak has removed the names from the cars’ exteriors, leaving the names only on the end doors and my trusty list of sleeping car names which revealed their true identities.
The efficient car attendant advised me that he had pulled a 6:30pm dinner reservation for me but that I might be able to be seated if I went to the dining car early. The pleasant dining car steward was most accommodating and I was seated immediately as we departed Jacksonville at 5:25pm. We were only 17 minutes late as # 98 had navigated the SunRail work zone on both sides of Orlando smoothly, something that does not always occur. Opposing CSX freight traffic was no problem as the double track “A Line” through Hilliard and Callahan allowed unimpeded operation through north Florida. Just 30 minutes into our journey, the Meteor left the Sunshine State as it crossed the St. Mary’s River into Georgia. For dinner I enjoyed a tasty steak served with baked potato, mixed vegetables, and salad as we sailed along through Folkston, Nahunta, and scenery dominated by piney woods. The next stop, Jesup, GA, provided my first look at that town’s new train station, an attractive brick building that replaced a dilapidated wooden structure that had suffered a fire a few years ago.
A dining table in Heritage fleet diner 8553
The new Amtrak station in Jesup, GA
The newly constructed fountain outside the Jesup station
North of Jesup the unmistakable “rotten eggs” smell of a paper mill foretold our passage over the Altamaha River. Typically paper mills were located along navigable rivers with nearby rail access as was this mill located west of the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. East of the railroad trestle a small pleasure boat bobbed in the waters as dusk cast a red glow to the clear skies. Savannah was reached about 45 minutes later and the 10 minute stop allowed time to stretch my legs at train side as a large crowd boarded the train. Five minutes after departing Savannah the bright lights of a high school stadium stood right outside my window as we passed through Garden City. The scoreboard displayed a 6-0 score and momentarily I wished we could stop for a couple of hours since one of my passions is high school football.
About 10 minutes past the stadium the train crossed the dark Savannah River and entered South Carolina at 8:05pm. Five minutes later we rolled through Hardeeville, SC then paralleled I-95 to Ridgeland. Southbound train # 89 The Palmetto passed at 8:33pm just south of Yemassee. A fairly sizeable crowd boarded in Charleston at 9:53pm while entraining passengers were slim at Kingstree just under an hour later. It was time to call it a night and, true to my theory, the first night of train travel produced intermittent sleep as I woke for Florence then noted the passage of the southbound AutoTrain at 12:22am. When I woke again at 7:20am we were arriving in Alexandria, VA and I realized I had slept through a few stops so it hadn’t been too bad a night.
The Meteor was about 20 minutes late into Washington, DC where a chilly, rainy day greeted me to the northeast. Breakfast in the dining car was served with the same efficiency and cheerful manner as was present the night before and the view of the Gunpowder, Bush, and Susquehanna rivers made for fine viewing. The Northeast Corridor flashed by as # 98 continued northward and arrived at New York Penn Station at 11:35am, less than 30 minutes tardy.
Due to the unreliable timekeeping of the Silver Meteor, Amtrak will not book Boston-bound passengers on any train departing New York earlier than 2:00pm. I attempted to switch to the one Northeast Regional train scheduled to depart prior to 2:00pm as this would have gotten me to Boston about 90 minutes earlier, however, the tickets agents and Amtrak’s reservations center would not switch me without paying an additional $110. Needless to say, I stayed with the original reservation but found this lack of flexibility irritating as this was nothing short of bureaucratic poor customer service.
Train # 174 departed Penn Station at 2:02pm and was sold out. My seat in the lead car, business class car 81530, was comfortable and located on the desired right-hand side where the best scenery is located. Crossing the Thames River at New London was a highlight along with running along the shoreline in northern Connecticut. Numerous boat marinas and a few quiet beaches passed right outside the window as daylight gave way to night. Boston South Station was reached at 6:35pm and within a few minutes I was onboard a “T” Red Line subway train bound from The Hub to Quincy Center. That night I stayed at the Quincy Marriott, a fantastic hotel located atop a small hill with a commanding view of the surrounding area. The personnel at this hotel were among the friendliest encountered in my travels and my corner room offered a great view of the region. Complimentary shuttle van service to and from the Quincy Center Red Line station was very convenient and I noted many tourists using this service as an excellent alternative to high downtown hotel prices.
Hell Gate Bridge north of New York’s Penn Station
One of many boat marinas along the coast of Connecticut
Another Connecticut coastal scene
Quincy Marriott Hotel, an excellent choice during a visit to the Boston area