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By Jack M. Turner

    After our ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad, we drove east to Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine then south along the coast to Brunswick, ME.  There we relaxed at the historic and stately Brunswick Hotel and Tavern until we saw Amtrak’s Downeaster arrive from Portland.  We then walked about one-half block to the Amtrak waiting room inside the local visitors bureau and waited a few minutes for the conductor to welcome passengers to board.  The waiting area was pleasant and clean and the visitors bureau hostess was very welcoming.


A scenic view along the drive across Maine


The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern offers excellent accommodations close to the Amtrak station


The Downeaster was visible from our hotel room


Looking north from the station platform in Brunswick


P42 # 130 on the tail end of the Downeaster at Brunswick


A Downeaster logo on the wall of the Brunswick station waiting room


The waiting room is housed in the Brunswick visitors center

    Train # 1988 departed at 5:00pm, 25 minutes earlier than the scheduled departure for our originally ticketed train # 688.  The schedule had been advanced to allow time for a planned bus bridge between Dover and Wells due to trackwork.  Christine and I were only traveling as far as Portland to fill in the last tiny segment of the Amtrak system that I had not ridden previously. 
    The Downeaster was led by F40 cab control car 90214 followed by a Business class/cafe car, 4 Amfleet coaches, and trailing P42 # 130 wearing the Amtrak belt stripe heritage paint scheme.  That engine had led the northbound run that we spotted from the Brunswick Hotel.  We had ample room in coach 82572 as only a dozen passengers boarded the evening run from Brunswick.  The leather seats and wall plugs for cell phones and laptops made for a comfortable ride as we eased out of Brunswick. 


A refurbished coach on the Downeaster

    Our one intermediate stop, Freeport, came at 5:12pm and added a couple of passengers to our passenger list.  The scenery was relatively unremarkable as woods, a few agricultural fields, and some homes dominated the view from our window.  By 5:37pm we began a reverse move on a spur line to the Portland station which we reached at 5:41pm.  A long, gently sloped ramp led to the station where we took seats inside the door to the ramp.


The southbound Downeaster at Portland, ME

    Portland Transportation Center was clean and comfortable and an older lady was on duty to greet Amtrak passengers.  Across the waiting room the ticket counter for Concord Bus line was staffed by two agents and bus service appeared to be brisk in various directions.  The Amtrak counter near our seats was vacant with the Downeaster hostess stationed at an adjacent table.  Research prior to our trip discovered no restaurants within easy walking distance of the station but a local pizza place would deliver.  A call to Pizzaiola Restaurant produced a tasty dinner an hour later.


The unattended Amtrak counter in the Portland Transportation Center with the adjacent Amtrak station hostess “desk”


In contrast to the Amtrak counter, the regional bus company’s counter is well staffed

    During the wait for our dinner delivery we observed a major hiccup in the Downeaster operation as a young woman paced the waiting room and finally expressed concern about the whereabouts of train # 688 the scheduled 6:15pm train to her destination, Dover.  The Downeaster hostess was unable to assist her so I explained that departure time had been moved from 6:15 to 5:50 due to trackwork and the train number had been changed.  With no other trains scheduled to Boston that night, she made a phone call to someone, presumably to take her to Dover.  Eventually she disappeared and we could only assume her ride had picked her up. 
    Meanwhile, a group of five businessmen arrived around 6:00pm, looked at the train status monitor, then looked down the ramp to the platform, then exhibited confusion about their missing train.  By now the station hostess had gone off duty and left and once more I had to explain that their train had left.  After discussing the situation, three left in a car to try to catch up to the train in Dover where passengers were expected to switch to a bus hopefully buying them some time.  The other two hung around the Portland station a while and may have caught a bus.  We speculated that these six displaced passengers must have not provided contact information for Amtrak to reach them or may have ignored such contact.  We had been notified of the schedule and train number change a few days before leaving home 12 days earlier so the likelihood of Amtrak being at fault seemed unlikely.  However, it was disappointing that Amtrak or the Downeaster authority that manages the train did not ensure the hostess was aware of the changes and had options to present to such folks as the schedule change was in effect for a couple of weeks.


The train status board in Portland displays both annulled train # 685 and its replacement # 1985 and indicates # 685 is boarding


F40 # 406 and a positive train control test train laying over in Portland

    Northbound Train # 1985 pulled into Portland 13 minutes late at 8:08pm.  Fortunately, we had walked down the ramp to the platform soon after the scheduled 7:55 departure time as no announcement was made for # 1985.  Earlier a recorded boarding call was played at 7:25pm when train # 685 was scheduled to arrive before being annulled and rescheduled as # 1985.  The train status monitor in the station had listed the originally scheduled train # 685 as well as # 1985 leaving the uninformed to guess what time their train would actually show up.  The train could not be seen from inside the station and neither conductor walked inside the station to look for passengers.  Had we not endured a 15 minute wait on the chilly platform that had no benches, we could have easily been left behind.  This was especially true since dwell time in Portland was just one minute.
    It was surprising to see engine # 104 in the lead rather than # 130 that was expected to pull the stub train back from Dover.  The conductor explained that incoming bad weather had postponed the evening maintenance session so at the last minute the bus bridge was cancelled and both trains ran through to their destinations.  We will never know if the businessmen who missed the train in Portland managed to catch up to the train in Dover since the extra time required to transfer passengers to busses was cancelled.
    The train backed out of the Portland Transportation Center at 8:09pm and began its forward motion on the mainline at 8:13pm.  We rolled past Freeport without stopping and continued through the wooded darkness until arriving in Brunswick at 8:48pm.  The convenience of the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern was appreciated greatly as a quick stroll brought us back to our outstanding hotel room. 
It is possible to make a single day round trip between Boston and Brunswick and the route is reasonably interesting.  However, Brunswick is a charming college town and an overnight stay at the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern makes for a relaxing getaway.  The Downeaster schedule differs on weekends thus it is wise to consult Amtrak for times.  Additionally, connecting busses take connecting passengers to multiple points throughout Maine.  There are multiple Downeaster departures every day making this a great way to see southern Maine.
    The final intermediate stop on our New England journey was in Sturbridge, MA located southwest of Worcester.  Having visited Old Sturbridge Village with my parents in the mid-1960s, I was surprised by the growth of the popular outdoor history museum over the decades.  Today there are over 40 buildings on 200 forested acres recreating a New England village from the 1830s.  Costumed interpreters demonstrate essential businesses such as a general store, printing office, cooper, cabinetmaker, tavern, shoe shop, etc. as well as a school, church, and a working farm with live animals.  The atmosphere of the village is relaxing and strolling along its gravel streets is like stepping back in time.  Near the end of the visit visitors are funneled through the gift shop and bookstore whose collection of books about colonial America is magnificent.


The village green at Old Sturbridge Village


The Old Sturbridge Village general store


A craftsman demonstrates woodworking


One of many craft buildings on the grounds of Old Sturbridge Village


A relaxing walk takes visitors through a covered bridge over a pond

    Old Sturbridge Village is an excellent destination that will interest adults and children alike.  The nearest Amtrak stop is Worcester on the Lake Shore Limited route but it is a short drive from multiple Amtrak stops including Boston, Springfield, Hartford, and Providence.  There are similarities to Colonial Williamsburg (VA), Plimouth Plantation (MA), and Conner Prairie (IN) which each interpret a different period in American history.  Each has its own unique characteristics and Old Sturbridge Village is definitely a worthwhile place to visit.
    During the evening I ventured about 10 miles to Southbridge, MA to attend a high school football game between Sturbridge’s own Tantasqua Regional High School and the host Southbridge High.  The visitors won handily and I walked away pleased to have attended a game in a distant state.  The following morning we drove to New Haven and attended yet another football game, this one matching Mercer and Yale.  The host Yale Bulldogs beat the boys from Macon, GA and we enjoyed spending Saturday afternoon in the historic Yale Bowl.  There was something special about watching FCS (Division 1AA) football as the game is the same but without some of the craziness of Power 5 conference games.  Before the game we returned our rented van and picked up a mid-sized car from Avis to facilitate the car return on Sunday since Avis is located right inside New Haven Union Station and open on Sunday.  We also checked some of our luggage to Washington via Saturday night’s overnight train; it then was transferred to Sunday’s Silver Meteor to Jacksonville.


The Yale Bowl hosts the Mercer at Yale football game


The Yale Bulldogs defeat the Mercer Bears on an overcast day

    A friendly red cap escorted us to the platform to board Train # 99 at 11:05am.  Passengers must go downstairs from New Haven Union Station’s waiting room to a tunnel beneath the tracks then upstairs to trackside thus red cap assistance is helpful when travelling with a suitcase or other bulky items.  Soon our train rolled in behind ACS-64 # 665 and the red cap led us to the business class car which was on the rear.  The only available seats were in the last row facing backwards which facilitated occasionally getting up and viewing trackside sights from the rear window.  Our eight car train was unimpeded as it headed toward New York, interrupted only by scheduled stops in Bridgeport and Stamford.  An hour and a half into the trip we climbed the approach to Hell Gate Bridge and once on top we passed a CSX garbage train headed the opposite direction.  Train # 99 arrived at Penn Station in the heart of New York at 12:56pm and we were assisted to the Club Acela lounge off the main waiting room to relax until our final train was ready for boarding.


The waiting room at New Haven Union Station


Train # 99 bound for Newport News, VA arrives in New Haven


Departing New Haven as seen a few feet from our seats


Passing through Bridgeport, CT


Meeting a northbound Amtrak Northeast Regional train


A Connecticut DOT commuter train is overtaken at Stamford


Approaching Hell Gate Bridge

    The Silver Meteor departed New York on-time at 3:15pm with us ensconced in sleeping car 62001, formerly named “Atlantic View”.  After tunneling under the Hudson River and stopping at Newark, train # 97 barreled along the Northeast Corridor.  South of Philadelphia we went to the dining car per our 5:00pm reservation.  Viewliner II diner 68013 “Hartford” was bright and airy with its double row of windows, art deco decor, and fresh from the factory feel.  As usual I enjoyed a steak dinner while Christine ordered the surf ‘n turf entree and we both were satisfied with our selections.  There is something special about watching scenery including paralleling the Delaware River while dining at 107 mph.  By 6:45pm the Silver Meteor reached Washington, DC and we walked off our dinner by strolling the Union Station platform.  We watched the loading of the baggage car on the tail end of our train and were relieved to see our checked bags being put aboard.  At the head end we watched electric ACS-64 # 643 uncouple and move away and a pair of P42 diesel engines connect to the train.  At 7:25pm we were rolling again on a beeline for Florida.


Overtaking a New Jersey Transit commuter train at Newark


The famous “Trenton Makes - The World Takes” sign at Trenton


The airy interior of Viewliner II dining car “Hartford” as we pass the Delaware River


My delicious steak dinner on board the Silver Meteor


One of three major river crossings between Wilmington and Baltimore


Dining car “Hartford” during the stop in Washington


The Cardinal at left and Silver Meteor (right) in Washington


P42 # 184 on the northbound Cardinal at Washington; this engine was on our train # 98 two weeks earlier

    We watched northern Virginia flash by our bedroom window then give way to the city lights of Richmond.  The James River was way below us in the nighttime darkness as we left the capitol city.  We turned in soon but sleep came slowly as we stopped in Petersburg and Rocky Mount then met the northbound Silver Meteor near Fayetteville.  Daybreak arrived south of Savannah and soon we headed to the dining car for an excellent pancake breakfast accompanied by sausage patties and breakfast potatoes.  The south Georgia swamplands welcomed us back to the Deep South and soon we passed the popular railfan pavilion in Folkston.  The St. Mary’s River marked our entry into Florida and 30 minutes later we eased to a stop in Jacksonville at 9:17am.


Ground fog is visible as we approach Jesup, GA 80 minutes north of Jacksonville

    As we made the three hour drive home we saw trucks of all types carrying food and storm relief services to people devastated by Hurricane Michael on the day we visited Acadia National Park.  Fortunately we only lost two trees at our house, a blessing compared to the damage inflicted upon communities less than an hour west of our city.  We had been concerned that Michael would cause renewed flooding in the Carolinas and possibly delay or cancel our train but fortunately this did not take place.
    Our trip had covered 16 days, taken us through 13 states, and given us the opportunity of observing fantastic vistas of autumn leaves.  Our six Amtrak trains and four excursion trains had provided pleasant travel and our overnight hotel stays had been excellent.  We would recommend this itinerary to anyone interested in seeing New England in the autumn.


Brunswick Hotel and Tavern

Old Sturbridge Village

Yale University Football

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