Having ridden every mile of the current Amtrak system
after covering the last two missing segments in June/July 2010, I turned
my attention to riding some of the commuter lines radiating from New York
City. At the top of the list were the Long Island Railroad line to
Montauk and the New Jersey Transit route to Port Jervis as both had interested
me for years.
We started our trip by driving to Miami and making a side
trip to Marco Island, located on Florida's southwest coast. The drive
from Miami to Marco Island took under two hours and carried us across the
Tamiami Trail (US 41), a route that dates way back to the days when highways
first began to link Florida's tourism destinations. Most of this route
took us across the edge of Everglades National Park where the scenery alternated
between mangrove swamps, broad savannas, and Seminole Indian villages.
Insert pix # 002 here
The Everglades as seen from US 41 between Miami
and Marco Island
Marco Island is a beautiful small island that is part
of the Ten Thousand Islands chain that stretches from Florida Bay into the
corner of the Gulf of Mexico. The island is dotted with homes owned
by both year-'round and winter season residents and is known for its beautiful
sandy beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and casual tropical atmosphere. We
stayed at the Marco Island Hilton, a lovely property situated right on the
beach which allowed terrific views of Gulf sunsets and evening swims in the
tropical swimming pool.
Insert pix # 006 here
The outstanding beach and tropical swimming pool
seen from our balcony at the Marco Island Hilton
Back in Miami we visited family and took a quick look
at my childhood stomping grounds before preparing to board the Silver Meteor
bound for New York. I would be accompanied on the rail part of this
trip by my son John who was in his final week of summer before the start
of his senior year of college. We reached Amtrak's station located
in Hialeah Yards about 30 minutes before departure time and immediately were
taken in a golf cart to our sleeping car. Sleeping car "College View"
was the second of three sleepers on our train and we immediately noticed
that the temperature inside our room was warmer than desired. Our attendant
blamed this on the morning sun and suggested closing the curtains as much
as possible. This didn't seem like a good explanation as we did wish
to view the scenery; nevertheless we did draw the curtains over the room's
Insert pix # 6577 here
The northbound Silver Meteor prepares to begin
its journey at the Miami Amtrak station located in Hialeah Yard
Departure was on-time at 8:40am and soon we passed the
familiar views of Opa-Locka, Hollywood, and Fort Lauderdale. While
much has remained the same through the years, the passage of time has seen
this area grow tremendously. During rides on the old Seaboard Air Line
in the 1960s and early '70s, there was no Interstate 95 paralleling the railway
through Broward and Palm Beach Counties. In fact, much of the route
was through barren scrublands where dirt bikes could be seen tackling the
backwoods sand hills that dotted the area in those days.
Just north of Hollywood we were invited back to the dining
car for breakfast and the diner's cool temperature was Arctic-like compared
to our bedroom. The standard railroad French toast was a good selection
and we stretched breakfast out through stops at Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield
Beach, and Delray Beach. As the Meteor made its way into West Palm
Beach we returned to our compartment and found the climate had not improved
at all. Our trusty travel thermometer registered 86 degrees and we
could not understand how Amtrak could have allowed this car to leave its
major maintenance base in this condition. Our attendant noted that
about 50% of the Viewliner sleepers suffer from poor air conditioning in
the bedroom end of the car as apparently the Viewliners employ two separate
cooling units for the bedroom and roomette ends of the cars. Indeed
the roomette end was comfortable as we passed through and we promptly wished
we had opted for the smaller room type despite my need for the ample legroom
of the bedroom. However, all sleeper space was sold out thus prospects
for a comfortable night were not bright.
The route north of West Palm Beach is arrow straight as
the old SAL route skirts just east of Lake Okeechobee so we rested for awhile
in hopes that that, with the aid of our travel fans, we would drift in a
heat-avoiding sleep. We succeeded as we slept through the stop at Okeechobee
and were barely cognizant of the stop in Sebring at 11:55.
We retreated to the diner at noon and again appreciated the chilly temperature
as we partook of angus burgers and all the trimmings while surveying the
scene as the Silver Meteor stopped in Winter Haven then interchanged from
the old Seaboard to the former Atlantic Coast Line route at Auburndale.
About 40 minutes later the Meteor stopped at Kissimmee where friend and fellow
railfan Eric Harms boarded. As we had first discussed riding to Montauk
as far back as the mid-1980s, Eric was determined to join us once we announced
intentions to make this trip.
There was hope for our temperature issue as our pleasant
conductor Herman Appleman advised that the train would make a special stop
at Sanford in about an hour so the AutoTrain mechanics could try to fix the
problem. In the meantime, a huge throng of people awaited as we arrived
in Orlando; many were indeed boarding our train but a similar number were
waiting for the southbound Meteor which would arrive just after we departed.
Our southbound counterpart was met just beyond the station as we rolled through
downtown Orlando. Twenty minutes later we stopped at Winter Park, the
most attractive town center on the Florida part of the rail line. The
train came to a halt at Maitland, just five minutes beyond Winter Park which
seemed curious since this part of the route is double tracked. The scanner
revealed that the engine crew had received a signal that there was an axle
problem with the second engine so they reset the faults and determined that
the traction motors were okay. Almost immediately after starting forward
the train stopped again and crew members could be seen walking toward the
trailing unit. As the train inched forward, the crew watched to see
if the axles were turning and, satisfied, they gave the all clear to resume
toward Sanford. The mechanics now would have two issues to inspect
and we likely would be at Sanford awhile.
After passing through Altamonte Springs and Longwood,
we arrived in Sanford at 2:59pm. Outside our window there was a paved
station platform, however the Sanford station was nowhere to be found as
it was demolished by the CSX railroad after years of neglect and vandalism.
As a result, Amtrak's silver fleet no longer stops in Sanford though the
popular AutoTrain terminal remains on an adjacent tract of land served by
tracks that branch off from the mainline. Outside a team of seven from
AutoTrain's mechanical forces waited in golf carts in a scene that looked
like a mechanics convention. While part of the team inspected the engine
issue, three mechanics looked over the cooling system in our sleeper.
Finally it was pronounced that this was a compressor issue and could not
be repaired in transit.
Insert pix # 6581 & 6584 here
Weeds are all that is left of the old ACL/SCL/Amtrak
passenger station in Sanford
The northbound AutoTrain as seen from the northbound Silver Meteor
Our prayers were answered in another way, though, as the
kind conductor had told us that a member of the dining crew had not made
it to work and his roomette was vacant. By the time we reached Palatka
at 4:40pm, John and I were cooling off in Roomette 11 in the forward sleeper
"Mystic View". We felt blessed that this room was open as we had already
noted the car's cool temperature after stopping by Eric's room near the center
of the car.
We had selected the early dinner seating and already had
our meals by the time we passed through Orange Park. The meal passed
quickly as we had no need to escape a hot bedroom and no incentive to linger
in the dining car where the fourth person seated at our table proceeded to
tell us every detail of the business he owned. We excused ourselves
during the servicing stop at Jacksonville so we could stroll the platform
and step inside the station where our trips normally begin. Our friend,
conductor William "Billy" Billy, took over here and would be in charge until
Florence, SC. His insight into the track layout south of Savannah was
extremely valuable as we learned that at Burroughs we would take the ex-ACL
line that travels east of the Savannah rail yards. Normally the Amtrak
trains are routed on the former SAL (which takes a more westerly route into
Savannah) from Burroughs, however, the dispatcher has discretion to assign
either route. As a freight was experiencing a mechanical problem on
the "S Line", we remained on the "A Line" all the way. Most of the
former SAL route through Georgia was pulled up south of Burroughs many years
Insert pix # 6587 here
Our sleeper, Mystic View, at Jacksonville
As evening set in, the Silver Meteor left Savannah at
8:28pm and met the southbound Palmetto at 8:40. The all-coach Palmetto
provides daylight service from New York to Savannah and was nearing the end
of its journey. After crossing the Savannah River and making the stop
in Yemassee, SC the Meteor was restricted to 40 mph by a flash flood warning
near Green Pond. This lasted a mere few minutes and soon we resumed
track speed to Charleston. The 10:20 departure was just over a half
hour late, not bad after our mechanical stops in Maitland and Sanford and
the restricted speed north of Yemassee.
The comfortable temperature in our roomette facilitated
sleep as I only noted our stop in Florence until awaking at 5:00am during
the crossing of the James River at Richmond. I even slept through a
22 minute stop in Fayetteville where an unruly coach passenger was removed.
After a ten minute stop in Richmond, I peered out at the pre-dawn darkness
as we sped through Ashland then returned to sleepland until we were well
into our stop in Washington at 7:30.
Following another excellent breakfast, we sat back and
viewed as the miles clicked past during our transit of the Northeast Corridor.
Our 10:44am departure from Newark was almost 30 minutes early but Saturday
trackwork had one of the Hudson River tunnels used by Amtrak out of service.
While the Meteor waited, a series of eight southbound Amtrak and New Jersey
Transit trains passed before the one open track was cleared for us to proceed.
Despite the delay, arrival at New York's Penn Station came only one minute
late at 11:37am.
The timely arrival allowed time to check into the Affinia
Manhattan Hotel, located diagonally across the street from Penn Station.
This all-suite hotel is perfect for the business or leisure traveler wishing
to stay in the heart of the city with easy access to the station and most
midtown attractions. Our "L"-shaped suite was located on the 25th floor
and contained a living room with a pull-out sofa bed, a full kitchen, and
a comfortable bedroom. Fortunately for us, we had noticed on the TrainWeb
message board that some one bedroom suites are equipped with two bathrooms
and our request was honored which expedited our daily routine. With
two subway lines within easy walking distance and a variety of food places
close by, we could not have chosen a better place to spend two nights in
Manhattan. For information and reservations visit www.affinia.com/AffiniaManhattan
Insert pix # 6681, 6677 & 6680 here
Madison Square Garden as seen from the front of
the Affinia Manhattan Hotel. The entrance to Penn Station is just to
the right of this view.
The attractive lobby of the Affinia Manhattan Hotel
The Affinia Manhattan Hotel as seen from the front
of Penn Station
After our brief visit to the hotel we walked two blocks
to 32nd Street and caught the PATH subway to Hoboken. The 15 minute
ride took us back under the Hudson River and deposited us at Hoboken Terminal,
once the home to Erie Lackawanna Railroad's famous Phoebe Snow as well as
its Erie Lackawanna Limited and Lake Cities which linked Hoboken with Binghampton,
Buffalo, and Chicago. Today the terminal is served only by commuter
trains yet the station maintains a dignified appearance with a comfortable
waiting room, high ceiling, and manned ticket windows. Fortunately
we had time to walk outside where a sidewalk led us around a nearby harbor
where we could enjoy the view of the classic station exterior. A few
steps further took us to a seawall overlooking New York Harbor with a commanding
view of the Manhattan skyline. Turning our attention to the water side
of Hoboken Terminal, we noted the ferry docks that are currently being renovated.
Insert pix # 6590, 6603, 6604, 6606, 6608, 6609, 6600, 010 & 6599 here
Hoboken Terminal still wears a classic look
Inside Hoboken Terminal
The ornate ceiling inside Hoboken Terminal
Manned ticket windows at Hoboken Terminal
These doors lead to the trains at Hoboken Terminal
This departure board directs commuters to the proper track
Ferry slips at Hoboken Terminal are under renovation to restore
direct ferry connections to Manhattan
The Manhattan Skyline as seen from behind Hoboken Terminal
Looking across the Hudson River toward New York
A few minutes after we returned to the station, NJ Transit
train # 75 was ready to receive passengers for the trip to Port Jervis.
Five coaches comprised this Saturday afternoon train which would operate
in pull mode with the engine leading on the outbound trip. The 1:27pm
departure was less than two hours after our arrival from Florida; the timely
operation of our overnight Amtrak train had been critical to making this
trip work. Almost immediately our train passed through a tunnel built
in 1908 before passing above the Susquehanna (NYS&W) rail line.
At Secaucus a large crowd boarded as this new transfer point from the Northeast
Corridor is both a convenient and popular way to access this rail route from
points south as well as from Penn Station. Moments later we crossed
the Hackensack River and the new Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands came into
view. Soon the lines to Spring Valley and Paterson branched off then
train # 75 made its next stop at Rutherford in midst of a nice town center.
For approximately 20 minutes we would follow the Bergen County Line.
Insert pix # 6611, 6612, 6614, 6628 & 6630 here
A Metro North commuter train is spotted at Hoboken behind a former
Amtrak F40 engine
PL42AC # 4023 on the head end of NJ Transit # 75 from Hoboken to Port Jervis
GP40 # 4200 leads another NJT train
The new Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands
The view at the Glen Rock Boro Hall stop
After making four more station stops, train 75 rejoined
the Main Line and made its scheduled stop at photogenic Ridgewood.
A station built of stone at Ho-Ho-Kus was followed by a deep
ravine that verified the notion that we had indeed left the big city behind.
Just beyond the stop in Ramsey inbound NJ Transit # 1718 rolled past and
a couple of minutes later the rail line left New Jersey and entered New York
State near Suffern. At this point the rails ran around the base of
a mountain and the route became rather twisting as it climbed the undulating
terrain along the edge of the Catskill Mountains. The stations for
the final eight stops would be operated by Metro North since we were back
in New York State.
Insert pix # 6631, 6635, & 6642 here
The village center at Ridgewood
The station at Allendale
Eric Harms enjoys the views of the line to Port
Ninety minutes into the journey we crossed 3200 foot long
Moodna Viaduct which stands 193 feet above a broad valley between Harriman
and Salisbury Mills. The historic viaduct opened in 1909 and is one
of the most scenic commuter train sights in North America. Rural scenes
filled our window as our train passed through forests and skirted by farms
and valleys before reaching Middletown. NJ Transit # 78 eased past
at 3:31pm near Otisville where we passed through the appropriately named
Otisville Tunnel. Twenty minutes later we arrived in Port Jervis where
there would be an hour and forty minute wait until the next train back to
Hoboken. The one-way trip had covered approximately 95 minutes, a good
distance for a commuter run.
Insert pix # 6649, 6651, 6654 & 6659 here
The valley below Moodna Viaduct
The view from the opposite side of Moodna Viaduct
A view behind the train crossing Moodna Viaduct
Inbound train # 78 passes near Otisville
There is no station building at Port Jervis but fortunately
a Burger King restaurant is located directly across the small parking lot
from the train platform. In between rain showers we were able to inspect
a variety of restored passenger train cars and a turntable that today belong
to the New York & Greenwood Lake Railway. There are a number of
other businesses within walking distance of the Port Jervis stop and the
scenery is pleasing with mountains surrounding the area. The NJ Transit/Metro
North rail yard stands just beyond the platform and on this weekend day,
there were several train sets waiting for their Monday assignments.
Insert pix # 6662, 6664, 6665 & 6667 here
New York & Greenwood Lake Railway equipment at Port Jervis
An Erie E-unit at Port Jervis
This turntable is located behind the Burger King adjacent to the
Port Jervis commuter train yard
Passenger equipment owned by the New York & Greenwood Lake
After checking out the sleek Erie E8 engine and other
restored equipment owned by the New York & Greenwood and grabbing an
early dinner at Burger King, we joined a fairly large crowd on the platform
to await the return from the yard of the same equipment we had ridden to
Port Jervis. Train # 80 departed a couple minutes after its 5:30pm
scheduled time. Rain had settled in reducing the view as we headed
northward to Middletown before curving in a basically southeast direction
toward Hoboken. A meet with NJT # 77 occurred at the same siding near
Otisville where we had met an opposing train on the ride out to Port Jervis.
Moodna Viaduct carried us high above the fog shrouded valley as we retraced
our route to Ridgewood.
Insert pix # 6672 & 6676 here
Mountains envelop the Port Jervis commuter train
Train # 80 pulls into the Port Jervis "station" to begin the journey
A large crowd boarded at each stop as urban residents
returned from a weekend in the country. After the 7:05pm stop at Ridgewood,
train # 80 diverged from the route we rode on the outbound trip as we made
a non-stop run over the Main Line via Paterson and Passaic. A large
crowd was discharged at the Secaucus Transfer stop then we eased on to our
final stop, Hoboken, at 7:37pm. The PATH subway train took us back
to Manhattan and shortly after 8:00pm we were back in our comfortable suite
at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel.