Rich Kimmel's 1999 Train Trip
Part 2 - New York, NY to Washington, DC
June 27, 1999
I had approximately one half hour to walk upstairs from Penn Station and outside for a few minutes. I walked partway around the block in which Penn Station is located and continued my video for a few minutes. It was hot and muggy and sunny, just like it had been in Washington DC and points further south. I soon walked back into the Metropolitan Lounge and waited for the boarding call for Train #195, which is one of the many nameless "Northeast Direct" AMTRAK runs between Washington, New York, and Boston. I much preferred when each train had its own name, thus its own "personality," even though most of the "Northeast Direct" trains run with basically the same equipment -- an AEM7 locomotive, and anywhere from 5 to 10 or 12 Amfleet coaches, including at least one food service car.
I found a seat in one of the Amcoaches in Train #195 as we boarded. Train #195 runs on the same schedule as Trains #191 and #95, except that #195 runs from New York to Richmond, VA, and runs only on Sundays. Both Trains #95 and #191 begin at Boston, and run on the remaining days of the week (#95 Monday through Friday and #191 on Saturday). In addition, Train #95 runs through to Newport News, VA, while #191 ends its run in Washington DC. The station times for all three trains are the same, however. After I boarded, an announcement was made welcoming everybody to AMTRAK Train #195, the Old Dominion, so apparently the train crews still know all the nameless "Northeast Direct" trains by name. I sat with a very quiet young Oriental man, and did not engage in much conversation on this train as I basically stayed in my coach seat for the entire 3 1/2-hour trip and concentrated on my video. According to my watch, Train #195 departed Penn Station approximately 2 minutes late, but, since my watch may have been just a bit off, I reset my watch to 11:10 AM as we left, assuming that, 99% of the time, the "Northeast Direct" trains will leave on time, especially on Sundays when there is less traffic in the Corridor.
After our supposed on-time departure, we soon exited the tunnels beneath the Hudson River and daylighted again on the Jersey shore. The train was more crowded than I expected for a Sunday. As mentioned above, I did not even venture into the Cafe Car on this trip, but stayed in my seat with my route maps and video camera. About 15 minutes after we left, a mile or two before the Newark, NJ station, Train #195 stopped in the Meadowlands area for several minutes. This was very unusual for the Northeast Corridor, I thought, since, the Corridor is basically the only part of the AMTRAK system where the trains consistently run on schedule., or so I thought. So what was this stop about? I never did find out, but the stop did cause us to be late most of the rest of the trip. We subsequently departed Newark 18 minutes late, Metropark 12 minutes late, Trenton 11 minutes late, and Philadelphia 10 minutes late. Even in the Northeast Corridor, there apparently is still "padding" in the AMTRAK schedules.
Most of the stations in the Corridor are located above street level, since, as some of you Train Web readers may be aware, there are no grade crossings anywhere in the NE Corridor. The vast majority of the stations between New York and Washington are elevated and consist of little more than just a "boarding platform." The exceptions are primarily Philadelphia, Trenton, and Baltimore. Before each station, the conductor made a point to announce to departing passengers that there is a space between the doors of the train and the platform, and to watch their step while disembarking. This of course is due to the design of the station platforms to allow "platform level boarding," so passengers would not have to climb up those little two-step stools which are used at most stations in the system.
As we continued to head for Washington, we did actually make up the 15 minutes or so that we lost between New York and Newark. As we passed through the 30th Street yards in Philadelphia, I had hoped that maybe one of the new "Acela" engines would be on display now (which was not on display as I passed through the area on the Meteor earlier in the day), but again, to no avail, no Acelas were visible. I guess I'll have to wait until next year to see AMTRAK's new "21st century technology" locomotives. Continuing south, Train #195 departed Wilmington 9 minutes late and BWI Airport Station 3 minutes late. I forgot to document our departure time from Baltimore. Beyond the BWI station, one enters the Washington DC metropolitan area, which has seen a considerable level of new construction and development in the last 10 to 15 years. Most of my USGS topographic maps of the route were made in the mid- to late 1970's, so much of the newer development is not shown, and my maps are consequently rather difficult to follow in areas such as this. I tried to locate myself on my maps as we passed the many Metra commuter stations, but, at over 100 mph, we passed by most of them so fast I could not read the station names on the platforms. We departed the New Carrollton station 3 minutes late, and finally arrived in Washington DC 5 minutes early! So, in spite of the slow start to this segment of my trip, the Northeast Corridor still wins the prize for the best on-time performance. I never did find out what happened between New York and Newark.
In Washington, DC, I found the Metropolitan Lounge and again stored my suitcases for a couple hours, then looked for a place to have lunch. Washington Union Station, of course, is noted for having many restaurants, shops, and stores, so there is not a problem finding just about anything you want while at the station. I selected the "Flames" fast food place on the lower level Food Court in the station for lunch, and had a hamburger while sitting in the food court watching the myriad of people who use the station. After lunch, I walked outside for a while, and it was still hot, sunny, and muggy -- just like New York. There is a nice park across the street from Washington Union Station, which I enjoy sitting in between trains at Washington. I sat for half an hour or so, then I headed back into the station to board the next train.
Web page by Matthew J. Melzer.
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