Simon Bennett thinks big for a weekends bashing!
Here are some photos taken by Simon during the weekend.
Over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend I had to make a trip to the States as I had a meeting in Philadelphia on the Monday. In order to get the best flight deals I chose to travel out on the Saturday morning returning overnight Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. I had chosen to stay in New York as it is just over an hour down to Philadelphia and Amtraks Northeast Corridor services are very frequent and reasonable value for money. There was a secondary reason though for choosing New York and this was due to the presence of Metro North, a commuter railroad which runs services along the Hudson Valley route to Poughkeepsie, along the Harlem line to Wassaic, (both routes being in New York State) and also along the New Haven line taking in branches to Danbury and Waterbury in Connecticut. Services are worked by a mixture of third rail electric multiple units and diesel locomotives the staple power being the General Electric DASH9-P32ACDM Genesis model although the real motive power interest and the reason why I was out there was to track down some of the fast fading General Motors EMD FL9's which were originally built between 1957 and 1960 with rebuilds carried out as late as 1993/4. Metro North also operate 4 of General Motors EMD F10A's from 1979 which can be found on passenger workings and a fleet of 6 GM GP35R which act as 2000hp switchers at the various Metro North depots.
Arriving in Newark International Airport after flying with Continental from Manchester I met up with two friends who had just flown in from Heathrow and were spending the weekend in New York before starting a 3 week trek around America on an Amtrak North America Railpass. We used the new Air Train monorail link to get to Newark International Airport station which is served by both New Jersey Transit services and Amtrak Northeast Corridor services. We had made plans to use Amtrak train no. 88 to get up to New York Penn as we were meeting another friend on that train. Amtrak have an agent based at the station but the agent cannot sell tickets. The person is only there to answer queries and to check baggage for long distance services. Amtrak tickets can be purchased from the Quik-Trak machines located near to the agents desk, all you need is a valid credit card. Amtrak as most people know is in real financial trouble and needs all the money it can get. The fare using Amtrak is 26USD one way whilst New Jersey Transit charge 11.55USD although this is for a slower service. We approached the Quik-Trak machine to buy our Amtrak tickets and the Amtrak agent came out from behind his desk and said that we should not bother with Amtrak as it was far dearer than New Jersey Transit and proceeded to guide us round the corner to the NJT ticket machines. It was a real struggle trying to convince him that we wanted to spend our dollars with Amtrak and I can only think that from this particular station Amtrak is losing a lot of potential revenue from people who are being dissuaded from buying Amtrak tickets by Amtraks own staff. If a large sign was displayed showing the fares difference between the two operators and explaining the different levels of service then people would be able to make an informed choice. At the end of the day cheapest is not always best and from an enthusiasts point of view I would rather travel loco and stock for 26USD than electric unit for 11.55USD.
Train no.88 arrived with one of Amtraks AEM7 locos in charge a whisked us away to New York Penn where we arrived 45 minutes late due to single line working in the tunnels at the west end of Penn station. Fortunately it was only a short walk to the Hotel Pennsylvania and a meet with the 5th member of our intrepid band for the weekend who had flown to JFK from Manchester via Dublin with Aer Lingus. Rooms obtained it was down to the Metro for the quick ride to New York's magnificent Grand Central Station the home of Metro North Commuter Railroad. The plan for the rest of Saturday was to cover as many DASH9's on the Hudson Valley route as we could so it was off to Peekskill on the 17.04 GCT to Poughkeepsie for the first winner of the day, no.212.A quick spin back to Croton Harmon behind 227 and a short break before returning to Peekskill on 206 and back down the line on 211. Now why are these locomotives interesting? After all our own experience of anything American (i.e. class 59's/66's) is that they have been sanitised beyond belief. The over silenced groan of a 59 or the constant ying, ying of a 66 just do not fire up the imagination. It is just a number in the book. Well, on Metro North they have not heard of silencers. Comparisons were made to the sound of Westerns working hard in their heyday and the sound of the engine under full power, bouncing off the rock faces of the Hudson Valley and out over the river was quite astounding. Anyway after leaving 211 at Marble Hill it was back on 227 for the short hop to Yonkers and something to eat at the Emerald Diner and then back North to Peekskill on 211 to pick up the last two engines of the day. The first was Connecticut Department of Transport owned engine no.228 painted in New Haven Railroad black and red (a refreshing change from the rather drab silver of Metro North engines) which worked into Croton Harmon on the 21.33 ex Poughkeepsie and then no. 205 which took us forward on the 22.33 semi fast service back to Grand Central. A very satisfying evening on the Hudson Valley.
Sunday was the day to search for the elusive FL9's. I had been reading reports of them working intermittently on the Danbury branch and Brewster North to Wassaic shuttles and so had planned a leisurely 8.07 departure from Grand Central to change at South Norwalk for the first shuttle to Danbury that morning. All the way up I was playing down our chances of getting an FL9 and so when we arrived at South Norwalk for the cross platform change I was not too hopeful. There were the two coaches forming the service and attached to the front were TWO FL9's nos. 2027 & 2011 and both were working. We dived into seats right at the front of the train and in no time at all we departed for Danbury. The power rating of these vintage beasts is 1750hp so one would have been sufficient for a two coach load even on this steeply graded branch but the thrash from the pair was outstanding and reminiscent of a Nohab in full flight. On arrival at Danbury we found the railway museum was having an open day but with only 20 minutes before the train headed back to South Norwalk we did not have the time to visit. What we could see through the fence however made us want to return at some point. The yard contained locos from most parts of American railroad history with a strong bias toward diesels. E units and Alco RS3's had a strong presence as did New Haven Railroad items. Still back down to South Norwalk behind the pair and talking to the conductor we discovered that the only reason that the FL9's were out was because the F10 they had been using had sprung an air leak and was no longer serviceable. Talk about a stroke of luck!! We left the shuttle train at South Norwalk to return to Grand Central and have some lunch before heading north to Brewster North and the shuttle to Wassaic. We had been warned that due to traffic on the Appalachian Trail they would be using a strengthened set and when we got to Brewster North a full set with DASH9 no.213 was waiting to head to Wassaic. We took the train to the end of the branch and with assistance from the train crew we were able to get some photos of the train before it headed back to Brewster North. On the way down the conductor told us that the 3 workings that morning had been covered by an F10 on 2 coaches and that the full set only came out Sunday afternoons to cope with the tourist traffic from this very scenic part of upstate New York. Oh well, it just proves you cannot win them all. The next move was to take a unit down to White Plains and wait for the first loco hauled train which would take us back north as far as Mount Kisco. This arrived behind DASH9 no.214. At Mount Kisco the north bound train crossed a similar working heading south so a quick change of train and it was off to Grand Central behind 223 for a beer and some food at the excellent Saint Andrews bar just off Times Square. Details of Metro North routes and schedules can be found at www.mta.nyc.ny.us , it is well worth a visit to New York just to see this railroad operation.
Monday was the day of my meeting in Philadelphia so it was off on Amtrak train no.2151 the 9.00 Acela Express bound for Washington D.C. This product is the American version of TGV but does not run anywhere near the speeds of the TGV due to not running on purpose built tracks (sound familiar?). Billions of US dollars have been spent upgrading the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington D.C. so that Acela can make some use of its 165mph capability but there are only short stretches where the train can achieve this and all are north of New York so it is a rather sedate 125mph maximum south to Washington D.C. The Acela has all but replaced Metroliner service on this route with only Business class and First class service available. In first class you receive complimentary meals and beverage service whilst in Business class complimentary hot beverages and a newspaper are provided. In a departure from the norm Acela trainsets have seats arranged in fours around tables as opposed to the usual practice of all seats facing forwards. It has been explained to me that Americans do not like travelling backwards (airline mentality?) and this was brought home when a young lady joined the train and the first thing she did was complain that she would have to travel backwards. Anyway a smooth ride down to Philadelphia and into my meeting. Meeting over by 13.30 time for a beer and the 13.47 New Jersey Transit departure for Atlantic City. This was a bus, but only as far as Cherry Hill the first station out on the line. Trains are normally allowed 25mins to cover the 14.6miles to Cherry Hill. The bus did it in 15mins! Waiting for us at Cherry Hill was GP40PH-2B no.4206, a 3000hp loco on 2 coaches. This whisked us away to Atlantic City where we swapped 4206 for 4204 on the 15.38 ex Atlantic City as far as Hammonton for 4211 to Absecon for 4206 back to Hammonton for 4212 to Egg Harbour City and finally back to Philadelphia 30th Street behind 4211 and this time no bus. It was then back to New York Penn behind Amtrak AEM7 no.925 and then down to the Heartland Brewery again just off Times Square for food and drink
Tuesday was my last day before flying back to Manchester at 20.30. I had originally worked on an early start to get the Waterbury branch in but after consultation with others in the party we decided to go and see what was working to Danbury. Had they repaired the F10? Could we leave with a full house of Metro North motive power? We took the 8.07 unit from Grand Central and headed for South Norwalk. Bearing in mind that Metro North is primarily a commuter Railroad and commuters mainly wish to travel to New York City, where line capacity is short they run trains South in the morning peak and North in the evening peak. Makes absolute sense. This means that the first train down the Danbury branch is at 9.10 from South Norwalk the morning departures from Danbury being at 5.34, 6.18 & 6.52 through to Grand Central with DASH9's as motive power and 7.27 & 7.57 to Stamford. It was this last train that gave me a few problems as it was just making a shunt move to the holding sidings at Stamford when the unit we were on pulled into Stamford station. That mornings 7.57 ex Danbury had been worked by another FL9 no. 2014 and this was the set that died until the evening peak. There was no way I could get to it. That extra hour in bed had cost me another sought after engine. Still it lives to fight another day. The saving grace would be if an F10 was working the 9.10 off South Norwalk but to our surprise the pair of FL9's we had had on Sunday were still working. So we continued on to Bridgeport to take some photographs of various Amtrak trains and DASH9 no.229 on the 9.17 Waterbury to Stamford service and then back into New York on Amtrak train No.171 behind AEM7 no.912. I had left time in my schedule to do a little sight seeing and to buy some presents before returning home and having said goodbye to my two remaining travelling companions I headed over to Hoboken Terminal to see if I could get a New Jersey Transit diesel down to Newark Penn station and then a train from there to the Airport. At Hoboken the terminal was full of raucous sounding GP40's and F40's and so I chose to travel down to Newark Penn on F40PH-2CAT no.4128 on the 16.21 North Jersey Coast line service to Bay Head. On detraining at Newark Penn there was a line of GP40's and F40's sitting on the opposite platform waiting to work their next service trains so out came the camera. This was my first and only brush with the law. Two New Jersey State Police Department officers came up to me and asked what I was doing. I explained to them that I was a railfan from the U.K. and that I was just taking photo's of the engines. The officers denied me permission to take photo's explaining that it was not allowed since 9/11. I chose discretion as the better part of valour and decided to take the next train to the airport and get my flight home. Better to be home without a picture then in jail without a picture.
All in all an excellent weekend with far more variety than you can find in the U.K. and indeed now in a number of European countries. Exchange rates are reasonable at 1.52USD to 1GBP and it has never in my experience been cheaper to fly across the Atlantic than it is now. I would urge all enthusiasts who like their railways BIG to go and have a look. It is certainly an experience you will never forget. Myself? Well I will probably be going back to the States next February but more of that in the future.
I would like to extend the thanks of all members of our party to the crews and conductors on Metro North who bent over backwards to help us with information and to ensure that we were able to get the best photographic positions for our shots of their trains.