Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Good, the Bad, the Bumpy: Random Observations from Weekend Trip to Philadelphia

I just spend the weekend in Philadelphia (South Jersey, to be exact) and found the cheapest way - and best use of my time - was to fly to BWI from Atlanta and then take Amtrak to 30th St.  This included and overnight stay at BWI, which just goes to show how expensive flying in and out of Phila is these days....

I also had to piece the trip together myself. Too bad the Amtrak and airline schedules aren't integrated.

Here are some random observations:

1. It is really pretty easy to get between the airport and the train station.  The shuttle bus runs frequently, is well marked and the trip is short.

2. BWI rail station is a tiny and is a dump - considering the number of people using it on a Friday morning - it could use some upgrading.  How about a joint MARC/Amtrak/BWI project?

3. The BWI station staff were very good.  I saw an agent go out of his way to give a 3 yr old girl a paper Amtrak hat and coloring book.  Just fabulous to watch happen!

4. I spent an hour and a half down at the end of the platform taking pix before my train came.  Not a single hassle. Smile
Lots of action.  Amtrak's Cardinal "splits the uprights" as MARC commuter trains make their station stops.

5. The center track has 1983 140 RE rail (rolled in June of 1983, so it's exactly 30 years old) - the old PC standard that Amtrak adopted.  It must have been put down with the early 80s NECIP that put the bulk of the concrete ties in place.  The other two tracks had newer 136# rail (which is NS's std).  For comparison, NJT and CR use 132 RE rail.
Dead tree along ROW. A service disruption waiting to happen?

6. The ride quality has gotten much worse in since the 1980s and 90s when I last rode this part of the corridor.  

The interlockings, which were always rough, were even worse and there were some other bad spots as well.  A lot of the route was pretty good, though, just not "rock steady" like it was 20 years ago.

7. The Amfleet coaches are just as good as they always were.  The "peel and stick" interiors were nice and clean, the seats comfortable, and the ride nice and quiet.  

8. The Crescent came through while I was waiting at BWI.  It had the ex-NYC Hickory Creek observation car on the rear end.  Had put my camera away by then...Sad  It was cool to see it though.

9. The free WiFi worked pretty well.  
Connection was good while I was on the train with about 1000 of my close personal friends.

10. The e-ticketing feature of the Amtrak phone app worked great!  No paper - they scan your phone screen (just like Starbucks) . 

On my return train on Sunday evening, I'd say about 1/3 of the riders were paperless.  Another cool thing Amtrak did was to offer an "upsell" when you go to display your ticket - really easy to spend a bit more to upgrade to business class (I didn't - but I thought about it). Also, the conductor's hand-held looked like a modified iPhone - nice and small and easy to use.  Off the shelf technology.  Smart.

11. 30th St Station is still the best train station in the US.  It just is.  It's big.  It's full of people using intercity trains.  It has massive art-deco coolness.  I like just being in the building.

Mixture of Art-Deco and neo-Classical?  Works for me!
Bas-relief art work saved from Philadelphia Broad St. Station.  Now in waiting room space in 30th St.

Memorial to PRR employees lost during WWII - powerful image.

It's pretty, but how useful will it be in an E-ticketing world?
12.  Amtrak has some kiosks up in 30th St selling the story of their proposed NEC upgrade.  That's good PR. 

13. Acelas and HHP8 locomotives are neat looking. 

HHP8 hauls Carolinian through BWI at track speed.
The Acelas have a goofy paint job, but the train sets look nice.  

Acela decelerates for BWI stop
 The HHP8s look good in Amtrak paint - less so in MARC paint.   

MARC HHP8 pushes toward DC

MARC's new diesels look pretty good.

14.  The on-board employees on both trains I'd give an A or B.  They've come a long way from the days of the Penn Central "charm school".  Amtrak did this.  Good for them.

15. I also spent an hour at Berlin, NJ.  One of the original stations on the Camden and Atlantic RR is still there - back from when the town was called "Long-a-Coming". 
Built in 1856 - oldest left in NJ?  Wikipedia say so.
It serves as a good prop for photographing the NJT Atlantic City trains.
Train headed for Philadelphia.  Next stop, Lindenwold.
Standard consist for AC trains is a Conrail Juniata shop built GP40PH-2B and four coaches.  Looks like the cab car is almost always a new Comet V.  I wonder if this a PTC related development? 
AC bound train pushes past original milepost.  "16 M TO C" translates 16 miles to Camden