Dinky!! and more from Jersey and Philly, May 13, 2021

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MARC Rider

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Apr 5, 2011
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Time to ride the Dinky (aka, the PJ&B, "Princeton Junction and Back) before NJT tries to put it out of it's "misery."

Rode up on Northeast Regional 172 direct from BAL to Princeton Junction. Beautiful day, and a nice ride, except for the guy a few rows behind me who talked from just before Wilmington to just before Trenton on his cell phone using his loudest voice. And he was repeating the same stuff over and over again. High anxiety about getting from Penn Station to Flushing where somebody was going to pick him up. I wasn't even in his car originally, but changed seats when I found there was no power in the outlets in my original car, and I wanted to keep my phone charged up. I guess it shows that cell phone jackasses aren't found only in First Class. I also found that I've been spoiled by riding in business class. The Amfleet 1 coaches seem remarkably cramped. Plenty of legroom, but when I flipped down the tray table, it dug into my gut until I reclined the seat a bit. OK, now some of you wiseguys will say that just means I need to eat less. :) Speaking of eating, the NEC cafe car offering are cut back even from what they were last September: No Bagels! :( No fruit cup. I had to get a Bob Evans Sausage McMuffin, imitation, which was OK. I had also bought a Boston Creme donut at Dunkin at the Baltimore station, which has reopened, but with a limited menu, and a cup of coffee, priced at about the same as in the cafe car.

Finally, arrival at Princeton Junction. A big Park & Ride seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Down the stairs (looked like there was a ramp for accessibility), through the underpass, and up to the side platform that accommodates the Dinky.

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Bought my ticket from the TVM. It took me a while to figure out that even though the credit card slot looks like it's for a chip card, they want you to dip the card, i.e., insert and remove quickly, not keep it in, as you'd do for a chip card. Took me a while to figure that out. ("How many PhD's does it take to use a TVM?") I finally bought my half-price senior ticket to Princeton ($1.35), and had it in my hot little hand while waiting for the train.

Finally, the sound of a train horn, and ..... the Dinky!!!

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There weren't too many people getting on. Then a NJT Northeast Corridor train from New York to Trenton stopped, and business picked up. When you look at the timetable, the connections are really designed for people traveling to and from New York.

Soon after, we were off and rocking through the New Jersey countryside at 55 mph for a couple of minutes until we slowed down and finally arrived in Princeton.

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This is the new station. They apparently cut about 500 feet (0.1 mile) from the original route to build some ugly modernist Arts buildings for the university. I believe the original station building has been repurposed as a restaurant/bar. At least it looks like a train station, and the establishment is called the "Dinky."

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The new station has a Wawa market with restrooms, which is convenient. I ended up using both.

More to come, including my walking tour of Princeton, and some railfanning at the Princeton Junction platform.









.
 

Bob Dylan

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May 31, 2009
Messages
22,683
Location
Austin Texas
Time to ride the Dinky (aka, the PJ&B, "Princeton Junction and Back) before NJT tries to put it out of it's "misery."

Rode up on Northeast Regional 172 direct from BAL to Princeton Junction. Beautiful day, and a nice ride, except for the guy a few rows behind me who talked from just before Wilmington to just before Trenton on his cell phone using his loudest voice. And he was repeating the same stuff over and over again. High anxiety about getting from Penn Station to Flushing where somebody was going to pick him up. I wasn't even in his car originally, but changed seats when I found there was no power in the outlets in my original car, and I wanted to keep my phone charged up. I guess it shows that cell phone jackasses aren't found only in First Class. I also found that I've been spoiled by riding in business class. The Amfleet 1 coaches seem remarkably cramped. Plenty of legroom, but when I flipped down the tray table, it dug into my gut until I reclined the seat a bit. OK, now some of you wiseguys will say that just means I need to eat less. :) Speaking of eating, the NEC cafe car offering are cut back even from what they were last September: No Bagels! :( No fruit cup. I had to get a Bob Evans Sausage McMuffin, imitation, which was OK. I had also bought a Boston Creme donut at Dunkin at the Baltimore station, which has reopened, but with a limited menu, and a cup of coffee, priced at about the same as in the cafe car.

Finally, arrival at Princeton Junction. A big Park & Ride seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Down the stairs (looked like there was a ramp for accessibility), through the underpass, and up to the side platform that accommodates the Dinky.

View attachment 22395
Bought my ticket from the TVM. It took me a while to figure out that even though the credit card slot looks like it's for a chip card, they want you to dip the card, i.e., insert and remove quickly, not keep it in, as you'd do for a chip card. Took me a while to figure that out. ("How many PhD's does it take to use a TVM?") I finally bought my half-price senior ticket to Princeton ($1.35), and had it in my hot little hand while waiting for the train.

Finally, the sound of a train horn, and ..... the Dinky!!!

View attachment 22398
View attachment 22399

View attachment 22400

There weren't too many people getting on. Then a NJT Northeast Corridor train from New York to Trenton stopped, and business picked up. When you look at the timetable, the connections are really designed for people traveling to and from New York.

Soon after, we were off and rocking through the New Jersey countryside at 55 mph for a couple of minutes until we slowed down and finally arrived in Princeton.

View attachment 22401

This is the new station. They apparently cut about 500 feet (0.1 mile) from the original route to build some ugly modernist Arts buildings for the university. I believe the original station building has been repurposed as a restaurant/bar. At least it looks like a train station, and the establishment is called the "Dinky."

View attachment 22402

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The new station has a Wawa market with restrooms, which is convenient. I ended up using both.

More to come, including my walking tour of Princeton, and some railfanning at the Princeton Junction platform.









.
Brings back memories of the Philly Gathering when I rode the Dinky for my one and only time!

Great to see you Northeasterners are taking advantage of Nice Weather and Frequent Trains, while we out here in " Flyover Country" are stuck with High Priced, 3 times a week Trains!😁
 
Joined
Dec 26, 2014
Messages
3,027
Brings back memories of what I saw every day when I commuted to Princeton Junction!

Sometimes I miss it just a bit. But not enough to come back out of retirement!😊

You’re right—schedules are set up for the NYC commuters. Annoyed the heck out of all of us who came up from the south.
 

MARC Rider

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Apr 5, 2011
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Baltimore. MD
Great to see you Northeasterners are taking advantage of Nice Weather and Frequent Trains, while we out here in " Flyover Country" are stuck with High Priced, 3 times a week Trains!😁
Well, the NEC ain't cheap, unless you're lucky enough to get a Value Fare at the time when you want to go. And the Commuter Trains are run by the state. A shame your state government is so clueless that they're not doing anything to promote Austin-San Antonio commuter service, which seems like a no-brainer to me, having had the experience of driving through Austin, and that was over 10 years ago, so things must be worse now.

They've also cut back NEC trains on Amtrak, not sure when they're going to restore them. Still, you're right, it is better than one three-day-a-week train that may or may not operate on schedule. At least you're going back to daily soon.
 

MARC Rider

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As I wrote, the Princeton station was relocated 500 ft. down the line so that the university could build a new Arts center. This was apparently very controversial in Princeton at the time, as people though that the new location was less convenient and would drive down ridership, thus giving NJT an excuse to kill the service. I'm not so sure that the new location is any less convenient than the old location 500 ft. away, and the Wiki article made no mention of whether ridership has actually declined. There was also an issue about the line being shut down recently in order for NJT to install PTC. Given that there's only one train that shuttles back and forth on the line, I'm not sure why they needed to bother with PTC, but maybe someone with more technical knowledge than I have knows why.

In any event, whether from the new station or the old, it's about a 20 minute walk to Nassau St., which is the main drag of downtown Princeton. I walked through the campus, which is pretty impressive architecturally. Most of the buildings are of the "Collegiate Gothic" style, which was very popular for academic buildings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You may have a high school in your town designed in that style. (We do in Baltimore.) It gives the place a look of a Disney-fied Oxford, but the buildings have been around so long, they actually look classy. Lots of interesting architectural details, carvings, Latin inscriptions, etc. give a sort of theme-park medievalism that is lacking in other campuses of higher-education institutions that I have attended. All very well maintained, as it ought to be given the endowment they must have and the tuition they must charge. :) Come to think of it, it looked in better condition than the Harvard campus did. :)

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There's a reason they call this the "Ivy League." :)

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Blair Hall

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They don't make like this anymore! (My new telephoto lens works great!)

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Alexander Hall, location of the main concert hall on campus. This is "Richardsonian Romanesque," not "Collegiate Gothic"

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Note the medieval styling. The Latin inscription is a bit pretentious, to my taste, but I guess Harriet Crocker Alexander, who donated the money in the 1890s didn't care.

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These are the Arts buildings that tore up the 500 ft. of Dinky right-of-way. Could be worse, but I'm not a real fan of most modernist architecture. Maybe it will look better in 50 - 100 years when the trees grow larger and if they get some ivy to grow on that blank wall.

The town itself is very well maintained. This is not a "gritty city." I think if I lived here, I'd be part of the "lower classes." :)

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This is the house where Albert Einstein lived from 1935 to 1955. It's not marked, except for the signs that say "private residence."

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Here's a shop on Nassau St. The Latin inscription between the second and third floors is barely visible. What kind of commercial building outside of Pompeii in 79 AD has Latin inscriptions?

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I had a nice schwarma for lunch. This chain started in Greenwich Village in the early 1970s. We found one along the Garden State Parkway in Paramus last summer during our trip to Maine.

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They're serious about masks here. Not sure whether the new CDC guidelines are going to change things. On campus, I noticed about half the people walking around were masked, but the density of people on campus was pretty low. A lot more people out and about in town.

I made my way back through campus to the Dinky station, stopped off in the Wawa to use the facilities and buy a Tastycake, I bought a through ticket to Trenton ($3.00 Senior fare), and soon I was on the Dinky, headed back to Princeton Junction.

A nice town and an impressive campus, but I have no regrets about doing undergraduate at a good second-tier liberal arts college and graduate school at a large state university.
 
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MARC Rider

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Baltimore. MD
Back at Princeton Junction, I had some time to kill before the NJT to Trenton arrived. This gave me a chance to play with my new camera and take train pictures. The camera I bought is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85. This is a "mirrorless" digital camera, and appears to be excellent as an entry-level. I have been using point and shoot and cellphone camera for the past 20 years, but before that, I was a bit of a photography enthusiast, and had several 35 mm SLRs. I gave them us because I got tired of carrying a brick around my neck. This new camera does what an SLR does, but it's almost the size of a compact point and shoot. I can't quite fit it in a trouser packet, but it does fit into the pocket on my fleece jacket. It came with a standard 12-32 mm zoom and a telephoto zoom 45 - 150 mm. The camera sensor format is Micro Four Thirds, so these are equivalent to 35 mm camera lenses of 24-64 mm and 90-300 mm. Thus everything is lighter and more compact. The tradeoff is that my sensor is only 16 megapixels instead of the 24 megapixels now found in most new Digital SLRs, and the mirrorless format means that the camera sucks battery juice like anything. I bought a spare battery, and now I think I should buy another, just to be safe, as I ran out of battery power by the end of the day.

Anyway, here are some train pictures.

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Looking up the NEC Mainline towards New York. That 150 mm telephoto gives a pretty cool effect.

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Here's the Silver Meteor, about 2 hours late, heading up into New York. Snapping a shot of train going 100+ mph is kind of hit or miss. What I did here was take a video of the train passing. The camera has a feature that lets you pull out frames from the video as stills.

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Here's the tail end of the Silver Meteor as it passes by. Examination of an enlarged frame from the video indicates that this PV car is called "Chapel Hill."

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Here's a NJT Northeast Corridor local headed for New York. Note that they're only running 3 tracks through this area, as they're doing some platform work, and they've deployed temporary platforms.

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And here's my southbound NJT local to Trenton. The multilevel Bombardier cars are pretty much identical to the MARC Bombardier cars I occasional rode when I was commuting. The train made one stop at Hamilton, and then terminated in Trenton. Now, on to the next phase of the journey.
 
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I’m glad you got the nice bi-level instead of an old single-level one.😊

Princeton Junction is great for rail fans—I used to see them regularly setting up tripods and taking pictures from that same spot shown in your first picture on this post. They were obviously taking pictures, but no one ever bothered them or questioned them, even when it seemed to be happening more in other stations.
 

daybeers

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I too am considering selling my entry-level Canon t3i DSLR with an 18-55mm zoom and a 50mm fixed and purchasing a mirrorless camera. These days my photography is really just when I’m traveling and it’s a pain to carry around my heavy camera and keep taking it in and out of my bag as I go into stores, etc. My goal would be a mirrorless camera that I can put in a belt pouch with a small external mic.

Getting off topic, classic AU. Anyway, I’m enjoying the trip report!
 

MARC Rider

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Got off at Trenton, up the escalator, through the station, which was plain, but clean and in good repair, out the side door, and across the street to the River Line station.

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Here's the outside of the Trenton Station. While the area isn't Trenton's version of Park Avenue, it wasn't that bad, and I didn't feel unsafe or uncomfortable or anything. Of course, this was about 2 PM or so, not the middle of the night.

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The River Line terminal station. Note the semi-high platforms - Level boarding! The senior fare was $0.75, all the way to Camden! I actually got to feed 3 quarters into the TVM, it's been a long time since I've done that. Also, the connection with the NJT train was lousy, I had to wait 30 minutes until the next departure.

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Fortunately, the train arrived 15 minutes before departure, so I could spend most of the time waiting inside the train instead of on the sun-blasted platform. These Stadler cars are about 15 years old are are starting to look it. The fabric on the seats is starting to wear, and as the train pulled in, I caught the whiff of diesel fumes -- this is not Tier IV compliant! I also got an added olfactory "benefit" of a faint background whiff of cannabis, though I couldn't identify any particular person who was using it.

The seats were a bit hard, but had good back support and headrests. So it was a bit of a spartan ride for such a relatively long trip, but from my observation, not too many people were riding this thing all the way from Trenton to Camden. There were a good number of riders, though, many of whom were riding between the intermediate stops, of which there were many. The full cruising speed of the train was 65 mph, but slowing down to stop so often made the average speed much less.

It was actually more of scenic ride than I expected. The first part after Trenton runs along the Delaware and Raritan Canal and passes through a lot of undeveloped riparian marshland. It passes through a number of old-fashioned main street towns of the kind I didn't expect to see in south Jersey, as my experience in the area has mostly been driving along the highways. We passed through a lot of towns whose names I was familiar with from driving on the main roads -- Bordentown, Burlington, Palmyra, Cinnaminson, Delanco, etc.

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Seating arrmangements

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Leaving Bordentown

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Roebling. I'm going to have to check out this museum after Covid and it reopens.

Finally, we worked our way into Camden, with the Philadelphia skyline in the background. I was pleasantly surprised that Camden wasn't the war zone described to me in past years by people who had to endure it. Nonetheless, the area around the Walter Rand Transportation Center (aka the PATCO Broadway Station) looked a little rundown, and some of the station buildings were blocked off by construction barricades. The light rail stop was a short walk from the entrance to the PATCO station, and the signage was pretty much non-existent. After I found the entrance, I went in, bought a ticket ($1.40 to any stop in Philadelphia), and went downstairs.

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The PATCO 1969 Budd cars are still in service....

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...but they recently overhauled the cars and re-did the interiors. No more front seat ride with a windshield view anymore. :(

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On the Ben Franklin Bridge, about to cross the Delaware River into Philly. About this time, my camera battery died, fortunately, I had a replacement that was half-charged.

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At the 8th and Market Station. This corridor used to be outside the faregates and allowed one to walk underground to 8th and Chestnut. Back in my school days 50 years ago, one could enter the underground passage at 8th and Chestnut and walk though various gloomy underground passages all the way around City Hall and Suburban Station and come back to the surface at 18th St. and J.F. Kennedy Blvd, almost at 30th Street Station. I think some of these passage have since been closed off, or at least put behind the faregates.

Next stop, a quick run through downtown Philly, and .... cheesesteak!
 

MARC Rider

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Once on the street at 8th and Market, the first thing I needed was to find a restroom. I decided to head for Independence Hall, a few blocks away.

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Here, at 7th and Market, is the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Well, not exactly, as this is a reconstruction. When I lived around here as a high school student, the site was occupied by a greasy spoon lunch place that sold overpriced cheesesteaks. I mean, they were OK cheesesteaks, but they charged 75¢ when every other place in the city charged 50¢ for the same cheesesteak.

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The birthplace of the United States.

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Even though it was a weekday in May, it looks like the tourists are back to see the Liberty Bell. My afternoon commute from High School involved taking the Broad St Subway Ridge Ave spur to 8th and Market and walking home through Independence Hall. Back then, the Liberty Bell was on display in the base of the bell tower, and you could just walk in and see it. No lines or anything.

I finally found facilities at the Second Bank of the United States building, then back to 5th St. and the Market Frankford Line.

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Another free ride thanks to my Senior SEPTA Key Card, one of the great bargains in Public transportation.

I got off at 11th St, as I had decided to get something to eat at Reading Terminal Market before I caught my train home.

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I think I found the secret underground Bond-villain lair where "Dr. Evil" designed Amtrak's Flex meals. :)

I found my way to the street, and then Reading Terminal Market. A few of the restaurants were closed, but most of the stall were open, though the crowd was smaller than usual. My goal was Tommy Dinic's Roast Pork, where, in deference to my religious heritage, I was planning on their roast beef sandwich, which is just as good. But when I got there, they were closed with a sign that said "Sold Out." OK, I thought, might as well get a cheesesteak. So I went over the the cheesesteak place I usually use, and they, too, were "sold out" and closed. I wandered around a bit, not really getting excited about the other offerings, though some of them looked good, and then I found Carmen's Cheesesteaks and Hoagies. I had never realized there were two cheesesteak places in Reading Terminal Market. I got a cheeseteak -- it was the real thing. First, the grill was properly greasy and gunked up. Second, they used the real authentic frozen chopped up, pre-formed "steaks" and chopped them up as they grilled. Finally, the true test of authenticity, they placed the cheese (I ordered provolone) on top of the meat on the grill and covered it to melt it before sliding the entire mess on to the hoagie roll. All too many cheesesteak places now prepare it by placing slices of cold cheese on the inside of the roll and dump the steak on top, hoping that the warm meat will melt the cheese. No, no, no, that's not how it's done.

After I was served, I went over to the Market's Covid accommodation for eating.

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No "community seating" here! BTW, the cheesesteak was pretty good. You can't get 'em that that in Baltimore. On the other hand, I don't think you can get good pit beef in Philly.

The next stop in the market was Bassetts Ice Cream. I ordered a "kid size" cone and got a bowling ball-sized scoop of ice cream on my cone. Mmm-mmm, it's about the richest ice cream around. I ate that outside out of the sun under the former trainshed. And what did I find there, but a Amish buggy parked.

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Not sure what it was doing there. Surely no Amish stall owner drives his buggy into Philly all the way from Lancaster County.

Finally, time to get to 30th St. I ducked across the street to an entrance to Jefferson Station, down the stairs, through the turnstiles (you now need a SEPTA keycard to enter the downtown Regional Rail stations. Not sure how they handle the free ride to 30th St for people with Amtrak tickets, or if they even still have that policy, but I just used my free Senior Keycard. As it was the starting end of the rush hour, there were a lot of trains going by. I took a Silverliner V heading for the Airport.

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MARC Rider

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Finally, back at 30th St.

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I miss the Solari Board. Looks like may train., Northeast Regional 129 is on time. In fact, everyhting is on time. What is this, did the Swiss railways take over Amtrak? :)

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It was a good idea to get something to eat at Reading Terminal Market. The food court at 30th St. was shut up tight. Th only things open were a Jersey Mike's sub shop and a Wendy's. I think I'm going to have to pack some lunch for my trip to Pittsburgh in June.

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Here's the snack assortment at the Metropolitan Lounge in Philly. The drink machine on the left provides various sorts of cappuccinos and lattes. The cold drinks, as you can see, are still Pepsi products, even if they're selling Coke on the trains. This is a nice lounge. You get a view of the main station from the windows, though nothing like the view in Moynihan Train Hall. The best feature, though, are the elevators that take you directly down to the platform without having to go back to the main departure hall and have to cut in front of the cattle line.

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Some of the wall art in the lounge. As a kid, for me these were what real locomotives were, not those noisy smelly diesel things or old-fashioned "choo-choos."

And soon, there I was, down on the platform.

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I booked business class for my trip home. Oh-oh, I'm getting spoiled, as I'm starting to think that the spacious seat is "normal," as a found out being jammed into a coach seat on the way up. The car, while still at socially-distanced limited capacity, was surprisingly busy, well maybe no so surprisingly, it was the tail end of the evening rush hour. Being that business class is placed at the tail of the Northeast Regionals, I got to enjoy some time looking out the railfan window.

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I never realized that a good bit of the NEC in northeast Maryland is only double track. Looks like in years past, there might have been 3 tracks.

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Flying by Perryville station. Actually ,we were slowing down to 85 mph to cross the bridge.

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Crossing the Susquehanna River, passing a MARC train on its way to Perryville.

And that's about it. We rolled into Baltimore on time, I paid my parking fee, went into the garage, started my car, drove out and on to the Jones Falls Expressway, and in 15 minutes I was home. Another successful Amtrak (and other rail operators) joyride.
 

flitcraft

OBS Chief
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Jan 10, 2018
Messages
886
I really enjoyed your travelogue--perfect combo of pictures and textual explanation. I haven't done much NEC traveling since my graduate school days, but I keep thinking I ought to do it one of these days while I'm out on the Right Coast...
 
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Dec 26, 2014
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Thank you so much for this wonderful report and the photos—it was nostalgic for me.

I live in one of the river towns you passed on the RiverLine (the nicest of the towns, of course—we all say that along the river, no matter which one we live in😁), and your day in Philly sounds like the ones I used to routinely do but have not for a year and a half, with some slight differences.

I take SEPTA both ways, TRE to PHL and back. I too have the senior SEPTA card—one of my favorite things! At RTM, I get lomein at Shanghai, then for dessert either the ice cream or a snickerdoodle cookie.

I am just starting to venture out—I’ve been to Mystic and Alexandria—but I’m not quite ready for a large city, even my favorite one, so I am very grateful to you for reminding me of the treats in store when I am ready to visit.
 

flitcraft

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Jan 10, 2018
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886
I've always assumed that reports on short train adventures aren't of much interest. Thanks for very much proving me wrong, MARCrider! And I hope to see more 'mini-trip' reports along with the LD trips that some of us are starting to take again.
 
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