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Friday, December 14, 2001
This is one of those unusual times where I go on another train trip just days after I came off of one. I am sure that there are some people out there that wouldn't find that too difficult to swallow. Again, my jump off point is at LAX (Los Angeles Airport) and ATA is my carrier this time. My flight left Los Angeles at 6: 35 AM (do you have any idea what time I had to get up at?) and I flew to Chicago with just enough time to get to my next plane when they were boarding. Now that's a tight schedule. Leaving Chicago at 1:05 PM, I flew to Boston Logan airport, arrived at 4:20 PM, then jumped on a Concord Trailways bus (800-639-3317) at the airport to take me to Portland, Maine. I did not have a ticket when I got on the bus at the airport, but Jim Davis, the driver, drove to the bus depot in town where I purchased a ticket to take me from Logan airport to Portland, Maine. The cost is $22 one way. My bus left the airport at 5:15 PM, but that's from the last pickup point at the airport. I suggest that you be ready to board at least 1/2 hour before that because you may catch the bus at one of the earlier pickup points at the airport like I did. The airport is literally jam packed with traffic and that is why it takes the bus so much time to eventually get out of there. The bus stops at the airport a number of times during the day so go to www.cjtrailways.com to check out their schedules.
By now you might be curious as to why I'm heading north. I'm going on the Inauguaral Revenue Run of the Amtrak "Downeaster" which begins operation between Boston and Portland, Maine, early tomorrow morning. The "Downeaster" stops at Haverhill, Exeter, Durham, Dover, Wells, Saco and Old Orchard Beach between Boston and Portland. I will be taking that first train out of Portland December 15, 2001, at 6:05 AM, Saturday morning ending in Boston, MA. This is the very first run of the Amtrak Downeaster that is open to the public!
[Steve's Note: TrainWeb has provided travelogues and photos of the "Inaugural Revenue Run" for several new Amtrak routes, trains and services. The "Inaugural Revenue Run" is usually not the very first passenger train on the route. There are usually a number of track testing and timing trains that carry non-paying passengers during feasability studies of the new service. One or two days before paying passengers are allowed on the new service, there is usually a special run for non-paying V.I.P. passengers. TrainWeb has sometimes been invited to these V.I.P. runs and we try to make it when we can, but the most important run that we target is the "Inaugural Revenue Run." That is, we try to be on the first run this is open to the public. Why do we consider this the real "Inaugural Run"? Consider this analogy. Let's say you were going to open a new restaurant. To celebrate, you invite all your friends and relatives and serve free food to them in your new restaurant. However, you keep your doors locked to the public. The next morning, you hang your "OPEN" sign on your door for the first time and take in your first dollar of earnings. What day is considered the first day of operation of your restaurant? Is it the day you threw a party for your friends and relatives? Or is it the day you first opened your door to the public and served your first paying customer? We believe it is the latter, hence the reason that we believe the first day of service to the public is the true "Inaugural Run".]
Concord Trailways Bus Company's service is very well entrenched in the NorthEast corridor of the country. In fact, it is this company's bus station in Portland, Maine, that Amtrak uses as their Portland station. Their buses comes eleven times a day through Portland. A pretty nice setup for a bus and train transfer. Jim Davis, the bus driver, has been with the company a decade now and he tells me that this trip is faster and cheaper than Amtrak on this route. One hour and fifty five minutes by bus compared to 2 1/2 hours by train. Like anything, there is give and take. If time is critical, and at just less than 2 hours, hey, it's not too bad. On the other hand, if you like the wider seats, the grand legroom, walking about to stretch your legs, the capability to purchase food and drinks while traveling and you can spare a little extra time, then taking the train is your cup of tea!
Being from Southern California, I found it a bit nippy in Boston and Maine, but that's to be expected at this time of year. It rained while driving towards Maine. Jim, who originally hails from San Diego, California, is obviously a good driver, so all was well.
The heavy rain had calmed down by the time I got to Portland, Maine, and I was fortunate to be staying in the Doubletree Hotel just across from the parking lot of the terminal. Now pay attention here. The parking lot is gated all around. So, the way to make it to the hotel (Believe me, I walked every wrong route to this hotel!) is to make a 45 degree left turn when you come out the front of the station. You will come to a street just outside the parking compound. The hotel is exactly in front of the terminal, so you will see it. Just start walking up the street towards the hotel. Otherwise, you're going to be climbing a 5 foot chain link fence to get there!
It was 7:45 PM when I checked in. I asked what time the restaurant closes and they said at 8:00 PM. I said that I'll eat there first before I go to my room as I had nothing to eat and drink all day except a little bag of peanuts and a soda while on each of the planes. At the restaurant, they told me they're closed! Some service! I bought a can of soda from one of the machines to go with the two chocolate chip cookies that the hotel gives you. Need I say more? Friendly service from the hotel staff and a clean and comfortable room, so no problems there.
Saturday, December 15, 2001
I got up at 4:45 AM, got washed up, checked out and took my little walk to the bus, "er," train station. There was a fair number of people in the terminal so there was certainly some buzz going on in the area. I walked down to the train platform and there were my two good friends, Gene Poon from northern California and Alan Feinstein from Plainsboro, New Jersey. These are two knowledgeable and very friendly people when it comes to passenger trains. I know that Steve Grande of TrainWeb.com and Gene communicate periodically on this subject matter.
It was raining just a little bit but there was overhead cover. I picked up a couple of good photo shots of the train so you can check them out. The Downeaster makes four round-trips each day between Portland, Maine, and Boston, Massachusetts. In the seven stops between, travelers will find expansive beaches, majestic lighthouses, unlimited outdoor recreation, quaint villages, thriving arts, entertainment and the best lobster and seafood in the world!
Special features on board include the native culinary delights and spirits found in Amtraks' Cafe Car. Coastal Club Service offers more spacious seating and complimentary non-alcoholic beverage and newspaper.
Epicurean Feast (Cafes & Restaurants), a premiere New England Food Service Company from Maynard, Massachusetts, is on the Downeaster Cafe Car daily with upscale culinary talents, and a generous selection of wine, beer and spirits. Cafe Car menu items are freshly baked or prepared daily, just prior to the Downeaster's departure. I also might add that a number of the passengers were grumbling that the cafe items were too pricy.
TrainRiders/Northeast (TNE) is a grass roots citizens organization formed in 1989 to explore the feasibility of having Amtrak extend its Northeast Corridor passenger trains from Boston to Portland, as a first step to expanding passenger rail service to other areas of Northern New England.
The highlights of the past 13 years show what a group of local citizens can do for their community. In 1990 to 1991 the Passenger Rail Service Act, drawn up by TNE, becomes the first citizen-initiated bill ever adopted by the Maine Legislature, which enabled the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to seek federal funds.
In 1991 to 1998 the efforts by TNE, MDOT and the bi-partisan efforts of the Maine Congressional Delegation resulted in federal appropriations over a three year period of close to $40 million dollars for right-of-way improvements. Additional efforts resulted in MDOT receiving $23 million dollars from Amtrak's capital fund.
During the past 12 years, TNE has sponsored three rail conferences. TNE also sponsored the visits to Portland of the German-Intercity Express train as well as the Spanish Talgo train when those trainsets were touring the U.S. as contenders for Amtrak's proposed high speed rail service. (The Talgo trainsets were purchased by the Washington State Department of Transportation, WSDOT, for use on the Amtrak Cascades between Seattle and Vancouver, BC, as well as between Seattle and Portland and Salem, Oregon.)
Future plans call for the extension of Amtrak service to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine, by 2003 via a new trestle linking the B&M railroad with the St. Lawrence and Atlantic railroad. Their work is far from over, so it would behoove those who are concerned to join this organization in their efforts to expand passenger and freight service in Northern New England.
I am told that Gilford Transportation Industries owns the Boston & Main Railroad Company. The CEO is Mr. Fink and his son David is second in command. The Mellon family out of Pittsburgh owns that show. To my understanding, this entity has fought hard to prevent passenger service coming through on their tracks, even though they were paid a substantial amount of money to upgrade the tracks and are paid for use of the tracks. If this is the case, then this story is repeated across the nation. I can sympathise with these companies who are basically told by the government what they can and what they cannot do with their property. However, they are willing to prevent passenger rail, even though they are paid for such. I don't see the logic to it, other than pure greed. My thinking is that they are in the rail freight business and part of the "irritation" that they should accept is to allow passenger rail service on their lines as long as they are being fairly compensated.
The airlines have done what they could to destroy rail service and pollute us with their fuel. Detroit did a great job in destroying the street cars and their tracks and then polluted our air with inefficient gas burning cars and oil burning buses. We are all pretty well brainwashed on loving our charismatic automobile to the point that we pollute each other with our emissions. I think that we should give ourselves a break and really bring on strong passenger rail service like the Japanese have done in their country. When you consider what they have done with their passenger rail service in Japan compared to what we have allowed ourselved to be sucked into, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We lead the world in space exploration, in high tech and in sophisticated medical equipment, but yet we are "old fashioned" when it comes to our public transportation for cross country travel. Relying so much on the airlines is akin to the way the Irish relied on their potato crops in the previous century. Need I say more?
There was a buzz of excitement in the air as everyone seemed to be very happy on the train. It was nice to see that. There were actual business travellers and railfans both. It's like being in a second home. I hope that doesn't sound too "hoitytoity." Jeff Bills, the Product Line Manager, was about making sure that everything was in order. Victor Salami, the Product Line Director, was about as well. They were checking with not only the crew, but also the passengers, as to what products they'd like to see on board. Good for them! That's the way to do it.
Amtrak put together a very nice marketing flyer about the Downeaster that I am sure you will appreciate. We left the station smoothly and we were on our way to Boston. It was dark when we left but it soon lightened up and I could soon see the landscape. I've always wanted to go through this part of the country, though the fall would have been a better time when the trees would be so majesticly flaunting their fall colors. Still, it was very restful lazilly gazing out those large windows watching as the pleasant scenery passed me by. It's great when there's no effort on my part to go through these woods and back yards, seeing things that are not accessible from the roads. I liken it to going into the attic of an old empty house and snooping around. Years ago, I went through an old house that had been demolished and I found newspaper that was used as insulation behind the outer walls. I wiped off the broken plaster that formed the inside wall and retrieved the old newspapers and brought these original beauties home to my dad. He found many interesting articles that happened during "his time." One persons garbage is another persons gold!
The Cafe Car attendant came to everyone and asked them what they'd like to drink. I had hot chocolate. I actually had two of them. Remember, I hadn't eat yesterday. The area is as pretty as they say it is. I think that "Downeaster" is a good name for a train up in this neck of the woods. When I wasn't talking to Alan Feinstein or Gene Poon, I was appreciating the view. I especially enjoyed looking at the cities that we stopped at, and if time had permitted, would have loved to get off the train and explore these little treasure troves. It is great to travel the world, but if one would slow down a bit and take the time to look around, they would find beautiful treasures in their own back yard! Our train only had five empty seats in business class and it was almost totally full in coach. I think that this is going to be a busy route for Amtrak!
Two and one half hours isn't long if you're enjoying yourself. Before I knew it, I was soon pulling into North Station in Boston! I took a few more pictures and soon bid "adieu" to Gene and Alan. Steve Grande of TrainWeb is originally from Boston and he had given me directions to get around, so I wasn't too lost. After leaving the station, I went outside, went up the stairs over the street and got on the "Green Line" subway car. I took it to Copley Station and then walked up the stairs to the street level.
I truly love this subway! They wind to and fro underground and they also run on street level and even above street level! To me it is a very fascinating journey on these lovely cars. I thought these were old street cars, but Steve told me that these are the new "lightrail" cars that replaced the old street cars that he used to ride to college in Boston. Steve left Boston in 1979 and has never been in one of these lightrail cars. If the lightrail cars replaced the old street cars in the 1980s, then I guess they are already going on 20 years old, and are just about ready to qualify as "old cars" themselves! I truly enjoy them. It is a lot cheaper than the Disney rides, takes you a lot further, and you can be on three levels! I find the trips fascinating, especially in the tunnels. If you've never been to Boston before, then take a few subway rides. It doesn't matter where you're going, just go for the ride. It's a great way to see the city from top to bottom.
At Copley, I turned to my right and walked down a few blocks to the Prudential Center. Pretty windy over here. I went to the area where they take you up near the roof area. So after they had checked my bag, I got on the elevator and took it up to the 50th floor. I had to pay $6.50 to get in to walk around the observation area up here, but I must admit, the view is very spectacular. I took a few photos of the city from up here, but of course, being in person gives you a much stronger sense of awe then just pictures. It's like going to a stadium to watch a footbal game compared to watching it on television.
[Steve's note: During most of the time that I lived in the Boston area, The Prudential Tower was the tallest building in Boston. The Observation Deck is on the 50th floor and there is a restaurant above that. In the early 1970s, however, a new building with an observation deck on the 60th floor was built in Boston, The John Hancock Building. This became the new tourist attraction for visiting the tallest building in Boston for many years and I was fortunate enough to visit this building in the late 1980s. However, the observation deck of the John Hancock Building was closed after the World Trade Center destruction by terrorists on September 11, 2001. So, for now, the Observation Deck of The Prudential Tower is the highest floor open to the public in Boston once again. ]
After finishing up here I went downstairs to the mall and had a chicken meal in the eating area. I then went back to the subway and took the Green Line subway to Haymarket Station which is just one stop before North Station. My original purpose for coming to Copley was to take the Boston Ducks tours. This company had refurbished the old military duck vehicles that can go on land and water and uses them to drive tourists around town and also down the river. They are quite popular but are closed this time of year.
The Faneuil Hall Marketplace (www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com) is just outside the Haymarket Station. The marketplace is an area packed with stores of every kind. One area is mainly different foods, so chances are you will find something for your pallate. There is also an open vegetable/fruit/fish market in the area. I always enjoy them. I picked up a few t-shirt souvenirs and even saw the original "Cheers" bar that the television version is copied from.
I was extremely tired from all the walking around that I was doing, but I enjoyed the area immensely, including the minstrels that were dressed in 1800's style clothes, top hat and all, and sang lovely Christmas carols to the public. However, all good things must come to an end (except heaven) so I popped into a taxi and took it to the airport. It was something like $6 and then a tip. I was quite early for my plane but I was pretty tired and I didn't want to "gamble" in a strange town that had as much traffic as Boston. I reversed my route coming back to Los Angeles. Again, Peanuts and soda on each plane. Money is not the issue. They just do not have any food on board. Not a big deal. I'll eat tomorrow.
I got into Los Angeles around midnight. After many tries, I eventually found my vehicle. Ever gone through that before? I was glad to get home. Though my train trip was short, one never forgets the inaugural runs that one takes. There is something that draws me, like a lemming, to the east coast. I think that there's a gentleness to this lovely area. The history is overpowering and there's a lot to learn and see. I am happy that Amtrak has the Downeaster running and look forward to taking it again.
[Steve's note: I grew up about 5 miles north of Boston right near the old Boston and Maine (B&M) line. The street on which I lived terminated at the tracks. Many of the kids in the neighborhood would often walk down to the tracks to watch and wave to the B&M budliner cars speeding down the tracks. This passenger service ended in January of 1965 and resumed today with this inaugural run that Ray took from Portland to Boston.
The mass transit agency in Boston is the MBTA, or simply the "T" for short (www.mbta.com). A few years ago they rerouted the Orange Line to travel those tracks that go right by the end of the street where I grew up. Thus, those tracks are now electrified and fenced off. There is a new MBTA station in my home town of Malden where an old abandoned B&M station once stood. The MBTA Orange Subway Line now terminates at Oak Grove which is in the northern part of my old home town. The new Amtrak Downeaster does not stop at any of the cities served by the Orange Line once the train leaves Boston on its journey northward. The first northward stop is at Haverhill, Massachusetts, a few cities beyond Malden.
TrainWeb wishes to thank Gene Poon for his reminder to us about this Inaugural Revenue Run and for making all the arrangements for this trip. Gene placed Business Class reservations aside for both Ray and I and then contacted me by e-mail. Unfortunately, I was not able to make this trip because of my children's school schedule, but Ray Burns was able to go and cover this event for TrainWeb. Gene released my reservation on the Amtrak Downeaster and then made all the flight and hotel arrangements for Ray Burns. Although I was following the news items about the Downeaster, I didn't realize the Inaugural Date was coming up so fast! If Gene hadn't send the e-mail to me, I probably would have missed the event. Our hats are off to you Gene! Thanks again!
Be sure to read Gene Poon's travelogue which will probably be in the next issue of Rail Travel News (www.RailTravelNews.com)!]
Some items from the Dining Car Menu on the Amtrak Downeaster (Cafe service provided by epicurean feast Cafes & Restaurants):
The above is just a sample of the items on the menu. There were many other sandwiches such as Turkey, Ham & Swiss, Tuna Salad, Chicken Salad, Cold Roasted Veggie Wrap and Roast Beef for $5.75 each as well as a wide selection of snacks, desserts, breakfast items, beverages and drinks from the bar.
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