Time for my annual summer run to the Big Apple to sample the new Dutch herring that the Grand Central Oyster bar has flown in every year in June and early July. This year I added a few things to the program:
1. Ride an Amtrak train in and out of Grand Central Terminal
2. A visit to the Strand Bookstore at 12th and Broadway. (highly recommended if you like books)
3. New York Transit Museum in beautiful downtown Brooklyn
4. Rockaway Beach
5. NYC Ferry service from Rocakaway to Wall Street ferry terminal
I accomplished everything, except that I rode back to Grand Central and a Metro-North train due to my Amtrak reurn train ebing greatly delayed. It was a bit rushed, but it was a fun day, and I got to see some parts of New York I've never seen until now.
I rode up and back on the Acela. The northbound trip was a points redemption, and I sprung for First Class, I bought a business class ticket for the return trip (pretty sure that purchase put me over the top for Select Plus this year) and used a upgrade coupon that was about to expire to ride home First Class. The upgrade couldn't be redeemed until 12 hours before departure, so I had to spend a little time at the ticket counter in NYP right after I arrived.
So here's the trip:
Riding Acela 2100, scheduled departure from Baltimore 6:26 AM. Train was on time and here it comes:
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Time to eat! Here's the Mexican breakfast. Also had a cup of coffee.
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Crossing the Susquehanna River, looking southeast over the head of Chesapeake Bay and the hills of Elk Neck,
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Here we are crossing the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. A little beyond this, I saw the "Save Amtrak -- Fire Anderson" sign, but, unfortunately was able to get a clear camera shot.
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We were going great until we got to Secaucus. The, we started slowing down and eventually stopped. We were told the train ahead of us broke down in the tunnel. Lots of trains, mostly NJT, passed us going the other way, but at least I got a couple of nice shots of Manhattan skyscrapers that I wouldn't have gotten if the train had been moving.
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The delay got us into New York about 30 minutes late. I wasn't sure I was going to make the Empire Service train I wanted to take from Grand Central to Croton-Harmon. I had another surprise as I got off the train. The First Class car was the last car of the train, at the far west end of the platform. I went up the nearest stairway, and found myself in someplace totally unfamiliar:
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This is the new west end concourse. I pride myself on being able to navigate the Penn Station rat's maze, but I have to say I was a little turned around following the signs to the main part of the station. I was especially confused when we passed the turnstiles for the 8th Ave. subway stop, but soon after, I got to the LIRR level, and was able to go upstairs, use the Club Acela restroom, and upgrade my return ticket. Then back down to to the LIRR level, and over the the 7th Ave Subway station:
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At the ticket machines I found this. For those going to the Gathering this fall, be prepared! Buying New York subway tickets is a real pain in the rear since they abolished tokens. A single ride is $2.75 if paid with a Metrocard, which has a one-time cost of $1,00. Above a certain amount, somewhere around 5 or 1 dollar, you get a 5% bonus. Calculating all of this while stand in line or at the machine, which doesn't have the most user-friendly interface, is a real frustration. They sure didn't include 2.75 in the multiplication tables I learned in school, and the bonus really confuses things. I don't know why the interface doesn't just ask you how many rides you want to buy and then issues you the card with the fares and bonuses automatically calculated. They will also see you a single ride ticket, not reusuable, for $3.00. In the end, I didn't buy enough fare, and had to top up my Metrocard later in the day. I think I might have 50-60 cents left on it, ready for my next trip to New York.
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Here's some art apparently refelecting on the lost glory of the old Penn Station:
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I made my way through the turnstiles to the platform and caught a 2 train to Times Square. Then a quick transfer to the Grand Central shuttle, a ride so short, the cars don't need seats:
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Once my 4G signal returned I checked the Amtrak app and found that I did, indeed have enough time to make Empire Service 281 to Niagara Falls. However, it seems a little close, so I didn't buy the ticket just then, but rather walked into the Grand Central Concourse, found out where the Amtrak trains left, (They are listed on the departure boards for the Metro-North Hudson Line trains) and hustled over to the track. It was like the old days, no gate guards or anything, people were just heading down to the platform and boarding the train. Here it is, a picture of Amtrak at Grand Central in 2018:
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Business seemed pretty brisk. The conductors were sorting passengers by destination. People heading for Albany ond closer stations were directed to the front car. It was pretty much 100% full, but I managed to snag a seat by the left (scenic northbound) window. Then I finally pulled out my phone and actually purchased the ticket. For good measure, I purchased a return ticket from Croton-Harmon on Empire Service 281, giving me about a half hour layover in Croton Harmon, and getting me back to Lunch at the Oyster Bar at a reasonable time. This was a mistake. I should have checked out asm.transitdocs.com before I bought my ticket, because 281 was late, and it had been late ever since it left Niagara Falls. Oh well.
We left on time clunking along under Park Avenue until 90-something street, where we went elevated. The last time I did this ride I was a 10-year old kid riding the Camp Train taking me to a summer camp in the Berkshires. We soon crossed the Harlem River into the Bronx, and I noticed an interesting looking railroad track built on stilts right over the river. A single track, not electrified, probably a freight line, but what was it?
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On we went, past the Metro-North Highbridge yards and then the sharp curve at Spuyten Duvil, and we were along the Hudson with the scenic cliffs of the Palisides on the opposite shore. Near Tarrytown, we got a nice view of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as what's left of the old one, which is still being disassembled.
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We pulled into Croton-Harmon on schedule. The ride was a bot slow, the fastest we did was about 70 in a few stretches, but a lot of it was slower than that. I think the train goes faster further north. Anyway, where is 281 leaving the station, heading for Noagara Falls:
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The station is in the absolute middle of nowhere, being strictly a park and ride operation. The stairs I went up led to a small concourse that was not air conditioned, which was a bother, being that the temperature was in the 90s. I did get a nice view of the Metro-North years, and noticed that they like to give names to some of their passenger cars:
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I qyuickly found the other concourse, which was air conditioned, and which contained a Metro-North ticket window (closed), some Metro-North ticket machines, an Amtrak Quick-trak ticket machine and a coffee bar. I bought an iced coffee and finally decided to check on 281 with the train tracker. That's when I found out it was 40 minutes late. Then they announced over the loudspeaker that the delay was going to be longer. I think at that point it was supposed to be near the station, and it hadn't even gotten to Rhinecliff yet. And there I was stuck with a $19 Value ticket. Making a quick decision, I bought a Metro-Noth ticket and hopped on an express train that was boarding just then. Once safely on board, I then changed my reservation on 281 for the next day and figured I could sort things out that evening at Penn Station and get a e-voucher (which I did, but they nicked me to $5 in penalties.)
The Metro-North train was very nice, comparable to an MARC single level car, but it was an EMU. The train was empty, I don't know how comfortable it would have been if all the seats were full.
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A nice scenic ride back, Here's some scenery:
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Sing Sing Prison in Ossining:
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A view of the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson, and the Amtrak bridge (to the far left) over Spuyten Duyvil. You can see why Empire Service trains have been routed to Grand Central.
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Ladies and Gentlemen: Behold a unique view of Manhattan Island!
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Finally, we roll into Grand Central, not too much later than my original plans. One thing I noticed was that the platforms were spotless. Not a speck of trash on the ground, and no trash cans, either. I noticed this because I had my used iced coffee cup in hand, there being no trash bins on the Metro-North cars. I offer this as a counter to those who think that New York is a dirty trashy place. (There was a trash can right by the exit door, so fortunately I didn't have to carry my cup all the way home to Baltimore.)
Once relieved of my trash, I then entered Grand Central Terminal in all its glory:
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Well, that's it for now. Off to lunch When I get some more time, I'll finish the tale of the day's adventure, including the open bar on the Acela.