Rail circumnavigation of Long Island Sound .. with more ferries!!

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by MARC Rider, Aug 22, 2019.

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  1. Aug 22, 2019 #1

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Imagine a 2-hour excursion ride on a scenic rail line that starts at a quaint seaport and runs with views of the sea, salt marsh, vineyards, and fertile farmland. You ride in quaint 1990s vintage commuter equipment, rocking along at speeds of 30-40 mph. You have a 3-hour layover at the destination, where you can do -- I'm not sure, because I didn't get off, but just kept riding. OK, so with the 3-hour layover, it's more like a 5-hour excursion. But such a deal! the fare is under $10, under $5 if you're over 65.

    Yes, I'm talking about the Greenport Branch of the Long Island Railroad. The ride I just described runs between Greenport, out on the end of the North Fork, to Yaphank, where the suburbia starts. Actually, the train service runs between Greenport and Ronkokoma, where you can change from your cute vintage 3-car string of C3 doubledeckers pulled or pushed by an EMD DE30 to a 12 car EMU that rocks along at 75+ mph (most of the time, but they are doing a bit of track work in places) and can deliver you straight to Penn Station in New York. Or you can change in Jamaica for Brooklyn, or to get to JFK airport and catch a flight to the other Jamaica.

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    (end of the original Long Island Railroad Main Line and Greenport harbor. The railroad was designed to connect New York and Boston, with an 11-hour trip involving a ferry to Brooklyn and a much longer ferry ride to somewhere in Connecticut. A couple of years after the railroad started service, they managed to build the Shore Line, which everybody said couldn't be built. The direct train to Boston from New York killed off business, and the railroad never really made money, as the original route bypassed whatever towns there were on Long Island in the 1840s.)

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    EMD DE30 leading the three car train coming into Greenport station

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    I'm a happy camper, there really is train service out here a long way from anywhere.

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    (This is the old circa 1890's Greenport Depot, now repurposed as a museum.)

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    (part of the collection of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, which was closed on the day I visited.)

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    (Long Island wine country)

    After my trip last June on the Port Jefferson - Bridgeport ferry, I was eager to check out the other ferry service crossing Long Island Sound. I've seen the Cross Sound boats at the dock in New London when I rode through on my way to Boston, and now it was time to do a little joyride to experience this trip and maybe check out the east end of Long Island as a possible site for a longer stay.

    I soon realized, after checking out timetables, that this could not be a one-day excursion from Baltimore. Well, it could be, but it would be one very long day. Fortunately, I found a hotel in Brooklyn with reasonably good (and numerous) online reviews that was $139! (of course, with tax, it was more like $160, but it's still better than the usual $250+ closet-sized rooms in iffy neighborhoods that are usual in the Big Apple.) Then I had to decide whether I was going clockwise or counterclockwise from New York. The pivot was the Greenport train. There are only 4 a day each way. There was also the Suffolk Country Transit bus connection between Greenport and the Orient Point ferry dock to consider as well. There's only 1 train each way which would have done the job, counterclockwise train leaving NYP at about 11, arriving in Greenport at about 2:15, or the clockwise train leaving Greenport at about 2:45, arriving at NYP at about 5:30 PM. Now that I think about it, it might have been better to take the counterclockwise trip, as I could have left Baltimore later in the morning. But I ended up taking the clockwise trip. Which went as follows:

    Northeast Regional 190 from Baltimore. Leaves Baltimore at 3:50 AM, arrive in New London at 9:35 AM. (I could have taken NER 170, which leave Baltimore at a more civilized 5:25 AM and gets to New London at 11:10 AM, but I was a little concerned about lat trains and having to take a later ferry, and having to take a later bus, and thus missing my 2:47 LIRR out of Greenport. The next LIRR after that isn't until 9:40 PM and would get me into NYP at 1230 AM. No, I didn't want to miss the 2:47.

    Walk over to the Cross Sound Ferry Dock from the train station, ride to Orient Point. Though a 9:33 arrival would have been fine for making the 10 AM ferry (they run every half hour during the summer), I decided to book the 10:30 ferry, just in case Amtrak performed as usual. :)

    From the Orient Point Ferry Dock, ride the Suffolk County transit bus to Greenport. Get lunch in Greenport.

    Ride the LIRR to Penn Station.

    New York Subway (A/C/E 8th ave. to 14th St., L to Brooklyn)

    Crash for the night.

    Ride back to Penn Station in the morning.

    Acela Express 2153 (10 AM) NYP to Baltimore, arrival in Baltimore at about 12:15 PM.

    I must say that everything worked out as planned, except that I got impatient with Suffolk County transit and found an Uber ride from Orient Point. Greenport was, indeed a better place to hang out for 2 and a half hours than the ferry terminal.

    Stay tuned, more to come.
     
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  2. Aug 24, 2019 #2

    OBS

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    OBS

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    Great report!
     
  3. Aug 24, 2019 #3

    railiner

    railiner

    railiner

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    I am enjoying following, too. I have often thought about doing this 'loop', but still haven't.
    Speaking of that RR museum in Greenport, there is another collection along that route in Riverhead, including one of the once common, but now rare LIRR MU "double-decker's". It is more like a 'duplex' layout than a true double deck, as there is only a single aisle, with groupings of four seats either a couple of steps down, or up on both sides of the aisle.
     
  4. Aug 25, 2019 #4

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Baltimore Penn Station is open 23 hours daily. It's closed from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM. I woke at 2:45, got dressed and drove down to the station. I was a bit surprised how many cars were out and about in Baltimore at 3 AM. The garage is open 24/7. It wasn't as creepy as I thought, and the early hour meant that I had a nice parking spot right opposite the elevator taking me up to the station. I arrived at about 3:25. I had planned to use an AGR upgrade coupon for the Acela ride home, but, while the station may have been open, the ticket office wasn't. I needed the ticket office because, for some reason, the Amtrak app on my phone wasn't showing any way to get to the upgrade coupons.

    As you can see, even when I arrived, they were showing 190 one minute down. This soon stretched to 5 minutes, 10 minutes...eventually the train came in at 4:15, 25 minutes late. I'm not sure what's going on down the line between Baltimore and Washington, but I'm sure glad I'm not doing that commute any more.

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    There's MARC #401, the first train of the morning to DC, leaving at 4:10 AM.

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    Finally 190 rolls in 25 minutes late. However, there must be some serious padding on the schedule, because we arrived into New London only about 5 minutes late, and upon checking the Amtrak Status data base, I found that it arrived into Boston a minute early!

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    When I boarded, I pulled on my commuter eyeshades and tried to get some sleep, which didn't happen. Some time between Wilmington and Trenton, I gave up and walked up the the cafe car and got my deluxe cafe breakfast: yogurt, a toasted bagel with a schmear and the fresh cut fruit, all for $11. The coffee was free, as I was traveling business class (mainly to get extra AGR TQP to ensure that I reach Select Plus for 2020.) The was a lot of food and wrapping to juggle around on the tray table as the train rocked along. What was also surprising was, despite the early hour, the train was pretty full of passengers.

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    We seemed to pass through New Jersey faster than my trip up in June, and soon the Manhattan skyline was visible on the horizon. Only a slight slowdown as we worked our way over the Portal Bridge and Secaucus Jct. Station, and we rolled through the Hudson tunnels at Normal speeds.

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    Of course, right outside of New Rochelle, we slow to a crawl, which more or less lasted all the way to New Haven. Again, this must be baked into the schedule, seeing as we gained time rather than fall further behind. This is a nice view out of the railfan window (one of the perks of Northeast Regional business class) somewhere on the Metro North New Haven Line.

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    Finally, we arrived at New London.For east bound trains (from New York), you just get off, walk through the parking lot to where the ferries board. The gangway in the foreground is for the Block Island ferry, the bow of which can be seen in the lower left front of the picture.

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    I wasn't the only passenger trying to catch a ferry, and the conductor was very helpful about directing us where to go when we got off the train. He also helped me get my roller bag down the steps at the low platform. (New London has a short high platform, partly for ADA compliance, and partly because one or 2 Acelas a day stop there.) As I walked towards the ferry dock, I could see that the 10 AM boat was still loading. I was accosted by the guy taking tickets from the cars driving up, and I showed him my e-ticket for the 10:30 departure and asked if I could change it for the 10:00 departure. This turned out to be no problem, as I was a foot passenger, and a new ticket was quickly printed for me at no extra charge. (Buying tickets in advance on the web saves several dollars in the fare, even if reservations aren't really needed for foot passengers.) So I then walked up the ramp at the direction of crew, boarded, and went up to the passenger decks.

    Next, the ferry ride.
     
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  5. Aug 27, 2019 #5

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    People are always surprised how full the Night Owl Trains are on the NEC, especially between WAS and NYP and even on to BOS!!
     
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  6. Aug 27, 2019 #6

    railiner

    railiner

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    Busy enough to keep the cafe open all night...
    Really need sleepers back on that train.
     
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  7. Sep 9, 2019 #7

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    There are three ferry services operating out of New London: A high-speed catamaran passenger ferry to Block Island; passenger and auto ferries to Fisher's Island (a little chunk of New York State a couple of miles off the Connecticut shore); and the Cross Sound service to Orient Point on Long Island, mostly combined auto-passenger boats, but they have one high-speed passenger cat, too. The Orient Point trip is a 16 mile ride, and it takes about an hour and 12 minutes. The interesting thing about the Cross Sound fleet is that every single one of the boats is a different design. You could ride it many times and never be on the same kind of boat.

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    This is the Block Island ferry.

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    The Cross Sound high speed ferry.

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    This is the Mary Ellen, the boat I rode on, discharging cars and passengers at Orient Point. It's one of the larger boats in the fleet, and the deck layout is similar to the Port Jeff-Bridgeport boats, although the overall design is different. One main auto deck, two gallery auto decks, an indoor passenger deck with food service, and an open passenger deck on top.

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    The Block Island ferry on it's way out of New London Harbor.

    More to come.
     
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  8. Sep 9, 2019 #8

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Looking north up the Thames River in New London, you can see the high bridge of I-95 and the new Amtrak lift bridge.

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    Here's the General Dynamics Electric Boat Company facility in Groton, just across the river from New London. No subs at the dock on the day I was traveling.

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    A view of Plum Island, off of Orient Point. It's a USDA experimental lab that studies various animal diseases, and is off-limits to unauthorized personnel. I guess it's better to study dangerous animal diseases on an offshore island.

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    Land ho! Orient Point.

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    Arriving at the Orient Point ferry dock.

    After disembarking, I walked over to the ticket office and asked about the next bus to Greenport. Turns out I was going to have over an hour wait. A bus rolled in, but immediately went out of service. I checked out the little lunch place across the road, wasn't too impressed, and got a little bummed out that I might be stuck here for lunch rather than in the resort town of Greenport. I then checked Uber, and there were no cars available. (This place is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, when you think about it.) There was a county park at Orient Point itself, and I was think of taking a short hike to the point, roller bag and all on the sandy trail, when I made one more Uber check and found a driver willing to do the ride for a not too astronomical fare. So I snagged the ride, waited for him, and he picked me up and drove me to Greenport.

    I found out from him that if I really wanted an Uber ride on this part of Long Island, I should go to the South Fork with all the rich people in the Hamptons and such who need lots of rides, so there are lots of Uber cars there. On the other hand, this part of the North Fork was really pleasant as we drove through. It had a sort of a New England feel, not too much traffic, and lots of nice sea views.

    Greenport might be in the less fashionable part of eastern Long Island, but it wasn't like it was a dump or anything. It was a very pleasant little resort town, with a small Main Street business district reminiscent of Old Harbor on Block Island or any number of the smaller coastal towns in this part of the country. I had lunch at a coffee shop/diner on the main street that seemed to be a local institution and had a strange (if you're from Maine) but perfectly tasty lobster roll and iced coffee. Then I hung around for a while. Fortunately, they have a nice shady pavilion by the waterfront where you can sit out of the sun. Finally, it was getting near train time, and I walked around to the station and checked out the ferry to Shelter Island.

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    I then fired up the MTA e-Tix app on my phone and bought a senior ticket to Penn Station (15 bucks and change). Finally, the train came in, and I was soon on my way, first the rural excursion ride to Ronkonoma, and the the urban 12-car EMU into Penn Station. We got in around 5:30 and I was zonked.

    I decided to get a small bite to eat at Penn Station rather than searching around in an unfamiliar Brooklyn neighborhood, but I really want to ditch my bags. The Amtrak left luggage facility charges $10 per bag if you have an Amtrak ticket, $20 per bag if you don't. Then I looked more closely at the sign. You got the cheaper storage charge if your ticket was within 24 hours. So my next-day ticket home qualified me for "discounted" luggage storage, and I went out and found a slice of pizza without being burdened. I should have thought about upgrading that Acela ticket, but I was so zonked, that I didn't want to have to deal with ticket agents and lines, and such. I grabbed my bag, and headed for the 8th Ave. Subway.

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    I took the express train one stop south to 14th st. I found an elevator to get me up to the mezzanine level, but I missed the one that would take you to the L train platform, so I had to bounce my roller bag down the stairs. Better do all this kind of travelling while I still can! I looked at a poster explaining all the work-related delays on the subway line, and found out that they're single-tracking the L after 8 PM, and night service is sparse. Fortunately, I made it with a little time to spare. I think MTA had originally planned to shut the whole line down for a year to fix the tunnel, freaking out everybody in the parts of Brooklyn it served. Allegedly, the service suspension had caused people to move, and affected real estate values, and such, and I suspect that's why my hotel was $139 a night. But someone figured out how they could do the work and keep the trains running, so there I was, riding to Brooklyn, ready for some sleep.
     
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  9. Sep 9, 2019 #9

    Brian Battuello

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    Brian Battuello

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    Great report and pictures, thanks!

    My spouse was travelling from Boston to Brookhaven Labs on Long Island. She was supposed to fly to JFK and get met by a car service to Brookhaven, a long ride. Her flight got cancelled, so her corporate travel agent put her on Amtrak to Penn, and told the driver to meet her there. I pointed out that she could jump off at Bridgeport, catch a ferry 15 minutes later to Port Jeff, and the driver met her 20 minutes away from the lab instead of 90 minutes away. Everyone was happy. Plus they have a great bar on the ferry!
     
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