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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Riding the Rails 

We got an early start on the morning, leaving Evelin's parent's house around 7:00 a.m. (Celeste had been up since a little before 6:00 a.m. anyway) to get me to the Springfield train station for 9:05 a.m.

When we were figuring out this trip, I wanted to come up to help make the drive easier for Evelin and Celeste and so I could get to a game at Fenway, but I couldn't take the week off like Evelin was. So the first option was looking for flights. There were some options but they would all have meant either spending a chunk or having someone run me in to Logan (BOS) or Manchester (MHT) pretty early on Sunday. Then I remembered the train.

[ASIDE: As I was typing this, we passed alongside the Windsor Locks canal, following it down to the Connecticut River. It was pretty cool ...]

It's sort of sad that Amtrak, even along the East Coast where some of its best (at least in terms of profitability) routes are, was an afterthought, but the only time I've done a Massachusetts-to-D.C. train trip, it just dinna seem to have been a good time:cost ratio. That was while Evelin as getting her Master's and I was telecommuting from Northampton; I needed to get back to the office for a week and I thought I'd give the train a go. It worked in part because The Vermonter ran from where we were in the Pioneer Valley straight to D.C., but it was a long day on the train and the price wasn't better than driving (although it may have beaten flying; I don't remember what it was costing to go from Bradley (BDL) to National (DCA) at the time).

Anyway, looking to cause the least disruption for anyone, I found a rail itinerary that took me from Worchester to Springfield to D.C. It would have meant getting in to D.C. fairly late (around 11:00 p.m.), but I didn't think that would be too bad.

Evelin then suggested I look at departures from Springfield. She figured she and Celeste could drop me off at the train and then continue on to visit K--- and T--- in Easthampton. It would mean a different route to Easthampton than she would normally take (the Mass Pike, instead of Route 2), but it wouldn't really be too much out of the way and the higher speed roads would make up any difference in travel distance vs. travel time.

That led us to the 145 Regional train, which worked out pretty well for getting me home (mid-afternoon, instead of late night). The only problem seems to be that when Evelin and Celeste got to K--- and T---'s house ... no-one was there. Hopefully, they were just out to breakfast and were late getting home/Evelin got there earlier than expected. The other possibility is that K--- went into labor and they're at the hospital or something, which in a way would be funny as they were down visiting us the weekend Celeste was born. [After typing this, we pulled into Hartford and I called Evelin; K--- and T--- were home and the baby is still prepartum ...]

A While Later, in Bridgeport, Connecticut ...

One realization about train vs. plane, you have more room in general in coach on a train, but the seatbacks ahead of the jerk ahead of you still tilts way too far back. I guess it's a limit of engineering, or the transit companies don't want to change the tilt of seats, but it's so annoying for someone to just slam their seat back as far as possible without any regard for the space of the person behind them.

And Still Later, After a Layover in New York ...

I doubt the train I took this way back in the mid/late 1990s ran on a different route, but I don't remember the approach to New York being so interesting. The rails gave a good view of LaGuardia (LGA) with planes coming in and out, as well as some interesting industrial and residential places from Stamford into the Five Boroughs. The actual dip underground to head to Penn Station and the rest of the tunnel journey to New Jersey was nothing special, or at least it was mostly dark, but up to that point had some nice views.

One limit I've found to working on the train is that, since I'm using the old Gateway (Evelin's university-surplus computer) that has a bum battery, when the power on the train fluctuates the computer kicks off. At Newport, Connecticut, the locomotive was switched from a diesel one to an electric one and the train was depowered for that changeover, and at least once on the journey we had a point where the train switched power grids or something and there was a flicker of the lights and the computer shut off. Still, with frequent saves, I guess blogging the trip remains possible, but it hasn't been too conducive to getting much real work done ...

And Still Later, Between Wilmington and Baltimore ...

I just looked up from blogging to see that we were running along next to a nice body of water. I guess it was a finger of the Chesapeake, which means I wasn't looking out the window when we crossed the Susquehanna, unfortunately. Wait ... I blogged too soon, there was the crossing of the mouth of the Susquehanna where it feeds into the Chesapeake. I don't particularly know why, but I like that view ...

And Finally Home ...

It worked out pretty good overall. I was at BWI a little past 3:30 p.m. We'd dropped a car at the parking garage there — it was $1 more per day than satellite parking, but it kept me from having to catch the shuttle bus to the terminal followed by catching a shuttle bus to satellite parking; plus it was easier for me to drop the car there and to walk out to where Evelin and Celeste were waiting — so I able to get home pretty quickly.

I'm not sure the train would be the best way to, for example, travel to Louisiana to visit my folks (it's a two-day trip via Chicago or 25 hours or so via Atlanta), especially with a little one or two, but maybe these sorts of three-drive-up-two-drive-back trips it seems to work pretty well ...

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