New York to Boston; M4, Acela and a Purple Commuter Train

Reluctantly, I was leaving my comfortable apartment in Brooklyn and heading for Boston. I caught the A train from Nostrand Avenue for the final time, riding all of the way into 42nd St in Manhattan, where I transferred to the 42nd St Shuttle for the journey to Grand Central Terminal.

The 42nd St Shuttle is an odd line, with 2 car R62A trains running on a 0.8 mi (1.3 km) section of track between Times Square and Grand Central Station. The line parallels the 7 line, and the only purpose appears to be to provide a higher frequency service between the 2 busy stations in the heart of Manhattan. The route consists of 3 bidirectional lines, with each train running up and down its own bidirectional line. Depending on how high the frequency is, dictate how many of the 3 lines are in use. The line is designated S, which it shares with 2 other shuttle lines (Franklin Ave – Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Broad Channel to Rockaway Park). I left the little shuttle train at Grand Central and went to buy my ticket onward.

42nd St Shuttle at Grand Central

42nd St Shuttle at Grand Central

In keeping with tradition, I was not taking the easy way from New York City to Boston (an Amtrak Northeast Corridor service from New York Penn Station to Boston), choosing the more varied route of a MetroNorth service from Grand Central to New Haven CT, where I would transfer to an Amtrak Acela Express to Providence, RI, then finally to an MBTA Commuter Rail service from Providence to Boston. I made my way down to the MetroNorth platform, and found an M4 EMU set waiting.

MetroNorth M4 EMU at Grand Central

MetroNorth M4 EMU at Grand Central

MetroNorth operates interurban and semi long distance services in New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut. MetroNorth are run by MTA (the operators of the NYC subway, Staten Island Railway and Long Island Railroad) and operate out of  Hoboken (New Jersey services) and Grand Central Terminal (New York State and Connecticut services). MetroNorth run a variety of rolling stock including EMUs and push-pull locomotive hauled stock with diesel and dual mode locomotives. The dual mode locomotives (P32AC-DM) are diesel electric, but can also run for limited distances in full electric mode with pick-up shoes for the 750v 3rd rail system (to comply with strict emission regulations in the rail tunnels under New York City).

MetroNorth Dual Mode diesel-electric/electric locomotive at Grand Central

MetroNorth Dual Mode diesel-electric/electric locomotive at Grand Central

The interior of the M4 EMU appeared not to have been updated since the train was built, with garish red and blue vinyl seating throughout. The train, however was comfortable, and ran smoothly as we departed from Grand Central and out through the north of New York City. The journey was uneventful as we made our way out through Harlem and The Bronx and onto Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, stopping regularly in New York state and into Connecticut. The 72 mi (116 km) journey was completed in just on 2 hours, and I left the train at New Haven Union Station; the train continuing 1 stop further to New Haven State St.

Model of an EP-5 electric locomotive leading a "Yankee Clipper" at New Haven Union Station

Model of an EP-5 electric locomotive leading a “Yankee Clipper” at New Haven Union Station

I entered the station building, and bought lunch from a takeaway shop. In the waiting hall of the station were wooden seats with high backs. On the backs of the seats, in Perspex cases, were models of various trains which had run through the station at some point in history. There were plaques in front of the models, with the train and operator names. After browsing the models for a while, I oberved the notation next to my train on the flip type departure board change from “ON TIME” to “ALL ABOARD”, so I made my way to platform 2 to board my train.

The flip type departure board at New Haven Union Station

The flip type departure board at New Haven Union Station

From New Haven CT to Providence RI, I took an Acela Express service; Amtrak’s high speed tilting train. Acela Express trains have a service speed of 150 mph (240 km/h) and run solely on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The train I boarded had commenced its journey in Washington DC 4½ hours earlier, and was bound for Boston. The interior of the Acela express was much like the South Korean KTX (based on the French TGV), with overhead luggage lockers and airline style seating. There is ample leg room and the seats are comfortable. There is free WiFi and power points for charging laptops and phones.

My Acela Express train arrives at New Haven Union Station

My Acela Express train arrives at New Haven Union Station

We pulled smoothly out of New Haven station, and immediately started accelerating up to maximum speed. Although the train was comfortable, the ride was not so smooth, with the train bouncing up and down (I presume this was due to due to the condition of the track, rather than the quality of the train). The rough ride continued for about half of the 70 minute non-stop journey to Providence, making me wish I hadn’t had lunch before getting on the train. I was quite happy to leave the train at Providence, RI. Rhode Island (or as it’s properly known: “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”) is not an island, it is a mainland state; the smallest state in the USA, measuring just 47 mi by 38 mi (77 km by 60 km).

Purple train! An MBTA Commuter rail train made up of a F40PHM-2C  hauling CTC-3 stock arrives at Providence, RI.

Purple train! An MBTA Commuter rail train made up of a F40PHM-2C hauling CTC-3 stock arrives at Providence, RI.

I had 90 minutes before my Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter Rail train arrived to take me on to Boston, so I decided to store my bags at the station and take a walk around Providence. I approached the Amtrak employee at the luggage counter and asked if I could leave my bags with him. he asked which train I was catching, and after telling him that I was taking the MBTA service, he said that he would only hold bags for Amtrak customers. I showed him my ticket, and staid that I had just come off the Acela service. He said that he thought I was going on a MBTA train and wanted to know which Acela train I was taking. After about 5 minutes of trying to explain my travel plans, he was either too confused or too bored and grudgingly agreed to take my bags.

Providence; nice enough, but deserted and dull.

Providence; nice enough, but deserted and dull.

I walked out of the station and followed Providence River into the centre of Providence. the city was very clean and modern… and boring. Apart from the nice buildings (which appeared as if they were just for show), there was very little to see. I saw few people as I was walking and very few retail shops. I walked back to the station, and after collecting my luggage from the surly Amtrak porter, waited for my MBTA Commuter Rail train. The train, in a striking livery of silver and purple arrived on time. It was made up of single deck CTC-3 cars, driven from a cab control car and pushed by an EMD F40-PHM-2C diesel locomotive. The train had a single WiFi equipped car, so I boarded that car and we departed for Boston; the journey to Back Bay station taking just over an hour.

A CTC-3 cab control car leads my MBTA Commuter Rail train from Providence to Boston.

A CTC-3 cab control car leads my MBTA Commuter Rail train from Providence to Boston.

At Back Bay, I had to transfer to the Orange subway line to take me to my final destination near Tufts Medical Centre station. I hadn’t yet had the chance to purchase a Charlie Card (Boston’s smart cart system), and found the ticket machines very confusing. There were no MBTA staff on hand to assist, and eventually I found a railway police officer who seemed apathetic to a tourist’s plight. He condescendingly explained how to get a ticket, and then rolled his eyes when I din’t have coins, as the machine didn’t accept notes. I managed to use my credit card to buy the $2.65 ticket, and caught the subway 1 stop to my hotel.

Advertisements

One response to “New York to Boston; M4, Acela and a Purple Commuter Train

  1. Hello! I’m a graphic designer working on a brochure that includes the purple train (Providence MBTA commuter train) and our client really likes your shot of the train coming around the bend. Would you consider giving us permission to use the photo? I’d be happy to give you more background if you’re interested. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s