Saturday, December 29, 2007

Flying Low in the Snow

On December 12, 2007, I made a trip to New England for work, with the intent of it being an "overnighter," with return on the following day after a meeting with customers. The flight out to Providence was uneventful, arriving in time to partake of some local fare. The National Weather Service forecast was ominous, so I made sure to check in to my flight back (from Boston) that evening, and stand by on an earlier flight to cover myself.
Thursday the 13th dawned overcast and humid, and the forecast had only become more dire, with a foot of snow expected for the area south of Boston, beginning after noon. We finished our meeting early, and arrived at Boston-Logan Airport at 10:30 that morning. Already, our original flight had been cancelled, and the standby flight (on an Airbus 319) was overbooked by 30 people. After spending an hour trying to find an alternate route back that day, we booked a hotel room at the nearest company-acceptable hotel (in Cambridge), and hunkered down.
An unexpected benefit, my room overlooked a commuter rail (MBTA) storage yard (just north and west of Boston Back Bay Station).

At the height of the storm (snowfall >2 inches per hour), the visibility deteriorated.

As night fell, the snow-diffused light created an interesting scene.

By the time I was back to the room after dinner, the snowfall had finished, totalling about 8 inches.

My United-rebooked itinerary to return home was a Boston-to-Washington Dulles-to-Chicago routing, with the first leg leaving Logan about 1:00 the afternoon of Friday the 14th. Given the number of cancelled flights, and amount of snow, I weighed the option of following through on that, and thought it not likely to succeed. Given the availability of Amtrak Acela Express service, I decided to book a business-class ticket on that to DC (with a 6 hour 30 minute schedule), and standby on an earlier connection from Dulles to Chicago from there.
With a 6:15 departure from Boston-South Station, I awoke at 4:30, and was to the station by 5:30. The train listing board shortly thereafter showed the expected departures and arrivals.
Originally opened in 1899, South Station was extensively renovated between 1979 and 1989, resulting in a modern public space.
The train boarded briskly, and departed on the advertised schedule. With 110-volt outlets at each seat, I was able to work on my laptop and recharge my phone while enjoying the view.
Reaching top speeds in excess of 100 mph through southern Massachusetts (and creating plumes of snow in our wake), we noticeably slowed through Rhode Island and Connecticut between Providence and New Haven, where curvature warrants it.
It had brightened enough by the time we arrived in Stamford, Connecticut (the north end of electrified service before Acela-era construction to Boston), to take some pictures of Metro-North (Connecticut Department of Transportation) shops and equipment there.

We met a regional service train there.
An elderly EMD awaited its next assignment assembling trainsets.
Rounding a curve departing New Haven, I was able to glimpse our head-end power.
As we passed through northern New York City, we crossed Hell's Gate Bridge, a marvel of engineering.

Our stop at Penn Station (on time) lasted 8 minutes, and we departed. The peak speeds for Acela Express are in New Jersey and south, and we reached 150 mph between Newark, NJ and Philadelphia, covering the distance between those two stations in 52 minutes. After a stop in Delaware, the next station was Baltimore, where I saw one of MARC's commuter coaches.
The tunnels in downtown Baltimore are a significant hit to the schedule, with extended distance covered at a maximum speed of 45 mph, owing to the low wire (Pennsylvania Railroad-era catenary at 16 feet above railhead) and curves. That said, we made good time again after leaving Baltimore, stopping at BWI Airport station (which has a shuttle bus to the terminal), before entering Washington and arriving on-time at 12:45. I took advantage of the opportunity to take a couple pictures of the head end before I caught a cab to Dulles.

After a $54 (plus tip) cab ride to Dulles, I boarded my standby flight to Chicago with time to spare, and was back to O'Hare shortly after 4:00 Central time, gaining three hours plus over the rebooked itinerary.



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