24 November 2004

On the rails

I was thinking about this yesterday on the way home: I love taking the train to NYC and riding the subways. Call me crazy, but for me that's always part of the fun of going there.

Anyone who knows me knows I love trains. Just look under our tree at Christmas (at the ' HP train layout) or listen to the stories of our honeymoon (to New Orleans on the Crescent). Yet the infinitely less romantic NJ Transit train still intrigues me. So do the subways. There are so many layers of time down beneath it all.

All along the NE Corridor line you see old rails tracks off to one side or another, long abandoned with sizable trees growing between the ties. Sometimes there is even the rusting hulk of a railroad car covered in graffiti. There are these layers of lift bridge that you cross as you leave Newark Penn Station. Even the name, Penn Station, carries with it remnants of the past when this was the Pennsylvania Rail Road.

Exiting a subway one day I saw this door that was painted shut by at least 30 years worth of paint. You couldn't see the seams anymore, just the shape, as if the wall were made of clay and someone pressed the shape into it. Under the fluorescent lights you see old incandescent light sockets, some with bulbs still in them.

I wonder if those bulbs still work, or what's behind that door, or when those rails were used last and what that box car carried the last time it rode them.

Yesterday there was an interesting footnote to all of this. Trains were running slow out of Newark. Apparently there was a fire by the tunnel entrance, although I didn't see anything. As we crept along towards Secaucus, I saw a pair of old passenger cars. The first was the observation car Alexander Hamilton of the Morristown & Erie RR. The second was the Santa Fe diner named Epicurus. I figured these were just some old cars that they used as office space on work trains, or something similar; more aging remnants of time gone by. On a whim, I wrote down the names of each car and googled them.

Turns out, they're not aging remnants. The Alexander Hamilton is a restored lounge car used for excursion trips to Montreal. The Epicurus is likewise used for excursion trips to Albany, Niagara Falls, and the Hudson Valley by these folks. They hitch them to the back of Amtrak trains and take you on a luxury train trip.

Take your cruise ships. This is what I'd do!

1 comment:

Jeri said...

That's so cool! One of these days we're going to take the day-and-a-half ViaRail train from Winnipeg up to Churchill, Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay, to see the polar bears (before global warming makes them extinct). In a sleeping car, preferably.

I even love hearing the whistle of the freight trains passing through our town about a mile away. Sigh...wonder where all them things is goin'.