New London, Conn., July 23 and 24
I think I’ll remember New London forever due to the odyssey involved in getting there—it included Amtrak, the New York City subway, Metro-North commuter railroad, and a taxi. In case you missed the news, most of the trains on the Northeast Corridor were delayed on Friday, July 22nd. Extremely high temperatures like those measured at DC’s National Airport (105 with a heat index of 121) can cause the steel rails to expand. Safety has to come first, so slow orders were issued. Outside of New Haven, Conn, a truck left a bridge and struck the catenaries—the metal wires that conduct the electrical current that powers the trains. Therefore, all trains north of New York were cancelled after about 4pm as crews worked to restore service.
After exiting the Northeast Regional in New York, I became thankful that the metropolitan area has an excellent transportation system, for I put it to the test. From Penn Station I hopped on the subway to Grand Central Terminal, where a family of Dutch tourists tagged along with me. Traversing the subterranean passages, we eventually made our way to the stunning Main Hall where the ceiling’s golden star charts mesmerized us. We parted ways and I studied the departure board before deciding I could make the 9:07 Metro-North to New Haven. No one seemed to know if the commuter Shore Line East Railroad between New Haven and New London was up and running, but I thought I’d chance it. Pulling into New Haven around 11:30, I again studied my options, and decided that a taxi was the most cost-effective way to go, especially after bargaining down the price. By 1 in the morning, I was at my destination, 11 hours after it all began.
The oppressive heat and humidity continued on into the weekend. Luckily, New London’s amazing station, designed by noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson, is located only a few hundred feet from the Thames River, which provided a constant and comforting breeze. In southern New England, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many station agents, including a few who are retired or have been with Amtrak for decades. I think I tend to romanticize the life of a station master—being part of the community, watching over the passengers, and caring for the building—but I really like to hear about changing technologies as well as improvements that have been made to the depots, especially the historic ones. The former lead ticket agent from New London came to visit, and I also met the gentleman in charge of Berlin up on the Springfield Line.
Our stop in town coincided with a local children’s festival which brought in lots of youngsters, many of whom enjoyed the Chuggington Kids’ Depot area with its toy train layouts. Others stopped to color in part of the huge Amtrak birthday card, and I later eyed “Feliz Cumpleaños!” scrawled across the top corner. I finally mastered how to fold the junior conductor hats so that the visor comes out right—it was definitely needed to keep the sun at bay. Throughout the day, we all visited the festival to explore the booths. From the platform, I spied a dancing spray of water that beckoned me like a siren’s call.
Right next to Chuggington was a detailed model railroad display put up by members of the Mohegan Pequot Model Railroad Club, which also elicited excited comments from the kids. I was glad to see Northeast Regional and Acela Express trains gliding around the track. On the other side of the grand waiting room, a representative of the Eastern Regional Tourism District of Connecticut wisely handed out brochures for a “Sundae Drive” to the area’s best ice cream shops; unfortunately, the ice cream containers on the table were just for show….and empty
Like they say, the railroad never stops. We got everything squared away on the train and began the journey to Providence. See you there in the shadow of the state house dome!