2008 USA trip (part 2)
The following day, 5th May, I decided to start my exploration by riding the trolleys of the Market Street in the other direction. The minor stops along Market Street do not have turnstiles, but are open to the public, with payment occurring on the vehicle in the same way as happens on the surface stops. The routes serving this subway are worked by Kawasaki cars. These are a modern version of the PCC car. Despite the sometimes poor track, the riding quality is soft. Acceleration is excellent and the overall ride quality most laudable. Despite the obviously better track quality of the newer lines (such as those of Houston, but also many in Europe), this level of ride quality is not attained. I mused how Siemens had tried to explain the problems with its Combino type with the supposedly difficult track conditions of the local tram systems. A Combino in Philadelphia would have a short life indeed.
As the 10 rides further and further out, the quality of the houses worsens bit by bit. Soon we were riding through an area where only Black faces were to be seen, on the trolley, on the street, even in the cars that passed. Some of these houses were in a very sorry state, windows held together by duct tape and fallen-in roofs. The line has many photogenic corners, for example with cherry trees in full bloom, and is well worth spending more time on. However, an elderly Black gentleman warned me about spending too much time in this "ghetto" and he explaned that everything is not as peaceful as it looks and to be especially careful of the younger folks. Maybe he was exaggerating but I decided not to take too much of a chance with the camera. I rode to the terminus and back into town (the line crosses the number 15 trolley by the way).
On the way back I disembarked in the university area. The entrance to the subway here is a most striking structure. You could easily mistake it for a depot of some sort. But trams don't disappear into a depot in quite the same way.
The university itself is most impressive. The bookshop, where I spent rather more time than planned is huge and offers books on almost any imagineable subject, and also has a corner of university fan items. I was surprised to see a tramcar standing, seemingly far from any track, n the middle of this campus. On closer inspection it turned out to be the replica of a 1956 class car, placed here to remember the surface line that had once cut across the campus. It now serves as the entrance to the underground stop below.
I rode into central Philadelphia and walked through the streets. One large building is the Reading Terminal. This was formerly a major railway terminal, but is now used for other purposes. Trolley tracks pass in front of it but are sadly no longer in use.
From here I rode back to Gerard Avenue. Compared to the area I had seen earlier today, this neigbourhood that I hadn't liked much yesterday seemed thoroughly welcoming by comparison. I rode the PCCs for some distance and made many stops for photographs. In common with the newer Kawasaki cars, these trams have chords with which passengers announce their intention to disembark.
On my way back from the terminus I benefitted from the warm evening light to take some photographs where the trolleys pass along the foot of a highway viaduct. Having taken some good pictures, I suddenly had to wait very long for the next trolley. The reason, it appeared, was that the trolleys were being turned on an intermediate loop, presumably due to some disturbance. This permitted me to ride and photograph some rare track, with the trolley actually turning under the viaduct in the shadow of what appeared to be some industrial plant, with a view of a major suspension bridge.
It was with much regret that I said farewell to Philly the following day. It may be a city with many problems, but it is also a city with a real spirit that is great fun to be in and to discover it by bit. I'd even venture to say that it is my favourite US city so far.
I rode the Amtrak train to Pittsburgh. The line first cuts through the city's suburbs, I recognised some of the landmarks from my trolley rides of the previous day. Beyond these, the suburbs transitioned into very attractive areas with villas in lush green gardens. Phladelphia's outer suburbs are served by a frequent suburban service, much of which appears to be electrified and probably hails to the legendary Pennsylvania Railroad. he Pittsburgh line is electric as far as Harrisburg, where the traction is changed. The metals that start here are, I believe, those of the Norfolk Southern. This railroad appears to maintain its track to a very high standard permitting the train to run smoothly and comfortably. The line is double track with even three tracks in places
The line crosses what assume was Amish territory, where you can still see farmers plough with horses and live a lifestyle that has changed little over the years. Later, some of these were to board the train. The line also crosses the Allegheny mountains, a mountainous and woody area, the culmination of which (from the railroad point of view) is Horseshoe Curve. At the end of a valley, the train turns almost 180 degrees in its quest to gain height.
The connecting train in Pittsburgh was about four hours late. Pittsburgh itself has a tiny station with a through and a bay platform and a spartan waiting room on the lower level. The only passenger trains that call here are that from Philadelphia and the Washington - Chicago service for which I was waiting.
Such has been the growth of the new light rail systems in US cities that it is easy to lose track of where they are. So I was surprised to find the tracks of a modern tram outside the station. However, the rails were rusty through disuse and a sign on the platform said this section was not currently served. The weight of my luggage convinced me not to venture into town in search of the operating part.
The connecting train, when it finally arrived, was wonderful. The bed was comfortable and the cabin spacious. The next morning I was to discover the observation coach at which I could enjoy panoramic views from a comfortable seat, adjustable not only in its angle but also in the direction it looked. A bar in this car also served drinks and snacks. Fuller meals were available from the adjoining restaurant car.
The approach into Chicago somehow reminded me of traveling to Paris on the Mulhouse - Troyes route, but strangely I can't exactly say why. Maybe it is a combination of approaching a major city on a westbound route while diesel hauled and crossing a largely flat agricultural country?
In Chicago I met my friend, with whom I was to travel south to Dallas. The late running of my train had basically eliminated all hope of a tour of Chicago, so following a light meal, we made our way to the next train, the Texas Eagle.
The rails of the line going South (the Union Pacific I believe) are nowhere near as neat as those of the Norfolk Southern. Much of the line is also single track, and much time is lost waiting for freight trains to pass.
With a journey time of over 24 hours, there was plenty of time to take in the landscape and also get to know some of our fellow passengers. I am pleased to admit that none of them lived up to the American stereotype. Most had been to Europe at some point, either as a tourist or in the military. They were also full aware that Switzerland is not Sweden and Australia is not Austria. Most conversations, however, were centered on one of two topics: fuel prices and the election (mostly Obama in fact). Some people were travelling by train for the first time, and doing so on account of the high prices of driving. Some bemoaned the longer journey time the train implied, while other just enjoyed it. I was surprised that many of those who had been to Europe were very apologetic of the American train service. Here I was, having a wonderful time, and they were considering it wasn't adequate. In Europe, proper dining cars as opposed to bistro cars are becoming somewhat of a rarity. A train that has both is even rarer, and where it exists you pay a much higher fare than Amtrak charges. The train we were on was continuing to Los Angeles. Try finding a train that covers such a distance in Europe. The railways have progressively abandoned the long-haul market to the airlines rather than trying to save it by enhancing the experience aspects. A similar journey in Europe today would involve many changes of train and much time lost in doing so, while doubtlessly costing a multiple of this trip. From the enthusiast point of view also, the US trains are definitely worth doing, with loco-hauled consists becoming more and more of a rarity in Europe.
Dallas, as its name implies, is very much a city of gloss and glamour.Everywhere there seemed to be evidence of a lot of money having been spent. Maybe this impression was reinforced in comparison to the rather more run down cities of the north.
Towering high above the station is the Union Tower, which unforunately we couldn't visit as it closed for refurbishment. Besides Amtrak, the station itself is served by a diesel commuter service, TRE, and Dallas' modern tram system, DART.
Not far from the station is the place where President J.F. Kennedy was assassinated (the president with the Cuban missile crisis and the doughnut). As soon as you stop to read the plaque you are besieged by vendors offering pamphlets on various alternative theories. Having laid aside so many stereotypes of America in the last couple of days, here at least one was being confirmed, the American obsession with conspiracy theories.
The DART service was very fast, and covered long distances between stops once outside the centre. There is a long tunnel section and also some shorter viaducts. Our friend picked us up at his station. So ended my great trek through the USA, but we had some more enjoyable days in Texas.