Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Lexington Group's 2015 Meeting


The Lexington Group in Transportation History is an educational institution that was created in 1942 and concentrates on all aspects of transportation history, but particularly railroads. I have been a member of the Lexington Group since 1985, the year they held their meeting in Memphis. The typical Lexington Group meeting has several days of papers about transportation topics and one or more group inspection trips, usually sponsored by a railroad. Due to conflicts I've only been able to make it to three meetings before this one:
  • 1985 in Memphis
  • 2005 in Harrisburg
  • 2011 in Knoxville
Since 2005 I have hosted the group's website at (decidedly not a major undertaking due to the wishes of the organization.)

After last year's meeting (I believe in St. Louis) they announced that the 2015 meeting would be in Newark and I marked it on my calendar as a semi-immovable event. As soon as they announced the hotel information I booked a room for the entire time (Tuesday night to Sunday morning) while awaiting the details of the meeting itself. Eventually the meeting registration information came and I signed up immediately. In addition to two days of papers, there would be a NY/NJ harbor inspection tour on Thursday, and a rail inspection tour on Saturday. Beyond that the details of the inspection trips were vague, but that didn't matter because the Group always does things interesting enough to be worthwhile.

My daughter, Lizzy, is not in college this semester. Some of her closest friends go to school at NYU and I decided that it would be fun to take her and two of her friends to a Broadway show on the night before the meeting. She could spend the rest of the week with her friends, and make her way home to be in time to help Barb with Halloween. So I purchased four center/orchestra seats to the Book of Mormon and air tickets for Lizzy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We left home in time to catch the 10:25am PAT bus to the airport. I get to ride free with my CMU ID (or with my Medicare card, but it's easier just to use my CMU ID card.) Lizzy had to pay, but the bus is the only reasonable way to get to the airport if one is going to be away for more than a few days and the return is at a reasonable hour. It adds less than 30 minutes to the trip.

Our United Embraer mini-jet left about 10 minutes ahead of its schedule 1:17pm departure, and then sat in the penalty box due to air traffic in the Newark area. We eventually were wheels up at 2pm and arrived around 3:10pm, only about 20 minutes late. We had plenty of time to catch a shuttle to the conference hotel (the Hilton at Newark Penn Station), clean up, and catch a New Jersey Transit train to New York Pennsylvania Station. We were to meet Lizzy's friends, Grace and Kyle at the Eugene O'Neill theater on W 49th near 8th at 6:15 and walking from Penn Station we were there around 6:10. Grace an Kyle got off their subway from NYU at the wrong stop and showed up around 6:30 which was fine. The doors opened right around then and we were able to check Lizzy's bags before taking our seats.

Lizzy, Grace, and Kyle outside of the Eugene O'Neill Theater
The Book of Mormon was everything I had heard it was. I had purposely kept myself from knowing much about it ahead of time other than that it was funny. It was definitely that...I laughed so much I probably missed a good 30% of the lines. Highly recommended.

After the show I left Lizzy, Grace, and Kyle to head back to NYU while I caught a No. 1 subway to Penn Station and then a NJT train to Newark Penn Station.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I awoke around 7:30 and met my friend Rick Moser up in the "executive lounge" of the hotel for a quick bowl of cereal. Then we picked up our badges and excursion tickets and other goodies and went into the first session which opened with wonderful presentation about the Pennsylvania Railroad in New York by Albert Churella. The first paper was supposed to be about the Central Railroad of New Jersey, but that talk was canceled with no information given to the attendees about why. This was followed by an overview of the operations of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey much of which I did not know about. I was particularly taken with the capacity discussions and wonder what will happen in 5-10 years if the growth of travel in the area increases as projected.

For some reason there is a lot of Portuguese cuisine in the Newark area (at least near the hotel) and the hotel put on a terrific Portuguese lunch full of sausage and seafood. After lunch there were presentations about advertising the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad trains in the 1840 to 1940 era, WW I German sabotage in the New York area, and an interesting talk about the revived New Jersey to New York railroad car float operation. (Interesting fact: about 2% to 4% of freight to New York is delivered by rail. Almost all of the rest is delivered by truck. When the bridges and tunnels were closed after 9/11 the city had possibly 10 days worth of food available with no redundant means to get new supplies.) Finally, George Bullow, who organized the next days maritime excursion, gave a presentation about what we should expect to see and some of the relevant history.

I had arranged to meet some friends for dinner at Keen's Steakhouse in New York City. Nina and Stevan Goldman met me at the hotel a little after 6pm and we caught a NJT train that arrived just as we got to the platform. There had been torrential rain all day and this caused both the Goldmans and the train to be a bit late, but the rain had stopped and we made it to the restaurant relatively dry just a few minutes past the 7pm time of our reservation. There we joined Kim and JK Scheinberg who were already seated. We spent the next two plus hours with great conversation, great food, and great drinks (especially for the scotch drinkers among us.) Nina and Stevan and I almost immediately caught a train back to Newark and went our separate ways at the hotel.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

This was the day of the maritime excursion which turned out to be a tour of the New York and New Jersey harbor facilities with a particular emphasis on old rail facilities. Most of the railroads that served New York City did not have tunnel or bridge access to it. They relied on ferry service from places including Jersey City or Hoboken. The route of our nearly six hour excursion took us past both of these and much more, leaving from pier 23 near Newark's Liberty International Airport (near where I95 and I78 intersect on the map below.)

Rather than a detailed travelog (George Bullow did a great job of describing everything, but I couldn't possibly) I'm going to simply include a variety of photos.

The John James Audobon awaits the fourth bus at Pier 23 near Newark Airport 
A somewhat unique view of the Freedom Tower
Dry dock on Staten Island 
A famous lady and two equally famous buildings
Another famous lady (the Queen Mary II) docked in Brooklyn
A better view of the Freedom Tower
A better view of that other large building
(Erie) Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken 
Central Railroad of New Jersey's former depot in Jersey City
Many of our ancestors passed through Ellis Island
One last view of the Statue of Liberty
The buses returned us to the hotel by 4pm and Rick and Neil and I arranged to meet in the lobby at 5pm to discuss a planned trip to Switzerland for next March. The banquet for the meeting was held at the Brasilia Grill about a 15 minute walk away (or one could go by bus...we elected to walk). We actually got there a bit ahead of the crowd and were happily seated and with beers before many others walked in. The meal was really good all you can eat churrascaria and unfortunately for us, all we could eat was much more than all we should have eaten. We were all overfull by the time we finished and the walk back to the hotel didn't help very much.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In addition to the official business meeting of the group, Friday was a day of papers. Roger Grant, the President of the Lexington Group started the meeting promptly at 8am by acknowledging my contribution of the organization website...I have no idea why I was at the top of the program. Then George Werner read brief farewells to members who had passed away during the previous year (including my friend Pete Stonitsch). After other business the papers began with a presentation about the New Haven Railroad and another about TWA in New York. At this point Neil and I joined Rick and took a "quick" roundtrip to Gladstone, skipping lunch in the process.
Our New Jersey Transit train at Gladstone
An attempt to be creative with my iPhone (at Gladstone) 
We returned in time for an extremely interesting paper on ATC and PTC on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor by Chris Jagodinski (a proud Bill Crawford told me that Chris had been a coop student who worked with him back in his college days.) Then a presentation by Ron Batory, the President of Conrail talking about his railroad in the present day. At the end of his talk Ron introduced Bennett Levin who, with son Eric, had organized Saturday's forthcoming inspection trip over Conrail tracks. Bennett talked about his life as a (perhaps) 12 year old visiting his Grandma in Jersey City and becoming enamored of the local railroad scene (and his many explorations thereof). He then gave us details for boarding the trip and the meeting adjourned.

Rick, Neil, and I walked to a local pub and had sandwiches for dinner and then retired to our hotel rooms, getting out of Dodge, so to speak, before the Mets/Royals game and much of the Halloween celebrations started.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday was the rail inspection trip aboard the Jersey Devil. This was a special train put together by Bennett and Eric Levin with the cooperation and assistance of Amtrak and Conrail. Bennett had told me to come hungry so I skipped breakfast and headed over to Track 5 at Newark Pennsylvania Station and waited for the train which arrived at about 8am having come up from Philadelphia that morning. It was lead by Bennett's E8 diesels 5711 and 5809 resplendent in Pennsylvania Railroad livery.
The Jersey Devil arriving at Newark Penn
The train from front to rear consisted of two amfleet coaches, an amcafe, two more amfleet coaches, Bennett's parlor lounge Warrior Ridge, and Bennett's office car Pennsylvania 120. My friend Rick and I joined other lucky passengers in the Warrior Ridge and settled into our seats awaiting the on time 8:30am departure.

Schematic map of the route of the Jersey Devil
We backed out of the station to a location called CP ("control point") Hunter and then headed off to Croxton Yard, then down the National Docks Secondary, the Coast Secondary, and the Amboy Secondary to Jamesburg where the train was turned and we were treated to an excellent hot pastrami lunch in the local Elk's Club.
The Jersey Devil in Jamesburg
After lunch the train retraced its steps up to CP PD north of Perth Amboy and then headed to Bound Brook where the engines ran around the train and pulled us backward up the Leigh Line to Newark where we arrived on Track A just before 5pm.
The route of the Jersey Devil
The day ended with dinner and great conversation with several good friends.

Epilog - Sunday, November 1, 2015

This was the end of daylight savings time which meant that even though I woke up at the usual 6:30am for this trip, I got an extra hour of sleep. I took my time dressing, packing, and having breakfast before catching the hotel shuttle to the airport at 9am.

Sometime during the night United had switched aircraft on me. Instead of flying in an Embraer 175 jet, the aircraft that awaited me was a Bombardier Q400 turboprop. I was somewhat unhappy with this switch because I don't much care for the noise level and also because I had purposely picked my flight so that it was a jet. But it's United so shit happens. In any event we boarded on time and I noticed that my seat in Row 15 was actually in Row 13 (but there was no Row 13 and 14 on this aircraft and who knows what other rows numbers were missing.) The door closed about 5 minutes late and we began our taxi to the runway at which point a flight attendant asked "is there a doctor onboard?" We soon returned to the gate. EMTs boarded and very quickly a passenger and his companion walked off the plane. To the airline's credit they turned things around very quickly all things considered and we were only 55 minutes late into Pittsburgh. I waited 20 minutes for a bus to near my home, Barb picked me up, and I was home by 3:10pm.

Tomorrow back to work, but it was a great week of railroad, airline, maritime and New York/New Jersey history along with some fun ride. I'm already looking forward to next year's meeting.

1 comment:

  1. This is the best function room in the city. The food they served at party venues was warm, fresh and tasty, and the panoramic window is a sight to behold on a clear day. Their main hall was similar to a club/lounge – however, it had more of an intimate feel.