Last week's excursion to Brunswick, Maine on the Downeaster highlighted some of the problems involved in offering a proper frequency of corridor trains on a railroad plant downsized for one or two long freight trains a day, operated by a carrier that might be a reluctant participant in the restoration of Passenger Rail to trackage that had been freight-only at Amtrak Day.
Throw in some hot, humid weather and an electrical storm or two, and the return to Boston becomes an adventure. That potential is present from the train's arrival at Brunswick. Ordinarily the rake lays over on a side track (perhaps the Lewiston Lower branch?) until it is time for the evening departure. This June 25, however, it deadheads back to Portland in order to be available to protect the 2:35 departure of 686 from Portland, its equipment ordinarily arriving on 683 which is reported as running wicked late. And to think that the Boston and Maine used to get the Pine Tree and Flying Yankee and Kennebec between Boston and Portland in 1 hour 55 minutes.
Whatever headquarters decides to do, the rake that went out in the morning returns to Brunswick in time to board passengers and leave at 7 pm as Ned French would have had it. Freeport 7:11:55 - 7:14:52, pull past the junction with the Mountain Division and set back into Portland, stop 7:44:45. Conductor advises me the train will be setting back toward St. Johnsbury in order to clear the one platform for 685 so as to get it out close to time. A twenty minute delay I can deal with, but the last suburban train to Worcester leaves South Station at 11:20 and Back Bay a few minutes later. By the looks of things at our first arrival, and our subsequent return to the station, a fair number of passengers are riding the relatively short Portland to Freeport and Brunswick leg. Depart Portland 8:09:53, pass PT Tower One 8:17; stop 8:24. Conductor announces more signal trouble. Guilford's dispatchers are busy with some sort of troubles, one is working with the conductor on cell phones rather than the radio network. Moving again 8:28, stop and proceed 8:35, stop and proceed 8:43, Old Orchard Beach 8:51:55 - 8:52:50, Saco 8:59:39 - 9:00:06, conductor's estimate of an 11:10 arrival in Boston (and a fast cab ride to Back Bay Station) might hold up. Not so fast. Stop 9:17 north of Wells, 687 due out of Wells at 8:30 by at 9:52; make Wells 9:54:10 - 9:55:03. Start asking about all-night cafes in Boston. Dover 10:21:29 - 10:21:40 (in the glory days of the Boston and Maine a limited was an hour away from Boston), Durham 10:28:34 - 10:29:09, Exeter 10:41:42 - 10:42:42, Haverhill 11:01:50 - 11:02:53. At least we're only stopping at stations. At Lawrence, however, the three-arm pole is All Red. Stop 11:15, suburban train by 11:30, move immediately, stop again 11:48 and go 11:49, Woburn 11:55:20 - 11:56:35, more stop and go in the vicinity of Tower A, arrive North Station 12:18. Large crowd rushes out to board 689 due out at 11:00. Don't envy the snack car attendant, who remains on duty back to Portland, possibly with a depleted stock of food and beverages, and still no Gummi Lobsters.
Boston overnight is not as active as Chicago's Greektown. The South Street Diner, close to South Station, is open and preparing food. Curfew for beer is 1 AM. First suburban train of the morning to Worcester is out at 4:05, opportunity for catnaps on the train plus a chance to crash for 90 minutes before the convention excursions begin.
I'm going to have to issue a ferroequinologist alert here, that using the enhanced corridor train frequencies to make a day trip out of a big city may not be wise if that trip depends on a connection to the last suburban train back to wherever you started your trip. Because different transportation authorities are involved, nobody has any responsibility for protecting connections, or even being aware of failed connections. And all-night grills may not be available in all big cities.