Lopinot: A Sunny Sunday In Hell
A group that swears this is one of the island’s best rides
From 30th Street Station, the train glided northwest out of Philadelphia, tracing the arc of the freeway. Near the old Schuylkill River Bridge, it jogged right, gathering speed, bound for the New Jersey border. Had you been standing anywhere near the tracks, you would have heard Amtrak 188 before you saw it, in the hum of the rail bed and the metallic shiver of the electricity in the overhead catenary wires. And then you would have felt it, in the vibration of the earth: the combined weight of a 98-ton locomotive and seven 50-ton cars, carrying a total of 258 people, eight of them employees.
At the head end of 188, swaddled in a cushioned chair stitched with the Amtrak insignia, the 32-year-old engineer, Brandon Bostian, watched the apartment houses of North Philadelphia bleed into view, his boots resting on the corrugated metal floor. Around him, in a tight semicircle, were a series of square screens that displayed speed, brake-pipe pressure and the feed from the rear-facing video cameras. With his left hand, he slid forward a red-handled lever — the master controller — to send a surge of electricity from the catenary system to the traction motors that gripped the rails.
The locomotive under Bostian’s command that night — May 12, 2015 — was an ACS-64 Cities Sprinter, the most advanced engine in the Amtrak fleet. A modification of a machine long used in Europe, the ACS-64 is rated by its manufacturer, Siemens, at 8,600 horsepower, burly enough to haul seven fully loaded coaches at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour. But in the cab of 188, walled off from the outside world by two panes of reinforced glass, the loudest sounds would have been the burp of the radio and the intermittent whine of the alerter, which triggers if an engineer takes his hands off the controls for more than a few seconds, shutting off only once the round red “acknowledge” button on the dashboard has been depressed.
At around 9:16 p.m., the train crossed the intersection at North 22nd Street. In Reyburn Park, the fluorescent lights gleamed. The skies above were clear, with the temperature hovering at 82 degrees. A westerly wind gusted gently at 20 m.p.h., flattening the trackside weeds. Bostian was less than a mile from North Philadelphia Station, where 188 did not stop, and roughly three miles and three minutes from Frankford Junction, one of the sharpest curves on the Northeast Corridor. The last thing Bostian says he remembers, according to his lawyer, was ringing the in-cab bell as he passed the station house, headed toward the junction.
Originally published at medium.com on July 6, 2016.