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Our first ride on the Long Island Rail Road was on the Port Washington Branch. On 22 March 2009 we drove to Port Washington and took the train from there to Penn Station and back. There was a bit of traffic in Port Washington and it was a little confusing figuring out where we could park for free, but since trains departed every 30 minutes we weren’t too worried about time. We grabbed a quick bite to eat across the street from the station and then headed over to the platform. There were some disagreements over where to sit (whether in the front or middle of the train), but eventually we agreed on the first car, waited a bit to depart, and were on our way.
This was our first visit to Penn Station. Previous city trips had been to the more open and more familiar Grand Central. Since we were in the first car we exited at the far west end of the platform. This brought us to a mostly deserted small corridor that led to the entrance to the 8th Avenue subway station. It seemed very strange to cut through a subway station to get back into Penn Station, but we found our way without too much trouble. It’s interesting to note that on the many other trips to Penn Station on the LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak since that time, I never found myself in that same corridor again. We made our way around the station and had some lunch. This being our first visit we waited for our return train in the very crowded main LIRR waiting area. It was very stressful trying to watch two little kids in such a busy area with few places to stand out of the way to say nothing of sit. Unlike Grand Central where trains are usually available for boarding long before departure, in Penn Station the departure tracks are not identified until 5-10 minutes before departure so it’s not possible to wait on the platform (or even better on the train) as we could on Metro-North. Instead a huge crowd stands in the low-ceilinged concourse waiting for the track to be posted, then a few hundred people all dash at once to the two small entrances to the platform. On future trips I learned that the nearly empty “exit” concourses were a much better choice. Here the kids had plenty of room to run around without getting in anyone’s way, they were easy to watch, and once the track was posted only a handful of people would head to the entrance to the platform, making boarding much easier. It still always feels like a dungeon, but at least it’s a much more civilized dungeon.
Our second trip on the Port Washington Branch was on 4 October 2009 for the purpose of stopping at the seasonal Mets-Willets Point station. During our first trip in March this station was still called Shea Stadium, but since baseball season hadn’t started we didn’t stop. We took Metro-North to Grand Central Terminal and then walked to Penn Station. We considered purchasing a ticket directly to the Mets-Willets Point station, but noticed these were much more expensive than those to Flushing-Main Street, the next station on the line, and opted for the less expensive tickets. Initially the train was crowded with people going to the baseball game, but it was a fine ride. We got off at the Flushing-Main Street station and made our way down to the street. This was our first time on the streets of Flushing and it sure was a bustling international neighborhood, but we only had a block to walk to the end of the 7 subway line.
We caught the 7 subway at one end in Flushing and took it all of the way to Times Square at the other end. I took pictures of the stations along the way but later decided subway pictures didn’t come out very well, especially underground, so never bothered to post them. From Times Square we took the 1 subway to South Ferry. From here it was a short walk upstairs to the Staten Island ferry. After a bit of a wait we were on the ferry for a relaxing ride across New York Harbor on a beautiful autumn day. Once on Staten Island we made our way to the Staten Island Railway, which was surprisingly somewhat difficult to find. At one of the stations we came across a few questionable characters on the opposite platform, but happily there were no real problems on our train. We rode to the end of the line in Tottenville. We had a bit of a wait here until the return trip, but it was a nice quiet area with some nice views of the water and huge ships heading to the ports in New Jersey. The return trip to St. George was uneventful, and even gave one of the kids a chance for a nap. Then it was back on the ferry to Manhattan, the subway back up to Grand Central Terminal, and Metro-North back home to close out a long but enjoyable day.
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