We're a little under 3 months as of this writing until this summer's event, OTOL Southeast RailFest (SERF) 2011. Except for any necessary last minute refining, things are pretty much set. Hopefully those who have not yet booked their hotels or travel will do so soon, before the prices go up or the desired trips become unavailable.
What about August 2011?
An eager regular participant has asked me what's in store for the future. One possibility would be August of this year, 4 or 5 weeks after everyone is home from SERF. You may recall last year at this time we did an all-Long Island Railroad fest (with a little subway thrown in on Friday). If enough people are game, we could do another Request-type fest, somewhere else on the east coast. Perhaps a 2-day event in Boston or the Baltimore/Washington area? Or, we could ride the ACES train and combine it with some other activities in NJ (maybe the HBLRT extension in Bayonne?) or Philly since ACES no longer operates in the winter. It does remain to be seen whether people are able to meet so close to SERF, taking into consideration time off work, finances, etc.
On the topic of the east coast, I'm almost sure that the January 2012 Request Fest will be in the Philadelphia area. Within a few months I'll release a few scenarios which folks can then vote on. Those who attended the Fests we had in Philly in 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006 know basically what those might be (of course they would involve Chestnut Hill, Norristown, and Media!). Or, it could be an all Regional Rail option, sort of like what we did in 2004 with the ex-Reading lines hopefully without the too-tight connection in Jenkintown. All lines are candidates, but we must keep in mind the restrictions of the Cynwyd Line (weekdays only), Thorndale Line (no Sundays beyond Malvern), and Newark, DE (weekday rush hours only beyond Wilmington).
Rockies, & a possible NoCal return?
And that brings us to the larger trips during the summer. Herein lies the problem. They have all been planned for the future because the cities involved have lines under construction. Common sense indicates waiting until these projects are complete, so we don't miss them and have to return. Problem is, most of the currently planned Future Fests will not have anything significant coming online by the summer of 2012. Salt Lake City looks good with 2 new LRT lines (Mid-Jordan and West Valley) starting this summer, joining the current University and North-South (Sandy) Lines, but the Airport and Draper LRT lines are still respectively under construction and under development. FrontRunner North to Odgen & Pleasant Valley is in place, but FrontRunner South to Orem & Provo is still a few years away. The other problem with SLC remains the horrible eastbound calling time of the California Zephyr, now 3:30 AM. A possible better solution would be to stopover there on some future westbound trip to California, and then leave westbound 24 or 48 hours later. 11:30 PM is more palatable than 3:30 AM! So it would be beneficial to wait until there's more to do in both SLC and California that would warrant a return trip.
So the Rockies RailFest as currently presented most likely will change significantly, including its being totally separated from Denver. Denver, in fact, would work better as an eastbound stopover since the CZ calling times are better in that direction. If we wait until BART extends to Warm Springs, then Berryessa, and then eventually San Jose and Santa Clara, we already have quite an event on our hands! It's looking less likely that there would be much more to do in the Bay Area given the recent negative news about SMART... so more time could be spent on stopovers in both directions. Sacramento comes to mind as well with its piecemeal openings of the new Green Line, but it could be 2019 or 2020 before the line gets to the Airport. Might be worth a stopover there too.
The Big Three
Looking at the Big Three RaiFests currently planned for the future, 2 of the 3 wouldn't be possible in 2012. Texas RailFest (TRF) is dependent on completion of DART's Orange Line all the way to DFW Airport, and the extension of the DART Blue Line to Rowlett. The new Green Line and the upcoming A-Train (opening this June) would give us something new to ride, but waiting 2 or 3 more years gives us much more. Hopefully along with the Orange Line the Las Colinas people mover will be expanded and improved so we could ride that as well. TRF would also include Houston, but so far there isn't much movement towards anything other than the initial Metro Red Line segment being available to ride.
Then there's the second Eagle RailFest (ERF), which would take in Austin (both the MetroRail DMU line and the LStar commuter rail line to San Antonio), a side round trip to Oklahoma City on the Heartland Flyer, and a 24-hour stopover in Little Rock to ride their RiverRail trolley. This is dependent on LStar, so it's a few years off. And Little Rock, it should be noted, has an Amtrak station nowhere near the trolleys or the city's hotels, so cabs or city bus must come into play.
The third of the Big Three is Chief RailFest (CRF). This one currently has Albuquerque for the RailRunner, a trip on the Missouri RiverRunner, and a revisit to St. Louis to take in the Cross County segment of the Metrolink LRT that wasn't yet available to us back in 2005. Time could be added to either of the Chicago pass-throughs to do things there. It'll be a long time before we do a "Chicago Request Fest", because there's so much we haven't yet done as a group.
Back to: What's happening in Summer 2012?
So this still doesn't answer the question of what to do in the Summer of 2012. Of the Big Three, the only one with everything in place is CRF. We'll make that Idea #1.
Idea #2 would be a watered down version of the Midwest RailFest. Why water it down? As currently engineered, this one includes a visit to the Twin Cities. Northstar commuter rail is in operation, as is the Hiawatha LRT line. But there are a few other factors here. One is that the current Midway Amtrak Station is isolated between the 2 cities. Thus to get to Minneapolis proper for riding those lines (as well as hotels) would require a late night cab or city bus ride after arrival of the westbound Empire Builder, and an early morning dose of the same thing before the eastbound Empire Builder departure. By sometime next year, Amtrak is supposed to begin stopping in downtown St. Paul, which is great for proximity to hotels, but even worse with respect to our reasons for visiting (namely Northstar and Hiawatha LRT). Now it's a longer bus ride or cab ride, unless Midway Station remains open in addition to St. Paul Union Depot. The anecdote to these issues hopefully comes into play in 2014, when the Central LRT line opens. Then there will be light rail service to both the current and future Amtrak stations. And we get another rail line to ride as well. So bottom line, the Twin Cities would be several years off at least.
So this possibility would be to disconnect Minneapolis from Chicago, and just spend time at the latter, doing things we haven't yet. That list is dependent on what we ultimately accomplish there this summer. Besides remaining CTA and METRA lines, there's also the Airport Transportation System at O'Hare Airport, and the streetcars in Kenosha, WI (latter easiest done on a Sunday based on the METRA schedule). Downside of this: It robs our resident Chicagoans of Amtrak travel!
For 2012, idea #3 is the North Carolina/Virginia RailFest. This would feature light rail in both Charlotte and Norfolk (which should open sometime this year), as well as the unique equipment of Amtrak's Piedmont. As currently put together, it's just 4 days long including travel from and to Northeastern cities. I'm looking at somehow adding something to this to make it more worthwhile for a summer trip. Being tossed around are possibly Savannah, GA to ride that city's streetcars, and/or Jacksonville, FL to ride the SkyTrain. Both Savannah and Jacksonville do suffer from the same distance issues mentioned earlier regarding Amtrak stations in Little Rock and (currently) Minneapolis/St. Paul. If it's not convenient to transfer in Richmond to or from the other trains, then it may require going back up to Washington, DC, and one overnight there before going south again.
And there you have the options for 2012. Going forward to 2013, 2014, 2015, and beyond is again highly dependent on what becomes available to us. Obviously with the above 3 ideas on the table, we could be set for a few years until the longer trips become more possible and sensible.