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2023 NRHS Convention Report

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2023 NRHS Convention Report
Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, September 24, 2023 2:17 AM

2023 NRHS Convention: My Experience

An Official Trip Report

                                         ©2023—Walter E. Zullig Jr.

 This is a report of my experience before, during and after the Convention. It does not purport to be a full report of the Convention itself.

For some time I had been hoping to have our convention in Southeast Florida because of all the rail activity there. Finally the stars were aligned this year when the US Sugar Co. began operations out of Clewiston with former FEC steam locomotive #148 (4-6-2) and Brightline was running between Miami and West Palm Beach with the promise of operation to Orlando starting September 1.

Our convention activity really started during the winter of 2022. Since Suzanne and I live in Hallandale Beach during much of the winter we did a lot of the advance work starting with looking into some 40 hotels and visiting about 15 of them. From that we developed a short list of 3 hotels for consideration by the Convention Committee. We also rode a US Sugar steam powered public excursion between Clewiston and Moore Haven and had used Brightline for travel several times in the past. Finally, we visited the Gold Coast RR Museum in south Miami-Dade County and made the necessary contact there.

I was in charge of the negotiations with US Sugar, Brightline and Tri-Rail. During August 2022 I made a quick trip to Deerfield Beach to join with several other committee members to visit all the sites and the hotels. That was at a time when Amtrak was running only the Silver Star. It was sold out southbound so I flew down on Delta; northbound I managed to get a roomette in one of the 5 sleepers and after Tampa the train managed to get 9 ½ hours late, reaching Penn Station NY at 4:32 AM. For a number of reasons the negotiations became quite complex and dragged on for quite some time but eventually we reached agreements for all the events. The signed contract for the Sugar Train was handed to me on board!

 Suzanne and I left NY on August 30 via Delta Flight #2497 on the following schedule:

          Lv. LGA gate           11:43 (11:12)                   A321-200 aircraft

                      T/O             12:04

          Ar. FLL land            2:45

                      Gate           3:07 (2:2

We picked up an Avis car and drove to our condo in Hallandale Beach. After visiting the supermarket I drove to Brightline’s Aventura station to pick up a heavy package of tickets and safety posters. The following day I rode Tri-Rail from Hollywood to Miami, thence MetroRail to Overtown station to pick up 42 day passes from Miami-Dade Transit. They had been unable to send them to me due to a broken pipe that had flooded their office. Suzanne then joined me for a drive to Deerfield Beach for the evening lecture with a stop at Tri-Rail’s Pompano Beach HQ to pick up three batches of tickets that had been pre-ordered. We moved into the Convention hotel [Doubletree in Deerfield Beach] on Sept. 2. 

The Convention opened on September 1 with an evening history lecture by Seth Bramson, sometimes known as “Mr. FEC.” September 2 was “meeting day” with Advisory Council, Board and the Annual Membership meetings. In the evening I presented a program entitled, South Florida Railroading Over the Years, that covered CSX and predecessors, Amtrak, Tri-Rail, Miami MetroRail, FEC and Brightline from 1971 to date. It was “fun” putting this together as I did it chronologically by property so all segments except Brightline were comprised of both slides and digital images. Mitch Dackelman kindly digitized the necessary slides for me and Mike Yuhas put the organized material into a power point type format. My presentation took about an hour and was followed by two shorter ones by Doug Scott and Mike Yuhas.

Sunday, September 3 was Brightline Day. When we planned the Convention all concerned thought they would open to Orlando on September 1; unfortunately about 2 weeks prior we were advised that they would not be able to open beyond West Palm Beach until later in the month. After some discussion the Brightline staff agreed to a decent refund and to offer us two things that earlier “couldn’t be done,” namely, a tour of the WPB Running Repair Facility as well as the Miami station and the Operations Center there. So we thought everything was set when 3 busloads of our people arrived at the WPB RRF to find a closed gate. I got on the intercom and it opened with nobody talking to me.

When we weren’t greeted I got off the bus to see what was (not) happening. One employee was just leaving and a senior person in the office had no idea we were expected and didn’t know what to do. So I got on the phone with my 2 contacts at BL who were horrified and arranged for a person living not too far away to come and give us the tour. When he arrived he said we should be careful and let us wander all over the place. He even offered to let everyone walk through a trainset in the shop by means of a portable stairway but I vetoed that due to fear of injury and potential difficulty in getting everyone back on the buses to catch our 11 AM train.

Around 10:15 we loaded the buses and drove to the BL station in WPB. The staff there let us go to the platform a little early for photos but insisted that everyone enter through one gate where a woman collected all the tickets. Since all tickets had car and seat numbers I asked her how the passengers will know where to sit and she said she would return the tickets. But that was useless as I had no way of knowing which tickets were for which passengers. So the people just took any seats and, of course, other riders arrived with tickets for some of those seats. The station manager arrived on the scene and I told him that he and the train staff would have to straighten out the mess. He agreed that the tickets should not have been collected downstairs and wondered why it was done. I suggested he ask the employee who did it.

Our Brightline train departed on time at 11 AM and we soon were enjoying the fast and smooth ride viewing the scenery through immaculate glass windows. I did my best to identify points of railroad interest to our group. Arrival at Miami was on time at 12:15 and the station manager and numerous staff greeted us on the platform. Downstairs we toured the station and picked up our pre-ordered box lunches which we enjoyed while sitting at small tables in the waiting area. During this time groups of 15 were organized to tour the Operations Center. We were most impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of the station and Operations Center staff. Most were young women who were thoroughly familiar with railroad operations and procedures and could easily answer our questions. These young people obviously see a future with rail passenger service at Brightline.

Soon it was time to board our northbound train for its 1:45 PM departure. As we had requested, our group was allowed on to the platform for photos about 20 minutes prior to departure time. Needless to say the departure was on time as was our WPB arrival at 3:05. After a few final photos we boarded our 3 buses for return to the hotel.

Another trip highlight occurred the following day when we rode the US Sugar steam train from Clewiston to Lake Placid, FL, and return. During the negotiations I had questioned some of the proposed costs of this trip and learned that the steam trains are not operated by the US Sugar rail staff. Rather, they are operated by crews provided by a company in the Midwest which must bring their people to Clewiston and house them there. Although I had suggested they reduce the per-day costs by operating their own trips on two days of the 3-day weekend, they declined to do that so we had to absorb more costs than originally had been contemplated. To partly offset the costs we opened the trip to the public and especially to members of the FEC Railway Society who could drive to Clewiston. This proved successful and it was nice to meet some of the FECRS members. Although I’m a member I rarely get to see those folks.

Our northbound trip was led by a diesel locomotive as the plan was to do the photo stops on the southbound leg. Departure came shortly after the 10 AM scheduled time and we reached Lake Placid around noon. This is a nice little city with colorful murals on many buildings. When Suzanne and I had visited it back in March only 3 of the restaurants would commit to being open on Labor Day. Then about a month before the trip a few committee members were checking things out and our committee’s Texan, Skip Waters, persuaded the Chamber of Commerce to get a few others to open. That worked and there were a decent number of establishments from which we could choose. We visited an Italian restaurant that was nearly full. There we were joined by 3 others to make a 5 person table. The employees really hustled and we were served our sandwiches and beverages in ample time for a leisurely stroll back to the station for the train’s 1:45 departure time. Suzanne and I didn’t have time to visit the station museum but we had seen it on an earlier visit.

Departure came shortly after the 1:45 scheduled time. US Sugar has been acquiring additional passenger equipment and gradually refurbishing it. Our  train had a baggage car with open doors, a former Amtrak lounge car with tables and three former long distance coaches. We were seated in a former UP car with individual windows, now equipped with walkover seats that could be flipped over. The air conditioning worked well throughout the train. The first photo runby was scheduled for Childs Cane Elevator. This wasn’t the greatest spot in the world as there was a low fence along much of the location. However we could walk up a concrete ramp to a  sugar loading facility to get some elevation. The second stop at Moore Haven Bridge was much better with a bridge and big open area. Here the train came by at good speed with much whistle blowing. Although we had promised and delivered two photo stops we had hoped to do a third one but the unloading/loading process had taken too long so we had to scratch the third. Once back in Clewiston the three buses took us back to the hotel, about a 1 hour, 20 minute ride.

Tuesday, Sept. 5 was another busy day. Convention attendees had a choice of a visit to the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach or a tour of the entire Tri-Rail and MetroRail systems. The transit tour was my idea and I led it with assistance from Mike Glikin who splits his time between Miami and New York City. We had a very precise itinerary that I distributed in advance so that everyone could see where we would be going and the need to keep on schedule.

The tour started with the short bus ride from hotel to the former SAL station at Deerfield Beach. Here by pre-arrangement we were greeted by David Dech, the Executive Director of Tri-Rail. He explained the operations and rode the train with us to the north end at Mangonia Park and back to Pompano Beach where his office is in a new building by the tracks. During the layover at Mangonia Park we were able to photograph the northbound Amtrak Silver Meteor running on time. Those who had ridden Tri-Rail in past years were impressed that nearly every window in every car was clean. In the past many had become foggy or scratched. Mr. Dech mentioned that he took one look at those windows and ordered a replacement program. He also said that he now is arranging crew training over the FEC between their connection at IRIS Interlocking in Hialeah and the Brightline station in downtown Miami with the hope of starting that service early next year.

When I had traveled to downtown Miami on Thursday, August 31 I noted that both the elevator and the escalator to the mezzanine at the Tri-Rail/MetroRail transfer station were out of service. I warned the people about this in advance and when we were loading the bus to the station a lady came along in an electric wheelchair. Sadly I had to inform her that it would be impossible for her to make the trip; we got her transferred to the Flagler Museum trip. When our group reached the transfer station everyone trudged up the stairs to the mezzanine only to find yet another escalator—the one from the mezzanine to the “Northbound” platform-- was out of service, leading to another climb up a staircase. After photographing an inbound train we boarded an outbound for the last stop at Palmetto. I did my best to show points of interest including the FEC yard and LPG refueling facility along with the MetroRail yard and shop.

After Palmetto we rode to Government Center station for lunch at the cafeteria there. They expected us and had a large assortment of sandwiches in the “Grab & GO” area. Some ordered their own lunches which was fine but unfortunately a few ordered things that took a long time to prepare so we were off schedule once they had finished.  Onward to the south end at Dadeland South for some photos and a northbound train to Brickell for photos and transfer to the MetroMover. I had hoped to cover the entire Mover route but we were behind schedule so at Mike Glikin’s suggestion we just rode to Knight Center station where we did a cross platform transfer to an inner loop train for a short ride to Govt. Center. Due to the constant fear of one person that we would miss our Tri-Rail train we caught the 3:12 Orange Line train, rather than the planned 3:27, which gave more “insurance” of catching the Tri-Rail train plus some additional time to look around the Miami Intermodal Center [“MIC”] terminal. Our final journey was on Tri-Rail Train #632 leaving MIC at 3:50 PM and reaching Deerfield Beach at 5:06 where our motor-coach connection was waiting. I pointed out the items of interest along the way including the IRIS double track grade crossing with FEC and the yet unused connecting track to enable Tri-Rail to run to downtown Miami.

We had wanted to get back by about 5:15 as the Convention banquet would take place that evening. Our guest speaker was Mr. Patrick Goddard, President of Brightline. He is a rather busy person and we had a few program changes, one of which was discussed by phone while I was enroute north on the Tri-Rail train. He was accompanied by Vanessa Alfonso, their Director of Media Relations. After a video presentation we engaged in a Q-A type format followed by questions from the audience.  The discussion was stimulating and Mr. Goddard seemed to enjoy it. So we got to meet two “CEO’s” in one day: Tri-Rail’s Mr. Dech in the morning and Brightline’s Mr. Goddard in the evening!

Wednesday, Sept. 6 was the last day of the convention. Our plan for that day was to take buses to Deerfield Beach station and ride Tri-Rail to Miami Airport where the buses would pick us up for the ride to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in south Miami-Dade County. Our group rode Tri-Rail train #617 leaving Deerfield at 8:44 AM and reaching the last stop at Miami Intermodal Center on time at 9:55. One of our buses was there and the second arrived shortly thereafter. We reached the Museum a little sooner than planned and began exploring. Highlights are the Presidential Pullman Ferdinand Magellan that had been used extensively by FDR, Harry Truman and just a little by Ike. Because of the many artifacts on board everyone must go through it with a guide. Other features are Western Pacific dome-obs car Silver Crescent from the California Zephyr and FEC Pacific type steam locomotive #153, a sister of #148 now used by US Sugar. There also is a short train ride around the grounds in a vintage FEC coach. Much locomotive and coach equipment is on display. A buffet lunch was served.

Shortly after 3 PM we boarded the buses for return to the hotel. Upon arrival there the convention was officially concluded. Of course I’m not exactly impartial but I’d call it a big success. Everyone seemed to have a great time and we all stayed safe.

We had checked out of the hotel in the morning and placed our luggage in the trunk of the Avis car. After returning some items to the Registration Room staff and saying “goodbye” to numerous friends we drove to our condo with a stop for dinner along the way.

Thursday and Friday were open for us to partake in various activities in the area. I photographed the northbound Silver Star north of Hollywood as it had two private cars of convention attendees on the rear.

Saturday, September 9 we returned to NY via Delta Airlines. When checking the baggage we were told the flight would be a little over 1 ½ hours late. No reason was given but I assume it was due to bad weather conditions in NY as the A321 aircraft was quite late arriving from LGA. Our schedule:

 

Lv. FLL         gate   1:18 (11:30)

                    T/O     1:30

Ar. LGA         land    3:54

                    Gate   4:23 (2:35=

Suzanne had a pre-ordered salad, and I enjoyed a cheeseburger. Our baggage was on the carousal before we reached it and our daughter, Lisa, was waiting nearby and drove us home. Bad traffic until across the Whitestone Bridge but it was much better once in Westchester County. For me the convention had been an incredible amount of work but was great fun overall. Most importantly, everyone stayed safe and enjoyed the event.

WEZ   9/15/2023

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, September 28, 2023 9:18 AM

The two photographs:

Brightline's Running Service and Inspection Shop andcU. S. Sugat's Florida East Coastline Pacific and train on thevMooew Haven Bridge

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Posted by pennytrains on Saturday, September 30, 2023 5:30 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your report!  Thanks for taking the time to post this!

Big Smile  Same me, different spelling!  Big Smile

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, October 3, 2023 1:24 PM

Walter Zulig's report.  I just did the mechanics, but "You are welcome" for thanks for that vpart.  Walter is a good friend, and helping him is an honor and a privilege.  His msin professional life was Chief Council (lawyer) for Metro North.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 6:55 PM

David, the news is full of what's happening over in Israel.  Are you all right?  Are you safe?  It goes without saying I'm a bit concerned for you.

Be safe!  

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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, October 12, 2023 2:47 AM

I'm OK.  Have not been in any "shelter,"  keeping my regular routine at the Yeshiva, am considered too old to volunteer for hospial or general safety durties. Although a USA Army Vet, with the proper training, have niot been issued a gun, like all my fellow students, half of whom are away at the war.

One young man who made Aliya with his parents, who were (and like me remain such) and are members  of our New York City congregation (the oldest in North America, 1656) was killed in action yesterday.  I knew the parents in New York, but for some reason did not contact here.  Friends here also knew us.

See the Transit Forum, Jerusalem thread, for more comment.

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  • From: Henrico, VA
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Thursday, October 12, 2023 8:18 AM

Thanks for the response David, I can relax a bit.

Sorry to hear about that young aquaintance of yours.  Should you contact his parents give them my sympathies.  I'll check the Transit Forum as well. 

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