The Underground Brewery Stories about brewing beer and train traveling from Tom Coughlin

October 2, 2013

The federal government shutdown and how it affects rail travel

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 3:18 pm

Here’s a quick blast on what’s happening on passenger railroads in the wake of the federal government shut down of October 1, 2013:

Amtrak will continue to operate trains as usual for at least the next five or six weeks. They have cash on hand to make payroll at present, and many of their subsidized train lines use funding that comes from states that they run through.

Virginia Rail Express, a Washington DC commuter railroad serving the Virginia suburbs, continues to run it’s regular schedule through Thursday, October 3. Today (October 2) they will make a decision on whether or not to run a snow day schedule on Friday. If the shutdown lingers on past this week, it is likely that they may introduce a reduced service schedule for the coming week(s). By commuter service standards this is not a big operation: 30 trains a day on two lines, with no service on the weekend.

MARC, a commuter line running north from Washington DC to Baltimore on two lines, and west to Cumberland MD, ran special mid-day trains yesterday to transport furloughed workers home. No announcements have been made regarding reducing service. Like VRE, MARC is a five-day-a-week operation.

METRO, the Washington DC subway system, saw a 22 percent decrease in ridership today as federal offices, museums and monuments were shuttered. Management is reducing the lengths of train sets to save money, while continuing to operate their normal schedule.

September 18, 2013

The good news–the bad news

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 6:44 pm

A couple of things happened this week in the world of North American Passenger railroading, one really good, one truly disappointing. Amtrak’s November rare-mileage trip up the Susquehanna from Philly looks like it’s going to be a big hit. After selling out one entire train, this week they added a second section. To my knowledge, Amtrak has never had to run a second section of anything in it’s entire history–additional runs of trains using extra equipment at times of peak demand went out with the Jet Age about 50 years ago. More info:

Now the bad news–RIP the VIA Rail Canada “Chaleur”: the train between Montreal and Gaspe is now history. Operating for most of the last 20 years as a section of the train to Halifax (the two trains operated out of Montreal as one, and were uncoupled in Matapedia in the middle of the night). In August, due to deteriorating rail conditions, VIA substituted buses between Matapedia and Gaspe. As of Tuesday, this train no longer exists. Link:

September 9, 2013

Private Car trip scouting in Vermont

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:46 am

Babs and I are up in Vermont for the weekend attending a conference and doing a little private car destination scouting at the same time in Rutland, Vermont. Rutland is at the end of the line for Amtrak’s Ethan Allen train. The train arrives in the evening, parks overnight and leaves in the morning. I was up here with the Mount Vernon a few years ago for an all-too-short overnight stay, and didn’t get much of an impression of the town. Looks a lot nicer in the daytime–lots to do here.

From Rutland VT. Posted by Tom Coughlin on 9/09/2013 (5 items)

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One limiting factor to a Rutland visit–no hotel power is available–a PV would have to run on it’s generator if it were parked here longer than an overnight.

December 29, 2012

Wintertime trip on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight–Portland to San Diego (includes brewery tours and lots of mass transit)

Here are some pictures from our latest post-semester cheapo cold weather escape. Using discount tickets on Soutwest Airlines, we flew to Portland OR, caught the Coast Starlight and Surfliner to San Diego (cashed in Amtrak Guest Rewards points), and rode the commuter rail system to Los Angeles. Visited breweries and beer shrines by mass transit. Came back with a tan, and great memories of first class service on the Coast Starlight, and sour beers from Upright Brewing in Portland, and The Bruery, in Placentia (Anaheim)–the two preeminent sour beer breweries in North America.

As a homebrewer and certified beer judge, it’s hard to justify a trip to San Diego without visiting a few of their world-famous breweries. Interestingly, two of their most renowned microbreweries are within walking distance from the Sprinter–a DMU light rail system that connects Oceanside CA (train station on Amtrak Surfliner, San Diego Coaster, and Los Angeles Metrolink system) with Escondido.

Important Suggestions for those wanting to go to Stone and Lost Abbey using public transit:

  • You’ll probably need to take Amtrak to Oceanside ($34 round-trip), as the lower-cost Coaster commuter train runs very infrequently during the day.
  • Do this trip on a Wednesday, when Lost Abbey/Port Brewing is open later and serves food.
  • Go to Stone first. They’re restaurant serves food all day, and it’s one of the best beer-themed restaurants around. Get there by riding the Sprinter to the Nordahl Road station and either walking or taking the 353 bus (runs every 30 minutes). (This is different than their instructions on their website, but it’s a faster trip.)
  • Go to Lost Abbey second. Ride the Sprinter to San Marcos Civc Center. Follow the instructions for getting there published on their website (Google Maps is has some major errors regarding walking trails that don’t really exist.) Leave by 7:30 pm–if you miss the 8:15 pm Sprinter from San Marcos, you’re in for a long wait for a train in Oceanside.
  • If you are a beer brewer, while you’re in town, work in a visit to White Labs’ tasting room (at their facility on Candida St.) for an interesting demo on how yeast selection affects beer making. The #20 bus can take you there from downtown or from the Fashion Valley Mall.

Please roll your mouse over the photo to see the complete caption.

“Pictures from our latest post-semester cheapo cold weather escape. Flew to Portland OR, caught the Coast Starlight and Surfliner to San Diego, and rode the commuter rail system to Los Angeles. Visited breweries and beer shrines by mass transit. Came back with a tan.”

From California Winter Trip 2012. Posted by Tom Coughlin on 12/29/2012 (29 items)

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December 4, 2012

Five Winter rail travel ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 11:21 pm

Meg and I are hardcore off season train travel enthusiasts–we hate crowds and love deals. Listed here in no particular order, are some of the places where we had an astoundingly great time in places that are a little off the beaten path, or not well known. I liked these places so much I wrestled with keeping them secret, so they don’t get trampled by tourists. I want to go back to all of them. But no, you should enjoy. I insist.

The Hop Randal at Bruhaha

Herbs, spices, tea, hops–a lot of interesting stuff winds up in Brewhaha’s beer randal.

Dinner and Beer at Brew Pub Brouhaha in Montreal.
Montreal is one of North America’s most eclectic and culturally distinct cities, and the pub and beer scene here is robust. What makes Makes Montreal a worthy beer pilgrimage destination though is that you can reliably find really fine food being served along with your beverage. Brewpub Brouhaha is my favorite beer stop in Montreal–they’re are passionate about presenting local beers (both from their brew house, and from around the city), and they make a thin crust pizza worthy of a trip. Get There: Montreal is a picturesque day train ride up from New York City Amtrak’s Adirondack. Stay There: Lots of fancy hotels downtown offering $125 a night off-season rates. $75 to $100 per night double rates are easily found in the downtown Bed and Breakfasts. Check the rates and ratings at Tripadvisor or

The Laxey Wheel in Mann

The Laxey Wheel in Mann

Ride the steam trains on the Isle of Mann,  and visit  Liverpool and Northern Ireland.
Wintertime is low fare time to England or Ireland–the days are short, but the nights are long and lively. Irish Americans such as myself may see Mann as an alternate reality where the economic distress of the 1950s and 1960s never took place, and the pre-1950 romantic era never went away.  The steam trains and interurban trolleys still run in Mann, it’s a little like a Disney movie set–it doesn’t seem real, but people live there, retire there and run farms, breweries and hotels. Get there: Prices tend to bottom out on winter flights from New York to London or Dublin (two cities where hotel rates tend to always be high). From Dublin, a short ride on the Enterprise Train will take you to Belfast (cheap hotel city, and fun, to boot) and the Stena Ferry to Liverpool. From Liverpool, it’s a short ferry ride to the Island of Mann on the Steam Packet Ferry. From London, there’s quick, frequent service to Liverpool, where you can connect to the ferry. Stay there: There are many old hotels and a few new ones in Douglas, Mann’s largest city. Off-season rates are amazing.

A Podge tour

One of Podge’s tour group visits De Dolle Brewery.

Travel to Belgium with Podge
Based in Chelmsford, England Chris Pollard (AKA “Podge”) has been running beer pilgrimages to Belgium for at least 10 years. He’s got a group of regular customers–English and Irish mostly, they’re nice folks, and they’re fun to travel with. There are an increasing number of beer tour operations running out of the US, but choosing to go with an English group will put you on a bus with people who go there a lot more often, and are a lot more in-tune with what’s going on in the breweries. Yes it’s more complex joining the tour at the destination. You’ll probably find their trips to be lower cost, and much more efficiently run. Europe is a good travel deal these days–travel like a European (take the train, stay in non-chain hotels, talk to strangers). Get there: Hop a discount flight to London, or meet the group in Belgium. Podge will work with you to make sure you meet up with the group. Stay there: Podge trips always include hotel, transportation, tours and meals–all you have to do is eat and drink. You may wind up needing to spend a night in London or Chelmsford–beer travelers might enjoy staying at a historic inn owned by a brewery, and Young’s Brewery has small inns in both cities.

A park car

A Park Car (first class sleeper, lounge, observation tail car), rearmost on the Canadian.

Taking a winter “Express Deal” Cross country trip on Via Rail’s flagship train, The Canadian.
Imagine you and your favorite traveling buddy enjoying four nights in the dome car, eating the most wonderful food ever served in a railroad dining car, and enjoying elegant, well kept 1950s classic sleeping cars and lounges. Now image that you could do this for less than $250 a day (including meals and travel). In the winter, VIA runs some very deep deals, and its pretty easy to find $550 per-person fairs for for two people traveling together (food and scenery included). Also–winter is a great time for low fares on the cross country airlines. A modest 10-day cross country (fly one-way, and ride the train one-way) with stopover days in Vancouver, Portland or Seattle, and Toronto for around $1,100 per person. Canadian cities are chilly, and the nights are cold and long, but the camaraderie on the train is great, and it’s alway more fun to travel off-season. Get there: Look for cheap one-way cross country flights from Alaska Airlines and Southwest. Porter Airlines offers up to seven flights a day between Newark and Toronto at prices sometimes as low as $90 one-way. Stay there: The Madison Manor Bed and Breakfast is my favorite cheapskate hotel in otherwise overpriced Toronto–usually around $100-$120 this time of year. Clean, wonderful bed, and a great location. In Vancouver–The St. Regis is wonderful, small and always running deals.

A Mardi Gras float being prepared for use

A Mardi Gras float being prepared for use

Warm up in New Orleans in January.
New Orleans is back–Mardi Gras last year was the biggest event the city has ever had. Generally speaking, the city is cleaner and safer now than it has ever been. I feel like it’s becoming too scrubbed and whitewashed, but folks who live there are likely to disagree. Mardi Gras actually goes on for a couple of weeks, ending on Ash Wednesday with parades going on every weekend. Once Mardi Gras starts however, the hotel prices go up, so the trick is to do some research and get there right before the festivities start in earnest. Get there: Amtrak’s Crescent offers overnight sleeping car service from New York or Washington. If you’re impatient, Jet Blue offers direct flights from NYC. Stay there: The city has thousands of hotel rooms, and in January most of them are empty. Shop around and look for great amenities and deals.

November 26, 2012

VIA Rail Canada’s park cars run on Amtrak’s Adirondack.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:42 am

In the Northeast, Thanksgiving and Christmas weekends are peak demand times for Amtrak, who responds by lengthening consists and adding additional trains. Typically, Amtrak turns to NJTransit and MARC to provide a few extra sets of equipment for this additional service. This year, realizing that operating rail equipment is in short supply due to the recent hurricane, VIA Rail Canada provided Amtrak two train sets–10 coaches and two Park Cars (observation lounge dome cars), which were put into service on the Adirondack.

From VIA Rail trainsets on the Adirondack. Posted by Tom Coughlin on 11/26/2012 (14 items)

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November 1, 2012

Surviving Sandy, and collecting railroad antiques.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 7:48 pm

My neighbors in Princeton-land continue to clean up after Monday’s storm, which delivered to us a large number of uprooted oaks and snapped off pines. A lot of people are still without power, but my home never lost electricity. Due to the travel bans, I haven’t been able to get up to the railroad yard to check on the Mount Vernon. RR cars are pretty robust when it comes to high wind, but are seriously damaged by even small amounts of flooding. Fortunately, the storm was all wind and little rain.

Despite the storm, we’re off to the Gaithersburg Railroad Collectables show this weekend–we’re two of 450 dealers, and we’re bringing some neat stuff to sell.

Two Hamilton 992B pocket watches.

Two Hamilton 992B pocket watches.

Everything from historic cufflinks to Fairmont rail cars will be on display and up for sale. I’m looking for a few speciality parts for the Mount Vernon (door locks and latches, and a Pullman berth key). Maybe I’ll get lucky.

October 24, 2012

Winding down the Mount Vernon operating season

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 2:18 pm

Today, the Mount Vernon is sitting in Harrison, NJ at Hudson Tower, waiting for a lift back to the Morristown and Erie Railway. The car is full of soiled sheets and bath towels, but otherwise clean, and pretty much ready to go out again for another trip. The fall operating campaign ran nearly two months and included 24 operating days and serving 28 passengers. Things ran really well.

From Mount Vernon New Orleans trip, posted by Tom Coughlin on 10/24/2012 (14 items)

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October 9, 2012

Back from Chattanooga– now off to New Orleans

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:06 pm

Bad news on the trip back from Chattanooga. The next major trip, a New Orleans to Oakland multi-car charter movement for a music promoter, had fallen through, however the Mount Vernon had 10 people who already paid to ride down from Washington, DC to NOL on the positioning move, and the car was ready to roll. After a short huddle, The owners decided to run the New Orleans part of the trip anyway–there was customer demand and they felt like taking a trip. What was originally offered as a one-way trip quickly was upgraded to a round trip. Over the last few days, a couple of additional passengers have appeared. It’s not the same as a major charter, but it pays its way.

Photos from the Chattanooga private train

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:52 pm

From Private Train to Chattanooga, posted by Tom Coughlin on 9/22/2012 (18 items)

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More shots from the AAPRCO Private train to Chattanooga. Five days of rare mileage, food, drinks and fun on the road. Three days in Chattanooga, to explore the historic cars.

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