Trains to Planes in Rhode Island

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The 2017 Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Air Show offered a “Trains to Planes” rail service to the air show venue, from a trio of easily accessible commuter rail stations. I took the train on the first day of the show, the well-attended Saturday event which occurred on May 20, 2017. While there were pros and cons to this service, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to take the train for a trio of reasons. Two were readily apparent, another was a pleasant surprise.

Reason number 1: The vehicular traffic situation around this air show has always been constrained by the few roads that go to the airport grounds. Although new road construction has eased this a bit, around one hundred thousand spectators attend each weekend air show. Sitting in traffic, waiting to park while performers are already in the air is frustrating… and it seems to happen at many New England air shows including here. Not having to fit in with thousands of other cars and not having to pay attention to the road, but instead relaxing and looking out the train windows was a good reason to take this alternative – parking at the rail stations was free and made readily available too.

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Reason number 2: Aboard the commuter train cars, families and friends clustered together, and on the early 8:00 AM inbound from the T.F. Greene Airport station, there was more than enough room for everyone, with empty seats here and there. On the way home, the 5:15 PM train was more crowded as the security forces had just closed the ramp to spectators, but space was still plentiful. Strangers became friends while waiting for the trains and while gently trundling along the tracks. I spoke with a retired Air Force F-4 Phantom Crew Chief for most of my train rides, listening to his stories about being stationed in Germany during the Cold War, and coming back to Alamogordo, New Mexico later on. Everyone was excited about the air show too, and that made for more great conversation to pass the time.

Reason number 3: My greatest surprise came during the second half of the trip inbound. Riding on rails set for freight cars, our train operated at a slow speed when compared to the mainline commuter rails further away from the Quonset airport. Here’s some history… NAS Quonset Point was a major Navy base during the 1940s through the 1970s, and up to four aircraft carriers were based there at one point. Additionally, the Navy’s Seabees (Construction Battalions) were originally based at Quonset too. Although most of the old base buildings were torn down years ago, a large amount of concrete rail sidings and the poured floors of gigantic warehouses are still very much apparent. Numerous rail spurs still exist in the sprawling acreage too, much of which has now been transformed into an industrial park. Unless you knew where to look, only by taking the train would you see this historic aftermath of the once-important naval logistics base and port.

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The Rhode Island DOT said that four thousand two hundred seventy one people took the train in 2017, up slightly from the estimated four thousand in 2016, the inaugural year of train service. By my unscientific thoughts, if an average of four people were in each auto, over one thousand and sixty cars and trucks were taken out of the vehicular traffic flows over the weekend – over five hundred each day – and that is from both the arriving traffic each morning and the departing cars in the afternoon. From what I heard from spectators, auto traffic moved along rather easily this year without the extra vehicles.

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Were there any drawbacks? For me, just a few minor things. The walk from the train siding was long, maybe pushing half a mile or so, and that was the only real issue I saw – as families with small kids and people older than I had to navigate a long grassy path to get to the main entrance. Still, many cars in the parking lots were parked next to the siding, and those people had the same distance to go too…. The train did take a bit more time from the start of my air show day to the finish because I had to wait for it to arrive (twice), but with the aforementioned happy experiences of talking to fellow riders, time wasn’t really an issue either. So, these weren’t really drawbacks, but observations.

All in all, the relaxed atmosphere aboard the train and the friendly experiences I had with my fellow riders have sold me on taking the Trains to Planes next year too.

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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