Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Adirondack
It's 9:25 a.m. on Tuesday, April 10, 2001, and I've just arrived at Central Station in Montreal, where I will be boarding the Adirondack on my way back to New York. My cousin David, with whom I've spent the last few days, drove me to the station.
Central Station in Montreal, built in the 1950s, is not a particularly beautiful place, having been designed in the utilitarian architectural style then fashionable, but it does feature a high ceiling and is quite busy. It is a reasonably pleasant place to wait for my train. Since my train was not scheduled to depart until 10:20 a.m., I had some time to make a number of phone calls. I also tried to obtain a copy of the current timetable for the Adirondack, but the only ones on the rack were for the schedule that was superseded by the April 1st timetable change for this train. When I asked a VIA representative stationed at the information booth for a timetable, he told me that they did not have any new timetables for this train. Fortunately, I had downloaded a copy of the timetable last night from Amtrak's web site, so I did have a copy that I could refer to.
When I checked my All-Aboard List mail in Montreal, I discovered that on Thursday, there had been a freight derailment just south of Fort Ticonderoga, resulting in the closing of the Adirondack line for four days. I was fortunate that I had chosen to travel northbound on the Vermonter on Thursday, as if I had taken the Adirondack, I would have been bustituted from Saratoga Springs to Montreal. But then I read last night that yesterday there had been a freight derailment on the Vermonter line along the Connecticut River in Vermont, with one of the engines falling into the river and another one suspending precariously above it! So had I chosen to take the Vermonter southbound today, I also would have been bustituted! I really lucked out in choosing the Vermonter northbound on Thursday and the Adirondack southbound today!
Unlike the practice in the United States, tracks are generally posted in VIA stations in Canada long before the train is scheduled to leave, but passengers are not permitted to board until about 20 minutes before departure. This results in the formation of a line in front of the departure gate, which in the case of today's train, started forming about 9:45 a.m. I was still busy making my phone calls and didn't join this line until 10:05 a.m., when passengers were permitted to go down to the platform.
All passengers destined to New York City (there were about 75 of them) were directed to the rear two coaches, while the handful of passengers traveling to intermediate points were seated in the second coach. I took a seat in the last car, which had the advantage that I could easily look directly out of the back of the train. I then walked back out onto the platform to record the consist.
Today's Adirondack is pulled by Genesis engine #704 and includes an Adirondack baggage car and four reconditioned Heritage coaches, with a Heritage lounge car in the middle. I think that this is the first time that I've traveled on an Amtrak train made up entirely of these reconditioned Heritage coaches. They feature wide windows and are slightly more comfortable than the unreconditioned Amfleet I coaches generally used in the Northeast, but have a slightly musty smell. They also do not have electric outlets next to all the seats in the coaches, which is quite inconvenient for people like me who travel with their laptop computers. (However, when my computer's batteries went dead, I discovered an electric outlet hidden behind a small hanging trash bag next to a pair of unoccupied seats, so I was able to move there temporarily to plug in my computer.)
Because Central Station is located underground, the diesel engines are not allowed to run while the train is idling in the station. Our train was plugged into standby power while passengers were boarding the train, but at 10:15 a.m., the standby power was shut off, and the train remained dark for five minutes until we departed at 10:20 a.m., on time. Only as we started pulling out of the station did the lights go on again.
As we departed Montreal, I took a picture of the downtown skyline and then watched from the back as we crossed the century- old Victoria Bridge. We made our first stop at St. Lambert at 10:22 a.m. I'm sure that only a few passengers (if any) got on here, but our stop lasted for seven minutes, apparently because the train had to get clearance from the dispatcher to proceed further before we could move.
We soon turned right and proceeded south on the Rouses Point Subdivision, heading towards the border. This is a relatively uninteresting portion of the trip, as we pass through a flat agricultural area. We stopped several times, in each case waiting until we got permission from the dispatcher or a foreman to proceed. About 11:25 a.m., just before we reached St. Jean, we paused and then proceeded slowly through a work area. Right after we passed, I saw a workman restore a red stop sign that had been attached to the track and removed for the passage of our train. When we proceeded through St. Jean, I watched as we passed the old brick passenger station, which has apparently been converted to a visitor center. At one time, the station was located at the junction of several rail lines, but all have now been abandoned, except for the line on which we are traveling.
After a while, I walked down to the lounge car. This Heritage car -- named L'Auberge Laurentien -- has a food service counter in the front, six large tables (with very small windows) in the middle, and a number of smaller tables (with larger windows) in the back. I noticed that an electrical strip with several plugs had been attached to a portion of one side of the car, thus providing a place to plug in my computer. Interestingly, in the aisle alongside the service counter, there was a poster showing an Amtrak prototype high-speed train, with an oversized "broken arrow" logo and the caption "Coming in 1999." The caption had been defaced so that it read "Coming in 2099??" I found it a little surprising that Amtrak would allow this outdated, graffiti-scarred poster to remain on the train.
Soon, an announcement was made that the cafe car is closed and that all passengers must return to their seats for Customs inspection. After another brief delay, we crossed the border into the United States at 12:05 p.m. and proceeded south through the largely-abandoned Rouses Point yard to the passenger station. (Interestingly, Route 223 crosses the tracks just south of the border, with the U.S. Customs on the east side of the tracks and the Canadian Customs on the west side!) At 12:10 p.m., we came to a stop in front of the Rouses Point station, and the Customs inspectors boarded the train. They started from the first car open to passengers and worked their way back, not arriving in my car until 12:30 p.m. My inspection consisted of the Customs officer glancing at the cover of my passport and stating: "U.S. citizen -- thank you!" I didn't notice anyone else in my car being subjected to a more thorough inspection, but after a few minutes, I walked down towards the lounge car, where I observed several passengers being questioned by Customs agents.
At 12:59 p.m., I heard over the scanner that Customs had released our train. We pulled forward a short distance so that the conductor could reline the switch at the northern end of the station, and we departed two minutes later. We were now 26 minutes late. I took out some food I had brought with me and walked down to the lounge car, where I ate it for lunch.
When we arrived in Plattsburgh at 1:29 p.m., I stepped off the train briefly, even though our stop here lasted for only one minute. Ten people boarded the train here, all of whom were directed into the second coach. I watched as we passed the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base and proceeded south, with Lake Champlain coming into view on the left. We were now moving very slowly, presumably because of a slow order due to the condition of the track. A few minutes later I noticed, parked on a siding to the right of the tracks, two Acela Express power cars -- #2007 and #2028 -- attached to a yellow boxcar. These cars are being assembled in Plattsburgh and are awaiting shipment down to New York or Washington for acceptance by Amtrak.
Soon, I moved back to my regular seat and spent some time looking out of the back of the train. For part of the way south of Plattsburgh, we run on rock ledges overlooking the lake, which was still partially frozen. We passed Port Kent, a seasonal stop for this train, at 1:55 p.m. Trains stop here only when the adjacent ferry from Vermont is operating, so we did not stop at Port Kent today.
We continued running along the lake, with beautiful views from the ledges, until we reached Willsboro, where the route curves inland, passing through rolling agricultural country. Then, at 2:38 p.m., we pulled into the siding at Wadhams. This is where we usually pass the northbound train, scheduled to leave Westport -- just a few miles south -- at 1:54 p.m. But even though we are running late, the northbound train is running even later. We had to wait until 2:56 p.m. for northbound Train #69 to pass us, with the conductor coming through the cars to announce the reason for the delay. Train #69, like our train, was made up entirely of Heritage equipment, and was pulled by a Genesis engine. Finally, at 3:04 p.m., we began moving again, and we arrived at the beautifully restored station in Westport at 3:10 p.m. -- precisely one hour late. This classic wooden station, with a slate roof, houses a summer theater company, but its waiting room is open to passengers. About ten more passengers boarded here, with the stop lasting for about two minutes.
Now I moved back to the lounge car, where I found an unoccupied table on the left side of the train, adjacent to an electric outlet. Soon we again began to run along Lake Champlain. Here, the tracks are only a few feet above the water level, but there are some more spectacular rock cuts, and I went to the last car to look out of the back.
At 3:33 p.m., we made a brief stop at Port Henry. The classic stone station is staffed by a caretaker, and there is a restored diesel engine on a short piece of track near the station. Port Henry was formerly a center of iron mining, with the ore shipped by boat down Lake Champlain. Some ruins of the shipping facilities by the lake are still visible. As we proceeded along the ice-covered lake south of Port Henry, we noticed someone walking across the ice. Several passengers commented that that seemed like a rather unsafe thing to do -- especially since the temperature outside was about 50ø. I then walked into the second coach, where I now counted about 30 people sitting. The first car was still closed off, though.
Our next stop was Ticonderoga, where we paused briefly. There is a small brick shelter recently constructed here. Before we arrived at Ticonderoga, the conductor announced that the reconstructed fort would be visible to the left of the train. When we departed Ticonderoga at 4:00 p.m., one hour and 11 minutes late, I went to the back of the train and looked out as we passed through a short tunnel, followed by a rock cut. Soon afterwards, the fort was visible on a bluff some distance to the left. As far as I can recall, this is the first time that I've noticed this fort, and certainly the first time that a conductor has announced its existence.
A few miles south of Ticonderoga, at 4:07 p.m., we stopped on a siding as a long CP freight train passed us to the left. We had to wait six minutes for the train to go by, and then we started moving again. But soon we slowed down to 10 miles per hour. We were approaching the site of Thursday's derailment, which affected the track between mileposts 97.8 and 93.6. I walked to the back of the train and observed how, for over two miles, every tie was chewed up in the middle and on one side, apparently due to something dragging (which must have ultimately resulted in the derailment). The actual derailment site, just south of milepost 94, was marked by a huge pile of lumber (which must have fallen off the derailed cars) just to the right of the tracks. The track in this area was covered with fresh ballast, and there was a bulldozer stationed nearby. Now we started moving again at track speed, but we had lost at least another half an hour between the slow order due to the derailment and our wait for the freight train.
I went back to the lounge car, where the conductor confirmed our speed restrictions through the derailment area. A woman came over to the conductor to complain about the delays we had encountered, stating that had she known about these delays before we left Montreal, she would have chosen to fly or take a bus instead. Another passenger, though, remarked to me that he was on vacation and didn't really care whether we would be late arriving in New York. Even when it runs on time, this train is significantly slower than the buses which cover the same route, so it is unlikely that many passengers on our train will be seriously inconvenienced by the delays we are encountering.
Our next stop, at 5:05 p.m., was Whitehall. One passenger, bound for Poughkeepsie, got on here, and no one got off. I did step off the train briefly, though. Whitehall has a small brick station, built about five years ago near the center of town. It replaced a white frame station located about a mile to the south, which had been closed for many years. At the time, it was stated that the new station was in an improved location. But when the location of the new station was chosen, no thought was given to the possibility of the resumption of rail passenger service to Rutland, VT. The Ethan Allen to Rutland was started only a year or two later, and its route diverges from the main line to Rouses Point at the site of the old station. But since the new station is not on the route of the train to Rutland, that train does not stop in Whitehall. It seems to me that if the Rutland service had been seriously considered to be in the cards when the new station was planned, it would not have been built where it was.
When we departed Whitehall, we were one hour and 44 minutes late. On the scanner, I heard the engineer estimate that we would be arriving in Albany at 6:45 p.m., one hour and 35 minutes late. It has taken us nearly seven hours to cover the 162 miles from Montreal to Whitehall, which averages out to less than 25 miles per hour! The defaced poster for Amtrak's high-speed service seems even more of a joke when the performance of today's train is considered.
South of Whitehall, we proceeded along the Champlain Canal, still in service, and passed an interesting set of locks. We stopped briefly at Fort Edward at 5:31 p.m. Much work seems to have been done on the classic D&H station here since I last passed by this way, and a sign in the window indicates that a full restoration is in progress.
The scenery is much less interesting south of Fort Edward. I remained in the lounge car and did some work on my computer. We stopped at Saratoga Springs at 5:55 p.m. There is a large brick station here that was built in the 1950s during the relocation of the D&H line away from downtown Saratoga Springs. It is certainly big enough to accommodate increased train service, but -- like other stations constructed during this period -- it is not particularly attractive. Consideration is being given to reinstating commuter rail service between Saratoga Springs and Albany, and there is the possibility that a new, more attractive station might be constructed here.
We were delayed for a few minutes waiting for another freight train to pass us south of Saratoga Springs. Before we arrived in Schenectady, I walked through the train, counting about 110 passengers aboard. By this time, the first car had also been opened, and a few people were sitting in this car. Finally, at 6:33 p.m., we pulled into the Schenectady station. A number of people got off here, but no one got on. Among the passengers detraining in Schenectady were a group of about six people headed for Rochester. They had been planning to catch westbound Train #283, which leaves Rochester at 5:32 p.m., but they had obviously missed their connection, and would instead have to take the Lake Shore Limited, which departs Schenectady at 9:00 p.m. and does not arrive in Rochester until 12:34 a.m. They were not happy campers! When we departed Schenectady at 6:35 p.m., we were just five minutes shy of two hours late.
The lounge car had become quite cold, so I gathered up my belongings and moved back to my coach, where I took a seat on the right side (in the meantime, someone else had occupied my left- side seat). I updated these memoirs, looked out of the back of the train as we crossed the Livingston Avenue Bridge over the Hudson River, and then walked back to the front of the train so that I would be able to go right into the station when we arrived in Albany. As we approached the station, I noticed a double-deck Caltrain commuter car parked on a siding.
We arrived on Track 1 of the Albany station at 6:57 p.m., just as the New York section of the Lake Shore was pulling in on Track 2. I detrained and walked into the station, where I checked my messages. Less than five minutes after we arrived, the boarding call was made, and I soon reboarded the train. About 50 passengers boarded the train here, and the train was refueled. Not having to change the engine definitely saved some time, and we departed Albany at 7:09 p.m., having spent only 12 of our assigned 20 minutes here. We were now one hour and 39 minutes late, having made up a little time since we left Schenectady.
I was hoping to enjoy the scenery along the Hudson River on our way to New York, and I now had a right-hand, river-facing seat, but it was already starting to get dark. By the time we departed Hudson at 7:34 p.m., it was almost completely dark. However, we were now really moving! Rather than creeping along the Delaware and Hudson, with its numerous curves and speed restrictions, we were now zooming along Amtrak's New York-Albany line, where speeds can exceed 100 miles an hour in places. We encountered no speed restrictions or delays, even though we had to traverse an 11-mile single-track stretch south of Poughkeepsie (due to bridge reconstruction). I remained in my seat for most of the ride, but moved over to the lounge car to recharge my computer between Poughkeepsie and Croton-Harmon. The lounge car was rather cool (although not as cold as it was previously) and dimly lit, so hardly anyone other than the conductors was sitting there. As we arrived in Croton-Harmon at 8:50 p.m., an announcement was made that the lounge car would be closed for the remainder of the trip for cleaning, so I moved back to my seat in the rear coach. I looked out of the back of the car and noticed that, south of Croton-Harmon, we were proceeding south on what would ordinarily be considered the northbound express track (this is the track that lacks the third rail).
As we pulled out of Yonkers at 9:10 p.m., I noticed that a diesel-powered Metro-North train zoomed by to our right without stopping. That train was presumably Metro-North Train #888, scheduled to leave Poughkeepsie at 7:52 p.m., make all stops to Croton-Harmon, stop at Tarrytown at 8:56 p.m., and then operate non-stop to New York City. It was a little unusual, though, to see a Metro-North train pass a station where an Amtrak train stops!
I now gathered all of my belongings together in preparation for our arrival at Penn Station, New York. We continued our speedy journey down the Hudson, and arrived on Track 6 at Penn Station at 9:32 p.m., one hour and 22 minutes late. It had taken us about 8 hours and 40 minutes to cover the 240 miles from Montreal to Albany, but only 2 hours and 23 minutes to traverse the 140 miles from Albany to New York!
I detrained, walked upstairs to the lower level of the station, checked my messages, then took the subway over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where I boarded the 10:00 p.m. #167 bus for Teaneck. I arrived home about half an hour later.
This trip on the Adirondack was interesting. The contrast between the slow, stop-and-go journey from Montreal to Albany and the speedy ride from Albany to New York was quite stark. The equipment had some good features, but it did look rather old, and the lounge car left a lot to be desired. I had hoped to get home a little earlier (since I'll be leaving on a backpacking trip at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow!), but on balance I'm at least glad that I had the opportunity to take the train through this beautiful scenery rather than being bustituted. So even though the trip did not entirely meet my expectations, I don't think I'll be asking for a voucher.
One interesting postscript: When I was filing away my ticket receipt, I noticed that my ticket was actually for April 9th -- the day prior to the day that I traveled! Neither the conductor nor I had noticed that earlier (and even if the conductor had noticed the incorrect date, I doubt that he would have cared, as the train was far from full, and the fare on today's train was the same as on yesterday's). I wonder what would have happened, though, had the same thing occurred on a plane trip. I think that I might have had a real problem!
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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