Dan Chazin's Trip on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited and Empire Service
It's 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 15, 2003, and Robert Madison and I are at South Station in Boston, waiting for the departure of the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited. We arrived earlier this morning on the Twilight Shoreliner from New York, and spent most of our time waiting in the beautiful Club Acela. Since our train was scheduled to depart at 9:50 a.m., we decided to move down to the main concourse and wait there. Robert Madison had reserved a room in a Viewliner sleeper for the trip (he was going all the way to Chicago), but we were informed earlier this morning that there would not be a sleeper on today's train, so Robert was downgraded to coach accommodations.
The train should have been in the station and ready to load passengers by about 9:30 a.m., but it was not. Not until 9:48 a.m. did the train pull into the station on Track 10, and boarding began at 9:50 a.m.
The Boston section of today's Lake Shore Limited is pulled by Genesis engines #166 and #190 and includes an MHC car, a baggage car, an unreconditioned Amfleet I coach, an Amfleet II coach (reconditioned with blue seats), and a Club/Custom Class car serving as a lounge car. The sleeping car is missing, and an Amfleet I car is substituting for the second Amfleet II car that usually is on this train. As a passenger traveling only to Albany, I was assigned to sit in the Amfleet I car, while Robert, who was traveling all the way to Chicago, was assigned to the more comfortable Amfleet II car. Neither car was anywhere near full.
It took some time to load all the passengers and baggage, and we did not depart Boston until 10:06 a.m. We made a very brief stop at the Back Bay station five minutes later.
Soon, an announcement was made that the lounge car is open for service. Since there was Club seating available in that car, both Robert and I decided to head back there. On the way, I counted about 60 passengers aboard. When I reached the lounge car, I purchased a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin, while Robert obtained some free food upon showing the refund receipt from his sleeper. We both sat down in the Club section of this car and spent virtually the entire trip sitting in the luxurious Club seating provided. Hardly any other passengers had the same idea, so we had the Club section almost to ourselves, sharing it only with the conductors.
We continued along the Boston and Albany line, stopping briefly at Framingham and reaching the magnificently restored station in Worcester at 11:03 a.m. Unfortunately, despite the major effort made by the city to rehabilitate this classic station, it remains mostly vacant. When we departed Worcester at 11:06 a.m., we were 13 minutes late. Now we were beginning the section of the trip that would be new mileage for me - the portion of the line between Worcester and Springfield. (Actually, as far as Amtrak mileage is concerned, even the Boston-Worcester part of the ride was new to me, as my one previous trip on this line was on an MBTA commuter train.)
At 11:37 a.m., at CP 64, after passing the beautiful stone South Spencer station, we came to a stop. On the loudspeaker, the conductor announced that we would be delayed approximately five to ten minutes due to signal problems up ahead. But I soon heard on the conductor's radio that we had permission to pass a "stop" signal, and we started moving ahead after a delay of only two minutes. However, for the next four miles, until we reached CP 68, we proceeded at a restricted speed, losing additional time.
We passed the junction with the New England Central Railroad at Palmer at 12:10 p.m. From here on, we would be following trackage that I had ridden previously - in this case, on the Vermonter. Then, at 12:28 p.m., we pulled into the Springfield station. The conductor informed us that we would be here for a few minutes and could get off to "stretch our legs," so both Robert and I stepped off the train and walked along the platform for a few minutes. About 15 passengers detrained here, and half a dozen boarded. On the adjacent platform was a mail train consisting of a Genesis engine, several MHC cars and Club/Custom Class car #20141. Checking my Amtrak consist list, I discovered that this was the car in which I spent my trip from Washington to New York in early November, when I bought a discounted ticket reading from Pittsburgh and then got to sit in the Club section with my discounted coach ticket (while full-fare passengers who paid extra for Business Class were relegated to less-comfortable accommodations). Our station stop here lasted for nine minutes, and when we departed at 12:37 p.m., we were 27 minutes late.
Robert and I returned to our deluxe Club car seats. I soon retrieved my lunch (turkey salami sandwiches) from my backpack at my coach seat and brought it back to my Club car seat in the lounge car, where I purchased a soda and sat down to eat. On the way, I counted about 50 coach passengers aboard, about equally distributed between the two coaches. Soon, we passed through the village of Westfield, which features a beautiful brick station that has been converted to an insurance office. We continued west along the very scenic Boston and Albany line through a rural area, with only occasional settlements breaking up an otherwise near-pristine wilderness. We paralleled the Westfield River, with the original line of the railroad - featuring two abandoned but intact stone-arch bridges - visible to the right at one point. The train twisted around curves and through rock cuts, and the snow-covered ground added to the ambience (although it was cloudy and rather gloomy out). This was a truly delightful portion of the ride (although it was not new mileage for me, as I had covered this segment of the route once before on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited).
We made excellent time passing through the Berkshire Hills, and at 1:49 p.m., we stopped at the plastic Amshack at Pittsfield. When we left three minutes later, we were 28 minutes late, and we had lost only one additional minute since we departed Springfield. West of Pittsfield, the scenery is less spectacular but still quite pleasant.
One passenger who boarded in Pittsfield inquired of the conductor as to the availability of sleeping car space on the Lake Shore west of Albany. The conductor replied that he should talk to the ticket agent in Albany when the train arrives there. I mentioned to Robert that, despite what the attendant at the Club Acela in Boston had told him, it was indeed possible that there were one or more sleepers on the New York section of the Lake Shore, and I suggested that he, too, go upstairs and inquire as to the availability of the sleeper space that he had expected.
At 2:09 p.m., we passed through the short State Line Tunnel, adjacent to the Massachusetts-New York boundary, and we proceeded through the quaint town of Chatham - with its magnificent stone station having been converted to a bank - at 2:26 p.m. It soon started snowing.
Then, at 2:40 p.m., we left the main line of the Boston and Albany and proceeded north on the Post Road Branch. The change in the ride was dramatic - suddenly, the ride became much bumpier. The conductor explained that not only is the Post Road Branch, owned and maintained by Amtrak, made up of jointed rail (rather than the welded rail used for the rest of the way), but the speed limit on this section of track is 79 miles an hour - higher than we are allowed on any other section of this route! The attendant soon came by and announced that the lounge car was closed, so we moved back to our seats.
We reached the new Albany station at 2:55 p.m. We had made up all of our lost time, and it seemed that we would be arriving at the station on schedule. But that was not to be. For about five minutes, we waited just south of the station while the Boston section of eastbound Lake Shore Limited, Train #448, moved ahead. Then, we proceeded ahead into the station, but we did not stop; rather, we continued ahead past the new high-level platform and came to a halt near the northern end of the old low-level platform on the Main Track. (As we passed through the station, I noticed, covered by snow on a side track, F-40 engines 301, 271, 288, 226, 268, 244, 280 and 413, and an unreconditioned Turbo trainset.) On the scanner, I heard a highball signal for Train #448, and then we received permission from the dispatcher to back up, finally coming to a halt on the new high-level platform in front of the station at 3:11 p.m. Although we had actually arrived at the station on time at 2:55 p.m., if measured by the time at which passengers were allowed to detrain, we were 16 minutes late.
It would seem that the rationale for this rather unusual move was as follows: First of all, Train #448, which was scheduled to depart from Albany at 1:15 p.m., was running about two hours late. In order for that train to depart, it first has to back up onto the Main Track, and only then can it continue south along the Post Road Branch (which can be accessed only from the Main Track). Had we stopped on the Main Track, even to discharge passengers, we would have been further delaying Train #448. So we had to first pull out of the way. Then, once Train #448 had cleared, we could back up onto the Main Track and make our station stop.
I had a connecting train to New York at 3:15 p.m., which I hoped to make. By the time, I detrained, it was already 3:12 p.m. I quickly said goodbye to Robert, walked up the stairs, and took the escalator back down to Track 1 (on the opposite platform), where my 3:15 p.m. train was waiting. As I climbed the stairs up to the bridge over the tracks, the final boarding call for my Train #260 to New York was being made. But I boarded the train at 3:13 p.m., in plenty of time for its on-time departure.
Today's Train #260 is pulled by Genesis dual-mode engine #714 and includes a dinette/Business Class car and three unreconditioned Amfleet I coaches, the last of which was closed off. The two open coaches were fairly full, but I found an unoccupied pair of seats towards the rear of the second coach. I sat down and continued working on these memoirs.
We arrived at Hudson at 3:36 p.m., four minutes early, and departed one minute early. However, south of Hudson, we encountered an approach signal, so we had to proceed ahead at a very restricted speed. Then we reached a "stop and proceed" signal, causing us to lose some more time. Not until 3:59 p.m. did we obtain a clear signal that enabled us to proceed ahead at our full speed of 90 miles an hour. The river was full of large chunks of ice, and I noticed a Coast Guard tugboat moving north along the river, apparently clearing a navigable channel through the blocks of ice. I also fell asleep for a few minutes, with my lack of sleep last night starting to catch up with me.
We were 13 minutes late when we departed Rhinecliff at 4:14 p.m. I was getting a little tired of my relatively cramped seat in an 84-seat coach (I guess I was a little spoiled by my two previous rides in Club car seating!), so I moved to the first car with the table seating, purchased a cup of tea, and sat down at a table with my computer to do some work on the New Jersey Walk Book and enjoy the sunset, with the snow-capped hills across the icy river as a backdrop. The scenery was quite familiar, but it is so magnificent that you don't mind seeing it once more. Soon after we stopped at Croton-Harmon at 5:05 p.m., it began to get quite dark. At one point, we were running neck-to-neck with a southbound local Metro-North train, and a northbound express train zoomed between us on a third track!
We made a brief stop at Yonkers at 5:26 p.m. We were still only 14 minutes late, but we lost a few more minutes waiting for northbound Train #265 to clear the Spuyten Duyvil bridge. At 5:45 p.m., the conductor announced that we would be arriving at Penn Station in about 12 minutes. Since it appeared that the trip was almost over, I decided to return to my coach.
You never know, though, what can happen along the way. As I arrived at my coach seat, the train came to a halt. I turned on the scanner, only to hear the conductor inform the dispatcher that we had just hit a pile of railroad ties and debris on Track 2, going about 5 miles per hour. He stated that, only a few minutes ago, Train #265 had passed by on Track #1 without warning of the debris, thus indicating that the debris had just been placed there, presumably by vandals. One of the conductors went out to inspect the train.
At 5:55 p.m., the conductor instructed the engineer to proceed ahead and "try to roll over this easy." We moved ahead at a very slow speed to clear the debris, and then came to a stop. Finally, an announcement was made to inform passengers of what had just occurred. This was one occasion when I was very glad that I had my scanner along! Not until 6:10 p.m. did we proceed ahead at our normal rate of speed. We had lost over 25 minutes due to this apparent act of vandalism.
We finally pulled into Track 7 at Penn Station at 6:17 p.m., 37 minutes late. I detrained and went upstairs, where I noticed extraordinarily long lines - stretching all the way across the concourse - behind the NJ Transit ticket windows. It seems that PATH service to 33rd Street had been suspended for some reason and, as a result, huge numbers of people had come over to Penn Station to take NJ Transit to Newark. Soon, an announcement was made that the penalty for buying tickets onboard would be waived for passengers traveling to the Broad Street Station in Newark. (The announcement didn't make any sense to me, as people who would ordinarily have taken PATH would have Newark Penn Station, not the Broad Street Station, as their final destination!) I went over to a nearby restaurant for dinner and took the #167 bus back to Teaneck, arriving home about 8:30 p.m.
My "triangle" Amtrak trip from New York to Boston to Albany and back to New York worked out almost exactly as planned. I got to cover my new mileage and meet my online friend Robert Madison, and was able to spend several hours in the Club Acela in Boston as a bonus. Now, I'm looking forward to my next Amtrak trip, returning from Fort Worth to New York via the Texas Eagle and Capitol Limited.
Many more rail travelogues for you to read:
Dan Chazin /
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