New York to Montreal/Ottawa and Return
A conference in Montreal and Ottawa provided the opportunity to revisit the "Vermonter, as well as to sample VIA Railís intercity service and return to the New York City area on the "Adirondack." The trip started on November 5th enroute from NY City to St. Albans ("SAB" to Amtrakís computer), my first ride over the entire length of this route since the "Montrealer" was cut back to SAB and converted to a day train. From SAB I rode the Amtrak Thruway Bus to Montreal. My return was on Sunday, November 10 on Amtrak #68, "The Adirondack," which operates via "The D&H" to Schenectady, thence CSX to Poughkeepsie and Metro-North to Croton-Harmon and on to New York.
A Noreaster had been forecast but it passed through during the night and there was but slight drizzle when my wife and I left the house at 8:50 for me to catch Metro-Northís Train #744, the 9:07 semi-express due to arrive GCT at 10:01. It was loading on Track 4 when I arrived and consisted of 6 M-3 emu cars. Shortly before departure, Amtrakís "Adirondack" pulled in on Track 3 for its 8:56 am departure, also enroute to Montreal. It had a Genesis locomotive and 5 Amcars. Hey, Iím headed in the wrong direction and could reach Montreal nearly 4 hours sooner by taking that direct train! But then Iíd miss the scenic route and interesting operation of #56 as well as the opportunity to visit with some friends on the train and enroute.
My Metro-North train reached GCT 3 minutes early at 9:58 and the IRT Shuttle and #2 train delivered me to NYP by 10:14. After some reading in the Ticketed Waiting Area, I noticed #56 would be arriving from WAS on Track 8. Once the incoming passengers had cleared I rode the elevator right down to track level and boarded the head car, an Amcoach that had been through the Capstone overhaul. Our consist was AEM7 #950, 4 Amcoaches and a dinette car with business class seating at the back end. The load was rather sparse out of NYP. Half of the seats in each of the 4 coaches were facing backwards; I later realized this is done because the train changes ends when switching from the B&A to the New England Central at Palmer, MA.
Departure came on time and we soon were viewing the NY Skyline from the Hell Gate Bridge. Metro-North trackage at New Rochelle was reached at 11:26 and we soon were racing through the Metro-North suburban stations at 90mph. A friend and his wife, also enroute to the conference, were on he train and we soon headed for the snack car to have lunch. A friendly attendant pointed out the "Vermont Specialty menu featuring Vermont products." So I had a ham specialty box that included a good ham sandwich on a roll, some salad, an apple, a bag of Vermont-made chips and a Pepsi, priced at $7.95. We enjoyed our lunches at tables in the café car as the train raced East on Metro-Northís New Haven Line.
Our "Vermonter" pulled into New Haven a minute early at 12:35. Here the crew changed, the AEM7 locomotive was removed and a Genesis unit was added to each end. The work was finished about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time so we had to wait before leaving town and heading North on the former New Havenís Springfield Line. The fall foliage was at its peak through much of this territory, making for some beautiful New England scenes outside the window. The train continued on time, reaching Hartford at 1:44 and soon crossing over the broad Connecticut River. At Springfield I thought we would continue north on to the B&M for a short distance and then back into the station. However, the operation has changed since my last trip and the train now pulls directly into the station where we arrived 4 minutes early at 2:16 and waited for the 2:30 departure time. After Springfield the train heads east on the former B&A to Palmer, where it backs through an interchange track involving hand-thrown switches, on to the New England Central RR, formerly the Central Vermont Railway. The conductor made a complete announcement about the procedure and invited those who donít want to ride backwards for the duration of the trip to walk to the opposite end of the car to take a forward-facing seat. This was no problem as after Springfield there were only about 40 guests on board. The activity at Palmer, including getting a Track Warrant from the NEC Dispatcher, consumed but 14 minutes, during the course of which the engineer walked through the cars from what now was the rear engine to the front. Then we were off, whistling over numerous country roads, farms with wood fences and pine tree forests along the New England Central. South of Brattleboro one of the passengers noticed snow on the ground and a glance outside revealed a traditional New England winter landscape. The TV news later stated that up to 9 inches had fallen at some Connecticut Valley locations but we saw only about a half-inch. By Bellows Falls it was dark and rainy outside. Arrival at White River Jct. was a little early so we had 10 minutes to visit the museum in the station. Well, to look at it from the outside as it was closed but illuminated so some of the railroad artifacts could be seen. The station also houses a Visitor Center that was open and offered coffee, maps, etc. Dinner for our party of 3 came after departure from WRJ. I had a cheeseburger, which was tasty, and a Sam Adams. Due to the light load, the conductor started an unusual practice of announcing the next station upon departure from the previous one and stating that nobody is scheduled to detrain there so "if you want to make that your destination, please advise the crew or we'll just roll on through." This method was used at 3 of the stations north of WRJ.
The train lost riders at the principal stations and had somewhat under 20 coming into St. Albans where we pulled in 5 minutes early. The Vermont Transit Ambus for Montreal arrived about the same time and 15 passengers boarded it. Prior to departure the driver walked through collecting the tickets and checking everyoneís "documents for the border." He mentioned that at the border everyone must go through the Customs building with their luggage. We reached Canada at 9:15 and walked through the modern facility. Two inspectors were there and a few others came over to deal with riders from some far away places. There were no problems and the bus departed at 9:26, arriving at Montrealís Gare Centrale exactly an hour later at 10:26. A five-minute walk and we were at the Chateau Champlain Hotel, a former CP Hotel built in time for Expo í67, but now a Marriott.
My overall impression of the "Vermonter"? Good crew, equipment up to date in excellent condition, some fat in the schedule and could have used more passengers on the trip we rode. Unfortunately, the amenities of the special baggage car and all station agents north of Springfield recently were eliminated as an economy measure.
The following morning was quite cold. I made an early morning trip out to Cedar Park, one of the commuter stations on the CPRís Dorion line out of Gare Windsor.
My return train departed Cedar Park at 11:32 and delivered me to Gare Windsor by 12:05. At this time I did a little exploring. As I had observed on previous trips, the tracks have cut back several blocks west of the old station. One can walk through it, doing your best to avoid TV shoots or other events in the concourse, and then use a long passageway to the Bell Centre and continue on to the new station. If arriving by Metro, itís better to use one stop down the line, the Lucien-LíAllier station, which reaches the rail station with three escalators, some steps and a short walk. In fact, the rail station has been renamed, "Lucien-LíAllier (Windsor)." Despite this, some signage in the Metro still directs CP line rail passengers to use the Bonaventure station that is closer to the old Windsor station.
Lunch was the next item on the agenda, followed by a ride to Roxboro and return on the modernized CN electric line. The new Bombardier emuís are a vast improvement over the old equipment and we later learned that ridership has tripled since the line reopened with the new equipment. Upon return from that trip it was time to rest at the hotel and prepare for the 5pm opening of the conference program.
Saturday, November 9th was our day in Ottawa. Naturally, VIA Rail Canada was the chosen mode of transport to reach that city. Westbound, we rode Train 631, consisting of an F40 and two LRC coaches. The passenger load was our group of 18 plus 22 others, giving a grand total of 40. As somebody said, "who wants to get up early on a Saturday morning to go to Ottawa!" The ride was fast--up to 100 mph--but slowed down once we had reached the Ottawa Branch at Coteau Jct. The pace was good on the mostly jointed rail until the train encountered signal problems south of Alexandria, Ontario. It seems the branch had been dark territory since the signal system had been knocked out by an ice storm several years ago and had recently been replaced with a new system but "bugs" remained to be worked out of it. Indeed, this may be the reason for the lateness of the two Ottawa trains I had missed while photographing on Thursday. In any event, we arrived Ottawa 40 minutes late at 10:00 (9:20).
The Ottawa station was built in the mid-1960ís in response to a desire to remove the tracks from the area of downtown parallel to the Rideau Canal. The former Union Station remains and has been restored as a Canadian Government employeesí conference center and is not open to the public.
The return to Montreal was on Train 38, departing at 5:45. Our group had been accorded access to the VIA-1 Lounge so we gathered there. As Train 38 has no VIA-1 on Saturdays only a few other people were on hand awaiting a Toronto train leaving about 5 minutes after #38ís departure. The lounge was spacious and had an assortment of beverages but no "munchies." Train 38 consisted of an F40, 5 LRC coaches [3 open] and a deadheading VIA-1 car. My passenger estimate on Train 38 is about 80 including our group. This time the ride was fast and the LRC cars are very comfortable with huge glass picture windows. Upon reaching the main line at Coteau we took off like a rocket to attain 100 mph speed. As is the practice on VIA, ticket collection was efficiently done by the lead service attendant who also made excellent announcements in English and French. No doubt about it, VIAís customer service is excellent. The ride was in darkness so there was nothing to see until we ran alongside the CP commuter line from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue but no trains were evident on the CP. Gare Centrale arrival was 9 minutes down at 7:53.
My trip home on the "Adirondack" was on Sunday, November 10th. Since the train doesnít depart Montreal until 9:50 am, I had the luxury of sleeping until a reasonable hour. I walked out of the hotel about 9:15 for the short walk to Central Station and found the temperature to be quite warm, just as it was on Saturday. The train opened about 9:30 with an usher handing a US Customs declaration form to each passenger. No special luggage tags were distributed, as is the practice on the northbound "Adirondack." The train consisted of a Genesis locomotive, a baggage car, 4 coaches and a dinette car. The head coach was kept closed until after Albany and the other 3 coaches became quite full. My count after St. Lambert indicated 75 passengers to cross the border. The ride over the CN from St. Lambert to Rouses Point was irregular--bursts of speed followed by long slow sections with 30 mph speed and some with even slower speed. We finally arrived Rouses Point at 11:28. Customs and Immigration was quick for me but 3 people were bounced, including one who had 3 large plastic suitcases and claimed to be headed for vacation in NJ but had only a one way ticket. Departure from RP came 14 minutes late at 12:24 (12:10). I then headed for the dinette for lunch and lingered there with some people so failed to note the time at Plattsburgh but believe we still were 20 minutes late. The ride along Lake Champlain always is pleasant and we enjoyed lunch while passing through this territory. Most of my trips through this area have been in winter with the lake frozen over and fishing huts and even vehicles out on the ice, so it was interesting to see water in the lake this trip. My lunch today consisted of a cheesburger, bag of chips and a Pepsi--not very healthy but filling. Although the train was 23 minutes late at Fort Ticonderoga, by Whitehall we miraculously were only 4 minutes down. But just south of there we stopped and then proceeded at slow speed for a few miles, probably due to signal trouble, and we were 19 minutes late at the next stop, Fort Edward.
Many of the passengers boarding at the Upstate NY stations had to purchase tickets on the train and it was interesting to note the variety of fares being charged for the same trip. I had paid $39, incorporating the 35% discount for booking on the Internet and paying with MasterCard, for the Montreal to Croton-Harmon trip. A guest boarding at Westport paid $49 and another boarding at Port Henry, 11 miles down the line, told the conductor he was quoted $60 for the trip to New York City and thatís what he paid.
Shortly before Saratoga Springs a rather abrupt announcement was made that the snack bar was closed and would not open until after Albany. There followed a long parade of passengers who had been told to leave the car as it was being physically closed. Two of my traveling companions stopped by to tell me that they waited about 20 minutes for the attendant to return "from break" only to be told the car was now closed. After protesting they finally were sold what they had been seeking but only after the "now closed" announcement was made.
A good crowd of 40 boarded at Saratoga Springs where a northbound freight was waiting for us to pass. Arrival at the new Albany station came only six minutes late so there was a little time to explore the facility. The high level platforms serving 3 station tracks are accessed by stairways, elevators and escalators from an overhead bridge. The stationís interior is quite large with glass walls and a ceiling about 4 stories high. The train announcer was dealing with our train as well as the "Ethan Allen Express" enroute to Rutland, VT, and was walking around while announcing the trains with a cordless mike and performing other duties as well. The ticket, baggage and information facilities are very attractive. So nearly 33 years after the Penn Central moved out of the old Albany Union Station, the Capital City again has a railroad station of which it can be proud. The new station was financed and constructed by the Capital District Transportation Authority, which now is operating express bus service across the Hudson to downtown Albany to connect with the principal trains.
The head coach was opened for the passengers boarding at Albany and we departed there with a good load. The snack bar eventually reopened and we soon were zipping south at 90-110 mph. The station stops at Hudson, Rhinecliffe and Poughkeepsie occurred without incident and we soon pulled into my home station of Croton-Harmon at 7:10 (6:53).
Overall impression of the "Adirondack": First, everything was in good working order but I miss the Heritage coaches and lounge cars that had been on this train for several years. The train carried a good passenger load, which is encouraging. Aside from the arbitrary "break" and sudden closure of the snack car, the crew performed well. And the views of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River canít be beat.
Amtrak #56 NYP-SAB November 6, 2002:
Engine 950 - NYP-NHV; Engine 810 (front) and Engine 805 (rear) NHV-SAB Cars: 82504 - Amfleet I Capstone overhauled 44677 - " " 44694 - " " 82513 - " " Capstone 48150 - Amfleet I snack bar/dinette
Amtrak #70 MTR-CRT November 10, 2002:
Engine 710 Cars: ???? - Baggage ???? - Amfleet I coach 28354 - Amdinette 21033 - Amfleet I coach 21094 - " " " 44983 - " " " Capstone Overhauled