Viewing the Fall Foliage via Turboliner
October 31, 2003
With the fall foliage in the Hudson Valley at its peak, I decided to use Amtrak Guest Rewards tickets for a round trip from New York to Albany. In addition to providing a view of the scenery on a beautiful day, this trip would provide the opportunity to ride one of the recently rebuilt Empire Service Turboliners. Although two sets of the rebuilt trains are in service, I had yet to make a trip on them since the first northbound train with this equipment doesn't depart from New York City until 12:45 pm.
Although I live near the Croton-Harmon station, I went in to NYC to board the train as I had some business to conduct there and wanted to get the full ride on the Turboliner. Thus I started on Metro-North Train #846, enroute from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central. The train arrived Croton a minute or so early, departed on time at 9:55 and reached GCT a minute early at 10:37 am. This train runs non-stop from Croton to 125th St.; a 10 am semi-express was waiting at the Croton station to follow us out.
The southbound trip was mostly "left handed" running on Track 1 as Metro-North forces are performing track, bridge and station rebuilding work along Track 4 at many locations. The river was a little foggy in places but became quite clear and sunny as we reached Spuyten Duyvil in the southwest Bronx.
Since my first stop was north of the Terminal, I exited through the north end on to Park Ave. and 48th Street. Upon completion of my business I took the subway over to Penn Station [NYP to Amtrak's computer], arriving there shortly after noon.
Quite a few passengers were on hand at NYP as, in addition to my Albany train, a NJT Trenton train and a Boston/Springfield train soon would be departing. Before long an usher stood by Track 5's gate and shouted that Train 251 to Albany was ready. Along with the others standing by the gate, I didn't await the station announcement but headed downstairs so as to get a forward facing seat on the Hudson River side of the train. That being accomplished, the next move was to check out the train and note the consist. We had a power coach, coach, café coach, coach and power car with business class seating, in that order. I rode in the next-to-last coach. My check just a few minutes before departure indicated the train to be about 75% full, including business class.
For reasons unknown to me, departure came 8 minutes late at 12:53. We soon headed out into the sun and ran left handed on Amtrak's West Side Line, probably because several overhead bridges were under construction. I always had liked the "French" Turbos built by Rohr in 1976 for the Empire Service and was glad to see at least one of the rebuilt trains back in service. In addition to new seats and cosmetic work, the trainsets were made much more fuel efficient along with other electrical/mechanical improvements. The seats are various shades of blue and gray and I love those huge picture windows! My only complaint would be that half the seats are pointed backwards. Before rebuilding the seats could be turned and I assume it's still possible to do that. Once the Turboliners start running to Niagara Falls it will be desirable to allow all the riders to face forward for the 460 mile trip.
After a few minutes we were enjoying the Hudson and some colorful trees. The Metro-North junction at Spuyten Duyvil was reached at 1:11. The trees became more colorful as we headed north, with some really beautiful red, orange and yellow leaves along the way. Shortly before passing over the Croton River I called my wife so she could watch the Turbotrain passing our house; unfortunately, she was not home. Now it was time for lunch-a cheeseburger and Heineken sounded good. As part of Amtrak's revenue-protection program, this snack bar was equipped with an electronic cash register with a receipt showing the items and prices given to each customer. The wall opposite the snack bar was decorated with a mural depicting various scenic parts of New York State. There are no tables or lounge seats in the café car so passengers must eat at their seats.
Walking back through the train I noted the other passengers were sleeping, taking on cell phones, reading or quietly chatting. South of Peekskill we passed Amtrak #254 from Niagara Falls, about 8 minutes late, and shortly thereafter #48 from Chicago about 1 ˝ hours late. During the stop at Poughkeepsie, some passengers were heard to admire the new Metro-North/Amtrak parking garage that has been beautifully blended into the historic New York Central brick station on the other side of the tracks. We ran through Poughkeepsie on Track 3 with jointed rail and you really could tell the difference. Several miles north at CP75 it was back to Track 1 and the very smooth rode on welded rail. The peak of the foliage was between Croton and Rhinecliff; between Hudson and Albany some of the trees already were bare. The temperature in New York had been in the high `60's and the air conditioning was much appreciated. Further north, however, the train became quite cold and some riders were putting on their sweaters and jackets. Our arrival at the new Albany-Rensselaer station was 8 minutes late at 3:18. Southbound Train 286 passed a few minutes before arrival-it was about 5 minutes late from Niagara Falls.
The passengers seem to like the Turboliners. They are fast, quiet and ride well, at least on good track. Amtrak never was very enthused about restoring them but NY State insisted. They do require some different procedures. For example, at Rhinecliff an announcement was made as to which doors would open and that passengers should wait for the conductors to place the "little yellow stepping boxes" as these cars have a higher step. Also at ALB the crew announced that they would unlock the doors but to await a crewmember before opening them as they are manual doors and open in. My recollection was that the Turbos originally had automatic outside sliding doors so this is one of the features changed during the rehabilitation.
After getting a few photos of the train from the nearby overhead bridge, I did some exploring at the station. The Rensselaer Post Office now has moved in and makes an attractive addition. The parking lot at the old station was nearly full and the new garage appeared to be about half full. Parking fees were imposed starting in April and the charge for the open lot is less than for the garage. I assume the garage will be more fully utilized with the onset of winter weather. The station is owned by the Capitol District Transportation Authority, which has at least two bus lines serving it. A new feature since my last visit is an electronic display board showing the time and platform location of the next two buses to Albany, outer Rensselaer and Troy.
My return was on Train 262, which originates in Albany and departed on time at 4:15 pm. Its consist was a "700 series" Genesis locomotive, a snack bar coach and 2 Amfleet coaches. About 70 boarded at ALB with lesser numbers at the next two stops. The crew did not collect any tickets until after Rhinecliff; presumably any riders headed for Hudson or RHI handed in the tickets upon exiting. I've seen this practice used once before, perhaps by the same crew.
Train 283 to NFL passed about a mile south of the Albany station; it was about 7 minutes late. So in both directions my train passed another on the former single-track section between Rensselaer and Stuyvesant. When Penn Central removed the second track in this territory in the mid-1960's, I would encounter a delay in at least one direction on every NY-Albany round trip. Eventually NY State paid for restoration of the double track and trains now traverse this area at 110 mph.
The main feature of the return trip was a beautiful sunset over the Hudson for the first hour. We also passed trains 255, 49, 257 and 259, all more or less on time, as well as numerous Metro-North trains after Poughkeepsie. My Amcoach rode reasonably well with no flat wheels. However I greatly prefer the Turboliners with their huge windows and more attractive interiors. The ride was fast and we reached Croton-Harmon on time at 5:53 pm, thereby concluding a most enjoyable trip. As he was opening the door, the conductor mentioned that he'd have to ask the other conductor for the proper departure time. I saved him the trouble. "it's right now; you're exactly on time."
Consist-Train 251, NYP-ALB, Oct. 31, 2003:
2158 - Power Turboliner coach 2272 - Turboliner coach 2383 - Turboliner Café car 2270 - Turboliner coach 2135 - Power Turboliner business class