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June 11, 2005 - Vermonter
I took the Long Island Rail Road 8:43 AM out of Ronkonkoma and arrived at NY Penn Station on time at 10:05 AM. After a restroom stop and picking up NJT timetables, I proceeded to pick up my Amtrak tickets. I saw a set of Amtrak "QuikTrak" machines out of order, so I proceeded to the main set of machines. On the way there I heard an announcement that the Amtrak reservations and ticketing computers were all down and as a result Amtrak was writing tickets by hand. This must have been the same computer outage from the previous evening when the web site was unable to retrieve anything. There was a long line and those who were in danger of missing their train would be permitted to buy their tickets on board (cash, credit card, or check w/ ID) without penalty. With advance purchase tickets and an hour before my train, I waited in line and eventually reached the counter. The agent took my printout and at first started to write up a simple round-trip NY to St. Albans coming back on the Vermonter and I had to point out my exact itinerary that called for three one-way tickets. After stepping outside briefly I waited at the LIRR level for the boarding announcement. It came about 11:15 for track #15, usually assigned to the Long Island Rail Road. I was directed by a crew member to my boarding area. Business Class was one-half of the cafe car at the front. Seating was 2x1 (two seats on one side and solo on the other). On the cafe car side, the electronic sign right above the restrooms mistakenly read "Restrooms Other End." Departure was on time at 11:30.
The first major sight on the way out is the New York City skyline from the climb to Hells Gate Bridge, next to the Triborough Bridge. It was hazy but the skyline was visible. After a quick run through The Bronx, the train slowed down then stopped at 11:57 AM next to another Amtrak train that turned out to be train #162 for Boston, already an hour and a half behind schedule. It was stuck there for that amount of time without power. Also, I heard that a Metro-North train, #6518 out of Grand Central at 10:07 due at Stamford at 10:51 AM was stuck in the New Rochelle area unable to take power from the overhead catenaries.
One older gentleman asked me the reason for the stop and since I heard the above I explained what I knew. He was bound for Springfield and wondered if the train stopped in Amherst, closer to his destination. It did but took an hour to get from Springfield to Amherst. He decided to stick with Springfield and eventually he called the person picking him up with an estimated arrival time in Springfield. Why the long travel time between those two stations? The train had to make a reverse move. (At New Haven I showed him the addition of engines at both sides for this purpose) The tracks are owned by freight railroads and the route requires a reverse move. Why couldn't the government buy the tracks to allow a direct run? Ahh, money. I mentioned Amtrak's limited funding and the proposal to zero out Federal funding and that would knock out Amtrak altogether.
At 12:15 my train was green-lighted and proceeded east. This came as a surprise while I was claiming my free soft drink and buying a sandwich at the cafe. Last I heard, train 162 was cleared for a westbound move and a "light" (w/o cars) Amtrak engine was headed to the area presumably as a rescue for train 162.
Train 162 (what I could get)
New Rochelle came (no scheduled stop) at 12:17, then we made our scheduled Stamford stop at 12:35. The conductor came to pick up tickets. He previously wrote up a lot of on-board tickets due to the computer outage and ran out of them. Bridgeport came and went at 1:00. There were no Port Jefferson ferries at dock at the time. The train arrived at New Haven at 1:22 PM. Due to the scheduled stop I stepped outside and wrote down the consist.
48156 <-- Cafe, business class
We left at 1:39. At 1:52 we stopped for a couple of minutes to allow train #463 (presumably) to go by the opposite way. Single-track running was ahead. At 2:01 we passed Wallingford station (no scheduled stop) with its station building "built in 1871." The stop at Meriden came at 2:08. Berlin came at 2:19. Hartford came 2:32-2:35. 2:38 temperature detector said 89 degrees outside. At 2:51, Springfield was announced "walk back two cars" and the man said that we had made up some time. He proceeded toward the exit but still had to wait for 16 minutes for the actual stop. During that time it started to rain. Two other Amtrak trains, #57 and 449 were in or approaching the station and there was a third set of equipment there. One had engine 57 and I think that was also train 57!
The rain stopped. We lost about 30 minutes between Springfield and Amherst, due to a 20-minute wait for a freight in the opposite direction that was stopped before Palmer, where we reversed direction going back west then turned north. Now I'm in the rear passenger car going backward as a result. By now we were almost 40 minutes late. There was a report that we had 51 passengers aboard. That wouldn't fill one rail car. Not good for a Saturday in June, though the peak summer season is still ahead.
The entire ride was bumpy, especially when they drove fast in an effort to make up time. The few others sitting in Business Class reached their destinations, leaving me alone in the section. There were cups and newspapers littering the area.
We continued up the Connecticut River valley, making the scheduled stops, remaining 40 minutes late. White River Junction is where we go into interior Vermont. Earlier today there was a railfan trip originating and ending there, and an old Green Mountain Railroad consist was on a side track. It did not look like it was used for the trip.
It started getting dark as we approached Montpelier. Approaching Essex Junction (Burlington), we ran into rain and thunder/lightning. At Essex Junction, all other passengers departed leaving me the only one left. This means no one for the recently restored Thruway bus connection to Montreal. The rain stopped, then started again with thunder and lightning. As a result, I would take a taxi to my hotel, the Econo Lodge several blocks south of the station. The crew members found taxis to their lodging for the night. The bus was there with no one to pick up. The train had arrived at St. Albans at 10:05 PM.
June 12, 2005 - Adirondack
The following morning, I walked back to the station and the train (same equipment) was waiting there for its 8:30 AM departure. It was an uneventful 30-minute trip back to Essex Junction, where I then went by taxi to downtown Burlington. I decided to attend Sunday services at the Cathedral before walking to the ferry dock. On the way, I saw the equipment for a Green Mountain Railroad excursion train called the Champlain Valley Flyer. It makes frequent short round-trips between Burlington and Shelburne. This is part of the Burlington-Charlotte, VT round trip that was offered to commuters as a temporary alternative during construction on Route 7 in the area.
The scheduled ferry departure was 11:45 AM with a 12:45 PM arrival at Port Kent, about a three to five-minute walk up a small hill to the Amtrak station. The Amtrak train was scheduled to leave at 12:58 PM but is rarely on time due to delays at Customs. I called the automated system ("Julie") but there was only information from 10:22 AM that it was on time. However, that was before Customs.
I noticed the ferry only allowed for a five-minute layover at Burlington. It arrived on time, and after it took more than the allotted five minutes, left Burlington at 11:54. It was quite hazy out. At about 12:35, the New York side became visible in the haze. We arrived at the Port Kent side at 12:53. No sign of the Amtrak train approaching, but I quickly walked up the hill in case. There were five people and a small dog waiting at the station. I called "Julie" at 1:01 and still the "on time" from 10:22. I tried again at 1:20 and got an update as of 1:01 that the train left Rouses Point, NY at 12:59 and was now expected to arrive at 1:46. I let the others at the station know. At 1:50, the train arrived led by engine 711. I heard that the northbound train was stuck at the Westport station. Hopefully it is not on a single-track; if so that would block us.
82521 - coach not used
43376 - food service
44197 - coach
21653 - coach
I went to the cafe car for a much-needed lunch, then heard that train #71 was in our way on a single track. We came to a stop and first waited in the hope that they would fix their engine. The announcement was that they had "minor" engine difficulties. It reminded me of the "minor" problems announced to the passengers in the Airplane! movies. Unlike them, at least we are not out of coffee. On the conductor's radio they talked of plans to hook up with the other train and tow it to Saratoga. The passengers on the other train would be bussed to Montreal. Once permission was obtained, we began this. Our train was already an hour and a half late, and they estimated about an hour and a half for the operation.
We (train 68) approached the other train (train 71, engine 704), and hooked up (engine to engine) and pushed #71 south to a two-mile siding. We detached, went back to the main line, went forward past the other train, then backed onto the siding to pick up the other train. At the end, the Adirondack looked like a long Vermonter train, with an engine on each side and eight passenger cars in between, However, the rear engine was the bad one that caused this problem. By 4:45 all cars were connected and after a couple of tests, we resumed toward New York, leaving the site at 4:52 PM.
We picked up a much-delayed "Trails and Rails" volunteer who would get on the public-announcement system and describe the scenery for the next hour of the trip. He described things up to Fort Ticonderoga then went off the P.A.
There was an additional 20 minute wait at Whitehall to allow the southbound Ethan Allen Express to go ahead of us. Maybe they thought we would slow them down with our extra weight. We then stopped for about 15-20 minutes for a relief crew at Fort Edward. The going was slow presumably due to carrying the extra cars. It started to rain north of Saratoga and an announcement explained that the slow going was due to signal outages caused by the weather.
We picked up speed after Saratoga, traveling at a good clip, so it was the signal problems and not the extra weight that slowed us, and made it to Albany just before 10:00. There would be no further delays but arrival in New York was expected to be 12:30 AM. By now, I had computed that if I were to go all the way home, I would arrive at 3:00 AM. Fortunately, my father's apartment in the Bronx is always open, and during the early evening, I had called him to advise him of the extreme lateness of the train. I would drop out at Yonkers at 12:10 and take a taxi to his place. On Monday morning, I took the subway to NY Penn Station and the train out to Long Island completing my delayed trip.