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Trip Report

OTOL Montreal RailFest 2006

July 18-23, 2006
Section 1 of 3


Photos by Piotr Dzwonek and Jishnu Mukerji

Click small photos to see larger

Chapter 0: Introduction

OTOL Montreal RailFest 2006 was born two years before its taking place. When Toronto was chosen to be the site of our large fest in the summer of 2004, I decided that we would return to Canada and do Montreal two summers later.

As things turned out back in 2004, one of the east-west streetcar lines in Toronto was detoured for street reconstruction, so our group missed riding that line on its regular route. I devised a way of getting back there, as well as riding VIA Rail Canada and visiting the nation's capital city (Ottawa), as a means to make our second trip across the border more worthwhile.

Besides spending two full days in Montreal, we would take a "triangle" tour of sorts. We would take VIA Rail from Montreal to Toronto, and ride the 506 streetcar line that we had missed two years prior. Then we would ride VIA Rail once more from Toronto to Ottawa, and ride the diesel light rail O-Train while there. And then we would return on VIA Rail to Montreal, in order to ride that city's commuter lines and its renowned Metro subway.

Originally, this trip would have involved taking VIA's overnight train, the ENTERPRISE, between Montreal and Toronto. Unfortunately, that train was canceled sometime in 2005, so the plan we eventually followed had to be implemented.

Chapter 1: Preparation

As usual, this fest had an official homepage. It had links to transit, hotel, restaurant, and rail scanner information for each of the three cities we would be visiting. The fest was announced on the OTOL Forums, after which I was able to put together a guest list.

This turned out to be a rather small group. We only had seven people, much lower than our previous gatherings. Still, we would have a wonderful time getting to, through, and from Canada together.

Chapter 2: Monday, July 17, 2006

Michael and I started out the day before the fest was to begin, opting to go as far as Albany and sleep there before joining the group aboard the ADIRONDACK on Tuesday. To do this, while leaving the car in its usual free and convenient location in Cherry Hill, we had to leave from home around 8 AM and drive there to catch the 10:00 train.

Chapter 2.1: NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line, Train #4610, Cherry Hill, NJ to Philadelphia, PA

Our first of many trains to ride in the next eight days was a standard NJ TRANSIT Atlantic City Line consist, with three coaches hauled by a GP-40 locomotive. It picked us up on time and delivered us to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station a little ahead of the padded schedule.

Once in the station and having purchased snacks, we made our way to the Club Acela. We would not be riding in First Class. However, I had a voucher allowing us access so we would not have to wait and queue up with the throngs of people within the station when the call came for Train 86.

In the Club Acela I was able to print some Montreal restaurant lists that I had not had time to print from home. Our train was running about half an hour late, so we had some bonus time to spend in the lounge.

When the call came for our train, the attendant called the elevator and sent us right to our platform, before the train's arrival on Track 3. We did indeed bypass a rather long line in the waiting room.

Chapter 2.2: Amtrak Train #86, REGIONAL, Philadelphia, PA to New York, NY

We departed Philly at 12:57 PM, 35 minutes down. I was not too nervous about making our connection in New York, because I knew that if we missed it, we could rebook on the following Empire Service train. We had one hour in New York for our connection, so I was confident we would make it anyhow.

Regional 86, our first Amtrak train of the week, consisted of:

909 AEM-7 locomotive 21725 Amfleet I Metroliner coach as Business Class 43371 Amfleet I full dinette 82570 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82033 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82020 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82615 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- * 21053 Amfleet I Coach 82535 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass
* We were here

Trenton came at 1:30 PM, a time that we should have already been past Newark. We hit the latter at 2:10, now 43 minutes down. Our New York City arrival at Penn Station's Track 9 was at 2:23 PM, officially 38 minutes off the advertised.

This meant we did make our connection, and that our dwell time was next to nothing. Before we knew it, the boarding call came for Train 291, the ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS. We headed to Track 5 and proceeded to the coach that the crew had designated for Albany-bound passengers.

Chapter 2.3: Amtrak Train #291, ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS, New York, NY to Albany-Rensselaer, NY

Once we settled in our seats, I had time to get this train's full makeup before departure:

713 P32 AC-DM locomotive 48159 Amfleet I Metroliner coach Club-Dinette as Business Class 43371 Amfleet I Full-dinette 82516 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82591 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82002 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- * 82504 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass
* We were here

This train started out at 2:47 PM (two minutes late) from New York City, and was never on time. At Yonkers, we were four minutes down.

Then at Croton-Harmon, we saw that Metro North's Poughkeepsie-bound train was in the station at the same time (3:35), in fact right across the platform from us. Metro North sent the commuter out before us. We caught up on an adjacent track, and then the two trains ran neck and neck for almost ten minutes. We finally went in front of them at 3:44, just before the Metro North train was to stop at its next stop, Cortlandt.

By Poughkeepsie, our deficit had increased to eight minutes as we called there at 4:15 PM. At Rhinecliff, we stopped at 4:33 PM, now eleven minutes in the hole. Still more time was lost by Hudson, since our 5:03 station stop was 18 minutes off. Finally, we arrived in Albany-Rensselaer at 5:30 PM, 15 minutes late. No doubt, a few minutes were made up with the magic of schedule padding.

Our day was not over. Now came the task of getting across the river to Albany proper and our hotel. We waited about 25 minutes for a CDTA 14 bus. It came at 5:55 PM. Ten minutes later, we were getting off the bus next to Albany's Pepsi Arena, which has since been renamed to the Times Union Center. We then walked up Pearl Street about six blocks until we found our Hampton Inn one block to the west on Chapel Street. This Hampton was fairly new, having just opened on a vacant lot 10 months prior to our visit.

Chapter 2.4: End of Monday's activities

Now settled in our hotel, we had to have dinner. We hadn't seen too many inviting places during our walk through the city. We opted to eat at the restaurant within the hotel. The restaurant is dp American Brassiere, also known as Yono's. It was a little on the expensive side, and although we had a friendly and helpful waitress, the service from the kitchen was very slow considering that the place was not busy. I was also unhappy that the restaurant would not allow me to charge the meal to our room. When the food finally did come, we ate well.

Soon we were back upstairs in our room, plotting our trip back to the train station in the morning and ultimately hooking up with the group.

Chapter 3: Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuesday was the first official day of the fest. We awoke in Albany, NY, as others started out from New York City and elsewhere.

Chapter 3.0: Railfanning in Rensselaer

Michael and I checked out of our Hampton Inn and began to make our way to the train station across the river. We walked three blocks to the bus stop for the 14 bus (it's closer than the inbound trip because the bus makes a clockwise loop around Empire State Plaza). We were then brought right to the train station, where we arrived about 9:30, well in advance of our intended 10:55 departure. As you will see in Chapter 3.2, we had a lot more time than that to spend there.

We got to see the arrivals and departures of four other Amtrak trains before ours arrived. The staff at Albany is pretty strict about people going to the track level unless they are traveling. However one can stand outside the station and in either the station area or the street bridge over the tracks and see everything.

First was Train 63, the westbound MAPLE LEAF from New York to Toronto. It arrived at 9:55 AM (10 minutes late) on the Main Track, with:

704 P32 AC-DM locomotive NYP-ALB 48188 Amfleet I Metroliner coach Club-Dinette as Business Class 25095 Amfleet II Coach 25093 Amfleet II Coach 25100 Amfleet II Coach 25116 Amfleet II Coach
In Albany, P32 AC-DM 704 was removed, replaced by P42 109 for the trip to Toronto. The MAPLE LEAF departed at 10:12 AM, twelve minutes down.

I was pleased to see the Amfleet II's, a luxury we did not have when our group rode the MAPLE LEAF two years ago.

Next on the agenda was Train 290, the southbound ETHAN ALLEN EXPRESS. This was supposed to have been the 10 AM departure from Albany for New York, but it was delayed coming from Rutland. It arrived in Albany at 10:20 AM, exactly half an hour late. Its consist was:

705 P32 AC-DM locomotive 48176 Amfleet I Metroliner coach Club-Dinette as Business Class 82524 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82592 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82501 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass
This train got on its way at 10:30 AM, so it was still 30 minutes down.

That brings us to the next train, which was 280, a train from Niagara Falls headed for New York City. When it got to Albany at 10:54 AM, it was only nine minutes late, a favorable accomplishment with the delays it could have encountered going across New York State on CSX trackage. It arrived with this consist:

714 P32 AC-DM locomotive 48189 Amfleet I Metroliner coach Club-Dinette as Business Class 21168 Amfleet I Coach 44968 Amfleet I Metroliner Coach 44726 Amfleet I Metroliner Coach 21089 Amfleet I Coach

Although this train had not done too poorly thus far, Amtrak's own crews made sure this train's deficit would double before it left Albany. Although no coaches were added to the train, P32 AC-DM 704 was placed at the front, becoming the new power in front of P32 AC-DM 714. Remember that 704 had come up this morning on the MAPLE LEAF, and so it was sitting in a yard just north of the station.

Once the engine was on the point, a refueling process began. The train that should have left at 11 AM, and probably could have made up some time, instead was delayed until 11:19. Could they not have refueled it during the hour it was in Albany between assignments?

Finally, we also got to see the 12 Noon departure for New York, Train 238. This one originated in Albany, with the following:

715 P32 AC-DM locomotive 48183 Amfleet I Metroliner coach Club-Dinette as Business Class (not in use) 82513 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82031 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82086 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82519 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass

This train was the only one we saw all day that was on time, at least upon leaving Albany. As you will see later on, there was a bottleneck in Hudson where the northbound ADIRONDACK was delayed at the station, causing problems for a few of the above southbound trains since they were unable to serve the station until 63 had cleared.

Chapter 3.1: Getting to the ADIRONDACK in New York City

The only people from our group to originate from New York City were Jishnu and Alan.

Alan came into Manhattan from Woodside on the Long Island Railroad. He was only going from New York to a yet-unknown point along the ADIRONDACK route. He was unable to accompany us to Canada due to problems he had earlier in the year crossing the border into Canada. He had been going to Canada to volunteer his services to help out with some computers at the Shania Twain Center in Timmons, ON back in May, and was turned away by Canada's customs agents because they felt he had suspicious intentions. He was entering the country for pleasure, but the border patrol felt he was lying and doing business instead. The result is that he was banned from entering Canada for one year.

Jishnu started out from his home in Short Hills, NJ on NJ TRANSIT's Midtown Direct Train 6610. His 8-car consist, pulled by an ALP-46 engine, got him into New York Penn Station at 7:21 AM. This gave him time to have breakfast and purchase some reading material for the train trip. He then received a call from Alan, inviting him into the Club Acela as his guest so they could wait together in luxury for the ADIRONDACK.

Chapter 3.2: Amtrak Train #69, ADIRONDACK, New York, NY to Montreal, QC

Alan and Jishnu unfortunately saw that the train was marked as "Delayed" on the station monitor. The agent manning the desk in the lounge was quite helpful, even walking over to where they were seated to update them more than once on the status or lack thereof. They were eventually told the track number 40 minutes after the train should have departed. When they got down to the platform, it had not yet arrived, but it soon came in. Jishnu noticed that the train was one car short, so apparently the reason it was so late was for the removal of a bad-ordered coach. The doomed northbound ADIRONDACK ended up departing from New York Penn Station at 9:15 AM, exactly one hour late. CSX freight comes through Metro North"s Poughkeepsie station

Piotr spent Monday night with family in the city, and he decided to take Metro North up to Poughkeepsie and board the ADIRONDACK there.

Between New York City and Albany, Train 69 looked like this:

717 P32 AC-DM locomotive NYP-ALB 82618 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 43376 Amfleet I Full-dinette 82622 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82596 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- *
* (Alan NYP-SAR, Jishnu NYP-MTR, Piotr POU-ALB)

It was a slow trip for the three, made worse by a delay in Hudson due to a suspicious passenger who eventually was removed from the train. Alan later found out that this individual was overheard by another passenger talking about a bomb to his companion. As a result, local and state police with canine units greated the train in Hudson.

The ADIRONDACK finally reached Albany-Rensselaer at 12:20 PM, one hour 40 minutes late. Besides Michael and me, only one other person was boarding this train from Albany. We were let down to the platform level during the train's layover period, while work was being done to the train's consist.

P32 AC-DM 717 was removed, replaced with 68 P42 locomotive ALB-MTR. In addition, Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82082 was added to the front, replacing the bad ordered one that never left New York City.

North of Albany, the consist looked like this:

68 P42 locomotive ALB-MTR 82082 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- *** 82618 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- ** 43376 Amfleet I full dinette 82622 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass 82596 Amfleet I Regional CoachClass <- *
* (Jishnu NYP-MTR, Alan NYP-SAR)
** (Piotr, Kevin, & Michael ALB-SDY)
*** (Piotr, Kevin, & Michael SDY-MTR)

In Albany, I met Jishnu and Piotr on the platform. Michael and I were seated in one of the coaches near the front of the train. We departed Albany at 12:37 PM, now one hour 42 minutes off the advertised.

After we got moving, Alan came up from the rear coach of the train to greet us and chat for a while. At the same time, he was saying goodbye, because he had decided due to our train's poor timekeeping that he would get off at Saratoga Springs and return to New York on the southbound ADIRONDACK.

Piotr decided to move and sit with us, however we noticed that our coach was running hot. We then checked the coach in front of us, the one that had been added in Albany. It was a little warm, but that was because it had recently been sitting in a yard. The air conditioning was doing its job there, and there was plenty of room, so the three of us decided to move up to that coach around Schenectady. Our stop there was at 12:57 PM, and we moved from that station at 12:59, making us an hour 40 minutes down.

We then went back to the cafe car to get lunch as our train moved slowly northbound on Canadian Pacific trackage. While eating lunch, our train made its Saratoga Springs stop. We saw Alan get off, pick up somebody's dropped umbrella, and begin his wait for the return train. Our train arrived there at 1:55 PM and departed 1:58, so we were now two hours 11 minutes late.

Our timekeeping got progressively worse as we made our way up the line. For some reason, we had multiple slow orders that compounded our tardiness. Rail equipment on view at Port Henry, NY station We stopped in Fort Edward-Glens Falls at 2:22, Whitehall at 3:07, Ticonderoga at 3:51 PM, and Port Henry at 4:25 PM. By now we were running almost three hours late, and we still had a meet with the southbound train and our border stop ahead of us.

Sixteen minutes after we left Port Henry, we had a meet with our southbound counterpart, Train 68. That train was running late, but its performance worsened even more as it traversed the same slow orders we had already come through.

Our next station stop was Westport, where we had a rather long five-minute dwell. This is Amtrak's gateway to Lake Placid. We saw "Thruway Motorcoach" 8069, which is no more than a small van. This van is the Amtrak Thruway connection from Westport to Lake Placid Its driver seemed anxious to get going (not surprising with the train three hours late), so after he loaded his several connecting passengers he was off for Lake Placid, a few minutes before we left the station.

Port Kent was next. This seasonal stop is made only during the summer months when the ferry to Burlington is running. Car ferry Valcour awaits departure from Pt. Kent, NY to Burlington, VT. We wondered if anyone who had intended on taking the ferry still could look forward to one running this late in the day. Port Kent was also the northernmost point I had been on this route, so everything north of here was new trackage for me.

A two-minute stop in Plattsburgh NY was next. We departed from there at 6:08 PM (should have been 2:55!), so we were now two hours 13 minutes off the advertised. We should have been at St. Lambert, QC by now. We still had the Customs agents between our destination and us.

Our last stop in New York State and the United States was at Rouses Point. We had made up a few minutes but were still over three hours late. Rouses Point, NY, where #69 moves from CP to CN trackage at the border Now came some slow going as we moved from Canadian Pacific to Canadian National, almost right on the international border. I believe I once read that a crewmember has to detrain and throw a switch by hand in order for the train to make this connection. Therefore, it was more slow going as we crawled towards our eventual stop in Cantic, QC for the Customs procedures. The time of our arrival was 6:53 PM.

Did the Canada Customs officials begin right away? Impossible, since they were not even there yet. Our hunch is that because the train's arrival time is inconsistent, the train's crew has to call them before they will leave a road checkpoint and handle the train. The Customs officials arrived in a van at 7:19, 26 minutes after we arrived.

The inspection of our particular coach was easy and quick, since there were not too many passengers seated there. However, in the rear coach, the one in which through passengers from New York City had been seated, there were a few problems. A few whole families were removed from the train. The train was finally released to the crew at 8:49, 90 minutes after the inspectors arrived and almost two hours since we got there.

Originally we had planned to eat dinner in Montreal, but that would not be happening now, since our projected arrival was about 10 PM. Instead, we went back to the cafe car for some more Am-food, what was left of it.

I was looking for our St. Lambert stop, but we never made it. This is a discharge-only stop, and I guess the crew had on its manifest that nobody would be detraining there. Our train proceeded the final four miles into Montreal.

We came to a stop on Track 15 at Montreal's Gare Centrale at 10:17 PM, officially three hours 47 minutes late. We were impressed at the VIA Rail Canada personnel who guard the escalator for safety. Several times they had to shoo people away who congregated a few feet from the escalator's top landing, giving arriving passengers nowhere to go and tempting a terrible accident.

Chapter 3.3: End of Tuesday's activities

Being so late, the four of us just made our way to our respective accommodations. Piotr went to the hostel where he was staying. Jishnu, Michael, and I were all booked that night at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure (all on Hilton Honors redemption points!), which is right across the street from the station. An easy walk and we were there. It was a long day of travel for all of us, so we all were happy to finally be in our accommodations for the night.

Alan, meanwhile, had to wait in Saratoga almost seven hours for the southbound ADIRONDACK. It was delayed even worse than we had been. It was already five hours late when the angry passengers along with Alan finally were able to board. In hindsight, Alan was playing it safe but could have gone as far as Port Henry and still made his train.

Alan left the station around 6:30 PM and walked through Saratoga to find a place to eat dinner. Then he returned to the station to await the train, which finally departed Saratoga around 8:45.

He ended up getting back to New York at 12:40 AM, five hours late, so the train was handled much better once it was on CSX, Metro North, and finally Amtrak trackage. After helping a family who had misconnected for a train to Philadelphia find the waiting area and Customer Service, he then took a 1:04 AM Long Island Railroad train. After ten minutes he detrained in Woodside to find that there was a massive blackout in much of Northwestern Queens. When he arrived at his darkened home in the wee hours, Alan's adventures for this fest were over, although new adventures were just beginning for him!

Continued in next section

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