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Trip Report

OTOL Montreal RailFest 2006: Steve's Journey

July 18-24, 2006


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Chapter 1: Introduction

At last the day was here for Montreal Rail Fest. After buying the tickets on June 2, I had been counting off the days.

Chapter 2: Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chapter 2.1: Getting to the station

Completely packed, I headed down stairs about 6:00 PM to have the doorman put the cab light on. Within one minute, a cab pulled into the drive, and I was on my way.

I arrived at Union Station by 6:30 with plenty of time to make the 7:45 PM departure of 50. I was booked into room 10 of the 5000 car. I checked into the Metropolitan Lounge, and then settled back with a complimentary Sierra Mist and a book. The Lake Shore Limited was called first, about 7:15 PM The Cardinal was called about 7:35 PM. I lined up, and we made the walk to the train. I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the platform to see the sleeper at the rear of the consist with no freight cars attached. I planned to watch a lot of track on this trip.

Chapter 2.2: Amtrak Train #50, CARDINAL, Chicago, IL to Philadelphia, PA

The attendant greeted the passengers at the door, and sent us down to our rooms. Room 10 was on the left side, close to the end of the car. I anticipated a rough ride. After stowing my luggage, I stepped back down on the platform to take pictures. I saw the conductor and asked permission. No problem. Grabbed three pics, and then re-boarded. The crew was cheerful and accommodating. This had the makings of a good trip.

We departed on time at 7:45 with me at the rear window. I got some great pics of the Chicago skyline and the tracks. Chicago as seen from the rear of the Cardinal, Train #50 I called my girlfriend and let her know that I was underway. Knowing the idiosyncratic pleasures of railfans, she asked if I had enjoyed any jointed rail yet. As we switched tracks and rattled over some jointed rail when we exited the NS line to Cleveland, I assured her that I was enjoying the jointed rail as well as the crossover from one track to the other.

About 15 minutes later, 50 came to a stop as we waited for a freight to clear ahead of us. After a few moments I returned to my room to sit down. The attendant introduced himself and verified my destination (Philadelphia 30th street station) After explaining the operation of the room; he encouraged me to go to the wine and cheese tasting in the lounge car. This was an unexpected surprise. I walked up and found that one half of the dinette had tables covered with tablecloths. I settled in with a couple of other passengers and quickly received a package of cheese and crackers that is normally for sale in all Amtrak lounge cars. I skipped the wine, and ordered a Pepsi. As I prepared to pay, the attendant assigned to the first class portion of the dinette informed me that the Pepsi was complimentary too. A nice touch. Therefore, I tipped her.

I enjoyed the irony of having cheese, crackers, Pepsi, and enjoyable conversation with the other passengers as the train sat in the middle of one the rougher parts of Chicago. The train remained stopped for about 30 minutes. By time we were moving again it was too dark to pick out familiar landmarks even though we would pass within a mile of my current place of employment.

I returned to my room after Dyer, Indiana. We were still about 30 minutes late. The bed was made, and so I situated myself. I do like the Viewliner sleepers. Compared to a superliner, they have more space for luggage, and this provides a more spacious feeling to the room. However, I could observe the wear and tear on the car too. It was not aging gracefully. I noted that mattress was thicker than the Superliner, and thus more comfortable.

The track from Chicago to Indianapolis is rough. Since the sleeper was the last car on the train, the bumps, lurches, and sways were magnified. In a way, I enjoyed the ride. However, I was concerned when the car felt like it was bottoming out on every grade crossing and poorly ballasted area of the track bed. It seemed as though the suspension on the car was not functioning properly.

Despite all of this, I slept well enough to miss Lafayette and Crawfordsville. I was awake for part of Indianapolis. Then I slept most of the way to Cincinnati, awaking for the final approach, and then staying awake for the crossing of the Ohio. We were still about 40 minutes late.

Chapter 3: Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chapter 3.1: Amtrak Train #50, CARDINAL, Chicago, IL to Philadelphia, PA (continued)

By 6:15 it was light out and I walked up to see about breakfast. The attendant for First Class was engaged in a conversation with the lounge car attendant. When I asked about breakfast she curtly stated that they were not ready and continued her conversation. The conductor invited me to wait in the other half of the dinette car. To put it mildly, I was irritated by now. I had tipped the lady two dollars the night before, and now this. I decided to reduce my tips for the rest of the trip.

At 6:30 I was seated and ordered the French Toast. A mistake. If you ride the Cardinal, just get the cereal at breakfast and skip anything that they are going to heat up. It just does not work. One piece of the French Toast was edible; the other was hard as a rock. I think the crew could have done better, but they also had their hands tied.

Despite the lack of a dining car, the Cardinal is worth riding because of the scenery. EB from Chicago, you wake up as the train runs along the shore of the Ohio River. This continues for most of the morning. Then you have hills and industrial cities of Huntington and Charleston. For railfans, you have the coal operations of the CSX. Overall, this is an enjoyable combination.

After Montgomery, we entered the New River Gorge. On this trip I noticed that the line was double tracked, with one set of tracks on each side of the river for most of the way to Thurmond. This was an interesting operational aspect that I had missed from previous trips. I got some nice pics of the New River Gorge Bridge from the rear window as we snaked through the valley. We ran along the west bank and rejoined the other track right before Thurmond.

For the next hour, I enjoyed more scenery. Then I returned for lunch. This was the best meal of the trip on the Cardinal. I enjoyed the cheeseburger. The service was still indifferent, but it was fast enough.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon watching the Appalachian Mountains and reading my book. I listened to music, and napped. From time to time, we had slow running for whatever reason. I never found out why. By Charlottesville, we were about 75 minutes late. We had an excruciatingly slow run to Orange where we joined the route of the Crescent. The conductor predicted an 8:30 arrival into D.C., which would make us a little over an hour late. I could see that I would arrive Philadelphia at about 11 PM.

I double-checked my ticket for the next mornings run from Philadelphia to Montreal. I noticed that 69 left at 8:15 rather than the 8:30 that I had originally thought. I decided to catch the earlier regional train out of Philly at 5:15. This would arrive Penn at 6:40, which would give me plenty of time to eat breakfast at the Stage Door Delicatessen, which is right across the street.

By D.C., I was drowsy. I vaguely remember the monuments and then entering the tunnel into Union Station. Then I woke up as we were accelerating onto the corridor. A ride on the corridor is always enjoyable, and this was a nice way to end the trip on the Cardinal. We arrived Philly at 11:00.

Chapter 3.2: In Philadelphia

I opted for a cab for a quick ride to the Comfort Inn in the Historical District. The cabby took a fairly direct route, yet the fare was still close to 20 dollars. I made a mental note to really learn the subway system for future use if I attend a fest in Philly.

The price was right at the Comfort Inn. However the desk clerk was not competent. I was checked in quickly, and given a key to room 513. When I got there, the key did not work. I called on my cell phone and demanded that the clerk bring up a working key. After a second call, he arrived with two key cards. None of these worked and he concluded that someone must be in that room. Nice job!! He took me to a room on the 7th floor, which was ready for me. He apologized, but I was not happy. I was going to be leaving at 4:30 AM to get to the station in the morning, and this mess had cost me 25 minutes of sleep time.

Chapter 4: Thursday, July 20, 2006

I slept right through, so I did get enough sleep at the Comfort Inn. I was checked out quickly, and a cab came promptly. So at 4:45 I was back at 30th street waiting to board the Regional. I noticed that the same Amtrak security with dogs that had been standing by the gate when I arrived on 50 were still there at 4:45. I asked permission to take pictures of the waiting room and got the OK. I snapped a few and waited till train time.

Chapter 4.1: Amtrak Train #190, REGIONAL, Philadelphia, PA to New York, NY

The regional was on time and not crowded. I had two seats to myself. The train ride to NYP was uneventful. We left Philly on time, and were delayed about 10 minutes by a raised drawbridge between Newark and Penn.

Chapter 4.2: In New York City

At Penn I walked briskly through the concourse and out the 8th avenue exit by 34th street and crossed the intersection to have Breakfast at the Stage Door Delicatessen. This is an excellent restaurant with good prices. I had pancakes and bacon for Breakfast along with a cup of coffee. The bill was less than 10 dollars. I ordered a bagel with lox and cream cheese to go. This would be one of my meals on 69 to Montreal.

As I entered Penn Station, I heard an announcement about having tickets and passports checked for 69. I did not understand exactly where to go. However Amtrak employees in the waiting area were helpful, and within moments my passport was checked by a customs official, and my ticked marked. I asked for a track number, but no one knew. I wandered off to try to locate cheese popcorn. After a tour of both levels of Penn Station I had established that one could not buy cheese popcorn in Penn Station. I regretted not buying it in Union Station in Chicago before boarding 50.

I returned to the waiting area and watched the departure board for a track number. I knew from previous experience that 69 would only depart from a certain selection of tracks, but could not remember what the platform numbers were. When the track number was posted, I dashed over to be first in line. Too late. There was already a long line. Apparently other people had gotten the track information before me. So I went down one level and boarded the train from the arrivals concourse. I got a window seat with no problem. My car was directly in front of the lounge car. I had a seat on the left side. I love Penn Station.

Chapter 4.3: Amtrak Train #69, ADIRONDACK, New York, NY to Montreal, QC

Announcements were made that the train would be sold out. The Montreal car was completely sold out leaving NYP. Moments before leaving, two exotically dressed men with leather jackets and colored hair boarded, and looked for two seats that would be together. I noticed that the seat next to me was empty as well as one across the aisle next a young lady were empty. This did not look good. One guy asked if the seat next me was empty as his partner moved toward the other seat. The young lady quickly offered to move so they could sit together. She sat next to me. A vast improvement.

We departed on time from NYP, and stayed on schedule to Schenectady. I enjoyed the views of the Hudson River. I held out until about 10 before inhaling the bagel with lox and cream cheese. The odor had been calling to me for about the past 15 miles. So much for lunch. I planned to have a cheeseburger in the snack car at about 2 PM.

After Schenectady, the train operated at restricted speed because of malfunctioning signals. This cost us about 40 minutes. We had slow running like this at other times during the afternoon. When I had a signal on my cell, I texted Kevin to provide updates. He gave me updates too. As the delay increased to 90 minutes, plans for dinner with the group were mutually abandoned. The scenery on the left side of the train after Schenectady was not interesting. All of the best views were on the right. I mentally noted to sit on the east side of the train coming back.

The Customs inspection at the border was the typical time consuming annoyance, but not unusually long. It felt like we could have left 30 minutes before we did, which would have made dinner with the group in Montreal a possibility. One final text message to Kevin confirmed that we would not make up any time at the border. Like troopers, they waited at Central Station anyway. I appreciated this.

Slow running with not much scenery marked the last 44 miles into Montreal. After a day in an Amfleet I coach, I was ready to get off and walk around. Better equipment with bigger windows might have mitigated the 90-minute delay. The entrance into Montreal itself is dramatic with a long crossing of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The skyline provides a nice backdrop to Mount Royal.

Chapter 4.4: In Montreal

Piotr was the first to see me as I came up the stairs from the platform. A brief round of hellos, and some quick discussion of our relative trips, and I was now officially part of Montreal RailFest. By now, I knew everybody from previous fests, and I noted to myself that I was grateful to have friends to share train rides with.

Most everyone in the group had a Metro ride to get to their hotel. I had a 5-minute walk to the Marriott. This hotel was ideally situated on top of the Bonaventure Metro station. I only had to take an elevator down from the lobby, and walk through a short passage to get to the station. 5 minutes after leaving my room, I could be on the platform waiting for a train. I could do it in less than 5 with no waits for elevators.

After settling into my room on the 23rd floor, I decided to have crepes for an evening snack. The bellman provided a recommendation that was a short Metro ride and walk from the hotel in old Montreal. I bought my 3-day pass, and broke it in on the short ride to the restaurant. I rode from Bonaventure place to Place Des Armes, and then walked three blocks to the restaurant. The crepes were worth the effort.

Chapter 5: Friday, July 21, 2006

Once again Kevin did a fantastic job planning the trip. I had reviewed the itinerary at least 50 times during the last weeks of school in anticipation of these two days. For years I had wanted to sample the commuter lines of Montreal, and now I was going to get to do that.

Kevin and others kept detailed notes of our actual progress. I noticed that there was plenty of padding in the schedule, which allowed us time to stop at Kevin’s hotel and make dinner plans. We all collaborated on options, and when I discovered a steak house in the hotel’s brochure, we agreed to try it. I called and made a reservation for 6. The entire process was completely stress free with no interpersonal BS that usually arises within a group during a decision making process. Again, guys, I want to say thank you and that I really enjoyed the weekend.

We continued on to ride some more Metro before having lunch in a food court near Central Station.

During lunch, Mike Hammond and I started discussing our return to Cleveland and Chicago. We were both riding on 68 and 49 with plans to change trains in Albany. I had a roomette on 49, and he had a coach seat. During this discussion, we surmised how Amtrak would take care of us if we missed the connection. My innermost prompted me to call Amtrak and see if the Albany connection was protected. It was not. The agent asked if I had requested this connection, and if the agent who booked it had warned me that this was not a legal connection. I did not recall the initial reservation conversation, but I did recall wanting to switch in Albany. The agent advised me to change the reservation to Schenectady. I did so immediately.

I advised Mike about the problems associated with Albany. I then suggested that he could have his reservation added to my room so that we could be assured of having dinner together in the diner. Plus we could hang out in my room and discuss trains. After I reassured him that he was totally welcome, and that I wanted to do this, he agreed to it.

Then we spent a rather enjoyable 20 minutes discussing how Amtrak would accommodate us if we missed the connection. Our ideal scenario involved Amtrak allowing us to stay on the Adirondack to NYP so that we could be accommodated in a hotel in Manhattan. Then we could ride out to Coney Island, ride the Cyclone, eat at Nathan's, and return to Penn to board 49 back to Cleveland and Chicago a day later. Neither one of use were in a big hurry to get home since we enjoying ourselves on the trip.

After an afternoon ride on more Metro trains and a commuter train, we went to the steak house that I had discovered. The staff was very courteous, and the food enjoyable. We shared stories of our favorite train rides. A couple of us had ridden in the Cab. Piotr's ride on the buffers on the outside of a Polish express train took the cake though.

Mike and I walked over to the Marriott to solidify our plans to share the sleeper and change Mike’s reservation to reflect a change at Schenectady. In addition, he checked out my room, and then I rode the Metro over to check out his Residence Inn. We agreed to have breakfast at my hotel the next morning. Since I am a Marriott rewards member, I wanted to scope out future hotel locations in Montreal. Then I returned to my Hotel to watch some Canadian Football before falling asleep.

Chapter 6: Saturday, July 22, 2006

After breakfast, Mike and I walked over to Central Station so that we could have our Amtrak tickets changed to reflect the changes in our reservations. A very professional VIA agent explained that since our tickets had been issued in the U.S., she could not change anything. She reassured us the correct info was in the computer. We were instructed to get the tickets changed in Schenectady.

We met with Kevin and the gang, rode the Deux Montagnes line, and then finished with the Metro. We had about 3 hours until the final ride on a commuter train. I returned to my hotel to eat lunch, and take a nap. I rejoined the group for the last ride in Montreal. During this ride we were discussing dinner arrangements. One of the crew overheard us and recommended an Italian place near Mike’s hotel. Mike’s hotel concierge confirmed the location of the restaurant, and thus our dinner plans were made.

The restaurant was located in a building that also housed an AMC movie theater. During a trip to the men’s room, I caught a whiff of buttered popcorn. I decided to see a movie after dinner. As with the rest of the trip, the movie times worked out perfectly. I saw “My Super Ex Girlfriend.” I returned to the hotel once again by subway.

Chapter 7: Sunday, July 23, 2006

Since we had enjoyed breakfast so much on Saturday, Mike and I again had breakfast at the Marriott. Both mornings, the breakfast was very good. However, the service on Sunday was hindered by the fact that the headwaiter, who had been left in charge, was intent on making one of his lazy coworkers work harder. We were assigned the lazy coworker, and the headwaiter watched passively as we received poor service. This really annoyed me because I had given a nice tip the day before.

Check out was smooth, and we had another quick walk over to Central Station.

Chapter 7.1: Amtrak Train #68, ADIRONDACK, Montreal, QC to Schenectady, NY

Mike lined us up for a pre-board, and we tried to get on and save seats for the others, but they were put in a different car since they were going to New York. Our car was much less crowded than the other car, so Mike and I did not have to share seats with other passengers. We both claimed a seat that gave us a full window, which left one set of seats between us. A lady (forgot her name) sat here. During the trip the three of us developed camaraderie as she learned more about railroading and rail fans.

We left Montreal on time, and made it on time to the border. At some point the lounge car attendant made a call announcing that the snack car was now open for a brief period before the border check. Passengers, myself included made a beeline for the snack car. As I made my way to the snack car, the attendant warned us not to try to sneak into line at the last minute.

I had been standing in line a few minutes and was now about 3rd in line. I saw Kevin enter the snack car and waved. The attendant loudly scolded him for coming at the last minute. Then he remarked that he had to “Break in my people”. As far as I was concerned this was a declaration of war since Kevin was my friend. So ensued a conversation that might normally been heard anywhere but on an Amtrak train.

Steve: “Well . . . maybe the passengers need to break you in., did you forget who you are working for?”

The attendant stared at me; I stared back until I thought my point had been made.

Steve: “Sorry to offend you, just teasing.”

Attendant: You better be, I’m from south Philly.”

Steve, “South Philly?!!! I’m from South Side of CHICAGO PUNK! What’s up!!!!”

Attendant: Don’t remember exact comment . . . but it was about the Bears and it was not positive.

Steve: “The Bears were 11-5 last year! Where were the Eagles? They didn’t even make the play offs!! If we play this year, The Bears will kick your $%&**!!! And I will come back and ride this train and earn Amtrak guest rewards elite status riding back forth between New York and Montreal telling you how we kicked your @#%%^&!”

At this point, the attendant had had enough . . . and the passengers were looking at me a little wearily. I placed my order and stalked back to my car. I texted messaged Kevin and told him that I had gotten even. Kevin got his two cents in leaving Canadian change every time he tipped him.

After this drama, I stayed out of the snack car for a few hours until lunchtime. The Adirondack worked its way along the shores of Lake Champlain, and I could see why this was listed as one of the more scenic routes in America. So if you ride on the Adirondack, make sure you are on the east side of the train out of Albany or Montreal. South of Albany, the west side provides nice views of the Hudson River. If you can’t switch in Albany, take the east side for the views of the lake, and try to have a snack at a table in the lounge car on the west side as you ride along the Hudson.

At lunch, the service was fine, and the food was good. The attendant made a point of being decent. I guess he knew I was kind of crazy. Later, he made one remark about the Superbowl, and I had to remind him about Superbowl XX, and the Eagles other loss back in 1980 to the Oakland Raiders.

The train was pretty much on time, or a little late to Schenectady. I don’t remember, but Mike and I were not sweating our connection.

Chapter 7.2: In Schenectady

We detrained in Schenectady with about an hour to wait for 49. The station here was adequate for about a wait of an hour or so. Anything longer, and it would be a drag. The ticket agent did not want to go through the effort of changing Mike’s ticket. However, he did print a copy of the reservation for us to take on the train, documenting that he was to share my room with me in the 4910 car.

Chapter 7.3: Amtrak Train #49, LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Schenectady, NY to Chicago, IL

49 arrived a little late, I did not keep notes. Lake Shore Ltd. arriving in Schenectady Sorry. But the crew was very professional. The attendant had no problem with Mike being in my room, and we settled down with no problem. We were getting hungry, and we were wondering about our first meal on the dining car service. After a while, the person from the diner came back and gave us a reservation for 8:30 PM. A little late, but this allowed us about 90 minutes of quality window watching as we rolled along the Mohawk River into the sunset. This was a really nice ride. Our room was on the left side, affording us a great view of the Mohawk, and the EB track. We met freights and overtook freights, crossing from one track to the other several times. We enjoyed every second of this.

At 8:30, we went to the diner for dinner. The service was prompt, polite, and professional. The chicken fried steak was very good. Ironically, this was the best service I had ever gotten in a diner on the Lake Shore Limited. I thanked the crew for the efforts, and tipped well. Mike enjoyed his steak too. We did not have any dining companions, so we continued to talk trains. I think I had the cheesecake for dessert. I don’t remember, but that was good too.

By now it was about 10 PM. We sat down to look out the window some more, and we were both sleepy. I crawled into the upper bunk, my first time in a viewliner upper bunk. It was great. I enjoyed the window briefly, and was off to sleep.

Chapter 8: Monday, July 24, 2006

I awoke to see Mike off in Cleveland. We were running a little late, but I don’t recall the exact damage. I returned to bed and awoke near Toledo.

I had grand plans to shower during the station stop in Toledo while the train was stopped, but the shower room was occupied by luggage. This was a bit more than a minor annoyance, but I adapted with a sponge bath in my sink before going to breakfast.

I had the French Toast, with sausage I believe. This was a good breakfast, but I will miss the pancakes. Again, the service was proficient. My dining companions at breakfast were not the friendliest sorts, but they were OK.

At this point, we were maybe about an hour late. However as we approached Chicago, I experienced what many others had to. We were stuck behind a freight for most of the way and ended up arriving in Chicago 3 hours late. So, Mike got home on time, and I got a few more hours of train ride for my money.

Chapter 9: Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed this trip.

Thanks to everybody, I enjoyed Montreal RailFest, and look forward to BARF 2007. I already got my hotel booked. So I’m ready to go!!!

Note: For the main report about OTOL Montreal RailFest 2006, please see here.

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