Transit Adventures

A Chatty, Scenic and Domed Adirondack Ride North

At 7:10 I left the house (5 minutes earlier than normal, but I didn’t know how long the customs formalities would take). The A train arrived before I had a chance to walk the length of the platform and at 7:35 I was getting off at Penn Station. I went straight to the Amtrak concourse, heard an announcement (prerecorded) for all passengers on train #69 to Canada to check in the podium. I walked in and see it beneath a hanging Canadian Flag, clearly the documents check-in point. I see them stamping paper eTickets and boarding passes with a stamp that says Canada. I hand over my iPhone and she grabs an old Amtrak ticket jacket, checks my passport, stamps it with ‘Canada’ and hands me a Amtrak US-Canada Service tag for my backpack including putting the number from the baggage tag onto my unnecessary ticket jacket. I immediately wish I had just handed over a QuikTrak ticket, it would have made for a better souvenir. I then need a bathroom (normally I don’t include this) and decide to try the one public restroom in Penn Station I haven’t used over on the LIRR concourse. It’s definitely nicer than the ones provided by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit and will be the one I use in the future (unless I pull off Select+ Status for Unlimited access to Club Acela, I’ll be less than 2,000 away after this trip). I walk back to the Amtrak concourse as the boarding call is made but their already two long lines before Gate 7E. I go down the Exit Concourse staircase where a friendly agent greets me (and doesn’t send me back upstairs) and tells me to go to the back. I’m the first passenger to board an Amfleet-II en route to Montreal, the last car of my 6 car train (Locomotive – Three Amfleet-Is, Amfleet-I cafe/lounge car, two Amfleet-IIs).

At 8:09 is an announcement that the train is sold out and all seats will need to be available. There are people walking the aisles and soon I was joined by a Russian woman, who was chatting with an American Voice Actor in line and they want to sit together, he sits across from her. He is is a voice actor for Porter Airlines. 8:17 we left, already 7 minutes late. We slowly leave Penn Station under electricity and see the tops of Manhattan towers lost on a misty morning. At the first siding we pass a southbound Empire Service train, and slowly go up the Empire Connection. At 8:34 we cross Spuyten Duyvil Creek and leave Manhattan, the Palisades look great with the fall foliage and the morning mist.
At 8:39 we make our first stop of Yonkers. I am trying to write a blog post about yesterday in Philelphia but fail, the river view is to captivating.
8:59 is Croton-Harmon and the Trails and Rails Volunteer comes and informs us he will have a one hour presentation in the cafe car. Going by the Harmon Diesel & Electric Shops (as old paint says) I notice a track gang working on the tracks followed by an Empire service train with four coaches overpowered by two P32AC-DM locomotives, there must be a shortage in Sunnyside. The fall colors are clearly hitting their peak in the Hudson Highlands.
I decide to go up and sit in the cafe car (an Amfleet I painted with Northeast Regional on the side) to hear the rangers commentary. There is one major issue because the windows are smaller than at my Amfleet II seat.
We slowly arrive in Poughkeepsie at 9:42 and leave at 9:45, which used to be the halfway stop to Albany and restaurant when the railway first started. They only open one door at the front of the train so the stop is longer. The Hudson never ceases to be spectacular for me. The one thing I want to see (and the reason I decide to sit in cafe) is the Hyde Park Station (which I have never noticed before) but the Rangers misses pointing it out as well. Soon I go back to my seat intending to take a nap but get distracted chatting with my seat mates.

At 10:05 we stop in Rhinecliff to a good number of people getting off.

10:25 is Hudson, ten minutes late. We finally leave at 10:28 and I notice some of the trees have now lost many of their leaves. The announce the cafe car is closed until after we leave Albany. We zoom up the fast track along the river. I notice Albany-bound passengers in my car (lacking seat checks) with about three-quarters of the car getting off. I step off and notice the train has pulled up not at the engine stop but a full car beyond it. This makes photos harder but thats why I’m getting on at St. Lambert tomorrow morning for photos. I re-board as the conductor makes his welcome announcement, telling us to stay in our seats until the observation car opens (after they collect all tickets) and not to crowd the door. The lights though are still off. At 11:08 we get power and leave at 11:12 leave, unfortunately not in the dome yet. We leave seeing trees, my Russian seat mate wants pictures crossing the Hudson. Eventually she and the man across from us move to sit together on the right side of the train.
At 11:30 they announce the done is open. I walk up and notice the front, fifth car is totally empty.
We arrive at 11:35 to Schenectady and two kids skateboarding on the platform. I spend my time in the dome meeting up with John who I remember meeting years ago as a teenager on Subway Fan Trips. He is on his way to Saratoga Springs to ride the Saratoga and North Creek tourist railway. The Trails & Rails volunteers keep their commentary going over the PA system in the dome car discussing the history and other historical information of the surrounding region.
The train stops in Saratoga Springs at 12:03 and I realize why I want to ride the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad. This scenic railway has two old ex-LIRR C1s (the prototypes for the now ubiquitous C3s, they were in Colorado for awhile, I saw them once) and their own Great Dome Car (I see John and his friend out to photograph the two domes together) getting ready to leave for a run up to North Creek on the Hudson
The train leaves Saratoga Springs and the ride becomes a bit of a scenic blur between chatting and taking pictures. I chat with many people about railfanning including Cliff from the Amtrak Unlimited forum I sometimes post on. We arrive in Fort Edward at 12:19, 8 minutes late. The southbound Saturday Ethan Allen Express soon passes us in the train yard just north of the station. We stop at the Whitehall AmShack and see Fort Ticonderoga before its AmShack followed by the new Chimney Point Bridge. At Port Henry most of the Trails to Rails Volunteers leave the train to double back on the southbound Adirondack. Port Henry is also the stop where the train is the latest from the published schedule at 25 minutes late. One stays on who is going to Montreal as an observer and keeps up a little bit of commentary. Southbound #68 is running 40 minutes late and we end up passing it not on the usual siding. The foliage is excellent, although the weather is overcast including some brief periods of rain. The dome car closes for Canadian Customs at Plattsburgh (we leave 16 minutes late at 3:28 5 minutes late) and I return to my seat at the very back of the train.

We get to Rouses Point at 4:04, 4 minutes late, the stop before the border for slow running on jointed rail.
At 4:12 see the Welcome to New York sign and a Canadian style grade crossing as were officially there. Then we see the Canadian border inspection area in Lacolle and slowly come to a stop. The locomotive then enters economy mode as I hear the first cell phone conversations from the Canadians saying their home.
At 4:20 customs arrives its uneventful but neat to hear a stamp as they stamp the passport of the Russian Lady who was sitting next to me and has now moved back. There out of my car as it really starts raining at 4:37, seeing lightning at 4:44, the lights go on and off again and we leave, passing a tiny little platform that border patrol must use (it has its own Amtrak style (Canada generally has black ones) stools) on rocky jointed rail, the worst condition of the trip. That was a surprisingly quick less than half hour customs stop.
The conductor announces the dome has reopened and I go back there in the rain. Unfortunately there are few leaks in the glass roof. We roll through fields, trees and the Montreal suburbs as I talk about the future of Amtrak with Cliff and regret I didn’t go to the AU gathering in Philadelphia that included a visit to the Wilmington Shops. Surprisingly quickly were rolling through St. Lambert (no passengers decided to get off there) at 5:56, 56 minutes early and then continue over the long bridge over the Saint Lawrence. Just as I’m getting the perfect picture of the Montreal skyline in the sunset (It has stopped raining) the conductor comes in and closes down the car. I walk back to my seat and grab my backpack. We go through the rail yards just before Central station, the lights going on and off, trying to idol the locomotive as much as possible into the station.

We arrive at 6:00pm, an hour early! Cliff and I get off the very last door making for excellent photos. The exit is at the other end of the platform by the great dome car so it is a leisurely walk finally getting pictures of the underground platforms in Montreal. They open all the doors and much to my surprise don’t make us use gab fillers for the six-inch gap between the high-level platform and the train. That must just be a VIA Renaissance Car requirement that were designed around the narrow British size gauge. Me and Cliff finally head upstairs at the Dome car and decide to meet up later for dinner.

I leave Central Station, find a TD bank (for fee free Loonies) and check into my youth hostel. I then walk over to a Metro Station to buy an OPUS card which is required for free transfers on the Longenue Transit System. This is an adventure where I realize OPUS isn’t your usual Smart Card. You can only add tickets (rides) from individual transit agencies. I assume that as long as I present an OPUS card on the bus tomorrow I can at least get a transfer encoded in it (or find a ticket machine). I end up having to buy a single Metro ride (valid for a year that I won’t use on this trip) just to get an OPUS card in an overpriced $9 transaction.

I walk over to meet Cliff for dinner at a Greek Restaurant and talking far too much about the financial situation of Amtrak before heading back to the hostel. I have a nice time having pillow talk with two random strangers, a Congolese Frenchman and a Britt in my hostel room.