Superstorm Sandy

Crowded Empire Service train #280 from SYR to SDY for the northbound VIA Adirondack

This is the first post in a multi-part series about a going home from Syracuse via Port Henry on the Adirondack to run the VIA equipment borrowed by Amtrak over Thanksgiving to provide an increase in capacity after Superstorm Sandy.

A few weeks ago I decided I would spend an extra day in Syracuse and take the train back home on Monday. The plan wasn’t for a just a regular trip but a day on the rails, finally stopping in Utica for a few hours and then Albany and Hudson with the goal of seeing the southbound Lake Shore Limited sections in Albany and then photographing the New York sections only in Hudson. This trip would also give me the full AGR points quafecta for the day in my quest for Select+ status for next year. Incredibly all the trains were still in the $60 low bucket just 2 weeks before (but I could only get a 10% NARP discount since it is a blackout date on the I Love NY one). My plans though had to change when I read about this: Amtrak borrowing VIA equipment on the Adirondack including a Park Car for food service. I just had to ride this extremely unique experience even just up as far as Port Henry, the best you can do on a day trip. The change wasn’t cheep though because Amtrak doesn’t have a combined fare for SYR-SDY-POH so I paid $50, my ticket home was a little over $60 that I will milk into a full quafecta and a day trip to Philly on Thursday going on clever short train trips Tuesday and Wednesday mornings by buying a POH-YNY-NYP-NWK-PHL multi-city ticket over four days with 23 hours between all segments.

Monday morning came and I drove (my grandmother as the passenger) to the train station. It was clearly not a normal morning. I pull up to the station at 6:40 for train #280 (Departure time of 6:55am). There is a massive blob of students outside clearly waiting for a CENTRO bus. Inside the station I stop at the men’s room but it’s so disgusting from a night of heavy use from overnight Greyhound passengers I decide to wait for the train. I stop at the QuickTrak machine and see someone scan the barcode on her phone for an eTicket (it works), I’ll have to try it sometime. The Amtrak waiting room is packed. I go up to the platform and watch a CENTRO coach bus to Suny Oswego board all the students waiting on the platform. The station has a single PA system so bus announcements are heard on the upper level Amtrak platform. A Greyhound bus is leaving to Watertown and other points north: It’s running two sections, one to another SUNY only and one to Watertown and other points. The platform is packed. A freight train passes in the dawn but I don’t try for photos.

At 6:55 we get the announcement for Amtrak 280 on the crowded upper platform. With ticketed passengers only on this train, no visitors. The train comes in at 6:58 and a good fifteen people get off as I head to the back for the intermediate car. This seems like a huge number for this early morning train since the train leaves Niagara Falls at 3:40am and Buffalo at 4:18am. It’s clearly the end of the Thanksgiving travel rush. Up front the conductor has opened anther car of what seems like a normal length 5 car train. I’m the car closest to the cafe, always used as the intermediate car (and the only door opened for a few of the lesser stops). The crowds boarding mean we finally leave at 7:09 into the dawn. The conductor comes as I get a hand written seat check for my intermediate stop.

It’s starts snowing again as we go trough the large yard east of Syracuse. Snow on the Adirondack that would add a little to today’s VIA trip.

We get to Rome at 7:49 with someone getting off and a conductor walking through, waking everyone up to make all seats available. The conductor tells everyone boarding single seats only. I get a seat mate. I don’t know the last time this has happened before Albany on a regular Empire Service train. There are New York passengers boarding my car at this small intermediate stop and one sits next to me.

At 8:04 we get to Utica and another crowded platform. My original plan for the day was to make a 3 hour photo stop here but VIA on the Adirondack changed those plans. It’s one of just two stops on the Empire Corridor I haven’t visited. We finally leave at 8:11 because of the heavy passenger load.

I read, doze off and enjoy the views of the Mohawk river. It’s a ride I’ve done numerous times. The car is completely quiet, most people napping although the lights are on. Tired from early mornings leaving Thanksgivings spent with family to return back to normal life of work and school.

At 9:11 arrive at tiny Amsterdam, for 3 passengers a stop in town, on the edge of the Mowhawk River, 15 minutes late. 18 to SDY. There a lot of people getting off in Schnectedy. I notice the conductor walking through and putting green seat checks to mark empty seats after Schenectady, including mine. Another conductor comes through to collect our SDY seat checks. Train 280 isn’t fully sold out but at a very $79 high bucket Alb to NYP. It has stopped snowing and there is minimal accumulation. I get up and try not to wake up my seat mate but do. We arrive at 9:30 as I walk down the platform with another relatively long stop with plenty of passengers to board. The locomotive is beyond the end of the platform so no photo. I do notice the first car of the six car train is closed off, saved for Albany.

The ‘temporary’ station house is crowded as I descend into it and see the agent piling bags (not charging or tagging) for Montreal-bound passengers (there a good 10 to 15 of us). She tells them to come back at 11:15 in the baggage area. I use the clean but tired restroom and decide to sit and read in the crowded waiting room until 10:20 to photograph the Maple Leaf and Ethan Allen meet in the station. I stop at the QuikTrak machine and pick up my next two tickets. I’ve forgotten to charge my phone and am keeping it in airplane mode. I also discover that Quick Track machines can read and scan eTicket barcodes easily for verifying or canceling your reservation. I go and am taking a walk as I hear the Ethan Allen annouced. I head upstairs and photograph it. The Ethan Allen Express to NYC comes in 3 minutes early as the conductor has a smoke with 6 cars. It leaves at 10:26, no signs of the Maple Leaf.

At 10:30 is “Last call Head up to the platform for all aboard to the west and Toronto.” The station agent making good announcements and gives every stop including the Canadian ones. The Maple Leaf arrives with the usual 6 cars, a mix of Amfleet-I and Amfleet-IIs. I don’t bother to photograph it leaving, wanting to leave the station and find lunch. I walk down what I think is the main street and end up at a Subway, there is also a seedy looking regular sub shop but I skip that. I eat half my sandwich and realize I’m going to need something else or be stuck eating AmFood. I wander down a side street pedestrian mall and find a bunch of homey looking cafes, my kind of places to relax in between trains.

I wander back to the station about five minutes before departure. I go to the New York-bound end of the platform where three other railfans are waiting for the train, one of them is riding it, the other isn’t. The train comes in right on time and there is something very strange about an Amtrak P42 pulling a 1950s Streamliner consist of 5 coaches and the main reason for the ride, the Park car, Tweedsuir Park, in the back. The fact the cars all have Canadian Flags and say Canada on them makes the train so much more unique. There is a good crowd boarding so I stay at the back of the platform and get a few photos of the Park Car in front of the Schenectady sign before going up to board the train.