Transit Adventures

The Scenic #449 Lake Shore Limited through the Berkshires to a 2 Hour Rensselaer Layover and a Musical Ride on 48/448 onto Syracuse

This is the Flagship Post of my To SYR via SPG Trip!

The freight train that entered with a caboose leading has backed into the station stops like its a passenger train, not blocking the passenger crossing. Hear a whistle at 2:33 that same freight train is now blocking views of the Lake Shore soon the Vermonter southbound enters at 2:34. The Vermonter is led by Heritage P42 #156, just like when I photographed the train 16 days ago. There is no snow on it this week. It arrives on Track 8.

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I notice an AmCop standing by the front of the Vermonter, a few people walk pass him to the pedestrian crossing. I walk up to him and tell him I’m waiting for the Lake Shore. He tells me to walk over to the platform 2 where the freight train has stopped on track 1, the farthest track. The Lake Shore should stop opposite it. I get some photos of the three locomotives for this Connecticut Southern train. The platform is the same one arrived on a few hours earlier on the Shuttle

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At 2:43 the Lake Shore Limited Comes into the station and the second locomotive (not leading the train) is another Amtrak Heritage Unit P40 #822. Were form a line. The tickets are collected and seat checks (but not seat assignment numbers) are given out directly on the platform.

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The attendant and conductor ask for parties traveling together to board first. There only a couple of groups with 20-30 of us traveling alone. I’m amused when a teenage mother and daughter come up, get their tickets collected by the conductor and the attendant asks “Where are you going?” The girl says Ann Arbor, the attendant replies “Toledo?” and hands them a seat check, assuming their switching to the bus and not the Wolverine in Chicago.

I’m second in line of the singles to board and get my ticket scanned and am handed a seat check but realize there isn’t a single set of seats available except for 2 that the attendant as very carefully reserved. There aren’t any singles going east of SYR either, they all seem to be going farther west. If I wasn’t traveling alone I would have booked a Sleeper for $70, $60 of which would have been recouped with steaks for dinner. I plop my bag on the overhead rack and put my seat check up next to a women that’s asleep, I’m not planning to sit in this seat. Walking both cars looking for an empty seat I miss the Connecticut River crossing that I was looking forward to photographing. I go up to the lounge car with a few people in it and some of the tables still messy over the Sleeper’s Lunch. The friendly attended apologizes saying “I need to clean those up.” The Sleeper lunch service has clearly just ended.

I get up to the cafe car as we pass a freight yard and soon we’ve left Springfield following the Westfield River, past the Southworth Mill through Robinson State Park. We follow a different river into the trees, Springfield leaves quite quickly and were in the woods following a river.

  • 3:00 – A town, the river comes in and out of view.
  • 3:01 – A yard full of ballast and a bunch of Hertzog Hopper Cars. See more water and more trees.
  • 3:03 – The auto scrap yard of the day, a bunch of cars with their hoods open.
  • 3:05 – Keep following the Westfield River through the town of Westfield. I here the click-clack of the jointed track.
  • 3:09 – The River gets smaller, the line feels mountainous, were climbing slowly.
  • 3:11 – Strathmore Paper Mill, I enjoy seeing our Heritage Locomotive on the curves, we keep climbing along the Westfield River.
  • 3:14 – The River looks a bit wider as were on flat land.
  • 3:15 – Pass a lumber mill. We keep climbing, the train isn’t long enough to get a good curve shot of our locomotives.
  • 3:19 – See a dam way off in the distance
  • 3:21 – pass a wide area with a siding, we cross the River and it keeps following us. Were high enough for some snow. Springfield was covered in it when I was getting of the Lake Shore to head back to New York via the Vermonter and Shuttle a few weeks ago.
  • 3:24 – See a sign entering Chester following US-20.
  • 3:26 – Siding MP-123 and lumber, then pass a CSX Freight train on the siding of mixed goods. The river crosses again, and again. This turns out to be the start of double-tracking of the line.
  • 3:29 – Pass a few old houses then the town of Chester, still two tracks, the river along the south side of the train. I switch over to sit on the northside of the car, less glare for photos.
  • 3:33 – keep climbing hear some Detroit fans (the family that boarded going to Ann Arbor) behind me happy the Yankees are loosing. We keep crossing rivers on bridges, the line still two tracks. We keep curving up the mountains. There is a neat stone bridge (I don’t get a photo)
  • 3:36 – See another stone bridge off in the distance. The now creek switches sides.
  • 3:37 – An old caboose with a railroad station sign outside of it. MP-131.
  • 3:38 – An impressive rock cut, were still climbing, on the two track railroad.
  • 3:39 – a railroad box with Middlefield, a little more snow. We keep widing our way across the creek on various bridges of the two track railroad.
  • 3:42 – MP142 and a few more houses, the town of Beckett. Were leveling off I think, I still have cell service. See Beckett stenciled on a box. The next one says Boston & Albany, we keep climbing.
  • 3:47 – Through an impressive rock cut with icicles.
  • 3:48 – A frozen lake.
  • 3:49 – Now a nice flat field through what looks like a marsh with trees, were on a plateau, now going much faster.
  • 3:52 – Houses at MP142 through Hindsale. Were slowing down now pass the houses of Dalton off in the distance in a wide valley.
  • 3:57 – pass what looks like an old depot along the tracks turned into a house.
  • We pass above Dalton and our coming into my one new intermediate stop with the next town of Pittsfield. It’s a wide valley with hills off in the distance.
  • 4:00 – pass warehouses on the double-tracked railroad, we’ve been on the left hand track the entire day.There some bare fields and hills off in the distance entering Pittsfield, another track joins us. Were coming into a town.
  • 4:02 – the conductor and coach attendant, waring a non-Amtrak regular jacket (I didn’t recognizer at first in SPG) walk through the car saying Pittsfield, anyone going to Pittsfield. We reach a small yard as we enter the station. Then an announcement, its the coach attendant’s voice.

Entering Pittsfield we pass a solar panel farm along a lake and enter an open cut into town with what looks like new rocks. We go under some streets and we slowly reach a large modern building with a fenced of platform in the base of a transit center that looks like a parking garage. There is a modern platform with a stairs and an elevator down to it. A crowd of people get off, fewer get on. We stop at 4:07 and slowly leave passing a highway. Pittsfield from the train looks like a decent sized city in the hills of the Bershires. We regain speed quickly. I see the conductors walk back, no sign of the attendant, we keep going through an open cut, with trees, passing houses.
The line is considerably faster now, through trees, even grade separated inside an open cut.

  • 4:13 – Pass a large frozen lake on the south side of the train and keep going through trees. There is then a smaller Lake and more marshland. No grade crossings yet, all bridges. Were back in a rural area.
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  • 4:17 – go through Richmond passing houses, this is last town in Massachusetts.
  • 4:20 – See a few more houses and I enjoy the quiet of the Cafe Car.
  • 4:22 – Pass Park & Storage, I’m back in New York State, I set off on the only section of Amtrak track I haven’t ridden in New York State.
  • 4:24 – a small lake and into the first tunnel of the day. I notice a second tube for a now removed second track. Its me and one other person on the Lounge car. If only it was a Superliner Lounge but at least I’m not stuck in my aisle seat.
  • 4:28 – Through the trees still along another swamp of western New York State, passing marshland.
  • 4:32 – Notice my first grade crossing in a while and enter the first town in New York State, East Chatham. Were definitely going downhill.
  • 4:34 – over I-90, the Berkshire Extension of the New York State Thruway and pass westbound #448. It left just 25 minutes late. It then hits me how ridiculously long our layover is in Albany, #49, that we combine with in Albany has only left New York 45 minutes ago, it just arrived in Croton-Harmon 3 minutes early.
  • 4:37 – follow a stream under the Taconic State Parkway. We cross it. The trees continue along it.
  • 4:39 – Pass some industry, going slower now, some grades above the same creek.
  • 4:41 – Chatham, looks like an old mill town
  • 4:42 – Pass the nice Chatham Depot old depot now the Kinderlock Bank and fenced off tracks, a rail spur diverges and another joins us. We pass backyards and the Chatham High School. The trees along the railroad continue. I’m getting uncomfortable in the booths that aren’t designed for long-term sitting.
  • 4:45 – See the last houses of Chatham. The river is still beneath us.
  • 4:47 – past some paddocks, clearly for horses and back to trees. This is followed by a wide meadow with a trailer park inside it.
  • 4:49 – A house, horses and a neat red barn.
  • 4:50 – A few more houses, one with two kids in the backyard over another grade crossing, paying no attention to the train.
  • 4:53 – Pass some MOW equipment and the houses of Niverville on the Valatie Kill that we go over. These are modest and is followed by a trailer park. See some more water and lakes.
  • 4:57 – The train shakes violently and we enter the Post Road Branch only used by the Lake Shore Limited, bad jointed rail, Amtrak doesn’t care much about this track.It’s bad jointed rail. I see the catskills off in the distance.
  • 4:58 – Announcement for Albany-Rennselear, info about #49 connection with a departure time of 7:05, we can go up to the station. This is the only long layover, get whatever you want that we don’t have on the train, mentions the coffee shop and newsstand. Re-boarding between 6:30 and 6:45. The cafe car is closed over the layover. We go by houses but no named towns. The poor jointed rail continues. I ask the nice Lounge attendant how long the first layover is, I’m told ten to fifteen minutes but to get off pretty quick. I know Albany needs its platform. We continue by trees.
  • 5:06 – We are still a bit above the Hudson Valley and notice the Hudson Line down below
  • 5:08 – see the Albany skyline and are on the otherside of the factories you see as you go up the Hudson Line to the station. I see a tray of cheesecake and drinks walking through the train, a snack for the sleepers?
  • 5:09 – slowly pass houses entering Albany. I see the Albany station, too much glare for the tracks joining us, we come in on track 1 at 5:11.

I walk up to the seat I’ve never sat in, she was asleep when I boarded and is now sprawled across both seats. I grab my backpack and my seat check and casually walk to the front of the two Boston Coaches and find an Albany seat check folded, no sign saying Reserved for Parties of two or more. I dump my backpack on the window seat and get off the train getting photos of the two locomotives from the front of the ramp down to the low-level platform (not needed for the short Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited). I get some more photos of the train and notice the escalator is now broken (last time it was the elevator). I then head upstairs with my camera and computer to take a walk and get some website work done during my two hour layover.
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I leave the station and walk over to the driveway that passes over the northern end of the high-level platform. There is a bit of a fence but its simply vertical bars to keep passes from jumping. The Adirondack #68 has already arrived 20 minutes early and will have a 40 minute layover in the station including its engine changed. This is what I see:

  • 5:25 – See the P42 engine has been detached from the Adirondack, this locomotive is switched over to the Post Road Branch. The P32 electric locomotive is backed onto a train with an additional coach for all of the ALB to NYP travelers.
  • 5:30 – hear final re-boarding call from the overpass I’m on the overpass for 449 until 6:45.
  • 5:35 – See the wheels turn slightly. Doesn’t move.
  • 5:38 – Empire Service train #255 arrives 8 minutes earlyto terminate and discharge its passengers.
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  • 5:48 – My Train #449 finally leaves it platform, I feel like I’ve missed my train watching a train leave the station, my luggage aboard. The train runs up to the Rensselear Yards and Maintenance Facility north of the station.
  • Soon the Empire Service train leaves the platform heading south it goes and picks up the former P42 Locomotive of that was pulling the Adirondack and then passes through the station where it is wyed and does complicated switching moves. I then go for a walk up to the other pedestrian bridge where photography is harder. I notice a pizza place and decide that will be dinner unless perhaps #49 has the Viewliner diner that supposedly operating on it.
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  • 6:15 – #49 is 10 minutes early and pulls in on Track A, the same place I got off #449 an hour earlier. I notice it has a Heritage Diner and another Diner deadheading at the very back of the train behind the rear baggage car.

I then walk over to the pizza place buy two two slices and a soda for $4, otherwise $3.90 for just two slices and return to the station.

6:35 – boarding and reboarding called for train 49 and 449 to Chicago. I’m finishing something using the wifi in the station (you have to sit in the cafe but others are there without obvious purchases) and head back to the platform at 6:40.

I walk back a bit to investigate the deadheading Diner that is at the back of our train. The conductor is standing there and I don’t get farther than the baggage car. Normally walking this far back wouldn’t be an issue except the escalator is closed. I then have a very long walk past the No Passengers Beyond this point sign and down to platform A. I walk slowly, balancing my pizza slices and camera isn’t easy. I also get photos of the vacant strip of gravel that was the AmStation for so many years.
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My car attendant is standing at the very end of the low level platform where a switch and a No Passengers Beyond this point sign is. She is at the rear door to the second Boston Coach. I walk through the train and find my backpack on the seat I tossed it on, it now has a pillow on top of it. I sit down and eat my now lukewarm pizza, people gradually come through my coach as more passengers who’ve originated in Albany board. The reason I want the internet in the station to update my blog is my grandmother doesn’t know how to use a computer and lacks internet so uploads will be from a quick visit to a cafe.

  • 7:05 – comes and goes.
  • 7:16 – the conductor and the coach attendant are in my car, every set of seats are taken but their plenty of singles. Still no sign of leaving. I see the sleeping car attendant walking the seven cars with a Boston Sleeper’s order.
  • 7:17 – the Maple Leaf comes through, that’s what were waiting for, there is only a single track (double tracking is in the works) between here and Schenectady. They come through, the couple ahead of us have paper tickets. There going to TOL, I assume taking the bus up to Michigan that must still requires paper tickets.
  • 7:21 – finally cross the Hudson into the sunset, the seat I grabbed has the misaligned window, I don’t care, I can do the ALB-SYR ride in my sleep. Were making good speed on this decent track that will soon have improvements.

At 7:38 we arrive in Schenectady, I hear the trap on the door to my car slam. There boarding more people to my car, one person walks up to the door of Boston Sleeper. They already have seat checks but I can’t tell if they have assigned seats. I think we leave at 7:45. I’m not chosen, still with two seats. We pull up a short ways beyond the platform. I guess were so long that were doing a double spot.
We finally really leave at 7:48. The attendant comes and has the single across from me, also going to Syracuse move over so she can seat a couple going to Syracuse together.

At that point I’m not getting anything done for my website and decide to finally walk the train. I get up and walk the seven cars to the rear coach this where all Chicago-bound passengers originating in New York are put. I’m surprised how few there are today. Most people are going to intermediate stops and Buffalo seems to be the prominent destination in the New York section. This is the afternoon-evening train upstate on a Friday afternoon.

Walking through the cafe car it feels like I’m on a totally different train than my quiet ride sitting in the car earlier with just one or two people going through the Berkshires. because its packed with people (well the crew are occupying three of the tables, no conductor is sitting in the chair in the little private office). There is a long line at the food service counter with the same friendly attendant and I have to push my through. A man has his guitars out and is strumming away. It’s too bad the Lake Shore can’t have a better lounge car. These pale in comparison to the Superliner Lounges or a dome car.

I end up sitting down next to someone wanting to day dream to the music. We start chatting and I start having a good time chatting an hanging out. Utica comes and goes at 9:01, there are definitely quite a few people getting on and off. We finally leave at 9:07. I call my grandmother and dash back to my seat to put my stuff away and pack my backpack. I tell my seat mate I won’t be back and to feel free to use both seats.

I have a final, nice hour hanging out. Like evening chat on my trip on the California Zephyr I again wish I was on the full overnight ride and would probably have stayed up all night chatting with newly found friends.

I track the train with my iPhone and head back to my seat when were getting close. We arrive in Syracuse 15 minutes late at 9:56. I get walk off, give a final wave to the folks I was hanging out with in the cafe car. On the platform is a huge crowd waiting to board. There about thirty Amish all in line (the largest number of Amish I’ve ever seen boarding at one station). Tickets are getting collected on the platform. I walk down the ramp and out of the station where my grandmother is waiting in her car. I can’t convince her to let me drive (her night driving is quite suspect). We have left the station before the train leaves at 10:13 (a full 32 minutes late).