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Buffalo To Schenectady, NY On Amtrak's Empire Service
Some Background On This Very Quickly Planned Trip:

  For one week around Thanksgiving 2012, VIA Rail Canada leased a total of 12 cars to Amtrak to operate on the Adirondack so that Amtrak could in turn, lease Amfleet I coaches to New Jersey Transit for the busy Thanksgiving Day holiday week. New Jersey Transit had suffered a severe shortage of usable equipment after Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy had damaged it back in late October. Amfleet I Coaches have the ability to have all doors open at once to facilitate the quick loading and unloading of passengers on commuter trains which is very important due to the high numbers of passengers that use them.
  In this day and age, the internet is the place where railfans tend to get most of their information. Amtrak eventually did put out a press release saying they were leasing equipment from Canada to operate on the Adirondack. This equipment would consist of a total of 12 cars (so each train would have 6). The equipment would consist of 8 Budd HEP-1 Coaches, 2 Budd HEP-2 Coaches, and 2 Park Dome cars that would be used as cafe/lounge cars. VIA had the equipment available since they unfortunately took a cut in funding themselves and had to scale back service of their own. So with them having the equipment available, Amtrak (which has been in desperate need of equipment for years), was happy to lease these cars for the Thanksgiving Holiday time frame. I decided after initially reading about this online through the railfan circles, that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride in a VIA Rail Park Dome car, without breaking the bank doing so! These cars are normally mainstays on VIA's premiere train "The Canadian" as well as on VIA's train "The Ocean" as well. To those of you who aren't familiar with these dome cars, they were built by Budd in the 1950's for Canadian Pacific and are round-end observation cars with a Vista-Dome in the center of the car that has 24 seats and feature lounge seating in the Observation end. The cars also feature a small galley with some tables for food service on the lower level along with a triple bedroom and 3 regular bedrooms which VIA normally sells on the Canadian but would not be available for sale on this train.
  Knowing all this, I decided I needed to find a way to go ride this while I had the chance, so I ended up using 8,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points since the trains I would need to ride are all in the "Northeast Zone" so I wouldn't need that many points to put this trip together. I would ride Amtrak Empire Service Train #280 from Buffalo-Depew Station to Schenectady, then connect with the northbound Adirondack - Train #69 and take that to Port Henry, NY. I chose Port Henry as my stop because this would allow me to get back on the southbound Adirondack - Train #68 to get back to Schenectady where I would then ride the Lake Shore Limited - Train #49 back to Buffalo that night. I planned this trip on the Monday before the actual day of the trip. This would also be my first trip with e-tickets! Amtrak switched to electronic ticketing in July of this year meaning that most trains are ticketed now electronically verses getting a paper ticket. You get an e-mail from Amtrak when you book tickets online (or over the phone) that contains an Adobe PDF file that is your boarding pass complete with a QR Code that the conductor scans with a specially modified iPhone. If you lose your boarding pass, no big deal, just print up another one. Back in the days of "paper tickets", if you lost them, you had to "buy 'em Again". You can also print up a boarding pass at a "Quik Trak" machine or ask the ticket agent in the station to print one up for you. They are still printed on the old ticket stock but they are still considered to be just boarding passes printed on ticket stock that contain the code needed for the conductor to scan. You can also still buy e-tickets at any staffed Amtrak station, and they will print the boarding passes for you on the aforementioned old ticket stock. You can also just open the e-mail on your phone and it may be possible for the conductor to just scan your phone screen showing the QR code, so it can be a truly paperless form of ticketing! This whole concept of paperless ticketing is really not new as airlines have done this for years but it's all new to Amtrak and has benefits like reduced paperwork as well as in an emergency, Amtrak is able to know exactly how many people are on the train at a given time with 100% accuracy.
  Amtrak Guest Rewards does have blackout dates during the holidays but just my luck, the 2 days before and the 2 days after this trip were blacked out but not November 23rd! My thought is not that many people are traveling on Black Friday, rather they're all out shopping for a $1200 HDTV on sale for $299 (Picture it, 1,000 people waiting for that TV and the store has 10 in stock, sounds like the makings of an interesting YouTube video!). In the end, the trip cost me nothing since I paid with points (though the tickets were going for around $200 had I had to pay for them). AGR put the reservation together under one reservation number and e-mailed me my e-ticket which I could print at home and show the conductor so he could electronically "lift" my ticket rather than having to punch a paper ticket (as stated earlier). The whole process with AGR couldn't have been easier! Every experience I've had with AGR over the years has been quite good! It is a very well-run program that if you are a regular traveler, or even if you take one big trip a year, you should join! They also offer a credit card that lets you earn points (that's where I earned most of mine). This trip would end up being a record breaker for myself as I have never before rode 4 Amtrak trains in a single 24 hour period all in the same state! I would also add 742 miles to my "Odometer" of miles travelled on Amtrak so far in my life, and what do you know, this would also be my 50th Amtrak trip since my first in July 1996! So now, I only had to wait until Friday morning for this to all happen!

Buffalo To Schenectady, NY On Empire Service Train #280:
  Due to it being the day after Thanksgiving and this being Amtrak's peak ridership period for the year, there would be a decent crowd boarding with me but not huge (likely because it was now the day after the holiday and most people spend what is known as "Black Friday" out shopping anyway). At 4:30am, Train #280 arrived with P32AC-DM #702 for power. I took a quick photo using a high ISO (film speed from back in the film days) as there wasn't enough time at this stop to set up a regular night photo like I normally do. I boarded Amfleet I Coach #82632. The consist for today's train is shown below:
Amfleet I Coach
Amfleet I Coach
Amfleet I Coach
Amfleet I Coach
Coach (My Car)
Amfleet I Cafe Car
Cafe/Business Class
  I boarded Amfleet I Coach #82632 and took Window Seat 11A and we departed Buffalo-Depew Station on time at 4:34am. This would be my first time riding this particular train. Shortly after we departed, the conductor came by to electronically "lift" my ticket. For this, I didn't even need to show a printed boarding pass since I pulled up the e-mail on my iPhone 4S that contained the Adobe PDF file that had the QR code for the conductor to scan. I pulled up the PDF file using the free Adobe Reader app and zoomed in on the QR code. The conductor was then able to scan the code directly from my phone!!! I guess there is a part of me that still wishes paper tickets were used because of the time-honored tradition of having the ticket "punched" but this system does have its benefits as I said earlier.
  With this being the day after Thanksgiving, there was very little freight traffic running on CSX so this would hopefully mean the train would maybe get to station stops a little bit early, which would mean for me...MORE PICTURES!!! If you’ve read my travelogues in the past and have seen my photography, you’ll know, I’ll always ask "Who ever said you needed daylight for photography???". Yes, I brought my tripod along for this trip because if we were to arrive early at Rochester and Syracuse which were stops before sunrise, I wanted to get night photos if at all possible!!! I decided to just relax and listen to the scanner as we had a very uneventful ride (always a good thing).  We arrived at Rochester at 5:26am, 6 minutes early. I set up the camera on the tripod shortly before arriving there and went up to the head-end and got a good night photo of the train from the platform there. We departed Rochester on time at 5:32am. I walked back to the cafe car and had a Jimmy Dean sausage, egg & cheese breakfast sandwich and a Diet Pepsi and had a very at-length conversation with the conductor discussing mostly Amtrak! I then headed back to my seat to relax and started to see visible light in the eastern sky as sunrise was coming soon. We arrived at Syracuse 12 minutes early at 6:43am now at dawn. I got a “dawn photo” of the train while passengers were permitted to step outside and smoke (I don’t smoke, these breaks are photo opportunities for me!). With a new engineer onboard (this train changes engineers in Syracuse), we departed Syracuse on time at 6:55am. As the sun was coming up, I felt the need to listen to some relaxing jazz music so I pulled out my iPod and listened to “East Of The Sun, And West Of The Moon” by Diana Krall as well as “Sunrise” by Nora Jones! Some very relaxing musing on what has been a great train ride so far. The next stop for this train would be Rome, NY which is served by all Empire Service trains as well as the Maple Leaf but not the Lake Shore Limited. We arrived there at 7:35am, and I got one quick picture (didn’t need the tripod anymore since we had full daylight now) before we departed at 7:36am, on time again!!!
  I had a feeling we might get into Utica early as well as I had yet to see a freight train since we passed one at Buffalo-Depew Station! As luck would have it, yep, we arrived early at Utica at 7:48am so more pictures! Passengers were allowed to get off and smoke as well. Utica has a beautiful New York Central station that today is known as “Union Station” because it is a true Union Station as two railroads actually use it. All Amtrak service in Upstate New York on this line stops at this station but this is also the southern terminus of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad as well. I got a few photos of their equipment parked at the station along with my train! We departed Utica on time at 7:57am. I was beginning to realize that if I’m able to get a photo at Amsterdam, as well as Schenectady, then this would be the first time I ever took a train over the Empire Corridor and was able to get a photo of it at every station stop! Having little to no freight traffic and good weather makes this possible!!!
  I had chatted further with our conductor and we arrived at the next stop at Amsterdam at 8:55am running 2 minutes early. A handful of people boarded there and I got a few pix before we departed on time at 8:57am. By now, 2 other passengers had taken my seat (I must be one of the last passengers left who actually looks to see if a seat check is over the seat before taking that seat), but by now, I really didn't care because Schenectady was the next stop (which was scheduled to be in 20 minutes) and I was getting off the train anyway so I just grabbed my tripod from the overhead rack and hung out in the cafe car. At 9:13am, running 4 minutes early we arrived in Schenectady where I would get off the train. I got a few quick pix of the train before it departed.
  A friend of mine in the area was meeting me at the station to take the ride up to Port Henry with me, so after a really good breakfast at nearby Mike's Hot Dogs (the pancakes there are absolutely delicious!!!), I picked up a couple Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi's at a nearby Stewarts Shop and my friend and I went back to the station. Train #290 - The Ethan Allen Express was in the station when we got there. Train #63 - The Maple Leaf had then arrived as well. Included in the below link are photos taken on the way here from Buffalo. My next train would be the Adirondack and would include my first-ever ride on VIA Rail Canada equipment!!!