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Albany To New York, NY On Amtrak's Empire Service
  I woke up around 4:50am as today I would be riding a train down to New York's Penn Station from Albany and would also make a return trip. This would end up being what I like to call a "trip within a trip" of sorts! Not long before this trip started, I was contacted by my good friend Richard Heise (name used with permission) who is an engineer for Amtrak. He wanted me to ride two trains he would be running, so I bought tickets to ride Empire Service Train #250 to New York for $42.00 and used 4,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards Points for the return ride back to Albany on Train #281.
  I arrived at the Albany-Rensselaer Station around 5:50am and waited in a very long line to board the train. The boarding process started around 6:00am and so I walked down to the platform and briefly talked to my friend before boarding my coach. The consist for today's train is shown below:
715 P32AC-DM Power
82980 Amfleet I Coach Coach (My Car)
82774 Amfleet I Coach Coach
82766 Amfleet I Coach Coach
82687 Amfleet I Coach Coach
48194 Amfleet I Cafe Car Cafe/Business Class
  I was seated in Amfleet I Coach #82980 which was formerly a Cafe Car that was converted into a Coach using American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (Economic Stimulus) Funds in 2011. You would never know this car used to be a Cafe Car by its interior which was that of a standard 72-seat Capstone Coach. An announcement was quickly made stating that the train was sold out! I didn't have a passenger sitting next to me in my Coach once we got out of Albany but I could see the train was very busy, and the pundits say nobody rides trains??? They must not live in Albany! At 6:15am, we departed Albany-Rensselaer Station on time. Shortly after departure, I plugged in my phone only to find out the AC outlets weren't working. This was quickly fixed by the assistant conductor who flipped on the proper breaker to make them work. With the train leaving as early as it did, there of course was no daylight (yeah, it's almost winter, bummer!) which prevented any photography for awhile.
  I got out my Yaesu FT-270R radio which is a ham radio (I'm a Technician Class Ham) that picks up the railroad band and has better range than a typical scanner. I would listen to my radio as well as play some Sudoku puzzles as well as check out the Maps app on my iPhone 5S to figure out where I was since we had no daylight and I couldn't see much from outside the train as all the lights were on in the coach. We made our first stop at Hudson, NY at 6:37am and departed at 6:40am, on time. By now, I pulled out my iPod and listened to a song that was probably more fitting than any other for the territory I was covering, "New York State Of Mind" by Billy Joel! Being a life-long New Yorker, this song is my anthem, and though I wasn't riding a Greyhound bus as the song depicts, it was the same territory (the Hudson River line) so it all made sense to me! I would also listen to some smooth jazz music which is so relaxing to listen to while on the train. I think most of us have a certain kind of music that we love to listen to while riding on a train. With music being such a huge part of my life, there are many forms that sound great to me, depending on where I am in the country!
  We made our next stop at Rhinecliff, NY Station at 7:00am and departed at 7:02am, running 1 minute late. This Empire Service train operates between Albany-Rensselaer and New York's Penn Station, so there is no actual food service on the train though there is still Business Class seating offered. As we moved further south, we finally saw first light of the morning and of course I wanted to start taking pictures as soon as possible! The first of many famous bridges I would see would come into view just before arriving at our next stop of Poughkeepsie, NY. We would arrive at Poughkeepsie at 7:16am and would depart at 7:18am, running 3 minutes late. The first two bridges were the old New Haven Maybrook Line Bridge which is now known as the "Walkway Over The Hudson" which I walked myself in 2011 on my Christmas trip that year. The second bridge is the famous Franklin Delano Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge which is a regular road bridge.
  At the start of this trip, we were riding on tracks operated, dispatched and maintained by Amtrak (on paper, they are technically owned by CSX but on long-term lease to Amtrak as CSX has its own mainline on the other side of the Hudson, called the "River Subdivision" also known as "The River Line"). As of Poughkeepsie Station (technically CP-75 which is just north of it), we were now riding on tracks owned by Metro-North Railroad and would do so until CP-12. Of course, all of the railroad we are riding on was part of the historic New York Central Water Level Route, which hosted some of the most famous passenger trains of all time including one of my personal favorites "The 20th Century Limited". This mainline ends in the heart of New York City at Grand Central Terminal and it's where we would be heading today if this was prior to April 1991 as since then Amtrak has operated all of its trains out of Penn Station.
  I now had enough daylight to start taking pictures, something you know I love to do on these trips! I could now see the famous United States Military Academy at West Point from across the river, where a few former U.S. Presidents were educated! We also would go through Bear Mountain State Park and pass the beautiful Bear Mountain Bridge. We made our next stop at Croton-Harmon, NY at 7:54am and would depart at 7:56am, 1 minute late. Near the Croton-Harmon station are lots of Metro-North electric commuter trains that were parked in the yard there as it's Saturday and not as much service would be running today as on a weekday. As we continued to move further south, you could now start to see the New York City skyline from the train. We would pass under the Tappan Zee Bridge which carries the New York State Thruway (I-87) over the Hudson. This bridge is in the middle of being replaced with a new Tappan Zee Bridge being built right next to it. It's a multi-year project and some of the supports for it are under construction now. Per checking the Maps app on my phone, looking across the Hudson, we were now seeing the state of New Jersey! We made our next stop at Yonkers, NY at 8:18am and departed at 8:19am, running 3 minutes late. Not all Empire Service trains stop at Yonkers (the train I'll ride back to Albany later today doesn't), but this one did.
  Shortly after departing Yonkers, we would enter CP-12 and cross over the big swing bridge at Spuyten Duyvil. We were now on Amtrak-owned trackage for the rest of the ride to our final destination of New York's Penn Station. As I said earlier, the mainline we were on, the Metro-North, would continue on its way to Grand Central Terminal. We would now pass under the George Washington Bridge and eventually start paralleling the West Side Highway before entering into a series of overbuilds and tunnels which would take us directly into Penn Station which is physically located in the basement if you will, of Madison Square Garden. It's at the very end of the ride in the tunnels that the train operates on third-rail electric power rather than diesel power which is why these trains operate with dual-mode GE P32AC-DM locomotives. At 8:40am, we arrived at Penn Station, 10 minutes early! As you can see, being a few minutes late along the route was no big deal. I must also point out that this train started and stopped the smoothest I've ever experienced in over 65,000 miles of travel on Amtrak. Our engineer today did his job and did it very well!
  I would take a few quick photos on the platform at Penn Station and after my friend took care of things he needed to do after arriving, we took a quick walk outside down the street to the nearby Am & Al's Deli on 8th Avenue to pick up breakfast. I picked up a Sausage, Egg & Cheese Sandwich and some home fries and would eat after I got back to Penn Station. We also would walk around near Penn Station so as to see the Empire State Building and the flagship Macy's Department Store which are both located nearby and I would also make a quick stop to an ATM to get some cash before heading back. I would eat breakfast after walking back to the station and honestly, that was a sandwich I'll remember probably for the rest of my life! It was that good, and by New York standards was actually very cheap! Breakfast for my friend and I cost about $15.00! If you've ever eaten most anywhere in New York City, you'll know that's a good price! I will also say thanks to Rich for picking up the tab for breakfast in addition to the excellent train ride! We only had a scheduled 90 minutes in New York before heading back to Albany so after breakfast, the boarding call would be made for Empire Service Train #281 which my friend was also the engineer for. Click the link below for a collection of great photos taken on the way to the Big Apple, and after the pix, we head back to Albany!