It’s 7:35 a.m. on Sunday, February 3, 2008, and I’ve
just arrived at Penn Station, where I will be boarding the Adirondack
on my way to Montreal, and then to Quebec City, where I will meet my
railfan friend Tom Jankowski.
I first met Tom last November, which was the last
time that I have ridden the Adirondack. Riding the Adirondack,
which featured a dome car, south from Whitehall, I explained to the
passengers onboard that when service on this route was reinstated in
1974, the Delaware and Hudson Railway procured two dome cars that
operated between Albany and Montreal. I noted that they lasted
only about one year before they were replaced with turbo equipment, and
then commented that I thought that they had been scrapped. A
young man promptly walked over and informed us that the dome cars in
question had been leased from the Canadian Pacific Railway, that they
had not been scrapped but were returned to CP at the conclusion of the
lease, and that they are still in service today as VIA Skyline Domes
8500 and 8507!
Needless to say, I was rather startled to encounter
someone who was so knowledgeable about trains, and after to talking to
Tom some more, I remarked that it would be nice if we could do a train
trip together sometime. We kept in touch via e-mail, and when Tom
told me of his plans to visit Quebec City in early February, I thought
that this would be a great opportunity for us to get together.
Ironically, as our plans unfolded, it became evident that we would not
be traveling on any trains together (he would be coming from Toronto to
Montreal and taking different trains between Montreal and Quebec City),
but we would have plenty of time together to exchange stories and talk
about our respective trips – as well as touring Quebec City during its
The Adirondack departs from Penn Station at 7:45
a.m., and how to get from my home in Teaneck to Penn Station at this
early hour was my next concern. For the last seven years, I have
been presenting the Trails and Rails program on this train, and when
doing so, I usually drive into the city. Street parking is always
available on Sundays a few blocks south of the station, but it’s not
possible to park on the street from Sunday to Thursday, when I would be
returning. So that was not an option. But the institution
of weekend service on NJ Transit’s Pascack Valley Line last October
28th provided another option, which I decided to take advantage
of. I would be catching the first train of the morning, which
leaves the Anderson Street station (two miles from my home in Teaneck)
at 6:45 a.m.
The next question was – how would I get to the
station? Again, ordinarily, I would just drive there from my home
and park either on the street or, on weekends, in the NJ Transit
parking lot immediately adjacent to the station. But again, this
would not work for me today, as the parking lot next to the station is
for permit parking only on weekdays, and while I could probably find a
parking space on the street where there is alternate-side-of-the-street
parking on Fridays only, I didn’t want to leave my car parked on the
street in Hackensack for five days.
However, a friend of mine owns a business a few
blocks away from the station, and he offered to let me park
there. So I decided to take advantage of his offer. I left
my home at 6:15 a.m., drove to his business and parked there, and
walked over to the station. With my luggage, it took me about
eight minutes to get from the parking to the station, and I reached the
station at 6:37 a.m.
I had previously purchased my ticket for the trip,
but soon, a woman arrived and proceeded to purchase a ticket from the
machine. I noted that she used the Spanish option on the ticket
machine, and she purchased a round-trip ticket to Wood-Ridge using cash
(actually, she paid the entire $2.75 fare using coins!).
My Train #2100 arrived two minutes early at 6:43
a.m. It was pushed by engine 4023 and included four Comet I cars,
of which only the second car was open. Interestingly, the consist
was identical to that Train #1605, which I took from Anderson Street to
Spring Valley two weeks ago Thursday, just to ride the northern end of
this line, now that midday service is available.
One passenger detrained at Anderson Street and four
people (including myself) boarded. There were 11 passengers on
board when we departed on time (to his credit, the conductor held the
train until our scheduled departure time of 6:45 a.m.). One
person boarded at Essex Street and no one detrained, but when we
arrived at Wood-Ridge, four passengers detrained, including the other
three people who boarded with me at Anderson Street. I found it
quite interesting that this early Sunday morning train is being used
for local commuting between Hackensack and Wood-Ridge!
When we arrived at Secaucus at 7:01 a.m., six of the
eight remaining passengers on the train detrained, leaving only two
people onboard for the remainder of the trip to Hoboken. I walked
upstairs to the rotunda, where I observed three people sleeping on the
benches, something that I don’t recall ever seeing before in
Secaucus. At first I thought that they might be homeless people,
but a few minutes later, they all got up on their own initiative and
apparently headed to their trains.
After a few minutes, I walked down to Track 2, where
my Train #6910 to New York was scheduled to arrive at 7:20 a.m.
When I reached the track level, I overheard a man complaining that he
didn’t know which track his train would be departing from. It
turned out that he wanted to go to Newark, rather than New York, so I
told him to go upstairs and then down to Track A.
As was the case when I was at the station last
night, there were several Amtrak work train cars parked on Track
B. Nevertheless, the departures board indicated that the next
Northeast Corridor train would be arriving on Track B! Well, I
don’t think so! Presumably, the train was diverted to Track A, on
the other side of the same platform.
The departures board indicated that Train #6910
would be arriving on time at 7:20 a.m., but it did not pull into the
station until 7:22 a.m. I think it consisted of nine Comet cars
(when we got to New York, I didn’t want to spend the time walking back
to the end of the train to record the entire consist), but only the
first three were opened, so passengers boarding in Secaucus had to walk
down several car-lengths to find an open door. I sat in the
rearmost open coach, #6568, and noticed that seat-checks were still in
place (as is often the practice on Midtown Direct, as opposed to
Northeast Corridor trains). Sure enough, as soon as we departed
at 7:23 a.m., the conductor came by to collect seat checks and tickets
– something that is rarely done for New York passengers boarding
Northeast Corridor trains at Secaucus.
Our ride to Penn Station was rather slow, but we
still pulled into Track 10 on time at 7:35 a.m. I had been a
little apprehensive about making my connection to the Adirondack,
scheduled to leave at 7:45 a.m., as I had only ten minutes to make my
connection, assuming that my NJ Transit train arrived on time.
But my experience has been that, being that so few trains run on Sunday
mornings, Train #6910 almost always operates on time or even early, and
I was relieved to find out that today was no exception.
For some reason, the center doors of my car did not
open, and I had to walk to the rear of the car to exit. But all I
had to do to reach the Adirondack was to walk up steps to the lower
concourse and then down to the very next platform, as the Adirondack
was boarding on Track 7. By 7:39 a.m., I was onboard the
Today’s Adirondack is pulled by engine 700 and
includes four 82000-series coaches, with a café car in the
middle of the train. I initially boarded the first car behind the
café car, but then walked out to the platform to say hello to
the conductors. One of the conductors was Tony, who is a regular
on this train and who immediately recognized me. I explained to
him that I would not be presenting the Trails and Rails program today
but would instead be traveling as a paying passenger to Montreal.
He told me that Montreal passengers are assigned to the first two
coaches, but since the café car was closed off and there was not
sufficient time before our departure to walk out to the platform and
then back onto the train, I decided to stay in my seat until after we
departed Penn Station.
We pulled out of Penn Station at 7:48 a.m., three
minutes late. After Tony collected my ticket, I moved down to the
second coach. I counted only about 60 passengers in the three
cars of the train that were open to passengers, which is a very low
number for this train. Of course, I had no problem securing two
seats to myself.
I watched from my seat as we crossed the Spuyten
Duyvil bridge at 8:05 a.m. and passed southbound Train #250 three
minutes later. It was cloudy and somewhat hazy out, but you could
easily see across the river. A few passengers boarded when we
stopped at Croton-Harmon at 8:28 a.m., with a southbound Metro-North
train boarding on the other side of the same platform.
Usually, I spend the entire time aboard the train in
the café car, but since I wouldn’t be presenting the program
today, I had taken a seat in the coaches. Indeed, this is the
first time in nearly eight years that I have traveled on the Adirondack
as a paying passenger, rather than as a volunteer with the Trails and
Rails Program. It actually felt a little strange riding along
this stretch of the route and not presenting the program!
When I got to the café car, I noticed that
Tony the conductor was talking to two passengers and explaining to them
some features along the route. I added a little commentary of my
own, but didn’t make any attempt to present a full-fledged
program. I soon went over to the café counter and obtained
a cup of coffee.
As we approached New Hamburg at 9:00 a.m., I noticed
that we were coming to a stop. Then I saw that Tony opened one
door and that two passengers boarded our train. That was the
first time I’ve ever seen that happen – neither our train, nor any
other Amtrak train, is scheduled to stop at New Hamburg, which serves
only Metro-North trains. Tony subsequently explained to me that
what happened was that these two passengers were headed from
Poughkeepsie to Buffalo. They had intended to board northbound
Train #63, which arrives in Poughkeepsie at 8:37 a.m. Instead,
however, they apparently boarded a southbound Metro-North train!
Not until the train had departed Poughkeepsie did they realize that
they were on the wrong train (I always find it hard to understand how
people find it so difficult to distinguish an Amtrak train from a
Metro-North train!)! It seems that the conductor let them off at
New Hamburg and instructed the dispatcher to inform Amtrak to have next
northbound train pick them up. Tony said to me that we would take
them to Albany, where they would detrain and wait for the next train to
Buffalo, Train #281, which departs at 2:25 p.m. (they would have a
We arrived at Poughkeepsie at 9:09 a.m. Since
I wasn’t presenting the program, I decided to step out on the platform
and take a few pictures. Our stop here lasted for three minutes,
and when we departed at 9:12 a.m., we were seven minutes late.
From here north, we began to see some ice in the river, although the
ice was jumbled and broken.
After our stop at Rhinecliff, we slowed down and
crossed over to the southbound track. As we passed by Tivoli
Bays, it was interesting to see the contrast between the flat, solid
ice on the bay to the right of the train and the jumbled, broken ice in
the river to our left.
We were 11 minutes late when we departed Hudson at
9:54 a.m. I usually detrain here but, of course, today I did
not. Three passengers detrained at Hudson, and two boarded.
Soon afterwards, it was announced that the café car was closed
for cleaning, so we all returned to our seats.
There is some make-up time built into the schedule,
so although we were late arriving in Hudson, we pulled into the Main
Track at the Albany-Rensselaer station on time at 10:15 a.m. I
detrained, took a picture of our dual-mode engine #700, which would be
removed from the train here, and walked upstairs to the beautiful new
station. I picked up a current Amtrak system timetable (for the
first time, Amtrak issued a new system timetable this year on January
21st), then walked back down to the platform.
When I reached the platform level, our engine had
been removed, but no new engine could be seen. After a few
minutes, though, engine 171 appeared and backed onto our train.
It took a few more minutes for everything else to fall into place, and
we departed Albany at 10:35 a.m., after a 20-minute stop (the schedule
allows only ten minutes).
I watched as we crossed the Livingston Avenue Bridge
over the Hudson River, with the skyscrapers of Albany visible to the
left, and climbed the winding West Albany Hill. From Albany
north, everything would be covered with snow. At 10:56 a.m., we
arrived in Schenectady. Unlike what happened last time, when we
were delayed by a freight train ahead of us and ended up spending over
an hour in Schenectady, today our stop lasted for only about a minute,
and we departed at 10:57 a.m., only eight minutes late.
From Albany to Whitehall, the scenery is not
particularly interesting, so I used the time to update these
memoirs. But when we arrived at Saratoga Springs at 11:28 a.m.,
my computer started beeping, indicating that the battery was low and
needed to be recharged. Simple enough, I thought. Each seat
in these reconditioned Amfleet cars has an electric outlet, and it
seemed to be a very simple matter of just plugging the computer in the
outlet to charge it. However, when I plugged the computer in, it
didn’t start to charge. I went to the café car, and the
same thing happened. I was beginning to think that my charger was
not working for some reason, but I decided to try one more place – the
first car. When I plugged the charger in an outlet in the first
car, it worked! It thus became clear that it was the outlets,
rather than my charger, that weren’t working right. The only
problem was that I wanted to ride in the café car for much of
the rest of the way, so I ended up plugging my computer into an outlet
next to an unoccupied pair of seats in the first car and just leaving
it there to charge. (I later discovered that the outlets on the
right side of my car actually did work; only those on the left side,
where I had been sitting, did not work.)
We arrived at Fort Edward at 11:54 a.m., 15 minutes
late, with one passenger detraining and no one getting on. But we
were 20 minutes late at our next stop, Whitehall, where again only one
person detrained, and we remained 20 minutes late for our stops at
Ticonderoga, Port Henry and Westport.
The best part of the scenery starts just north of
Whitehall, where the rail line begins to run along Lake
Champlain. This is the part of the route that I most wanted to
experience when I rode the Adirondack with the dome car last
November. However, unfortunately, because we were delayed for
over an hour at Schenectady, I had to detrain at Whitehall to catch the
southbound train, thus missing the best part of the scenery.
Today, we did not have a dome car, and the weather outside was gray and
gloomy. But I still found the scenery along Lake Champlain to be
quite spectacular. This would be the first time that I’ve ridden
this portion of the Adirondack route in nearly eight years, and the
first time in nearly 12 years that I’ve ridden it going north.
North of Port Henry, the line clings to the cliffs
at the lakeshore for several miles, curving around so tightly that at
times you could see the engine of our train from the café car,
which is the third car on the train. The train hugs the shore of
the lake, snaking through many rock cuts. This is the kind of
scenery that calls out for a dome car but, unfortunately, when I rode
the Adirondack with the dome this past November, I never made it this
Just south of Ticonderoga, at 12:51 p.m., we passed
a freight train at CP 99. This was the first freight train that I
noticed us passing, but we would pass a few others on our way to the
border, and in each case, the freight train was waiting for us on a
siding and we were not delayed at all. In fact, the only delays
that we incurred resulted from our being required to stop and protect
one grade crossing and from a few speed restrictions.
When we arrived at Ticonderoga at 12:55 p.m., the
engineer pulled the train too far ahead. As a result, only the
last car of the train (which was closed off) was on the platform, and
the conductor had to escort the three passengers who detrained here
through the last two cars so that they could get off the train.
When we arrived at Westport at 1:40 p.m., four
passengers detrained and no one got on. Then, at 1:48 p.m., at CP
131, just north of Westport, we met the southbound Adirondack, Train
#68. Like our train, the southbound train had four coaches and a
café car, but the café car was at the rear of the train,
rather than in the middle.
For the entire time that I was riding the
café car, I noticed that, in addition to the two conductors,
there was a non-uniformed Amtrak employee sitting at a table opposite
me with a radio. He was the one talking to the dispatcher and the
other train and recording the times on a chart – both of which are
normally done by the conductor. I was puzzled as to what he was
doing and why he was aboard the train, so I finally asked him. He
explained that neither of the two conductors on today’s train north of
Albany was qualified on the physical characteristics of the
route. He, on the other hand, while qualified as an engineer on
this route, was not qualified to serve as conductor because he was not
familiar with ticketing procedures. So he was the “pilot” of
Beyond CP 144 (just north of Willsboro), the route
is most dramatic, with the train clinging to a shelf about 20 feet
above the lake, passing through numerous deep rock cuts and a
tunnel. Unfortunately, it was still gray and dismal out, but the
thin cover of snow and ice only added to beauty of the scenery.
At 2:38 p.m., just south of Plattsburgh, we passed a
Canadian Pacific freight train to our left. As I glanced at the
train, I noticed that there were several passenger cars in the middle
of the train, and I caught the number of one of them – NJ Transit
multi-level cab car #7012!
The Adirondack schedule is designed so that there is
just barely enough time to get to each station between Schenectady and
Westport, assuming nothing goes wrong. But there is about half an
hour of make-up time in the schedule between Westport and
Plattsburgh. Since we were running only 20 minutes late, we ended
up arriving in Plattsburgh 10 minutes early. Thus, there was time
to get off the train and walk around a little. About ten
passengers detrained in Plattsburgh and three passengers boarded here.
Plattsburgh features a large brick station, built to
resemble a fortress. The street is on the upper level, while the
tracks are on the lower level. Originally, the entire building
was devoted to railroad uses, but today, nearly all the space is rented
to commercial tenants, and Amtrak has only one small room on the lower
level (which, nevertheless, is reasonably attractive, with an exposed
stone wall in the back). I detrained, walked around and took a
few pictures, then reboarded the train. We departed one minute
early at 2:54 p.m.
Prior to our arrival in Plattsburgh, an announcement
was made that the café car was closed and that all passengers
should return to their seats to prepare for customs. So I
gathered up my belongings and returned to my seat. I also walked
through the two coaches that were open to passengers and found that
only 30 passengers were still aboard.
We arrived at Rouses Point at 3:26 p.m., 14 minutes
early. Somewhat to my surprise, two passengers boarded here. At
3:32 p.m., we pulled up a short distance and then stopped just before
the CN Rouses Point sign. Here, we waited until our scheduled
departure time of 3:40 p.m., and then continued ahead, but very
slowly. Only after we crossed the actual U.S.-Canada border at
3:48 p.m. did we pick up speed.
At 3:55 p.m., we arrived at Cantic, which is a
border inspection station, although not a passenger stop. Four
agents came through the train, starting from the rear. I noticed
that many passengers were Canadians, to whom the agents spoke French.
When they reached me, an agent asked me a few questions and requested
me to identify my suitcase, but he did not open up anything for
inspection (even though I had stated in my customs declaration that I
was bringing in food. I observed that two passengers appear to
have been subjected to more detailed questioning, but even they were
allowed to remain onboard, as far as I can determine. I used the
time consumed by the inspection to work on these memoirs (at one point,
moving to the other side of the car, where I had discovered that the
outlets were working).
After an hour, the inspection was completed, and we
resumed our journey to Montreal. We had actually departed 11
minutes early, as the scheduled departure time from Cantic is 5:05 p.m.
Soon, an announcement was made that the café car would close in
15 minutes, so I took the cup that I had been given this morning by the
attendant and returned to the café car for a refill with hot
water. I then used the hot water to prepare a Cup-of-Soup that I
had brought along. The scenery north of the border is not
particularly interesting (the line goes through a series of rather
ordinary-looking suburbs), and it soon got dark.
Although we slowed down in places due to speed
restrictions, we didn’t encounter any unanticipated delays. When
the conductor came through to ask whether anyone wanted to get off at
St. Lambert, one couple indicated that they wanted to detrain
there, so we made a short stop at St. Lambert at 5:58 p.m., nine
minutes early. There is additional make-up time built into the
schedule between St. Lambert and Central Station, and it took us only
11 minutes to get to Central Station once we departed St.
Lambert. So we pulled into Track 13 at Central Station at 6:10
p.m., 20 minutes early. I detrained and walked upstairs where,
after getting some Canadian money from a cash machine with my ATM card,
I managed to find my way over a hotel on St. Denis Street, where I had
reserved a room last night on Travelocity.com.
My trip to Montreal on the Adirondack worked out
quite well, and now I am looking forward to traveling tomorrow by VIA
Rail to Quebec City.