Facebook Page

New York to Montreal on the Adirondack    February 3, 2008

By Daniel Chazin,

    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 400th anniversary.

    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 Adirondack.  
    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 two-hour wait).

    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 far north.

    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 train.

    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

    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.

[ Part II  |  Top of the pageTrainWeb.comVarious Rail Travelogues ]