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Montreal to New York to on the Adirondack Train #68    February 7, 2008

By Daniel Chazin,

   It’s 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 7, 2008, and I’ve just arrived at Central Station in Montreal, having detrained from VIA Train #21 that I took from Quebec City.  I will soon be boarding the Adirondack, Train #68, on my way back to New York City.  

    My train from Quebec City was scheduled to arrive at 9:04 a.m., but we actually arrived six minutes early.  I had been a little concerned about the relatively close connection, but as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.  I used the extra time to purchase a soda to take with me on the trip, and sat down near the entrance to Track 17 to await the boarding call for our train.

    Boarding did not start until 9:19 a.m., only 11 minutes before the train’s scheduled departure.  But, although each ticket was checked at the gate, there were only 30 passengers who boarded the train in Montreal, so boarding was completed well in advance of our scheduled departure time of 9:30 a.m.

    When I reached the platform, I was assigned to the coach behind the café car (passengers destined to any other station – even Croton-Harmon – were asked to sit in the coach in front of the café car).  Upon entering the car, I noticed that one pair of seats on the right side at the rear of the car had far more legroom than the rest of the seats, so I decided to sit there.  I knew that I would want to sit on the left side of the train for the portion of the ride along Lake Champlain, but the train was far from full, and I could always move to a seat on the left side of the car or to the café car if I wanted to.  I then walked down the platform to record the consist.

    Today’s Adirondack is pulled by engine 165 and includes four 82000-series coaches, with a café car in the middle of the train.  The first and last coaches were closed off, but there was ample room for all of the passengers in the remaining two coaches.  At 9:30 a.m., I heard on the scanner “highball 694,” and we departed.  The number 694 is the train number assigned to this train by VIA and is used for all communications with the dispatcher until we cross the border into the United States.

    We stopped at St. Lambert at 9:42 a.m.  Only one person got on here, but we waited until our scheduled departure time of 9:45
a.m. before we pulled out of the station.  Soon, we departed from the CN main line and headed south on the Rouses Point subdivision.  It was snowing quite heavily out, and everything was covered with snow.

    After the conductor came through to collect tickets, I walked through both open cars and found that there were 19 people headed to New York in my car (in back of the café car) and 11 people headed to Plattsburgh, Westport, Schenectady, Albany or Croton-Harmon in the car in front of the café car.  I then returned to my car, where I remained until after the customs inspection at Rouses Point.  

    Our journey down the Rouses Point subdivision was quite a contrast to the speedy ride from Quebec to Montreal on VIA.  Although we were proceeding relatively fast in some places, we crawled through the City of St. Jean, after first coming to a stop.  We stopped again just north of the border, at 10:57 a.m., so that a switch could be thrown, and our stop lasted for five minutes, during which time we were blocking a grade crossing.  We crossed the actual Canada-U.S. border at 11:12 a.m. and finally arrived at Rouses Point at 11:19 a.m.  After stopping once more so that a switch could be thrown, we came to a stop in front of the Rouses Point station at 11:22 a.m.

    Agents of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (as it is now known) came aboard the train and started their questioning of passengers at the rear of my car.  Since I was sitting in the last seat, I was the first one questioned.  Even though I had checked off on the customs declaration form that I was bringing both food and meat into the country, the agent asked me only a few questions and didn’t even question me about the food and meat.  He did tell a British citizen sitting a few rows in front of me that she would have to come to the café car to fill out a Form I-94 and pay $6.00.  The woman in front of me was Canadian and stated that she did not have a return ticket because she wasn’t sure whether she would return by bus or by train, but after asking her a few more questions, the agent moved on to the next person.  The inspection went relatively smoothly, and even though we arrived at Rouses Point 17 minutes late, we departed at 12:07 p.m., only two minutes late.  The conductor later informed me that the customs agents had remained on the train until just prior to our departure.

    Because I would have to pay roaming charges of 69 cents a minute for any calls that I made in Canada, I did not make any calls from my cell phone for the four-day period that I was in Montreal and Quebec City.  Now that I was back in the United States, I used the opportunity to check all of my messages and make a number of calls.  This kept me busy for most of the time that the customs inspection was taking place.

    Soon after we departed Rouses Point, I took my computer and moved down to the lounge car, where I remained for much of the afternoon.  I had brought along some food for lunch and purchased a root beer from the lounge car attendant.  It was snowing quite heavily when we arrived at our next stop, Plattsburgh, at 12:38 p.m.  Three passengers detrained here, and six people boarded the train.  When we departed at 12:41 p.m., we were six minutes late.

    Of course, the snow somewhat interfered with visibility across Lake Champlain, but it also created a beautiful “winter wonderland atmosphere” – especially when proceeding around the sharp curves on ledges above the lake.  And somehow, the snow did not seem to delay us at all.  

    When we arrived at Westport, our next stop, at 1:40 p.m., three minutes early, only a small area had been cleared in front of the station, and the remainder of the platform was covered with deep snow.  One passenger detrained here and three boarded, but only the door at the rear of the café car could be used.  Since all of the boarding passengers were headed to destinations other than Penn Station and were assigned to the car in front of the café car, everyone getting on or off here had to walk through the café car.  We departed Westport on time at 1:43 p.m.

    We arrived at our next stop, Port Henry, at 2:03 p.m., nine minutes early.  The allotted time between Westport and Port Henry, 29 minutes, assumes that we would take the siding at Howards to permit the northbound Adirondack to pass us.  However, it actually takes only 20 minutes to get from Westport to Port Henry.  Since the northbound train was running late today, the meet would take place further south, and we didn’t have to use the time that was allotted for the meet.

    Since we would be remaining in the station for nine minutes, I had thought of stepping off the train, but it was still snowing rather heavily, and I had taken off my heavy boots and was wearing only Crocs.  So I remained on the train while one passenger detrained and six passengers got on.  At 2:12 p.m., our scheduled departure time, I heard “highball 68" on the radio, and then we started moving ahead.  But we immediately came to an abrupt stop, then departed a minute later.

    When the conductor returned to the café car, he explained what had happened.  As the train was about to pull out of the station, a vehicle came racing down the driveway leading to the station, with the horn beeping and a passenger frantically waving her hands out of the window.  The conductor then observed the car start skidding and make a 360° turn – he commented that they almost hit the station building!  Seeing this, he radioed the engineer to stop the train, and once the car somehow made it down to the platform, the passenger was given the opportunity to board.

    Our next stop, at 2:34 p.m., was Ticonderoga, but no one got on or off here, and our stop lasted for only a few seconds.  However, just south of Ticonderoga, at CP 100, we pulled onto the siding to permit the northbound Adirondack to pass us.  The northbound train was pulled by engine 105 and had the same five cars that were on the northbound Adirondack that I took to Montreal on Sunday.  The speed limit for trains on the mile-long siding is, I think, 10 miles per hour, as it took us six minutes to reach CP 99, where we switched back to the main line and resumed our normal speed.  We had lost about six minutes, though, in the process.  

    As a result, we arrived at our next station, Whitehall, at 3:12 p.m., seven minutes late.  There was only a single path, the width of one snow shovel, that had been cleared to the tracks, but the train stopped at precisely the right place, permitting the two waiting passengers to board without difficulty.  South of Whitehall, the snow stopped and the sun even began to come out.  Now that the stretch of running along Lake Champlain was over, I returned to my seat.  Soon, I decided to walk through the two open cars and found that there were now 25 passengers in my car and 14 passengers in the coach in front of the café car.

    We made a brief stop at Fort Edward, where one person boarded, at 3:43 p.m., and we proceeded ahead to our next stop, Saratoga Springs.  Before we reached Saratoga Springs, the conductor opened up the rear car.  About 20 people boarded when we arrived at Saratoga Springs at 4:06 p.m.  When we departed two minutes later, we were 15 minutes late.

    As we proceeded further south, the amount of snow on the ground began to decrease.  After a while, I noticed that the trees were covered with a layer of ice (rather than a heavy coating of snow) and there was only a thin layer of snow on the ground.  The ice-coated branches gleamed in the sunlight, and I tried to record the sight by taking a picture.

    There is about half an hour of make-up time built into the schedule between Saratoga Springs and Schenectady, so even though we left Saratoga Springs 15 minutes late, we were 15 minutes early when we arrived at Schenectady at 4:35 p.m.  Since I knew that we would be here for a while, I put my boots back on and walked outside to the platform.  Soon, an announcement was made that Train #285 to Niagara Falls would be arriving in a few minutes.  Since there would be trains on both tracks at the station, passengers were asked to make sure that they boarded the correct train.

    Train #285 pulled into the station at 4:50 p.m., five minutes late, and departed two minutes later.  It was pulled by engine 702, one of Amtrak’s 18 dual-mode engines that generally do not venture far beyond Albany.  We departed on time at 4:53 p.m. and headed for Albany, where we arrived on Track 2 at 5:14 p.m., 16 minutes early.
    Not only had we arrived early, but our train is scheduled to spend half an hour in Albany.  We would not be leaving until 6:00 p.m., so I decided to take the escalator upstairs and walk around the station for a few minutes.  Soon, I decided to return to the train, but I found that the doors to the staircase and elevator that lead down to the platform were locked, and the escalator was still running up.  However, in about five minutes (at about 5:30 p.m., our scheduled arrival time in Albany) an attendant came and reversed the direction of the escalator, thus permitting passengers to use it to descend to the platform.  I went down to the train and observed that our engine had already been replaced by dual-mode engine 717.  I then reboarded my car.

    I was getting a little hungry, so I took out a package of smoked turkey that I had brought along with me and ate it with some crackers.  I also drank the bottle of soda that I purchased in Montreal.  In the meantime, Train #291 to Rutland pulled into the Main Track at 5:38 p.m. and departed ten minutes later.  As I finished my dinner, we departed Albany on time at 6:00 p.m.  It was now completely dark out, so I wouldn’t be able to see anything during our trip down the Hudson River to New York City.
    Soon, I decided to move back to the café car, where I obtained a cup of tea and continued working on these memoirs.  We proceeded ahead at full speed to Hudson, from where we departed at 6:26 p.m., just one minute late.  Everything seemed to be going fine so far.

    But then, about 6:40 p.m., I heard a conversation on the conductor’s radio indicating that Train #48, the Lake Shore Limited, which was ahead of us, was having some problems.  We had just passed beneath the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge and now slowed down to a restricted speed, which meant that we could not exceed 15 miles per hour.  It should have taken us less than five minutes to cover the remainder of the distance to Rhinecliff, but we did not reach the Rhinecliff station until 6:59 p.m.  When we departed from Rhinecliff at 7:01 p.m., we were 15 minutes late.  

    Sitting in the café car, I was aware of what appeared to be the nature of the problem.  However, no announcement of the reason for the delay was made to the rest of the passengers until 7:09 p.m., when the conductor announced that “we are going on restricted speed here because of a disabled train in front of us, and hopefully they will fix the problem and we will be able to move ahead at normal speed.”  At 7:30 p.m., we passed a detector that indicated that our speed was 17 miles per hour.  In the meantime, I walked through the train and found that there were about 95 passengers aboard, with 40 in the first open coach, 10 in the café car, 35 in the next coach, and only 10 passengers in the rear coach.

    Then, at 7:38 p.m., an announcement was made that we just got a clear signal in the engine and that we would now be proceeding ahead at full speed.  It turned out that the problem had not been the train ahead of us, but rather the signals.  It seems that the signals were knocked out by a storm, so that there was no signal shown in the cab (this stretch of track is equipped with cab, rather than wayside signals).  In the absence of a signal indication, the train must proceed at restricted speed, and that turned out to be the real reason why were going so slowly.  The mention of the train ahead of us was simply to warn the engineer that he should be alert because there was a train ahead, but the reason for the restriction was the lack of signals, rather than the train itself.  (It appears from the announcement first made by the conductor that he himself initially misunderstood the reason for the speed restriction.)

    Finally, at 7:47 p.m., we pulled into the Poughkeepsie station.  It had taken us 46 minutes to cover the 16 miles between Rhinecliff and Poughkeepsie, which we are scheduled to cover in only 15 minutes.  When we departed one minute later, we were 47 minutes late.

    I now looked at my NJ Transit Pascack Valley Line schedule to see what train I would be able to take back to the Anderson Street Station in Hackensack.  There is an 8:30 p.m. departure from Secaucus, with the connecting train leaving Penn Station at 8:11 p.m.  Even were our train on time, I couldn’t have made this connection, since Train #68 is not scheduled to arrive at Penn Station until 8:25 p.m.  However, I was hoping to catch the following train, which departs Secaucus at 9:35 p.m., with the connection from Penn Station leaving at 9:18 p.m.

    Now that we were running 47 minutes late, though, even if we lost no more time, we would arrive at Penn Station at 9:12 p.m.  That would still give me enough time to make my connection, but if we lost any more time, I wouldn’t make it and would have to wait an hour for the next train – something which, at this point, I was not looking forward to doing.

    We proceeded ahead to Croton-Harmon, where we arrived at 8:29 p.m. and departed one minute later.  Now, we were 52 minutes late, and if we don’t make up any time, we will be arriving at Penn Station at 9:17 p.m. – probably too late for me to connect to another train leaving just one minute later.  However, I know that there is five minutes make-up time built into the schedule, so it is still possible that I might make my connection.  We’ll just have to see.  In the meantime, it was announced that the café car was closed, but all that meant was that the food service counter was closed.  Passengers were permitted to remain in the car, and I chose to stay for a while longer.

    Our next stop was Yonkers, where we arrived at 8:47 p.m.  When we departed a minute later, we were 51 minutes late.  If we don’t make up any time (or lose any time), we would arrive at Penn Station at 9:16 p.m., which would be a really close call for my 9:18 p.m. train.  

    We proceeded ahead and didn’t come to a stop, as often happens, before reaching the Spuyten Duyvil bridge, where we switch from Metro-North to the Amtrak line to Penn Station.  We crossed the Spuyten Duyvil bridge at 8:54 p.m. and proceeded down the west side of Manhattan without interruption.  As we passed the George Washington Bridge, whose string of lights glistened in the darkness, I decided to return to my seat, get all my belongings together, and prepare to detrain immediately upon our arrival at Penn Station.

    As I was repacking my suitcase, a woman came over to the luggage rack and attempted to take down a very heavy suitcase on the upper rack.  After assisting her in this effort, I asked her where she had boarded the train.  She replied that she had gotten on in Montreal, but that she had come from Ottawa, where she caught the first VIA train of the morning – Train #30.  This train departs Ottawa at 6:50 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive at Central Station in Montreal at 8:38 a.m.  However, she told me that they passed through an area of heavy snow and that, as a result, the train was delayed and she arrived in Montreal with only about five minutes to spare before the Adirondack departed!

    We continued proceeding down the west side of Manhattan, and we headed straight into Penn Station without interruption, coming to our final stop on Track 5 at 9:11 p.m.  We were 46 minutes late, but we had made up five minutes since we departed from Yonkers.  I now had seven minutes to make my connecting NJ Transit train, and thus was confident that I could make my connection without having to rush.

    I detrained, walked upstairs, and noticed that my connecting North Jersey Coast Train #3287 would be departing from Track 1.  So I went down to that track and boarded the first car of the train, where I was able to stow my suitcase in a small niche at the back of the car.  Tonight’s Train #3287 consists of nine Comet cars, including no fewer than three cab cars, with the first five cars on the train all being Comet V cars.  We departed at 9:19 p.m. and arrived in Secaucus at 9:28 p.m.

    I went upstairs and then immediately down to Track H, where my Pascack Valley Line Train #1645 arrived on time at 9:35 p.m.  It was pulled by engine 4012 and included five Comet I and IB cars.  I boarded the last car on the train but noticed that all forward-facing seats in that car were occupied by at least one passenger, so I moved to the next car.  There, all of the seats (even the rear-facing seats) were occupied by at least one passenger, and I noticed that the conductor had opened the third car from the rear, so I walked into that car, where quite a few seats were available.

    I was actually amazed that this train – which did not exist prior to last October 28th – carries so many passengers (I would estimate that there were at least 100 passengers onboard).  Previously, there was a long gap between the 8:30 p.m. departure and the next train, which did not leave until 11:05 p.m.  The 9:30 p.m. train obviously satisfies an important need – and it certainly proved very convenient for me tonight!

    We departed one minute late at 9:36 p.m. and arrived at the Anderson Street station at 9:55 p.m., two minutes late.  As I detrained, I heard the conductor announce that this was the northbound train to Spring Valley.  The reason for the announcement soon became clear – there were four passengers waiting on the platform, but they were waiting for southbound Train #1632, which was scheduled to arrive at the Anderson Street station at 9:59 p.m., after passing our train at the Cole siding just south of North Hackensack.

    As I walked back to my car parked several blocks away, I observed Train #1632 heading south with Comet I equipment (the train was obviously running just about on time), followed very closely by a deadhead train with Metro-North Comet V equipment.  These are the first southbound trains on this line after the evening rush hour (a complaint of some riders is that there are no southbound trains departing Anderson Street between 4:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., but the intensity of northbound train service during the rush hour makes this very difficult to achieve).  I drove back to my home in Teaneck, arriving there about 10:15 p.m., thus concluding a very enjoyable rail trip to Montreal and Quebec.  Everything worked out exactly as planned – I made all three of my close connections, and I had a great time in general!

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