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By Jack M. Turner

Photos By John C. Turner


    Our first stop after picking up our minivan was Amtrak's King Street Station for a quick glimpse at the visiting Disney Christmas Carol train that was in the early stage of touring the country.  After a drive through the University of Washington campus, we drove across the lake to Kirkland to collect our checked luggage from the Courtyard Marriott.  The drive north on I-5 passed quickly until we encountered a 45 minute delay at the border due to exceptionally heavy weekend traffic passing through Canadian Customs.

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Disney's Christmas Carol Train welcomes visitors at King Street Station, Seattle
The US-Canada border from I-5

    Signs of the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics were evident all over Vancouver in the form of banners, road signs, and various construction projects.  Our early arrival time in Vancouver allowed time to drive through Stanley Park which, from past visits, is our favorite public park.  This park has something for everyone: walking, biking, and roller blade trails along the harbor, athletic fields, an aquarium, flower gardens, a children's zoo, and much more.  Dinner at our favorite Vancouver restaurant, The Old Spaghetti Factory, followed and we enjoyed the restaurant's early 1900s motif which includes an authentic trolley car in the center of the restaurant.  The location of this popular eatery is in Gastown, an historic area that today features many shops and restaurants on the city's east side near the old Canadian Pacific rail line.  

A classic trolley inside The Old Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver
A statue in front of the Vancouver skyline in Stanley Park

    After dropping off our rented minivan we had time to relax in the Silver and Blue (first class) Lounge at VIA Rail Canada's Pacific Central Station.  Our decision to check our luggage before our sightseeing foray was a wise move as we beat the crowds and were free of our bags before returning the minivan.  One word of caution: VIA takes baggage size seriously and we had to unpack one oversized suitcase we had planned to carry aboard the train.  Nice VIA tote bags were provided to us which simplified this task.  In addition to checking luggage for the baggage car, we were able to drop off the luggage we wanted placed in our room and it was waiting for us when we boarded the Canadian.  An outdoor waiting area was also popular with first class passengers as a musician performed a variety of ballads and complimentary lemonade and cookies were offered.  

Vancouver's Central Pacific Station
VIA's first class Silver & Blue waiting area in Vancouver


Inside Pacific Central Station

    We heeded the first boarding call and made the shortest possible walk to the train as our car was located at the rear of the train, a few steps from the waiting area.  Kokanee Park, one of VIA Rail's 14 popular Park cars, would be our home for four nights.  Our accommodations were in Drawing Room "A", designated by VIA as a triple bedroom since it contains three beds.  Spacious as rail accommodations go, the drawing room contains a cross-wise sofa that pulls down into a bed, two high backed chairs that are stowed under the beds at night, a second lower bed stowed in the wall by day, and an upper berth that pulls down from the ceiling.  An enclosed toilet annex, an in-room sink, and lots of luggage storage space are also included.  Our room was the closest room to the rear of the train; just behind our room was the Mural Lounge, a popular gathering spot; followed by the Bullet Lounge, where passengers can visit and watch the scenery from the rear of the train.

Upper and lower beds parallel to the window in our drawing room on VIA Rail's Canadian


The sink and vanity in our drawing room


The crosswise bed in our drawing room in Kokanee Park
Switches controlling lights and the fan in our drawing room - all in working order

    After organizing our carry-on bags, we made our way to the 24 seat dome atop the Kokanee Park for a bird's eye view of our departure.  As we departed Vancouver at 8:40pm we passed the VIA Rail shops and coach yard and paralleled the route of Vancouver's Skytrain light rail line.  Champagne and fruit juice was offered to passengers in the Park car followed by hors d' oeuvres.  We passed New Westminster and curved onto the Fraser River bridge at 9:10pm with the massive Skytrain bridge over the river on our right.  The Canadian National line along the south shore of the Fraser was busy with westbound traffic which slowed the forward progress of the Canadian greatly.  We were traveling against the flow of traffic as CN and CP employ directional running along the Fraser River lines with westbound traffic using this CN line.  The Canadian must travel along the CN at this point in both directions due to operational issues related to the track layout from Pacific Central Station.

A classic FP9 engine and Tweedsmuir Park in the Vancouver yard
Skytrain's route parallels the Canadian route through Vancouver's suburbs

The Canadian curves onto the bridge over the Fraser River with the massive Skytrain bridge in the background

    While most passengers had retired for the night, John and I remained in our perch in the dome to watch our progress east of Vancouver.  Shortly after 11:30pm the Canadian left the CN transcontinental main and curved left and crossed the Fraser River again into Mission City, the eastern terminus of the West Coast Express commuter line.  The Canadian now was on home rails as it was originally the Canadian Pacific flagship.  An hour later we stopped at Agassiz and the effects of our earlier move against traffic was evident as we were over two hours late at 12:40am.  This was of little concern as effective in December 2008 the schedule of the Canadian was stretched from three to four nights by adding about ten hours to its schedule between Vancouver and Toronto.  This would allow ample recovery time to make up delays.

    My last ride on the CP route was in 1988 when the Canadian served Revelstoke, Lake Louise, and Banff.  Memories of squealing flanges as the train navigated the curvy line at the foot of cliffs along the Fraser remained fresh in my mind for over 20 years.  The 2009 version of the Canadian didn't disappoint as the rails were singing as our train twisted along the CP.  The serenity of the dome car was augmented by the view of the full moon casting beams upon the river with the dark silhouettes of mountains across the Fraser as a backdrop.  

    At 1:05am we stopped beside a string of empty well cars in a rural area.  After awhile the headlights of a motor vehicle appeared ahead, eventually driving toward us on a dirt trail.  The truck stopped on our left and a pair of railroad men climbed out.  While one man smoked a cigarette, the other climbed over the freight cars and appeared to be inspecting our train with a flashlight.  Apparently satisfied, they departed the scene and soon we resumed our eastward journey.  I regretted that my railroad scanner was packed away and I was not about to wake up my wife to locate it.  However, being without that tool allowed my imagination to run wild as I speculated what was going on.  Satisfied that all was well, I finally trundled off to bed.

    The Canadian departed Kamloops at 7:10am as we awoke for the day.  The late night viewing from the dome car had shortened my night considerably but this could be made up once we hit the prairie.  Today there were mountains to see.  Unfortunately the good weather that had accompanied us throughout our westward train trip, tour of Oregon, and cruise to Alaska had abandoned us.  A steady rain was falling and these conditions were destined to stay with us through Edmonton.  This would limit our photography, however, good weather on our prior journeys over this line helped us rationalize that we were due for this.

    After passing through three sleeping cars we came to dining car Alexandra for breakfast.  VIA has retained the interior appearance of the former CP dining cars which have rose colored seats at tables for four and art deco etched glass partitions and lighting.  We were seated with a gentleman from Australia who was on his way to visit his sister outside Toronto.  For breakfast we enjoyed banana pecan pancakes with sausage and the meal was deliciously filling.  Back in Kokanee Park's dome we found the sight of train # 2 snaking through forests along the North Thompson River in a gentle rain to be relaxing. 

    We were glad we weren't driving as the rhythmic movement of windshield wipers would have put us into a sleepy state.  We found our copy of the Canadian Trackside Guide 2009, published by the Bytown Railway Society, most helpful in identifying locations throughout our trip across Canada.  Ordering information is available at .

    North of McMurphy the river displayed areas of whitewater as it churned along east of the railway.  An hour north of Blue River beautiful Pyramid Falls appeared a few feet east of the rails and the engineer dutifully slowed down to allow a good look as mist from the waterfall splashed upon the train windows.  Soon it was time to visit the dining car for a pleasant lunch and we each enjoyed a hot roast beef sandwich, coleslaw, and lemon square.  Following lunch we moved to the skyline dome one car ahead of the diner to play Canadian trivia hosted by Gary, a veteran car attendant.  

Pyramid Falls
Thick forests line the CN line north of Blue River

    Towering Mt. Robson was visible through the rain and fog as the Canadian turned eastward toward Yellowhead Pass.  The CN route to Prince Rupert traversed by VIA Rail's Skeena diverged from the transcontinental main line at Redpass Jct.  We left Mt. Robson Provincial Park at Yellowhead Pass and entered Jasper National Park at the BC-Alberta border.  Moose Lake and Yellowhead Lake, headwaters of the Fraser River, stood adjacent to the railroad for miles with soaring snow capped mountains in the background.

    The Canadian arrived in Jasper at 4:55pm and the 50 minute servicing stop provided time for a stroll around the town.  This brought back memories of a family visit to Jasper in the late 1990s and reminded us how much we had enjoyed the restful pace of Jasper.  During the stop, ground crews washed the windows in each car and special bucket trucks allowed the washers to clean the forward and side windows thoroughly.

Crews wash the Canadian's windows at Jasper
The Jasper station
Train # 2 at Jasper
A bucket lift is used to wash dome car windows


A CN steam locomotive displayed at Jasper
A spare Skeena glass topped car built by Colorado Railcar
Kokanee Park brings up the rear of # 2 in Jasper
A CN crew facility opposite the Jasper station

Kokanee Park's windows are cleaned during the stop in Jasper

    Departing Jasper a brown bear was spotted on the north side of the railway and her two cubs could be seen climbing a tree.  Jasper is located in a region that is teaming with wildlife as elk and deer often are seen grazing within the town limits.  Earlier deer, a wolf, elk, and a moose were seen outside our window.  The Rocky Mountains and the Athabasca River mark the entrance to (or in the case of our eastward travels - the exit from) Jasper National Park at Park Gate.  

Jasper National Park as seen from the Canadian
Jasper National Park as seen from the Canadian


Jasper National Park as seen from the Canadian
A clock on the bulkhead inside Kokanee Park displays Canada's six time zones

    On this evening we had the second seating for dinner which began at 7:45pm Mountain Time.  A different menu is presented at each meal on the Canadian, a welcome change from the sameness of Amtrak menus.  The beef tenderloin, rice, mixed vegetables, and salad were delicious topped off by smooth cheese cake for dessert.  The elegant appearance of dining car Alexandra enhanced our dining experience as we watched the passing scenery.  Sample menus for the Canadian, as well as all VIA trains, are available online at:  VIA's website,, contains a lot of interesting and helpful information including a list of active VIA cars.

    Despite leaving the mountains behind, there was ample scenery to behold.  The forests gave way to large Chip Lake which looked peaceful at 9:10pm.  Within 10 minutes the Canadian crossed a tall bridge over one of the region's many rivers.  The suburbs of Edmonton were reached an hour later and soon the backup move into the Edmonton station commenced.  Traditionally the Canadian served downtown Edmonton via a U-shaped spur line that left the main line at West Jct. and returned at East Jct.  Westbound trains made this move in the opposite order.  Eventually the line was severed and the Canadian accessed the downtown station from East Jct. which required a lengthy reverse move to return to the mainline.  Before our last trip on the Canadian in 1999, the downtown station had been left in favor of a small suburban station just off the mainline.  At the time the eastbound Canadian pulled off the main at West Jct. and backed out after the station stop.  However, on our current trip the train backed in at West Jct. and pulled out to continue east.  A crewmember explained that the prior practice was short lived due to complaints about engine noise.  

    The effects of the generously padded schedule were obvious as we arrived in Edmonton at 10:35pm, almost a half hour early.  This provided time for a few nighttime photos of the Kokanee Park before the rain that followed us from BC caught up.  Departure came on-time at 11:45pm and from the dome I could see the city skyline to the south followed by a massive oil refinery that we passed 20 minutes later.  A wonderful night's sleep ensued as the beds aboard our sleeper were very comfortable and the gentle rocking of the train made it easy to slumber.

A nighttime view of Kokanee Park at Edmonton
The Canadian pauses in Edmonton late at night

    Morning found the Canadian traversing the prairies of Saskatchewan.  The stop at Saskatoon came during breakfast and we were surprised to discover the nondescript station was located far from downtown in a fairly remote locale.  The rain had been left behind though clouds hinted that it was not too far to the west.   A 40 minute stop at Melville preceded lunch which began with the train stopped at a rural crossing waiting for a taxi to deliver some passengers who had missed the train at Melville.  I never found out whether they were boarding in Melville or had left the train to look around and missed our departure.  What I did know was that they were fortunate that VIA was sympathetic as they could have been stranded for three more days since this was a tri-weekly train.

Crossing the Saskatchewan River at Saskatoon
One of many lakes seen during passage through Saskatchewan

VIA Rail's station in Melville

    Numerous freight trains were met during the afternoon and priority usually was given to the freights though we never incurred much idle time waiting on a siding.  An hour east of Melville a large potash mine was visible to the south and others would be seen in the next half hour.  The lush green QuAppelle Valley was reached at 1:45pm and good views were made possible by the railway's elevated location.  Ten minutes later the Canadian crossed into Manitoba and crossed the Assiniboine River which would be our occasional companion all the way to Winnipeg.  The Assiniboine River Valley came into view a few minutes later and a tall trestle over the valley was crossed at 3:24pm just west of Minniota.

    Our pleasant porter, Stephane, took care of our needs throughout the first half of our journey including leaving one of the lower beds down for us to use for naps.  Generally we took turns as two of us usually wanted to watch scenery from the dome at any given time.  A power nap before dinner energized me for the rest of the day's travel.  In addition to taking care of the Park car's three bedrooms and one drawing room, Stephane manned the bar in the Mural Lounge, and kept the Bullet Lounge stocked with complimentary juice, water, cookies, and morning continental breakfast items.

Christine and John relax in the Mural Lounge aboard the Kokanee Park
Canola fields are plentiful in the prairie provinces
A typical prairie scene along the Canadian route
# 2 leans into a curve in Manitoba

A westbound CN freight at Yarbo
Crossing a trestle near Miniota, Manitoba

    Dinnertime came at 5:30pm and continued past our station stop at Portage la Prairie.  On our Canadian trip in 1999 we ate lunch while the train stopped at Portage; the new schedule had pushed this stop back to the dinner hour.  Chairs in the dining car had been outfitted with blue cloth seat covers that lent a touch of style to the Alexandra.  We had experienced the same thing on one of our cruise ship's formal nights as its chairs had white seat covers.

The station at Portage la Prairie, served by the Canadian and the Hudson Bay
Park car porter Stephane Oystryk who served us between Vancouver and Winnipeg

Entering Winnipeg

    Winnipeg was reached just before 7:00pm, over 90 minutes early.  The Park car came to a halt just outside the station train shed which was fortuitous as the northbound Hudson Bay stood two tracks over where we could line up photos of both trains.  Back in 1999 John and I made the four night roundtrip to Churchill and back on the Hudson Bay.  As the Canadian didn't leave Winnipeg until 11:30pm, we walked over to The Forks Market, a nearby shopping and dining complex that occupies a former CN freight warehouse.  Here one can find a variety of souvenirs, food products, candies, and other items.  This area is popular with locals for its outside patios overlooking the Red River near its confluence with the Assiniboine River.  After briefly returning to the train, we took a walk in the opposite direction to the Hotel Fort Garry, a former CN hotel located one block from the station entrance.  This allowed us to observe the station's green dome from the outside; inside the station the rotunda has been tastefully restored.  We also took a peek at the history-rich railway museum located on the station's second level.  A number of pieces of antique rail equipment have been well preserved by museum volunteers.  Back aboard the train a hearty contingent of passengers congregated in the dome for good conversation while awaiting departure from Winnipeg.  Once underway at 11:30pm we viewed the nearly full moon reflecting in the Red River then headed off to bed.

The northbound Hudson Bay (left) prepares to depart Winnipeg on its two night journey to Churchill.  The Canadian (right) has just arrived from Vancouver.


A CN caboose displayed outside The Forks Market
The Forks Market, adjacent to the Winnipeg rail station

The Winnipeg train station seen during our walk

A westbound CN freight seen from the VIA Rail station platform

Dining car Kent

One of two Skyline dome cars on the Canadian
The Winnipeg station's green dome appears at the right in this view of the head end of # 2

Sleeper Cameron Manor
Kokanee Park at Winnipeg
Snacks and beverages are available all day in the Bullet Lounge at the rear of Kokanee Park
A forward view from the Bullet Lounge looking at the steps to the dome

    As we traveled across Ontario, breakfast was served by our new dining car crew, Ross and Caitlyn, who had boarded in Winnipeg.  Our new Park car porter, Jeff, had already introduced himself the night before and his work throughout the remainder of the journey would be exemplary.  On board service personnel on the Canadian work either between Vancouver and Winnipeg or Winnipeg and Toronto.  All are based in Winnipeg; spare board employees can be called to work in either direction or on the line to Churchill.  

Interior view of dining car Alexandra

    The Canadian's morning stops included Sioux Lookout, Savant Lake, and Armstrong while midday stops during lunch included Mud River and Ferland.  A few more stops followed in the afternoon as train # 2 passed through a forested region dotted with small lakes, and the first hints of the rocky Canadian Shield.  The westbound Canadian passed at Tonderin at 4:17pm with the Yoho Park on the rear.  We had ridden that car from Halifax to Montreal exactly 364 days prior.

Little Jackfish River
Curving around Long Lake
A chapel beside Long Lake at Longlac
Passing a CN stack train east of Longlac

One of Ontario's many lakes along the Canadian route

Meeting a hi-railer west of Hillsport
The westbound Canadian is met at Tonderlin
A Skyline car on train # 1

Yoho Park brings up the tail end of the westbound Canadian

    A 35 minute service stop at Hornepayne came at 4:40pm and many of the Canadian's passengers walked the dusty platform.  The tiny community of Oba came an hour after we left Hornepayne.  The Algoma Central line crosses here on its course from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst but there appeared to be no lodging in this town for anyone wishing to connect from one route to the other.  During this stretch we enjoyed our final dinner on the Canadian, a sumptious pork roast with mashed potatoes, vegetable medley, and VIA's signature chocolate cake.  Remote Ontario woodlands and several lakes dominated the evening views and we eventually turned in a bit early as we would have a busy morning.

The eastbound Canadian follows the shore of one of many lakes in its trek across Ontario

A westbound CN freight passes at Jackfish
One of the Canadian's two coaches is conveniently spotted during a servicing stop
A pair of VIA F40s lead train # 2 at Hornepayne

A westbound Canadian National stack train prepares to meet VIA # 2 at Hornepayne
One of the Canadian's three Skyline domes during a 25 minute stop at Hornepayne


Alexandra is one of two dining cars on train # 2

A dwarf signal protects the rear of the Canadian at Hornepayne
Kokanee Park brings up the rear of the Canadian at Hornepayne
Our porter from Winnipeg to Toronto, Jeffrey Vernaus, beside Kokanee Par


Dining car Alexandra is outfitted with fancy blue seat covers for dinner on the final night of our cross Canada journey

Another small lake in remote Ontario

    During breakfast the Canadian turned southward at Washago then followed the eastern shore of massive Lake Simcoe.  Modest but expensive lakeside cottages dotted the landscape, no doubt a perfect getaway for some Toronto residents.  At Richmond Hill we entered GO Transit commuter territory and a few minutes later the northbound Ontario Northland Northlander rolled past near Oriole on its way to Cochrane.  Its route would diverge at Washago and head north through North Bay, Swastika, and other communities.  Soon Toronto's landmark CN Tower came into view foreshadowing the end of our Canadian rail journey as the Canadian arrived at Toronto Union Station 7 minutes early at 9:23am.

A lake in central Ontario
The northbound Ontario Northland Northlander seen from the dome car

CN Tower dominates the skyline approaching Toronto Union Station

    Toronto is a wonderful city with a huge variety of attractions such as the fabulous Royal Ontario Museum; the impressive Art Gallery of Ontario; the Hockey Hall of Fame; Casa Loma; and Ontario Place, not to mention boat tours to the Toronto Islands; professional baseball, football, and ice hockey; and enough commuter train and light rail routes to satisfy any railfan's appetite.  While a return visit to any of these would have been enjoyable, it was time to head homeward as we had arranged a vehicle from National Car Rental for a leisurely drive to Buffalo.  We had chosen the drive rather than a night in Toronto as it would break up our trip back to Florida and enable us to take the Lake Shore Limited rather than an all day ride on the Maple Leaf.  Either option would require an overnight in New York City or Albany so the choice for comfort won out.  

    Just west of downtown Toronto we exited the freeway and took a local highway that paralleled the shore of Lake Ontario passing beautiful homes and many mansions along the route though Mississauga and Oakville.  John and I discovered this route last year when driving from Buffalo to Toronto as a way to bypass freeway traffic jams.  This time the drive was more enjoyable as we weren't racing the clock to catch a train.  After a couple of hours, which included a brief stop to view Niagara Falls, we reached Buffalo and checked into the comfortable and convenient Hilton Garden Inn opposite the Buffalo Airport.  This hotel offers nice large rooms and is within an easy drive of several fine restaurants.  Returning a rental car is easy since the airport is so close and, in the morning, we were able to catch the hotel courtesy van for a short ride to the Amtrak station in Depew.  

2/IMG_4458.jpg   Niagara Falls

    The eastbound Lake Shore Limited arrived a few minutes early and we settled into Bedroom B in Viewliner sleeper 62007.  The name Colonial View still appeared on the inside of the car's end doors but had been removed from the nameplate outside.  This recent change by Amtrak, which has also removed most Superliner II cars' state names is a dumb move as naming sleepers is a long tradition that gives first class cars personality and helps passengers differentiate their car from other sleepers on the same train.  Only the Northern Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads used only numbers on their sleepers in pre-Amtrak days; thankfully the cruise lines still name their ships.

    Departure from Buffalo was on-time at 8:40am and an hour later the stop at Rochester was made.  Our bedroom had a chair fixed in place next to the window opposite the couch similar to most Superliner deluxe bedrooms.  The sleeper had great air conditioning which was an improvement from our Viewliner sleeper on the Crescent.  We reached Syracuse 20 minutes early which gave me time to stroll the high level platform and photograph the train as an eastbound CSX freight snuck past on the adjacent track.  The Syracuse station is an attractive modern edifice which appears to be used for intermodal purposes.  Nearby the Syracuse Sky Chiefs baseball stadium was being prepared for an evening ballgame.  Outside our sleeper I overheard two passengers stating that it was cold which set off my internal alarm.  Indeed they must have complained to the car attendant as shortly after departure the sleeper began to warm up.  

2/IMG_4470.jpg Eastbound Lake Shore Limited at Syracuse  
2/IMG_4475.jpg Eastbound Lake Shore Limited at Syracuse  


Eastbound Lake Shore Limited at Syracuse  

    Lunch reservations were taken since the Amfleet II dinette car could handle only a few people at once due to limited food preparation space.  We secured the earliest sitting and made our way to the next car forward at 11:45.  It seemed somewhat strange to walk forward to the diner on an east coast train as the sleepers had operated near the head end until about a month before our trip.  Two meals on the Crescent had provided our first experience with this lineup in several years yet both of our Superliner trains on the westbound trip were arranged with the sleepers ahead of the dining car.  Despite the limitations of the dinette car, our lunches were very good.  Of note was our wiry middle aged waiter Alex whose limber movements reminded us of Dick van Dyke in his heyday. Alex seemed able to tilt trays of food he was carrying to the tables sideways at a 90 degree angle as the train lurched along the rails.  Watching him entertained us even more than the scenery passing outside our window.  

    Near the end of lunch the Lake Shore made its station stop in Utica where the Adirondack Scenic Railroad excursion train stood across the platform.  Back in our bedroom the temperature had grown uncomfortably warm which brought to mind my belief that you should never complain about a cold sleeper in the summer.  Experience has shown me that by closing the vents in your bedroom you can moderate the temperature just fine.  However there is nothing you can do about a hot car.  With the door to the hallway opened, we could hear our car attendant trying unsuccessfully to reset the thermostat but eventually the right adjustment was found with the help of another employee and soon we were comfortable again.

Adirondack Scenic Railroad excursion train at Utica 

    The Mohawk River flowed peacefully to our south with a few mountains visible in the background and occasional views of dams and locks controlling the river.  This scenic stretch of railroad was busy with several westbound freight trains passing as they must have in the days of the glamorous 20th Century Limited which once plied these rails.  At Schenectady we toasted the birthplace of rail traveler extraordinaire Eric Harms then prepared for the end of the day's journey Albany-Renssalaer.  Before pulling into that station, however, the Boston section of the Lake Shore had to be separated adjacent to the engine shops as is the current practice for this train.  The entire front part of the train, 2 engines, baggage car, sleeper, 2 coaches, and cafe car pulled ahead to the station while the New York section in which we were riding waited for a dual mode P42 engine to couple up then proceeded to the station.  This 20 minute process set us back to a 6 minute late arrival which wasn't bad considering this train's reputation for tardiness.

The Mohawk River parallels the Lake Shore Limited route across upstate New York

A dam on the Mohawk River

    A few minutes after our arrival the courtesy van from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany arrived to transport us to our hotel for the night.  This is a convenient stopover thanks to the shuttle and for us was preferable to a stay in midtown Manhattan.  The Crowne Plaza is located in downtown Albany, 2 blocks from the palatial state capitol building and within easy walking distance of many architecturally interesting buildings.  This business hotel caters to Amtrak passengers as its courtesy shuttle is widely advertised, indeed making several daily runs upon request across the river to the train station.

Interesting architecture is evident in buildings in downtown Albany

  The New York capitol building


An old church stands near the convenient Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany 

    In the morning one of the bellmen drove us back to the Amtrak station as arranged the prior evening.  The Albany-Renssalaer station is perhaps the finest example of a modern train station on the Amtrak system as its exterior is inviting with brick walls and ample glass.  The waiting room is inviting with lots of space and a generous amount of comfortable seating.  A coffee shop stands at one end of the station interior with the ticket office and a combination news stand/gift shop in the center of the building with a US post office at the far end.  The station is actually L-shaped with a wing protruding above several through tracks; access to trains is via escalators, stairs, and elevators.


Inside the new Albany-Renssalaer station
The northbound Maple Leaf meets a southbound Empire Service train at Albany-Renssalaer

    Train # 280, the morning Empire Service run from Niagara Falls was ready for boarding at 9:55am and soon we were off for New York City.  We could have made a same day connection to the Silver Meteor in New York yesterday by taking this train from Buffalo.  However, the prospect of its 4:00am departure and the Lake Shore's sleeper option made our decision to stopover in Albany easy.  

    For this leg of our journey we were seated in the rear car, an Amfleet business class car.  The forward end of the car contained lounge tables with the cafe counter at mid-car.  The rear half held five rows of seats with single seats on the car's left side and two across on the right.  A privacy curtain separated business class from the cafe area.  With all the two across seats occupied, we took three single seats directly behind each other and found the spacious leather seats and lack of neighbors quite pleasant.  While the scenic Hudson River was on the opposite side of the train, we were able to enjoy the river views anyway and when we wanted to focus on specific sights we moved to a table in the lounge area.  For the most part, though, we were content with our reclining seats and the leg rests that reminded me of those in the former Union Pacific coaches that operated on Amtrak's Florida trains in the 1970s.  

    Business class comes with a perk in the form of free soft drinks or iced tea and we found the cafe lead service attendant Gerald to be exceptionally friendly and efficient.  With his having been on duty since about 3:00am, this was quite impressive.  The stretch between Albany-Renssalaer and New York City is always a favorite with its ever changing vistas of mountains across the river, towering highway bridges, pleasure boat harbors, and passing cargo ships.  The sights made this ride pass quickly and our 12:35pm arrival at Penn Station was five minutes early.

Outgoing cafe/business class attendant Gerald aboard train # 280

  The scenic Hudson River

Comfortable seating in business class aboard Amtrak # 280 

    The layover in New York seemed quicker than 2 hours and 45 minutes as we ate lunch in a restaurant on the station's lower concourse then relaxed in the first class Club Acela waiting area.  At 3:20pm the final leg of our North American expedition began as the Silver Meteor slipped out of Penn Station to begin the overnight journey to Florida.  We spotted the signature sign on a highway bridge at Trenton that states "What Trenton makes, the world takes."  The early dinner seating was called at 5:00pm as we departed Philadelphia and dining car 8559 appeared to be straight out of The Twilight Zone as it was very plain unlike any Amtrak dining car we could recall.  As a Florida native I have frequented Amtrak's Florida fleet and this car had never been on any train I'd ridden.  Upon further reflection I surmised that it was originally operated by Southern Pacific Railroad as the end doors both had a porthole window.  Subsequent research revealed this to be ex-SP 10210.  Dinner was up to usual good standards and service was fine; oddly our server resembled a 1950s lunch counter waitress which added to the retro mood.

This famous sign is a landmark in Trenton 

    Bedroom B in sleeper Meadow View reflected what one might expect from a passenger train in a third world country as the plastic material used in its cup holders, cabinets, and countertop was scratched and dinged from years of abuse.  The attendant call buttons were disabled (not necessarily a bad thing since impatient passengers sometimes buzz incessantly late at night) and the reading light in the upper berth did not function.  Worse yet, the latch to the small coat closet had been jimmied making it impossible to fully close the closet door.  At bedtime we would discover the closet light would thus shine constantly until a copious amount of duct tape from our always available roll sealed the door shut.  A few weeks later an article in Passenger Train Journal referred to Amtrak as "the duct tape railroad" and, as I read the article I figured somewhere on the Amtrak system Bedroom B probably was still running around with the duct taped closet door.  Duct tape could not help Meadow View's other two problems, a nasty rattle from the connecting door to Bedroom A, a universal issue for all Viewliner deluxe bedrooms, and the lack of hot water in the showers and sinks.  The first problem was resolved by placing luggage flush against the connecting door while the second was dealt with by taking a fast shower.

A newly installed seat in our Viewliner deluxe bedroom 

    The fast run down the Northeast Corridor was highlighted by the crossings of the Susquehanna, Bush, and Gunpowder rivers and we pulled into Washington at 6:50pm.  The obligatory change from electric to diesel engines was accomplished, new passengers boarded, and we resumed our southward trek across the Potomac River to Alexandria.  The passage through Ashland, VA held my attention as it always reminds me of the fall semester I spent at Randolph-Macon College in 1972.  Amtrak was new at the time and watching its trains and the privately owned Auto-Train race by was a daily ritual after classes.  Departing Richmond the wide James River was crossed at its fall line then we turned in for the night.  We awoke just in time to note departure from Savannah at 6:52am.  Shortly it was time for the ninth and final railroad breakfast of our trip as the Silver Meteor dashed through the Georgia lowlands.  Our 9:06am arrival in Jacksonville was 17 minutes early, keeping our streak alive - all seven trains we rode across North America and back had arrived at our destination within ten minutes of schedule.

Sleeper Harvest View brings up the rear of the southbound Silver Meteor at Washington, D.C.

    Reflecting on our train travels, we were pleasantly surprised by the timeliness of each train.  As usual the scenery was excellent, most of the train crews were effective, and some were exceptional.  The Empire Builder certainly took first prize among the Amtrak trains we rode while the Canadian was the best overall thanks to its classic equipment which included dome cars, a variety of sleeping accommodations, and an art deco style to its dining cars.  The poor dining service on the Crescent and the worn out appearance and mechanical condition of two of Amtrak's Viewliner sleepers were disappointments.  Overall, the train again was the way to see the sights across the continent and the experience was mostly positive.  The beauty of Oregon made our highway excursion a winner and, of course, our Holland America Alaska cruise exceeded even our loftiest expectations.

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