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By Jack M. Turner

    A visit to New England to view the autumn leaves was our first planned trip taking advantage of my wife’s recent retirement.  The northbound Silver Meteor pulled into Jacksonville, FL about 15 minutes late on September 30, 2018 and we climbed aboard filled with anticipation.  We were grateful that the rail line had reopened few days earlier after flooding in the Carolinas caused by Hurricane Florence subsided.  Sleeping car 62043, originally named “Sunset View” was rechristened “New River” a couple years earlier and stood out with retro striping on its exterior.


Sleeper “New River” on the Silver Meteor at Jacksonville on September 30, 2018

    Our experience with the Jacksonville station was anything but smooth, a disappointment as it formerly was a well-run operation.  In recent years all of the veteran employees retired and the new generation, though pleasant, was far from organized.  It started when I attempted to check our luggage through to Albany, NY using the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Albany.  The baggage man did not want to do this since we were booked on an earlier train.  He stated that the luggage would likely take an extra day or two which was hogwash since there is a four hour gap between trains in New York.  Rather than argue, we piled the suitcases into our bedroom, displeased by this employee’s personal policy (note: we have checked baggage between the Silver Meteor and Lake Shore Limited multiple times in the past.)  The next snafu came when an automated announcement came on the PA system advising passengers to board the train.  Normal practice in Jacksonville is for passengers to present tickets at a check-in stand inside the station.  The resulting flood of boarding passengers created a chaotic scene and added work for the conductor.
    Our 5:24pm departure was 17 minutes late and by the time we rolled through Callahan 15 minutes later, we were seated in the dining car for dinner.  This was our first meal in a new Viewliner II diner and car 68002 “Atlanta” was bright and airy with its double row of windows and sparkling art deco appearance.  A few minutes later we crossed the St. Marys River and entered Georgia then zipped past the railfan pavilion in Folkston.  The steak dinner, baked potato, and vegetable medley was delicious and we both savored our meals, glad that they weren’t the downgraded meals offered on Amtrak routes linking the east with Chicago.  We shared our table with a young man named Dan who was knowledgeable about train travel and unenthusiastic about flying.


Viewliner II diner “Atlanta” in Jacksonville

    The stop in Savannah was long enough to make a quick trip to the head end to photograph the two heritage style engines (# 184 and 822) bearing retro paint schemes.  The southbound Palmetto roared past at 8:21pm near Ridgeland, SC then we made station stops in Yemassee and Charleston before we turned in for the night.  Overnight we lost 1 1/2  hours between Florence and Fayetteville due to signal trouble but we were only about 25 minutes late when we woke up in Alexandria, VA.


P42 engine # 184 wearing a retro livery during the stop in Savannah


P40 # 822 displays a heritage paint scheme in Savannah


Private car “Dearing” stationed in Savannah rather than its prior home in Orange Park, FL due to recently adopted rules for private car switching

    During the half hour stop in Washington there was time to watch the switch to ACS64 electric engine # 648 and observe # 642 painted in the Veterans livery on an adjacent track.  As we resumed our journey we went to the dining car for a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage patties as the Washington/Baltimore suburbs flashed by.  The Northeast Corridor was busy with Monday morning Amtrak and commuter trains as the Silver Meteor sailed northward.  Arrival at Penn Station in New York was 35 minutes late at 11:35am.  Our redcap “Bill” was friendly as he took all of our luggage upstairs to Club Acela, the first class waiting area.


Engines 184 and 822 are switched out of train # 98 at Washington


ACS64 electric engine # 648 is added to the head end of the Silver Meteor in Washington


ACS64 # 642, seen in Washington, wears the Salute Our Veterans paint scheme


Breakfast time inside Viewliner II dining car “Atlanta”

    As promised, Bill returned to pick up our luggage and escort us to our business class car on Train # 283 to Albany-Rennselaer.  Car 48182 was the rear car on our five car train.  We selected single seats on the left hand side of the train which would give us excellent views of the Hudson River that would be followed most of the trip.  My luck continued as train # 283 was led by dual mode engine # 700 wearing Amtrak’s belt stripe retro paint scheme, the fourth specially painted engine seen on our trip.


Dual mode engine # 700 shows off a retro paint scheme on the head end of train # 283 at New York Penn Station


An Empire Service decal on the flank of P32 # 700


Business class/cafe car 48182 on train # 283 at New York


Our business class car offered single seats on the left-hand side

    Business class seating was at the rear of the car beyond the cafe counter while lounge tables occupied the forward end.  Free soft drinks were included in our upgrade fare and I also found it convenient to occasionally look out the car’s rear door as the tracks followed the Hudson.  About 45 minutes into our journey we crossed the Spuyten Duyvil swing bridge over the Harlem River near the junction with the rail line to Grand Central Terminal.  A couple minutes later several Metro North commuter cars waited in the yard adjacent to our stop in Croton-Harmon.  As # 283 continued north, we passed beneath several towering highway bridges spanning the Hudson River and noted a southbound CSX freight train snaking along the opposite shore of the Hudson.  A quick glimpse of the West Point campus across the river and Bannerman’s Castle on an island in the middle of the river grabbed our attention as did a few barges plying the Hudson. 


Metro North equipment at Croton-Harmon

    This route skirted several small harbors snuggled next to villages along the rail line and the number of river barges increased the farther north we travelled.  Beyond Poughkeepsie the view from the rear window was especially interesting as the rail line curved along the Hudson.  After departing Rhinecliff a number of railroad signal bridges stood watch over the double track railway as we continued our unimpeded trek toward the state capitol region.  Arrival at the Albany-Rennselaer station came at 4:00pm while the eastbound Lake Shore Limited was boarding across the platform.  A few minutes later an Amtrak baggageman offered assistance upstairs into the station where we completed paperwork for our Enterprise rental van.  The convenience of this on-site rental agency cannot be overstated as it saved a great deal of time and effort.  Within about 45 minutes we were settled into the Hilton Garden Inn beside the Albany Medical Center.


The Hudson River was visible most of the trip from New York to Albany-Rennselaer


Running along the Hudson River north of Croton-Harmon


One of many highway bridges spanning the railway and the Hudson


Barge traffic is often seen along the Hudson River


The view from the rear window is outstanding


The rear view reveals how closely the rails follow the river


Passing through a commuter station on train # 283


Another highway bridge recedes behind our train

    The following day we began our exploration of northern New York and New England.  The drive along Lake George was beautiful despite a steady drizzle as we made our way to Ticonderoga, NY.  Our intended visit to Fort Ticonderoga was cancelled when we discovered it is not part of the national park system and has a rather steep admission fee.  However, this allowed us to see the Amtrak station, an attractive small brick edifice close to the fort entrance.  This brought to mind the time perhaps 25 years earlier when I rode an Amtrak Turboliner (the Adirondack) from Montreal to Ticonderoga, waited about 45 minutes then caught the northbound train back to Montreal.  The Ticonderoga stop at that time was simply an uncovered platform separated from Lake Champlain by a few bushes.  It was a lonely spot and in a subsequent story for Rail Travel News I noted that I half expected “Larry, Darryl, and Darryl” from the “Newhart” television series to step out of the woods any minute.  Indeed the new stop is better though still fairly remote.
Our drive then headed northwest until we reached Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics.  The village was charming and many venues remain from the winter games including the cauldron that housed the Olympic flame, the bobsled and luge runs, the ski jumps, and the arena where the Miracle on Ice hockey game, the figure skating championships, and speed skating events took place.  Also worth mention was the Winter Olympics Museum attached to Herb Brooks Arena as it contained a variety of noteworthy items from various winter games. 
    The autumn leaves were approaching peak in the area which added to the charm of the area.  The Hampton Inn proved to be an excellent lodging choice as it overlooked beautiful Mirror Lake located on the edge of town.  Before leaving the area the next day we made the short drive to nearby Saranac Lake which offered a scenic view with mountain scenes set behind its shores.  Along the way we crossed the Adirondack Scenic Railroad which used to operate excursions between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.  Unfortunately, service was suspended at some point in the past and litigation over proposals to convert the right-of-way to a bike trail has tied it up for some time.  One can only hope it will operate again as this would be a great reason to return to this lovely area.


Autumn leaves at the Winter Olympics sliding center


The bobsled and luge run at Lake Placid


Herb Brooks Arena, home of Olympic ice hockey, figure skating, and speed skating competitions at the 1980 Winter Olympics


Team USA attire from various Winter Olympics


A gold medal displayed at the Winter Olympics Museum


Mirror Lake at dusk


Hampton Inn, Lake Placid in the evening


The cauldron housing the Olympic flame at the 1980 Winter Olympics

    The Lake Placid area can be easily accessed from the Amtrak stop in Plattsburgh, NY, however, the Adirondack departs New York and Albany before most connecting trains from the south and west arrive.  An overnight in either city allows the best option to reach Lake Placid and vicinity either by rental car or a train/rental car combination.  Thruway bus connections with the Adirondack are available at Westport, NY.
    In our next report, we begin our New England exploration and visit some outstanding tourist railroads.


Lake Placid Tourist Information

Hampton Inn, Lake Placid

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