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CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART III - FLORIDA BOUND VIA MONTREAL

CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART III -  FLORIDA BOUND VIA MONTREAL    

Text by Jack M. Turner, Photos by John C. Turner

    The drive from Sydney to Halifax was scenic as we drove along the east side of Bras d'Or Lake and rejoined the main highway near Port Hastings.  As we stopped for lunch at Port Hawkesbury, we reminisced about our last visit to the region, a 2001 journey aboard VIA Rail's tour train the Bras d'Or.  That train departed Halifax in the morning, paused for an hour at Port Hawkesbury, then proceeded along Bras d'Or Lake to Sydney for an overnight before returning to Halifax the next day.  That diminutive train included a skyline dome car and a dome Park car and was a most enjoyable way to reach Sydney.  As we drove out of Sydney on this day, we spotted the platform where the train stopped before it was removed from the schedule a couple years after we rode that line.

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The harbor in Sydney, Nova Scotia seen from our suite at Barrington Suites Hotel.
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The boardwalk along the waterfront behind Barrington Suites.

    We ducked into Truro on our drive back to Halifax and passed the VIA Rail station which was quiet this afternoon as the Ocean does not arrive from Montreal on Wednesdays.  About an hour later we reached our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, in Enfield near the Halifax International Airport.  We had selected this hotel as my wife was flying back to the United States on an early flight.  With the airport being about 20 miles from downtown Halifax, it was logical to be in close proximity.  This Hilton Garden Inn is a new hotel located in a quiet area far enough from the airport to avoid aircraft noise yet close enough to be at the terminal within five minutes.  Our room was comfortable and we settled in for a relaxing evening before departing the Maritimes in the morning.  It is worth noting that the Hilton Garden Inn is a convenient stopover on the way from Halifax to or from either Cape Breton or Prince Edward Island for anyone with a rental car.  Driving time to the VIA Rail station in Halifax is about 20 minutes.

    The plan for the next morning was to drop Christine at the airport at about 7:00am then rest some more at the hotel before heading to the train station at about 10:30.  The airport departure monitor in the lobby displayed an ominous "Delayed" message beside my wife's flight number.  A call to Continental Airlines revealed that the flight was expected to depart about 3 1/2 hours late but she still had to check in.  We proceeded to the airport for check-in and were glad she was then free to return to the hotel.  We observed many of our hotel guests who were not so lucky as they had checked out without looking at the departure screen.  After the planned sleep, we returned to the airport and dropped Christine off then John and I proceeded to the VIA station.  The downtown Hertz office is an excellent place to rent in Halifax as they offer pickup and drop off at the railway station.  Often they instruct renters to simply drop the car at the station's marked Hertz parking places and place the keys in a drop box.

    John and I felt blessed that the Ocean was operating this day as a few days earlier the empty train had a minor collision with a CN freight during the process of turning the train after its arrival from Montreal.  We first learned of this incident the day we were in Sydney as a newspaper article stated that service was resuming the day before we departed Halifax.  During the interim the Ocean was short-turned in Moncton which scrambled the order in which the three consists would operate.  As a result we again had the train set featuring the Yoho Park.  For the return to Montreal we had booked the drawing room in the Park car so we had a very short walk from the station waiting room to our sleeper which stood next to the bumper post.

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Yoho Park brings up the rear on the westbound Ocean at Halifax.  Note the cruise port is close to the VIA Rail station.
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The Halifax station.

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Passengers board the Ocean in Halifax.

    VIA Rail's drawing rooms are the finest accommodation on rails as they feature a length wise sofa and two folding chairs by day.  At night the sofa folds down into a bed facing the window while another lower bed drops down from the wall and runs parallel to the window.  A third bed, not needed this trip, pulls down from the ceiling to create an upper berth.  These spacious rooms have an enclosed lavatory, a closet large enough to conceal a large suitcase, and ample lugagge space above the lavatory.  The sink and tri-paned mirror are next to one of the lower berths.  The window is much longer than standard passenger train windows offering a wonderful view.  Drawing rooms once graced most top notch streamliners in the United States but today only VIA Rail operates these three person rooms.  The Chateau and Park series cars each contain one drawing room which VIA calls a triple bedroom.  Next door to our room was the Mural Lounge with the Bullet Lounge just beyond at the rounded observation end of the Yoho Park.  The glass topped dome was also close by which was very convenient.

    A few minutes after our 12:45pm scheduled departure we headed to the dining car for lunch which consisted of Italian wedding soup, pasta primavera, garlic bread, and apple pie.  The waters of Bedford Basin and several lakes passed by our window while we dined once again reminding us that railroad dining cars are the restaurants with the best views.  The stop at Truro provided a glimpse of interesting railroad artwork gracing the back wall of the strip shopping center housing the train station as well as a look at the line to Sydney which diverges behind the depot. 

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We enjoyed sitting at a table for two on one side of the dining car during our meals on the westbound trip.
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The container ship terminal along Bedford Basin outside Halifax.
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The lounge area in the service car next to the dining car.
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The sofa in one of the Renaissance bedrooms.  At night this folds down into a bed.

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The upper berth pulls down from the wall (left).  The door to the bathroom is at right near the window.
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VIA Rail's station in Truro is located in this shopping mall which has rail scenes painted on its back wall.

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Our car attendant "Nicole" in the Park car.
                                        
    The eastbound Ocean rolled by at 3:46pm west of the Wentworth Valley and the rear window of the Yoho Park was a great place to view its passage.  We enjoyed visiting with fellow railfans Doug Bardeau of London, Ontario and Grant Russell, a former Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway employee, who were traveling with their families.  The attractive stations at Amherst and Sackville were viewed from the dome as were the miles of tidal mudflats that eventually empty into the Bay of Fundy.  

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The eastbound Ocean passes west of the Wentworth Valley.
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Amherst, Nova Scotia's depot.
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The westbound Ocean passes a CBC antenna farm east of Sackville.
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Mudflats near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border.

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Crossing a bridge over a muddy river.
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Enjoying the great view from the dome car.

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Overtaking a westbound CN freight east of Moncton.
                                        
    The station stop at Moncton offered enough time for me to call Continental Airlines and verify that Christine had apparently made her backup connecting flight at Newark with 16 minutes to spare.  Later in the evening we found out that this was not the case and she had to take a later flight which got her into Orlando 8 1/2 hours later than scheduled.  Meanwhile John made his way along the platform to look at our second engine which wore a catchy Spiderman paint job. A half hour out of Moncton the 6:30pm call to dinner was made and for the second straight meal we were seated at one of the cozy tables for two that line one side of the dining car.  Our meals were delicious and we weren't rushed which made the experience that much better as the train passed through a wooded region and stopped at Rogersville, New Brunswick where picnic tables and park benches welcomed visitors to the depot area.

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Shown during the service stop in Moncton, the Ocean's lead engine wears the traditional VIA paint scheme.
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The second engine is painted as an advertisement for the latest Spiderman movie.
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The blended colors of VIA's Renaissance fleet are shown on this car.
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A coach, transition car, and Park car bring up the rear of the Ocean at Moncton.  Normally all coaches are carried near the front of this train.

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Yoho Park carries the markers at Moncton.
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VIA Rail Canada's smart looking logo.
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The dinner menu featuring three entrees.
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Departing Rogersville, New Brunswick.

    Passengers in the dome were treated to a quick view of a moose as the train passed a small lake west of Miramichi.  The stop in Petit Rocher was at a one car length platform in the woods with no station building.  A few automobiles waited to pick up or deposit passengers to the Ocean.  Soon a beautiful sunset appeared ahead of the train and those in the dome car had a perfect view.  The Gapse Peninsula came into view to our north at Jacquet River with lights across the bay signifying the location of homes and other structures.  We pulled into Campbellton at 10:24pm for a 20 minute service stop which was a great opportunity to stretch our legs and inspect the difference in width between the Renaissance cars and the Park car.  The Renaissance cars appeared to be about 6 inches narrower on each side.  Several passengers hustled to the nearby Tim Horton's which seemed like a risky move though apparently all made it back before our departure.  John laughed and suggested Tim Horton's should add a takeout window on the train platform.  

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The stop for Petit Rocher is made at a short platform in the woods.
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A spectacular sunset seen from the dome car.
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One of two lower beds in the drawing room is located next to the large picture window.
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The bar area in the Park car.

    We turned in for the night after the train departed Amqui, Quebec and awoke at 2:30am as the eastbound Ocean rolled by.  We arose for good near Drummondville at 7:30am to allow time to visit the dining car before arrival into Montreal.  The crossing of the St. Lawrence River provided a gorgeous view of the Montreal skyline from the dome which by now was empty except for John and me.  Soon our car attendant Nicole summoned us to the vestibule to detrain at 9:05am.  After collecting our checked luggage, we made our way to Le Centre Sheraton Hotel where we would stay for the night.  This 36 story hotel is perfectly located one block west of Central Station where VIA Rail, Amtrak, and some commuter trains originate and one block north of Windsor Station   Le Centre Sheraton is also within a block of the stately Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and close to access to Montreal's extensive underground network of shopping malls and restaurants.  The view from our 35th floor room was superb with Windsor Station in the foreground and a panoramic view of the city skyline with Mont Royal in the background.  An even more amazing view awaited us from the 36th floor club lounge as we could also look out at the St. Lawrence River.

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A long, curved bridge carries the Ocean across the St. Lawrence River into Montreal.
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A former Amtrak F40 now serves commuter trains operating from Gare Centrale in Montreal.
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The view of Montreal's skyline and Mont Royal from our room at Le Centre Sheraton.
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Looking in a different direction from our hotel room.

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Le Centre Sheraton Hotel in Montreal.


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Mary Queen of the World Cathedral stands in front of Gare Centrale as seen from Le Centre Sheraton.

    After relaxing at the hotel we made the easy walk to Windsor Station to ride a couple of the commuter routes serving the city's western and northern suburbs.  Windsor Station was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway and once hosted CP's flagship train The Canadian as well as the Atlantic Limited to St. John, New Brunswick and Delaware & Hudson's trains to New York.  In Amtrak's early years the Adirondack operated from Windsor Station before moving over to Central Station whose French name is Gare Centrale.  The exterior of Windsor Station was built in the Chateau style favored by the CP and the CP beaver logo still adorns one of the building's entrances.  Today commuter trains depart from the modern Lucien-L'Allier facility a hundred yards west of the Windsor Station headhouse.  The new arena that is home to the Montreal Canadiens NHL ice hockey team stands between the old and new rail stations.  

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The CP Rail logo above the entrance to Windsor Station.
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Windsor Station reflects European architecture.  This station once hosted CP's Canadian and Atlantic.

    Agence Metropolitaine de Transport operates Montreal area commuter services from both Windsor and Central stations.  The agency's AMT reporting marks are interesting on the few former Amtrak (AMT) F40s that now grace the roster.  Train # 15 departed on-time and within six minutes we made our first stop at Vendome followed by Montreal-Ouest five minutes later.  Several rail lines either branched off or passed below our line as we headed westward amazing us with the number of railroad routes and yards that exist within the metropolitan Montreal area.  The Canadian National mainline to Toronto and Ottawa joined on the south at 12:47pm near Lachine and would parallel the CP line for about a half hour.  Our Dorval stop was used by a few travelers making connections to airline flights at adjacent Pierre Trudeau International Airport.  The VIA Rail Dorval station was adjacent but separated by fences between the CP and CN rail lines.   This ride provided excellent views of prosperous suburbs, passing CP and CN freights, and scenic crossings of the wide Canal Ste.-Anne and the broad Riviere des Outaounais.  The end of the route, Vaudreuil, was reached at 1:30pm and we detrained while the train pulled down around a curve to clear the signals before its eastbound trek.  A crowded commuter parking lot indicated that this is a busy stop and several stores including a Walmart were visible a few hundred yards away to serve this suburb.  Our return train, AMT # 24 departed at 1:55pm behind F59 # 1328 which had pushed the train to Vaudreuil.  The train consisted of five Tempo coaches and a Tempo cab control coach which formerly served in GO Transit service in Toronto.  The return passed quickly and we arrived back into Montreal at 2:54pm.

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Aboard train # 15 from Montreal to Vaudreuil.
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Crossing Canal Ste.-Anne near Ile-Perrot, Quebec.

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Eastbound train # 24 arrives at the Vaudreuil stop to begin its return trip to Montreal.
                                     
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The rear of train # 24 at Vaudreuil.  This cab control car was in the lead on the westbound trip.
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Following arrival back at Montreal.

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The entrance to Lucien-L'Allier, Montreal's commuter station located next to Windsor Station.
                                        
    Our next ride was aboard AMT # 189 to Blainville in the northern reaches of the Montreal area.  This train consisted of F59 # 1326 pushing nine Tempo coaches and a Tempo cab control coach.  We departed at 3:36pm and followed the same CP route to Montreal-Ouest before branching off to the north.  At 4:02pm we stopped at Parc which is adjacent to Jarry Park, the first home of the erstwhile Montreal Expos before they moved into Olympic Stadium.  This route traveled through urban areas longer than our earlier train did and each stop yielded a large number of homeward bound commuters.  The scenery became more open as we passed Bordeaux and crossed the Riviere des Prairies.  Our arrival into Blainville came at 4:45pm and once again the train pulled down to clear the signals.  There was a short turnaround before train # 190 departed at 5:00pm with the F59 now in the lead.  Several meets with outbound commuter trains highlighted the return run and we arrived back at Lucien L'Allier at 6:15pm.  Within five minutes we were back in our hotel room to rest for the next day's rail journey.

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The afternoon commuter lineup at Lucien L'Allier.
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This train included a head end power generator converted from an old boxcar.

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Train # 190 prepares to depart Blainville on the return to Montreal.
                                        
    A large crowd was already lined up an hour before the departure of the Adirondack to New York.  With the help of a red cap "Al", by whom we had been helped before, we were able to get our lugagge aboard and find a good seat location as soon as boarding commenced.  Amtrak P42 # 187 led our five car train out of Montreal at 9:30am, across the St. Lawrence River, to our first stop in St. Lambert.  Beyond that station we diverged from the Ocean route to Halifax and passed through a bucolic farmland area to Cantic where we crossed the US-Canada border.  The Adirondack pulled into Rouses Point, New York at 11:08am and the US Customs officers soon climbed aboard for their inspection.  This process took about 75 minutes as a number of foreign visitors had to be interviewed before Train # 68 could be released.  

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The Adirondack passes through farmlands between St. Jean and Cantic, Quebec.
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Another attractive farm north of the border.

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The Rouses Point, NY station dates to Delaware & Hedson Railway days.
                                        
    Beyond Plattsburgh the former D&H rails join the western shore of Lake Champlain for a couple of hours.  As this was a summer weekend, the lake, inlets, and coves were filled with a variety of watercraft including houseboats, sailboats, speedboats, fishing boats, kayaks, and seadoos.  South of Port Kent near Rockland the railway passed between a series of rock cuts and passed through a tunnel.  The tracks wind along the shore of Lake Champlain here with Vermont's Green Mountains forming a nice backdrop across the lake.  An old barn south of Willsboro bore the words Green Acres on its roof and I could picture Oliver and Lisa Douglas, Ebb the handyman, Mr. Haney the conman, and Arnold the Pig rambling around the grounds.  

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Another former D&H station in Plattsburgh, NY.
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The railroad parallels scenic Lake Champlain.
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A sportsman takes his seadoo for a  spin beside his houseboat.
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Many boats were anchored in Lake Champlain on a beautiful summer day.

    The northbound Adirondack ambled past at 2:29pm between Westport and Port Henry.  The stop at Port Henry allowed time to walk the platform and check out a display of old railroad equipment behind the station before continuing our trek south.  Historic Fort Ticonderoga came into view intermittently on both sides of the Ticonderoga stop.  This stop used to be a couple miles outside of town and I recalled a solo trip there in 1991 when I switched from the southbound to the northbound Adirondack.  At the time there was only a platform with a glass booth shelter next to the lake across the street from the Fort View Inn.  At the time I remarked in a Rail Travel News article that I half expected to see Newhart's Larry, Darryl, and Darryl step out of the woods any moment as it was very isolated.

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The northbound Adirondack passes between Westport and Port Henry.
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The winding route along Lake Champlain as seen from the rear of the train.
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A railroad display beside the Port Henry station.
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An old caboose displayed at Port Henry.

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The Port Henry station shows off its stone turret.
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A speedboat races past north of Whitehall.

    Our next station stop, Whitehall, preceeded the junction with Amtrak's route to Rutland, Vermont.  The railway followed the scenic Champlain Canal which was also busy with pleasure boats.  Our conductors Christine Mueller and James Ryan were very accommodating during the trip as announcements were made concerning delays and points of interest while attempting to make passengers comfortable.  Lead service attendant Carrie Breachler, meanwhile, efficiently and kindly handled a nonstop stream of customers at the lounge car's takeout counter.  The new station at Saratoga Springs was surprisingly large and it was far more appealing than the facilty we visited several years earlier during a ride on the Ethan Allen Express from Saratoga Springs to Rutland.  Just south of that station we met a northbound CP freight whose four engines included an AMT Montreal commuter engine.  As we stopped at Schenectady a westbound Amtrak train pulled out for Buffalo and conductor Mueller noted this was an example of what she called false inertia as an adjacent moving train gives the impression that your train is moving.  To us this represented railroad physics, proof that you can learn lots of things while riding on a train.

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The southbound Adirondack at Saratoga Springs.
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Saratoga Springs has one of the most modern stations in the Amtrak system.

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The Adirondack crew, LSA Carrie Breachler and Conductors Christine Mueller and James Ryan with Stan the station agent.
                                        
    We bade our conductors farewell at Albany-Renssalear and John and I had time to go upstairs and take a quick peek at the beautiful new station during our change to dual mode P42 # 713.  A few miles south of that stop we met the westbound Lake Shore Limited as we enjoyed the view of the setting sun gleaming off the Hudson River.  Dinner was eaten at a table in the lounge car and we shared the scenery with British railfan Ian Lampkin who was nearing the end of a lengthy rail trip across the U.S. and Canada.  The Hudson was busy with barge and ship traffic which was rivalled only by the rail traffic on the old New York Central line we were traversing.  The Adirondack arrived into New York at 8:28pm, seven minutes early.  The early arrival was a blessing as it negated the need to wait two hours for a 15 minute ride to Newark where we were scheduled to spend the night.  Instead we were able to catch Amtrak Regional # 167 departing at 9:05pm and arriving at Newark at 9:25.  A short walk across the street took us into our hotel, the Newark Hilton Penn Station for a welcomed night's sleep.



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Overhead view of the Adirondack at the Albany-Rennsalear station.
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Inside the new station at Albany-Rennsalear.
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The station concourse above the tracks.
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A Sperry Rail Services track inspection car parked beside the Albany-Rennsalear station.

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The exterior of the Albany-Rennsalear station.
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Sunset along the Hudson River.
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Sailboats are moored in the Hudson.
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Passing below one of many Hudson River highway bridges.

    A morning trip to the New Jersey shore commenced at 8:27am as we stepped aboard New Jersey Transit train # 7225.  The train made four stops along the Northeast Corridor then ducked under the corridor mainline onto a former Central of New Jersey line to the coast.  The electrified rail line passed through several nice communities with stops at attractive stations and crossed several sparkling bodies of water en route to Long Branch.  There passengers crossed the platform to a connecting train to Bay Head which was powered by a diesel engine.  Only seven minutes elapsed during the transfer as NJ Transit has the connection down pat.  Our trains were popular with passengers heading to the shore and many were equipped with ice chests, beach blankets and umbrellas, sunblock, and other essential gear.  Train # 4725 continued along through coastal villages, across boat filled inlets, and past attractive brick stations.  Our arrival into Bay Head came at 10:21am and we noticed a crowd of passengers on the northbound platform waiting for train # 4728.  As our train disappeared around a curve we hustled across the two tracks and joined the waiting crowd. 

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Newark Penn Station.
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The waiting room at Newark Penn Station.
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Crossing a wide river south of Perth Amboy near the entrance to Raritan Bay.
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The New Jersey coast seen from NJ Trainsit train # 7225.

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Train # 7225 which we rode from Newark is seen at Long Branch from the rear of train # 4725.
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The station at Bradley Beach.
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The station at Spring Lake.
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Manasquan is served by this attractive depot.

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A harbor south of Manasquan.
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Train # 4725 disappears around a curve at Bay Head.

    Five minutes after our 10:21am arrival, we departed Bay Head on NJ Transit # 4728.  We retraced the route back through Point Pleasant Beach, Manasquan, Bradley Beach, and five other stops to Long Branch where passengers made the across-the-platform transfer to train # 7228.  The electrified route's first stop was at Monmouth Park where the adjacent horse track prepared for afternoon races.  Station stops were made at Red Bank, South Amboy, and six other stops before rejoining the Northeast Corrdior south of Rahway.  After three Corridor stops we pulled into Newark Penn Station at 12:28pm.  We returned to the Hilton to relax before the final leg of our trip which would begin in three hours.

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Train # 4728 pulls into the Bay Head station to begin the trip to Long Branch.
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A westward looking view of the harbor south of Manasquan.
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Inside a bilevel coach on train # 7228 from Long Branch to Newark.
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Train # 7228 following arrival in Newark.

    The southbound Silver Meteor pulled into Newark at 3:34pm as its northbound counterpart, running over four hours late, departed.  We settled into roomette # 2 in sleeper River View and a few minutes later we were on our way toward Florida.  Our car attendant Reggie Williams was very efficient and pleasant in welcoming us aboard and his service would be outstanding throughout the trip.  The urban landscape of New Jersey rushed past our window, broken up only by a brief stop in Trenton.  Our dinner seating was called punctually at 5:00pm as we arrived in Philadelphia.  The diner crew Michele, Trish, and Kairi, were excellent and service was much more efficient than what we encountered on our northbound trip two weeks earlier.  Once more we selected the flatiron steak with rice, a vegetable medley, salad, and dessert.  Outside the window the Susquehanna, Gunpowder, and Bush Rivers provided a scenic view as train # 97 travelled through Wilmington en route to Baltimore.  We stepped off the train during the engine change at Washington and had to scramble aboard as a downpour sent torrents of rain cascading down the side of the train.

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The southbound Silver Meteor arrives in Newark
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Our electric engines wait for their next assignment in Washington.

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A downpour drenches sleeper Skyline View during the stop in Washington.

    The runway lights of Reagan National Airport could be clearly seen out our window as we crossed the Potomac River and soon the familiar sight of Alexandria, Virginia came into view.  An hour and a half later we passed Randolph-Macon College in Ashland and soon the Silver Meteor made its Richmond station stop.  We viewed our passage over the James River and the stop in Petersburg before turning in for the night.  Sleep came easily and only the stop in Fayetteville, NC was observed overnight.  We awoke at 7:20am at Yemassee, SC after a terrific night's sleep.  We enjoyed breakfast as train 97 passed through Savannah and the marshlands to the south.  The end of our journey came with our 10:40am arrival into Jacksonville.

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One of many muddy rivers crossed in rural Georgia during breakfast.
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Inside the dining car.

  
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A framed poster in the diner highlights a piece of railroad history.
                                        

 
[ CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART I | CANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART IICANADIAN RAILWAY TRILOGY: PART III ]

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