Monday, 14 November 2011

New York to Niagara

If you fancy taking a few days out of a trip to New York for a rail trip that actually goes somewhere then the 8-9 hour journey to Niagara is definitely a good bet. There are four daily departures from New York's Pennsylvania Station to Niagara- Three 'Empire Services' to Niagara (NY) and the 'Maple Leaf' service to Toronto calling at both the American station at Niagara and that across the Niagara gorge in Ontario, Canada.

Penn Station today, while busy, is certainly not the glamorous terminal it once was, being located beneath the office blocks of Madison Square Gardens. My journey involved travel on the 'Maple Leaf', and after checking in with the Canadian authorities (there was no warning of this process) we boarded the train formed of five of the distinctive Budd company 'Amfleet' coaches with a P42AC-DM locomotive(No 704).

The small P42AC-DM sub-fleet of Amtrak's fleet operate purely on the Empire corridor from New York towards Albany and Buffalo. They have additional electric pick up shoes necessitated by a diesel ban at the sub-terrainian New York stations.
After a two hour scenic trip hugging the Hudson River we reach Albany-Rensselaer where we are politely informed by the conductor that there will be a break for a locomotive change. Here the electric capable locomotive is removed and a 'normal' Genesis P42DC loco is attached. With No 183 now at the helm of the train we can continue north towards Canada.

So far progress has been at a reasonable pace, but after Schenectady the train makes slow progress following delays caused by track gangs and various other railway movements. Passenger traffic is not key here, the few Amtrak trains having to fit between numerous lengthy freight trains, mostly in the hands of CSX railroad who own the track on this route. One can at least pass the time in the train's rear vestibule (though this is not recommended) looking out at the track behind.
By the time we reach Buffalo we are running almost 2 hours late (on a journey which will already take 9 hours). A fellow passenger warns me that the customs process to enter Canada is not a quick affair either, so as we finally cross over the Niagara river into Ontario I am holding my breath that we can make it through customs in less than the two hours scheduled before the train leaves.

Once we come to a halt new crew join the  train- Amtrak staff giving way to those from Via Rail now that we have reached Canada. An announcement goes out and all passengers disembark the train and head into a bright station building to embark on the customs process to gain entry to Canada. This is fortunately quick, and in the last of the days light we are able to walk freely onto Canadian soil, and across to the spectacular falls- still partly frozen in April.

The return journey is much like the outbound, however without the addition of customs as I joined the train this time on the American side. Engine No 183 again suffered delays heading back to New York, but on arrival at Albany much time had been made up. Finally we set off, with DC equipped loco 713 arriving back into Penn just 20 minutes late.
Overall an enjoyable trip, with friendly staff, a well appointed train, and quite a destination! While our trip included just an overnight stay at Niagara one could of course break their journey as long as desired, or indeed continue to Toronto. This trip is also long enough to give a good taste of how US railways work, quite a different system to what we are used to in the UK. One passenger with a lot of luggage on the train managed to cause an issue as having arrived at her station, she took so long to gather her things that she had still not disembarked the train around ten minutes later when it began to move again. Still without really panicking the lady asked the conductor to have the train stopped- and he did try! Sadly however it was too late and the passenger had to extend her journey to Buffalo (over an hour away) and hope to connect onto a returning train!

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