Five days, five trains - all daylight running (Very long, with photos)

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by velotrain, Aug 18, 2019.

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  1. Aug 18, 2019 #1

    velotrain

    velotrain

    velotrain

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    Links not working as expected - will research and try again.

    N.B. - I discovered I couldn't delete the entire post once I was in Preview, so took all the original text out and substituted this. Ditto for the following post.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
  2. Aug 18, 2019 #2

    velotrain

    velotrain

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    test - successful, post to follow
     
  3. Aug 18, 2019 #3

    velotrain

    velotrain

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    In late July 2019 I suddenly decided that I wanted to take a train trip, with walking becoming difficult and not being sure just how much longer I might be able to do this. I live in Boston and most of my Amtrak trips were in support of bicycle tours, such as my Steel Wheels trip where I took the Lake Shore Limited to Cleveland, spent a few days exploring by bike - including an Indians game because I was so intrigued by their stadium, then cycled on to Pittsburgh (via Akron and Youngstown) for more exploring and finally the C&O canal path to DC before taking NE Services back home. Before getting on the path for three days (it was 90* plus on the roads, so the shade was more welcome than all the roots), I took a ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad out of Cumberland.

    I've done a dozen trips in a similar manner over the decades, and others where I was sent to a west coast conference for work, and combined it with a train trip and bike tour. I haven't been able to cycle the past two years due to balance issues and reduced neck rotation.

    I wasn't sure just what I wanted to do, but was thinking of taking the Zepher - which is the only Chicago - west coast line I haven't been on, and possibly the SW Chief in the other direction. I considered going through Bakersfield and Sacramento, as I had no interest in the big cities on this trip - possibly taking the Barstow bus to avoid L.A. completely. My main interest was watching countryside roll by my window every day.

    However, I had sticker shock when I saw what Amtrak wanted for sleepers. In the old days I loved the Slumbercoach, as it was tiny but contained everything I needed. More recently I've been bringing a lightweight sleeping bag and removing all my clothes once I was in it - the problem was getting dressed again for the middle of the night run to the restroom. I usually make too many trips these days for that approach to work.

    Doing some research, I discovered the buckets and the 11 month thing, but that didn't help me out at this time. I started looking for a shorter trip with no overnights on the train. I was thinking that I could stay in a large, very nice hotel room for far less than the sleeper cost, and eat where I wanted and have good fresh food at a fair price - without surly staff! I used to enjoy some aspects of night on the train, but I mostly thought of all the country that I missed seeing.

    I've seen the Adirondack on many Lake Champlain region bicycle tours I have led over the years (mostly while waiting at a lowered crossing gate), and anywhere from Ticonderoga to the border, but had never actually taken it. I didn't want to go to NYC just to catch it, or overnight in Albany just to take the train the following day. However, the latter started to look more reasonable for my re-visioned concept of a train trip, so I'll be riding the LSL (Boston section) on Sunday, 8/4. Route on map is counter-clockwise.


    [​IMG]


    On Monday it's the Adirondack, and the following day I'd take VIA to Toronto - there are quite a few trains each day, so it was a matter of how much time to allocate in each city.

    Now - I could transfer from the Maple Leaf to the LSL anywhere between Buffalo and Albany, with one consideration being to balance the train time each day. Since I have severely limited mobility just now, I was trying to find lodging as close to the station as possible, with Albany as the lone exception - I had no interest in spending the night in Rensselaer (if even possible), although I'm sure it's a fine place to live. I knew the LSL only stops at Buffalo-Depew, in the middle of nowhere, so that was out. I do remember trying to grab a few hours sleep in my sleeping bag on top of my bike's large cardboard box on that platform some 35 years ago before starting my day's ride to Niagara Falls.

    I've stayed in Rochester, Syracuse and Utica on my bike tours, and knew I didn't want to stay in Albany a second time on this trip, so that left Schenectady, with lodging three blocks from the station and my selected dinner, breakfast and early lunch locations just 1-2 blocks from there. Utica would have meant a more even split at eight hours of train time each day, but although I generally enjoy all cities, recalled the station area as being rather dismal. Besides, I'd cycled through Schenectady near the end of a solo Erie Canal bike tour, but had never stayed there and was attracted by the proximity of everything to the station.

    Even a year ago I'd have stayed a second night in some of these places, as I feel a creative person can find plenty to do in any size American (or world) city for a day or weekend - with a bit of research and planning. However, this time it's just about the trains and a (intended) comfortable night of rest.

    /=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/=/

    NOTE: Photos taken with pocket camera, often at speed. I'll dig out and bring my DSLR next time. However - they represent only about a third of what I shot and they're all carefully cropped. I'm having login issues with the new Flickr (apparently with others), so will try to find an alternate photo hosting/sharing site before posting this.

    Well, I wrote that over a week ago and I'm still having trouble with Flickr, but have just signed up with Imgur, so we'll see how this posting links into the text process goes. Along with copying the photo title from the image file on my computer.


    Things went pretty much as planned. Boston - South Station


    [​IMG]


    I'm always amazed that Amtrak hasn't paid to have the really bumpy freight track over the last 20-30 miles to Rensselaer upgraded over the past four decades - and likely (much) longer. If I'd been more conscious of the Adirondack going thru Schenectady I would have stayed there Sunday night, instead of paying for a cab both ways to get to Albany and back Monday morning.


    Albany - North Pearl Street


    [​IMG]


    Albany - former Union Station and the Half Moon

    Half Moon - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halve_Maen


    [​IMG]


    I enjoyed the Adirondack, as I've spent a lot of time around the Lake on previous trips, but haven't seen it from these vantage points. I was in the first coach (lots of loud horn ;-), so no images of the train rounding a curve.

    Lake Champlain - mushroom stack and cliffs on Vermont shore


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    Lake Champlain - Mount Mansfield in background


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    Lake Champlain - old and new(er) equipment in a bay


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    I didn't enjoy the long delay at the border or the final slow hour of endless suburbs entering Montreal. We had to wait 15 minutes a few miles from the Victoria bridge for a freight. I've always been impressed with the ingenious and complex design that allows trains (and road traffic) to continue running even when a ship is passing through the Seaway locks.


    Quebec farm - these are always very well maintained


    [​IMG]


    Entering Montreal - Seaway and Victoria Bridge in soft focus (suspect I just wasn't ready for it)


    [​IMG]


    Entering Montreal - export grain terminals - missing roadway section on left


    [​IMG]



    I disliked the VIA service to Toronto, as the seats were much too narrow and hard, the LRC floor vibrated, and the train speed was much higher than I prefer - with a lot of related rocking.

    Based on this experience, I would hate riding a Shinkansen - which would seem like riding in a walled cell, while no doubt much smoother than the VIA - you might as well be in a plane. Decades ago I rode on a TGV - with my touring velo in the nose cone, from Marseilles to Paris, but the speed seemed more novel (and smooth) then and the countryside more attractive. I foolishly got an alleged ham and cheese croissant, but it was so refrigerated that it was too dense to eat and they said they couldn't heat it, so it was returned (I hadn't paid for it yet).


    ==>> My learning adventure continues - after I got the photo links working, I had more than 10 images and had no idea of how to get rid of the extra two. Finally I discovered the BBCode Editor.

    There will be a Part 2, but think I need to remove 3-4 photos from it . . . after all that work cropping . . . oh well.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
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  4. Aug 18, 2019 #4

    velotrain

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    Five Days - Part 2

    I had booked the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto as it was just across the street from the main station and I had a 8:20 departure on the Maple Leaf in the morning. I've never stayed in a four-star hotel before and it was suitably swank, but I had a frustrating billing issue.

    Toronto Royal York - lobby flowers

    [​IMG]

    Toronto Royal York - view from the Mezzanine

    [​IMG]

    Toronto - view from my room, with station just below this scene

    [​IMG]

    When I got the room on Booking, it showed $30 for a "Resort Tax", which I'd never heard of before and thought might be something local to Toronto - on top of the city tax. A little poking around revealed that it is widely considered a scam, and sometimes only shown at checkout. The Royal York calls it an "Urban Fee", and when I found what was included, decided I had no use for any of it and tried to get it removed.

    After much effort, Booking received a notice from Front Office Supervisor Todd Stanford, who said it was optional and he'd be "more than happy to remove it." I verified this at check-in, but then found it on the statement slipped under my door overnight. I protested before I left and it was finally removed. It is a very convenient and fine place to stay for anyone passing through.

    I made the Maple Leaf and even picked up a sandwich for it, and it seemed to me that there are more industries in Canada than the US still using rail, with a fair number of boxcars spotted on sidings. As noted elsewhere, this border crossing is not nearly as convenient as that on the Adirondack. Passing through Buffalo, I again admired the imposing former NYC office tower, station and facilities. I realize it's far-fetched, but have this persistent vision that at some future point - before it falls apart, it will be restored for some other use - I find it quite handsome.

    Buffalo southeast - former NYC station and office tower

    [​IMG]

    We fairly quickly passed through Rochester - where there's a much better view westbound,

    Rochester through trusses

    [​IMG]

    Syracuse and Utica - I didn't understand why Rome, NY, is a stop, as there didn't appear to be anything there. Checking a map later showed the station isolated and away from the city, and I notice that the LSL doesn't stop here - might be a NY state funding thing.

    Exiting in Schenectady I quickly got to my lodging,

    Schenectady - Parker Inn - former, and future bar

    [​IMG]

    but had a bit of an adventure checking in. The clerk looked a bit confused before he gave me my keys and with good reason, as when I opened the door the light was on and there was luggage about - the occupants apparently at dinner.

    His second try resulted in a space that was more kitchen than bedroom, with full kitchen facilities along one long wall and a 4' x 6' marble-topped work table blocking the middle of the room. Their website has photos if anyone is curious, and there might be multiple of these as the room I saw didn't have a couch. A bed was barely squeezed into one corner, but I'd have to navigate around the marble table to get to the bathroom in the dark. On top of that, the TV was some 10' up on top of the cabinets, so you'd need to lie in bed and crane your neck way up to see it - neither of which I'm willing to do. I used the phone in the room to tell the clerk this simply wouldn't do.

    Decades ago I was staying in Amsterdam and found the TV disagreeably high. I went to the storage room off the lobby and retrieved my tool kit from behind the seat on my bike, and then unbolted the TV from its wall mount and placed it in a more comfortable viewing position. No doubt it caused a minor stir in the morning, but I was long gone - riding to Schiphol.

    The third room looked better, but when I finally went to bed I discovered that the mattress was a good year past it's "replace by" date. Surprisingly, at checkout I was given a card asking me to review them on TripAdvisor. Be careful what you ask for.

    I got up late as the LSL wasn't due until 2 PM. I kinda liked the downtown area and will make a point of staying here vs. Albany whenever possible, but likely at one of the major chain hotels another block south on State Street from the Parker Inn. BTW I do like Albany with it's hidden treasures and think ESP is among the grandest public spaces that I'm aware of - I just dislike having to taxi there from the Amtrak station.

    Schnectady - farmers market color #1

    [​IMG]


    Schnectady - farmers market color #2


    [​IMG]

    The delay at Rensselaer was delightfully short.

    I noticed that at least one of the platforms in Springfield is being rebuilt, no doubt part of the larger project to rehab Union Station and make it a multimodal transportation center.

    Springfield - former platforms

    [​IMG]

    Springfield - future platforms

    [​IMG]

    I think that's the highest platform roof I've ever seen - anyone know why?

    I got off at Back Bay just before 8 PM, deciding to take a taxi instead of my more customary MBTA Green Line. If my doctors can get my legs more functional, I'll stay over for a day at selected cities in the future. But then, I'm well acquainted with most of these places already.

    For Labor Day weekend I have just booked a bus to Springfield and the Vermonter to Burlington on Saturday, Port Kent ferry just after noon on Sunday and then the Adirondack, another night in Schenectady - at the Stockade Inn this time, and the LSL back to Boston on the holiday.
    I couldn't extend this any, as I have existing medical appointments on Friday and Tuesday.

    I'm now looking at other possibilities which may require bus and/or rental car segments.

    I'd look farther afield, but that would mean yet another trip to Chicago or DC just to get to the start, and needing to sleep on the train - either uncomfortably in coach or paying big bucks for a very small room and questionable meals. Not to mention all the tales of very late trains on the LD lines and the attendant miseries. I think I'll stick with these more local "daylight-only" trips.

    Also - I must admit to being somewhat visually jaded with the LSL and NE Corridor, while seeing the former as a "necessary evil" in my current and future plans.

    About a decade ago another cyclist and I took the Downeaster to Portland, the high speed ferry to Yarmouth NS, cycled to Halifax, VIA Ocean to 'Quebec City' (AKA Levis), and then cycled back to Boston. Now that was a trip.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
  5. Aug 18, 2019 #5

    dogbert617

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    Very nice writeup, and pics of this trip! If I may ask, where on the Maine side of the US/Canada border do you board the ferry, that runs to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia? I'd love to try riding both the Downeaster and VIA Ocean, but I suspect it'll be a while before I get around to riding either of those trains!
     
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  6. Aug 18, 2019 #6

    velotrain

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    Thanks Dogbert - I'm actually a bit amazed that anyone was willing to wade through all of that ;-)

    Most conveniently the ferry runs from Portland - I believe less than a mile from where the Downeaster terminates.
    Pardon me - that was the old landing that they shut down under suspicious circumstances - something having to do with the city wanting to eliminate the traditional ship and replace it with the newer one - I preferred the older one as it had a much more stable ride, sort of LSL vs. the VIA corridor. Also - It was an overnight sailing, so if I got to Portland on a Friday evening, I'd wake up in N.S. on the first day of my vacation, while the high-speed boat takes a good chunk of a day.

    Sadly there used to be a train line up the west coast of southern NS - last served by RDCs I believe. There's likely a bus now, or maybe you could rent a car in Yarmouth and turn it in at Halifax. If you can drive there's some interesting stuff on the way - search for photos of Cape Split. I've hiked out to the end maybe a half-dozen times and once hired a plane in Moncton to fly me and a girlfriend over it the day after we hiked it.

    I once used the Gaspe line at the end of a Gaspe bike tour I started at Matapedia, and there were several dangerous places - nearby crumbling cliffs and the train creeping across trestles at 5 MPH. After I got off the train I rode my bike up and down the platform at 10 PM, watching them add my train to the Ocean. There were over a dozen moves in the sequence - I wrote it down but no idea where it is now.

    Even if you don't bike it would be a great adventure and give you a chance to visit Halifax and Quebec, both interesting cities. Montreal also, but it's less unique and generally easier to get to, IMHO.
     
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  7. Aug 18, 2019 #7

    velotrain

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    Dogbert, here you go:

    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/30876349?beta=false

    Just below the Satellite is a stealth Full Screen box, and the SAT box allows you to mod to a base map vs. satellite if you wish, including several versions of Topo.

    This is a potential walking route - not that you'd want to, although only 2.8 miles.

    Anyone considering this should plan to spend a free day or two in Portland - very worthwhile. Ditto for Halifax, which has a wonderful waterfront among other things. Actually, if you also visit Quebec City, this could turn into a major 2-3 week adventure. Then you could rent a car in Halifax and go up to Cape Breton . . . .

    A major train related note - just past the end of the red line is the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, which has a lot of the former Maine two-footer original equipment and a museum. They offer a fairly short out and back run along a waterfront walking path on the NE corner of the Portland headland - if you zoom in on satellite view, you can see their runaround track just before a former RR bridge. I'd heard that the city was trying to force them out, but maybe they got a reprieve?
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
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  8. Aug 18, 2019 #8

    anumberone

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    Interesting trip and photos. Feel for you about the issues keeping you off the bike, hope it improves.
     
  9. Aug 18, 2019 #9

    velotrain

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    Thanks, but the bike is never coming back, and I had a very long and diverse run of it.
    I started early - my parents rode from San Diego to NYC on 3-speeds over the summer of 1946, using racks and panniers my father built using war surplus materials, and I was born three months later.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I'll be quite happy if I can walk more easily - I can't cover so much ground as quickly as with a bike but it'll be easier to explore cities.
     
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  10. Aug 18, 2019 #10

    OBS

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    Thanks for your report. Great pictures. The Via train is pulled with Locomotive...
     
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  11. Aug 18, 2019 #11

    MikefromCrete

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    Right, the VIA LRC cars are locomotive hauled and always have been. They are not self-propelled.
     
  12. Aug 18, 2019 #12

    velotrain

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    On the VIA LRC, there was a loud roar at startup, but also a lot of strong vibration from the floor of the coach. This reduced over the next few minutes, but seemed like it continues at a lower level through the trip. Was this just underfloor equipment starting up? I've never previously experienced anything like this before. I'm willing to accept the noise as the engine, but don't understand the vibration under the car.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
  13. Aug 20, 2019 #13

    Mystic River Dragon

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    Very interesting trip, with beautiful photos--thanks for sharing it with us!:)

    If you ever do have to stay overnight in Albany, the Hilton downtown has a shuttle that will come to the train station. And, if you look at the flexible date screen on their website, you can find some nights that are $115. (Not cheap, but also not bad for a Hilton.) I have done this twice just overnight on my way to somewhere else, and I saved money on dinner by getting a decent sandwich and delicious slice of cake from the cold case in the train station to take to the hotel with me. I am planning to go back this fall and actually stay a couple of nights and look around the city.

    The new Springfield platforms cannot come soon enough! I took CTrail up there for a Rail User's Network meeting, and when I went to detrain, I saw that the lowest step looked almost as high off the platform as I am tall! The conductor was helping someone else, and I was wondering how on earth I could jump down without hurting myself, when one of those wonderful New England ladies lifted me down! I'm not a youngster, but she had to be at least 15 years older than me! Must be all that snow shoveling!

    I think all the photos here are lovely--I actually really like the soft focus one of the water!

    I also enjoyed reading about your previous trips--it sounds like you have spent a good deal of time planning lovely trips for others.:)
     
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  14. Aug 21, 2019 #14

    velotrain

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    Dear dragon lady - Thank you for this gracious post - especially considering our previous exchange;-)

    Although I do like Albany, at this point I prefer Schenectady for my Amtrak overnights if I have a choice, largely because the station is in the center of the urban area and everything I could need is nearby. Besides, I'm well acquainted with Albany but am still learning Schenectady.

    Decades ago I stayed in what was now the Hilton - when it was an Omni. I had taken Amtrak there from Worcester with a new girlfriend, and planned to cycle back over three days - even though she was new to riding she was a gamer and pushed herself to do it, despite the killer hills between Pittsfield and Northampton. I remember we saw Teddy Kennedy in the 4th of July parade in Pittsfield, where we spent the next night.

    Some three years ago another person bought the Hilton and was willing for current staff to stay on, but he denied them all the benefits they had accumulated under the prior owner. There was a long and bitter strike, with even governmental agencies refusing to stay/meet there in support. The pickets are gone, but I'm still avoiding it.

    Considering your pending trip this fall I'll provide some info, suggestions and photos, and even mention that you 'might' consider giving yourself two free days there.

    . . . I started to write up something for you on Albany, but as it got progressively longer I realized that it would be much more appropriate under Where to Go and What to See, so you'll have to look there for it.

    I'm seven years your senior and know I couldn't have safely lifted you or anyone down to the platform. Perhaps I just haven't shoveled sufficient snow.

    A mystical dragon river for you - the water has obviously been heavily edited, it now looks 3D !

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2019
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  15. Aug 21, 2019 #15

    dogbert617

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    Thanks for this walking route suggestion, in case someday I finally get to Portland, ME. Which who knows when that'll be, but sigh(!), it'll probably be a good while before that finally happens. I'll have to look up the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, as well. Do they still run tourist/scenic trains, on the MNGR tracks?

    BTW, my actual name is Allan. Only added this to my signature on this message board days ago, but noting that in case you didn't know.
     
  16. Aug 21, 2019 #16

    velotrain

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    Hi Allen - As I wrote:

    "They offer a fairly short out and back run along a waterfront walking path on the NE corner of the Portland headland - if you zoom in on satellite view, you can see their runaround track just before a former RR bridge. I'd heard that the city was trying to force them out, but maybe they got a reprieve?"

    You'd have to check with them for any more current info. How far away from the northeast are you?

    Charles
     
  17. Aug 21, 2019 #17

    velotrain

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    I was looking at the Where to Go Portland ME entries, and someone mentioned there's a bus from the station to the downtown/waterfront area, so that should get you close to the ferry.
     

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