Thoughts on the Adirondack (and more)

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chrsjrcj

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I debated putting this in the Travelogues subforum, but with my final points it may be better off here.

I just finished riding the Adirondack, and short of the scenery, it is probably not a trip I will take anytime soon under its current conditions. I happened to ride the day after New Years, so the train was especially packed. I made sure to get to Penn Station over an hour before departure, in order to get a good window seat on the Lake Champlain side (I've seen the Hudson enough times). After having my passport checked, I stood in the boarding line with 1 hour to go before boarding would begin. Even then, there were probably 20 people ahead of me.

While waiting to board, multiple panhandlers solicited money from us including one who borderline threatened physical harm with a knife and wished that none of us would make it to our final destination. It's a shame that for many tourists, this is the side of the U.S. and Penn Station they'll see. It is really quite embarrassing. Even more tragic, of course, is the lack of homelessness services and mental health services available for many people.

Once on board, I was disappointed to see that all Montreal passengers were to sit in the Amfleet I coaches (I did walk the back of the train, but don't remember if they were Am I or Am II coaches). The 12 hour journey wasn't very comfortable in those more cramped coaches, and I felt guilty making my seatmate constantly get up for bathroom/cafe car runs.

Speaking of, the cafe was constantly packed. I felt bad for the attendant who worked non-stop (and was still very pleasant). The bathrooms became a bit of a mess by the end of the trip. Unlike long distance trains, there are no coach attendants on-board to maintain the bathrooms, and it shouldn't be the conductor's responsibility.

Of course, there is also the long wait at the border. That topic has been brought up here numerously and I wholeheartedly agree that it should be done at Montreal (and Toronto for the Maple Leaf). Even though the border agent spent less than 60 seconds questioning me/viewing my documentation, it took 2 hours to go through the train because of how crowded it was. Amtrak trains are hardly competitive with driving as it is, but this just exacerbates the problem.

As scenic as the trip is, I probably won't use the train again unless some changes are made.

1) Business class should be added. As far as I can tell, this is the only NYS funded train without business class. I wonder why?
2) Amtrak needs to add reserved seating to all trains. I know this is a hot topic, but it will greatly improve the boarding process. What is the point of being Select Plus or having lounge passes, if I have to que in line for an hour in order to get the seat I want? This is also necessary if you just want to sit next to your travel companion(s).
3) Amtrak should move to the VIA (and Brightline) model and stick the conductor in the locomotive with the engineer. Have a on board service manager whose #1 responsibility is the passengers. I have encountered some great conductors on Amtrak, but their main priority should be the safe operation of the train. It also would mean more space in the cafe car as 2 tables aren't taken up by the conductors.
4) Add a Viewliner Dining car. This is a bit more fantasy, but since Amtrak no longer has any dome cars, the Viewliner Dining car would make sightseeing a little easier.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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While waiting to board, multiple panhandlers solicited money from us including one who borderline threatened physical harm with a knife and wished that none of us would make it to our final destination. It's a shame that for many tourists, this is the side of the U.S. and Penn Station they'll see. It is really quite embarrassing. Even more tragic, of course, is the lack of homelessness services and mental health services available for many people.
No Amtrak Police on duty? See something say something?

Once on board, I was disappointed to see that all Montreal passengers were to sit in the Amfleet I coaches (I did walk the back of the train, but don't remember if they were Am I or Am II coaches). The 12 hour journey wasn't very comfortable in those more cramped coaches, and I felt guilty making my seatmate constantly get up for bathroom/cafe car runs.
Traveling on a sold on train....

The bathrooms became a bit of a mess by the end of the trip. Unlike long distance trains, there are no coach attendants on-board to maintain the bathrooms, and it shouldn't be the conductor's responsibility.
Not the Conductor job, but the AC has nothing better to do.

Of course, there is also the long wait at the border. That topic has been brought up here numerously and I wholeheartedly agree that it should be done at Montreal (and Toronto for the Maple Leaf). Even though the border agent spent less than 60 seconds questioning me/viewing my documentation, it took 2 hours to go through the train because of how crowded it was. Amtrak trains are hardly competitive with driving as it is, but this just exacerbates the problem.
There working on it, don’t hold your breath.

4) Add a Viewliner Dining car. This is a bit more fantasy, but since Amtrak no longer has any dome cars, the Viewliner Dining car would make sightseeing a little easier.
Let’s not.
 

MARC Rider

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I'm really surprised about the panhandlers. Never have had that sort of problem in Penn Station, especially during a boarding lineup. As Just-thinking says, Amtrak Police should be on the job or should be notified.

If you want the experience of being able to pick your own seat to get a particular view, don't travel on one of the busiest days of the year. Even if they had the option for pre-assigning seats, you'd run the risk that the seat you want isn't available. While many of us believe that a packed train diminishes the train-riding experience, the more passengers Amtrak can cram in, the better it is for Amtrak's financial performance and political support. "People don't ride trains?" Oh yeah, look at your experience, they sure do!

I had a similar experience once riding the Vermonter from Essex Junction to Baltimore on a Sunday in the summer. The train was packed from about White River Junction to New Haven, and pretty full from there to New York. It was much emptier south of New York. They really should have had someone to clean the restrooms at New Haven, at least. The smell got pretty rank. This was strictly a function of the sold out train, as I've done the Vermonter many times, and the restrooms were fine. By the way, the Amfleet 1 seats for the 12 hour ride were perfectly comfortable. After all, people ride airline coach seats that are much more cramped for 12 hour intercontinental flights.

I've also ridden the Adirondack, but only to Port Kent. Still a long ride on a crowded train. They could have justified a second cafe attendant to keep the line moving faster. I'm not sure how they can staff the cafes properly, having 2 attendants during busy times, and save money by having only one attendant when there aren't so many passengers. But that's not unique to Amtrak, I've noticed the retail everywhere is understaffed during busy times, and even not so busy times. I think that's just an aspect of American management culture -- cut costs over everything else.

As far as the slow running across the border, I think that the vast majority of the passengers aren't riding the train to go to Montreal, and New York State isn't really funding it for that purpose. And even if they have preclearance, you'll still be standing in a customs line in the station rather than sitting on the train waiting to be inspected.
 

chrsjrcj

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Not complaining about the sold out train. It is what it is, and Amtrak doesn't guarantee one type of equipment or another. That's why I said I would like to see business class added to the train. As far as I could tell, it is the only New York State funded train that doesn't have business class. I guess I'm spoiled in Florida where I can take a 5 hour trip in coach, and have the long distance coaches.

Reserving seats in advance helps make sure that parties of 2 or more have a chance to sit next to each other, without having to line up an hour in advance. I knew this would be a busy train, and it's why I lined up an hour in advance to get the seat I wanted (which I did). The pre-boarding process would've been more enjoyable if I knew I had an already reserved seat and didn't have to show up to the platform until boarding started.

If Amtrak knows a particular train is going to be crowded, they should bring on an extra attendant to help in the cafe car and make sure the bathrooms are in decent condition. I have no knowledge of Amtrak's union contract with their operating crew and the duties of the conductor vs. assistant. Does Amtrak even need an AC on these routes (I imagine passenger load plays a roll)? Maybe a train attendant would be more appropriate to add than more ACs.

There is a point about standing in line at the station vs on the train. When I returned on the Maple Leaf, I was lucky that I was the 2nd person through on a very lightly traveled train (at least at the border crossing). But at least once you're through the process is over and if you're arriving in Montreal/Toronto you don't have to wait for everyone else to clear before continuing on. I guess it depends on how much resources each country's border patrol puts toward the clearance process too. Not really worth it for 1 train a day.
 

the_traveler

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I don’t like that in NYP, the Adirondack and Maple Leaf are the only trains that you have to line up for in advance. And it has 2 lines - one Canada bound and the other everyone else.

They can (and are working on it to) do the Customs check at Montreal, but they couldn’t do that in Toronto. Between Niagara Falls, ON and Toronto, the ML is actually a VIA train and has numerous stops in Ontario. Would you like to have to go thru Customs in Toronto if you were traveling from Hamilton to Toronto? That’s like in the US saying you have to go thru Customs if you take the Cascades from Bellingham, WA to SEA.

Living on the route of the Adirondack, I know that north of Albany I hardly have a hard time finding an available window seat on the right side. Much of the train empties out in ALB. And you can always go to another car for a seat. Only when boarding at NYP are you told to “sit in this car only”. If you board at POU, ALB or FED, you don’t have that “restriction”. Nor do you go thru that separate “Passport Check” line anywhere else except NYP! Even if you’re going from SDY to Montreal.
 

Tom Booth

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I debated putting this in the Travelogues subforum, but with my final points it may be better off here.

I just finished riding the Adirondack, and short of the scenery, it is probably not a trip I will take anytime soon under its current conditions. I happened to ride the day after New Years, so the train was especially packed. I made sure to get to Penn Station over an hour before departure, in order to get a good window seat on the Lake Champlain side (I've seen the Hudson enough times). After having my passport checked, I stood in the boarding line with 1 hour to go before boarding would begin. Even then, there were probably 20 people ahead of me.

While waiting to board, multiple panhandlers solicited money from us including one who borderline threatened physical harm with a knife and wished that none of us would make it to our final destination. It's a shame that for many tourists, this is the side of the U.S. and Penn Station they'll see. It is really quite embarrassing. Even more tragic, of course, is the lack of homelessness services and mental health services available for many people.

Once on board, I was disappointed to see that all Montreal passengers were to sit in the Amfleet I coaches (I did walk the back of the train, but don't remember if they were Am I or Am II coaches). The 12 hour journey wasn't very comfortable in those more cramped coaches, and I felt guilty making my seatmate constantly get up for bathroom/cafe car runs.

Speaking of, the cafe was constantly packed. I felt bad for the attendant who worked non-stop (and was still very pleasant). The bathrooms became a bit of a mess by the end of the trip. Unlike long distance trains, there are no coach attendants on-board to maintain the bathrooms, and it shouldn't be the conductor's responsibility.

Of course, there is also the long wait at the border. That topic has been brought up here numerously and I wholeheartedly agree that it should be done at Montreal (and Toronto for the Maple Leaf). Even though the border agent spent less than 60 seconds questioning me/viewing my documentation, it took 2 hours to go through the train because of how crowded it was. Amtrak trains are hardly competitive with driving as it is, but this just exacerbates the problem.

As scenic as the trip is, I probably won't use the train again unless some changes are made.

1) Business class should be added. As far as I can tell, this is the only NYS funded train without business class. I wonder why?
2) Amtrak needs to add reserved seating to all trains. I know this is a hot topic, but it will greatly improve the boarding process. What is the point of being Select Plus or having lounge passes, if I have to que in line for an hour in order to get the seat I want? This is also necessary if you just want to sit next to your travel companion(s).
3) Amtrak should move to the VIA (and Brightline) model and stick the conductor in the locomotive with the engineer. Have a on board service manager whose #1 responsibility is the passengers. I have encountered some great conductors on Amtrak, but their main priority should be the safe operation of the train. It also would mean more space in the cafe car as 2 tables aren't taken up by the conductors.
4) Add a Viewliner Dining car. This is a bit more fantasy, but since Amtrak no longer has any dome cars, the Viewliner Dining car would make sightseeing a little easier.
I've taken the Adirondack a dozen or so times, most recently in October, and have never had a problem with panhandlers at Penn Station. I guess you ran into some bad luck on the day after New Years. I definitely agree that a BC choice would improve the trip. But the biggest improvement would be a border inspection at Gare Centrale. Both governments have agreed to it in principle but need to also agree on cost sharing - here Quebec seems to be slow on its feet. Let's hope it gets done soon. All said, I still find the Adirondack a great, albeit slow, trip and will continue to use it on my annual excursions to the great city of Montreal.
 

Bob Dylan

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In the Summer this is a very nice trip,especially along the Lake.

Business Class and Better Food and drink choices, along with improved Customs and Immigration Inspections, would enhance the expierience.

Having two of the world's great cities on each end make this a must do trip IMO.
 

JRR

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In the Summer this is a very nice trip,especially along the Lake.

Business Class and Better Food and drink choices, along with improved Customs and Immigration Inspections, would enhance the expierience.

Having two of the world's great cities on each end make this a must do trip IMO.
This summer, my wife and I rode the Adirondack from Montreal to NYP.

We came in the night before and stayed at the Queen Elizabeth (pricey but a real gem!) and right up the escalators from the station.

Before going up, we checked with customer service and the man there said to meet him at 9:00 AM and he see that we got on the train.

The next morning, we met the representative and he introduced us to their version of a Red Cap and he took our bags and asked us to meet him at the pay telephones at 9:45 AM (see picture below!), and suggested breakfast at a restaurant across the concourse.

We had a very good breakfast and then returned to the pay phones where he met us promptly and took us down to the train and directed us to excellent seats on the Lake Champlain side.

We had a great trip with a minimal stop at the border and arrived at NYP on time! A very nice ride.

IMG_6956.JPG
 

PVD

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The BC issue is unlikely to change, others have previously mentioned CBP preference as a reason, but I have no independent knowledge of that. Equipment choice and input into food service is a NYS issue. On any Empire train out of NYP you can always have a red cap pre board you for seat selection preference. Customs pre clear in Montreal will do nothing for the Northbound
 

sttom

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Assuming their will be a check point in Montreal, that would mean the stop at Saint Lambert would need to be eliminated so uncheck passengers can't wonder into Canada. Meaning that passengers on the northbound train could use it as well, eliminating the boarder stop. Not sure how much time that would save overall, but the few times I've gone through customs it hasn't taken too long. At least not 2 hours long.
 

PVD

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That would be up to Canada, they may not want a train coming that far over the border without inspection. It certainly provides hope, but no guarantee, which at least exists South bound
 

MikefromCrete

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We can't have those dangerous Canadians trying to get into the USA! On the other hand, I'm sure the Canadians feel safer blocking gun-toting Americans.
Seriously, until 9/11, Canada-US border crossings were a lot simpler. It's just the times we've living in.
 

jis

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The BC issue is unlikely to change, others have previously mentioned CBP preference as a reason, but I have no independent knowledge of that. Equipment choice and input into food service is a NYS issue. On any Empire train out of NYP you can always have a red cap pre board you for seat selection preference. Customs pre clear in Montreal will do nothing for the Northbound
Say what? The Canadian C&I on the northbound will take place in Montreal too, just like the Canadian C&I is done in Vancouver for the Cascades.

What I don;t understand is why there is so much difficulty in doing C&I at origin or destination when there is no stop between that point and the border in case of US and Canada, when even countries like India and Bangladesh are able to pull it off on service between Kolkata and Dhaka (C&I at Kolkata International and Dhaka Cantonment Stations) and Kolkata and Khulna (C&I at Kolkata International and Benapole Border, as this train has commercial stops short of Khulna in Bangladesh).

Why do we even have custom controls between the US, and Canada?

Are we worried one of there singers will come and serenade us?
Because Canada allegedly has much more progressive and permissive immigration policy than the US can deal with perhaps?
 

PVD

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They should probably have greater concerns about what might come over from our side.....
 

jis

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They should probably have greater concerns about what might come over from our side.....
I will refrain from touching that one with a ten foot barge pole lest I get electrocuted :D
 

PVD

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Agreed, there shouldn't be a problem, but there is. I know the agreement to pre clear southbound was set (not implemented but set) I thought for some reason they didn't include Northbound. I certainly hope that is wrong and you are right.....
 

jis

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Agreed, there shouldn't be a problem, but there is. I know the agreement to pre clear southbound was set (not implemented but set) I thought for some reason they didn't include Northbound. I certainly hope that is wrong and you are right.....
The Northbound does not require any agreement about anything since the Canadians can do whatever they want in their own territory. The Southbound needed an agreement because it involves setting up a small area in Montreal station that is ostensibly US territory for the duration of time it takes to process passengers, put them on the train until it leaves, and involves allowing US law enforcement officers to operate in Canadian territory.
 

PVD

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That is a good point. As I said, I hope you are right....
 

Tom Booth

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The BC issue is unlikely to change, others have previously mentioned CBP preference as a reason, but I have no independent knowledge of that. Equipment choice and input into food service is a NYS issue. On any Empire train out of NYP you can always have a red cap pre board you for seat selection preference. Customs pre clear in Montreal will do nothing for the Northbound
But a customs point in Montreal helps both north and south bounds. PAX that have issues won't hold up train like they do now at Rouses Point. PAX without issues would simply detrain or don't board at Gare Centrale. The only wait is the time it takes to go through customs.
 

PVD

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Yes, I believe JIS pointed out that what I said is likely incorrect. That would be a good thing...
 

jloewen

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I will refrain from touching that one with a ten foot barge pole lest I get electrocuted :D
Do you remember the final moments of the TV show "The Americans?" The Russian spies (husband and wife and daughter) are fleeing the US on Amtrak, having been discovered by the FBI agent who lives across the street. At that time, they get checked by US customs before Rouse's Point (at least in the show), but they don't sit together and escape detection. Then the A'dack pulls into Rouse's Point and at the last moment, as it is about to pull away, the teenage daughter gets off, to make her way back to DC; she is NOT going to escape to the USSR. Interesting twist. -- Jim Loewen
 
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jis

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Yes indeed. Neat how they converted a Metro North station into Rouses Point and a Metro North EMU into an Amtrak train for shooting that sequence. Of course that led to third rails at Rouses Point :)

Yup Paige stayed back and went back to the safe house. Of course their handler Claudia may have already skipped town back to the USSR by then too. So lots of untied ends left around for people to wonder about for a long time to come.
 
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MARC Rider

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I'm really surprised about the panhandlers. Never have had that sort of problem in Penn Station, especially during a boarding lineup. As Just-thinking says, Amtrak Police should be on the job or should be notified.

If you want the experience of being able to pick your own seat to get a particular view, don't travel on one of the busiest days of the year. Even if they had the option for pre-assigning seats, you'd run the risk that the seat you want isn't available. While many of us believe that a packed train diminishes the train-riding experience, the more passengers Amtrak can cram in, the better it is for Amtrak's financial performance and political support. "People don't ride trains?" Oh yeah, look at your experience, they sure do!

I had a similar experience once riding the Vermonter from Essex Junction to Baltimore on a Sunday in the summer. The train was packed from about White River Junction to New Haven, and pretty full from there to New York. It was much emptier south of New York. They really should have had someone to clean the restrooms at New Haven, at least. The smell got pretty rank. This was strictly a function of the sold out train, as I've done the Vermonter many times, and the restrooms were fine. By the way, the Amfleet 1 seats for the 12 hour ride were perfectly comfortable. After all, people ride airline coach seats that are much more cramped for 12 hour intercontinental flights.

I've also ridden the Adirondack, but only to Port Kent. Still a long ride on a crowded train. They could have justified a second cafe attendant to keep the line moving faster. I'm not sure how they can staff the cafes properly, having 2 attendants during busy times, and save money by having only one attendant when there aren't so many passengers. But that's not unique to Amtrak, I've noticed the retail everywhere is understaffed during busy times, and even not so busy times. I think that's just an aspect of American management culture -- cut costs over everything else.

As far as the slow running across the border, I think that the vast majority of the passengers aren't riding the train to go to Montreal, and New York State isn't really funding it for that purpose. And even if they have preclearance, you'll still be standing in a customs line in the station rather than sitting on the train waiting to be inspected.
Thinking some more, one of the advantages of preclearance is that, although the passengers still have to wait in line for inspection before departure or upon arrival, at least the train itself isn't delayed by the stop at the border, particularly if the inspection finds something unusual. This might help on-time performance of the southbound train especially.
 

jis

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Thinking some more, one of the advantages of preclearance is that, although the passengers still have to wait in line for inspection before departure or upon arrival, at least the train itself isn't delayed by the stop at the border, particularly if the inspection finds something unusual. This might help on-time performance of the southbound train especially.
One other advantage of doing C&I at a fixed location on terra firma is that it is possible to deploy things like NEXUS/GE kiosks to speed along processing and the agents have their full complement of equipment available, so a huge amount of time is not wasted in doing secondaries off train etc. Those that have no issues can be quickly processed and sent on their way while those with major issues can be held back in a city rather than in the middle of nowhere in Lacolle or even Rouses Point.
 
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