Steve's Winter 1998 Amtrak Travel
January 3 - 10, 1998
This is the travelogue of the segment of my round trip rail travel
from New York City to St. Albans, Vermont, on the Amtrak Vermonter.
Vermonter - Train #56
- The baggage car of the Vermonter
- The Windsor Locks Canal Company
Friday, January 9, 1998, 3:01PM, Springfield,MA
What an adventure! Last night I decided to try to go up on the
Vermonter instead of the Adirondack to Montreal. The computer showed that
the Vermonter did run yesterday in both directions, so I crossed my fingers
and hoped it would do so today. The computer showed that the Adirondack was
sold out in both directions for today and yesterday, but on the Internet
Reservation System, "Sold Out" doesn't always mean "Sold Out." I have
found that anytime seats are unavailable, the train is listed as "Sold Out."
Also, if you try to book too far in advance, such as a year in advance,
and those trains have not yet been listed in the online reservation system,
they can also come back as "Sold Out." You might sometimes find Thruway
Buses as being listed as "Sold Out" months in advance. That doesn't
really mean they are sold out either. Buses don't seem to be entered into
the reservation system as early as train and thus will be shown as
"Sold Out" even when there aren't any reservations for them at all yet.
Just keep in mind that "Sold Out" can sometimes mean "Unavailable" for
some other reason. Check with 1-800-USA-RAIL if you have questions about
the availability of a particular bus or train that doesn't seem likely
should be sold out.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure the reason the Adirondack was listed as "Sold Out"
for yesterday and today, and even the Thruway Bus between Montreal and
St. Albans was listed as "Sold Out" for yesterday, is because of the
ice storm and state of emergency in Montreal. However, as of last night
the Vermonter and the Thruway Bus were listed as available for today,
and the Adirondack was listed as available for the return journey for
tomorrow. I made those reservations at
and then went across the street to Penn Station and picked them up at an
automatic ticket machine. Thus, I was holdling in my hands Amtrak tickets
for a trip up to Montreal via the Vermonter and Thruway Bus, and a return
back the following day on the Adirondack!
In the morning, I got on the internet again and went to
to make sure that all trains were still scheduled to run today. I then
used the "Train Arrival" feature to find that the Vermonter had left
Washington, DC on-time in the morning and was still running on-time.
To make double sure of what was going on, I went to the live webcam
that shows the Departures/Arrivals in Philadelphia 30th Street Station
and found that the Vermonter was listed on the board and expected to
leave right on schedule! To see the Departures/Arrivals board in the
Philadelphia 30th Street Station yourself, go to the web page at
select that item from the list.
I checked out of Hotel Pennsylvania a day early and went across the
street and down into Penn Station. I looked at all the Departure and
Arrival screens and the status on everything looked fine on them.
I then checked the main Departure board and the Vermonter was listed
to depart on time. I then went to one of the food places in the
station and purchased a muffin and some coffee. I find it more
pleasant waiting there than in the designated waiting area. As a side
note, there is a great assortment of Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and
Long Island Railroad schedules in the Amtrak waiting area and at
the information booth that is right next to the waiting area. If you
need to get an Amtrak National Timetable, Northeast Timetable, or
Amtrak Vacation Planner, you can get them from the Amtrak Information
The Vermonter was scheduled to arrive into New York at 10:55 AM, but
not scheduled to leave until 11:20 AM. I left the eating place at 11 AM
and went to look at the Arrival display screen. It showed that the
Vermonter had already arrived and was on Track (Gate) 10. Thus, I knew
it would be boarding at Gate 10, even though the Departure screen did
not show a gate for that train yet. I stood by the top of the stairs
at Gate 10 and waited for the announcement.
The announcement came at 11:10 AM and it wasn't what I wanted to hear.
The train would be going to St. Albans, Vermont, but there would be no
bus service from St. Albans to Montreal! I stood at the top of the
stairs while others went down to board the train. I had to make a last
minute decision about whether to go or not! Well, I figured this train
was going to make the entire run of the Vermonter to St. Albans. If I
took the train, I'd finish another segment of Amtrak rail travel. I
don't count the ThruWay Buses in my quest to travel all of the Amtrak
miles. Thus, I wouldn't be missing out on any part of the Vermonter
rail travel by not taking the bus on to Montreal. I decided to board
the train and headed down the stairs!
I had a Custom Class ticket and found it to be at the very end of the
train. There are only 18 seats in Custom Class. The rest of the car
is the Cafe Car and that part of the car is seperated from Custom Class
by a curtain. Actually, they are using a Club Class Car for Custom
Class, so this is a really nice Custom Class! There are two seats on
one side of the aisle and just one seat on the other. There are only
6 rows in Custom Class. Free non-alcoholic beverages and newspapers
are provided. There is plenty of leg room, the fold down tray tables
are extra big, and the seats are large and plush with big arm rests.
I waited until noon my time (Eastern Time) and then called
Slotsy Tours & Travel when
they opened at 9 AM Pacific Time. I told them about my change of plans.
They booked a room at the Comfort Inn on Fairfax Street in St. Albans,
Vermont, just one and a half miles from the station, for $63 for the
night. In case you ever plan to go to St. Albans, Vermont, the phone
number of that hotel is 802-524-3300, but I'd recommend that you just have
Slotsy Tours & Travel
book your whole trip: Amtrak, hotels, air, car rentals and all!
Slotsy Tours & Travel
also booked another reservation for me at Hotel Penn for
tomorrow night and moved my New York to Los Angeles flight to the same
time on the next day. Another reason you should consider using
Slotsy Tours & Travel is
because of their experience and understanding of how travel plans can
change right in the middle due to circumstances that can affect Amtrak
travel. They won't be surprised about your circumstances and will be
able to find accommodations for you near a station when necessary.
Where most other travel agents wouldn't have a clue about what to do,
they can help you figure out alternative Amtrak routes and plans, if
that should become necessary.
In Springfield, an announcement was made that everyone going to Montreal
should go up to the first car. I thought that everyone on the train
already knew this train was not going on to Montreal, so I wasn't sure
why anyone with that destination would be on the train. But, since I
thought they might be announcing something about transportation to
Montreal, I went up to listen. Evidently there were about a dozen people
on the train that expected to go on to Montreal! Some said that the
ticket agents where they boarded the train told them that everything was
operational, or they hadn't heard anything about a cancellation. I don't
know what announcents had been made on the train prior to New York City,
but I know that a clear announcement about the cancelled Thruway Bus
Service had been made in Penn Station in New York!
I was really glad that I had thought of making that hotel reservation
at 9 AM! The Conductor said that all the hotels in St. Albans and in
Burlington, Vermont, were booked solid! I called my hotel to check on
the status of my reservation. I explained to them that I was on the
train and might get there late, depending on what time the train arrived.
Since I used a credit card guarantee, they said that my room would be
waiting for me when I got there! I asked if they had any more rooms and
they said that they were booked solid! They also explained that Amtrak
had just called to see if they had any vacancy and they had to explain
that they did not. So, the Conductor was right this time, and I was
real glad I thought of making that reservation earlier!
There was a person in the front car explaining all about the
situation to the people who had planned to go on to Montreal. He
wasn't the Conductor. I'm not sure who he was, other than I'm pretty
sure he was an Amtrak employee. He explained that the border was
closed to normal traffic because of the emergeny situation. He
explained that the roads were covered with ice, that power was out
in most places, and said that Amtrak had called all the hotesl and
found they were all full, even 25 miles south of St. Albans to
Burlington, Vermont! Evidently, people that flew into the area were
also being turned back at the border and the airlines were filling
up all the hotels with those passengers!
The person recommended that everyone that had expected to go to Montreal
either get off here and take a train back to where they started or
book a hotel right here in Springfield and wait until transportation
was available all the way through to Montreal. Either way, he said there
would be no charge. Passengers who stayed here for northbound
transportation could just use their ticket stubs to board that train.
Passengers who wanted to return to where they started could do so free
of charge and then get a refund on their ticket. The person also
explained that the ice storm and weather emergency was not created by
Amtrak and Amtrak would not be paying to put people up in hotels.
Amtrak would be glad to take people back to where they started and
give them a refund, but would not pay for overnight accommodations.
He also said that it was made clear ealier in the day that bus service
was not available. Several people objected to that statement, but many
of those were French Canadians and other foreign visitors that had
limited understanding of English.
Almost all the Montreal bound passengers got off in Springfield.
Amtrak helped them locate a hotel. We got delayed about 15 minutes or
so while their baggage was removed from the train, including from the
Palmer, MA between Springfield and Amherst (not a station)
The train does an odd thing at this point. It leaves an east-west
railroad to go onto a north-south railroad. In order to do that, it
has to change direction. I had noticed that from New York City to
New Haven, Conneticut, we had an electric engine. In New Haven, they
took that engine off and put on a regular diesel locomotive. That
was at the front of the train. But then they also brought in a
another diesel locomtive and put that at the tail of the train!
Now I see why! In Palmer, they shut down the train, the engineer
walks through the train to the other end, and they powered it back
up. The diesel at the end of the train has now become the lead of
the train! The Conductor announced that we will be going backwards
for the rest of the way and that is normal for this train. He
explained that anyone that feels uncomfortable going this way can
move forward in their car and will find other seats that face the
other way. This is not true in Custom Class as the seats all face
the same way. I don't mind that. I usually sit facing backwards
when I am in a private room in the sleeping car.
Friday, January 9, 1998, 5:10PM, Brattleboro, VT
Friday, January 9, 1998, 5:40PM, Bellows Falls, VT
We are still running 15 minutes late. I guess they have this schedule
pretty tight, making it difficult to make up any of the time that was
lost in Springfield.
Strangest restroom I have ever encountered on an Amtrak train! It is
at the other end of this car, in the Cafe section. However, it is
marked that it is for Custom Class passengers only. It is one of those
lare restrooms like they have for handicapped, though I think a
handicapped person might have a problem maneuvering onto the toilet
seat. That is usually not the case on other Amtrak trains. There is
usually at least one toilet in each car for people in wheelchairs.
Actually, I'm pretty sure by the position of the sink and toilet,
the designers really expected people only to sit while using this
toilet on the train! I can usally guess at where to find everything
that I need in a train, especially in the restroom. The only thing
you have to watch out for is using common sense to locate the "Flush"
button will usually send you right to the "Call Attendant" button!
In this restroom, however, common sense doesn't do you any good at
all! My first challenge was trying to figure out how to lock the
door. There was a latch that didn't seem to stick. A big sign said
"Lock On Left, Push to Lock, Pull to Unlock." I tried pushing the
latch to the left, but to no avail. This didn't seem right. Then,
I noticed an arrow on that sign actually pointing to the left. The
button to lock the door was actually this great big handle opposite
from the side that the door opens! Once I realized that, it was
easy to lock and unlock the door. It wasn't obvious because the
door is really huge and both the sign and the handle are on the
opposite side of the door away from the handle! Next challenge
was trying to find the paper towels. I looked in the obviouse places,
but could find none. There had to be a dispenser somewhere! Then, I
saw it. A great big sign on the mirror indicating that the paper
towels were up and under the mirror directly above the seat. Sure
enough! Obviously they had to add these huge signs telling people
how to lock the door and how to find the paper towels because
common sense would not lead you to where to find these items!
I'm not sure, but I think we just went through Windsor-Mt.Ascutney,VT
without even stopping. It must be my imagination. The Conductor
announced, after we passed it, that we had just left Windsor.
Friday, January 9, 1998, 7:11PM, Randolf, VT
Very strange, but the horn on this train sounds very much like the
whistle on a steam train! I've not been around steam trains that much,
but when I was a kid, I used to have a lionel train set with a model
steam engine. The horn on this train sounds like the whistle on the
model steam train, only a lot bigger! These look like the same engines
as on the San Diegans, but the horn sure sounds different!
Looks like we made up some time and are only about 4 minutes behind
Friday, January 9, 1998, 9:10PM, St. Albans, VT
There were only 5 passengers remaining on the train with me being the
only person in Custom Class, when the train arrived in St. Albans.
That isn't surprising considering that everyone that had planned to
take this train to Montreal either never boarded it, or they got off
in Springfield to wait for the next train that would have a bus
connection to Montreal.
I went inside the station. It had a nice little waiting room that
was kept warm. There is a soda machine in the room and an assortment
of Amtrak literature. The only schedules out on the shelves were for
the Lake Shore Limited. In all my travels, I have observed that
Amtrak station often don't have schedules for the trains that serve
that station but will often have plenty for some train that does not
go to that station. That does make logical sense. If someone wants a
schedule, they will most likely want one for the train they will be
taking! Thus, those run out quickly. Schedules for trains that don't
go to that station will be in low demand and you can expect a small
supply to last a very long time!
I asked the agent in the station if he could still issue tickets
or if I should wait for morning. He said he could issue me one right
now. So, I purchased a ticket for the journey from St. Albans, Vermont,
back to New York City, Custom Class, for tomorrow morning. The railfare
was $50.50, the Custom Class surcharge was $26, for a total of $76l.50,
including the AAA discount. If you want to take the full length of the
Vermonter, you might want to start in Washington, DC where it begins
its northbound journey at 7:30 AM.
Best I could guess, this was the evening agent that is just here for
a few hours to meet the arriving train each evening. The regular
agent that runs the station seems to be the morning agent who arrives
at 6 AM and sees the train off at 8 AM. I saw they had Vermonter hats
and T-Shirts for sale. The evening agent wasn't sure where they were
kept. I told him that wasn't a problem. I'd be down in the morning
early and would see if I could buy those items from the morning agent.
Friday, January 9, 1998, 10:00PM, St. Albans, VT
Comfort Inn & Suites, 167 Fairfax Road (Route 104) Exit 19 from I-89,
St. Albans, Vermont 05478, 802-524-3300 or 800-228-5150.
I really like this hotel! The hotels in smaller towns always seem to give
you far more for your money than the older (and sometimes even newer)
hotel in big cities. The cost of this room is far less than the room
in the Hotel Pennsylvania, but it is easily twice the size of the Hotel
Pennsylvania room! There are two big queen beds. They also have a TV
that gets a lot of channels, but most importantly a 24 hour weather
channel and 24 hour news channel. Hotel Pennsylvania only gets a few
channels and no 24 hour news or weather channels at all! Local calls
are free and they have a phone outlet right next to the table along with
an AC outlet, making it very convenient to use your computer in the
I'm actually looking forward to completing my quest to cover all the
Amtrak routes (and then the VIA routes in Canada). I prefer small
towns to big cities. Once I've covered all the rail miles, I can
design trips where I can spend evenings in small towns instead of
needing to be near the stations at major connection points. I'm looking
forward to visiting a lot of small towns along the Amtrak routes that
are like St. Albans, Vermont.
If you visit here, there is a taxi that meets the train, probably
more than one depending on how many people usually get off the
train on that day in that season. The entire Amtrak crew also stays
at this hotel. It takes two cabs to get all of the crew over to the
hotel, which doesn't take long since the hotel is only about a mile
from the station. The taxi took three crew members to the hotel, then
came back in about 20 minutes to pick up the only 3 passengers that
needed a cab, which included me. We were all going to the Comfort Inn
also! The cab was then going to come back to the station again to pick
up the last of the crew members that would be staying at this hotel.
I think the last crew included the Engineer and a Conductor, but they
weren't ready to leave yet as they were still "puting the train away."
I found out that the crew comes back to the station on a taxi at 7 AM.
I want to look around the area a bit and maybe take some video, so that
is a bit late for me. I'd like to be down at the station by 7 AM at
the latest. The taxi place, Smith Taxi (802-527-0161) doesn't open
until 6 AM, so I will call them at that time and see if they can get
a cab over here earlier. The fare is only $2.50 between the hotel and
the station because it is so close.
If you need to rent a car when you visit this place, I found this
information in the room: "Low Cost Car Rentals, Free Local Deliver,
Low Milage Cars, Train Station Drop, Office Hours: 8 - 7 Monday,
Wednesday, Friday, 9 - 3 Saturday, 800-286-2189, 802-524-2189,
North Main Street, St. Albans, Vermont." I'm always having difficulty
finding car rental places near train stations that are open at the
hours that the train arrives or leaves, so the "Train Station Drop"
caught my attention. I'm sure that means you can just drop the car off
at the station when you go to the station to catch your train. There
is a place that does that in Flagstaff, Arizona, also. But, I think
you can't pick up the car when the train arrives at 9:10 PM. You
probably have to get your car the next day, but it does sound like they
will deliver the rental car to your hotel for free!
Continuing to listen to the Weather Channel,
http://weather.com, they are saying
that the ice storm that hit Montreal was the worst they have ever had.
They are showing video from both Montreal and from northern Vermont.
The biggest problem seems to be the tremendous amount of ice on the
tree branches. Those branches then break, even some branches that are
over 30 inches thick! If there are power lines under the trees, then
those get cut. If there are roads under the trees, those branches
become a hazzard and can sometimes completely block roads. Branches
that big aren't something you can just get out of your car and move
out of the way by yourself! Plus, there is always the danger that one
of those branches could fall on your car as you are going under them.
A state of emergency has been declared in both Montreal, the area
around it, and in northern Vermont. That is where I am, about as far
north as you can get in Vermont! I haven't seen much of it yet as it
is still dark out. I'll get a better first hand view of things tomorrow.
I think those people waiting for the next train that will have a
connecting bus to Montreal might be waiting a while!
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 07:53AM, St. Albans, VT
- A company south of the station platform.
- The Vermonter waiting for departure in the cold morning air.
- The Vermonter is one of the Amtrak NortheastDirect Service trains.
- St. Albans Amtrak Station side view.
- St. Albans Amtrak Station - track side view.
- The Vermonter uses a "Club" car for their "Custom Class" service which makes it really nice!
- Just 18 comfy roomy seats in the Vermonter "Custom Class!"
Well, here I am, back on the Vermonter again! I got up at 5:30 AM and
was ready to leave the hotel by 6 AM. I called the taxi and they sent
one right over. I had just enough time to check-out, and pick up a
cup of coffee and donut at the complimentary continental breakfast.
Although the hotel told me last night that the continental breakfast
would be available by 7 AM, everything was all set up by the time I
came down at 6:05 AM!
The taxi got me down to the station pretty quickly. I went in and
purchased a Vermonter Cap and T-Shirt. The T-Shirt was a Medium and
the last one. The Ticket Agent said they sell thousands of them
every year. He wasn't surprised when I told him that the Cafe Car was
out of these items.
I left my luggage in the waiting room and walked down the cold icy
platform a bit. The platform had been well shoveled and sanded, but
I think much of it was just hard ground, maybe frozen mud. The
center of town appears to be just one block from the station. I saw
an open bakery a block down from the platform and walked over to it.
I had to zip up my jacket tight as the air was pretty cold and there
was a slight breeze. But, the air was very clean and refreshing!
I purchased a local newspaper for 50 cents from the rack. The headline
read: "STATE OF EMERGENCY - National Guard attacks ice-storm damage."
Almost the entire newspaper was filled with nothing but coverage of the
ice-storm. It was amazing in that the only way this had affected me
personally was to disrupt my rail travel plans. Many people were
without electricity, heat and telephone service. Most roads were
closed and there was a ban on driving in many areas. People were
warned to stay in doors and to not let their kids play outside because
of the danger of falling branches and ice. Emergency repairs crews
could not work through the night because of the danger of falling
Somehow, I've managed to be in a narrow corridor where there is
electricity and heat and which is clear of falling branches. Well,
I guess that actually makes a lot of sense. Evidently, the path of
the Adirondack was not clear of the effects from this storm and that
is why it didn't run. Thus, I was kept out of the affects of the storm
because Amtrak wasn't runing into areas affected by the storm!
Don't quote me on this as I might not have gotten this story exactly
right. If I understood what was told to me correctly, the father of
the St. Albans Ticket Agent used to own the taxi company, but he sold
it to someone else. However, he still works for the taxi company and
continues to take the Amtrak crew to the hotel at night and bring them
back in the morning.
The St. Albans Amtrak Station is a small two story building, but would
be the envy of many Amtrak stops along the system. The upstairs is vacant
at this time, but used to be rented out to the JC's.
There are 4 passengers onboard so far as we depart St. Albans. They
must have turned the train around before bringing it out. Last night
my seat was facing the reverse direction of travel. I'm sitting in
the exact same seat again, and I am still sitting in the reverse
direction of travel!
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 08:30AM, Burlington-Essex Jct, VT
A lot of snow, rivers and mountains on much of this route!
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 08:58AM, Waterbury-Stowe, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 09:12AM, Montpelier-Barre, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 09:47AM, Randolph, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 10:35AM, White River Junction, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 10:59AM, Windsor-Mt. Ascutney, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 11:10AM, Claremont, NH
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 11:32AM, Bellows Falls, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 12:05PM, Brattleboro, VT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 12:53PM, Amherst, MA
Figured out my problem yesterday with the lack of room in the larger
restroom. The sink is a folding sink! When folded up out of the way,
there is plenty of room. Another weird item is that when I returned
from the restroom, my notebook computer had fallen off the seatback
table and into my seat! Strange that it didn't fall down while I had
been sitting in my seat. I never had to keep pushing it back onto the
center of the table to keep it from falling off, so I don't know why
it picked this particular moment to fall off! Forturnately, it just
fell into the soft seat cushion so there was no damage. I don't know
what would have happened if it fell directly to the floor!
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 01:34PM, Palmer MA
This is not a station, but it is once again where they switch from
the north-south railroad tracks to the east-west railroad tracks and
reverse the direction in which the train is traveling! Once again
they announced that anyone that is uncomfortable traveling backwards
should grab their seat tag and go to a seat that faces the other way.
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 02:00PM, Springfield, MA
Starting in Springfield, Amtrak goes onto its own frequency
which is Channel 54 - 160.920. There are quite a few trains
that serve Springfield with destinations both north and south and
east and west. From here trains head off to Boston-MA, Washington-DC,
Chicago-IL and St.Albans-VT plus all points in between. The yard is
pretty large and there are usually several Amtrak mail and express
cars in the yard. Springfield is a major U.S.Mail handling facility for
Amtrak and a new larger mail handling facility is in the process of
being reconstructed right near the station.
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 02:58PM, Hartford, CT
Connecticut Marble Capitol Building With Gold-Leafed Dome.
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 03:11PM, Berlin, CT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 03:22PM, Meriden, CT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 03:45PM, New Haven, CT
New Haven locomotive and other Conneticut Commuter Cars.
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 04:32PM, Bridgeport, CT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 04:58PM, Stamford, CT
Saturday, January 10, 1998, 06:00PM, New York, NY
These are only approximate, but close!
- 54-160.920-Springfield,MA to New York City,NY (Amtrak Channel)
- 46-160.800-Springfield,MA to Palmer,MA
- 73-161.205-Palmer,MA to St. Albans,VT
Electric Outlets Again!
I immediately found the electric outlet when I boarded this car.
There was already someone siting in that seat and he had his notebook
PC plugged into it! Guess I'm far from the only one that knows there
is at least one outlet in each car! He got off at Springfield,
Massachusettes, and I moved into his seat. I didn't want to use up
my batteries unnecessarily since I knew I would need all 3 of them
tomorrow if I didn't manage to get the same seat. I think the
outlet is about in the same position in this car as in the previous
ones, but because it is configued as a Cafe/Club Car instead of a
regular coach car, the seat numbers are different. This one is at
seat numbers 36 and 37.