Amtrak Lake Shore Limited
Chicago, Illinois - Schenectady, New York
January 6, 1999 - January 7, 1999
This travelogue covers my journey on the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited from Chicago, Illinois to Schenectady, New York during the largest winter storms that midwest has seen in 30 years! Linked from this travelogue you will find both still pictures and short video clips of this journey.
The following italicized section is a repeat of the very last section of the previous segment of this rail journey on the Amtrak California Zephyr. If you have already read that travelogue, then skip beyond the italicized section.
The Lakeshore Limited had arrived into Chicago very late. The same crew would be taking the train out that had just brought it in. Due to some union or safety rules, they could not take the train back out until after a specified number of minimum hours had elapsed. Thus, instead of leaving at 7:30 P.M., the train was now scheduled to leave at 12:30 A.M. at the earliest! I wouldn't have minded a delay of an hour or two. I even desired it or I would have missed the connection myself, but 5 hours?
That meant that my 90 minute layover in Schenectady between trains was definitely not going to work. I had been working away on alternative plans just in case this did happen. I did find something that might just work! Basically my next rail segment would take me to Schenectady which would be the origin of two round trips: one to Montreal and one to Rutland. The problem was that the train to Montreal left too early. The train to Rutland didn't leave until 6:45 P.M. If I reversed the order of the two trips, I could make the plan still work! However, it would require some adjustment. The return train from Rutland would not get me back in time to take the train to Montreal. The only fix to this was to take a taxi from Rutland, Vermont to the nearest station of the train that goes to Montreal: Fort Edwards. It is only 44 miles from Rutland to Ft. Edwards, not an unreasonable taxi ride. The fare might be a bit expensive, but it would salvage the time and expense of this cross country rail journey to accomplish the desired goal.
Now came the hardest part: How do I change my tickets so that I make the round trip to Rutland first and then the round trip to Schenectady? I went to the Amtrak ticket counter. After looking at my tickets, the ticket agent said the change could not be made because I had some sort of discount "All Aboard" fare. I reminded the agent that the reason that I wanted to make the change was because there was no way that my train would arrive into Schenectady to make the connection. She said that I would have to wait until I arrived into Schenectady and they would take care of me there!
I'm sure you can understand why I did not want to do that. Before I attempt a swap in the two dates I'd have to make sure hotel space was available and seating was available on the trains. I didn't want to do that in the few minutes I'd have in Schenectady before the train is to leave! I had a feeling I'd run into this problem at the Amtrak Ticket Counter. Thus, I went into Plan #2. I called 1-800-USA-RAIL and just booked the tickets that I needed outright. The total came to $72 with my AAA discount. For another $17, I added Custom Class to my segment to Rutland, Vermont. That took care of the rail reservations! When I get back, I'll get a refund on the two sets of round trip tickets that I wasn't able to use due to missed connections from the weather. That should cover much of this $89 expense.
Next, I called up both the hotel in Montreal and the hotel in Rutland. Neither one gave me any problems about swapping the dates around. I even got the phone number of a local taxi company from the hotel in Rutland. I'll give them a call in the morning to reserve a taxi for Thursday morning. So, I was all set with my new plan to do the round trip to Rutland first and to Montreal second!
At least, I thought I was all set. Then, I noticed how much of an impact that 5 hour delay of the departure of the Lakeshore Limited was going to have. I didn't think there would be any chance that the delay of a train scheduled to arrive in the morning would give me a problem in boarding an early evening train. I was wrong! With the Lakeshore Limited originally scheduled to arrive into Schenectady at 11:23 A.M., the 5 hour delay would put it into Schenectady at 5:23 P.M., just 22 minutes before the departure of the train for Rutland! Now I can only hope that the Lakeshore Limited makes up some time or that the Rutland train is running late.
If I don't make the connection to the Rutland train, I will at least get to do the longer Amtrak segment that I haven't done yet: the Amtrak Adirondack to Montreal. I have traveled on that train before, but only as far as Schenectady. This trip will complete my mileage on that route. If I don't cover the tiny Amtrak segment between Ft. Edwards and Rutland on this trip, then that will be the only Amtrak mileage I haven't covered after I complete a few short routes in and out of Chicago. I might eventually be left with having to make a special trip just to cover that one tiny segment!
1999 JAN 06 WED 12:00
Reviewing my railroad map, I just noticed a city called "Whitehall" where the tracks coming from Rutland join the Amtrak Adirondack route in upstate New York. While Whitehall is not a stop on the Ethan Allen Express train from Rutland, Vermont, it is a stop on the Adirondack. Whitehall is about half the distance from Rutland as Fort Edwards, maybe about 20 miles. That would be a much lower taxi fare from Rutland than going all the way to Fort Edwards and should not require any special advance arrangements with the taxi company. So, I am planning to just take the taxi from Rutland to Whitehall in the morning and pick up the Amtrak Adirondack to Montreal from there.
Since there is no indication of the Whitehall stop on the Ethan Allen Express route, I would never have know about the option to connect up with the Amtrak Adirondack without my map of railroad routes! If you are serious about rail travel or about railfanning, I'd strongly recommend that you order one or more of these maps. I have one posted on the wall at our office and then I keep a few others on hand to take on trips with me. I use them heavily and mark them up during my trips so they eventually do get a bit worn and tattered. All of the Amtrak routes are highlighted in yellow so you can easily follow where you are going. You can also see what options the Conductor and Dispatcher have available for detouring the train due to weather or other track obstructions. It was fortunate that one of the passengers had a railroad map with him on the inaugural Texas Eagle California Service Through Train. A derailed freight train blocked our normal route which almost caused a mid-journey cancellation and public relations embarrassment for this inaugural train. None of the crew had a railroad map with them. They were able to borrow the passengers railroad map and plan a detour for the train that made it all work out in the end!
If you would like to order copies of the map, click here to go to their website. When you order, please be sure to tell them that you were referred by TrainWeb!
I didn't get out of bed until 10 AM Eastern Time. Of course, that would still be just 7 AM in my home Pacific Time Zone. I set the videocamera and notebook computer in the lower section of the room before I went to bed and slept in the upper bed. I take the mattress for the lower bed and place it on top of the mattress for the upper bed to make it double thick and double soft. That just makes the upper bed about an inch higher, but it brings the level of the mattress right up to the level of the window sill. Thus, I can lay almost any which way in bed and have a wonderful view out the window! You can't do that on the lower bed without sitting up, but on the upper bed you can see out the window even when laying flat on the bed. When I get up in the morning, I don't even feel like getting out of bed. I like to just lay there for hours watching the country roll by.
After I had set up the videocamera last night and did a recording test, I was amazed at how clear and bright the picture was in the middle of the night! The camera is rated to go down to 0 LUX, but that didn't help when going through the darkness of the mountainous and deserted areas on the Amtrak California Zephyr. Heading east out of Chicago there are miles of suburbs and then other populated towns and cities. Between the street lights and snow, there was plenty of light for the videocamera. I left the camera on when I went to sleep to let it continue to record to the end of tape. When I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, I replaced the tape with a new one and continued recording. The image was still bright and clear. Since each tape records for 4 hours, the camera would continue to record until I awoke in the morning in time to change the tape.
1999 JAN 06 WED 12:33
We've been sitting in the same spot for quite some time. The train is stuck behind some frozen switches again. The last time I checked, we were running 7 hours late. 7 hours late would still get me into Schenectady on time to catch the Ethan Allen Express. The Lake Shore Limited was originally due into Schenectady at 11:25 A.M. and 7 hours late would put it in at 6:25 P.M. That would give me 20 minutes to catch the Ethan Allen Express due out at 6:45 P.M.! However, I think this delay at the frozen switch has already eaten up that 20 minutes leeway and more! My only hope now of making that connection is if this train makes up some time or if the Ethan Allen is also running late.
1999 JAN 06 WED 12:37
A maintainer got the switch cleared out. It was just ice and snow, but enough to make the switch inoperable. We are on our way again!
The Conductor announced that arrangements will be made to get the people going on to Montreal to their destinations. Since we'll be arriving at least 5 hours late to make that connection in Schenectady, I was sure they would probably put those people up in a hotel for the night. I know they wouldn't hold a train that long and I didn't think they'd send a bus that far for the few people making that connection. Staying overnight in a Schenectady hotel to take the train a day later wouldn't fit into my travel plan at all! If they are going to bus us up to Montreal, I guess I will have to reverse my hotel reservations around again and stick with the original plan! I'll go on to Rutland if it looks like I can make that train, but otherwise it will make more sense to head for Montreal today.
1999 JAN 06 WED 12:45
We are now in Erie, Pennsylvania running 7 hours and 45 minutes behind schedule. That will put me into Schenectady at 7:10 P.M., 25 minutes too late for the connection!
Included with the photographs below are photos of the Standard Bedroom in the Viewliner Sleeping Car. I tried to get as many angles as I could do give you some perspective of the room and how everything fits in. The toilet is right next to one of the two seats in the room. I have the seat next to the toilet open flat the way it would be when made into a half of the lower bed. I do this to provide me with extra space for my bags when traveling alone and to use as a platform for the tripod for my videocamera. The sink is directly above the toilet and folds out of the wall. My notebook computer is set up on the small table that folds out from below the center of the windows. My rolling suitcase is sitting on top of a shelf next to the other seat in the room. My jacket is hung up on a hook directly above my suitcase. The bed that you see in the photos is the upper level bed that pulls down out of the ceiling. As you can see, there is a wonderful full-length view out the windows while lying down on the upper level bed!
Click here to view the photos.
1999 JAN 06 WED 14:30
Lunch started in the Dining Car at 1 P.M. and I made it to the first seating. I sat with two young gals and a man, all on their way home to New York City. One of the women is aspiring to be an opera singer and is already doing some performances. The man was in the business of transporting valuable antiques. We had an interesting discussion over lunch about what we each did for a living, where are current travels had taken us, and of course, the weather. The food was very good. I had a garden burger with cheese and a minestrone soup. Unlike the china in the Superliner Diners, everything was served on paper plates with plastic utensils. Even the soup came in a paper cup! The staff was very friendly and efficient. The only thing they were slow about was collecting the money. The two women and I were all from the Sleeping Cars, but we still had to wait to get our checks to sign them. But, I'd much rather have to wait to pay or sign my check than to wait for placing my order or getting my food. There was no delay for that and that was good! Everyone at our table left a decent tip and I left two dollars also. So, if you don't mind the paper and plastic, the food and the service couldn't have been better!
1999 JAN 06 WED 15:06
Back to the original plan! We left Buffalo-Depew, New York at 2:42 P.M., 7 hours and 55 minutes behind schedule. That would put me into Schenectady by 7:20 P.M. which is likely to be 35 minutes after my train for Rutland has left, assuming we don't lose any more time. As long as they will be getting me to Montreal today somehow, it is best to go with the original plan anyway. That will eliminate having to go anywhere by taxi. I've already rebooked the Rutland hotel back to tomorrow night and need to rebook the Montreal hotel back to tonight again!
1999 JAN 06 WED 16:50
Here is a slightly new twist to the plan: I canceled the hotel reservation for Montreal. I figure we are going to arrive into Albany-Rensselaer, New York, about 8 hours behind schedule. Thus, we will be there about 8 P.M. By the time they transfer all the passengers and baggage to the bus, the bus probably won't leave until at least 9 P.M. The train takes about 7 hours to get from Albany to Montreal, so I figure the bus will probably take about the same time. The bus should arrive at the Montreal Station around 4 A.M. or maybe later. I doubt that I'd be able to check into the hotel and get to my room before 5 or 6 A.M. That is almost time to check out! Instead, I'll attempt to just wait at the station for my train which leaves at 10:10 A.M. I can sleep on the bus and get some breakfast when we arrive in Montreal to kill a couple of hours. If by any chance the bus arrives into Montreal far earlier than I'm predicting, I'm sure I'll be able to walk into the hotel and get a room for a few hours.
1999 JAN 06 WED 17:51
This train is making stops at Rome and Amsterdam, New York which it usually doesn't do. I assume that people heading to those stations would normally transfer to the Amtrak Maple Leaf which does stop at those stations. We are probably stopping at those stations for the convenience of those people since we won't be making a connection with the Maple Leaf because of the lateness of this train.
We left Rome, New York at 5:53 P.M. and from my calculations, means that we are still about 90 minutes from Schenectady. Thus, we will arrive in Schenectady around 7:30 P.M. which is much to late to catch the 6:45 P.M. Ethan Allen Express to Rutland. Looks like heading on to Montreal was the only choice at this point.
1999 JAN 07 WED 02:07
I made it to Montreal! The van provided by Amtrak got us here a lot faster than the train. I'm not sure why Amtrak decided to provide this van service all the way up to Montreal. There were other people on the train who had planned to go to Rutland, Vermont and Amtrak didn't offer them any alternative. There were also people on the Boston segment of the Lake Shore Limited that were going to Maine. Amtrak is going to put them up in a hotel and then put them on the first bus out in the morning to Maine.
Amtrak made announcements in the Albany station for everyone going on to Montreal or other points north to report to the ticket counter. I don't think that Amtrak knew how few people were going north until after this exercise.
There were only 5 of us in the van. There was a mother and father and child that lived in Montreal that was returning home. There was a woman going to upstate New York, and there was me. Amtrak did give us a choice of either being taken by van to Montreal or Amtrak would put us up in a hotel and then put us on the morning train. However, the decision had to be unanimous. Some of us couldn't stay and some of us go. I guess Amtrak figured it would cost them about the same either way.
The van was small, but comfortable. There were 3 rows of seats for passengers. The front two rows could have fit 3 people each and the back row 4 people. Including the front seats, this was a 12 passenger van. The leg room was a little cramped, but other than that, the ride was comfortable. There was plenty of room for the 5 of us to spread out. We made a stop at a convenience store before we started out. I was the only person that didn't get out to get something to eat and drink along the way. The driver cleaned all the windows on the van which didn't look that dirty to me to begin with. We made one more stop at another convenience store half way through our journey to fill up on gasoline. Only one person went into the store this time.
The stop at customs seemed a bit odd. We parked at the customs building, but there wasn't anyone around. I didn't see any barriers to crossing the border, so I assume someone could have just driven right through. However, I have to assume that the license plate of a vehicle going right through would be noted either automatically or manually and the driver would be in pretty big trouble. We waited while a Canadian customs agent crossed over what had to be 6 or 8 empty traffic lanes to get over to our side of the crossing. It seemed strange to be sitting on the side of the road of what looked like at least a 6 lane highway totally deserted! They asked the usual questions and we were quickly on our way!
We left Albany around 9 P.M. and arrived into Montreal about 1 A.M., so the total drive time was only about 4 hours, quite a bit shorter than the 7 hours by train. The man traveling with his family and I both tipped the driver $5 each. He dropped us off at the door to the VIA Rail station in Montreal. I was able to go right to the registration desk of the hotel, Canadian Pacific Queen Elizabeth, without leaving the station!
Having slept at least a couple of hours in the van, I felt rested enough to connect up to the internet and upload all the pending files related to this travelogue as well as upload and download a number of files and e-mail related to other TrainWeb work. I had forgotten to obtain the local Earthlink dial-up number for Montreal before I left home, so I had to dial long distance to get onto the internet. Once I got on, I obtained the local Montreal Earthlink dial-up number and called back into Earthlink as a free local call from the hotel. It took about 2 hours to transfer all the files, including all the video clips and photographs attached to these travelogues.
All and all, things worked out fairly well considering the weather conditions along my rail journey. I only wished that Amtrak had stated specifically how they were going to handle the missed connection to Montreal when I was back in Chicago. I could have avoided trying to make a lot of alternate plans.
Click here for the travelogue of the previous segment of this rail journey.
Click here for the travelogue of the next segment of this rail journey.