AmtrakP32-AC-DMs705 and 701 head up the eight-car inauguration special at Plattsburg, New York, on September 20, 1996.
Photo by Raymond Farand.
With style, flair and enthusiasm, celebrants from both sides of the border were invited to join Amtrak and the State of New York for the relaunch of daily premier passenger service between the cities of New York and Montreal.
On September 20, 1996, a special train introduced the new Adirondack to the citizens of up-state New York, operating northward along the Hudson Eiver, Lake Champlain and eventually across the Saint Lawrence River into Montreal. The train, powered by two Genesis class locomotives and looking resplendent in the bright September sun, featured refurbished Heritage cars in classic Budd Company stainless steel livery, with Amtrak business car #10001 providing VIP accommodation for guest speakers and railroad officials during the whistle-stop tour. Even though the equipment has seen many miles and years of service, including operation on distinguished trains such as the "Congressional" and the "Senator", improvements to the cars are designed to provide passengers with a smoother ride than ever before.
The day's festivities gave Amtrak a chance to showcase its three newly designed lounge cars specifically configured to meet the particular needs of the train's mostly non-business class ridership. The cars, emblazoned with the Adirondack Logo and named "Saratoga Inn", "L'Auberge Laurentien" and "Adirondack Lodge", feature a varied selection of food and beverages, much of which is produced in the Champlain Valley. Of note, is the new "Champlain Cocktail", inspired by a secret ingredient from Quebec. (Ah-h-h, such a mysterious province). Mindful of the international considerations of the new service, cafe cars have menus that are listed in both French and English with interiors decorated to incorporate the motif of the Canadian and Adirondack regions through which they travel.
The coaches are bright and spacious with traditional large windows ideal for viewing the impressive scenery encountered throughout much of the Hudson and Champlain Valleys enroute to Montreal. Comfortable seats in soft pastel colours also provide ample leg-room for both tourist and recreational travelers alike. Improved overhead storage, ski racks (the stationstop at Westport is near Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain), and additional luggage space are evidence that the company is trying hard to meet the needs of the market niche it hopes to tap into even further. If properly promoted, the 10 percent increase in ridership experienced in 1995 between Montreal and New York should increase considerably. Now if Amtrak could see its way clear to add a dome coach to the consist north of Albany, the train would be an absolute winner.
The day's activities were highlighted with dedication ceremonies taking place at numerous station-stops between Albany and Rouses Point along Canadian Pacific's St. Lawrence & Hudson "Canadian Main Line". The itinerary called for a Street Fair complete with a Banner Breaking ceremony at Albany, with the train greeted by a marching band at Saratoga Springs, a Fife and Drum Corps at Fort Ticonderoga and a Dixieland band at Plattsburg. With most of the stops in major communities along the line being approximately 25 minutes in duration, it allowed plenty of time for supportive speeches from politicians and railroad officials who promoted the new service before large and friendly crowds. On board, musical entertainment between stations was featured in Lounge Cars "Saratoga Inn" and "L'Auberge Laurentien". A running historical commentary about the local area was delivered throughout the train by hostesses dressed in period (Victorian) garb. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the food was superb and the canapes included the largest shrimp I have ever seen.
Guests boarding the celebration train at Penn Station in New York City and then along the route to Hudson, just south of Albany-Rensselaer, returned home on either Trains #284 or #286 from Albany, or a short time later aboard Train #68 from Whitehall. Canadian guests were accommodated from Montreal and St-Jean on Train #68 as far as Fort Ticonderoga, returning to Canada on the special train. Mandatory customs inspections in both directions went smoothly with no delays encountered at either Rouses Point or Cantic.
When asked to cover the event for Branchline, I was quick to accept, for it would be my first time over the line, not having had occasion to ride the Delaware and Hudson at any time in the past. Accompanied by fellow Bytown Railway Society member John Godfrey (my personal tour guide...... he's traveled the line often), we boarded Train #68 (CN #694) at Montreal's Central Station for a scheduled departure at 10:40. Our train made its way east across the Victoria Bridge leaving the St-Hyacinthe Subdivision at Cannon just after 11:00. As the train traveled for a distance along Kimber Street as far as Castle Gardens, it was still possible to notice the line's interurban heritage with the right-of-way flanked closely by paved streets on either side. This portion of the Rouses Point Sub. uses trackage of the former Montreal and Southern Counties Railway. At St-Jean, a sizable number of guests boarded our train, for the most part filling the reserved coach positioned directly behind the locomotive. The 35 minute stop at Rouses Point provided ample time for U.S. Customs and Immigration Service personnel to do their necessary inspection, as well as allow me to view and photograph the nearby railroad structures. The old Rutland depot serves (since 1995) as the Amtrak employees Crew Room. St. Lawrence & Hudson's mamtenance-of-way employees occupy the nearby Delaware and Hudson station.
We departed Rouses Point at 12:50, and after making regular station stops at Plattsburg and Port Kent, proceeded south towards Westport. This part of the trip offers up probably the best scenery encountered anywhere along the line. as the railroad hugs the rocky west shoreline of Lake Champlam. At one point I was intrigued at the sight of three old and rusted steel hopper cars that had been filled with riprap and then overturned along the right-of-way thus helping stabilize an earthen embankment. The track appeared to be at its highest above the lake as it swung around Willsboro Bay. which included passing through the narrow Willsboro Tunnel at mileage A144.94. There were numerous locations where the train was pressed against sheer rockfaces towering high above our coach windows. This is where a dome coach would be a real bonus.
After a meet with northbound Train #69 at Wadhams, mileage A130.73. we arrived a short time later at Westport at 14:30. It's a twenty minute run from Westport to Port Henry with much of the distance covered at water level right next to the Lake Champlain shoreline. It's extremely pretty as the line glides around the many bays on a well maintained roadbed. In the distance could be seen numerous sailboats, with the city of Burlington rising above the water on the opposite shoreline. Beyond that and clearly visible in the clear September air lay the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Amtrak Business Car 10001 - 'Beech Grove' brings up the rear of the inauguration special at Plattsburg, New York. The "Beech Grove" was originally Amcoach 21222, built by Budd in 1975. Photo by Raymond Farand.
It was 15:15 when Train #68 arrived at Fort Ticonderoga and all guests were requested to detrain in preparation for the return trip north. A short time later the Special arrived, having met Train #68 just south of town at the next passing location. The train consisted of two General Electric P32-AC-DM Genesis class locomotives #705 and #701: Lounge Car #3127 - "Saratoga Inn"; Coaches #7611 - "New York City". #7602 - "Albany", #7616 - "Whitehall "and #7000 -"Saratoga Springs"; Lounge Cars #3111 - "L'Auberge Laurentien" and #3126 - "Adirondack Lodge": with business car #10001 - "Beech Grove" bringing up the markers. As the Fife and Drum Corps, fitted-out in their scarlet uniforms, played a spirited musical arrangement, guest speakers prepared to address the crowd and flags were positioned on the head end of each locomotive. American and Canadian flags were placed on the first engine, with a Quebec Fleur-de-Lys and a New York State flag on the next. Forty minutes later, with everyone on board, we began to retrace our steps northward. Ceremonies were conducted at Port Henry, Westport, Port Kent, with the biggest at Plattsburg, where a remote feed was established to a local television station ensuring coverage on the evening news. During the 45 minute stop I was able to get some interesting pictures of the station at street level which included horse drawn carriages, antique cars and an early turn of the century delivery truck, fitted out with beer barrels and .stenciled "Bootleggers Pub and Brewery". Yes it was riding on solid rubber tires.
Departure from Plattsburg was at 19:07. and after a brief dedication ceremony at Rouses Point, the train proceeded to Cantic for a Canadian Customs inspection. The stop was a brief 12 minutes since most celebrants had detrained at Plattsburg. The absence of most VIP's also gave John and I a chance to ride in the Beech Grove as far as St-Jean. Of course I now owe a certain Car Attendant a picture........but heck, it did the trick!!
The back-up move into Central Station was made at approximately 21:45 bringing an end to a very successful day. Saturday. September 21, would see a dedication ceremony taking place in Montreal before the train departed on its return move to the United States.
I wish to sincerely thank Amtrak Service Manager Don Rouleau for making it possible for the Bytown Railway Society to cover this unique event, and Maureen Garrity, Amtrak Media Relations Officer, who provided additional background information during the trip.
For the record, John Godfrey's research identifies Lounge Car 3127 as former Pennsylvania Railroad (Pennsy) 7137 - "William Penn": Coach 7611 as Pennsy 1951; Coach 7602 as Pennsy 1579; Coach 7616 as Pennsy 1597; Coach 7000 as Pennsy 1569; Lounge Car 3111 was Santa Fe 1557. originally a counter dining car; and finally Lounge Car 3126 was former Pennsy 7133 - "Johan Printz".
Train #68 operated with EMD F40PH 280, Coaches 21647, 21240, 21630, 21001 and Custom Class Dinette 48150.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, November 1996, page 12.