Train travel, while far more utilized, invested in, and luxurious in other countries, does not enjoy quite the same level of respect and regard in the U.S. Certainly it is used for both business and vacation travel with some trains boasting bubble top cars to take in the view and sleeper cars for longer trips. However we don’t see the commitment to efficiency and infrastructure as with the bullet trains in Japan or the luxury and comfort seen with some European high speed trains. That aside, Teena and I were still quite looking forward to taking the The Adirondack to Montreal. After all, a train that traverses the Adirondacks in New York couldn’t be horrible… could it?
Our trip started at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia with a change over at Penn Station, New York before arriving at our destination. I have to say, many train stations still have that air and feel of the first half of the 20th century. That is in part due to existing art deco interiors. Unfortunately, 30th street station has chosen to do away with their long existing “clickety clack” arrival / destination board and replaced it with a more modern version sans the sounds of yesteryear. Boarding at both locations was very simple. This perhaps may change in the future given today’s international relations. However, it is quite a nice change of pace to not arrive hours before your departure time and experience the hurry up and wait atmosphere endemic to our airport TSA check points.
Likewise, the train interior was just as enjoyable. The seats have plenty of room for one to relax in. The seat tables don’t move when the person in front of you reclines. One is free to move about the interior unlike on an airplane. Plenty of room on the overhead shelf with no worries about finding a spot for your carry on, again unlike their aviation counterparts. All in all it makes for a very comfortable journey that makes the ten hour transit time quite enjoyable. Then of course there is the view. Quite soon after departing Penn Station, one is out of the city and traveling along side the Hudson River and the picturesque towns along the way. It feels like no time at all that you reach the Adirondacks and before you know it, you are traveling right along side Lake Champlain. Literally, one looks out the window to see the cliff face drop straight down into the lake. It does take quite some time at the border, however that is more than offset by the fact the border patrol agents come to you. You are relaxed in your seat waiting for them instead of standing and waiting in a long line.
The Amtrak experience was not all wine and roses. After crossing the border, we had several long delays before arriving in Montreal. We were advised that due to agreements between Amtrak and the Canadian Railway, Amtrak trains must yield for any Canadian train, even if that entails backing up (though Amtrak does get kudos for good communication about this). The trip back was a bit less enjoyable. First off, while they offer free Wifi, it’s only while in the U.S. and is pretty worthless even for free Wifi. I had planned on using the ten hour return trip to work on setting up this new blog and writing a couple entries. Instead I spent most of that just trying to get the pages to load and update the new layout. I didn’t even finish setting up the blog in that time let alone write a single word. Amtrak, if you are reading this, you need to work on that Wifi. The other negative was the dining car. The quality of the food was of that you find in a vending machine and sold at professional sport stadium prices. The gentleman serving the food was very polite and efficient but they quickly sold out of most everything on the first half of the return trip. When asked if they would be resupplied in Albany, the answer was “no”. Again, this is another aspect Amtrak needs to improve. Finally, there was little attention to the condition of the restrooms. While spacious, I prefer to not be met by the smell of stale urine when I have to utilize one. Certainly the onus rests partially on those using them but accidents happen and there should be more attention paid to these by Amtrak.
Overall, I’d say I’m 50/50 on recommending traveling by train. I would certainly give it another go but more than likely try a line out West to take in some of the scenery there and maybe experience a sleeper car. I wouldn’t tell someone to never go by train. There are certainly some big pluses to it. One just has to realize those positives have the potential to be offset by some negatives.