Brian’s Travel Spot: The Adirondack from New York to Montréal

The view from the final carriage of Amtrak's Adirondack service on its way from New York City to Montréal in March 2013, looking back over the single track as it passes through woods north of Albany.Welcome to the second instalment of what is a first for the Travel Spot, a series of three posts covering the first trip I took after starting the Coffee Spot (long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). It takes us back to late February/early March 2013, when I spent a few days in Boston, before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. From there, I caught the train down to New York for the weekend, all of which is covered in the first instalment on this series.

This post covers my journey on the Adirondack, one of Amtrak’s famous long-distance trains. The Adirondack runs once a day, departing New York City in the morning, before running up the Hudson River valley, through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to Montréal, arriving there 10 hours later.

It was just the second time I’d been to Canada, the first being in 2005 when I was all the way on the other side of the continent visiting Vancouver. This, therefore, was all new to me, as was my time in Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post in this series.

You can find out how I got on after the gallery, which covers the first part of the journey along the Hudson River valley to Albany.

  • The descent from the concourse to the platform at New York Penn Station. The photo is...
  • ... from 2020, as is this one of the platform. I didn't have time to take photos back in 2013.
  • These photos are also from 2020. The Adirondack consisted of five of these standard...
  • ... coachclass carriages...
  • ... and one cafe car, which was in the middle, providing limited dining facilities.
  • This is the view inside, although these photos are from 2018. Not much has changed.
  • There's still bags of legroom, even in a standard coach class seat...
  • ... and you rarely have anyone sitting next to you. There's at-seat power too!
  • The main rule is sit on the left when heading north, where you get views across the wide...
  • ... Hudson River valley, which are well worth it even on a grey day like the one I had.
  • You won't see this though. It's the old Tappan Zee Bridge which was closed in 2017...
  • ... and demolished in 2019 after it was replaced by the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
  • A lot of the western shore is like this, wooded, with steep hills or cliffs behind.
  • However, there's also a frieght line which runs on the other side, with long, long trains!
  • The width of the river varies quite dramatically north of the Tappan Zee Bridge...
  • ... with the occasional lonely house with a view...
  • ... and the odd river-side town.
  • For some reason I really like this rocky hill...
  • ... which has a railway track running by the river's edge and a road cut into the side of it!
  • This delightful ruin is Bannerman Castle. It stands on Pollepel Island and was built...
  • ... in 1901 and destroyed by fire in 1969. Visitors are allowed, by the way.
  • Not far from Bannerman Castle is the Newborough Beacon Bridge...
  • ... although pedants (like me) might argue that it's two bridges...
  • At this point, we were about two fifths of the way from New York to Albany.
  • The river is very busy with traffic, mostly barges, going upstream...
  • ... or coming downstream...
  • ... althoguh there are other river craft too, like this tug towing a crane.
  • Another bridge, this time the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. Such dull names.
  • Neat house. I think it's an old ferry terminal at Saugerties
  • I want to say these are grain silos. If I'm right, they've since been demolished.
  • By now we were getting into some really hill country, with mountains for a backdrop.
  • And yet another bridge, this one going by the much more romantic name of the...
  • ... Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
  • The river gets much more curvy at this point...
  • ... with more channels and islands...
  • ... plus what looks like the occasional shallows/marshes.
  • Impressive mountain!
  • I'll leave you with one more barge heading upstream before we reach Albany.
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At the time, although I’d already made extensive use of Amtrak’s northeast regional network to travel between Washington DC, New York and Boston, this was just my second long-distance trip, having previously taken the train from Chicago to New Orleans in 2010 (although I have since gone on to take numerous long-distance Amtrak services). Unlike my trip to New Orleans, which was an overnight service, the Adirondack takes a merely 10 hours to cover the roughly 600 km in a line almost due north from New York City to Montréal.

Mind you, that’s the journey time now. It was even worse back in 2013, when my train was scheduled to take just over 11 hours! So much for high speed rail, although in fairness, an hour of that was a scheduled stop at the US/Canada border for customs and passport checks. On the plus side, the journey was as cheap as it was slow, my ticket costing just $65 for a standard seat in coach class.

The Adirondack was scheduled to leave New York Penn Station at 08:15, and I was required to be there an hour before that, which saw me getting up far too earlier, checking out of my hotel and, in the one advantage of the early start, beating the Monday morning rush as I took the subway from Chinatown to Penn Station.

On arrival, I was directed to a queue which snaked across Penn Station’s underground concourse, one level above the platforms. And that’s where I stood for what felt like ages (I have no notes, only a memory of standing in the ridiculous queue as it grew and grew in length, although in reality it was for less than an hour). There were actually two queues, and I was in the shorter one, reserved for international passengers. Those not travelling as far as Canada were directed to a second, far longer queue on the other side of the gate.

And there we waited until we were allowed to board the train, whereupon we moved forward, one at a time, to have our tickets checked, after which we were allowed down to the platform onto the train. The international passengers boarded first, after which the domestic passengers were allowed on. It is, as far as I can see, an entirely unnecessary process, which seems designed to mimic the process of boarding an airliner, thus robbing the train of one of the main advantages it has over flying: not having to spend ages hanging around in airports. Sad to report that in the seven years since I caught the Adirondack, not much has changed in the way Amtrak boards its long-distance trains.

We were, unsurprisingly, late departing New York, travelling north under the city before emerging above the Hudson River somewhere around Morningside Heights, from where it sticks closely to the east bank of the Hudson River all the way to Albany, over 200 km to the north. It shares the southern part of the line with the commuter trains which run from Grand Central and, having taken the route some years before as far as Sleepy Hollow, I knew what to expect.

The simple rule here is to sit on the left-hand side of the train, where you will get some impressive views out across the river to New Jersey on the other side, along with various bridges, lighthouses and other old buildings along the way.

You can see how I got on during the second part of the journey from Albany to Montréal after the gallery.

  • I didn't get any pictures of Albany station, just this locomotive sitting in a siding.
  • I did better in 2015 when I got this picture of my train, the Lake Shore Limited arriving.
  • I also snapped this southbound train as it left in 2015. Maybe it was the Adirondack?
  • Back to 2013 and I did manage a picture of downtown Albany, which is across the Hudson.
  • And off we go! It was my first time travelling north of Albany.
  • The train crosses the Hudson immediately after leaving the station...
  • ... while a little way south, the highways US 9 and US 20 do the same.
  • This magnificent structure is the Delaware & Hudson Railroad Building, built in 1914.
  • And this, rather boringly, is the Alfred E Smith Building, built in 1928, housing State offices.
  • North of Albany, the track follows the line of the river, but doesn't run alongside it.
  • I was able to indulge in one of my favourite passtimes: standing at the back of the train...
  • ... watching the tracks go by through the window in the door of the final carriage.
  • There are a number of stops along the way, like the prettty Fort Edward station.
  • North of Fort Edward, the line crosses the watershed before running along the...
  • ... western shore of Lake Champlain, a long, thin lake separating New York from Vermont...
  • ... which stretches all the way north to Canadian border and beyond.
  • Here, at its southern end, it was frozen. And yes, those are people skating on the lake.
  • A little further on, and the ice has gone...
  • ... only to reappear in patches on a regular basis.
  • The train runs along the lake for a long time (at least three hours), so there are plenty...
  • ... of opportunities to admire the views, although you need to sit on the right this time.
  • This where the cafe car comes in, where I sat for a while. Sadly, the lego wasn't mine.
  • More frozen lake views.
  • The lake, by the way, varies in width. At its widest, it's 23 km across.
  • The line is mostly single track, but occasionally there are double track passing loops.
  • We stopped at one of these to wait for our opposite number...
  • ... the Adirondack from Montréal to New York, to come the other way...
  • ... pulled by locomotive #109.
  • And there it goes!
  • The first three carriages are coachclass...
  • ... then comes the cafe car...
  • ... followed by two more coachclass carriages.
  • And there it goes, chugging off to New York.
  • Not long after we were on our way again, leaving the passing loop behind.
  • Then it was back to single-track running...
  • ... as the train made its way alongside the frozen lake...
  • ... with the view obscured by the occasional cutting.
  • I was quite fascinated by the ice on the lake...
  • ... and the pretty patterns it made...
  • ... although I also quite liked the lake all by itself.
  • And, of course, I enjoyed standing at the back of the train, watching through the window.
  • Because of my seat, most of my views were looking south, back the way we'd come...
  • ... so here's a rare view looking north, in the direction of travel.
  • I'll leave you with one last shot of the lake before it was too dark for photos.
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New York to Albany is roughly one third of the journey in terms of distance and about one quarter in elapsed time, so there was still a long way to go as we pulled out of Albany Station and headed north, immediately crossing over the Hudson. This was the first time that I’d been north of Albany (having previously caught the train from Albany to New York City the year before) so from this point on, everything was new to me.

From Albany, the train continues due north, following the line of the Hudson River, although no longer following the river itself. Instead it cuts through woods and hills as it makes its way to Fort Edward, where it leaves the Hudson for good. Shortly afterwards, it crosses over the watershed, south of which everything flows into New York Harbour and north of which everything drains into the Lawrence River Basin.

Continuing north, the line runs along the western shore of Lake Champlain, a long, thin lake which forms the New York/Vermont state line and which stretches north all the way to the Canadian border and beyond. Having needed to sit on the left to get the best views of the Hudson, you now need to sit on the right for the best lake views.

Unfortunately, the train was relatively full by this point, so switching seats wasn’t an option. Instead, I spent a while in the café car, where you are free to sit where you like, and where I also had some lunch. My other vantage point was right at the back of the train, where I discovered that you could stand between the doors to the two bathrooms and look out of the window in the door at the back of the carriage, watching the track disappear behind the train.

We trundled along the lake for hours and it was late afternoon when we stopped at the border. I’d only crossed the US/Canada border once before, and that was in 2005, when I was on a bus from Seattle to Vancouver. We all had to get off the bus and I ended up at the back of the queue, so was last back on the bus after clearing customs and immigration, which seemed to take forever. Here, if anything, it was worse.

In the days before Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary joined the EU, I’d had experience of crossing borders by train, but those were very simple affairs where the border guards got on the train at the stop before the border, made a cursory check of people’s passports, and got off again at the next stop. This, however, was a whole different level of border check.

The train had a scheduled layover, if memory serves, of an hour. We were warned ahead of time that we had to remain in our assigned seats while the border agents were on board. That meant that the café car was out of bounds and even going to the toilet was frowned upon. The border agents duly came on board and started going through the carriage, questioning each passenger at length, often require luggage to be hauled down and gone through.

The whole process took ages, well over the allotted hour. It was far more rigorous that any airport security I’ve been through and I wasn’t sure what the point was (regularly travellers told me that it was just as bad coming the other way). Eventually the checks were completed, the border agents and we were on our way again.

By then it was dark, so I can’t really tell you much about the countryside between the border and Montréal. We arrived, late of course, into Gare Central, where I met up with my friend, who had been patiently waiting for me, and I set off to explore Montréal. That, however, is the subject of the final instalment of this Travel Spot.


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2 thoughts on “Brian’s Travel Spot: The Adirondack from New York to Montréal

  1. Pingback: Brian’s Travel Spot: New England & New York | Brian's Coffee Spot

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