Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Downeaster, Part II

Amtrak Genesis P42DC diesel locomotive No. 108 done out in Amrtrak's red, white and blue 50th anniversary colours at one end of the Downeaster which took me from Portland, Maine to Boston North Station where it's resting at the end of its journey.Welcome to the second and final part of my Travel Spot dedicated to Amtrak’s Downeaster, which connects Boston with Brunswick, Maine, providing five daily services in each direction, departing from/arriving at Boston’s North Station. In Part I, I took a trip from Portland, where I was staying, to Brunswick, taking the opportunity to check out Amtrak’s business class along the way, before returning by bus.

Part II covers the journey Amanda and I took two days later in the other direction, from Portland to Boston, where we travelled in coach class (Amtrak’s standard class for travel). Incidentally, although I’d travelled in coach class many times before, this was my first detailed look at Amtrak’s refurbished coach-class seating. Along the way, we tried out the café car, sampling the on-board coffee which we put up against some of our own that we’d made on the train.

Other than my trip to Brunswick two days before, I’d only taken the Downeaster once before, at the start of my Portland-to-Portland trans-America train trip in June 2015. Since then, for a variety of reasons, the bus had always proved more convenient, so I was keen to see how the train stacked up against the bus.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Downeaster, Part I

Amtrak Genesis P42DC diesel locomotive No. 86 at the head of the Downeaster which took me to Brunswick, Maine (seen here at Brunswick station).Welcome to this two-part Travel Spot, dedicated to Amtrak’s Downeaster, connecting Boston and Maine with five daily services in each direction, departing from/arriving at Boston’s North Station. Regular readers will be aware of my hit-and-miss relationship with the Downeaster, having been on it just once before, at the start of my Portland-to-Portland trans-America train trip. Since then I’ve found the bus more convenient when travelling between Boston and Portland, although tomorrow that will change when Amanda and I take the Downeaster from Portland to Boston, the subject of Part II of this two-part Travel Spot.

So, what’s Part I all about? Well, the Downeaster doesn’t just connect Boston with Portland: there are two more stops north of Portland, Freeport and Brunswick, where the train terminates. Ahead of tomorrow’s journey, I decided to catch the train in the other direction, from Portland to Brunswick, just so that I could say that I’d travelled the full length of the line, albeit in two separate trips. Ideally, I’d have taken the train back to Portland, but Amtrak’s schedule is quirky to say the least. Returning by train would have required a 2½ hour wait, so I caught the Greater Portland Metro BREEZ bus instead.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: First Time on Amtrak’s Acela Service

Power car 2022 pulling my Amtrack Acela service into New Haven on the way to Washington DC.Last week I wrote about my impromptu trip to Washington DC for a friend’s funeral, and how I took Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 65 sleeper service overnight from Boston South Station to Washington Union Station. That got me into DC first thing on Sunday morning, in plenty of time for the funeral, which just left me the small matter of getting back. My options included flying, which would have got me back to Portland on Sunday evening, or taking the counterpart of the train I caught on the way down, the Northeast Regional 66, which would have got me into Boston early on Monday morning.

The Northeast Regional was my fallback option, but since a mutual friend was driving back to Connecticut after the funeral, I took the opportunity for a ride as far as New Haven. I spent the night there, before carrying on to Boston by train on Monday morning, completing my journey to Portland by bus that afternoon. To get to Boston, I had a choice of the Northeast Regional service, or Amtrak’s premium Acela service. Since I’d never taken the Acela before, it seemed like this would be the ideal time to see what I’d been missing.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak Northeast Regional 65

Amtrak Locomotive 629, a Siemens Sprinter ACS-64, which was at the front of Northeast Regional 65 at Washington DC's Union Station.I had expected to spend most of my month-long trip to the USA at the end of last year in Maine with Amanda. However, the death of a close friend necessitated a weekend there-and-back trip to Washington DC for the funeral. The obvious choice was to fly, but a combination of factors, including my dislike of flying internally in the US, plus a lack of (reasonably priced) direct flights, led to me taking the train, by far my preferred option anyway.

Initially, I looked at travelling down on Saturday (the funeral was on Sunday morning) but that would have involved spending all day on the train (from Boston, the quickest service, the Acela, takes seven hours, while the regular Northeast Regional takes eight hours). While exploring my options, I noticed the Northeast Regional 65, a train which leaves Boston at 21:30 on Saturday night, arriving in Washington DC’s Union Station at 06:30 on Sunday morning. That would give me plenty of time to get to the funeral, as well as avoiding an overnight stay in the DC area. And, as a final bonus, it meant I could spend Saturday with Amanda. So, the Amtrak Northeast Regional 65 it was.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Tucson, Day 2

The driver climbing up in the evening sun to get into the cab of the lead locomotive of the Sunset Limit at Houston, TexasWelcome the second part of this Travel Spot post detailing the journey that I took in March 2018 on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona. This was itself the final leg of a larger train journey which had seen me start in Providence, Rhode Island, in the teeth of a New England winter, and travel down via Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Manassas just south of Washington DC, then carry on to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Crescent service.

I left New Orleans at nine o’clock on Monday morning, the whole journey taking roughly a day and a half to cover the 2,400 km through Louisiana, all the way across Texas (which took almost a day!) and then along the Mexican border through New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in Tucson just after sunset on Tuesday evening. I was in coach class for the first day, which is covered in Part I, travelling from New Orleans to San Antonio, where we arrived just before midnight. There I transferred to a sleeper compartment for the rest of the journey, which is covered in this post.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Tucson, Day 1

The track disappearing behind Amtrak's Sunset Limited just after departing Beaumont, Texas, on its way to Los Angeles.Welcome to another Travel Spot post and what is in effect the final two-part instalment of a trip I took in 2018, which back then went under the provisional title of Another Grand Adventure. There are actually two more posts in the series, about my adventures on my flight home, but these are the last two posts to be written, hence the “final instalment” tag.

They detail the journey that I took in March 2018 on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona, itself the final leg of a much larger train journey. I’d started in Providence, Rhode Island, in the teeth of a New England winter, and travelled down via Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Manassas just south of Washington DC, then carried on to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Crescent service.

After a weekend in New Orleans, I was on my way again, departing at nine o’clock on Monday morning. The train took roughly a day and a half to cover the 2,400 km through Louisiana, all the way across Texas (which took almost a day!) and then along the Mexican border through New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in Tucson just after sunset on Tuesday evening.

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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.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: New England & New York

Our hire car, aka "The Tank", which friends of mine hired for the second part of my stay.These posts are, in more ways than one, a first for the Travel Spot. They cover the first trip I made after starting the Coffee Spot (and long before I had the idea of the Travel Spot). Unsurprisingly, while I visited plenty of coffee shops, I didn’t make any notes about the trip itself, so they’re a combination of memories, sparked when I stumbled across my photos from the time.

This post, the first of three, covers the initial part of the trip, which began in late February 2013 when I flew to Boston. I spent a few days in the city before taking various day trips around New England with some friends. Finally, I caught the train down to New York City, where I also spent a few days.

From New York City, I boarded Amtrak’s Adirondack service, which is covered in the next post in this series. This took me through upstate New York and across the Canadian border to my final destination, Montréal, which is covered in the third and final post.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Full Dining Service

The black bean and corn veggie burger, from Amtrak's lunch menu, served on the California Zephyr, April 2019, en-route to Chicago.Two months ago, Amanda and I caught Amtrak’s Crescent service from New York to Atlanta. As fans of Amtrak’s dining cars, we were keen to see what the new “upgraded” dining service was like. Suffice to say we were disappointed, prompting me to write about the demise of Amtrak’s full dining service.

The good news is that this only applies to services east of the Mississippi, including the City of New Orleans, which runs between Chicago and New Orleans. Further west, Amtrak still offers its full dining service, a major plus when travelling by train. Having recently written about my journey last year from Los Angeles to San Jose on the Coast Starlight, and the trip Amanda and I took on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago a few weeks later, I’ve been inspired to write this as a counterpoint to the demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service.

For now, at least, the dining car, with its full dining service, is alive and well west of the Mississippi. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed us all of the joys of communal dining for now, I look forward to when I’ll be eating in the Superliner dining car again.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: California Zephyr to Chicago – Day 3

Amtrak Locomotive No. 161 at the head of the California Zephyr, eastbound for Chicago, standing at the platform at Grand Junction, Colorado, with Locomotive No. 19 behind it.Welcome to the third and final part of my bonus Travel Spot, telling the story of the journey that Amanda and I took from California to Chicago this time last year. We travelled on the California Zephyr, a daily service between Emeryville (just across the bay from San Francisco) and Chicago, with a scheduled journey-time of 51½ hours. Along the way, it crosses roughly two-thirds of North America, over two mountain ranges and through an array of amazing, contrasting landscapes.

Our first day on the train was covered in Part 1 of this Travel Spot, when we travelled across California’s Central Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via the Donner Pass and down into and across Nevada following the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. The following day, covered in Part 2, saw us going to bed in Nevada and waking up almost all the way across Utah. We then followed the Colorado River through Ruby Canyon before climbing into the heart of the Rockies, through the Moffat Tunnel and down to the other side to Denver.

In this final instalment, you can follow our progress through Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, crossing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers on our way to Chicago.

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