July 16, 2010
9:03am – Along the Hudson River
The weather is gorgeous and the scenery as pleasant as expected along the Hudson River. The train is full and the Amtrak agent on board suspecting that I am doing “something special” asked: “Are you a reporter?” Full disclosure brought me to tell him that I am riding this train to get a feel of the journey as conveyed to me by friends and colleagues. He immediately volunteered the observation that this route is ripe for more travelers if we had faster service and we did not have the stop at the border.
10:25am - From Poughkeepsie onwards to Albany
My friendly Amtrak agent Jim (the one who thinks I am a reporter) comes to me with his homegrown solution that would shave two hours off the trip. It comes to pre-border clearance, upgrading speed, eliminating a stop at Yonkers, a dedicated track on Canadian Pacific line north of Rouses Point and no engine change at Albany. Now it is still not HSR but Jim may be on to something.
10:37am - Arriving in Albany
Just completed a great conversation with an Indian couple who came to America in 1966, raised six children who all have been university educated. This charming couple is now retired in Tampa. They love Montréal and are doing a first trip by train to this great city. That is what I like about the train-space, moving about and relaxed time for good conversation. Weather and scenery are still good.
12:05pm – Saratoga Springs
We've passed Schenectady and now we are arriving at Saratoga Springs. The engine change at Albany lasted at least 20 minutes. All these stops and delays are expected. The thought that crosses my mind, however, is how come we are still running a railway like we did in another era and time as China, Japan, India and Europe see the benefits of high speed rail?
My coach class neighbors, hearing my talk with Amtrak Jim, agree that we need a rapid train. They tell stories about Europe and Japan. Neighbor Theo tells me you can set your watch by the train from Paris to Lyon. Is this the best that we can do in North America? It seems to be getting slower, and we are far from the border. Weather and scenery still nice, though.
1:56pm - Leaving Port Henry
You see some beautiful scenery along Lake Champlain despite the current low ceiling and rain. People around me are working on computers, blackberries, watching movies, surfing the internet, reading a novel or a newspaper, taking a nap, and having conversations on cell phones. Not that different from everyday life off the train. And that's my point - rail travel provides a sense of normality and can still be an in-thing !All you really need is give passengers a more motivating reason to use it. Amtrak Jim and neighbor Theo agree!
3:07pm - Making our way to Plattsburgh and the North Country
And you would think we are closing on our destination. Think again. The good news is that we are passed the halfway mark. The bad news is that we still have to pass the border and the train stopped outside Westport to let the southbound train pass by. And here at the border we can expect a 90 minutes wait, says Amtrak Jim.
Neighbor Theo is like me. Starting a vacation and doing an experiment on rail travel from NYC to Montréal. We both agree on Montréal being a desirable destination. Theo is a believer in rail travel. He makes a compelling and persuasive argument for it -comfort, better passenger interaction, and better use of one's personal time. He is thoughtful and convincing.
As a travel executive, Theo has traveled a lot. Both of us are avoiding any attempts at complaining about Amtrak. Yet one car has rain seeping in and the toilet does not function. The air conditioning temperature got so cold that it was turned off. Now it is feeling stuffy. Can we believe we are in America traveling from the great mega city of New York to Montréal, Québec's largest city and Canada's second largest ? Taking 11 hours? Bottom line, we can't blame Amtrak but we sure believe that this rail route can be better. As passengers, we would be willing to pay for a more rapid and a more state of art rail system. On this point, Amtrak Jim and neighbor Theo agree with me. And Theo would put together a great package tour !
5:50pm - Border crossing
Crossing the border is quite an experience. As many as six agents boarded the train and it was done in record time. Eighty minutes instead of ninety! The agents were courteous and asked the usual questions. No incidents. Now we know we have a problem when a train stops for as much time. Think of cars waiting at border crossings on a holiday weekend. But this is everyday with no traffic as an excuse. Neighbor Theo tells me that he is flying back.
6:23pm - Nearing Montréal
The trip is slowly winding down. A friend of mine, a journalist, who read my early accounts online, tells me that I am a masochist! Neighbor Theo says he got that right!
There is no doubt that this journey was revealing. Actually more than any masochistic tendencies I may have! Going to and from these two great cities, New York and Montréal, is worth the trip but this is not the 1930's. All the arguments in favor of rail travel, I still buy. But a modern advanced society like ours is expected to do better. My story is coming to an end, albeit slowly. Stayed tuned as we arrive at Central Station in Montréal.
7:31pm – Finally arriving in Montréal!
And 21 minutes late. I will miss Amtrak Jim but I hope he will see HSR someday. He hopes so too. "But get pre-boarding customs clearance done, John," he says as he waves goodbye. Neighbor Theo says goodbye to me as well and tells me again that he will fly back.
More than ever I am convinced that a high speed train connection from Montréal to New York is the way to go. There is much to do and so much in common between those two cities. I will most likely never see Amtrak Jim and Neighbor Theo again, but our parting looks said it all - we shared an experience that we know could be so much better.
Home in my city for a brief vacation after an 11 hour journey! Throughout the trip, my dear Esther worked on her computer, patiently supporting my desire for a full understanding of this long slow train ride. Now it's time that I take her out to dinner. She’s earned it!
Publié par Marketing