Fred Frailey Blog

Rail travel writing worth reading

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I was quick to anger a few weeks ago when I came upon a shoddy piece of work done by a Frommer’s Travel writer, whose descriptions of “five scenic adventures” on Amtrak revealed a lack of preparation (see “Been There, Done That, This Is Crap,” August 22). So I feel a lot better recommending to you a well researched online article that benefits from good input and solid reporting.

I’m talking about “All Aboard: Railroad Adventures for Every Budget,” by freelance writer Jessica DuLong, for CNN.com.

I don’t think Ms. DuLong personally experienced each of these trips. But her reporting is thorough enough to make you believe she did. I am especially impressed by her recommendation of a Metro North Railroad adventure to Poughkeepsie, N.Y. I never would have thought of his myself, and it makes me want to experience the views from the train, the River Front Restaurant and the Poughkeepsie bridge that towers above this Hudson River town.

The other adventures she recommends are all ones I would endorse: The Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, and the Canadian from Vancouver, B.C., to Toronto.

So three thumbs up and three hurrahs for good railroad travel journalism. — Fred W. Frailey

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  • Yes, it was a very well written article, especially with Henry Posner adding creditbility to it

  • Ah, a great read.  Lots of great recommendations in the comments too, and you know what?  The comments are strangely free from people bashing passenger trains!  Even more so than the comments here at Trains.com, unfortunately.

  • Rode the genuine "Canadian" (behind MLW-Alcos much of the way) and the "Builder" in 1981 and, growing up in the Bronx, first rode the then-Penn Central from Poughkeepsie to G.C.T. in filthy coaches with opaque windows circa 1969 -- no views then!  But yes, Metro-North does a fine job on this line, and the scenery ranks with anything on the Amtrak system, including Glacier Park.  Fred, when you come to the New York area, do not miss the Walkway Over the Hudson.  My kids and I went on the opening day three years ago; imagine walking through the open air at that height, amidst that scenery, and among 15,000 other people not seeing ONE who looked nervous!  The experience up there practically defines "glorious".  Looking forward to sharing it with you --

  • Thanks, Fred. It is indeed a well written article. I rode the VIA route for the lst time in 1980, and we headed west from Winnipeg with an F(9,  RS18, and E8A as tho power! What can beat that!?!?! I have a photo!

  • I'm glad to see the Hudson River route gets a reprieve from Fred after his earlier experience on the Adirondack.

  • About the NYC-Montreal Adirondack, it’s actually a state sponsored train, NY State as being paying for it ever since the early 1970s. So feel in fact Fred none of your federal tax dollars are being wasted on this train.

    Personally I never rode it to Montreal, but for the past several years Amtrak has attached its sole Budd Dome Car to the train from Albany to Montreal during the fall for the leave peepers, and I rode it twice. Compared to the Amfleet coaches you get a much better view and more relaxing space in the ex-GN dome.

    The train crew can be unfriendly. The first time I rode it south bound for a short trip from Saratoga to Schenectady, and the café car attendant was very unfriendly, pushing out all the passengers in the dome before we had cross the Mohawk River into Schenectady, the most scenic highlight of that very short trip.

    The second time I rode it northward from Saratoga to Port Henry where I got off and rode the southbound Adirondack back to Saratoga. This isn’t a bad little trip, but I would think it better to start at Albany. You could also detrain at Plattsburg, stay overnight, and take the train back the next day. You could even get off at Port Kent and take the Lake Champlain ferry to Burlington, Vermont.

    A big improvement for the Adirondack is going to be when US/Canadian customs and border inspections take place in Montreal’s Central Station, as agreed upon and funded by NY State, Quebec, Vermont, and Amtrak. This will be similar to the Cascades service to Vancouver B.C. and will eliminate the long border stops at Rouses Point.

    How this came to be is a big mystery, but political pressure on the U.S. Border Patrol from U.S. federal senators seemed to have played a big part. The State of Vermont wants to extend its state sponsored Vermonter to Montreal, the in-station inspection at Montreal facilitate will greatly facilitate this.

    Given the scenic route, the Adirondack would make a great “land-cruise” train. Because of the tunnels in New York City you would need new single-level dome cars with big (and clean!) windows and comfortable interiors… with good food service.

    The Adirondack is usually four to five coaches with a café car, so perhaps you could hook on the end a three car set, two “parlor cars” and a dining car. Similar to the Rocky Mountaineer passengers would stay overnight in NYC and Montreal, with perhaps the option of detraining for overnight stays at Saratoga Springs, Lake Placid (via bus), and Burlington (via ferry).

    Since this is a state sponsored route, nothing is likely to happen without the involvement of the state government.

    BT

  • I read it and enjoyed it.

  • While the scenary isn't always as nice as the Hudson Valley, New York has several other relatively long-distance commuter runs that might be considered, including NJT/Metro-North to Port Jervis; LIRR to Montauk; NJT North Jersey Coast to Bay Head; and Metro-North to Wassaic, Danbury and Waterbury.  Compared with Amtrak pricing, cheap thrills (but no frills).

Rail travel writing worth reading