Things are looking up for Amtrak nationally - and in the Empire State. For those who don't know it, the Rensselaer Amtrak station serving New York's Capital District is among the top ten busiest - and things are getting busier.
Meanwhile, for those looking for a getaway into the Adirondacks by rail, a new option is coming on line that ties in nicely with Amtrak.
More over the jump.
There's a couple of news stories in the Albany Times Union today that should catch the attention of railfans and travelers. In the Business Section, Eric Anderson reports that Amtrak may hit 30 million riders this year, for the first time in its 40 year history. The Capital District is seeing a good share of the increase.
Ridership on Empire Corridor trains between New York City and Albany rose 6.2 percent to 89,670. On trains between Albany and Toronto, boardings climbed 3.5 percent to 34,989 passengers. Amtrak’s Ethan Allen services to Vermont from New York City and the Capital Region saw a 5.1 percent gain to 4,076 passengers, while the Adirondack to Montreal saw a 3.7 percent gain, to 11,672 passengers. Of trains serving the Capital Region, only the Lake Shore Limited saw a decline, with ridership falling 1.9 percent to 34,810.
And for those seeking a getaway into the mountains, a new rail service is starting up that will connect with Amtrak at Saratoga, NY. Anderson reports initial service has been delayed, but plans are calling for the first passenger trains in the new service to start July 23.
When the trains do start operating, they'll have a choice of accommodations, either a superdome car that dates from the days of Santa Fe's fabled Super Chief, or a more utilitarian bilevel coach that originally saw service on the Long Island Rail Road.
Ellis said the railroad has about 25 people involved in the startup, that it has spent more than $300,000 on the effort, and has brought in nearly $5 million worth of equipment.
The big attraction: Two of the three daily round-trips from North Creek will go the full length of the line to Saratoga Springs, where they will connect with Amtrak's Adirondack and Ethan Allen services.
The line goes back over a century; after being operated by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad all the way up to Tahawus, it fell with the fortunes of railroading in general. Idle for a number of years, Paul Post reports in the Saratogian that the latest ongoing local efforts to find an operator to bring the line back into service have turned to Iowa Pacific. The line will be operated under the name Saratoga and North Creek Railway. Schedule, tickets and other info can be found at the SNCRR website.
The historic North Creek Station is the place where Theodore Roosevelt arrived after an arduous journey out of the High Peaks in response to urgent messages about the declining health of President McKinley. A fast train was waiting for him at the station, along with the news that McKinley had died and he was now President. The rest is history - and it's well preserved.
How the modern tale of the line turns out is yet to be determined - but there's a lot of effort being invested in the revival. An interesting array of cars and engines is being assembled; the route itself rolls through some beautiful scenery. The High Bridge at Hadley-Luzerne offers a spectacular view. North of Hadley the tracks run through areas that look much as they did 150 years ago.
If you like rail travel adventures, this could become one of the more enjoyable trips in the eastern U.S. As the map linked above shows, the line runs near Lake George (in case people you are traveling with want to do more than ride trains.) North Creek is just down the road from Gore Mountain, site of a garnet mine and ski slopes. The Delaware & Hudson used to run ski trains up to North Creek in the 1930s - there are plans by the S&NC to revive them.
And of course, I probably shouldn't need to mention the assorted hiking, camping cycling, and whitewater rafting possibilities in the area. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of minor diversions at the Saratoga end of the line - like the summer racing meet at the horse track, or the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
If it sounds like this diary is a shameless plug for the trains and the area - well it is. I've ridden the North Creek - Hadley run twice on the previous operator, the Upper Hudson River Railroad, and I can personally testify to the pleasures of the scenery and the area. Now that the connection is being made to Amtrak at Saratoga, the experience can only get better. While I'd like this to succeed for my own personal reasons, it could also be a big boost to the local economy.
I'm going to guess there'll be some rough edges and gaps at first. If you're intrigued enough by what I've put down here to check it out, I'd say be prepared to adapt and adjust as necessary. But, if the rail service takes off and stimulates associated development around it, this could become a very good thing for all concerned. The ticket prices - especially the day passes - look more than reasonable. I've got a friend who's going to be riding trains all day long on the opening weekend, so I'll see how it goes.
I'm certainly planning to get up there some time this summer!