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We rode Amtrak’s Empire Service on two different trips. The first was from Albany–Rensselaer to New York’s Penn Station on 6 February 2010 and the second was from Niagara Falls to Poughkeepsie on 5 June 2011. The second journey was the return from our trip on the Maple Leaf.
The train for our first trip originated in Rensselaer. Like many larger stations, platform access at Rensselaer is controlled, so we had to wait in the station until the train was ready for boarding. Since the train originated in Rensselaer, the café car on the train was not used. Still it was a nice ride along the frozen Hudson River, including the stretch where the conductor pointed out to the kids that we’d be traveling at 110 mph. The train filled quickly at each station but it remained a pleasant ride all of the way to New York.
On this trip we only traveled one way, getting dropped off in Rensselaer and then after arriving in New York, walking to Grand Central Terminal and taking Metro-North back home.
The second trip began in Niagara Falls. We spent the night at a Hampton Inn near the Niagara Falls Ontario train station. Not knowing how easy it would be to get a taxi early in the morning and wanting to pay in US dollars, I had reserved a US cab to take us to the train station. In hindsight this was probably a mistake since the cab apparently wasn’t really local (I had to give directions to the station), I probably paid way too much (my cab fare was almost as much as my Amtrak ticket), and since crossing the border only took a couple of minutes, we arrived at the station with well over an hour to spare.
The train was pretty empty until we reached Buffalo-Depew, then about half full to Schenectady where almost every seat filled and we ran sold out for the rest of the trip. The early part of the trip went very well, with arrival in Syracuse 30 minutes ahead of schedule and Rome 20 minutes early. It was nice to be able to go for a walk outside the train while we waited for the schedule to catch up. Unfortunately due to track work, some passing freight trains, and a complication with the locomotive change in Rensselaer, we soon ended up about an hour behind schedule.
We spent a bit less time than usual in the café car on this trip. Unfortunately they were out of a few items even at the beginning of the trip. Also, they would only accept cash, which was a bit of a problem since I had spent so much on the taxi that morning. In our regular seats for part of the ride we had to deal with someone who thought it was appropriate to listen to music (not my choice of music by the way) loudly enough so everyone could hear. After about 15 minutes I asked him to use headphones and he grudgingly turned it down. Otherwise it was an enjoyable trip though.
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Copyright 2011 by Robert Mortell