TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) Amtrak ran four trains a day from upstate New York to Grand Central.
The Niagara Rainbow and The Mountain Bear were interchangeable. An engine, four coaches, and a snack car with soft drinks and microwave food. The Maple Leaf, which had a longer run from Toronto to New York, carried an extra coach for international passengers. I didn’t know much about the fourth train, The Lake Shore Limited, since it passed through Syracuse very early in the morning. But it has a Boston section, so if that’s where you were going, you’d have to wake up early to catch it.
After the now legendary Greyhound cocaine bust, I booked the Niagara Rainbow to New York for my next trip home. It departed Niagara Falls at 6am. Through the morning it added passengers in Buffalo and Rochester. I’d get on in Syracuse around 9:30, and would be at Grand Central in the late afternoon.
The Niagara Rainbow arrived in Syracuse right on time, and I found a window seat for my first train ride home from college.
The ride was unspectacular, uneventful. Syracuse station is in the middle of a big freight yard. I watched the switchers and freight trains with some interest as we slowly accelerated out of town. The train tracks followed the old Erie Canal. When you couldn’t see the water, there were farms, small towns, and rolling hills. Bored, I got an orange juice and a bagel from the snack car. The train crossed the Hudson River at Albany, and then came around a sweeping turn into Rensselaer Station. Upstate trains change engines and crew at Rensselaer. We’d be in the station for about 15 minutes. The train ride was luke-warm so far.
It was late afternoon when we left Albany. The train followed the Hudson River down to New York, fading sunlight reflecting through the autumn leaves and bouncing off the water. The mighty Hudson is slow and narrow in some areas, and a wide mighty river in others. The train tracks are within a few feet of the water, literally built into the side of the riverbank in some areas. Across the water you can see the U.S, Military Academy at West Point. Then FDR’s old station at New Hyde Park. Further down the line Bannerman’s Castle comes into view, a partially destroyed munitions site from The War of 1812. The New York skyline comes into view near nightfall, lights from the skyscrapers against the darkening sky. Yankee Stadium is on the right, the George Washington Bridge and the New Jersey palisades are on the left. The views for the final part of this journey were spectacular, a colorful feast for the eyes.
This was the route that the great trains of the New York Central railroad used to ply. The Commodore Vanderbilt, The Pacemaker, The 20th Century Limited all treated their passengers to the same river ride.
Even as the New York Central limped into bankruptcy, it ran better trains than Amtrak. It was still possible to enjoy these views from a fully stocked dining car, where an oven-cooked dinner was served on heavy china. Your bags could be carried in a baggage car, brought there by a red cap, instead of shoved into an overhead rack. For an extra fare you could take in the scene through your private compartment or the observation car. Who couldn’t find the romance in a train whistle and an “all aboard” while seeing this view from luxury accommodations?
This was the most scenic train ride this side of the Rocky Mountains. This was how I would travel back and forth from college. This was a stretch of railroad I wanted more of.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau