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August 2, 2009

Montreal by train
Posted by Avram Grumer at 06:25 PM *

Is anyone else going to be taking Amtrak to Montreal on Wednesday Aug 5th on the east coast? There’s only one train on that route per day (at least, going from NYC — the Adirondack), so if a bunch of us are going, we can all meet up and sit together. (Our reservations say we have “coach reserved seats”, but I think that just means we’re guaranteed to have seats, not that specific seats have been assigned to us.)

If anyone from further north is going to be joining the train en route, I suppose we might be able to figure out a way to post online which car we’re sitting in, but that would require more advanced technology than I’m planning on taking with me.

Also, anyone who’s taken this route before, how easy is it to get access to a table? I expect one of my traveling companions will be bringing some boardgames (and I may as well), and the trip is eleven hours long, and I want to play some more hands of the Dominion: Intrigue expansion, which needs a decent chunk of flat space. (My own Amtrak experience is limited to the Northeast Corridor.)

Comments on Montreal by train:
#1 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 06:51 PM:

I used to take the old Montrealer, which had a dining car and sleepers, where the cheap sleepers had a fold-down table. The Adirondack may or may not have those amenities, but there is probably a lounge car, which will have tables, and you'll be getting on in New York, right? so you might be able to lay claim to a table when it opens, if that's the arrangement; otherwise, the snack car also has tables, but you're expected to eat.

I envy youse guys (/fake mobster accent), but unless I win the lottery this week, no Montréal for me. Not that I play...

#2 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 06:51 PM:

I looked at the train schedule from Boston and decided that a connection through Albany was just too much train for me to handle.

I'll play Intrigue once we're all there, though. (Managed to win two games in a row yesterday. It's not like I have that much of a grasp of the strategy of the original set...)

#3 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 06:58 PM:

As I recall those trains, the only tables are in the cafe car. I don't remember if they'll insist that you leave the cafe car if they lay over in Albany to change engines.

If you're interested in scenery, the east side of the train has better views, because it gets a couple of hours of Lake Champlain: that's the right-hand side on the trip north, left-hand on the trip south.

The food was minimal; pack something you like for lunch.

#4 ::: Jack Heneghan ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 07:22 PM:

Elaine and I came up Friday from Albany. Things were a bit slow due to the ongoing flooding along the way. The Adirondack got into Albany two hours late and they weren't able to make up time to Montreal. That said, the lounge car was well occupied and a number of the tables had various games going on them. Also remember that you can turn the seats around in the coaches so you can get a group of four facing each other.

You are right, you only have a guaranteed seat on the train, not a specific seat. I would suggest setting a meet-up between the most forward car and the lounge car. That was only three cars on our train.

#5 ::: Elaine ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 07:31 PM:

My own notes about the Adirondack (we took it 7/31 - Friday)

1) You will be late.
2) On our train, we had lots of electrical outlets. No wireless. I made some progress on pruning my folders of digital photos on my laptop.
3) Amtrak is not particularly interested in keeping their customers informed. At least, not in the Albany station. The public address system was broken in our car.
4) Train coach is much more comfortable than plane cabin class. It just takes longer.
5) Beer and wine is served in the lounge. The prices are high. After a while, you won't care.

#6 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 07:32 PM:

Perhaps I should enquire if anybody here is taking Via Rail...

#7 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 07:44 PM:

I'll be on the Adirondack on Wednesday.

#8 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 08:53 PM:

It's been years, but every trip I took on that train, I spent in the bar, excuse me, cafe car, which has plenty of tables. Nobody ever tried to make me leave it, but then I never stopped spending money on their overpriced booze, either.

#9 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 10:07 PM:

The Adirondack has a cafe car, which has tables that will seat four. I haven't been on that particular train

You're right that the "reserved seat" means you're guaranteed a seat, but not a particular one.

And just a reminder... everyone now needs a passport or passport card to go to/from Canada.

And yes, you'll probably be late. You can see where all the trains are in Amtrak's system and their history here.

#10 ::: Chris Eagle ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 10:26 PM:

When I took the Adirondack south a few months ago, they kicked everyone out of the cafe car to turn it into the interviews-with-US-border-patrol car. I don't know if the Canadian officials do the same thing on the trip north.

#11 ::: Adelheid ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 10:35 PM:

For notifying friends of what car you're in, you can text messages to Twitter and they'll make it online as long as there is cell service when you send it.

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 11:30 PM:

Jennifer @7, so I guess we'll see you at Penn Station. I'll see if I can find a geeky t-shirt to wear as an identifying marker. Maybe something from a previous Worldcon.

Alan @9, not only do you need a passport (or a fancy ID card) to go to/from Canada, you need one just to book tickets on this train. Chris tried to make the train reservations in early June while we were still waiting for our passports to arrive, and they wouldn't accept them.

Adelheid @11, that's too much tech for me. I'm leaving my laptop at home, and my cell phone is so old that I can open it up to reveal a little dinosaur inside who shrugs and says "Eh, it's a living."

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2009, 11:57 PM:

OK, I've looked over that link Alan gave, and grabbed the results for every day in July 2009. Here's how it breaks down:

Early: 1 day (3%)
On time: 5 days (16%)
1-10 minutes late: 3 days (10%)
11-30 minutes late: 4 days (13%)
31-60 minutes late: 8 days (26%)
61-120 minutes late: 4 days (13%)
More than 120 minutes late: 4 days (13%)
No arrival listed: 2 days (6%)

Taking that as a guide, I see about a 30% chance of getting there no later than 10 minutes late, about a 40% chance of getting there less than half an hour late, and a 65-70% of being no more than an hour late. (Not sure how to count those two non-arrival days; I don't know if Amtrak assigned a different train to cover the route or what.)

By way of comparison, our flight to Denver last year departed nearly two hours late.

#14 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 12:37 AM:

A non-arrival usually means a cancellation. On the 16th and 17th the train ended at Albany due to track work on the Canada side, and it didn't run on the 30th due to a washout between NYC and Albany.

#15 ::: Steven M. Bellovin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 12:59 AM:

I took the Adirondack to Montreal a few years ago. The biggest delay was for Canadian immigration and customs, where several folks walked the length of the train talking to folks. As I recall, it took ~1.5-2 hours. And yes, they did take a few people off the train.

#16 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 03:31 AM:

Now that I'm living in Houston and have lots more free time, I actually could have taken the train. I have to admit it didn't even occur to me.

I'm definitely up for some games of Intrigue at the con -- expansion-only, or mixed with the original set? After about 500 games on BSW, I feel I have a decent grasp of how to play the original set, but I only have a good handle on 5 of the Intrigue cards. (BSW has implemented Swindler, Baron, Minion, Upgrade, and Nobles.)

#17 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 08:04 AM:

Steven M. Bellovin @ #15

To someone used to using cross-border trains in Europe, a 2 hour wait at the border for immigration and customs checks sounds like something out of the cold war!

In Europe the officials tend to board the train at the last stop before the border and work their way through the train whilst it's on the move. They'll check the papers of as many passengers as they can before the next stop, so quite frequently you won't see them at all because they don't get as far as your coach.

The only place I've seen them go through a train while it's stationary is at Chiasso on the Swiss-Italian border, and that's only because the train has to make a prolonged stop there anyway to change locomotives.

#18 ::: Susie Lorand ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 09:19 AM:

Vicki @3: "Minimal" is too charitable an adjective for my most recent Amtrak meal. A veggie burger served on the Wolverine was nearly inedible; I couldn't finish it. I've also been disappointed by the breakfast eggs on the Lake Shore Limited. There used to be a passable veggie burrito or something on Northeast Corridor trains, but it wasn't always available.

Tim @17: On a family vacation when I was 12, during the Cold War, it took us over 4 hours to cross from Poland to Czechoslovakia. Easter weekend traffic didn't help, but the officials also seemed confused by our Dutch license plates and U.S. passports. I still don't know what the landscape between Poland and Hungary looks like: it was dark by the time we got there, and the middle of the night when we reached Budapest.

#19 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 09:57 AM:

From the last time I took the Adirondack, yes, it can be a little late, but I had, in the non-cafe car, not only a set of outlets to myself, but a table sufficient for Dominion. I suggest boarding early as possible and getting one or a pair of said tables.

#20 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 10:35 AM:

#6, yes from Ottawa at about 1 pm on Wednesday. Via has two varieties of cars on the Ottawa-Montreal run, the LRC (Light Rapid Comfortable) and the Renaissance. Over the last two years I've made a couple of dozen trips on them. Some info is on the Via website at http://www.viarail.ca/en/about-via-rail/our-fleet

The LRC have mostly what I'd call bus-style seating. Two rows of two seats with centre aisle. At each end of each car there are table seats for groups of four. That means a total of 16 persons get fixed tables. Via reserves these for groups of three or four. All the Via tickets I've had have been reserved seat by seat number, and the booking people are pretty good. Seating diagram at http://www.viarail.ca/en/resources/lrc-car-economy-class - groups are rows 3/4 and 16/17, I think. 68 seats in an LRC car.

The Renaissance are asymetrical, two seats, aisle, one seat. I don't recall seeing any table seats; the Renaissance is the newer and rarer style. Renaissance cars are more airplane-like, to me. 48 seats in the Renaissance coach - no diagram online.

All have nominal wireless - I've sometimes had it work and often had no success beyond paying for it. The prices are about $9 a day, from memory. Wireless in the stations is generally fine. Cellular coverage is ok on the Ottawa-Montreal corridor.

All seats are supposed to have AC power for laptops. It doesn't always work.

Via trains are frequently on-time.

If you're coming from outside the Windsor-Quebec corridor, you'll get different cars - there are lots of kinds of rolling stock operated by Via.

#21 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Since I'm flying up, I am probably not going to have as much room for game-bringing as I'd like. At this point my tentative priorities are Race for the Galaxy (with both expansions), and Battlestar Galactica (if I have room, or can get someone who's driving up from Boston to play courier for me). I'm definitely bringing Wizard, because there's always room for Wizard.

(Any requests? A partial list is on BGG.)

#22 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 12:52 PM:

Avram, glad to see we have the same-era phones... (well, I did have very crude text messaging but we disabled that function because we were getting spam bills for text messages we never saw, to the tune of $10.99 a pop.)

It's erratic about producing 'missed calls' and voice mails. But it works okay as a phone and phone directory.

I'll be there in spirit, y'all!

#23 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 01:10 PM:

Avram @12: [..]my cell phone is so old that I can open it up to reveal a little dinosaur inside who shrugs and says "Eh, it's a living."

You should upgrade. The newer version has a little bird (dinosaur 2.0).

#24 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 02:43 PM:

I've not taken that one up. I normally take the train either up to Boston or down to DC. At least on those the business class might be worth the extra few bucks just for the nicer/bigger seats. Also tends to be quieter. Even with delays it's always been fairly stress free for me.

Their food tends to suck and is overpriced though. Bring what you can. I always go out of Newark then connect over in NYC. Usually works fine for me.

#25 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 03:48 PM:

Avram @ #12, Rob @ #23, when you upgrade, you'll get a camera modeled after the ones found in Ankh Morpork!

#26 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 04:28 PM:

ckd: I've only gotten to play one game with Rebel v. Imperium, and I would absolutely love to play Battlestar Galactica with you. (I wonder if Teresa would like the game, given its commonalities with Thing, or if it would be too fiddly for her. Also I know Jo likes Shadows over Camelot....)

#27 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 04:38 PM:

Linkmeister@25: Would that also give you PDA functionality, or does that take a second imp?

#28 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 04:39 PM:

David Wald @ #27, lemme talk to R&D and I'll get back to you.

#29 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 08:20 PM:

Our house in Westport is 9/10ths of a mile from the Westport stop. I think they let people get off momentarily there. If they let you, look inside the Westport station. The currently have a show of very good landscape paintings be an artist named Kevin Raines.

#30 ::: Bill Burns ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2009, 11:11 PM:

Mary and I, along with Andy Porter, will be on the train.

#31 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2009, 05:22 AM:

I believe Dave Howell is taking the train up, having made a detour from Seattle.

#32 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 03:28 AM:

OO! Yes! Me! Me! Us! Me!

Avram @ 0, 12: I'll be wearing a black "Seattle in 2002" WorldCon bid T-Shirt. And I'm tall: 5' 16" with very short hair. We have "The Very Clever Pipe Game," "Steam Tunnel," "Scarab Lords," and two identical decks of regular playing cards with us. I have not taken the Adirondack before, but we came from Seattle to NYC via Amtrak (Empire Builder and Lake Shore Ltd.), have gone Seattle to Chicago 2 other times (the Empire Builder), and travelled from Seattle to Denver (Coast Starlight, and California Zephyr). I predict that the cafe/lounge car tables will be about 2/3rds full about 15 minutes after we leave NYC. I've never seen anybody asked to leave one; especially if you're obviously putting said table to good use, by, say, playing a game on it.

Susie@18: The Lake Shore Ltd. is particularly hampered in food service because they run the "Viewliner" single-level cars. The good "Superliner" cars are double-decker, and the dining car has meal service on the upper level and the kitchen on the lower. The Empire Builder definitely has two cooks in said kitchen. The Viewliner dining car had to fit the kitchen into half of the middle of the car, leaving inadequate space for actual cooking. No griddle or stove at all, just two microwaves and two convection ovens. One of the reasons we love taking Amtrak instead of flying is that, with sleeper accomodations, meals are included, and nearly all the meals we've had on the train have been very good. Not "better than airline food" good; more like "this wouldn't embarrass my mom" good. I've had excellent beef stew on an earlier trip, and last week the special on the Empire Buider was a tasty, rather spicy bison meatloaf.

Note that none of this applies to the Adirondack, which, perhaps because it has no sleeper cars, also doesn't have a dining car. The cafe/lounge car has microwaved burgers, sandwiches, beverages and candy. We will be buying lunch in Penn Station before boarding as it is likely to be better, although not necessarily much cheaper.


#33 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 03:29 AM:

OO! Yes! Me! Me! Us! Me!

Avram @ 0, 12: I'll be wearing a black "Seattle in 2002" WorldCon bid T-Shirt. And I'm tall: 5' 16" with very short hair. We have "The Very Clever Pipe Game," "Steam Tunnel," "Scarab Lords," and two identical decks of regular playing cards with us. I have not taken the Adirondack before, but we came from Seattle to NYC via Amtrak (Empire Builder and Lake Shore Ltd.), have gone Seattle to Chicago 2 other times (the Empire Builder), and travelled from Seattle to Denver (Coast Starlight, and California Zephyr). I predict that the cafe/lounge car tables will be about 2/3rds full about 15 minutes after we leave NYC. I've never seen anybody asked to leave one; especially if you're obviously putting said table to good use, by, say, playing a game on it.

Susie@18: The Lake Shore Ltd. is particularly hampered in food service because they run the "Viewliner" single-level cars. The good "Superliner" cars are double-decker, and the dining car has meal service on the upper level and the kitchen on the lower. The Empire Builder definitely has two cooks in said kitchen. The Viewliner dining car had to fit the kitchen into half of the middle of the car, leaving inadequate space for actual cooking. No griddle or stove at all, just two microwaves and two convection ovens. One of the reasons we love taking Amtrak instead of flying is that, with sleeper accomodations, meals are included, and nearly all the meals we've had on the train have been very good. Not "better than airline food" good; more like "this wouldn't embarrass my mom" good. I've had excellent beef stew on an earlier trip, and last week the special on the Empire Buider was a tasty, rather spicy bison meatloaf.

Note that none of this applies to the Adirondack, which, perhaps because it has no sleeper cars, also doesn't have a dining car. The cafe/lounge car has microwaved burgers, sandwiches, beverages and candy. We will be buying lunch in Penn Station before boarding as it is likely to be better, although not necessarily much cheaper.


#34 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 01:01 PM:

Dave Howell #33: "And I'm tall: 5' 16" with very short hair."

Most of us write that as 6' 4".

#35 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 01:32 PM:

posting from VIA train 634, which left Ottawa on time, and is offering both AC power and free WiFi - although it's free because there's some kind of satellite glitch.

#36 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 02:47 PM:

Fragano #34:

Not everyone. We had a third-party housing inspector who refers to himself as 5' 18". And I like Dave's particular formulation: it makes it eminently visualizable just what the height difference between me (at 5'3") and my husband (at Dave's height) is.

#37 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 03:24 PM:

Dave Howell #33:
I'm only 3'34". I've gotten complaints when I've used that on officious forms.

#38 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 04:32 PM:

I have a very tall friend who likes to describe himself as being 5'21".

#39 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 04:34 PM:

Bwah, you Wednesday train goers. I will be on the Thursday Adirondack from Albany.

And I am currently on the Wednesday afternoon Greyhound bus from Buffalo to Syracuse (with connection to Albany) to keep from having to make that the Friday Adirondack. The California Zephyr hit a string of bad luck starting with Denver, so we missed Tuesday night's Lakeshore Limited.

Bwah, I say again. Bwah. And Amtrak was doing so well by me up to now--this is my first late-train experience all year, after two other multi-city round-trip trips.

At least this particular bus I'm on has wi-fi. So I have been productive! And I've discovered this thread, huzzah! However, this bus is also late. If I miss the Syracuse-to-Albany bus because of it, I have another chance tomorrow morning, though.

#40 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 06:53 PM:

...I should mention, also, that I will be leaving Montreal on the Adirondack on Tuesday. Maybe we can have a "carrying away the dead dog's corpse" party (you know, the party you have when you're leaving the dead dog party?) on that train, if others will be on it.

(Made my bus connection. W00t! Hotel tonight, on the train tomorrow morning!)

#41 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 09:24 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @39: [..] I am currently on the Wednesday afternoon Greyhound bus from Buffalo to Syracuse [..]

Wave when you go through Rochester (if you can pretend you got this note in time, I can pretend I saw your bus passing by).

#42 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2009, 11:13 PM:

As long as we agree to pretend my bus went through Rochester...?

#43 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2009, 12:58 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @42: Direct on the Thurway?

Supposedly the reason why the Thurway doesn't go through Rochester is that some local politician ticked off a state or federal politician who had some say on where that road was going to go.

It's been considered a loss for the city. Yet at the same time, there is talk of 'reverting' some of the expressway routes in through the city, because of the way they have sliced up city communities.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2009, 07:09 AM:

Bah! Humbug!

I, tidies and funtlemen, am 1m77. And I'm sticking to that.

#45 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2009, 07:52 AM:

Rob@43: I couldn't tell you from highways up here--the only times I've ever been in the state are when traveling through on train. All I know is, folks going to Rochester were to stay on the bus I got off at Syracuse. Perhaps it does indeed have to do with the Thruway, but I couldn't say.

I do know we went through a phenomenal amount of toll roads between Chicago and Albany, to the point where I wondered if I'd get any sleep at all what with the bus starting and stopping every 20 minutes.

The Buffalo-Syracuse and Syracuse-Albany legs were awesome, though. Greyhound is abreast of Amtrak in the category of "electrical outlets at every seat," and ahead in the wi-fi race. It was reliable, at a high enough speed to handle Second Life in a reasonably animation-free zone. I actually got an article researched, written, and submitted; uploaded my weekly voice recording to Colorado's radio reading service for the blind; discovered what the nearest hotel to the Albany bus stop was (Holiday Inn Express, two blocks away, will courtesy shuttle me to the train station in a couple hours); and of course discovered this thread and the movable party I missed yesterday by not being willing to leave Denver earlier than Monday night. *sigh*

Ob On-topic comment: I am keeping my 5'2", having nothing to gain by converting it to 4'14" except perhaps the element of surprise ("Oh, you seem taller in person").

#46 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2009, 06:27 PM:

Nicole @45, would you be more or less happier at 1m57?

I'm 1m65, or possibly more grandly, 165cm; longing sadly for the return of rail to our national capital.

#47 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2009, 04:09 PM:

If you're in Montreal and planning to attend the ML party, please note a room change: we're now in 2131 (a great suite: no stairs, and more than twice the usable room than the Denver party)

#48 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2009, 09:43 PM:

Rob Rusick @23:

You should upgrade. The newer version has a little bird
Does this explain Twitter?

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