Location: [Home] [Train Travels] The Vermonter July 1997
My wife's extended family has lakeside property in northern New York state, close to the shores of Lake Champlain. We went up to stay in one of the cabins on July 4; Evelyn and the kids were to stay the weekend, but I had to be back on Sunday. So we had decided that I would take the train back to New Haven on Saturday.
I spent some time deciding on my route, as there were two tempting alternatives. One was to take the Adirondack south to New York City's Pennsylvania Station, and then NortheastDirect back to New Haven. This route had the advantage of an afternoon departure, which would give me more time with the family, but would put me in New Haven at about 11:00 pm--and I would have to work the next day. I chose Amtrak's Vermonter, which left at about 8:00 am from Essex Junction and arrived in New Haven in mid-afternoon. It would require a ferry trip across Lake Champlain, but that seemed more like an advantage than otherwise.
I made the reservation through 1-800-USA-RAIL, verifying that I could pick up the ticket in Essex Junction. I'd been taken by surprise once travelling on an early train: I'd expected to be able to buy my ticket at the station in New Haven, but the windows were closed at 4 am. I was pleased to learn on that occasion that I could buy the ticket on the train.
Since all this, of course, I've learned the wonders of picking up the ticket long before I travel!
We had a good time at Eddy camp, and did some canoeing with the kids. Rebekah was very happy to look about for ducks, which at that time she couldn't see very well. The next morning we were up early and into the car for the trip to Essex Junction. I had printed maps from the World Wide Web to find the station from Burlington.
We drove down to Essex, NY, to the ferry dock. I had checked that on the Web, too, and we arrived quite a bit before the first crossing. I pulled in and parked, leaving the radio on. To my vast surprise, fifteen minutes later I realized I needed the car somewhere else, and the battery was dead! So I started asking people about jumper cables, and one of the ferry crew (who would join it when it came to the New York side) said they'd have some on the boat. Mercifully enough, they not only had them, they had time to give me a jump; however, the captain told me quite clearly to leave the car running as he didn't want to do it again!
Safely in Vermont, we headed for the station, passing the Shelburne Museum and keeping to the higher parts of Burlington. Then we were following a set of railroad tracks and soon arrived at the junction. We had some work finding the station, which is very small and only marked on one side of the building. Not wanting to stop the car before it was at a service station, the family left me on the sidewalk and headed back to Burlington. I walked over to the station and waited for the agent to open it.
Not much later, I had my ticket hot off the printer and sat waiting for the train to arrive. It appeared right on schedule, and a fair crowd of us, about fifteen or so, moved to board at the one open stair. A baggage car bore the Vermonter logo, and each end of the train sported an F-40PH locomotive, which seemed odd to me. I soon found a seat on the left, eastern, side of the train, and settled in for the trip.
The seats on the Vermonter have more leg room than NortheastDirect trains, and include adjustable footrests. Seats were arranged with half the car facing one way, and half the other; facing pairs in the center of the car were marked "Reserved for families." I have seen no other Amtrak train with this seat arrangement.
The scenery through Vermont was lovely. Between Essex Junction and Montpelier the train passes through a lot of farmland, with a lot of grade crossings on private lanes. Publicly or privately owned, the horn sounded for each one: long, long, short llllloooooonnnnnngggggg. The engineer seemed to have his own rhythm about it, and it fit right into the experience for me.
I'd had no breakfast yet, so I took an early trip to the lounge car: coffee, a bagel and cream cheese which I took back to my seat. Despite microwaving, the bagel was crisper than I expected, and the coffee quite good. Then it was back to watching the farms with the mountains rising behind, and reading some of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories.
The station in White River Junction is a marvellous old Union Station, which still serves two railroads--Amtrak and the Green Mountain Railroad, a freight and tourist line. There are several other old stations along the line as well, plus a great view of the longest covered bridge in New England from the train, which crosses back and forth from Vermont to New Hampshire over the Connecticut River a couple of times.
Still in Vermont, I returned to the dinette for lunch: a pre-packaged turkey sandwich with the Vermonter logo. To my delight it was fresh and quite tasty, if a little pricey. I can't say my other experiences with dinette food have been so good; they make an effort on the Vermonter.
Through Vermont and New Hampshire the train follows the old Vermont Central (Now New England Central) tracks, but in Palmer, Massachusetts, it moves to the Boston and Albany line (Conrail). It's an odd shift, as there is no wye at the junction. The train turns to the east on the old B & A, and the switch points are reset. The engineer travels down the train to the trailing engine, which now becomes the lead locomotive for the train moving west--and the conductor allows everyone to trade seats if they prefer riding forward. As it didn't matter much to me, I stayed put.
At Springfield we had a brief wait and an opportunity to walk around; one which I'd take advantage of next time. Just out of the station the train makes its turn to the south onto the rails to Hartford, returning to the Connecticut River which it moved away from in southern New Hampshire. The river is broader in Connecticut, and the towns are small cities. Along the tracks in many places are the remains of old factories and the half-buried rails that served them.
Just a little past schedule the Vermonter arrived in New Haven, and my journey was over. It was a splendid trip, and I enjoyed it a good deal. Next time I need to make the journey from the family camp, however, it will be the Adirondack--just to see that journey.