Amtrak service back on track

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Photo by E.J. Conzola. The first Amtrak train arrives in Whitehall on April 3 since COVID-19 shutdown the Adirondack line.

By EJ Conzola II

Amtrak rail service has returned to Whitehall – again.

Amtrak suspended its Adirondack Line service linking New York City and Canada in late June after the Canadian National Railway Company reportedly imposed a new speed limit on its tracks. Amtrak officials cited the speed limit, which was set at 10 mph for the roughly 40 miles between the U.S./Canada border and the line’s terminus in Montreal as the reason for the suspension.

The Adirondack Line is carried by CN Rail tracks from the border to Montreal.

The reduced speed limit “resulted in Amtrak passengers experiencing up to four hours of extra delay on their journey,” Amtrak spokesperson Jen Flanagan explained in an email.

The “heat policy order” that resulted in the reduced speed limit was new this year, Flanagan said. The policy kicked in when temperatures consistently reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit because of fears the heat could cause the tracks to warp under the weight of faster trains, Amtrak was previously quoted as saying.

“Amtrak was forced to suspend the service until cooler temperatures arrived to reduce the risk of these excessively slow operations,” Flanagan said in a Sept. 5 email. 

CN referred all questions about the suspension to Amtrak and did not respond to subsequent queries asking for an explanation of the policy.

The suspension affected only those stations north of Albany. Amtrak later expanded its service to Saratoga Springs to accommodate race fans hoping to travel to the Saratoga Race Course for its 2023 season but stations north of Saratoga Springs – including Whitehall, Fort Edward, Plattsburgh, Ticonderoga, Port Henry and Rouses Point – remained without service.

The latest suspension of service to the northern stations came just three months after trains had returned with much fanfare on April 3 after having been out of operation for roughly three years  during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, Amtrak officials made stops at each station along the route to tout the return of the service and political leaders at the local, state and federal levels lauded the resumption of service.

Amtrak and state officials are currently working with CN Rail to prevent future service disruptions.

“During the suspension, Amtrak has been in discussion with CN and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to explore different solutions to feasibly resume Adirondack service,” Flanagan wrote.