Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA), newsletter for July/August 2011:
There's good and bad news for internaitonal Amtrak passengers on the two New York State trains that extend into Canada. The state's US Senator, Charles Schumer, wants US Customs functions to be performed in Montreal on a pre-boarding basis by the end of 2011. Reducing delays at the border would provide a better incentive for Canadian business travelers to visit New York destinations, and it would be helpful to US citizens returning from vacations in Canada.
Meanwhile, Canadian Naitional Railway (CN) filed notice in May that they want to sell their interest in the Whirlpool Bridge. Located in Niagara Falls, its only daily usage is by the Maple Leaf in both directions. Wording in the notice seems to indicate that CN could entirely discontinue operations on the bridge if they don't find a buyer. All stakeholders, including both VIA Rail and Amtrak are involved in discussions regarding maintaining through service over the bridge.
The month of May 2011 was the 19th consecutive month that ridership gained over the same month the previous year. The Ethan Allen Express saw ridership go up 24.5%, and the Adirondack rose 21.2%. Trains that run west of Albany had 10.1% higher ridership, while trains along the Hudson Valley (south of Albany) saw a 5.1% gain. Overall statewide ridership rose 7.9% over May 2010.
Consistent with this, trains are being sold out on the Empire Corridor, particularly on weekends. The primary sellouts have been occurring northbound from New York City on Friday afternoons and evenings, and southbound towards the city on Sundays. Amtrak has responded where possible by adding coaches to certain trains. The added capacity has quickly sold out as well. Strong travel to and from stations west of Albany has been noted, including many passengers whose trip is solely between Buffalo and Albany.
Saratoga weekend packages are not being offered this year. Those headed for the summer racing meet (July 22 through September 5) can still ride the Adirondack northbound and the Ethan Allen Express southbound, but they are on their own for transportation between the station and race track, programs, and admission to the race track. Amtrak did away with the special "Saratogian" runs in the 1990's but had continued offering the packages using the above trains.
Service to the annual NY State Fair will take place, by stopping existing trains near the fairgrounds west of the regular Syracuse stop. The fair runs from August 25th through September 5th. The service is mainly beneficial to those coming from the west, namely Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Rochester. Watch ESPA's site at the address above for more details.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway is now in passenger service, running over 60 miles of the Delaware & Hudson RR's Adirondack Branch.
No work has started yet at presstime of the newsletter on the CP's second mainline track construction at Ballston Spa, NY.