Return to the Lounge Car

Traveling Onboard the Blue Ridge

by John H. Deasy

NOTE: Click on the word Photo while reading the story to see the corresponding image.

Complete Photo List With Full Descriptions At Bottom Of Page Along With Bonus Images

The following narrative is a summary of my trip from Washington to Montreal and Toronto, and return, onboard the private car BLUE RIDGE from June 30th through July 5th. (Photo) BLUE RIDGE is owned by Classic Rail Cars of Alexandria VA and, until recently, based at Morristown NJ on the Morristown & Erie. It was built by ACF in 1914 as a dining car for Norfolk & Western. It was later rebuilt into a business car and equipped as a track geometry car. Classic Rail Cars acquired BLUE RIDGE from Norfolk Southern in 1987. (Photo)

I arrived at Washington Union Station at about 2100 on Friday night and found BLUE RIDGE parked on track 30. Private car MONTEREY and Amtrak track inspection (business) car 10001 were also parked on track 30. The chef and one of the crew were busy loading provisions for the trip.

Train #50, the Cardinal, running about 2 hours late, was sittting a few tracks over. A sleeping car passenger enjoying a stretch on the platform said they were delayed by track conditions caused by rain. He was bound for NYC and realized he would not get there until about 0200. What an inconvenience! He said he would have requested a transfer to the Executive Sleeper (NY occupancy sleeper on the Night Owl) if that service was still available.

A little while later, a very clean and shiny diesel switcher came and took us out to the Servicing and Inspection facility at Ivy City. A trip around the Y and BLUE RIDGE was properly pointed and coupled to the equipment for tomorrow's Adirondack. Since the Adirondack reverses direction at NYC, we had to run backwards (open platform forward facing the AEM-7) on the head end of the train from Washington to NYC so that we would be properly positioned (open platform facing rear on the rear of the train) for the remainder of the journey from NYC to Montreal.

I awoke at 0615 Saturday morning as we left town on time. Today's train #69, the Adirondack, was an AEM-7, BLUE RIDGE and 10 Amfleet I cars. (Photo)The ride up the NEC was uneventful. We arrived NYC on time. The AEM-7 was cut away. I was hoping we would be assigned one of the new Genesis II locomotives at NYC, but that was not the situation. Another AEM-7 and a Genesis locomotive was coupled to the other end of the train. Ten passengers boarded BLUE RIDGE. One couple had flown in from Miami for the trip. The AEM-7's function was to tow the train less than one mile through the Empire/Westside Connection tunnel. We stopped with BLUE RIDGE just beyond the north end of the tunnel while the motor was cut away and the brake test completed. Finally, we were off! Some of the areas of the line along Manhattan's west side are home to large numbers of homeless persons. After crossing the Harlem River at Spuyten Duyvil, we begin a fast ride along one of my favorite pieces of railroad - the former New York Central Hudson Division. (Photo)We pass a few Metro North trains between Spuyten Duyvil and Poughkeepsie. Metro North's Bombardier cars have names; this is a nice touch of class for a commuter railroad. We stop at Rensselaer. Classic Rail Cars' Ken Bitten quickly changes a burnt out bulb in one of BLUE RIDGE's track inspection lights. Although the train is not protected by a blue flag/light, Ken has the conductor's permission. The Genesis locomotive and the through cars bound for Niagara Falls are cut away. An F40 is coupled on the head end as our power for the remainder of the journey to Montreal. Part of a turbo train set (power car, cafe and 2 coaches) sits idle in dead storage on a track south of the station. I wonder if this is what's left of the turbo train that was damaged by fire at Pennsylvania Station last September. The turbo equipment has a companion - the remnants of a baggage car which had been converted to a HEP generator car back in the mid-70s when the Amfleet was new and there were not enough new locomotives with HEP. It would surprise me if any of this equipment ever rolled another mile in Amtrak revenue service.

At the west end of the Schenectady station, we leave Conrail for D&H. A few miles north of the Saratoga Springs station, the conductor comes back to tell us about an interesting exchange with the dispatcher. It seems a passenger missed the (late) train by a few minutes and the dispatcher contacted the conductor to ask if he was willing to back the train to the station in order to load the tardy passenger. The conductor suggested that was not such a good idea since we were already about 3 or 4 miles north of the station; the dispatcher concurred. The journey along the west shore of Lake Champlain is the scenic highlight of the trip from Rensselaer to Montreal. We enter a siding somewhere north of Ticonderoga and south of Port Kent to wait approximately 20 minutes for a southbound frieght to pass. Later, as we pass Port Kent, the ferry to/from Burlington VT is visible. We cross the international border at Rouses Point NY and stop for Canadian Customs & Immigration at Cantic QC. The officers are very thorough and want to open every cabinet, door and drawer in BLUE RIDGE. Unfortunately, all is not in satisfactory order; two issues arise as problems. The inventory of liquor onboard the car (about 20-25 open bottles with varying amounts) exceeds the import limitations. The officer makes the owners promise not to sell or give away any of the liquor in Canada. In return for their promise, he decides not to make them pour out the excess liquor or pay a very stiff import duty. The chef's driving record is also the subject of discussion. After checking his driver's license through a computer system and some further discussion with him, they obtain his promise not to drive during his stay in Canada and they decide to allow him to enter Canada. It appears that a conviction for significant traffic violations, such as a DWI, can make a person inadmissible to Canada. Two coach passengers have been removed from the train and detained by Canadian officers; they will probably be returned to the south side of the border. Dusk has fallen. The ride on CN track across flat open farmland is peaceful and relaxing. The scenery becomes less rural and more urban. We cross the Saint Lawrence Seaway and see a large ship in the locks. Then we cross the Saint Lawrence River on a long bridge. The skyline of Montreal is inviting. We arrive at Montreal's Central Station (Gare Centrale) approximately 2 hours late. Our passengers depart, but I stay with the owners and crew for the ride around the Y. Soon a CN switcher pulls us off the rear of the Adirondack and takes us on a lengthy trip around the Y before backing us into the station, properly pointed, for tomorrow's trip to Toronto. David Walmsley, a dealer in railroad equipment, delivers a upper/lower section "kit" (components salvaged from a scrapped VIA "E" series sleeping car) that will be used to build BLUE RIDGE's new crew quarters. It's close to midnight. I've had enough railroading for today - a comfortable bed awaits me upstairs at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

On Sunday morning July 2nd, the car is coupled to the rear of VIA train #57, the La Salle, for the trip from Montreal to Toronto. A VIA F40 is on the head end. A former Union Pacific baggage-RPO car built by Budd is behind the locomotive. This is one of the lightweight passenger cars VIA acquired from various sources to expand the size of their HEP heritage fleet. Next we have 5 of VIA's LRC cars trailed by BLUE RIDGE. Since this is the only train in the Montreal - Toronto corridor with a baggage car, the schedule is slower than the other trains with LRC equipment and VIA will allow a private car to operate on the rear of this train. Although VIA uses 480 VAC 3 phase HEP, their electrical distribution system is not completely compatible with Amtrak's. (Photo)BLUE RIDGE's HEP jumper cables are not plugged in to the LRC car ahead; we are using the 55 KW diesel generator set for internal power. The conductor comments that BLUE RIDGE (weighing approximately 220,000 pounds) is about 2 or 3 times heavier than one of their LRC cars! Shortly after leaving Central Station at 1000, we pass VIA's shops. A number of old RDCs and some steam heated cars are visible. Across the tracks, in a private container facility, David Walmsley is scrapping a pair of VIA's "E" series sleepers. The ride to Toronto is fast, smooth and uneventful. We pass a number of CN freights along the way and arrive at Toronto Union Station more or less on time. The VIA trainset departs about an hour later; although I'm not certain, I think it has become VIA Train #75, the Erie, from Toronto to Windsor. An unusual consist departs at 1745 - Amtrak's overnight train to NYC. An Amtrak F40 is on the head end, followed by a number of Amfleet cars, an Amtrak 10/6 sleeper, three empty VIA coaches and a VIA F40. The Amtrak F40 is providing HEP to the Amtrak cars while the VIA F40 is providing HEP to the VIA cars. Perhaps this is a positioning move and the VIA equipment is deadheading to VIA's Niagara Falls ON station in order to be positioned for an early morning return to Toronto. BLUE RIDGE sits in the station until about 1930 when it is switched to VIA's Toronto Maintenance Centre. It will spend the next 2 nights at VIA's TMC.

I have a room at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, facing the station and Lake Ontario. With the window open, you can hear train sounds from the station and get a nice breeze off the lake. I had hoped to see VIA train #2, the Canadian, but the train is over 3 hours late and is not expected to arrive until after midnight. My desire for sleep after a long day proves to be greater than my desire to see some of the finest streamliner era passenger equipment in Canada. The next day I'm free to explore Toronto, a city I've always liked. My travels include the two subway lines, the Scarborough RT and one of the LRV routes.

During BLUE RIDGE's two night stay at the TMC, Ken Bitten manages to get a look at the Royal Train (two private cars). The equipment is for sale.

Tuesday morning July 4th finds BLUE RIDGE behind an Amtrak F40 and 5 Amfleet I cars, carrying the markers on train #64, the Maple Leaf, bound for NYC. Before we leave, I get a quick tour of a first class LRC car. Although it looks comfortable and pleasant, I am surprised that it is 2 & 2 seating. I believe Amtrak still uses 2 & 1 seating in first class Amclubs. We depart Toronto at 0930 and have an uneventful trip to the international border at Niagara Falls. (Photo) US Customs and Immigration asks only a few questions and clears BLUE RIDGE and her occupants in a just a few minutes time. A working dog inspects the Amtrak cars, sniffing for contraband, but is not brought back into BLUE RIDGE. As we pass through Buffalo, we view the deteriorating remains of the NYC terminal. We pass several westbound piggyback trains, and overtake one eastbound piggybacker, on Conrail's main line between Buffalo and Syracuse. Although this track is fast and generally in good shape, we experience several sharp side to side jolts during the next two hours on CR. The impact is sharp enough to knock over the two flower vases in the observation room and send a few other objects flying. The scenery improves as we come alongside the Mohawk River and NY State Barge Canal. We arrive at Rensellaer on time. We say good bye to our F40 and hello to a FL9. Station personnel talk of plans/rumors to expand and improve the station/yard/shop complex. Our last meal of the journey is a traditional Fourth of July picnic. Barbecue ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob, salad, corn bread, cherry and apple pie are on the menu. It is dusk by the time we reach Bear Mountain. A large crowd is watching the fireworks at Peekskill. We see fireworks as we pass a number of communities along the Hudson River on our way back to Pennsylvania Station. We pass the refurbished & repowered turboliner bound for Rensellaer; it looks sharp in that new paint scheme. Our arrival is about 30 minutes behind the advertised. BLUE RIDGE passengers and some of the crew depart.

The remainder of the journey is a deadhead move back to Washington. A switch crew pulls the pin and leaves us sitting in the station as train 64's equipment departs for Sunnyside Yard. An AEM-7 comes to get us and tacks us onto the rear of #179, the Merchants Limited, for the trip back to Washington. We are now running backwards, our platform against the last Amfleet car and our kitchen end rearmost. We leave NYC late and lose more time along the NEC, but by then I'm sound asleep in the rear stateroom and don't care. Arrival at Washington is about 0330. I'm home in Virginia by breakfast time.

This journey included two countries, four trains and about 2,364 kilometers by private car. The food service was superb - plenty of tasty food served in an elegant atmosphere. It is about as far removed from an Amcafe meal as you can imagine. For many, the view from the open observation platform is the main event. It is a most enjoyable feeling to sit there, in a director's chair, as the railroad unreels behind you at speeds up to 90 MPH. If you've never done it, you should try it sometime.

Photo List:

All photos copyright by John H. Deasy

(Photo), (Photo)- Private car Blue Ridge carries the markers in the rear of Amtrak train #64, the Maple Leaf, stopped at Albany-Rensellear, NY during station work.

(Photo) - Passengers enjoy the view from Blue Ridge's open observation platform.

(Photo) - Lunch is about to be served in Blue Ridge's dining room.

(Photo) - Crew members Larry Warner and Shannon Sewalt pose in the dining room.

(Photo) - Passengers relax in the observation lounge as Blur Ridge rolls along Conrail's main line (former NYC "water level route") in upstate NY.

(Photo) - A view of Bear Mountain Bridge and the Hudson River from Blue Ridge. This location was the site of a well known publicity photo of the 1938 edition of NYC's Twentieth Century Limited.

(Photo) - The view from Blue Ridge's observation platform looking from Niagara Falls, New York, across the bridge to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

(Photo) - The view from the observation platform as Blue Ridge rolls along at track speed.