• Northeast & Maritimes Weekend Circle Tour

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by B&M Minuteman
Living in the northeast there are not too many places you can go by train in a weekend without spending nearly half the trip backtracking, so I was glad to see a new Fast Ferry between New England and the Maritimes that opened up an opportunity to link Amtrak and VIA for a quick railfan adventure that could be easily accomplished over a long weekend. But I still had a couple of projects to get out of the way at work before I left so I headed into Boston from my home in Lowell a bit earlier than usual on an MBTA train arriving into North Station at 6:22 am.

By 9:00 am I was back at North Station for the 9:30 Downeaster bound for Portland, Maine then on to Nova Scotia. (45 years ago a traveler could have taken “The Gull” also from North Station all the way to Halifax in about 24 hours. Today, if my connections work, I’ll be in Nova Scotia this evening)

A good size crowd boarded and there was on/off traffic at most of the stations along the way. I’ve been on the Downeaster several times now and it still amazes me how a train so popular now, took nearly 40 years to be reinstated after the B&M originally ended service. I upgraded to a Business Class seat and for the minimal extra cost it was well worth it for the roomy 2&1 seating.

That short physical separation between North and South Stations in Boston also serves to isolate the Downeaster from the rest of the system in more ways than one. It has it’s own little niche market from a great crew to food that’s a bit better than the usual snack bar fare found in the Corridor south of Boston. (I believe the catering is contracted out)

We did some fast running and surprise! There were a couple of places where “Pan Am” (Guilford) actually had freights already in sidings waiting for us to pass.

We arrived at Portland just a couple of minutes late but I still had plenty of time to make my connections. I took a Portland Transit Bus and I was soon at the Ferry Terminal on the waterfront. The ferry had just docked so I missed getting some video of it arriving in the harbor.

I had envisioned a small catamaran but “The Cat” was huge: carrying 750 passengers, 240 cars and 14 RV’s and buses.


We soon boarded and departed OT at 2:30 pm. It was slow going at first but as soon as we cleared the harbor entrance, did the Captain ever open her up! The water jets had us skimming the tops of the waves with a large spray and wake left behind. Cruising speed was 55mph or twice as fast as most ferries. The six hour crossing went quickly: lots to entertain you: movies, casino, cafeteria. I spent some time on the deck and had a good book along.

Closing in on Yarmouth, we passed a lighthouse then quickly decelerated for an on time arrival. Now to get through Customs and I didn’t known how my little adventure/trip would go over with the Officials: But absolutely no problem. “Sounds interesting, Have a good trip” I had my Passport with me but Proof of Citizenship and a Drivers License/Photo ID seamed to be working just as well for others.

I was spending the night in Yarmouth and continuing onto Halifax the next morning. I had reserved a room at the Comfort Inn on the internet and grabbed a cab in front of the ferry terminal for the 2 mile ride to the Hotel. I was in Canada now but Yarmouth didn’t look any different than any other New England fishing port. In fact it could easily pass for Gloucester.

Prior to 1990 VIA operated a RDC service to Halifax on the Dominion Atlantic Railway but my options now were shuttle vans or a bus. So a wake-up call at 5:30 soon had me on my way to the Bus Stop for the 6:30 am departure. And in typical New England type weather, I didn’t see too much until the fog burned off. It’s about 180 miles to Halifax but the bus took 5 1\2 hours with all the stops in the small towns. This was also my closest connection: Halifax arrival at 11:55am and VIA’s Ocean departs at 12:35pm. But no problem, I made it in time as the Bus Terminal is in the VIA station which also has a Westin Hotel as part of the complex and the cruise ship terminal is across the street (A better option might be to get a one-way car rental to Halifax and spend the night before the train trip at the Westin).


And now the Highlight of my trip: "Easterly Class" on VIA's Ocean.

I was only in the station a couple of minutes when the Ocean was announced. “Family Ties” have me in the Maritimes a couple of times a year and I’ve been on the Budd Ocean before but I’ve been looking forward to my first ride on VIA’s new Renaissance equipment. During the summer VIA operates a “Park Car” in “Easterly Class” service. This is a classic Budd round-end Dome Observation and it looked a bit out of place tied onto the rear of the low-profile European cars. But no more out of place than the mixture of equipment you see on the Florida trains. I was in Easterly Class so I had the best of both worlds: a deluxe bedroom (with shower) in the modern Renaissance cars + the view from the dome of the Park Car!

http://www.viarail.ca/classes/en_serv_c ... _aloc.html

I had lunch at the first call leaving Halifax: A salad and Chicken Pasta which was very good. The new Renaissance Diners have seating at tables for four on one side of the car and for two on the other. There's a small serving area in the center of the car. Meals are prepared in small kitchens in adjacent cars on each side of the diners. These cars also have lounge space.

There was a good view of the container terminals leaving Halifax. Then we ran through a deep rock cut and emerged into an urban area with shopping centers on one side of the train then followed a shore line on the other side for several miles lined with marinas and sail boats.

The new sleepers are not named but each car has a “theme” . Mine was “Cabot Trail” with photos and murals throughout the car of Cape Breton mountain and coastal scenes. The Renaissance cars don’t have the usual vestibule between cars and the sliding glass partitions are left open giving a long unbroken corridor. I walked up to the coaches which have 2 seats on one side and a single seat on the other. Great for people traveling alone overnight.

I spent the afternoon in the Park Car. Scenic views you can only enjoy from a dome: High on a hillside above a lake and valley then down along the marshes at the head of a bay as we entered New Brunswick. A tour guide gave commentary of what we were seeing.

At 5pm we arrived into Moncton. A city where a large crowd was waiting to board. I grabbed my camera and was getting off “Sir” (Oh No! The Picture Police!) “ We’re here for a half hour. If you want to go up front for pictures there’s plenty of time” So I did and checked out the train: 2 F-40 units hauling 20 cars including 8 sleepers. I found VIA’s crews all very helpful and friendly. Not the attitude problem you find so often on Amtrak.

Just after Moncton we left the CN track which takes another route to Quebec that we would rejoin later at Riviere du Loup. We entered the New Brunswick East Coast Railway heading toward Rogersville on track that was almost as straight as an arrow for about 40 miles and must have been doing at least 80mph.

Time now for Dinner as we rolled to Bathurst. I had chowder, Atlantic Salmon and cake for desert. Again the dining car crew was great and couldn’t do enough for you. Not like a recent trip to Chicago on the Lakeshore when the meal was almost thrown at me after an order mix-up.

After dinner I went back to the Dome and got some nice video of the Gaspe Peninsula across the Bay of Chaleur. We made several stops at small stations as this train does a lot of local business. Now onto Campbellton for a 20 minute stop where I got off for a few minutes and more video.

Leaving Campbellton I was sitting in the dome looking across a river and thought I saw another passenger train. This was the “Chaleur” from Gaspe, pacing us into Matapedia. We quickly crossed the river into Quebec (and set our watches back to 9:10 pm Eastern time). The two trains arrived simultaneously and it took about 30 minutes to join them. We were now a combined 28 car monster lead by 3 F40s and continued our run toward Montreal on another shortline railroad called the “Chemin de fer de la Matapedia et du Golfe” At Riviere-du-Loup we joined the CN mainline again.

I slept pretty good. The new cars ride very smooth. I woke a couple of times through the night, put up the blind and was surprised how busy the station stops were so early in the morning. This is a popular train!

I was now wide awake and watched as we started backing into Charny (Quebec City) about 1 1\2 hour late. I knew I still had time to make my Adirondack connection if we didn’t get much later. I got ready (the shower is in the washroom of the deluxe bedrooms) and went for breakfast at 7am. I had a continental breakfast which consisted of cereal, fruit, toast and coffee.

I went back to the dome and sat for the last few miles of high speed running. We were soon slowing to cross the St. Lawrence River on the mile long Victoria Bridge. We had made up some time and I didn’t have to resort to my backup plan of detraining at St. Lambert, just across the river from Montreal and catching the Adirondack there. I continued on the Ocean into Central Station.

I was only in Montreal a few minutes before the Adirondack was announced for boarding. First in French than in English. I went downstairs to the high level platform and The Adirondack could have passed for any other corridor train. Just a standard Amfleet consist but the coaches did have the more spacious seating.

We departed on time and crossed the Victoria Bridge again. Then out through the suburbs on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, arriving at the US border in about 1 1\2 hours. The inspectors came through looking for ID’s and asked the usual questions. He gave me a bit of a puzzled look when I told him how long I was in Canada and where I’d been. But I guess I didn’t raise any suspicions as he quickly moved on. There was a long questioning of a couple of people up ahead but they were finally allowed to stay on.

After getting underway again, I went to the snack bar in the dinette for a coke, sandwich and chips. Not as good as the meal I had on the Downeaster a couple of days earlier, but acceptable. Too bad this train doesn’t offer some regional speciality items in the dinette as it’s a 9 hour run. We were about 1 hour late at Plattsburgh. I had a seat on the left side for the views along the lake and it was just an enjoyable ride. The Adirondack could certainly use a dome but I know that’s nearly impossible. But why not a “Lake Champlain Parlor Car” similar to the “Pacific Parlor Car” (but low-level) and the amenities and marketing to go with it. South of Rensselaer we were just another Sunday evening corridor train and maintained most of our lateness into Penn Station.

(I could have “short circuited” the trip at Albany and taken the bus to Boston for an evening arrival)

In Manhattan now, I headed across town for a late dinner and visit with friends before making my way back to Penn Station for the very early morning departure of the #66 (3:15am!) It would have been nice to board a sleeper but I settled for a double seat to myself.

I always enjoy the view of the city at night as we make our way up over Hells Gate but after that I was quickly off to sleep and other than waking for a minute at New Haven, I didn’t hear a thing until Providence than on into Back Bay arriving OT at 7:45am. A “T” ride to the office, quick clean-up & change and I was ready for work and at my desk exactly 3 day and 1975 miles after leaving Friday morning!

Some trip info:

-The Cat leaves Portland on Fri. Sat and Sunday until October. The rest of the week it operates from Bar Harbor, Maine to Yarmouth. Rumor is it might be daily next year if the Portland run proves successful.

-The only close connection was the bus to train in Halifax (40 minutes) Make it a four day weekend and allow an extra day in Halifax as there is plenty to see. The Ocean departs Halifax daily except Tuesday.


-If the Ocean is running late, connect to the Adirondack at the suburban St. Lambert station just across the river from Montreal. The Ocean is scheduled here at 7:45am and the Adirondack departs at 10:05am.
Last edited by B&M Minuteman on Fri Aug 18, 2006 5:29 am, edited 3 times in total.
  by jp1822
The Adirondack used to have a dome in its early Amtrak years (it was added for the run north of Albany). First D&H provided the dome (leased from Canadian Pacific - their Skyline series dome cars) and then Amtrak provided their own dome car.

I agree that the Adirondack would be great with a dome, due to the scenery. Just as VIA markets its premium Easterly Class, Amtrak could certainly expand on the "classes" of service it offers, by including, rather the current excluding, of amenities. The Ocean is a unique train and I think VIA has tried very hard to make sure this train caters to the (a) vacation traveller (b) overnight local traveller and (c) short distance traveller. Three types of classes for each - coach, comfort or easterly. This was a big transition for the Maritimes - going from the famed Budd stainless stell trainsets to the Renassaince equipment. The addition of the Park Car in peak season helps to offset the lack of lounge space.

  by B&M Minuteman
jp1822 wrote:

................How was the bus to Halifax....

B&M Minuteman wrote:

................The bus ride was fine. A standard intercity bus operated by Trius Bus Lines. But a bit long for the 180 miles to Halifax as we left the highway and went into most town along the way. I did check into renting a car: Avis has an office in the Yarmouth Ferry Terminal and a one-way rental (including drop-off fee) to Halifax was approx. $125. Bus fare was $55.

jp1822 wrote:

.................Well that's not too bad for the car rental on Avis. Granted its more than double the bus, but at least its a tolerable option for me and would be quicker. Will keep that in mind - thanks! I typically rent from Avis out of Halifax. My route with the car rental would be on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia - either on the highway or combo of highway and the coastal scenic route (lighthouse route as they call it I believe). Although I have yet to explore the western short of Nova Scotia. The eastern shore is just spectacular scenery - best that I have yet to see on the North American Eastern seabord, even after comparing Maine (which ranks second with me in terms of eastern seaboard coastal scenery). Although someone told me again to re-evaluate once I've been to Newfoundland.......


I did Newfoundland a couple of years ago. Exploring what’s left of the Newfoundland Railway. Here is a link to my report in this Forum:


And it not that far. A 12 hour drive from Boston had me at the Ferry Terminal in North Sydney ready to board the overnight crossing to Newfoundland.