When the recently reported on-time statistics appeared recently on this forum, I was surprised to see such a low percent for the "Syracuse corridor." Although I had not ridden that route since the line was Conrail, my recollection was that the timekeeping then had been pretty good. When the need arose to go to Syracuse on business last week I made the opportunity to experience for myself what goes on today under CSX dispatching.
Boarding #281 at Penn Station, the morning of 6/16: Nice consist. Surprised to see business class at the front since northeast corridor trains tend to have it at the rear. Great to see a real dinette --- what an improvement on those God-awful bistro cars!
Heading north up The Hudson: I see the tension between Amtrak and Metro North goes on and on. We are creeping on track 3 behind a local. Track 4 is closed for MOW but nothing seems to be happening on track 1. Why aren't we on it? About 10 late departing Croton-Harmon. Same at Poughkeepsie & Rhinecliff. Dwell time at these places seems unnecessarily long. We cross over to track 2 and north of Hudson we creep by a stopped southbound CSX freight on track 1 which I determine has activated either a hotbox or a "dragger." We meet #284 (which I will be coming home on 2 days later) --- he's about 20 late. No sign of #48. Cafe car announces it will close from Hudson until departing Renssalaer "for inventory." Presume this means a change of attendant, but there's no change of attendant leaving Renssalaer.
Renssalaer: still 10 late. First time I see the new station. Lord, I think it's bigger then the old NYC station over on the Albany side!! How far this corridor has come . . . Depart Renssalaer still 10 late. Still no sign of 48. We finally pass him just east of Schenectady.
CP 169 ("Hoffmans") Now I expect to start seeing some serious freight traffic but for a strangely long time I don't.
Amsterdam. Timetable says #281 does not stop here, but we do. Eventually I start seeing freights, mostly intermodal. Somewhere around Palatine Bridge or St. Johnsville we stop to wait for an eastbound because we are going to cross 1 to 2 --- 6 min delay. At times we seem to be going slower than I would expect to on this famous "water level route," but I time a couple of mileposts with my watch; and sure enough we are doing the authorized 79 mph.
Utica - strangely long dwell time here (Geez, you'd think we were unloading mail!), but at Rome, the next stop, we are in and out in under a minute. We're about 15 late, and Syracuse is next. I check my timetable and note we are scheduled for an hour run time to Syracuse. An hour? It's only 38 miles, it can't take an hour. It doesn't; we arrive 10 early --- first time we have been on time or early the whole trip. First time I see the new Syracuse "Regional Transportation Center." Much nicer digs than NYC's third-rate old station out by DeWitt yard. I notice the construction has designed space to put in a second platform track, if they ever need one. Good planning.
Thursday 6/17: I finish up my customer business and go over to the station to see what action there is. At 4:15 #281 is showing 10 late. By my arithmetic this suggests he was 35 late at Rome. He comes and goes 10 late. #64 is showing 40 late, which readers of this forum know is chronic, due to customs holdups at Niagara Falls (RE Customs: I enter the US a lot on international business trips, mostly at JFK Airport, and I consistently find US immigration and customs quick and efficient. What's the problem at "The Falls?" May be as simple as inadequate staffing --- trying to funnel a trainload of people through too few lines?). I wait at the station for both trains, and also see 3 CSX freights go by, all in under an hour. What a show.
Friday June 18. #284 is showing on time, and it shows up at precisely 8:55 AM. Basically same consist as I rode up here on --- six cars with the cafe/business class at the front. This Gennie still has the "old" Amtrak scheme. #48 is scheduled to be here 25 min. Behind us but is showing 90 late. No surprise. We depart 8:59 and don't get far, having to wait for the first of many freights we will meet on this run --- So many that I lose count. What a show! I don't see traffic anything like this at home in Connecticut any more (Truth be told, I don't think I ever did . . . ). We finally get rolling out of Syracuse about 12 late. Except for the delay leaving Syracuse we meet many more freights without delays.
Utica. We sit here for 12 minutes. What's going on? . . . I go out onto the platform. No adverse signals. No apparent reason except that the crew (and several passengers) are taking a smoke break. Finally a party of 2 arrives with a lot of luggage and boards, and we depart. These folks have arrived at the station about 27 minutes after our scheduled departure time. What's this about? Did those folks call the station, say they were "running late" and ask to have the train held? That would be unbelievable but it almost looks like this is what has happened.
CP 185 (east of Fonda). We stop and wait. I presume this is because we must cross over 2 to 1 to stop at Amsterdam which is coming up soon. #63 passes us on 1. I figure we are about to get started and cross over, but no such luck --- we also wait for a westbound freight. Total wait is nearly 20 minutes. We are now 50 late. All that wait just to stop at Amsterdam. If Amsterdam is important enough for a stop it could use a platform --- and access to it --- on the track 2 side. Cafe car announces it will close leaving Amsterdam until leaving Renssalaer. This time we do change attendants at Renssalaer.
Renssalaer: we arrive 30 late. Same kind of Amtrak "padding" I experienced arriving in Syracuse on my outbound trip. We spend the scheduled 10 min. dwell and leave 30 late. Somewhere around Hudson we pass #281 which I estimate is already about 20 late. Uneventful (but gorgeous as always) run down the Hudson as far as CP58 (Beacon) where we stop and discharge the conductor to walk the train because we have set off a wayside detector. He finds no problem and after about 4 min we're on our way. I leave the train at Croton Harmon, 33 late.
Summary: I assume the performance I have experienced is typical, and explains by example why the low OT percent on this route. But it's some great railroading to see.