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Amtrak train service between Albany and Montreal suspended

Amtrak Adirondack train rolls into Plattsburgh station on April 3, 2023
Pat Bradley
Amtrak Adirondack train rolls into Plattsburgh station on April 3, 2023

Officials in the North Country are trying to determine when Adirondack train service from Albany to Montreal will be restored after it was abruptly suspended on Monday.

In a brief statement Amtrak announced that the Amtrak Adirondack rail service north of Albany has been suspended. Senior Public Relations Manager Jason Abrams writes:

“Amtrak rail partner Canadian National (CN) has implemented reduced speed regulations in Canada due to heat, impacting the Amtrak Adirondack route. Trains 68 and 69 will originate and terminate in Albany, NY until further notice.”

If temperatures go above 86 degrees, CN restricts trains traveling north of the border to a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour.

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North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas said they began hearing rumblings late last week and calls it another impediment to restoring normal cross border travel.

“It happened quickly. It’s another one of those things that’s come virtually out of the blue on us. To put this in some context we’ve got our Canadian friends coming down through the Port of Champlain at upwards of 90 percent of the 2019 pre-pandemic levels and lo and behold Customs and Border Protection is transferring staff from the northern border to the southern border causing backups. And now we hear that having finally gotten Amtrak service restored from New York to Montreal just a couple of months ago, oh darn, we decided we have to suspend that as well. I mean it’s like everything at the federal and state levels are working against our getting things going again in terms of cross border travel.”

It is particularly vexing for North Country officials because the rail service had just been restored in April following a three-year suspension during the pandemic. State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, a Democrat who represents the 115th District, says the latest news is disheartening.

“We worked so hard to get this opened back up, you know, federal officials and local and state officials here throughout the Adirondacks and worked hard to get this going. And now we learn that they’re suspending it from Albany-Rensselaer to Montreal. Just frustration. Total frustration on the part of my office and local officials here.”

Local officials are taken aback that heat is the stated reason for suspending the service since the issue has not been brought up in the past. Jones is among those trying to parse the underlying issues.

“I’m not going to question safety procedures but what I would question is, I hadn’t heard of this before quite frankly. Not a lot of people have and what did we do before? That’s what I would ask.”

Douglas doubts the suspension of rail service is solely due to concern about heat on the tracks lowering speed.

“If it was just a matter of the speed maybe the train would arrive a little later than it would normally. That wouldn’t stop the service perse. What is stopping the service is that there are federal requirements that don’t allow train crews to work longer than a certain number of hours at a time on a train run without changing the crew. If they went down to 10 mph on this northern run across the border, they would be past the allowable hours with no ability to change crew north of Albany. So this isn’t just about the speed.”

Jones, who is chair of the Assembly Task Force on New York Canada Relations, says the rail service is a critical part of restoring cross border traffic to pre-pandemic levels.

“There’s the economic component of it and the cultural as well. But it’s just frustrating because we were reaching up into the 90th percentile of cross border traffic, what we had before and now this happens. And just wanting to know how long the suspension is, what’s the plan of getting it lifted and what can we do to move forward and I think our federal partners are trying to figure that out and its incumbent upon us to push for a resolution on this and to get it opened back up.”

Canadian National did not respond to a request for comment.