posts » Montréal to New York by train

Montréal to New York by train

I was always planning a holiday in November, but I didn't really know where to go. Having been diving earlier on in the year, one fantasy was to go to south east Asia, do more diving and visit a friend. But then I heard it was my friend's birthday in New York -- plus I have lots of family there to see -- and so the decision was made.

However, what better idea than to also spend a few days first in Montréal. I've got friends there, and I've never visited. But then -- next question: how to get to New York? The train seemed the perfect answer.

Buying tickets online was a painless process. $70 and it's yours (apparently there are cheaper if you book way in advance, but I'm not that organised and those posts are old anyway, so it may not be true). Next advice was to turn up early. This I did, getting there almost one hour in advance -- as I followed my friend's instructions about how to get to the Gare Centrale rather than going the way that I knew, hence got slightly lost above ground where signage is not designed for pedestrians.

Queue not too bad: was I really that early (I didn't think so) or were there just not very many people? Gates opened as promised at 10:00, twenty minutes before departure, and after checking the destination listed on our tickets (I assume), we were directed either down the stairs to the train if we were going to New York Penn Station, or somewhere else (if we weren't going to New York Penn Station?).

Onto the train and it was clear I was among the first: lots of choice of seats. My friends in Montréal had advised me to sit on the port (left) side of the train, so I followed this advice, getting a good window seat and no one coming to sit next to me. First impressions: spacious! This is neither economy class (or even premium economy) airline, nor European train (which in any case are more comfortable than airplanes). Lots of space in front, a footrest and a leg rest (haven't used that one yet), electricity, a table, space on the floor for my bag (as well as my feet) and also lots of space overhead. Indeed, the person in front of me has just reclined the seat; I wouldn't know if I wasn't paying attention.

Next, the lights went off. This was only slightly disconcerting because we were underground, essentially in a tunnel, with not much exterior lighting either. Thus it was pretty dark. Didn't seem likely the train was going to leave on time now, given it was 10:17! However, we did: three minutes later, we silently started to move, then crept out of the station at a leisurely rate, heading down the tracks towards sunshine.

The guard made an announcement, joking that the train stopped at all the good stations in New York state before finally getting to the city. Then he came around to check the tickets as we trundled along... At 10:45, he passed through the carriage again, letting us know that the Café Car was now open. Given that I had heard it was pretty expensive and the only thing worth buying was one particular type of beer, I'm not heading there yet.

Midday. We arrive at the border. About fifteen minutes before, the guard let's us know that the border is coming up and that the café car will be closed during the border inspection as that's where the immigration control interviews are carried out -- if necessary. The border guard sends several people up that way; for the rest, he makes his way slowly down the carriage questionning everybody about where they are going, how long for, when their return travel is and whether or not they have their tickets. The couple behind me, an Indian couple going to visit their daughter in New York, he advises to bring a return ticket next time they make this trip, so as to have fewer questions. They thank him profusely. To me he asks if I've had a good trip and then hands my passport back. That was easy. And then the guy in front he sends down to the restaurant car to get a stamp: they guy takes his video game and almost leaves his passport behind until he's reminded of the relevant importance of these two items by the border guard. I see why they get frustrated with some people.

Overall, the whole thing was fairly painless. I sat in my seat, they did the walking. The internet was working, and I also put an extra sweatshirt on, so I'm not as freezing as I was before. Now, just another 8-9 hours to go (actually, it might be less, but I don't want to get my hopes up).


There's a lot of water out the left side of the train. These lakes are a lot bigger than I expected: they look small on the map, but I guess I'm not taking the scale into consideration, focussing more on the population density and thus trying to include somewhere I've heard of in the picture frame. But even though the lakes are big, that doesn't prevent there being a lot of ice too. Water around the edges, in the reeds, has stagnated and frozen; the lines of trees are crooked and broken, with frequent fallen branches and debris around their bases. It's actually very beautiful and, for the time-being, we seem to have sped up and are actually covering some ground. We'll see how long that lasts. But it seems like the advice of my friends (to sit on the left side of the train) was correct: the contradictory advice saying to sit on the left that I found online seems to refer only to the Hudson valley, leaving northbound out of New York, which means right side going south. It will be dark however by the time we get to the Hudson Valley, hence why that advice could be discounted


Time trickles on, and now it is dark. I'd say we've got about 3-4 hours to go and, checking with the online timetable, that not only seems to be about correct but we also seem to be on time. All good -- I'm just glad the train is not anywhere near full. That said, people do seem to be getting on at these out of the way places -- although the places also seem to be getting bigger and perhaps not quite so out of the way. Next up is Schenectady, followed by Albany where there's a prolonged (half an hour) stop. In fact, we're in Schenectady as I write this, a church spire glowing blue behind some buildings in the town; I get some nice smudged effects of the lights surrounding it with a low fstop, but I'm not sure how well it will finally come out in black and white.

In Albany-Rensselaer, the train stops for a while. We got in at about 17:40, it was scheduled to leave again at 18:15 so there's time to get out on the platform, wander upstairs into the station proper, visit the toilets (the train ones have been turned "off" temporarily as there's no electricity while they switch engines around) and generally chill. Actually, chill is the correct word: the temperature outside is cold which means I don't stay too long. But already warmer than Montréal was, and there's no bitter wind either. I'm looking forward to arriving in the city, but mostly for the warmth and hanging out, maybe even catching up on some sleep -- or, at the very least, arguing with my brother.

Meanwhile, the train sits here for a while. Then leaves. After that, there's a couple more hours of travel, this time completely in the dark, with stops every 20-30 minutes or so. We seem to be accelerating towards New York after Yonkers, but then we hit a go-slow somewhere I guess around the Bronx, and end up arriving a couple of minutes behind schedule. After all that had been said, not bad.

The interchange to the metro was easy and I was shortly on my way. Welcome back to New York!