Montreal tourism operators have begun to feel the impact of the suspension of the only daily train between their city and New York City.
“Summer is the busiest tourist season in Montreal. And between New York and Montreal, there is no rail alternative,” said Tourisme Montreal spokeswoman Aurelie de Blois.
“It’s very disappointing.”
Amtrak announced late last month it would halt service on the Canadian National Railway Co. line due to speed restrictions prompted by summer heat, which can cause kinks in the steel tracks.
The American railway giant has said “inconsistent application” of CN’s heat order policy means customers could be stranded or experience delays upwards of three hours.
CN has pointed the finger right back, saying Amtrak has failed to pay for maintenance that would have allowed upgrades to the line, which could then withstand the soaring summer temperatures.
“It’s a major constraint for many travellers” more than 100,000 use the route each year de Blois said in an interview.
“There are people who don’t want to fly or don’t have a car. And if they finally take their car, they are forced to deal with a car at their destination. We know that there are not many parking lots it’s quite complicated.”
Though buses may lack the romanticism of travel by train coach, passengers can still heed the words of piano man Billy Joel, taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line. Megabus also offers daily service between the two cities.
Amtrak relaunched the Montreal-Manhattan route, dubbed the Adirondack, in April after a three-year shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it opted to have its trains go no further than Albany, N.Y., as of June 24 and “until further notice.”
Amtrak has cited the speed restriction of 16 km/h that CN applies to all trains its own freight cars included on various stretches of track, including the one running about 60 kilometres to the U.S. border from Montreal, whenever temperatures risk hitting 30 C.
The track Amtrak operates on between Albany and New York City is of a higher grade and thus subject to fewer speed caps amid the summer swelter.
“Based on track standards, railroads apply speed restrictions during extreme heat and cold weather episodes as the rail is subject to expansion and contraction due to ambient temperature,” said CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis.
“Amtrak is responsible and has failed to pay for the maintenance required to keep the track at a level that accommodates its service. If Amtrak agrees to make that investment, CN could upgrade the track to a level that would reduce heat restrictions.”
CN also said Amtrak could choose to put more crews on the route, who could staff the locomotives when the first crew’s shift ended.
Amtrak’s suspension means service to a dozen stops has ceased, including Montreal as well as Saratoga Springs and Plattsburgh in New York.
CN and New York State’s Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) have held discussions on potential solutions, an Amtrak spokesperson said in an email.
“Unfortunately, Amtrak, CN and NYSDOT have not found a workable solution for this summer that would prevent our customers from experiencing significant delays of up to four hours or even being stranded in the middle of their trip,” said Jason Abrams.
Regular service on the Adirondack line could resume in mid-September, when CN is expected to lift its periodic heat restrictions _ or sooner if temperatures drop he added.
Meanwhile, the train will relaunch service to Saratoga Springs, located roughly 55 kilometres north of Albany, starting July 24.
About 60,000 American visitors arrive in Montreal each year via the Adirondack line, according to Tourisme Montreal.
“The northeastern United States is a very important market for Tourisme Montreal,” de Blois said. “Americans are our biggest market share.”
Some two million are expected to visit the city this year, she said.
Nonetheless, de Blois doesn’t believe that halting train service will put off travellers who want to come, even if they have to opt for less environmentally friendly transportation.
Amtrak, CN and the New York State Department of Transport are working “to develop a long-term solution so that Amtrak trains can run to and from Montreal” in coming summers, Amtrak’s Abrams said.
That came as some comfort to Tourisme Montreal. The organization aims to explore how to take advantage of various rail lines to haul in more tourists.
“If there were more rail links to Montreal, we think that this could be beneficial for tourism in the city,” de Blois said.