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Local officials cautiously optimistic that rail service will be restored between Saratoga and Montreal

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

Rail service between Saratoga Springs and Montreal resumed on April 3rd after a nearly three-year pandemic pause. But Amtrak abruptly stopped running the trains in late June. North Country officials are now cautiously optimistic that service will start up once again next week.

Amtrak announced on September 1st that it plans to restart service on September 11th. In an email to WAMC, an Amtrak spokesperson said the company still needed “to work out several operational details to make that date happen.” Amtrak has started selling tickets “believing those issues will be resolved prior to restart.”

North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas welcomes indications that service will resume.

“But then they threw in the caveat that oh, they were having some final meetings with their partners this week and they’d let us know if something put it off track, pun intended, but that they didn’t expect that to happen,” Douglas said. “Now I have to say that’s a heck of a way to run a railroad. But it looks hopeful. People should keep an eye out for that. It seems like its 90 percent there and pretty much a certainty so we certainly welcome that indication although we continue to be a little disconcerted over the process.”

Local officials do not know the operational details Amtrak needs to work on. New York state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, a Democrat who represents the 115th District, says a long-term plan needs to be formulated to keep the Adirondack line running.

“No specifics have come from them,” Jones said. “I just want the rail service restored quite frankly. But I will say and I along with many of the local officials are saying that we need a long-term solution here. We can’t just restore service and have them discontinue it. We need to have a plan for long term.”

Douglas agrees and is concerned that this will be another temporary restart unless Amtrak and Canadian National resolve the track heat issue that led to the service suspension in June.

“They’re restarting the service at a time when it’s expected that the temperature problems won’t be a problem anymore,” Douglas said. “But they will be come next June. So we want to hear, we all want to hear, what’s the plan? Then we’ll know where we are in terms of this being not a temporary restart of the service until next summer, but a permanent restart.”

Empire State Passengers Association Executive Director Steve Strauss says the general assumption is that if Amtrak has begun reserving tickets, the company is reasonably confident the service will operate on September 11th.

“But we don’t have any guarantees and if we have another week of 90-degree temperatures like we have right now in much of the eastern half of the state that service could be postponed because the whole controversy got started when the Canadian National railroad imposed a 10 mile an hour speed limit when the temperature was forecast to be 86 degrees or higher,” Strauss said. “So maybe that’s why they aren’t super certain on the restart. But we think they’re fairly confident because they’ve put it in the reservation system and they’re selling tickets.”

Strauss adds that while the restart of the Adirondack Line is good news for the North Country there is a potential setback that could derail all train traffic across New York. When Congress returns from its recess, lawmakers plan to vote on an appropriations bill that could cut Amtrak funding.

“A appropriations bill has a 64 percent reduction in Amtrak funding in it,” Stauss said. “And it also includes reductions in some of the capital programs that Amtrak and New York state use to improve the rail system in New York state. They have a lot of projects that they want to start in the Hudson Valley and the state wants to replace a bridge in the Albany area. So these are all projects that are all threatened. These cuts would result in crippling reductions in Amtrak service across the state.”

The Empire State Passengers Association says the 2024 appropriations bill includes $875 million for Amtrak, which had been funded at $2.4 billion in 2023.