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Amtrak Adirondack service suspension extended

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

The suspension of service on Amtrak’s Adirondack rail line between Saratoga Springs and Montreal has been extended into September, irking regional tourism and transportation officials.

Amtrak and Canadian National announced in May that the Adirondack train service would shut down for six weeks for track maintenance. But passengers began reporting to the Empire State Passengers Association that tickets they had booked later in the summer had been canceled.

A statement from Amtrak states that it “will be extending the modification of Adirondack service between New York City and Saratoga Springs through Sunday, September 8 as CN continues to progress track work on their line in Canada. We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience.”

Passengers Association Executive Director Steve Strauss notes this is the second summer in a row the New York City to Montreal route has been disrupted following a three-year closure during the pandemic. Strauss says Amtrak and CN have misled and disrespected customers.

“People in the North Country are really getting screwed and it’s hard to get a real handle on what’s going on,” Strauss says. “They made the claim that they were prepared to do this work this summer and Canadian National had to move some things around to do this work this summer. We appreciate that they had indicated they were going to do that. But now it looks like maybe they’re backtracking on that or they’re taking longer than they wanted to admit to get the work done. For whatever reason it’s not happening and it’s unfortunate that a dispute over 40 miles of track is interrupting international travel.”

North Country Chamber of Commerce officials say Amtrak failed to communicate with any stakeholders about the decision to extend the rail line closure. President and CEO Garry Douglas calls the situation ludicrous.

“They refer to it as an extension of the modification,” notes Douglas. “Now you want to talk about wordsmithing. They didn’t use the words a further suspension of the service. So they’re being very, very coy and playing a terrible game in terms of their relationship and their responsibilities. We’ll get by the closure and hopefully now finally, finally, finally we’re seeing the end of the tunnel in terms of when they will complete the work that they said they could do in six weeks only then to somehow mysteriously discover it was going to take three months. Some accountability is needed here about really the mismanagement and malfeasance by Amtrak.”

115th District Democrat D. Billy Jones, who chairs the state Assembly’s Task Force on New York Canada Relations, finds the situation frustrating.

"We can’t keep going through this every summer,” Jones says. “And I thought we had come to a resolution on that with the announcement last week that they were going to do these track upgrades and that was going to satisfy everyone. And Amtrak seemed to be on board. And CN seemed to be on board, finally. And now we hear this. So, looking for answers.”

Douglas says ridership numbers along the route had been growing pre-pandemic and surged when the route reopened last summer. He says the loss of summer travel will not be cataclysmic, but the manner in which the shutdown has been handled is concerning.

"When you keep interrupting things and getting people interested only to find they can’t book tickets because the service is down and you do that again and again and again you’re going to discourage people,” notes Douglas. “And then what’s of added frustration is they’re not communicating with anybody at all. Zero. Nil. Nada. And that’s troubling going forward."

New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has written to the leaders of Amtrak and Canadian National telling them: “The continued delays in service and lack of transparency from Amtrak and CN for our Upstate New York and North Country communities is completely unacceptable.” The Republican from the 21st District is demanding “greater transparency into the rationale behind continued delays of service.”