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Passenger rail service suspended between Montreal and NYC after CN-Amtrak deal

Amtrak says no passenger trains are set to run between Montreal and New York City for at least the next six weeks due to maintenance work after it struck a deal with Canadian National Railway Co. An Amtrak logo is seen on a train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Feb. 6, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Rourke

MONTREAL — No passenger trains are set to run between Montreal and New York City for the next six weeks due to maintenance work after Amtrak struck a deal with Canadian National Railway Co.

Schedules on the American railway show that service out of Manhattan will go no farther on the so-called Adirondack line than the upstate New York town of Saratoga Springs between May 20 and June 30 — just before high season begins to peak.

In an email, Amtrak and CN said they had signed an agreement Saturday that would see the former hand over an undisclosed "settlement payment" to Canada's largest freight railway, which owns the tracks north of the border. CN will then use those funds to carry out work "for (Amtrak's) benefit" along the Canadian corridor of the Adirondack route.

"Adirondack service may be modified on a short-term basis in the coming weeks to ensure completion of the track work, which will help increase reliability of the service during summer months this year, and in the future,” the two organizations said.

They confirmed the six-week time frame for cancelled train trips. Customers said in online posts they had received refunds from Amtrak.

The route is no stranger to disruption. In 2020, service between Montreal and New York City ground to a three-year halt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Until then, more than 110,000 passengers had been hopping on board each year, according to the Rail Passengers Association advocacy group.

A couple of months after restoring the route, Amtrak announced last June it would again suspend service along the CN-owned portion of the line due to speed restrictions prompted by summer heat, which can cause kinks in the steel tracks.

The American railway giant said at the time that “inconsistent application” of CN’s heat order policy meant customers could be stranded or experience delays of up to three hours.

Amtrak had 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 New York City and upstate is of a higher grade and thus subject to fewer speed caps amid the summer swelter.

Montreal-based CN pointed the finger right back by saying Amtrak failed to pay for upgrades that would allow the line to withstand the soaring summer temperatures.

"This track work will help mitigate, but not eliminate, heat slow-order speed limits going forward," the two railways said Saturday.

The upcoming suspension means service to nine stops will cease, including Montreal as well as Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga in New York, Amtrak said.

Train trips can be booked between the country's second-largest city and America's biggest for June 30 or later.

"CN has been planning the work for several months and will endeavor to make the necessary work expeditiously and safely in 2024," the two railways said.

Though buses may lack the romanticism of travel by train coach, passengers can still get from Montreal to New York by heeding the words of piano man Billy Joel and "taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line." Megabus also offers daily service between the two cities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CNR)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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