- File: Luke Awtry
- Inaugural Amtrak train leaving Burlington in July
Last week I did something I'd eagerly envisioned since it became possible several months ago: packed a suitcase, rolled it down Burlington's Depot Street to Union Station and boarded a train bound for New York City. For seven and a half hours, I watched the world go by — specifically, the backsides of towns along Vermont's old trade route, from the Queen City to the mouth of the Hudson River. Neither the smell of urine on the train nor the dirty windows could spoil my first trip on the new Ethan Allen Express.
One of the advantages of leaving from the northern terminus of a southbound route is the luxury of boarding an empty train. Inside the station, before the on-time 10:10 a.m. departure, passengers formed two lines: one for those of us headed to Manhattan, another for all other destinations. Outside on the platform, railroad workers directed the two groups to separate railcars. I was traveling with my significant other, Tim, and two friends who had decided to join us for Thanksgiving in Harlem and a Broadway show with Vermont origins: Hadestown. We picked four seats facing each other — European-style, but without the legroom — then quickly regretted it. The novelty of sitting knee to knee wore off almost immediately. Cozy got cramped.
Luckily, for the first few hours, there were plenty of other spots to choose from. Familiar sights appeared different from the train, and, as we rolled out of Burlington, it was hard to choose a side. I couldn't get enough of the close-up views: the mysterious warehouses tucked between Pine Street and Lake Champlain, Burlington's Lakeside neighborhood, Route 7 from the west, a trailer park in Shelburne, a Charlotte dairy farm I'd never seen before. Good thing we were all so enthralled, because the train wasn't moving very fast.
Nonetheless, I barely recognized the first stop, Vergennes, and Middlebury registered only because I was anticipating the Amtrak-approved multimillion-dollar tunnel under the downtown. Rutland also came as a pleasant surprise — not because rail service is new to it; trains have long served the area's marble industry. We just weren't prepared for what happened when we arrived at the downtown station: The train pulled in, then retreated on the same tracks. The back end became the front for the remainder of the trip to New York.
The route — through Castleton, Fort Edward, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady and Albany — paralleled the one we usually drive. But instead of being cramped in a car, we could walk up and down the aisle, visit the café car, pair off and chat. Tim was streaming the World Cup on his laptop, watching the match between Spain and Costa Rica, happy to be headed for a destination with more soccer fans than almost anywhere else in America.
The farther south we went, the smoother and faster the ride. The train filled with passengers, and the four of us settled into our original places. As we sped down the east side of the Hudson, with the sun setting over the river, a bald eagle appeared outside our window and flew alongside the train for a stretch.
Knee to knee to knee to knee, it was perfect.