Press-Republican

Local News

November 27, 2011

Westward ho

Editor's Note: This is the first installment in a series detailing Richard Frost's cross-country train trip.

My co-worker Amy dropped me off at the Plattsburgh train station on an ordinary Thursday. Her quizzical expression constituted the only tip-off that this was unusual. In fact, everyone who knew about my plan had given me incredulous looks. Maybe the skepticism came from knowing my destination wasn't Albany, or even New York City, but California.

No degree of disbelief was likely to dissuade me. I wanted to go all the way across the country on an itinerary that included the original transcontinental rail route. And I wanted to begin just down the road at my local depot.

Those waiting for the train exhibited a relaxed sense of anticipation. We heard the whistle somewhere in the direction of the Macdonough Monument; then the silver engine rolled into view. I jumped aboard and grabbed a seat on the left, so as to maximize views along Lake Champlain. Duffle bag and backpack safely stowed on an overhead rack, camera and notebook at the ready, I began my journey.

All American passenger trains are Amtrak, but we started on track once part of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. At one time D & H monopolized both rail traffic and steamboat routes here in northeastern New York. Unfortunately, I couldn't catch a glimpse of Hotel Champlain, now Clinton Community College, originally built by D & H to stimulate passenger traffic.

Bucolic farm scenes, orchards and mountains alternated to form the backdrop. Views along the lake are high points. Deep rock cuts testify to the challenge of building track through the region. There's a spectacular vista over the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport, to Lake Champlain and its islands, with silhouettes of Vermont's Green Mountains at the horizon. We stopped briefly at Westport's vintage rail terminal; it doubles as a professional theater in summer.

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