Having only resumed a couple of months ago, Amtrak’s Adirondack train between Montreal and New York has once again been suspended, from June 24, 2023, until at least June 30.
In a message to Journal Métro, Amtrak confirmed that the suspension was caused by track conditions north of the border: “Canadian National has implemented reduced speed regulations in Canada due to heat, impacting the Amtrak Adirondack route. Trains 68 and 69 will depart and end in Albany, NY until further notice.”
The risk of track buckling on hot summer days is a legitimate concern, and a growing one as our summers get warmer. Rails in direct sunlight also become significantly hotter than the ambient temperature, increasing their thermal expansion. The quality of the ballast shoulders, ties, and fastenings determines how well the track structure can resist the resulting forces, and with our large temperature range between winter and summer, this is particularly challenging for Canadian railways.
On major routes that are well maintained, it is not unusual for speed restrictions to be imposed when daytime highs consistently exceed 30°C. However, the route from Montreal to the border at Rouses Point is lightly used by freight, and the track condition had been allowed to deteriorate to Class 2, so that Amtrak’s trains were already limited to a sedentary 30 mph north of the border when the service resumed, an issue that Transport Action raised with the Quebec government earlier this year.
The imposition of speed restrictions on this route once daytime highs reached 25°C is clearly indicative of a rather modest standard of maintenance. If this route requires speed restrictions for much of the summer, Amtrak may be unable to sustain the service.
Unfortunately, because Amtrak doesn’t have a crew base or facility to service the train at Plattsburgh, this problem means the train is also unable to serve upper New York State. The suspension of train service to our American neighbours due to inadequate maintenance on our side of the border is embarrassing, and Transport Action has raised this concern with Transport Canada officials.
Similar issues with track only being maintained to Class 2, limiting passenger trains to 30 mph, also apply to several other routes in Canada, including the Ocean through New Brunswick, London-Kitchener trains, and the northern Quebec services. How is this considered acceptable?
Photo: Rouses Point, NY Amtrak station by Adam Moss