Background:

Yesterday, I was heading back to New York City from my visit to June Farms just outside Albany, New York. I booked a ticket on Amtrak’s Empire Service and the original plan was to depart Albany at 1:05 PM and arrive at New York Penn at 3:45 PM. As you’ll soon see, nothing went quite to plan.

Arrival at Albany-Rensselaer Station:

We got to the Albany Train Station a little over 30 minutes before our scheduled departure. The train was scheduled to arrive at the station around 12:40 PM for 1:05 PM departure. I noticed that the departure board was showing our train as delayed, as with all the other trains going out of Albany too. The train we were supposed to get on arrived, and everyone got off the train. An Amtrak representative said that it didn’t look good and that we should find other options as there was no way to get to New York Penn Station and he didn’t foresee our train running until the evening (he was wrong lol). He said we should probably take an Uber to Poughkeepsie (a 1.5-hour car ride) and then grab a Metro-North commuter train to New York Grand Central Station instead.

a group of people waiting in a terminal

Crowds of People Asking What Was Happening

But, they then canceled the train after ours which was a 2:10 PM departure. This wasn’t looking great for us.

Cancelled Amtrak Empire Service

Cancelled 2:10 PM Train

Let’s Wait and See A Bit:

The Amtrak website wasn’t saying there was a delay yet, so we decided to wait a bit as the station also made an announcement stating that our train would run, but terminate at the stop before New York Penn, which is Croton-Harmon. They then said that we could use our ticket to connect to a Metro-North commuter train to take us to Grand Central. So, we decided to wait in line as did many people. They did not give any estimated ETA at this point.

Cancelled Amtrak Empire Service

Waiting in Line

Canceled Amtrak Empire Service:

I then saw this tweet from the Amtrak Twitter/X page at 1:05 PM.

Service Alert Update: As of 1:05pm ET, Trains operating on the Empire Service Line are canceled for reasons outside of Amtrak’s control. We will update as more information becomes available.

Yikes. Time to call the Uber! The two friends and I who were travelling together decided to follow the station employee’s advice and split an Uber to Poughkeepsie. Ironically, we found some coworkers who were on the same train as us. As a backup, they bought emergency bus tickets for 3 PM and were going to wait for this train since the station itself didn’t say the train was canceled.

Time for Uber + Metro North:

The Uber to Poughkeepsie came in a few minutes and the ride was about 80 miles, 1.5 hours, and $100 (not bad for how far it was). The ride went smoothly and then we got on a Metro North Train to New York Grand Central. It all worked out, and we arrived in New York Grand Central right before 5 PM, which was one hour and 15 minutes after our originally scheduled arrival to Penn.

a seats in a train

Metro North Train (definitely Amtrak has nicer seats)

Amtrak Decides to Not Cancel?!:

But, if we had waited…our coworkers who stayed back said our originally booked train did end up getting un-canceled and they left about 40 minutes later but terminated at Croton-Harmon. At Croton-Harmon, they were able to hop the Metro North right before the one we were on, so they ended up beating us to Grand Central by about 15 minutes.

While we were in the Uber, Amtrak “un-cancelled” the Empire Service line and announced that:

Due to safety concerns stemming from structure issues of a non-Amtrak, privately owned building above the Empire Line tracks in New York City, Amtrak service is suspended today, November 12, between Albany (ALB) and New York City (NYP).

Trains 290 and 48 will be combined to travel as one train.

Trains 64, 68, 284 and 290 are cancelled south of Croton-Harmon, NY (CRT); customers will have their tickets cross-honored by Metro North between CRT and NYP.

I wonder if Amtrak could have the trains rerouted to Grand Central? And also curious about what the problems were with this “non-Amtrak privately owned building”. It seems that it is due to a parking garage in Manhattan above the Empire Service tracks on West 51st St. between 10th and 11th Avenues.

Lessons Learned:

One could say that maybe we jumped the gun early and should have been more patient and waited? But then, I feel that the station employee has probably seen people stranded for long periods of time which is why he recommended we find another option ASAP. And, the Amtrak website and Twitter said Empire Service line trains were cancelled. So, waiting around didn’t seem like the best idea given those two factors. But, maybe we should have listened to the fact that the station itself said the train was going to Croton-Harmon?

I think Amtrak could have handled the situation a bit better, as they seemed to jump the gun by canceling all the trains outright, then retracting to just canceling the last leg from Croton-Harmon to New York Penn.

Overall, given the circumstances, and how unreliable Amtrak seems to be, I think we made the right decision, as if we happened to be booked on the next train, it would have been completely canceled. Plus, when I checked the trains the day before, all were showing 90-100% full, so if we happened to be on a canceled train, I’m not sure if there would be space to rebook on another one.

Refund?

After I got back home, I called Amtrak to ask for a refund since I never used my ticket. The associate was friendly and sent me a travel voucher for the value of my ticket. I inquired about a refund to the original form of payment since the travel voucher expires in a year, and she said I could call the refunds department which is only open on weekdays. I’ll update this post if I decide to call back.

The Verdict:

As I’ve shared in other posts, Amtrak’s poor reliability has been very prevalent in my recent trips on Amtrak. From narrowly avoiding overhead power issues resulting in a 4-hour overnight delay, or being stuck on the side of the tracks for 2 hours, my canceled Amtrak Empire Service adds to the growing list of service disruptions I’ve faced this year, and I don’t really travel by train that much. Hopefully, the new $16 billion for rail improvements in the Northeast that the White House has announced recently will help alleviate these issues as I do enjoy traveling by train. 

 

Have you been on a canceled Amtrak Empire Service before? Or any canceled Amtrak? Do you think I should have done anything differently? Comment below!

 

Cheers,

Ty


Have any questions? I’ve also started working with a travel agency, Fora Travel, and can assist in booking hotel stays or planning trips. Comment below or email me at takeofftotravel@gmail.com. You can also view all my other posts here! Thanks for stopping by!