Midnight train to Montreal?

The Portland Press-Herald reports some Montreal businessmen are raising funds to create an overnight "hotel train" service between Montreal and Boston - by way of Portland. A one-way ticket for the 14 1/2-hour ride on the 30-mph train would be $150. The real market isn't us, but beach-mad Montrealers who just love them some Maine beaches.



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    It's possible, though there are a large amount of European French that live and visit here. Quebecois French (called "Joual") is different than continental French: very different accent, different pronunciation, many very different expressions. It's a much larger gap than that between British and American English. But, like anything else, you have to be a speaker to recognize it.

    Quebec French is not called joual.

    That is the name given to the colloquial speech of Montreal. Other regions have their own names for their colloquial dialects. And Standard Quebec French is not that much different than Metropolitan French. Just like European French, Quebec French exists in a small dialect continuum (small as all varieties of Quebec French are mutually intelligible).


    The original point

    The original point is that a trained ear could recognize whether they were Quebecois or European (and I'm including the Swiss and the Walloons but excepting the Bretons in this).

    I'm not saying they are mutually unintelligible, because clearly they are not, but don't try to convince a person from Metropolitan France that a Quebecois speaking "standard Quebecois" (whatever that is) is speaking something close to what they speak. They will argue with you vigorously.


    Because the French are notoriously bigoted

    towards the French speakers of Quebec. Linguistically, Standard Quebec French (what they speak on newscasts and in formal contexts) is VERY close to Metropolitan French, because it has been consciously altered to be such by Office québécois de la langue française, the agency in charge of regulating the language in Quebec (and those behind the infamous Quebec "language police"). Colloquial Quebec French is significantly different from Standard French, but so are the colloquial varieties of France (people in Marseille sound COMPLETELY different from someone in Paris, who both sound different from someone in Normandy, where the French of Quebec originates). Also, acting like Quebec French is some substandard bastardized form of French while people walk around Paris talking about "le week-end" and "le tee-shirt" is a joke.

    Finally, my BA in linguistics is useful for something.


    Just one step further away and you can reach unintelligible. A friend of mine from Switzerland could not communicate with anyone in the Montreal international airport in her and their native French, so they settled on speaking the (second language for both of them) English.

    Sounds like Amtrak's old

    Sounds like Amtrak's old Night Owl, where I believe they left you in your little private owl's nest and uncoupled the car at Penn station and left you alone until 830 am plus or minus, if that was your destination. I liked them down to Baltimore to see the Admiral now and again.

    I'm all for increased rail

    I'm all for increased rail service to other destinations. A couple of thoughts.

    It looks like the 14.5-hour ride include a customs stop? Right now, the only Amtrak train service to Montreal orginates from NY Penn Station and takes roughly 10.5 hours. The first 3 hours is a relatively swift ride to Albany, but north of there the ride gets a bit dicey and slow and the train travels along the less robust - albeit beautifully scenic - railroad beds through the Adirondacks and along Lake Champlain. However, easily the most tedious point of the trip is when the train crosses the border near Rousse's Point NY and Canadian/US customs has to come on board to inspect every passenger/bag on the train. This can sometimes take 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on he load. I know the proponent is quoted in the article as saying the stop would only be an hour. Based on Amtrak's experience, I'm skeptical.

    For years, there has been discussion about building a customs station in Gare Centrale in Montreal to allow customs inspections to occur at the destination, ala any international airport you've ever traveled through. I know the Congressional delegation from NY had gotten behind it, but I'm not sure if it has gone much further. 14.5 hours on a train doesn't seem terribly viable when you can drive the distance in 5 to 6.5 hours. Add anotherhour or two in for delayed customs inspections and really, what's the point?

    Furthermore, if this is supposed to be an overnight/hotel train, how happy are passengers going to be at 2 a.m. to wake up to talk to the customs inspector?

    It's a beautiful route. It's a shame travelers won't be able to appreciate it when they are travelling at night.

    Overall an interesting concept, though I think logistics might make this specific proposal a non-starter at this point.


    I'm sure they will time the

    I'm sure they will time the customs stop so it will happen during normal waking hours, probably 7 am. Also the point of taking the train is so you can ditch your car. Sure it's a lot longer, but you will be sleeping which is something you need to do if you were at a hotel anyways.

    Assuming the train leaves

    Assuming the train leaves Boston at 6 p.m. (like the its sister train in Montreal), and based ont the train's top speed, and its distance from Montreal, I'm guessing it will hit the border around 4:30/5 a.m. Maybe not 2 a.m., but still pretty early in the morning for folks who are on vacation. If the US and Canadian governments would get their act together and open a customs station in Gare Centrale, this would all be moot and this thing might have legs.

    Amtrak/ICE not big on timing issues

    ICE stops all Amtrak Lakeshore Ltd. trains traveling through Buffalo and enquire of every passenger's nationality. On westbound trains, that stop is scheduled for just before midnight, but I can't think of the last time we pulled out before 0200 (I take this train roughly once every other year, each way).

    They really don't give a damn if it's inconvenient.

    Customs Wait Time

    2.5 hours? That seems excessive.

    When you go from Vancouver to Seattle via the intercity buses run by Amtrak, each passenger gets their own bags and proceeds through the x-ray and check-through and then reboards. It takes about 20 minutes (although there is usually time for a restroom and duty free stop in there).

    Seattle to Vancouver on the train: we went through Canadian customs in the station. The agent was friendly and made sure each of my kids got a stamp on their passports, too!

    This was 2008, so post-9/11 even.



    Stops at North Station, Anderson-Woburn, Lawrence, Haverhill, Durham, Portland, and by now you're asleep as the train makes a slow chug on Pan Am's railbeds to Bethel. You wake up to shuttle buses already loaded with your stowed items and ready to go, and in 15 minutes you're in a lift line. At the end of the day, you pile onto a train, exhausted, and sleep well.


    Ride that Ski Party Train!

    I had just finished typing a long comment about this when my screen went blank, so here is the abbreviated version.

    I have been contemplating organizing a charity charter ski train for a while. I envision it going to one of the mountains that has direct or nearly direct train service (e.g., Okemo, Loon or Bretton Woods - there must be others, but I know there is rail right at those mountains) to avoid the need for coach-type buses on the other end.

    It would be a charity run that serves the dual purpose of showing that there is demand for this service on the weekends out of North Station - kind of like the old SnowTrains.

    I envision a "party" part of the train (bar car(s)/dance car(s)) and a quieter family section for those seeking a more serene ride.

    As we know from the article, to make something like this work on a regular basis, the trip time would have to be comparable with driving, and this is likely to be the hangup, but gosh, wouldn't this be something?

    Tourist train from Montreal to OOB, etc.

    I think this is great, and good luck to the proprietors.

    When everyone is done screwing around, however, can we start taking some serious steps toward building out the Boston-Montreal High Speed Rail Corridor which has been designated since at least 2000? It is preposterous that we do not have a direct rail link to Montreal (and no, the Vermonter up the CT River valley, while cool, does not count, and neither does going through Albany (1 train per day!) or NYC).

    New Hampshire, which at last look had gummed up the works, needs to re-evaluate in view of the runaway success of the Downeaster and think about what Boston-Montreal could do for Manchester, Concord and especially Lebanon (think industry clusters around Dartmouth). Vermont is already on board, and so is Quebec and the Canadian federal gov't.

    Hell, this is even a route on which I would accept the ridiculously low speed of 79 mph for a decade until it could be upgraded.

    But, alas, this will not happen, and instead, we will not start building a real HSR network in the US until we have surrendered trillions of dollars of economic activity with people and goods sitting in traffic and when interest rates are 2-3 times what they are now, making the cost of building HSR far more expensive that it would be now.


    Not so sure I see the demand

    I'm with scratchie on this, I don't see the demand.

    Hey, we really like going to Montreal and Quebec City. For such a relatively short trip, you really feel like you're somewhere else. But, there really isn't a huge draw of people from MA or elsewhere in the NE, nothing I've seen that can justify train service. Maybe (Hopefully?) I'm wrong, I just don't see it.

    Also, a car isn't that big an issue and you can easily get free/cheap parking. We'll drive up and dump the car for the weekend. It would come down to the price of the tickets and the scheduling. When a train trip starts taking 12 hours, that's a huge time suck for a weekend trip.

    Anyways, this train isn't intended for us. As the article says, it's for beachgoing Montrealers without cars. That's a long, slow ride, but maybe worth it if you don't have a car. Maine beaches are swarming with Canadiens, eh. But still, even after they get to Portland, they then have to get to the beach areas - Scarborough, Old Orchard, York, wherever.

    Did anybody else wonder about the route the train would take from Montreal to Portland? My head was spinning thinnking about it, then I saw the map in the article. Looks like it's a lot of pieces of railway. And you get to go thru scenic Berlin (BER-lin). ;-)

    Certainly demand would be a consideration

    One of the reasons that there is less travel between here and Montreal than there would otherwise be between metro areas of this size is because of the cost of flying. As you point out, it's too far for many to drive (either for business or for a weekend) and the cost of direct air service is astronomical since the flights were re-categoized as regular internationals (the taxes are now often more than the fare). In any event, it would behoove us to have more and better business links with the provinces to the north anyway.

    I realize and agree that this line should not be the first priority with respect to HSR in the US (there ought to be a *real* HSR line between Boston and Washington before *anything* else - and that includes California - because the demand for the BOS-Wash. line has *already* been proven), but if you could get a train that took less than 5 hours to MTL, I think that you would see demand.

    Also, we should remember that this isn't just about BOS-MTL traffic. There are lots of smaller cities in between with people who would have reason to travel one way or the other.

    While I do not subscribe whole-heartedly to the "if you build it, they will come" mantra, everyone told me when I was working on the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that it would flop, that it was being build in a windswept wasteland that no one could decide on the name of and no one would ever want to go to because it wasn't downtown. Well, UHubbers know the rest of the story, and if you don't, go check out the traffic down there this afternoon.


    there ought to be a *real*

    there ought to be a *real* HSR line between Boston and Washington before *anything* else - and that includes California - because the demand for the BOS-Wash. line has *already* been proven

    This was more my point. As the population rises and traffic in the region becomes progressively more fucked, I would think that there would be *demand* for reliable, fast train service from Boston to just about anywhere. The ability and willingness to build such, though, is a completely different question. The "high speed" Acela between Boston and New York is a joke; it shaves less than an hour off the total trip, and half of that time saving is probably just due to the smaller number of stops it makes. This example, combined with plentiful anecdotal evidence (e.g. the fact that you can't take a train from Boston to Hartford at any time, at any price) shows how pathetic the state of rail service is in the Northeast, and the US in general, and how it's likely to remain for the foreseeable future. I'd love to be proven wrong about that, but I ain't holding my breath.

    As much as I would like to

    As much as I would like to have that connection, the terrain that a Boston-Montreal HSR corridor must bore through is a truly frightening prospect. Or exciting, I guess, if you're the engineer in charge of design.

    I think it's more likely that you'll see upgrades to Boston & Albany, Albany & Montreal before any kind of Boston & Montreal HSR. Even that's pretty rough, but it'll leverage the NY market.

    Daily Service from the 1840s to 1965

    That train must have run somewhere ... not sure what the route was, but its likely not a rail trail at this point (or I probably would have found it).

    This piece shows the line on existing corridors through New Hampshire. If I recall correctly, NH has been a huge obstacle insisting that the feds pay for everything even though it would bring jobs to NH. http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/08/03/connecting-montreal-to-the...

    HSR not conventional

    Check out the route map. This proposal goes the long way around on the MM&A, I believe, which is fairly slow although in reasonable shape (minus the big accident this year up there).

    A HSR route through NH is a different route, mostly new, and that's what I thought he was talking about.

    And at HSR speeds you'd have to straighten out many curves, build long tunnels, viaducts, etc to keep speeds up.

    One question

    Have you seen or used the railways in Switzerland? Yeah, I know - expensive to build. But, still, the engineering challenges aren't as daunting as you make them out to be.

    Also check out some of the bizarre stuff that the Canadians put together to get through the Rockies.

    The Whites and Greens may be dramatic, but they certainly aren't the most daunting terrain for railroads.

    If we could run trains like the Swiss do...

    Then we wouldn't have so many breakdowns, trains would actually run on-time (as measured in seconds), schedules and ticketing would be completely integrated across the region, and infrastructure would be built precisely to the needs determined by service planning.

    We don't have that here in America. Instead we have people insisting that a commuter train needs 4 employees on board "for safety." We have "HSR" trains that are so heavy that they can't meet their original design specs. We have a Congress that issued a vague call for "positive train control" but provided no funding to do it. We have a regulatory agency that refuses to adopt existing, proven modern train control systems because those systems happened to be developed in Europe. And when these overstaffed, overweight trains go too fast around a curve because the engineer fell asleep, do they rethink their methods? No, they call for even more staffing!

    We can't even get relief built for the North River tunnels, two century-old tubes which are maxed out in capacity and desperately need some rehab time, because some fat asshole governor from a certain stinky state decided to pull those funds and spend them on the NJ Turnpike instead. And you know what, he may have been right to pull the plug (not redirect the funding though) because the advocates for the project were creating an idiotic dead-end terminal station, not because it was the right thing to do, but because executives from two railroads running under the same public authority cannot play nice together!

    In a world where "American passenger railroad competence" wasn't a contradiction in terms, then yes, the obstacles to a Boston/Montreal HSR line would be surmountable. Of course, in that world, they might also decide that it was more cost-effective to run Boston/Albany HSR frequently and timed to connect with frequent NY/Montreal HSR trains. Across the platform. And that would work because they would be running trains like clockwork, Swiss-style.


    Not the MM&A, it's on St.

    Not the MM&A, it's on St. Lawrence & Atlantic tracks - I know the part along the Androscoggin River where I grew up (Bethel up to Berlin) & the article confirms that they're used from Lewiston/Auburn to near Montreal. But, yes, very slow freight tracks. (It says 30-35 MPH in the article.) Current use is usually one, occasionally two freight trains going through in the middle of the night. When I told my dad up there about this proposal he said Les Otten, when he owned Sunday River, tried to get a train going and nothing came of it. He's not holding his breath on this one.

    Potential Customer Here

    Although not a typical one. I'm assuming that the real demand for this will be coming out of Montreal.

    I also find it a bit romantic that my grandfather, he of the beautiful detailed visual descriptions, once told me of a trip he made with his Father from Sherbrooke to Portland ME and Boston when he was about 10 - which would have been 1912. Boston had daily service to Montreal for something like 125 years.

    Anyway, my brother lives in Alberta, but the flight options between Boston and Calgary or Edmonton are, well, dismal. I either have to fly to Houston or Dallas, or all the way to Seattle and transfer, or to a Canadian airport which means big $$ for the "international" leg.

    Or drive to Montreal and stay overnight at a hotel where I can leave my car (my family's only car), with another overnight on the back end because the flights are pretty late in the day.

    So, yes, I would happily pay $150 to walk to North Station after work and jump on a train, and then catch a morning trans-Canada flight. Ditto on the back end, pulling into North Station at the beginning of my work day.


    This is all for Montrealers

    This is all for Montrealers going to OOB, which is a huge French Canadian summer colony. (And for them, 55Âș water temperatures are no big deal.) And the drive from Portland to Montreal pretty ugly, with a lot of back roads unless you take a much longer route through southern NH. There are probably folks who wouldn't mind taking an overnight train to OOB, since once there it's a pretty walkable area.

    The benefit of bringing it to Boston is that you can add capacity on the commuter-time Downeaster runs. Right now, the Downeaster sells out the 5:00 run out of Boston many nights, so added capacity would be a boon to the commuting public. Plus, this train could probably run express to OOB, which would bring the train time down to 2:00 or so.

    If they can do it without public money, more power to them.



    The plains of Quebec might be a bit boring but the Mountain region of Western Maine is one of the most beautiful places in New England!

    Amazingly Scenic

    When an ice storm shut the route from Bethel to Portland when we were at Sunday River, we went up the river and over the Mountains to Littleton, NH to get on I-93.

    I will never forget that. Sunset, so beautiful, snow in the valley and train tracks and villages. It was just too perfect - just like a Christmas Train layout. I'm pretty sure the train tracks were the ones that would be used for this, too.