Amtrak will soon start a new overnight service between New York and Toronto that will provide Western New York passengers with a second weekend train between the two cities.
The Niagara Rainbow, an Amtrak test of overnight service between New York and Toronto that begins June 17, is part of a spring schedule revision that may introduce the famed "dome cars" to Buffalo on the New York-to-Chicago Lake Shore Limited run west of Albany.
The new schedule beginning Sunday also revises New York-to-Chicago times to allow for better connections to western trains leaving Chicago.
The addition of the Niagara Rainbow means there will be five trains a day serving Buffalo and Niagara Falls on weekends.
The new overnight train will feature sleeping cars and snack car, but no dining car.
Though many trains traveling through New York State are subsidized by the state, the new weekend service is sponsored solely by Amtrak, which decided to offer it after many passengers sought overnight accommodations, according to the Empire State Passengers Association, a rail lobby group.
"The new overnight service on the Niagara Rainbow will be very popular," said Richard Guarino of Clarence Travel. "Train 65 leaves New York City at 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and arrives in downtown Buffalo at 6:05 a.m. and Toronto at 10:12 a.m. That means people can see a show in New York and catch a train home."
The Toronto-New York route gets heavy bus travel, Guarino said, "so there'll be some competition with the buses there."
The new service should prove popular with Buffalo riders, too, he said. They can board the New York-bound trains Saturday or Sunday at 11:45 p.m. at Exchange Street and 11:57 in Depew and arrive at Penn Station at 7:45 a.m.
New smoking rules accompany the new schedules, with smoking banned from virtually all Northeast routes.
Some trains operating in New York State will be equipped with dome cars for the first time, the passengers association reported. The high-level observation cars came from the City of New Orleans, which just became a Superliner running between Chicago and New Orleans.
Amtrak spokesman Howard W. Robertson confirmed that the dome cars would be used, but he said the agency has not designated which trains will get them.
"It is possible they will go on the Lake Shore Limited, because the tunnels south of Albany won't take the dome cars," he said.
That train will leave New York City two hours earlier to make better connections in Chicago for travelers continuing west.
Round-trip coach fares from Buffalo to New York are expected to be $102 or $128, depending on the train selected, said Guarino, one of three travel agents in Buffalo who specialize in rail travel bookings. One-way fares are $85, and "sleeper" fares will carry an additional charge. The trip takes slightly more than eight hours.
The most heavily traveled train through Buffalo is the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York, which stops at Depew. For better ongoing connections at Chicago, the Limited will leave New York at 7:10 p.m daily, arrive at Depew at 3:31 a.m. and reach Chicago at 12:58 p.m.
From Chicago, it arrives in Buffalo at 6:17 a.m. and New York City at 2:49 p.m.
The passenger association has estimated that a million passengers a year use the trains in Buffalo. Guarino thinks a lot of them use it as an alternative to driving, flying or taking the bus to Syracuse or Albany.
Nonetheless, a surprising number take advantage of special "All Aboard America" fares that allow three stopovers in a 45-day period, provided one does not travel the same route in the same direction.