Ridin' Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor

Riding Amtrak along the Northeast Corridor to New York can be one of life's more civilized transportation experiences. The trains are nice enough, and there's room to be comfortable. It ain't cheap -- especially the Acela -- but it sure beats flying in terms of fewer hassles, and doesn't take much longer when you factor in getting to and fro the airports.

Well, after a couple of very unpleasant attempts to save money by taking the bus, today I splurged on the train to NYC and was reminded once again about the sorry ass state of our intercity rail system. The Amtrak service itself was fine, and the conductor was genuinely apologetic for our delays. But going into New Haven, only two tracks were available for all trains going to and from Boston, which meant sitting on the tracks while other trains cleared. And between New Rochelle and Queens, only ONE TRACK was available for all trains due to repair work. A 3 hr. 30 min. trip turned into a 4 hr. and 15 min. one.

If we only invested public funds into building a decent intercity high speed rail system (calling Gov. Dukakis!), this would be a fast and pleasant 2 hr. trip to New York, and maybe a 3 hr. and 30 minute trip all the way to D.C. It would cut down on the air traffic generated by all these short commuter flights.

And it certainly would be a boon for Boston, bringing more people into the city for tourism and business, and giving Hub dwellers a fast, convenient, and hopefully affordable rail link to places up and down the corridor.



      Free tagging: 


      Make Mine Acela

      By on

      I heartily agree. Even though there is always a delay of some kind, I'd still rather take the Acela to New York--it's so much more civilized.

      And, even if the Acela is

      By on

      And, even if the Acela is delayed, you at least do things like take out your telephone to call someone, use your computer the entire trip, etc.

      It's worth it, especially since you're dropped right into the center of NY.

      I concur

      By on

      Rode it back up from New York one Christmas morning when the Scrooge bosses decided to keep the office open on the holiday. Lovely, quiet, spacious ride. The Christmas morning ticket was the least expensive I've seen, but it's worth a splurge every so often. As a regular mode of transportation, however, it's way too costly, especially considering that Boltbus and Megabus now have WiFi and outlets that actually work for the length of the trip.

      My guess

      By on

      Cellular to WiFi hubs inside the busses. You connect WiFi to the bus, the bus connects from its router to a cellular carrier like Verizon 3G. If the area has cell phones, it has WiFi for the bus.


      By on

      Even with the current state of the economy, business travelers on anything greater than a shoestring/startup budget just do not take buses. The Boston/New York market has been very effectively segmented, on an economic basis, between bus, train and plane.

      What is interesting to think about is what effect U.S. Airways decision to move its pilot/flight attendant bases out of BOS and LGA will have on this mix. I think the USAirways pilots are right and that it will decrease reliability of their shuttle, and hence, drive away passengers (they are also reportedly switching from their Airbuses to E190s, a regional jet, which business travelers also hate). Those business travelers who don't go to Delta will go to Amtrak, not the Bolt Bus and its bretheren. The upshot? I think you will see slightly increased fares on Acela by next summer. Bummer.

      The average flyer will not

      By on

      The average flyer will not know that the E-190 is a regional jet. It holds 110 passengers, The classic 737 holds between 104 and 215 (depending on model, US airways model holds 140)

      The Boeing 717 holds 106-117.

      As for who are riding the buses, according to Megabus:

      "Sixty percent of our customers come out of a car. Seventeen percent come out of airplanes. Thirteen percent come out of trains. That's almost 90 percent of my market is not coming out of another bus company."

      Expense account versus private pay

      Not as crass as it seems ... if I'm paying my own freight, I go via Bolt or Mega. If my company is paying - and expecting me to work the entire trip - I'll take the train. It also depends on where I need to get to.

      This spring, I need to get to Washington, DC for a conference. I really want to take the train because the air travel and ground transport is a pain, and I can work more effectively on the train even if it takes longer. I can also bring more luggage, including my bike in it's own suitcase.

      I thought the ne regional

      By on

      I thought the ne regional trains don't have luggage service and don't take bike boxes, has that changed?

      No bike box needed

      I have a bike that is designed to come apart and fold into a standard sized Sampsonite. We've logged about 60,000 air miles together in the last five years (I've also stowed my bike in the oversize luggage area - folded and bagged - on the Cascades and Coast Starlight routes between Portland and Seattle and Vancouver).

      The overnight train to DC used to take unboxed bikes for $5 and had baggage service, but they did away with that some time ago. The west coast trains still take them and have nice hooks to secure them. The Acela does have baggage service - at least the information on Acela Express links to the baggage policy.

      Business class vs Regular fare

      By on

      I have done the trip between here and Baltimore quite a few times and I can impart one piece of advice. Do not pay for business fare if the ride is going to be a busy one. I found the business seats do not provide much more room or comfort than coach and all of the coach seats are equipped with an outlet on this route (even though their website can't promise it...I've never found that not to be the case).

      Business class means you might have fewer people wandering through the car (it's the first car behind the engine), but it also means that you're going to have to walk through 3-4 cars to get back to the food car if you want a snack/drink and didn't pack anything. The restrooms get just as evil it seems and as I said if the trip is likely to be packed, the density of passengers between business and coach is exactly the same: full. So, riding solo, it won't matter where you are on the train, you're going to be sharing your seat with someone (which is nothing like squishing in on a plane next to someone...so much more room comparatively).

      So, save your cash or ride the Acela instead to lessen the stops and increase the speed slightly, but the only thing you'll get out of business class is a free drink...and it's not even the full size cans of soda...it's a mini-soda.

      Depends on the time of year...

      By on

      I usually take the Acela trains, but when the only train available is a regional, I will sometimes take coach and sometimes upgrade to business. For Thanksgiving, I bit the bullet and paid more for business, because I figured that the day before Thanksgiving, the trains would be full of screaming, tired kids whom I'd be less likely to encounter in business class. And it worked!

      Yeah, but you can booze it up

      By on

      Yeah, but you can booze it up on the train! There's no bar car on a bus unfortunately.

      During the peak hours, sure,

      By on

      During the peak hours, sure, that's true for the regional. I sometimes have to ride it due to schedules (making it back from NY/Philly/DC late or very early), I've often been ridden a split business class/lounge car.

      The seating is two-seat on the left and single-seat on the right in the forward half, with the lounge in the rear. Much more comfortable for sleeping, even better than the Acela Express if you can snag a single seat!

      A free mini-soda?

      That's it? Why, back in the olden days...

      During the mid-nineties I commuted weekly to NYC for my job, and made the decision early-on that Amtrak was the way to go. This was pre-Acela -- the business paid for Club Class (now branded Business Class), which was two-and-one seating, and originally included an hors d'oeuvre course, hot entree and dessert, served at one's seat. The quality and presentation were equivalent to airline medium-haul first class meal service of the time.

      Then in '96/'97 they dropped the first course. I haven't ridden since that job ended in '97, but I take it things have gone downhill from there...

      I love the train!

      By on

      A couple years ago my husband and I planned a trip to NYC for a conference. The train tickets cost about the same as airfare, maybe a bit less, but considering the cost, time and hassle of getting to/from Logan, I bought the train tickets. It happened to snow the night before we were to depart and flights out of Logan were shut down, but the train was running. We had roomy, comfortable seats and didn't have to deal with security lines. I know it can be pricey, but I tell everyone about how civilized and beautiful the train ride is along the coast between BOS and NYC.

      I agree, but

      I am worried about the driver of the 4pm NYC-Boston train exceeding the speed limit on the segment between Providence and Rte 128. It is a running joke among the porters that he is always in a hurry to get home. I have now seen this happen several times on that train.

      Last week, when I took it (Dec 1), you could actually smell the asbestos in the back car as he had to jam on the brakes before going over one of the bridges.

      I hope someone looks into this before the NTSB has to do so as part of an accident investigation.

      Amtrak is pretty responsive

      I complained that the Downeaster tore through three school zone areas and a crowded station platform at a very high rate of speed - so high that the gates on the second crossing didn't drop fully before it rammed through. They identified the two crossings as school zones from then on, and warned the dispatcher about the hazards in that area (the guy in the shack at high street complained too).

      Unless I'm mistaken, Amtrak

      By on

      Unless I'm mistaken, Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor are equipped with something called ACSES that automatically prevents the trains from exceeding speed limits. Much of the Providence - Route 128 segment is high-speed territory where the sped limit is 150 mph (125 for Regionals).

      more advice

      By on

      Also, unless you're a cellphone yapper, take one of the designated "quiet cars," usually at the front of the train. Most of the time it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop. But I've heard a few times that sometimes people don't know that's what it's for (even though it's usually clearly marked with signs). Every once in a while if the train is expecting a lot of passengers, they'll dispense with the quiet car. But I take it every time: I can't stand those noisy kids and inane people who don't know when to shut the hell up and always speak at (not into) their phones louder than they need to.

      I Concur

      By on

      I was going to mention this option, and I'm glad someone else did, too. I'll add that, IF someone is in the "Quiet Car" and using a cell, the train personnel are only too happy to tell them to please move to another car.

      I had that experience. That is, someone was yapping away on a cell two seats up from us. I waited a reasonable length of time for her to complete her call, but it became apparent she never would. So, I got up and went over to her and informed her that it was a car where cells were not allowed. She looked me up and down, then said, with a look of disgust, "Do you work for the railroad?" After I said no, and she said, "Then why should I listen to you?", I went and got a conductor. He informed her, in no uncertain terms, that if she didn't hang up immediately, he would put her off at the next station. She gave me one last dirty look before exiting the car and moving to one where she could bleat to her heart's content. And we in the Quiet Car all lived happily ever after (or at least until we got to NYC.)



      By on

      If you want peace and quiet...but also want to keep your cell phone on, leave the ringer on vibrate and if you get a call, walk between cars or into the next car and take the call...then return to your seat when you're done. That's what I've seen a lot of people do and realized how they were getting the best of both worlds.

      There are few things worse

      By on

      There are few things worse than having the Quiet Car your in turned back into a regular car. Six hours from Wilmington, DE to Boston with nonstop yapping made me lose my flipping mind a while back.

      We took this a few years ago

      We just got coach seats -- and it was rather fun (and easier than driving -- which is what our family of five usually winds up doing).

      Dream vs Reality

      I thought about taking the Lakeshore Limited to the Empire Builder. Theoretically, I could get from my home to my dad's house entirely by bus and train that way.

      Then I looked at the stats for the Lakeshore Ltd. It is rarely on time. There are several train changes between Boston and Chicago. It might not make the 4 hour window to pick up the Empire Builder, so I would have to plan to stay with a relative if I wanted to try it.

      If I could depend on it being on time and it didn't have the middle of the night equipment shift, I might try it some day. It would be a fun coast-to-coast adventure. The reality is that it is too ridiculous to contemplate.

      Lakeshore Limited

      By on

      I've taken the Lakeshore Limited / Empire Builder (Boston to Minneapolis) at least once a year for the past 7 years. We usually arrive in Chicago with time to spare.

      A weird set of circumstances caused us to miss the connection one year. Amtrak put us all up in a hotel for the night and provided money (cash!) for cab fare to and from the station. I was on vacation so I didn't mind it in the least. It was kind of fun.

      Glad to hear!

      I also see that they have put through service - no midnight switch in Albany - for Boston trains. That makes a huge difference when you are towing kids along, or like to sleep all night.

      I've taken it to Ohio

      By on

      I've taken it to Ohio probably half a dozen times, and once all the way to Chicago. It's crowded, never on time (blame CSX), bumpy as hell on the rough rail between Syracuse and Erie or so--and absolutely enjoyable.

      When my girlfriend (now wife) went with me we would rent a sleeper, which is just kind of prohibitively expensive as a single traveller (its a flat rate that is indifferent to whether both beds are filled). On my own i would go coach all the way, which is not a great night's sleep, but still its not bad. The food isn't great, decidedly downgraded from when i first traveled on it 4 or 5 years ago (and they don't use real plates and silverware anymore) but it is still my preferred mode of transportation. Its a cool community on board, full of people that travel by train by choice, so the type of people who will sacrifice speed or comfort for views and company. Weirdos like me, i love it.

      My understanding is that

      By on

      My understanding is that they've just restored full diner service to the Lakeshore, so that should be fixed now!

      I've done several

      By on

      I've done several transcontinental train trips, most involving the Lake Shore Limited (aka the "Late-for-sure Limited" and "the late great #48"). It's always fun and relaxing, especially when you don't expect everything will always go perfectly.

      The most scenic Amtrak route to the west coast is that of the California Zephyr. Western Colorado is spectacular.

      That said, the most scenic transcontinental train route in North America is that of the Canadian (Toronto - Vancouver), which knocks the socks off anything Amtrak runs.

      I've gone cross country...

      ...several times too: Boston to SF, then SF to LA, then LA back to Boston. Twice, however, I decided to to take Rail Canada for the return trip. So I went from LA to Seattle, then took a ferry to Vancouver, where I boarded the train. I highly recommend Rail Canada. The scenery is amazing, the food & service much better than ours, and the people an ever-changing parade of characters as you progress eastward.

      Vancouver to ???

      I'd love to take Rail Canada, seeing that my brother lives between Calgary and Banff ... but where do you connect for Boston on the east coast? I've done the west side ... but don't know the east coast connection.

      Speaking of spectacular ... there is little more spectacular than Seattle to Vancouver on the Cascades route. Breathtaking!

      I've seen old stories about daily service between Montreal and Boston. Sigh. doesn't exist these days. A train trip to Montreal or Halifax would be lovely!


      By on

      The last time I took a bus to NYC will be the last time I take a bus to NYC. Trains are much more pleasant. And here's a tip: Getting on at Penn Station can be a hassle, since they allow nobody down to track level until the train is announced, and then it's a mob scene. But if you hire a Red Cap, he'll take you down and get you seated early. Well worth it.

      How to get a head start at Penn Station

      By on

      Requires an accomplice with a cell phone: Have him go down one level to the arrival area. When the train comes in, he'll call you, standing upstairs, with the track number, so you can get in position before the thundering hordes.

      Wow--great comments!

      I just logged in after a day in a conference room (fortunately, it was a very good conference), and saw all these great comments!

      I was taken by surprise (I dunno why, just was) by so many comments about riding the Acela and how many people like it. I'm a big Acela fan, even if it's not going at 120 mph. I've reached the point where I look FORWARD to a trip where I can take the Acela, because it's a great way to get 3 1/2 uninterrupted hours to catch up on work, read a good book or a few magazines.

      I also chuckled about dealing with cell phone users in the Acela Quiet Car, as during my trip I had to ask a young woman to stop talking on her cell -- and loudly at that -- in the seat in front of me. Good grief.

      During one of my recent Megabus experiences to NYC, we blew a tire in Connecticut and we had to wait by the side of the rode until a replacement bus came around. A trip back from NYC the Sunday after Thanksgiving was a college student mob scene, not to mention an hour late leaving NYC. Still, the price can't be beat, and these days that's nothin' to sneeze at.