Tag Archives: Amtrak

Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train – slow and utilitarian, but beats the hell out of I-95

UPDATE (13 MAY 2015): My thoughts are with the victims and families of last night’s Northeast Regional 188 that derailed in Philadelphia.

Having ridden the DC-NYC portion of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional twice a month for the past three years, I feel I should write something about it, but do so more out of a sense of obligation than any deep feelings for Amtrak at its most utilitarian. To quote Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express, “No good train ever goes far enough, just as no bad train ever reaches its destination soon enough.” The Northeast Regional lies squarely in the mildly pleasant middle.

Northeast Regional

 
First off, compared to most other routes, the Northeast Regional is expensive – which is probably why it’s the only Amtrak line that pays for itself. It can also get crowded, forcing people to roam from car to car in search of a seat or, as I did one Thanksgiving-eve, sit on the floor between cars, surrounded by fumes (the tunnel into Baltimore was especially pungent) and the occasional snowflake.

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Amtrak’s DC-Orlando Auto Train

UPDATE (29 JAN 2014): Skipped the Auto Train this year and tried the Miami to NYC ‘Silver Meteor’. While slower than the Auto Train, thanks to many more stops, Amtrak’s Silver Service trains go beyond the Orlando and DC only destinations of the Auto Train, making things more convenient for traveling outside those two areas – though without the benefits of carrying your car.

UPDATE (2 JAN 2013): I tried the Auto Train once again this holiday season and found it much the same – the convenience, relaxation, pleasure at avoiding both I95 and the airports, all were just as enjoyable as last year. The restrooms can get a little gamey after a few hours, but still a solid way to get to/from Florida.

While not as classy as the City of New Orleans between Chicago and the Big Easy, Amtrak’s DC-Orlando Auto Train is convenient as hell for getting you and your car to/from Florida. You drive up to the station, hand your keys to an attendant, grab the stuff (change of clothes, toiletries, booze) you want to take on the train, then walk inside the station and prepare to board.

Amtrak Auto Train Auto Racks - Image courtesy Wikipedia

Amtrak Auto Train Auto Racks – Image courtesy Wikipedia



Once you drop off your vehicle (anything from a motorcycle to an SUV), an attendant will drive it onto an enclosed car carrier. This will be the last you see of your vehicle until arrival, so be sure and get everything out of it you want on the train.

Once inside the station, you wait in line to pick up your boarding pass and schedule dinner in the dining car – with nearly 500 people on the train, the evening meal is served on a rotation. And the dining car attendants do not take kindly to anyone arriving late or dallying through a meal.

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Riding Amtrak Cross-country

[hang2column element=”div” width=”435″][/hang2column] Great story in last Saturday’s Washington Post on riding Amtrak from DC to San Francisco, via Chicago. With comments like, “Sleep came easily — the train is surprisingly smooth and quiet,” “Train etiquette seemed to involve asking strangers where they were headed and why they’d chosen the train,” or “The amount of space between rows on these trains makes a joke of airplane legroom,” it’s obvious the author is somewhat new to long-distance train travel, but appears smitten with the new/old option. Welcome. As someone who was long ago taken with train travel, having ridden lines from Saigon-Hanoi to the Trans-Siberian, and written about trains from Chicago to New Orleans and Tehran to Istanbul (excerpt), I heartily recommend stepping away from the plane, hitting the pause button on your rush (unless you’re taking an actual bullet train, then by all means, enjoy the rush), and trying a little travel. You may be disappointed, you might overpay, it may be unpleasant (i.e. Tehran to Turkey), but it just might be worth it.
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The Train They Call the City of New Orleans

Amtrak’s Chicago to New Orleans train is unique. For those used to thinking of trains coldly, as just another form of dilapidated mass transit, The City of New Orleans is a throwback to a different era: a time when travel could still embody glamour and style. The outfittings and appointments are newer, the dining car cleaner, and the level of service higher. None of the airline envy you see on so many trains [yes, I’m talking about you, Northeast Corridor], with their jammed seating, lousy vending machine ‘food’ and decrepit facilities; The City of New Orleans rescues travel from the airlines’ nine circles of hell and returns it to something … dare I say … enjoyable.

Route of 'City of New Orleans' (Image courtesy Amtrak)

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