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02 August 2008

So, like, it's been 10 years since I've ridden Amtrak, and...[More:]Has it changed all that much?

Last time I rode it to NYC from Boston, I had to sit on the floor in the middle of an aisle squished against some people!! Would SO prefer not to repeat this experience.

Am going to Washington D.C. (same route) on Thursday, Aug. 14, returning Monday, Aug. 18. Is there anything I need to do to avoid sitting in the aisle again? Make reservations? Arrive at the station at 6 a.m.? Any advice is welcome!

They also had pretty good Fenway Frank-type hot dogs at the snack bar, mmmmmm.
I believe they quit selling tickets when all the seats are spoken for, so you probably won't have to sit on the floor.
posted by box 02 August | 11:09
I believe they quit selling tickets when all the seats are spoken for, so you probably won't have to sit on the floor.

I wish that were true, but last time I rode Amtrak, it wasn't. I was willing to deal with it because I was travelling through BosWash at Thanksgiving, and that's just how it is...but my ticket cost the same as people with seats' did. I've also seen it like that a couple days before Christmas.

I don't know how to avoid this - reservations might help. Be on the platform early, stay in front, and take the first seat you see if it's crowded rather than "cruise" for a better seat.

Consider leaving from a station up the line from a major station. For instance, I never usally had a problem getting a seat from New London, CT, but by the time we stopped in New Haven, it was much harder because the train filled right up there.
posted by Miko 02 August | 11:52
I've been up and down the NE Corridor many many times during college (Boston to Newark and back). In my experience, it's Gods-fracking-awful at Thanksgiving and merely awful at Christmas (all the colleges have winter breaks that start at different times and so there's not the huge crush of people all trying to get someplace on the same day). It usually isn't too bad the rest of the time and I wouldn't anticipate any trouble at all during August (pre-school-starting, no major holidays).

Getting to the station early won't do you any favors; everyone just crowds onto the train when it gets there, no lining up. Miko's suggestion of leaving a station upstream from a major hub is a good one. Buying business class tickets will also guarantee you a seat, albeit a more expensive one. The business class cabins are pretty nice, though; more legroom and more seats with tables. Heading towards the very back or the very front of the train at the station is also a good idea (I *think* the back is preferable but I really can't say for sure), as is being pushy about being first through the doors. A good rule is that if you see a big flock of people at some place on the platform, avoid them. I think midday trains are also usually less crowded as well.

All that said, I wouldn't think twice about it in the middle of August.
posted by Fuzzbean 02 August | 12:17
Gee, I haven't ridden Amtrak in years, but I took a lovely trip from Detroit to Chicago once, on a double-decker train. Very clean, very comfortable, good snacks. I remember watching one heavy-set fella impressively make his way through two cans of Pringles (I'm not saying I couldn't do the same. He was a nice fellow.)

I think Amtrak works well on certain routes. From previous research, longer trips are very expensive and seem to require weird 3am departure/transfer times. Still, I love trains. Happy travels.
posted by Pips 02 August | 13:00
The Acela, which is faster but pricier, is - I think - all reserved seating. Also, from Wikipedia:

Beginning on July 9, 2007 Amtrak introduced two limited-stop trains. Train 2105 leaves New York Penn Station at 6:50 AM, makes only one stop in Philadelphia, and arrives in Washington at 9:25 AM.

You might also want to look into Megabus/Boltbus: slightly longer, but no risk of overbooking, and perhaps a lot cheaper.
posted by mdonley 02 August | 14:07
Last I rode, these people would accept reservations without a deposit, then close sales when the train was "full."

I was refused a seat on a half-empty train for this reason.

posted by StickyCarpet 02 August | 15:01
The Acela is downright luxurious. I've taken the Acela from NYC to DC a bunch of times now and it's waaaay better than a plane. It is kinda pricey though.
posted by mullacc 02 August | 17:01
I just did Boston to NYC twice, round trip last month, and it was an absolute dream compared to the bus. Plenty of room, an outlet for each person.
posted by Eideteker 02 August | 20:54
Oh, and: Buy tickets online, dip your credit card at South Station and your tickets print like magic!
posted by Eideteker 02 August | 20:55
Seconding Megabus if it's an option. Clean, comfy, cheap and free in-bus wifi. And on both busses I rode, I had a whole row to myself. Just be sure to print out the map to the bus stop when you buy your ticket online. The website was down later and I couldn't print the map and I almost got lost.
posted by Skwirl 02 August | 23:18
I don't mind the train. But the West Coast run, the Coast Starlight, is rightly known as the Coast Starlate now. It's always several hours late. They blame it on Union Pacific not giving the right of way, which may well be true, given UP's corporate culture, but still, it's rare that one can plan travel and not have extreme delays be an issue.

The bar car makes a mean Bloody Mary, from scratch, though.
posted by danf 04 August | 13:59
You leaving outta Penn Station? Buy yer tix online and pickem up at the station. Get to the waiting area 20 min early. Watch the departure board for your train.

Be mobile. Hang around the middle. Listen to the redcaps, sometimes you can pick up hints as to which track is yours. Watch the board -- it will usually flip about twenty seconds before the announcement is made.

Run for the front of the "line". If you play the "Well, I was in line, all these rude people are just wedging their way in" game, you will lose, and you might lose your seat. Fill in empty spaces to engineer your way to the front of the line. If anyone says anything to you, look at them like they just said it in some foreign language you don't know.

Once you're on the platform, get into the train immediately (some people walk outside the train all the way to the end, then walk back inside looking for seats. If you walk inside the train, you'll go slower, but you'll reach the empty seats before they do). I usually go to the last car on the train because they often designate this the "Quiet Car," where cell phones and noisy kids are verboten.

It's not bad if you're on time and you pay close attention and get to the front of the line. If you're polite, or you dawdle, you're sunk.

And yeah, the train ride can be pretty and pleasant. Snack bar sucks, though; don't even bother walking the length of the train to get there.
posted by Hugh Janus 04 August | 14:39
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