With just six nights in The City, our trip was not quite as long as I would have liked. There’s so much to do and see in New York, but things take time, especially during the holiday season. But Mrs. Islandmiler has never been to DC, I wanted take her to some of the Smithsonian Museums, and we have friends in the DC area, so we decided to take a day trip. And our mode of transportation for this jaunt to DC would be the Amtrak Northeast Regional.
I booked our tickets just days before as we headed out the door to the airport in Honolulu. Because of this last minute booking, I ended up paying $356, roundtrip for the two of us. This was still significantly less than a similar airline ticket would have cost and would still be faster than air travel, and 3.5 hours from city center to city center.
Why the Northeast Regional and not the Acela Express? Because the Acela Express is priced about $100 more per person, each way than the Northeast Regional. And if the timetable times are to be believed, the Acela Express gets you between New York and DC only 30 minutes faster. So even though saving time was a priority, it isn’t worth spending $400 extra to save a total of one hour.
Our train was scheduled for departure at around six in the morning from New York Penn Station. This unfortunate dump of a station was largely empty and sleeping when we arrived 45 minutes prior to departure. Amtrak does maintain a separate waiting area for ticketed passengers, though, with outlets, wifi, and schedule boards.
As departure time neared, we headed towards our platform and lined up. Even at this early hour, the line became pretty substantial. But, unlike air travel, the line moves fairly quickly and we were seated in no time.
I reserved us two seats in Coach for our 3.5 hour trip. The Amfleet railcars used on this route feature airline style seating, but with a much larger pitch. Wifi (slow as hell) is offered throughout, along with standard a/c power ports. The seating arrangement is 2+2 in coach, while business class gets you a larger pitch and 2+1 arrangement. A cafe car is available with small to-go items, nothing fancy.
Being that it was December and early in the morning meant that most of our journey occurred in the dark. We ended up sleeping most of the way, while I woke up probably about 45 minutes outside of DC. Surprisingly, we pulled into Washington Union Station slightly ahead of schedule, and we quickly exited out into the ornate terminal. Such a contrast to the dump that is Penn Station.
The station even had a number of holiday displays, including a magnificent Christmas Tree donated by the people of Norway.
After snapping a few, quick photos, we headed out of the terminal to hail an Uber.
From there, we headed off for some breakfast before beginning our adventures for the day.
A Big Apple Holiday Adventure
- Alaska Airlines HNL-SEA
- Alaska Air N Terminal Lounge + SEA-JFK
- Renaissance New York Midtown
- Getting Around in New York
- Restaurant Review: Noreetuh
- CityPass New York City
- Big Apple Day 2: Rockefeller, Central Park, Times Square
- Review: Michale White’s Marea
- Review: Sushi Nakazawa
- Review: Jane Restaurant
- Big Apple Day 3: Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge
- Shake Shack
- Review: Ivan Ramen New York
- Review: Amtrak Northeast Regional NYC-DC
How is this a review? No pics of the interior of the train, minimal content.
Island Miler says
Matthew, unfortunately it was a bit too dar onboard for me to take a worthwhile photo. Our car being fairly full didn’t help this much either. However, inside is very similar to airline seating, sans the overhead bins and a greater pitch. And if you’ve been on one Amtrak Metroliner car, you’ve seen um all.
I saved money and got a one bedroom (not roomette) plus an excellent steak dinner by going to Alexandria versus Union Station. Granted it was an afternoon departure. By getting a room I also got access to the Club. FYI, if you have United Club membership you also get access to the Acela Club.
Island Miler says
Thanks for the tip, Fester! I’m looking at traveling this route again soon with my grandparents, so this might be a better option. Will definitely look into it.
David Gunn says
FYI, Acela first class is 2+1 seating, but Northeast Regional business class is 2+2 (more room than coach, and free non-alcoholic drinks, too).
“This unfortunate dump of a station”
HAHAHA….the most accurate statement about Penn Station ever made. You are absolutely right, it is a dark, dirty, stinking, cesspool. I take NJ Transit to the city about 10 times a year and it stinks every time. Did you switch pockets and tuck your wallet into a front pocket like I always do right before I step off the train? You are right about the Acela as well. I haven’t traveled it but have looked into trips to Boston and D.C. many times and Acela literally saves a few minutes and Amtrak charges a premium for it. The one time my wife and I went to Boston we flew LGA-BOS as it was cheaper and faster than taking Amtrak.
Island Miler says
lol, thanks KS77. I would’ve loved to seen Penn Station in its original glory… I imagine it would have rivaled Grand Central, but oh well. The nearby Pennsylvania Hotel was an equally atrocious dump the time I had to stay there in 2001 :P Yeah, I really don’t understand Amtrak’s pricing. Who on earth would spend an extra $100 or two for a few minutes less travel time and more modern, slightly nicer interiors? No thanks. But I really do love the city center to city center convenience of rail travel. If only we could have a true high-speed infrastructure along the east and west coasts like in Europe! One can dream, right? haha
Yes, high speed rail would be amazing. There are short stretches in NJ where the trains go over 100MPH but that’s really it. There is a NJ Transit Northeast Corridor stop about two blocks from me and when you are waiting for your train Amtrak trains zip by regularly. They are going pretty fast too, but definitely not top speed. The topography and the old bridges along the route to Boston north of NYC prohibit it too. It could be great but there is no way it will ever happen. It is just far too expensive, and with the size of a country like the U.S. air travel will always be faster over long distances.
Island Miler says
You are correct, sir. This long talked about North East Corridor HSR line will never come to pass, I fear. Though Japan (I hear) has offered to finance 50% of the cost to develop a maglev line in that corridor. How amazing would that be? 300MPH rail travel from Boston to DC?!