Acela Express: Wikis

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Acela logo.png
Acela Express
AmtrakAcela2035atNewHavenUnion.jpg
Amtrak Acela Express train, led by power car #2035, at New Haven Union Station in New Haven, CT.
Overview
Service type Inter-city tilting train
Status Operating
Locale Northeastern United States
First service December 11, 2000
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Average ridership 8,272 (2009 per day)
3,019,627 (2009 total)[1]
Route
Start Boston, MA
No. of intermediate stops 14
End Washington, DC
Distance travelled 456 mi (734 km)
Average journey time 7 hours
Service frequency Daily
Train number(s) 2100 - 2290
On-board services
Class(es) Business and first class
Disabled access Fully accessible
Seating arrangements Airline-style coach seating
Catering facilities On-board café, and at-seat meals in first class
Baggage facilities Checked baggage available at selected stations
Technical
Gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) Standard gauge
Operating speed 150 mph (240 km/h) maximum
70 mph (110 km/h) average
Route map

Amtrak Northeast Corridor.svg

Acela Express (often simply Acela) is Amtrak's high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the Northeast United States between Washington, D.C., and Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. It uses tilting technology which allows the train to travel at higher speeds on the sharply curved NEC without disturbing passengers, by lowering lateral centrifugal forces,[2] based on the concept of banked turns.

Acela Express trains are the only true high-speed trainsets in the United States; the highest speed they attain is 150 mph (240 km/h), though they average less than half of that. Acela has become fairly popular with business travelers and by some reckoning has captured over half of the market share of air or train travelers between Washington and New York.[3] Between New York and Boston the Acela Express has up to a 37% share of the train and air market.[4][5]

The Acela gets top billing as Amtrak's premier route, and carries over 3 million passengers annually. However, the busiest Amtrak route is the somewhat slower Northeast Regional, which had 6.9 million riders in 2009 due to its lower fares and greater number of stops than the Acela. The Acela Express is one of the few Amtrak lines to operate at a profit; the two train lines generate more than half of Amtrak's total revenue.[1]

Contents

Origins and history

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Development

On March 9, 1999, Amtrak unveiled its plan for a true high-speed rail service, the Acela Express.[6] Twenty new trains were to be purchased and operated on the busy Northeast Corridor.[7] Several engineering changes were made to the corridor to make it suitable for the trains' operation. Besides straightening curves, it was necessary to infill electrification along the entire 470-mile-long route as the Acela is an entirely electric train.[7] Several grade crossings were also upgraded or removed in the interest of public safety.[8]

Preparation for the train itself had begun in earnest in October 1994;[9] at which point Amtrak had requested bids from train manufacturers to design a trainset that could negotiate the crowded Northeastern Corridor at up to 150 miles per hour (240 km/h). A joint project set up by Bombardier (75%) and GEC Alsthom (now Alstom) (25%) was selected for the project in March 1996.[9] There was a disagreement between Amtrak and the manufacturing consortium over cost overruns and maintenance bills; this issue was not settled for several years, until March 2004.[10][11] However the development of the project was not interrupted, and an inaugural VIP run of the Acela came on November 17, 2000[12] followed by the first revenue run on December 11, although these were a few months past an earlier intended date.[13]

The Acela service can be largely considered a success; by 2005 Amtrak's share of the transport market between New York and Boston had reached 40% from 18% pre-Acela.[14] With the increasing popularity of the faster and more modern Acela Express, the Metroliner service was phased out;[15] the last operated on October 27, 2006.[16] While the average speed of the Acela in operation falls far short of common definitions of high-speed rail,[17] spending much of its time on the route at less than 100 mph (161 km/h), this has not prevented it from having a large impact on the routes that it serves. Due to the level of popularity experienced, more Acela Express services were added in September 2005,[18] and additional trains may be purchased in order to run further simultaneous services.[19] By August 2008 crowding had become noticeable onboard.[20]

Branding

The Acela name (pronounced "ah-sell-la" [ə'sɛlə]) was announced on March 9, 1999 as a part of the original announcement of the service itself.[21] This was originally intended as a rebranding of most of Amtrak's Northeast services,[22] forming three levels: Acela Express, Acela Regional, and Acela Commuter.[23] The name "Acela" is meant to be evocative of acceleration and excellence.[24][25]

At that time, there were three classes of trains on the Northeast Corridor (and its extension south to Newport News, Virginia)—the hourly Philadelphia-New York Clockers, the express Metroliners, and the umbrella term NortheastDirect, applied to all other local trains on the corridor (in addition to unique names assigned to each departure). Empire Service trains used the Empire Corridor from New York City to Niagara Falls, and Keystone Service ran along the Keystone Corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. Other named trains also used the corridors, branching off or continuing beyond their stations.

The original plan included renaming the Empire, Keystone, and NortheastDirect services to Acela Regional, while the Metroliners would be replaced with the new Acela Express service. However, the Empire and Keystone services retained their original names.

The Acela Regional name was first applied to NortheastDirect trains 130–133 on January 31, 2000.[26] Those trains, 130 and 131 running weekdays only and 132 and 133 running every day, were the first electrified trains to run on the full Northeast Corridor.[27][28] As more trains were electrified, they too were rebranded. In 2003, due to confusion between the lower-speed Acela Regional trains and the Acela Express, the Acela branding was removed from the NortheastDirect service (now the Northeast Regional) and the Acela Commuter had its name changed back to the Clocker for a similar reason and ultimately discontinued on October 28, 2005.[29]

Engineering

Train design

Overhead view of the power car; an MBTA Orange Line train is also visible

The Acela trainset is a unique train designed specifically to satisfy very specific U.S. governmental rolling stock requirements. These requirements are significantly different from anywhere else in the world, including countries that have a highly functional high speed rail network. Most manufacturers who bid on the Acela were unable to meet these requirements, bringing up cost and complication for the manufacture of the trains, leaving only one manufacturer, and requiring that manufacturer to make significant engineering changes to their standard designs. These specifications are not a result of specific Northeast Corridor track conditions. Although the design of the trains, with identical 6,000 horsepower (4,470 kW) power cars at each end which operate on a voltage of 11,000 volts AC, and either 25 or 60 hertz (cycles per second) frequency, resemble France's TGV, the only components directly derived from the TGV are the 4 asynchronous AC traction electric motors (per power car).

The tilting carriages are based upon Bombardier's earlier LRC trains used on VIA Rail rather than the TGV's articulated trailers, and the locomotives and passenger cars are much heavier than those of the TGV in order to meet the United States Federal Railroad Administration's different approach to rail crash standards.[30] The Tier II crash standards, adopted in 1999, have also resulted in the passenger cars being designed without steps and trapdoors, which means that the trainsets can only serve stations with high-level platforms—this currently restricts them to lines with high-level platforms such as the Northeast Corridor. Acela trains are semi-permanently coupled and are referred to as trainsets. Bombardier later used the Acela Express's carriage design and a diesel/gas turbine variant of the power car for their experimental JetTrain.[31]

Operating speeds and limitations

Warning sign at Kingston Station in Rhode Island, a two-track station in the middle of one of the Acela's 150 mph (241 km/h) zones

With a top speed of 150 mph (241 km/h) the Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation's 125 mph (201 km/h) definition of high speed rail.[citation needed] The Acela achieves an average speed of 80 mph (129 km/h) between Washington and New York, which is comparable to the Denver Zephyr service that ran at an average speed of 77 mph (124 km/h) between Chicago and Denver in the early 1960s.[citation needed] The highest speed attained by Acela Express is 150 mph (241 km/h) on two sections of track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. There are also many miles of track, especially east of New Haven, that have been upgraded to allow maximum speeds in excess of 110 mph (177 km/h). South of New York, Acela Express is limited to 135 mph (217 km/h), even though several stretches of track there are straight enough to allow 150 mph (241 km/h) speeds. The limiting factor is stated to be the overhead catenary support system which was constructed prior to 1935 and lacks the constant-tension features of the new catenary east of New Haven, although in the late 1960s the Pennsylvania Railroad did run Metroliner test trains as fast as 164 mph (264 km/h) and briefly intended to run the Metroliner service at speeds reaching 150 mph (241 km/h). Although the Acela Express trainsets are capable of 165 mph (266 km/h) operation, FRA regulations do not permit any speeds above 150 mph (241 km/h) on tracks that are shared with freight and slower passenger trains regardless of circumstances, and for Acela Express trains to run above 150 mph (241 km/h) it would require purpose-built dedicated track in a separate right of way.

The slowest section of the electrified NEC is the portion owned by Metro-North Railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation between New Haven, CT and New Rochelle, NY. Trains here are limited to only 90 mph (145 km/h) on a 4 miles (6.4 km) stretch in New York State, and to 75 mph (121 km/h) between the New York state line and New Haven. Additionally, tilting is not allowed anywhere on Metro-North or ConnDOT (Connecticut Dept. of Transportation) property. At a maximum 4.2° tilt,[2] the Acela Express trainset would pass other trains on parallel tracks only 10 inches (25 cm) away, which is too close for FRA-mandated clearances. ConnDOT has a number of projects either planned or underway that will upgrade the catenary system,[32] replace outdated bridges, and straighten certain sections of the New Haven Line to eventually enable the Acela trains to run at their 150 mph (241 km/h) top speed.

The scheduled transit time for the 5:00 a.m. departure from Washington, D.C., (the quickest stopping pattern) to Boston's South Station on Acela Express service is roughly 6 hours 36 minutes. Allowing for the fifteen-minute scheduled layover in New York City, the average speed is 72 mph (116 km/h) for the 456 miles (734 km) trip. For the 225 miles (362 km) journey between Washington, D.C., and New York's Penn Station, the transit time is 2 hours 48 minutes, an average speed of 80 mph (129 km/h). If the infrastructure supporting the Acela were upgraded to allow for an average speed of 125 mph (201 km/h), the current 6.5 hour journey between Boston and Washington would be just under four hours and 45 minutes.

On July 9, 2007, Amtrak introduced two limited-stop trains. Train 2105 left New York Penn Station at 6:50 a.m, made only one stop, in Philadelphia, and arrived in Washington at 9:25 a.m. Northbound, train 2120 departed Washington at 3:55 p.m., stopped in Philadelphia, and arrived in New York at 6:30 p.m. This shortened the trip between the two cities to just 2 hours 35 minutes, making the trip roughly an hour faster than some of the Northeast Regional train services. These trains were an experiment on Amtrak's part to find ways to expedite travel time on the Acela despite the speed restrictions on certain parts of the line. Amtrak has since dropped these two limited-stop trains. In the Amtrak Northeast Corridor 1 train schedule effective August 4, 2008, trains 2105 and 2120 are not listed.[33]

High speed issues

Running though BWI Amtrak Station in Maryland

The dense population of the northeastern United States makes the Northeast Corridor the most heavily-traveled portion of the American passenger rail system. Two-thirds of rail passengers in the United States live in New York City, also home to the nation's busiest rail passenger station, Penn Station.[34]

In order to compete with airliners, Amtrak needed to increase the speed of trains in the region. However, the former Shore Line, from New Haven to Boston, is burdened by sharp turns and grade crossings, the crossings being especially of concern in regard to High-speed rail.[35][36] There was little support for building an entirely new railway as had been done for Japan's Shinkansen ("Bullet Train"), Spain's AVE, France's TGV and Germany's Intercity-Express.[citation needed] A former "high speed rail" alignment from New Haven to Boston was built in the 1880s, but was gradually abandoned in sections ending in 1955, eventually becoming Airline State Park.[citation needed]

Tilting enables passengers to ride more comfortably on curved sections of track faster than would otherwise be possible, by leaning into the bend. The technology has been implemented on other service lines such the British Rail Class 390 trains which run at a speed of 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) on Britain's Victorian era rail lines.[37] Acela trainsets tilt above 60 mph on most of the system, but some segments of track in the Northeast Corridor are too close together for the carriages to safely tilt while maintaining FRA minimum space between trains on parallel tracks. Furthermore, Metro-North Railroad restricts tilting on the segment of track north of New York owned by them. While the system was originally designed for a 6.8° tilt, the cars were redesigned 4 inches wider to accommodate wider seats and aisles that reduced allowable tilt to a more modest 4.2° to fit within the clearance constraints of the existing tracks.[38][39] Traveling at higher than 135 mph also requires constant-tension catenary, which is only implemented on the more modern catenary system north of New York. South of New York the trains are restricted to 135 mph. By comparison, Northeast Regional and the defunct Metroliner service reach 124 mph (after Amtrak took over from Penn Central and slowed down the service). Acela trainsets can achieve 165 mph[40] but are restricted to 150 mph due to track conditions, other traffic, FRA regulations, and other factors.

Southbound Acela Express crossing the Susquehanna River Bridge, Havre de Grace, Md.
  Acela Express
Legend
Interchange head
Boston South Station Handicapped/disabled access
Unknown route-map component "INTACC"
Back Bay
Unknown route-map component "HSTACC"
Route 128
Unrestricted border on track
MA/RI border
Unknown route-map component "ACC"
Providence
Unrestricted border on track
RI/CT border
Unknown route-map component "HSTACC"
New London
Unknown route-map component "ACC"
New Haven
Unknown route-map component "ACC"
Stamford
Unrestricted border on track
CT/NY border
Unknown route-map component "INTACC"
New York City
Unrestricted border on track
NY/NJ border
Urban railway Unknown route-map component "INTACC"
Newark
Unknown route-map component "HSTACC"
Metropark
Urban railway Unknown route-map component "ACC"
Trenton
Unrestricted border on track
NJ/PA border
Unknown route-map component "INTACC"
PhiladelphiaHandicapped/disabled access
Unrestricted border on track
PA/DE border
Unknown route-map component "ACC"
Wilmington
Unrestricted border on track
DE/MD border
Urban railway Unknown route-map component "ACC"
Baltimore
Unknown route-map component "HSTACC" Airport
BWI Airport
Unrestricted border on track
MD/DC border
Interchange end
Washington, D.C.Handicapped/disabled access

Acela service was originally expected in late 1999, but various problems appeared. The catenary system was not able to support the speeds originally intended between Washington and New York, but the more modern system between New York and Boston allows the higher speeds. A brief political controversy drew attention to the decreased 4.2° tilt, but this was not to be the root of the speed problem, as the tracks from New York to Boston are similar to those between New York and Washington, and the tilt mechanism is not the factor that allows the high speeds.[38][39][41] After a series of delays, the first Acela Express service began on December 11, 2000, a year behind schedule.[42]

With the completion of electrification between New Haven and Boston, all trains on the line have become faster. Acela travels between Boston and New York in about three and a half hours (an improvement of half an hour). New York to Washington runs take two hours and forty-five minutes (still slightly longer than Penn Central's Metroliner trains ran in the late 1960s before Amtrak took over). These schedules, as well as the relative convenience of rail as opposed to air travel especially after September 11, 2001, and direct downtown-to-downtown service have made the Acela Express more competitive with the Northeast air shuttles.

Service

Composition

The Acela Express trainset consists of two power cars, a cafe car, a first class car, and four business class cars, semi-permanently coupled together. The train has newer seats than regional service counterparts. The first class car has 43 seats and there are 260 business class seats on each trainset. Business class cars have 4 seats across (2 seats across on each side) and four-seat tables. First class has 3 seats across (1 on one side, 2 on the other side) and four seat tables. The business class car that is next to the first class is designated as a quiet car, where mobile phone conversations and loud talking are not allowed.

Automatic sliding doors provide access between cars throughout the length of the train and reduce noise. Baggage may be stowed in overhead compartments that resemble those in airliners, as well as underneath the rider's seat. Reservations guarantee seating but seats are not assigned and are first-come, first-served. Acela trains are also accessible to people who require mechanical assistance to maintain personal mobility.

First class cars feature meals served to passengers at their seats. Some trains have cart service selling beverages and snacks to business class passengers at their seats. Trainsets are also serviced by onboard cleaners on some segments.

Staffing and operation

Generally Amtrak train crews consist of an Engineer, a Conductor, and at least one Assistant Conductor. Acela trains also have an on-board service crew consisting of two First Class Attendants and a Cafe Car Attendant. On select Acela Express trains, Amtrak additionally employs a cart attendant who travels through the cars as a roving Cafe Car, serving light snacks and beverages. At Amtrak, the On Board Service is considered separate and subordinate to the Train and Engine crews. Acela maintenance is generally taken care of at the Ivy City facility in Washington, DC, Sunnyside Yard in Queens, NY or Southampton St. Yard in Boston, MA. Also Amtrak is currently using the Penn Coach Yard next to 30th Station in Philadelphia, PA to refurbish the Acela trainsets. These refurbishments include new blue leather seats throughout the trainset and eventually totally remodeled cafe cars with even more seating than the current configuration allows.[citation needed]

Wireless internet access

Amtrak currently offers wireless internet access only via T-Mobile "hotspots" at five stations in the Northeast Corridor; these are accessible (for a fee) only while in the station.[43] Wireless internet station service began in 2004, originally through AT&T Wireless.[44] In March 2007, Amtrak's vice president for marketing and product management said that the Northeast Corridor would soon get wireless Internet service.[45]

Amtrak has a variety of experience with providing internet access on its trains. In early 2002, Amtrak offered free internet access on the Acela Regional and two other lines via Compaq Pocket PCs in train cars.[46] In late 2002, Amtrak began a year-long test of wireless internet access on another route, in Pennsylvania; that was to test providing access directly to riders' notebook computers.[47] In mid-2006, it began a test with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system that involved Amtrak's Capitol Corridor trains.[48] In January 2009, Amtrak provided wireless Internet service to the Presidential inaugural train.[49]

The Downeaster currently offers free wireless internet to all its passengers on all its trains, from Portland to Boston.[50]

On October 29, 2009, Amtrak announced that it would begin deploying Wi-Fi on the Acela line (free—at least initially) and then possibly roll Wi-Fi out to other Amtrak trains in its five-year plan. Wi-Fi should be deployed by the first quarter of 2010.[51] As of March 4, 2010, Amtrak has fitted all of its Acela trains with wireless internet available for all customers.[citation needed]

Outages

In snow at Ruggles Station in Boston

2002

In August 2002, shortly after their introduction, Acela Express trainsets were briefly removed from service when the brackets that connected truck (bogie) dampers (shocks) to the powerunit carbodies ("yaw dampers") were found to be cracking.[52][53] The trains were returned to service when a program of frequent inspections was instituted. The damper brackets have since been redesigned and the old brackets replaced with the newer design.

2005

On April 15, 2005, Acela Express trains were again removed from service when cracks were found in the disc brakes of most of the passenger coaches.[54][55] The Bombardier-Alstom consortium replaced the discs under warranty. Limited service resumed in July 2005, as a portion of the fleet operated with new brake discs.[56] Metroliner trains, which the Acela Express was intended to replace, filled in during the outage. Amtrak announced on September 21, 2005 that all 20 trainsets had been returned to full operation.

Incidents

2005

On September 28, 2005, a southbound train became the first Acela involved in a collision at a grade crossing when it struck a car at Miner Lane in Waterford, Connecticut,[57] one of the few remaining grade crossings on the Northeast Corridor (and one of the few on high-speed rail systems anywhere in the world). The train was approaching the crossing at approximately 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) when the car reportedly drifted under the crossing gate arms at a low speed and was struck by the train and dragged 1,000 feet (300 m). The driver, a 62-year-old woman, and her 8-year-old grandson, were killed instantly; a 4-year-old girl survived and was airlifted to a hospital where she died nine days later. The incident drew much criticism from the public about the 11 remaining grade crossings along Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor, despite the fact the gates were later inspected and declared to have been functioning properly at the time of the incident.[58][59][60]

2008

The Acela Express between New York and Boston was taken offline June 16–19, 2008 when Amtrak replaced the drawbridge span of the 90-year-old Thames River Bridge with a new vertical lift span to improve the reliability of the bridge, reduce the chance of operational failures, and minimize train delays.[61] The outage was extended by two days due to complications with the removal of the bridge's counterweight.[62]

On August 20, 2008, an Acela Express northbound train struck and fatally injured an Amtrak employee between the New Carrollton and Seabrook, Maryland, MARC Penn Line stops in suburban Washington.[63] The employee was airlifted to an area hospital before being pronounced dead; service on all trains was suspended for several hours.[64]

2010

According to news reports, at about 10:30 AM on Thursday, February 25, 2010, two teenage girls from Interboro Senior High School, Norwood, Pennsylvania (16-year-old Gina Gentile and 15-year-old Vanessa Dorwart) committed suicide when they were struck by an Acela Express train traveling from Boston to Washington, D.C. Norwood's police chief said a search of the girls' e-mail and text messages revealed they had desired, for as-yet unknown motives, to end their lives. Their family members and classmates said that they had been upset over the death of Gentile's boyfriend last month when he was struck by a car while bicycling. Norwood is near Philadelphia.[65]

Station stops

State Town/City Station Connections
Massachusetts Boston South Station Amtrak: Lake Shore Limited, Northeast Regional
MBTA Commuter Rail: Fairmount Line, Framingham/Worcester Line, Franklin Line, Needham Line, Old Colony Lines, Providence/Stoughton Line
MBTA Bus Lines: 4, 6, 7, 11, 448, 449, 459
MBTA Subway Lines: Red Line, Silver Line (Waterfront)
Intercity Buses: Greyhound Bus Lines, Peter Pan Bus Lines
Back Bay Amtrak: Lake Shore Limited, Northeast Regional
MBTA Commuter Rail: Framingham/Worcester Line, Franklin Line, Needham Line, Providence/Stoughton Line
MBTA Bus Lines: 10, 39, 170
MBTA Subway Lines: Orange Line
Westwood Route 128 Amtrak: Northeast Regional
MBTA Commuter Rail: Providence/Stoughton Line
Rhode Island Providence Providence Amtrak: Northeast Regional
MBTA Commuter Rail: Providence/Stoughton Line
Connecticut New London (limited service) New London Amtrak: Northeast Regional
ConnDOT: Shore Line East
New Haven New Haven-Union Station Amtrak: Shuttle, Vermonter
Metro-North Railroad: New Haven Line
ConnDOT: Shore Line East
CT Transit New Haven: J, Commuter Connection Downtown and Sargent Drive, Temple Street Garage Shuttle
Intercity Buses: Greyhound Bus Lines, Peter Pan Bus Lines
Stamford Stamford Amtrak: Northeast Regional, Vermonter
Metro-North Railroad: New Haven Line
ConnDOT: Shore Line East
CT Transit Stamford: 11, 13, 14, 21, 22, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 41, 42, 43, 44, Commuter Connection Central, Commuter Connection-North, Commuter Connection Route 1 - East, Commuter Connection Bulls Head, I-Bus
New York New York City Penn Station Amtrak: Adirondack, Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone Service, Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
LIRR: Main Line, Port Washington Branch, Atlantic Branch, Montauk Branch
NJ Transit: North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Gladstone Branch, Montclair-Boonton Line, Morristown Line
NYC Subway: 1, 2, 3, A, C, E
NYC Transit buses: M10, M16, M20, M34, Q32
New Jersey Newark Newark Penn Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crsecent, Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Newark City Subway, Newark Light Rail, North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Raritan Valley Line, 5, 21, 62, 67, 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76, 78, 79, 308, 978
PATH: NWK-WTC
Iselin Metropark Amtrak: Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor LineM 801, 802, 803, 804, 805
Trenton Trenton Rail Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Northeast Regional, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor Line, River Line, 409, 600, 604
SEPTA Regional Rail: R7
Pennsylvania Philadelphia 30th Street Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Atlantic City Line
SEPTA City Transit Division: Market-Frankford Line, Route 10, Route 11, Route 13, Route 34, Route 36, 9, 30, 31, 44, 62, 121, 124, 125, 316
SEPTA Regional Rail: R1, R2, R3, R5, R6, R7, R8
Delaware Wilmington Wilmington Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
DART First State: 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 28, 32, 301
SEPTA Regional Rail: R2
Maryland Baltimore Baltimore Penn Station Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
MARC Train: Penn Line
MTA Maryland: Light Rail, 3, 11, 61, 64
BWI Rail Station Amtrak: Northeast Regional, Vermonter
MARC Train: Penn Line
MTA Maryland: 17
District of Columbia Washington Washington Union Station Amtrak: Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter, Thruway Motorcoach to Charlottesville, Virginia
MARC Train: Brunswick Line, Camden Line, Penn Line
Metro: Red Line
Metrobus: Loudoun, OmniRid
VRE: Manassas Line, Fredericksburg Line

Gallery

References

  1. ^ a b "Amtrak posts second-best ridership in history". Amtrak. October 12, 2009. http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/BlobServer?blobcol=urldata&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobkey=id&blobwhere=1249200496643&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobheadername1=Content-disposition&blobheadervalue1=attachment;filename=Amtrak_ATK-09-074_FY09_Riders. Retrieved 2010-02-03. 
  2. ^ a b "All Aboard Amtrak's Acela". Washington Post (2000). Click on "Continue", then on "Staying Steady". http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/travel/features/acelaflash.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  3. ^ Goldberg, Bruce. "Metroliner's Amazing Rave." Trains June 2006 (53)
  4. ^ "On One Key Route, Amtrak is Up, Airlines Down". Wired. Conde Nast Publications. March 21, 2008. http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/03/would-people-av/. Retrieved February 2, 2010.  for Acela express passenger numbers only
  5. ^ "The Information: Most popular airline routes". Financial Times. January 17, 2009. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/ea790b66-e29a-11dd-b1dd-0000779fd2ac.html. Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Amtrak unveils high-speed shuttle trains for busy travelers - Service between Boston, Washington is designed to compete with airlines". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. March 10, 1999. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-6680582.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  7. ^ a b "Amtrak To Unveil High-Speed Service". Associated Press. March 9, 1999. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-23407520.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  8. ^ "At-grade crossings: Innovation, safety, sophisticated new technology". Railway Track and Structures. June 01, 1999. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-31928865_ITM. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  9. ^ a b "Acela, Built to Be Rail's Savior, Bedevils Amtrak at Every Turn". New York Times. April 24, 2005. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDB1531F937A15757C0A9639C8B63. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  10. ^ "Amtrak Reaches Settlement with Manufacturers of Acela Express". Washington Times. March 19, 2004. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-118690539/amtrak-reaches-settlement-manufacturers.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  11. ^ "Amtrak and Bombardier/Alstom Consortium Announce Resolution of Legal Claims". euronext.com. March 17, 2004. http://www.euronext.com/fic/000/003/111/31116.pdf. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  12. ^ "U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater celebrates inaugural run of Acela Express high-speed rail service". M2 Presswire. November 17, 2000. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-67162158.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
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  19. ^ "Acela Trains may expand to meet demand". Boston Globe/Bloomberg News. August 27, 2008. http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2008/08/27/acela_trains_may_expand_to_meet_demand/. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  20. ^ "All Aboard: Too many for Amtrak - Surge in ridership leads to crowding on Intercity trains". Wall Street Journal. August 27, 2008. http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB121815170729322339.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  21. ^ "New trains, new name for Northeast Corridor: Amtrak's High-speed Acela service is due later this year". Philadelphia Inquirer. March 10, 1999. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=PI&s_site=philly&p_multi=PI&p_theme=realcities&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EB5CDDDC734C540&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  22. ^ Garland, Russell (March 12, 1999). "Amtrak switch: Is it on the right track? Advertising people say the new Acela name gives a mixed message". Providence Journal. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/projo/access/44920648.html?dids=44920648:44920648&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Mar+12%2C+1999&author=Garland%2C+Russell&pub=The+Providence+Journal&desc=Amtrak+switch%3A+Is+it+on+the+right+track%3F+Advertising+people+say+the+new+Acela+name+gives+a+mixed+message&pqatl=google. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  23. ^ Jay Jochnowitz (1999-03-10). "New Amtrak trains on fast track". Times Union: p. A1. 
  24. ^ "Acela". Corporate Design Foundation. http://www.cdf.org/issue_journal/acela.html. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  25. ^ Vantuono, William (April 01, 1999). "Amtrak's vision: Today, the Northeast. Tomorrow America". Railway Age. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-31922649_ITM. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  26. ^ "Amtrak begins Phila-Boston service that's 45 minutes faster "Acela Regionals" go into service as the first step in improvements on the Northeast Corridor line". Philadelphia Inquirer. February 1, 2000. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=PI&s_site=philly&p_multi=PI&p_theme=realcities&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EB735098C4CB57B&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  27. ^ Bob Johnston, Amtrak opens Boston electrification, Trains April 2000
  28. ^ Ron Newman, Acela Regional starts January 31, 2000, misc.transport.rail.americas January 27, 2000
  29. ^ Laurence Arnold (2003-03-05). "Amtrak will use name 'Acela' to describe high-speed trains only". Associated Press. 
  30. ^ McCaughrin, Eric (March 5, 2007). ""How the FRA is Regulating Passenger Rail Out of Existence"". East Bay Bicycle Coalition. http://www.ebbc.org/rail/fra.html. 
  31. ^ ""Bombardier unveils new JetTrain locomotive"". International Railway Journal. November 2002. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQQ/is_11_42/ai_99569317/. 
  32. ^ "High wire to efficiency". Railway Age. March 01, 1992. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-31942034_ITM. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  33. ^ "Northeast Corridor timetable" (PDF). Amtrak. 2008-08-04. http://www.amtrak.com/timetable/aug08/W02.pdf. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  34. ^ "Moynihan Station". empire.state.ny.us. http://www.empire.state.ny.us/moynihanstation/default.asp. Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  35. ^ Jane Dee (March 29, 1999). "Rail crossings safety concern for Amtrak". Hartford Courant. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/courant/access/40117741.html?dids=40117741:40117741&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Mar+29%2C+1999&author=JANE+E.+DEE%3B+Courant+Staff+Writer&pub=Hartford+Courant&desc=RAIL+CROSSINGS+SAFETY+ISSUE+FOR+AMTRAK&pqatl=google. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  36. ^ "U.S. DOT: America's first "smart" highway-rail crossing is dedicated in Groton, Connecticut". M2 Presswire. August 27, 1998. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-53008353.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  37. ^ "Virgin train breaks speed record". BBC News. 2006-09-22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/5369808.stm. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  38. ^ a b "Inside the Acela". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/travel/features/acelaflash.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  39. ^ a b "Acela Article". railfaneurope.net. http://www.railfaneurope.net/tgv/acela.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  40. ^ "TGV Pages - Acela". Trainweb.org. http://www.trainweb.org/tgvpages/acela.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  41. ^ Dao, James (2005-04-24). "Acela, Built to Be Rail's Savior, Bedevils Amtrak at Every Turn". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/national/24acela.html&OQ=_rQ3D1&OP=dcc795Q2FzmQ5DQ23zVcQ7BTjccQ22DzDBBQ60zBHzDHzxQ7DQ22Q3CcxQ7D.zDHQ7DQ7BQ5D.Q7DiQ5BQ22Q20.. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  42. ^ Laurence Arnold (2001-12-11). "Fast train begins service with Washington-Boston roundtrip". Associated Press. 
  43. ^ "Stay Connected With Convenient Wi-Fi Service.". Amtrak. http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?cid=1080080554411&pagename=Amtrak%2Fam2Copy%2FTitle_Image_Copy_Page&c=am2Copy. Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  44. ^ Glenn Fleishman (July 8, 2004). "Behind the Curve; Access on Metro-North or Amtrak Cars? Not So Fast". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B00E0DC153BF93BA35754C0A9629C8B63. 
  45. ^ Eric Anderson (March 11, 2007). "Amtrak expects to boost services: Wireless Internet, new leather seats among possible perks". Times Union (Albany, NY). http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-29935313_ITM. 
  46. ^ Roy Mark (January 23, 2002). "Amtrak Debuts Wireless Internet Service; Cars equipped with Compaq Pocket PCs and Yahoo! connections begin rolling on railroad's three most popular lines". Internetnews.com. http://www.internetnews.com/xSP/article.php/959851. 
  47. ^ Linda Rosencrance (September 13, 2002). "Amtrak to Offer On-Board Internet; Train passengers will be able to check and send e-mail, shop, and watch videos via NRoute's satellite service". Computerworld. http://www.pcworld.com/article/104918/amtrak_to_offer_onboard_internet.html. 
  48. ^ "BART, Amtrak Begin Testing Wireless Net". San Jose Mercury News. June 28, 2006. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=SJ&s_site=mercurynews&p_multi=SJ&p_theme=realcities&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=1128E4D71F2BE778&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM. 
  49. ^ "WAAV Router Wi-Fis Presidential Inagural Train". Wireless and Mobile News. January 18, 2009. http://www.wirelessandmobilenews.com/2009/01/waav_said_amtrak_selected_the.html. 
  50. ^ "Welcome to Amtrak Downeaster". amtrakdowneaster.com. http://www.amtrakdowneaster.com/onboard. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  51. ^ "Amtrak plans Wi-Fi, more security". washington.bizjournals.com. http://washington.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2009/10/26/daily96.html. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  52. ^ "Discovery of hairline cracks causes more problems for Amtrak's Acela Express". USA Today. August 20, 2002. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2002/2002-08-20-acela-woes.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  53. ^ "Flaws Shut Down Amtrak's Acela Express Line". Boston Globe. August 14, 2002. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-8810199_ITM. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  54. ^ "Service Alert: Acela Express - Amtrak Cancels All Friday and Saturday Acela Express Service Due to Brake Problem". Amtrak. http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Amtrak/am2Copy/Simple_Copy_Page&cid=1093553993887. Retrieved April 15, 2005,. 
  55. ^ Hauser, Kristine. "Amtrak Suspends Acela Trains After Finding Brake Problems". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/15/national/15cnd-amtr.html?ex=1125720000. Retrieved April 15, 2005. 
  56. ^ Reed, Keith (June 10, 2005). "Acela's return expected in July". Boston Globe. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-133125089/acela-return-expected-july.html. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  57. ^ McGeehan, Patrick, and Wald, Matthew L. (2005-09-30). "High-Tech Gates Fail to Avert Car-Train Crash". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/30/nyregion/30acela.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  58. ^ Associated Press (2006-12-27). "Family sues over fatal car crash on railroad tracks". Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/news/local/connecticut/articles/2006/12/27/family_sues_over_fatal_car_crash_on_railroad_tracks/. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  59. ^ "Amtrak train, car collide, killing two". WTNH. 2005-09-28. http://www.wtnh.com/global/story.asp?s=3908855&ClientType=Printable. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  60. ^ "Investigators Seek Answers In Fatal Crash That Killed Two; Cause of Waterford car-train accident may never be known". The New London Day. 2005-09-30. http://www.axthetax.org/commuter-rail/_12.html. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  61. ^ Amtrak (2008-05-28). "Thames River Bridge to be Closed to Rail Traffic June 14–17 for Replacement of 90-Year-Old Vertical Lift Span". Press release. http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Amtrak/am2Copy/News_Release_Page&c=am2Copy&cid=1178294166689. Retrieved 2008-09-03. 
  62. ^ "Archived Newstory on Thames River Bridge replacement". theday.com. http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=e68454c8-7184-4e05-9d45-8b9828a3f4b5. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  63. ^ "Amtrak worker dies after being struck by Acela train". Baltimore Sun. 2008-08-20. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/traffic/bal-marc0820,0,5946386.story. Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  64. ^ "Rail traffic on Washington-Baltimore line halted this morning after person struck by train". Herald-Mail. 2008-08-20. http://www.herald-mail.com/?cmd=displaystory&story_id=201496&format=html. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  65. ^ "Officials: Pa. train deaths a suicide". Associated Press. February 28, 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-02-28-train-suicides-pa_N.htm. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 

Further reading

  • Solomon, Brian (2004). Amtrak. MBI Publishing. ISBN 0760317658. 
  • Vranich, Joseph (2004). End of the line: the failure of Amtrak reform and the future of America's passenger trains. AEI Press. ISBN 0844742031. 

Internal links

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Rail travel in the United States article)

From Wikitravel

An Amtrak train.
An Amtrak train.

This article is a travel topic.

The U.S. may be the land of the car, but it also one of the greatest countries in the world to be explored by passenger train. There are a number of private operators who offer exclusive and luxurious packages on private passenger trains, but it is onboard the trains of the state owned and subsidized Amtrak [1] that most tourists and travelers experience America by rail.

Before setting out on a railroad adventure around America, it is worth understanding the precarious situation in which Amtrak exists today. Somewhere between being a private and a public company (all of Amtrak's preferential shares are owned by the U.S. Government) Amtrak has to provide both a public service and seek to remain profitable as a competitive mode of transport. Furthermore, Amtrak was organized to handle intercity passenger trains in the USA. Municipalities, or regional government entities, operate commuter trains. At present, Amtrak is the only operator of regularly scheduled intercity trains in the USA. Despite increasing ridership (driven by rising gasoline prices and the increasing inconvenience of airline security measures), Amtrak is dependent on more than a billion US dollars per year in hard-won government funding.

Amtrak's financial situation is not its only problem. While tens of thousands of kilometers of railroads criss-cross the North American continent, virtually all the lines that Amtrak uses are owned and maintained by private freight companies. While Amtrak has a legal right to be given priority over freight trains, in many instances Amtrak services are disrupted due to freight trains which have been given priority over them. Many rail lines are not double-tracked, and passing places are often few and far between.

With the exception of the Amtrak-owned-and-maintained Northeast Corridor (between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.) and some service around Chicago, Amtrak services are substantially slower, less reliable, and less frequent than those of virtually every other developed nation in the world. And yet they remain popular with many travelers because of the social atmosphere on board, the lighter environmental impact compared to planes, the spacious design of the cars, the scenic routes, and the overall comfort of the train ride. With few high-speed lines, trains in the U.S. often take longer than cars or planes, but the unique experience can trump the long ride.

A trip from one coast of the U.S. to the other is surely one of the greatest railway journeys that you can make anywhere in the world, and with the different classes of on-board accommodation and a variety of tickets and passes available, it can also be remarkably affordable.

  • Amtrak, +1 800 USA-RAIL (872-7245), [2]. Amtrak is the quasi-state-owned passenger railroad company of the U.S.. Amtrak operates services over some 35,000 km (22,000 miles) of track, serving more than 500 communities in 46 American states and even 2 provinces of Canada. Trains carry one or more classes of accommodation: coach, business, and sleeper. Coach class is generally competitive in price with Greyhound bus, while sleeper accommodation may be competitive with the price of an airline ticket; however this depends on the route, and the case may be a coach ticket is more comparable to a plane ticket, while a sleeper costs even more. Most of the information in this article relates to Amtrak.

Throughout the US, many private lines have been maintained or rebuilt as privately owned, touristic lines, which occasionally connect to Amtrak or regional systems. Most of these lines use old train equipment (such as steam locomotives) which have been refurbished.

Many large American cities have commuter rail systems that connect suburbs with that metro area's central metropolis. In the American Northeast several commuter rail systems converge and are inter-connected.

Planning your trip

When to travel

The peak periods for most rail companies in North America is somewhere between April to September, and the cost of rail passes and tickets will rise during these periods to reflect this. If you're planning a visit to the U.S. and travel a lot by train, the spring and fall (autumn) periods are likely to give you the best combination of lower ticket prices and hours of daylight for viewing the scenery from the train. Trains fill up much quicker in the summer and around national holidays, and coach class passengers in particular will have less room to stretch out.

Timetables and brochures

All the major rail operators in the U.S. have websites with information about timetables, routes and on-board facilities. However many passengers still prefer to plan their trips using printed timetables. Amtrak, for instance, publishes a number of brochures, including the Amtrak System Timetable (with timetables for every Amtrak train and Thruway bus) and the Amtrak America travel brochure. These can be found at most staffed stations, or can be ordered free of charge for worldwide delivery online [3]. Individual pamphlet timetables are also published for every route.

Further reading

On-Track-On-Line.com [4] has a number of travel tips for the first-time Amtrak user, as well as an online forum. Seasoned rail travelers can be found online in a number of dedicated rail forums, and are usually more than happy to answer your questions about which route to take. Some other forums worth searching and joining are:

  • Amtrak Unlimited [5]
  • Railroad.net [6]
  • RailCritic.com [7]

Recently (2007), Amtrak has also gotten into the act by publishing user-submitted stories at their "Whistle Stop" webpage [8]. The following books go into much greater detail about the major rail routes of North America:

  • USA By Rail by John Pitt, 7th edition, August 2008, Bradt Travel Guides (ISBN: 1841622552)

Rail Passes

If you are planning more than one journey on an Amtrak train, you may be better off investing a rail pass, which allows unlimited rail travel within a certain period and area. You should, however, compare the cost of individual tickets when pricing and planning your trip.

  • The USA Rail Pass [9] The pass divides the U.S. into zones, and the pass may be bought for one or more zones. Restrictions apply. Americans can now purchase this pass, though Amtrak did not publicize this change.
  • The California Rail Pass [10] This pass offers seven days of travel within any 21-day period on most California trains.

Tickets

Amtrak tickets can be purchased in person from any staffed Amtrak station, over the phone (1-800-USA-RAIL in the U.S. and Canada) or on the internet [11]. A number of travel agencies that sell Amtrak tickets in other countries are listed on the Amtrak website.

Tickets for most routes are priced in incremental 'buckets': in other words, as seats on a train sell out, the remaining tickets become more expensive. When buying point-to-point tickets, especially during busy holiday periods, it is important to book in advance. Round-trip (return) tickets are priced by simply adding together the two cheapest available one-way fares.

Discounts

Many passengers are able to receive a discount on the cost of the ticket. Discounts are available on tickets (but not accommodation upgrades) to members of the following organizations:

  • AAA (American Automobile Association) [12]
  • CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) [13]
  • NARP (National Association of Railroad Passengers) [14]

Discounts are also offered to active members of the military, war veterans, senior citizen, and students. American students should purchase a Student Advantage [15] card; all other students should purchase an International Student Identity Card [16] (ISIC). In all cases, you should quote your membership number when booking your ticket, and show your card with your ticket. To obtain a discount on Amtrak trains, passengers must reserve three days in advance on all trains.

Hot Deals

Amtrak offers heavily discounted coach fares on certain trains on the 'Hot Deals Weekly Specials' section of their website [17]. These non-refundable and non-changeable fares are generally available for travel in the next thirty to sixty days on routes that have spare capacity. The page is updated every Friday, and you should check back regularly if you want to snap up a bargain. Long distance coach fares of $70 from Chicago to Seattle (for example) are not uncommon, although they become much less common during the more popular summer months. These fares cannot be upgraded to sleeper accommodation at the time of booking, although you may be able to upgrade to a sleeper if one is available after you board the train.

Since 2005, Amtrak's offering of many of these heavily discounted coach fares has been limited by language in the legislation which grants Amtrak a yearly subsidy. However, this legislative language does not affect routes that receive a subsidy from individual states. Accordingly, those train routes tend to appear frequently on the 'Hot Deals' page of the website.

Boarding the train

Amtrak tickets generally do not indicate a coach or seat number, merely that you have a place in a reserved coach. Pay close attention to announcements and station staff, who will tell you where to wait and board the train. Attendants will need to see your ticket and/or pass as you board the train, and they will direct you towards the carriage you should sit in. In some cases, your ticket may show a seat reservation number and a carriage number. If this is the case, the numbers of the carriage are displayed on the doors; pay attention to these as the trains rolls in, so you can be at the right spot on the platform in time to get into your carriage. Some stations have indicators on the platform to show where each carriage will stop.

If you have a specific seat number on your reservation, you are advised to occupy it. Otherwise, follow the directions of the conductor who checks your ticket, and once on board your coach, you may select your own seat. Once you find your seat, you will want to stay there until the conductor comes by to check your ticket after departure. Upon doing so, the conductor will place a seat check (a small piece of paper) above your seat, to indicate that the seat is occupied. Take this with you if you decide to change seats, especially if you are leaving the train en route, because this piece of paper carries a station code to help the conductor let you know when your stop is imminent and shows you have given a ticket to him/her already.

On Board

The information here relates specifically to services operated by Amtrak. Private train companies and commuter rail services will offer differing standards of on-board facilities.

Coach class

Coach (economy) is Amtrak's most affordable class of travel and is offered on all trains except the high speed Acela Express trains of the north-east corridor (between Boston, New York City, and Washington DC). A ticket in coach guarantees you a seat in a carriage with approximately forty to sixty other seats, arranged in pairs either side of the aisle. Seats can be arranged in facing sets of four, but in almost all cases you will find that seats will all face the direction of travel. Luggage racks and spaces for larger items are provided, along with toilets either at the end of the coach or in the lower level of two-level trains.

An Amtrak coach class seat is roughly comparable with a business class airline seat: there is ample leg room, a reclining seat back and fixed armrests on the outside of each pair of seats. If there is a seat in front of you, a fold-down table will be available. On longer distance routes, there is more legroom as well as a deeper recline and a padded rest that folds up to support your legs when you recline.

Business class

Business class is offered on most trains where there is no First (sleeper) accommodation. Seats are arranged in pairs to one side of the aisle, and singly on the other side of the aisle (called '2+1 seating'). There is more room than coach class, as well as an at-seat attendant service with complimentary refreshments and a newspaper. Long-distance trains that travel overnight generally do not offer business class; sleeper class is available instead.

Regular First Class

The only first class service offered by Amtrak that does not include a sleeper is found on the Acela Express trains along the northeast corridor. These trains offer only First and Business class service. First class includes complimentary at-seat meals.

First (Sleeper) Class

Amtrak markets and prices sleeper accommodation as First Class, with a level of service that aims to be equal to that of a hotel. In addition to a private room on board the train, first class passengers can take advantage of a number of other amenities, including:

First class accommodations are priced in addition to the lowest available coach fare, and are priced in incrementally priced 'buckets' according to availability. As each 'bucket' of rooms sells out, the price goes up. It is worth noting, however, that after an Amtrak train departs its originating station, if there are any sleeper accommodations still available on the train, they revert in price to the cheapest originally available price. For example, if a train has one remaining room available prior to be departure, it would be priced in the most expensive 'bucket'. Once the train leaves, however, a coach passenger on-board the train can approach the conductor and upgrade to the sleeper for the price the room would have been when it first went on sale.

Amtrak operates two types of sleeper carriage: the precise standard of accommodation that you will have depends on the type of train you will be riding on. Check the timetable or Amtrak website to discover which sort of train you'll be riding on.

Superliner coaches

Superliner two-level coaches are used on all long distance trains west of Chicago, and certain other routes. They offer superior ride quality and better views than single level coaches. Most accommodations are located on the upper level, with toilets and other facilities located on the lower level. See the inside of Superliners [18] here in Quicktime Virtual Reality . Superliner sleeper cars offer the following sleeper accommodations:

  • Roomette (for two people, with no en-suite toilet or shower)
  • Bedroom (for two people, with an en-suite toilet and shower)
  • Bedroom Suite (two bedrooms connected by an opening door)
  • Family Bedroom (for two adults and two children, with no en-suite toilet or shower)
  • Accessible Bedroom (for two people with an en-suite toilet, but no shower)

Accessible Bedrooms should only be booked by those with reduced mobility or a physical disability. Family Bedrooms and Accessible Bedrooms are located on the lower level of the Superliner carriage.

Viewliner coaches

Viewliner single-level coaches are generally used on all long distance trains that operate in and out of New York Penn Station (where Superliner trains are too tall to enter the tunnels that approach the station). They are distinctive because of the two rows of windows on the side of the train, allowing both upper and lower berth passengers a view from their beds. They offer the following sleeper accommodations:

  • Roomette (for two people, with an en-suite toilet, but no shower)
  • Bedroom (for two people, with an en-suite toilet and shower)
  • Bedroom Suite (two bedrooms connected by an opening door)
  • Accessible Bedroom (for two people with an en-suite toilet, but no shower)

While there are no actual limitations, accessible Bedrooms should only be booked by those with reduced mobility or a physical disability, and family bedrooms should only be booked by families traveling together.

Interior of a Superliner Lounge Car.
Interior of a Superliner Lounge Car.

On the shortest of journeys, Amtrak offers an at-seat trolley service of drinks and light refreshments. On most journeys however, there will be a dedicated café or lounge car that offers a marginally broader selection of hot and cold drinks and refreshments, although all snacks will be pre-packed and all hot snacks will be microwaved. Café and lounge cars offer an open area of seating around tables that will be open for most of your journey, so even if you don't purchase something from the café you are welcome to sit in the café, enjoy the view and maybe meet some other passengers and on-board staff.

On almost all long distance trains, Amtrak offers a dedicated dining car, that will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In an effort to cut costs, AMTRAK has implemented its "Simplified Dining Service" where meals are generally prepared off the train before departure and then reheated and plated on-board. During lunch and dinner service, for example, customers are presented a preprinted menu with a selection of a couple of appetizers, about six entrees, and few dessert items. Menu items ordered are served on disposable plates and cups, as are the napkins and tablecloths; silverware and wine goblets are, however, fashioned of steel and glass, respectively.

The Amtrak Lead Service Attendant, or LSA in Amtrak-speak, who runs the dining car will seat travelers together to fill a table, instead of assigning individuals or couples to a table by themselves (however, the LSA will seat a family together). This practice tends to surprise those unfamiliar with it. In many cases, a traveller will find an interesting conversation happening that would never come about otherwise.

As mentioned above, all meals (but not alcoholic beverages) are included in sleeper tickets. Coach passengers can pay according to the menu. Per meal, the breakfast menu is the cheapest and dinner is the most expensive. Reservations are required for lunch and dinner; after boarding the LSA will travel through the train taking reservations. Reservations are handled in time increments, so during meal time the LSA will periodically announce when each group of reservations will be served.

Many seasoned travelers bring their own snacks with them on the train, and then supplement them with the odd item from the lounge or café car.

With the exception of sleeper passengers who consume them in their own cabins, passengers are not allowed to bring their own alcohol on board any Amtrak train.

Delays

Unfortunately, those are common on long-distance Amtrak routes. This is because private railroads own the tracks used by Amtrak, and they are more concerned about their own freight trains then about Amtrak's passenger trains. Average delays vary considerably among routes. The very helpful Amtrak Delays site [19] will give you an idea of when you can expect your train to arrive, showing how late it has been over the past few weeks. However as of 2008 Amtrak has increased its effort to insure trains are on time and most trains arrive on time well over 50% of the time. To see a historical on time performance of your train on time performance, you may view how often it has been on time over the past year and the past month, from a link on the home page of Amtrak.com [20].

Routes

Amtrak offers 34 passenger train routes. These are some of the most popular routes offered by Amtrak, selected because of popular destinations they serve or because they travel very long distances. Additionally, historic routes like the Empire Builder were listed not only because of the destinations, but also because of the legacy of these routes left on tourism in North America.

Chicago is the long-distance rail center of America, many routes converge on the Windy City and could require a passenger to change trains here, when traveling cross country. However, New York is the most popular railroad opportunity in the country, with a high commuter ridership and its possession of the most-used Amtrak station.
Chicago is the long-distance rail center of America, many routes converge on the Windy City and could require a passenger to change trains here, when traveling cross country. However, New York is the most popular railroad opportunity in the country, with a high commuter ridership and its possession of the most-used Amtrak station.
  • Amtrak Cascades, [22]. The Amtrak Cascades takes you from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia via Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. This route uses a distinctive Talgo trainset in lieu of the Superliner consist. There are multiple daily departures. As of August 2009, there are now two trains running between Seattle and Vancouver; one ends in Seattle, the other continues on to Portland. The direct Vancouver/Portland train is a trial, and may or may not be continued after the Vancouver Olympics in February 2010.
  • Cardinal, [25]. The Cardinal connects New York City with Chicago; via Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati, Ohio. The train operates three days a week and is a 26 1/2 hours trip. Recently, Amtrak has upgraded the food service available on this train with a "Diner-Lounge" car. "Diner-Lounge" cars are being tried by Amtrak owing to US Congressional mandates to reduce the losses incurred by providing food service on intercity passenger trains.
The Empire Builder stops at Glacier National Park
The Empire Builder stops at Glacier National Park
  • Palmetto / Silver Meteor / Silver Star [33]. Three different trains which travel from New York down the eastern coast. The Palmetto travels from New York City to Savannah, Georgia, via Charleston, South Carolina. The Silver Meteor travels from New York City to Miami, Florida; via Charleston, Savannah, and Orlando, Florida. The Silver Star follows essentially the same route as the Silver Meteor, except it takes a different route through the Carolinas and makes a detour to Tampa, Florida. All three trains run daily, and the length of the trip is up to 28 hours.

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