East Coast USA by Railway

Mathew_Freeman

Villager
My wife and I have been kicking around the idea of journeying across the North-East corner of the USA by rail. Apparently you can get a rail pass that can take you from Boston to Washington.

I was wondering if anyone has any experience of travelling by rail in the US, or heard anything about it? What are the trains like, what's the reliability, how often...etc etc.

All info gratefully received!
 

Zander

Villager
Hello, Matt ;)

A long time ago, I went between New York City and Baltimore, Maryland by train. I think the service was called the Metroliner. The ride was pleasant enough. The seats were very wide compared to our trains, and comfy too. But it wasn't particularly scenic.

I've been to Boston, Mass and New Hampshire but not by train.
 

jaerdaph

Adventurer
Zander said:
A long time ago, I went between New York City and Baltimore, Maryland by train. I think the service was called the Metroliner. The ride was pleasant enough. The seats were very wide compared to our trains, and comfy too. But it wasn't particularly scenic.
The seats are wider because we tend to be wider here in the States... :uhoh:

:lol:

I had the great pleasure of meeting Zander when he came to NYC - was it really that long ago? Tempus fugit...


BTW, yes, it is Amtrak's Metroliner you're thinking of.

And to return the compliment, I had a very pleasant British railway experience from London to Manchester and back in the early 90s. Beautiful countryside. :)

Tallarn, if you and your wife do decide to take this trip, let us know and we'll arrange a meetup in New York City at one of the game stores. :)
 

drothgery

Community Supporter
Tallarn said:
My wife and I have been kicking around the idea of journeying across the North-East corner of the USA by rail. Apparently you can get a rail pass that can take you from Boston to Washington.
FWIW, that's pretty much the only part of the country where it isn't much cheaper and much faster to rent a car or fly.
 

kenobi65

Villager
drothgery said:
FWIW, that's pretty much the only part of the country where it isn't much cheaper and much faster to rent a car or fly.
Yup; the "Northeast Corridor" Amtrak service is pretty good. It gets well-funded, is well-maintained, is very fast, and reasonably reliable.

In the rest of the country, Amtrak service is kind of a crapshoot. Amtrak leases time on freight railway tracks in most other places, and interference from freight trains frequently causes delays. There are certainly some scenic stretches on some routes, but a lot of it isn't terribly scenic. If you want a private room (especially nice if you're going to be overnighting on the train), it's usually an arm and a leg.

A little more background for the original poster: in the U.S., passenger trains used to be run by the individual (privately-owned) raliroads. In the early 1970s, many of the railroads were facing bankruptcy, and none of them were making any money running passenger trains, so the federal government created Amtrak, to continue national passenger train service. Amtrak has been a political football ever since its inception, and, as noted above, other than the Northeast Corridor, and a few other selected routes, it's not particularly well-used.

Beyond Amtrak, the only other passenger railroads in the U.S. are either commuter railroads (generally publically-owned, providing service to/from big cities from their suburbs), or tourist railroads (usually operating over fairly short stretches, often in scenic areas).
 
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I use Amtrak a lot on the East Coast, and it's pretty good from DC up. They do share track space, and have some annoyingly inexplicable delays sometimes, but for the most part, it's pretty convenient and comfortable. It's still usually cheaper to fly, though, if you're going to the major hubs.
 

Thunderfoot

Villager
It isn't European rail by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are staying within the North-East, you will get reliable service...for the most part. :D
 

Mathew_Freeman

Villager
Rodrigo Istalindir said:
I use Amtrak a lot on the East Coast, and it's pretty good from DC up. They do share track space, and have some annoyingly inexplicable delays sometimes, but for the most part, it's pretty convenient and comfortable. It's still usually cheaper to fly, though, if you're going to the major hubs.
It is, however, better for the environment to go by train. Plus, the journey is part of the fun.

Thanks for the offer to meet up! If we do do it, I'll be putting it up here and would love to have lunch (or dinner, probably) with as many people as possible.
 

Piratecat

Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
If you're in Boston, it'd be great to meet up.

The problem with NE rail is that it just isn't near as scenic as rail travel elsewhere in the country. You can get a Greyhound bus from New York to Boston for $20, FAR less than a train, and it'll be faster. I took the train quite a lot when I was younger, but it holds less appeal for me now.
 
The Vermonter runs from Vermont clear down to Washington DC, twice a day. You can get a connecting ticket to switch in NYC or Springfield MA to go to Boston instead. As Piratecat says, it's slower, but the seats are way more comfortable. You're not driving. You can read, relax, get up and go to the bathroom. There's no waiting in lines at the airport. (I also think bus fares are up a little bit. It's more than $20 one way now from NYC to Boston last time I checked.)

On Amtrak, trains sometimes get delayed due to bad weather in Philly and occasionally service gets in the way around New Haven CT. They do not necessarily run on time, but don't count on that. When I can on business, I prefer to take the train, but I often have to drive.
 

Felix

Explorer
I love riding the train for East Coast hauls; sure, it's about as expensive as flying, but it's ever so much more comfortable.

I was attending a wedding on Long Island, and three other friends and I got train tickets for the rides up and back. There was much frivolity in the bar car, since we immediately went there and monopolized a table. Plan ahead and bring a cooler, refreshments, and a deck of cards. :)
 

Mathew_Freeman

Villager
Piratecat said:
If you're in Boston, it'd be great to meet up.

The problem with NE rail is that it just isn't near as scenic as rail travel elsewhere in the country. You can get a Greyhound bus from New York to Boston for $20, FAR less than a train, and it'll be faster. I took the train quite a lot when I was younger, but it holds less appeal for me now.
That would be fantastic.

I'm going to pass this thread back to my wife in a few days, and we'll come back to everyone to see what we're going to do. It's looking as though this might be on hold this year - but the info has been very greatly received!

BTW, my sister-in-law has family in Boston, so I'm sure it'll only be a matter of time before I end up there. And my wife is considering looking for an academic position in the US, too.
 

Mathew_Freeman

Villager
Incidentally (as I revive this from the grave) does anyone have any recommendations for nice but cheap accommodation between Boston and Virginia Beach?

We've spotted that we can buy an Amtrak pass for 15 days for £168 each, but we'd need to cover accommodation whilst we were out there and not on the train.

To be extra cheeky, would anyone be interested in putting us up for a night? We promise great company, tales of the UK (both real and fictional, according to taste) and a willingness to try pretty much any board game you care to name.

We'll even buy pizza. :)

As ever, all offers gratefully received!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
For a number of years, I took the train from Boston to NY for holidays, and down to the Baltimore-Washington area for the occasional game. It was cheaper, easier, and less stressful than flying, and weather that grounds airplanes didn't stop the train. I found it a pleasant experience.

Folks are correct that the Northeast Corridor isn't terribly scenic (except for some stretches along the Connecticut coast, which can be lovely at sunset), but you have more room than you'd get on your typical airplane. If you're planning to read or chat or do something else while traveling, the train may be superior for your needs.

Mind you, I was doing this frequently a few years back, before I owned a car...
 
kenobi65 said:
Amtrak leases time on freight railway tracks in most other places, and interference from freight trains frequently causes delays.
One of my friends from college works for a (the?) railroad in Pittsburgh, and he basically descibed the same problem to me; the commuter trains have zero priority. From what he's said, the train ride from Pitt to DC can vary by about 4 hours depending on who else is using the lines, and it's not unheard of for a passenger train to just sit somewhere for an hour, waiting for track.
 

Megaton

Villager
My roommate in college took the train a couple of times to go from Williamsburg, VA to Boston, but I would not recommend traveling up the east coast by train unless it's a shorter route (like DC to NY). It is long and very boring (I think his trip took 12 hours...). I've never done it myself though, so disregard my opinion as needed, I just know that he didn't enjoy it.
 
My brother works for Norfolk Southern and according to him they always give priority to their trains over anybody else on the line. Below that to freight above passenger because passenger trains don't pay as much for track time or generate as much revenue to create an uproar over if they're too late.
 

LightPhoenix

Villager
Deset Gled said:
One of my friends from college works for a (the?) railroad in Pittsburgh, and he basically descibed the same problem to me; the commuter trains have zero priority. From what he's said, the train ride from Pitt to DC can vary by about 4 hours depending on who else is using the lines, and it's not unheard of for a passenger train to just sit somewhere for an hour, waiting for track.
I've had the same problems travelling from Syracuse to NYC or Boston. I love taking the train, but the fact is Amtrak is pretty much a huge hassle unless you're doing the Boston-NYC-DC route. Even then, there can be delays because of people connecting that are delayed.

If I know enough in advance when I'm going, especially if it's just to NYC, it's just as cheap to fly as it is to take the train and as much a hassle but much quicker.
 
Do you know your night stops? That would help on recommending housing. (For example, in NYC there are some good hostels, according to a friend of mine.) We're not in a position to host folks, however if you pass through Hartford CT and have time, I would be happy to show you folks a good place for lunch!
 

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