Is Amtrak ever the practical choice?

I like the idea of trains. I’ve taken them in other countries and had no complaints. Given that, I never choose Amtrak to travel in the US.

I can see how it might be fun to travel on them as a vacation itself. Well, maybe not fun, but relaxing. Yet as a means of getting from Point A to Point B, they never, ever come out on top. For what is a marginable cost benefit over the airlines (if any) they take 2x or 3x the time. If you go on the high-speed Acela trains they have around here, they’re fast enough to be competitive, but now they cost 2x instead. And they aren’t fast enough to justify that.

So, I appeal to the masses: are there actual situations where you have chosen them because they were the practical choice?

Well, they do go downtown to downtown. The money and time you save not taking a taxi to/from the airport counts for something. Also, although you do have to show an ID these days and all, there’s no check-in, no baggage check, and no baggage pick-up at the end.

NY to DC and points in between. Not much slower than air travel, considering you go from downtown to downtown, like Mehitabel said.

I’ve often used it as a cheap way to get to Baltimore.

The one time in my life I used Amtrack, it was from Ventura, CA to San Diego. The train got in about a half hour before boarding time for a cruise ship that boarded four blocks away from the station. And I didn’t have to drive the 101 through LA at the wrong time of day.

Fuck ya, it was the more convinient choice.


I’ve taken Amtrak up and down the “Northeast Corridor” for years.

When I was in boarding school and too young to drive, I took Amtrak back and forth between home and school (Delaware and Connecticut).

When I was in college and too broke to have a car, I took Amtrak to visit my best friend at her college (Philly to NYC) and to my mom’s (Philly to Delaware).

Sometimes now when I travel to DC (from outside Philly), I take Amtrak. It’s more expensive than the gas for driving, but it does go downtown-to-downtown, and it does give me 2+ hours in each direction to work or catch up on other activities.

When I go to NYC now, I take the non-Amtrak commuter train in from south Jersey. Much cheaper than Amtrak ($14) but with the train benefit of going right into the city and no parking problems.

I used to take Amtrak to visit my brother in Rhode Island because, even though it’s expensive (~$100 each way), because it’s a 5 hour drive from here and flying used to be expensive. Now, however, Southwest has started flying PHL to Providence for $49 OW (and one hour), so no more Amtrak!

So I guess it depends on the alternatives and how much you value your time.

One bit of advice:

When checking the schedule and deciding which train to take, always check where the train started from as the distance is related to the likeliness of that train being late.

For example, when traveling northbound, look for a train that originates in DC, not “the Spirit of New Orleans”. Southbound: starting from NYC, not Toronto.

You have way more faith in the train schedule than I would have imagined possible.

High speed trains to be fast in the USA as well in Europe need to be subsidized or partly owned by government(anything government =socialism for many uninformed N.Americans) so I don’t see for how long our Amtrak will stay on track.
You guys in States at least have impressive high speed electric Acela trains,in Canada passenger train technology has frozen in time for the last 30-40 years and falling apart.(shame)

I hate hate hate long drives, which I define as “anything over five hours.” For me, the choice is Amtrak, Greyhound, or flying.

When I’m travelling to a destination that doesn’t involve changing trains (for me, that’s Washington, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia), the train tends to be cheaper than an airplane.

It takes longer to travel, but I don’t have to be at the train station as early and security is a great deal less annoying. Also, the downtown-to-downtown points make it easier to get to the station and to get where I’m going after I arrive.

For me, the major benefit is the comparative comfort of the train. The seats are much larger and more comfortable than a plane and there’s way more leg room, so I can settle in comfortably (or even curl up in my seat) with a book. The aisles are wider and you’re welcome to stretch your legs with a walk up and down the car if your legs or back get stiff from sitting. You can walk to the snack car and get food of your choice- it’s not elegant, but it tastes a lot better than plane food and there’s more choices. And the scenery’s nice, too.

I’ve never taken the train and gotten a private berth- I’m a little too frugal for that- but I’d be curious to try it.

I’d rather have a longer, more comfortable trip than a shorter, miserable trip. Especially if the cost is (as it can be) similar.

I’ll second this wholeheartedly.

If i want to go to New York from Baltimore, the standard coach fare on Amtrak is about $125 for the round trip. This is better than most airfares, unless you happen to get really lucky with some internet special offer. Also, as a student i can get a discount on Amtrak.

I live 5 minutes from Baltimore’s Penn Station, and the train drops me off at New York’s Penn Station, smack in the middle of Manhattan. The trip usually takes less than three hours.

Now, if i go by plane, i have to drag my ass all the way out to BWI airport, which takes about 30 minutes and, if you’re in a taxi, costs about 30 bucks. I have to arrive at least 45 minutes early to be sure that i don’t get stuck in long security gate lines. The flight time to any of the NY-area airports is not very long (around an hour), but at the other end you then still have to find a way to get into Manhattan. You can do it on the cheap (from JFK, for example), and use the subway, but that adds a bunch of time to the trip. Or you can get a taxi, which might still take a long time if traffic is bad (and when isn’t traffic bad in NYC?), and which will set you back another 40 bucks or so by the time tolls and tip are taken into account.

The train is the way to go.

I’ve only used Amtrak for one trip so far; that was to NYDope last year. It turned out it was only slightly more expensive than the bus, and they were foreseeing massive delays. (I don’t really like passenger buses anyway.)

Anyway, there was an unbelievable delay going down, but coming back up it came in at almost exactly the time it said it would. I was certainly pleased at least with the second half of my trip, and they sent me a nice little rebate I may use if I go to NYDope in October.

I sure wish the train went to more places, though. I love taking the train to Toronto and Ottawa. I’m also much more patient with delays than some people, and I greatly prefer the train to flying, not only for the downtown to downtown thing, but also because of looser security, less trapped feeling, better view ;), and in all a more pleasant experience.

I haven’t really taken trains anywhere in Canada, except for the occasional school field trip aboard the Royal Hudson to Squamish (this is essentially a 45-min jaunt into local history for Greater Vancouver residents); and the commuter trains established in the Toronto and Vancouver areas.

I am interested in taking the train across the continent from Vancouver (or maybe Seattle) to Maryland next year, however. It is time I visited a friend who has moved there, and she’ll have a baby for me to play with. I am not averse to flying, but I thought that if time permitted, I might really enjoy making one leg of my journey by rail.

I very much want to see the Rockies by rail. Canadian or 'Merkin, no matter, this is something I have always wanted to do on my own.

8 - 10 years ago I used to take the train from Trenton to Washington and Baltimore. Work was paying, so that wasn’t an issue, but it was closer to home, faster (especially in Washington with subway connections) and a lot more comfortable.

I’ve only used Amtrak once, going from New York to Virginia overnight. We got to sleep on the way, and everything worked out great.

It never has been for me.

I’ve always looked, because I like the idea of trying a train - but when compared with flying/driving it’s always more costly and slower to take a train (and the Coast Starlight runs at incredibly inconvenient times.)

Amtrak From rensselaer to nyc is much faster and pleasant than greyhound from albany to nyc although it is more $

We used Amtrack in May to get from Renseleer to Toronto. Never ever again. Its what? 300-400 miles? Easily driveable in a few hours. It took us upwards of 12 hours. Never again. And to think, I rant about Virgin trains over here…

I’ve used Amtrak many times to go from Albany, NY to New York City and back; it’s one of their most popular runs. It takes about as long as driving and puts you right downtown. It’s also a very pretty ride, since it follows the Hudson river. Traveling back from NYC and seeing the sun set over the river is delightful.

Albany to New York and Providence to New York are the two examples I can think of where Amtrack is a very good option. When you fly to New York, you end up way the hell out in Queens or in Newark, depending. When you take the train, you end up on 34th Street in Manhatten. The ride from Albany or Providence is super-direct and you don’t have to deal with traffic as you would driving or on the bus.

I used to take Amtrak all the time when I was in school in Phildelphia and came home. I could walk to Philly’s 30th Street station in about 10 minutes, rather than having to take a taxi or a bus to get to the Greyhoud station, the schedule was much better (trains left much more often - every 30 minutes, IIRC) and it was obviously much quicker.
I don’t remember prices, but it seems like the train was only a couple dollars more than the bus.
It was also more convenient for my mother to pick me up at Baltimore’s Penn Station rather than the crappy downtown bus station.

I also used the Auto Train from Florida when I moved from Florida back to Maryland sixteen years ago. That was pretty cool. I packed my car with all my stuff, they loaded it on the train, and in the morning we were here.