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The Acela -- everything that is wrong with Amtrak

The Acela -- everything that is wrong with Amtrak

Old May 18, 02, 9:08 am
  #1  
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The Acela -- everything that is wrong with Amtrak

The other day I took the Acela from Union Station to Wilmington, Delaware. The cost for this 120 mile trip (two hours by car) is $95 each way.

If you do not know what your schedule is on the return, you are better off hopping onto the next available train they will let you on, either an Acela or Metroliner, so just buy the most expensive ticket in the first place if you are in a hurry.

They do not sell tickets on these trains so you have to have the right ticket when you board, and if you board an Acela and you have a Metroliner ticket, they will put you off on the next station and create problems for you over a $8 fare difference.

We saved five minutes taking the Acela over the Metroliner. If we had gone all the way to New York, we would have saved fifteen minutes.

For all of this, the Acela has some good points but mostly bad points. We took the Metroliner back to Washington so we were able to easily compare:

1. The Acela has overhead compartments with doors on them that are perfect for smashing into your head and getting a concussion.

2. The Metroliner has much more overhead room and has a shelf with netting that keeps your stuff from crashing down. Advantage: Metroliner.

3. The Acela has these heavy steel tray tables that precariously lean over onto your lap, and have too much unstable wiggle. The tables must extend too far towards you, cramping your style.

4. The Metroliner has regular tray tables that work. Advantage: Metroliner.

5. The Acela has seats that are like boards. No lumbar support, an adjustable cushion at head level that does not give you any back support which you really need. The Acela has cramped seats with rather poor pitch, only slightly better it seems than United's E+.

6. Metroliner has generous pitch and comfortable seats. Advantage: Metroliner.

Is anything better about the Acela? I suppose saving fifteen minutes or so is a biggie, although not so much on a trip that is almost 3 hours anyway. The trains look cooler. The cafe car is much more cool on the Acela, resembling a real lounge and meeting place where you can hang out.

Amtrak ought to be ashamed of how the conductors treat passengers (not all of them, but many of them), especially the unfriendly staff at the ticket counter at Union Station that make almost any other nasty organization you can think of seem postiviely friendly.

And Amtrak ought to be ashamed of the enormous price of these train rides.

Nevertheless, traveling from Washington to New York is probably better by train for most people (even people like me who prefer air travel over trains.)

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Old May 18, 02, 12:09 pm
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I took a very short ride on the Acela when it first came out, WAS-BWI. One way. I was late for a flight, and the commuter MARC train was running late. I believe the ticket was around 32 dollars (MARC is 8.75 RT).

I spent the entire 29 minutes? in the diner car, no food was ready to sell, and the regular car was packed to the gills with a bunch of suits. We overshot the platform at BWI and everyone had to go thru 3 cars to disembark. Only thing I liked was the counter in the diner and the TV with sports on. I think the Acela is waaaay overrated. I did take a regular Amtrak train RT WAS-NYP a few months ago, and it was very comfortable. Most people had two seats to themselves; I was travelling off-peak hours. I got a lot of sleep.

You are so right, richard, those people at the ticket counter at Union Station are nasty! That's why I've been using the self-service machines for the past two years.

Linda
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Old May 18, 02, 5:41 pm
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You compared two trains, but there are actually three kinds of trains between Washington, DC and New York:

1) Acela Express (fastest, most expensive and all reserved)

2) Metroliner (almost as fast, almost as expensive, all reserved)

3) Acela Regional or other routes (makes more stops, cheapest, unreserved)

For Washington, DC to Wilmington, DE, the cheap train in coach is $45 one way. Unless you want to leave at a specific time, the cheap train is a good option between D.C. and Wilmington.

DC to NY, the cheap train (coach) is also half the price of Acela Express (business), and it takes about an hour longer:

Acela Express $147
Metroliner $128
cheap trains $108 Business Class, coach $72

[This message has been edited by JS (edited 05-18-2002).]
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Old May 18, 02, 10:10 pm
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Do not take a coach ticket on Southbound Washington-bound Amtrak trains out of EWR rail station on Sat and Sun afternoons. Even if you've a ticket on a "reserved" train, the ticket is just for the right to get on the train. A seat is not guaranteed. Never found one. Stood all the way to Trenton. The fact that it was only a 35 min ride made it somewhat tolerable. Going to Philly (an hour) or further south will be harder. I found kids sitting on the luggage in the aisles of this so-called reserved train.

If you've to take a train, look for The Keystone train that goes to Philly and west to Harrisburg. It might be less full without the Baltimore and Washington passengers.
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Old May 19, 02, 8:38 am
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I have found the regular train (the Acela Regional?) from WAS-WIL seems to take a lot longer. Perhaps that is perception rather than reality but I've been taking the Acela or Metroliner because of it.

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Old May 19, 02, 10:51 am
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*ahem*

Hold up here...forget Amtrak....someone actually CAME to Wilmington (and didn't even tell me )? Wow!

Seriously, though, I agree that Amtrak's "upgraded" services are a waste on the NYC-PHL-WAS corrdidor. When Acela first came out, I upgraded a Regional ticket from coach to biz, because all the ads showed the slick new seating (conference tables, recline, etc) on Regional as well as express. Well, for my $17 upgrade charge, I got 2 free sodas in the cafe. That's it. It being after 10am, they were out of newspapers. The seat was the same as the coach seat. Even had 2 crying babies in the car. I can't even imagine paying 30% more for Acela Express to get there 5-10 minutes sooner.

BOS-NYC on Acela Express is a different story, that's where the "high-speed" track is, so it shaves about an hour off the time. Also, you get a meal, microbrews, and audio on that segment.

BTW, Amtrak has a 100% Satisfaction Guarntee, and they mean it. On two occasions (after that "upgrade" experience, and when the car's speaker hissed in my ear the entire trip), I called up, and they were more than happy to issue me a voucher for future travel, no questions asked.
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Old May 19, 02, 1:04 pm
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Guess I must be on a different train than you guys...

I gave up on the shuttle flights between BOS-LGA a few weeks before 9/11, and I haven't gone back. My first class Acela seat is still less money than a shuttle ticket, and that's before I factor in parking at Logan and a car service both ways in NY. In first on Acela Express you get a meal (breakfast tends to be better than dinner, but it is a hot meal)(no poor excuse for a bagel snack here ala Shuttle); I can actually use my cell phone for the bulk of the trip; there are outlets to plug in my laptop, cellphone, etc; there is a clean, large bathroom; and contrary to the ads - the train is faster than flying in rush hour. In fact, my associate insisted on flying recently - going to NY I left 10 minutes earlier, and we literally walked into the building in midtown at the same time; on the return we left at the same time, he got caught in traffic on the way to LGA, and I beat him home by over 1.5 hours. But the big thing is there are no hassles - I park near the platform at the 128 Station and take a few steps to board. In NY I can generally get to my appointments on the subway, and most of the time never have to go outside, so the weather is not an issue. I wish the train was faster - it could be if they were able to clean up the tracks in NY/CT - but it is still a relaxing trip and more often than not faster overall the flying.
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Old May 19, 02, 2:08 pm
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I too was not very impressed with the seats or overhead bins on the Acella Express, but meals, dining car/cafe, bathrooms, etc. were nice. I keep trying to talk friends in to having races BOS to NYC with train and plane, but most people are not such travel hobbiests. I guess I should have been a travel reporter.
I do think overall the Acella was over hypped, etc., and airline bonus mile offers are more generous typically.
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Old May 19, 02, 3:05 pm
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Jetsetter, as I recall you posted the first (and best) Acela trip report when the Acela first started.

I can't do justice to your report, just wanted to point out a few observations!

I used to take the Shuttle DCA-LGA but now I agree the train is less of a headache even for those of us who prefer flying (duh!).

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Old May 20, 02, 9:22 am
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How come nobody ever talks about joining the Sea Level Club after riding on trains???
 
Old May 20, 02, 3:24 pm
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<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by geo1004:
How come nobody ever talks about joining the Sea Level Club after riding on trains??? </font>
Probably because it's not as big a deal on a train. There are typically several bathrooms per car, you can get a private bunk/first class cabin, etc so there is much greater opportunity to do those things on a train and not attrack a crowd - of course I'm not talking about in the coach section but in other areas of the train. At least this has been my experience.

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Old May 20, 02, 5:47 pm
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I would certainly take the train again from BOS to NYP, but I was not in awe of the equipment or overall experience. The first class meal was quite good, and the cafe car is nice. However, right now if I book online with the shuttle I earn a total of 5,500 points round trip say for BOS to LGA with the different promotions going on. Also I have a friend who used to take the Acella quite frequently, and he said they would often run out of nip bottles of liquore, etc.....but he too preferred the train to flying. Also I don't know that the new train is particularly less expensive especially if you fly on any kind of discount, although I believe Amtrak does have corporate discounts that some people I know have gotten.
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