ALX vs WAS coming from DCA airport

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NEPATrainTraveler

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So, I've been planning a trip to Milwaukee in October and I plan on getting back home to PA by flying into DCA and then taking Metro plus Amtrak plus Martz trailways bus home. My choices for Amtrak stations near DCA are ALX and WAS. ALX is closer (11 minutes by Metro according to Google Maps), but has less departures and the fares are higher. Since I don't want to be arriving in PA super late at night, the only departure from ALX that works for me is the 94 NER at 1:04 PM (my fight lands at DCA at 11:30 AM). WAS is about 30 Minutes away by Metro, but has more train options and lower fares. The 94 NER, 2170 Acela, and 148 NER would work for me the best if boarding Amtrak at WAS. I can't decide whether to go with ALX because it is closer to the airport or WAS because it is cheaper and has more options? What do you all think? Which station would you choose?

Thanks in advance.
 

bratkinson

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Generally speaking, unless you want to spend some time 'joyriding' Metro (I have covered all routes end-to-end between trains through the years) and take #178 @4:02 or #148 @5:05 (per my old TT valid through 3/22/20), I think I'd go for #94 at ALX to minimize the number of 'shleps' of your luggage (1 NER vs 2 Metro+1 NER). ALX is only 5-6 minutes on Metro away and if you plan for it taking 20 minutes (in case you just missed one), you should have time for a bite to eat at DCA and still make #94 at ALX.

BUT...#94 could be running hours late - check before you leave ALX. If it's more than an hour or so I'd consider changing my ticket to #178 or #148, or even #2170 or #2172 at WAS.

As a Milwaukee-born native that spent 40+ years there before moving to Springfield MA, if they're still open, the best burgers ANYWHERE are at Solly's in Glendale, just off I-43 at Hampton. My dad started going there (then on Atkinson Av, now M.L.K. Blvd) in the 1930s as he had a small business nearby back then. I grew up not far from there and he used to bribe me to get a haircut by taking me to Solly's afterwards.
 
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If it were me, I would do WAS for a northbound train, ALX only for a southbound train:
  • Many more food options at WAS (none right at ALX) / overall nicer place to wait
  • More northbound train options
  • Level boarding possible (if not a train originating in the south; much easier to roll on with your stuff)
  • Cheaper fares
Fastest way would be yellow line to Gallery Place, then an easy transfer to the Red Line to Union Station.

Another option is to fly Southwest (MKE-BWI nonstop), then catch the train at BWI.
 
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TC_NYC

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If it were me, I would do WAS for a northbound train, ALX only for a southbound train:
  • Many more food options at WAS (none right at ALX) / overall nicer place to wait
  • More northbound train options
  • Level boarding possible (if not a train originating in the south; much easier to roll on with your stuff)
  • Cheaper fares
Fastest way would be yellow line to Gallery Place, each transfer to the Red Line to Union Station.

Another option is to fly Southwest (MKE-BWI nonstop), then catch the train at BWI.
BWI is a great suggestion. I would also do WAS since the trip from ALX will take an extra 30-45 minutes because they have to do an engine change at WAS. I would also book 148, 178 or 2170/2172 since they originate in Washington and will likely give you high-level boarding, making luggage a lot easier. 94 will be on the lower level platforms at WAS since it originates from Virginia.
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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I chose DCA over BWI because Southwest's AM DCA run isn't as early in the morning as their AM BWI run from Milwaukee. I previously was going to fly at night from MDW to BWI, stay at a hotel near BWI, then get on Amtrak the next morning, but I decided to save money and cancel those plans by taking the AM flight to DCA and then Amtrak from there.

For context, my trip will start in PA on a Wednesday by taking a bus to NYC and then flying from LGA to MDW and staying at a hotel overnight near MDW. Though I am still considering taking the LSL instead, but my last overnight coach experience makes me hesitant and is why I booked Southwest for this trip. On Thursday, I will make my way to downtown Chicago, spend some time there, and then go to Milwaukee via the Hiawatha where I will spend the next few days (Thu-Mon). Previously, I would have spent Monday morning and afternoon in Chicago and then flew from MDW to BWI where I would have stayed overnight at a nearby hotel and then taken Amtrak the next morning. With my current plan now, I will instead fly from MKE to DCA Monday morning and should be home by Monday night instead of Tuesday afternoon/evening.

At this point, after reading everyone's replies, I am leaning towards WAS.
 
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Ziv

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I need to visit my Mom in Montana starting Sunday and returning the car on Thursday. 4 days, pickup at Billings Logan International. $1,012. For 4 days.
I tried picking it up Monday for a 3 day rental, $845. Ouch.
 
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I assume you are aware that your best option would be to fly from MKE or CHI to 'AVP', but you have some other reason to go the way you are...
I searched a Monday in October, and you could fly nonstop from Chicago for $174, or with 1 stop from Milwaukee for $178.
Getting back to your question, I would choose WAS over ALX going North, also...
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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I assume you are aware that your best option would be to fly from MKE or CHI to 'AVP', but you have some other reason to go the way you are...
I searched a Monday in October, and you could fly nonstop from Chicago for $174, or with 1 stop from Milwaukee for $178.
Getting back to your question, I would choose WAS over ALX going North, also...
Yes, I’m going the way I am because I wanted to fly on Southwest.
 
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Southwest hasn't finalized their fall schedule beyond September 6. Your AM flight MKE to DCA may turn into an afternoon flight. The BWI flight is early but more likely to fly as scheduled.
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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Southwest hasn't finalized their fall schedule beyond September 6. Your AM flight MKE to DCA may turn into an afternoon flight. The BWI flight is early but more likely to fly as scheduled.
Wow didn’t know that. I guess I should have done overnight coach in Amtrak again. At least I know what their schedules should actually be (or at least I hope so anyway). Even the tri-weekly one would have worked out for me.
 
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Don't change your flight yet.....wait for the schedule change email from Southwest. It will let you change to a different flight or airport (BWI) without charge. FYI, the BWI terminal to rail station bus is so easy...runs every 10 minutes and takes about 5 minutes...did it with my wife last week.
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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Had I known flying Southwest would be so convoluted, I would have flown American Airlines to/from AVP instead (I don’t like using United because they charge you $40 to upgrade to Economy if you want to bring a carry on bag). If I had the money I would be doing this trip on Amtrak in sleeper both ways. I’m only flying because of my bad experience in LD coach and because it is cheaper than a room on Amtrak. I like Southwest’s 2 bags fly free thing and their cancellation policy is more generous than any airline I have seen. That’s why I went with them. I booked my Southwest tickets at the Wanna Get Away price, so I can’t get my money back on them, only vouchers. I’m sorry this whole thing has got me flustered, regretting my decisions and just in a bad mood in general.
 
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AmHope

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How bad is the bus to rail transfer at BWI? I've always wondered about it but never tried it. How is it vs. taking the light rail from BWI to BAL Penn Station (something I have done before, though not to connect to Amtrak) for a northbound transfer?
 

Trollopian

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If you stick with your plan to fly to DCA (not to BWI as some others have suggested), I'd take Metro to WAS Union Station, not Alexandria. For the reason you mention: far more frequent service. Alexandria is a charming station but small, no elevator, and with less service. (At random, I checked the schedule for a Monday in October. From ALX to PHL in mid-day you have 11:05, 1:04, and 4:03. But from WAS you have 9, count 'em, 9 departures during that same window.) If you have to wait for a train WAS is a much better place to wait. The transfer between Metro lines at either Gallery Place or Metro Center, even with luggage, is easy. The Metro at WAS disgorges you directly into the train station. At Alexandria, by contrast, you and your luggage will have to schlep about two blocks above-ground....no big deal for able-bodied people in good weather but might be a barrier. Choose WAS.
 

AmtrakBlue

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How bad is the bus to rail transfer at BWI? I've always wondered about it but never tried it. How is it vs. taking the light rail from BWI to BAL Penn Station (something I have done before, though not to connect to Amtrak) for a northbound transfer?
I once did BWI Station to BWI airport to catch the light rail into Baltimore (was going to go to Lexington Market to catch the metro, but it was annulled at Camden Yards due to an accident near Lexington Market) - just to do that part of the light rail and to mix up my usual commute to Hopkins. The bus stops right across the street (under the parking lot) from the station.
 

MARC Rider

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How bad is the bus to rail transfer at BWI? I've always wondered about it but never tried it. How is it vs. taking the light rail from BWI to BAL Penn Station (something I have done before, though not to connect to Amtrak) for a northbound transfer?
The shuttle takes you right from the terminal to the station nonstop. The BWI rail station serves nearly all of the Northeast Regionals, as well as the MARC trains and a limited number of Acelas. The long-distance trains, including the Carolinian, the Crescent, and the Silvers/Palmetto don't stop there.

The light rail takes forever and departures from the airport don't stop at Baltimore Penn Station. They stop at Mt. Royal, which is a short walk to Penn Station. The Penn Station light rail service operates as a shuttle between Camden Station and Penn Station. You can thus transfer at any stop between Camden Station and Mr. Royal. On the other hand, it's usually faster to just walk from Mt. Royal. However, during the next several months, light rail service is severely disrupted due to extensive track work. I think they're still running through trains, but at much less frequency than usual, supplemented by a bus bridge. If you're transferring between BWI Airport and Amtrak, it's probably far better to just use the shuttle and the Amtrak BWI rail station. If you're connecting to a long-distance train that doesn't stop at BWI, just plan to ride a Northeast Regional or MARC into Washington and connect there.
 

Bob Dylan

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The shuttle takes you right from the terminal to the station nonstop. The BWI rail station serves nearly all of the Northeast Regionals, as well as the MARC trains and a limited number of Acelas. The long-distance trains, including the Carolinian, the Crescent, and the Silvers/Palmetto don't stop there.

The light rail takes forever and departures from the airport don't stop at Baltimore Penn Station. They stop at Mt. Royal, which is a short walk to Penn Station. The Penn Station light rail service operates as a shuttle between Camden Station and Penn Station. You can thus transfer at any stop between Camden Station and Mr. Royal. On the other hand, it's usually faster to just walk from Mt. Royal. However, during the next several months, light rail service is severely disrupted due to extensive track work. I think they're still running through trains, but at much less frequency than usual, supplemented by a bus bridge. If you're transferring between BWI Airport and Amtrak, it's probably far better to just use the shuttle and the Amtrak BWI rail station. If you're connecting to a long-distance train that doesn't stop at BWI, just plan to ride a Northeast Regional or MARC into Washington and connect there.
Good advice from a Baltimore resident!😉
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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If you stick with your plan to fly to DCA (not to BWI as some others have suggested), I'd take Metro to WAS Union Station, not Alexandria. For the reason you mention: far more frequent service. Alexandria is a charming station but small, no elevator, and with less service. (At random, I checked the schedule for a Monday in October. From ALX to PHL in mid-day you have 11:05, 1:04, and 4:03. But from WAS you have 9, count 'em, 9 departures during that same window.) If you have to wait for a train WAS is a much better place to wait. The transfer between Metro lines at either Gallery Place or Metro Center, even with luggage, is easy. The Metro at WAS disgorges you directly into the train station. At Alexandria, by contrast, you and your luggage will have to schlep about two blocks above-ground....no big deal for able-bodied people in good weather but might be a barrier. Choose WAS.
Yes, I think I will do WAS if I am going to DCA. After panicking and changing plans yesterday (I know I should not have panicked, but I got nervous about schedules messing me up), I currently have my Monday flight as MDW to PHL, but if Southwest has a sale again between now and October, I may go back to my MKE to DCA plan. Nice thing about arriving at BWI or DCA is that I get some more Amtrak in as this trip is rather light on Amtrak.
 
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