Help and Advice needed for Boston-New York trip

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gsnichol

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Hi,

I'm planning on using the train to travel between Boston and New York when I come to the USA from England this autumn for a holiday. I need some advice about various aspects of the train trip - any help from you kind people would be greatly appreciated! Here goes...

1. Business v Coach class. Any opinions on the two? Since the price difference is not great we were planning on travelling Business. The British equivalent (called First Class) has significantly bigger seats, more leg room all round, and bigger tables. The coaches are usually much quieter/emptier than standard class. I've also noticed that some coach class trains are unreserved (which I don't want as I'd like to be certain that there will be a seat on the train for me!); I assume Business class is all reserved seating.

2. Baggage Check. Is it worth it? We will probably only have one large suitcase, or two medium-size ones. Will these fit into the coach with us (at the end of the coach or overhead etc) or will they need to be checked? Is checked baggage a reliable service?

3. Boston South station vs Back Bay. Our hotel is almost slap inbetween the two, so distance/time is not an issue. Which is the nicer station, better facilities for breakfast/waiting etc?

4. Penn station in New York. Is there a left luggage area here where we can leave our suitcases?

Any opinions, help, advice or comments (positive and negative!) are most appreciated. You will be helping a visitor to your country plan his holiday.

Thank you very much,

gsnichol.
 

battalion51

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gsnichol, First of all Business Class is basically a quiet coach. Business class is usually home to businessmen who need room to conduct business, but many of these men and women now take the High speed deluxe Acela Express. It may be interesting for you to take Acela Express and compare it to European trains. Checked baggage is NOT offered on the Northeast Corridor, so you will have to carry your bags. Baggage racks are generally available in the front or rear of the car (depending on which side the A end is on). You can store luggage in Penn Station for a small fee. As for the Back Bay vs. South Station issue I would say South Station as it is a bigger station with more amenities (But Amfleet is the expert on that one). Have a great trip! Don't hesitate to ask more questions :D
 

Amfleet

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1. Well it al depends on what type of train you will be taking. Amtrak offers Acela Express service, which travels at a top speed of 150 mph and does the trip in 3 ½ hours. Acela Express offers all reserved Business Class and First Class seating. Business Class offers 2-2 reclining seating (70 seats per car 85’ car) with footrests and some pairs of seats have tables. Food service is provided from a Café in the center of the train with a selection of beverages, snacks, and light meals. First Class offers 2-1 seating with footrests (44 seats per 85’ car) and at seat attendant service with complimentary meals, snacks, and beverages. Most pairs of seats in First Class have tables. I would go with First Class if you can afford it.

Amtrak also offers the more economic Acela Regional service between New York and Boston as well. This train uses nicely refurbished coaches from the ‘70’s (called the Amfleet) and travels at a top speed of 125 mph making the trip in about 4 ½ hours. Acela Regional service offers Coach Class and Business Class seating. Coach Class offers 2-2 reclining seating (75 seats per 85’ car). Business Class is basically a glorified Coach Class car with 2-2 reclining seating with footrests, extended legroom (60 seats per 85’ car), and free beverages in the Café. Food service for both Coach Class and Business Class is provided in the Café. The Café offers a selection of beverages, snacks, and light meals. If you decide to use the Acela Regional service I would say save your self the money and skip Business Class and also bring on-board your own food as the Café food is over priced and is not that great in quality.

You also asked about Unreserved and Reserved. All Acela Express trains both First Class and Business Class is reserved. On Acela Regional service all Business Class is reserved, but only on select trains is Coach Class reserved. Reserved means you are guaranteed a seat, but not assigned one. Unreserved means you can ride the train, but seating is on a first come basis. Rarely will and unreserved train be standing room only. Also, even though Business Class is reserved it does receive a lot of patronage and sometimes you may not find a seat next to the window. Also to add some passengers like to spread across two seats and if you cannot find any other available seats don’t hesitate to push them over.

2. Neither the Acela Express nor Acela Regional offer checked baggage. That said there will be plenty of room in the overhead luggage racks and there is additional luggage storage space at one end of the car for oversized suitcases. Just for the record checked baggage service on other trains is a very reliable service on Amtrak.

3. It doesn’t matter if you get on in Back Bay or South Station. Coming from Cape Cod I always board at South Station if we leave from Boston. South Station does offer plenty of plenty of food places and plus since trains originate there you will get a better choice of seating. Also if you are traveling First Class South Station has an exclusive lounge called “Club Acela”. Here you can relax away from the rush of crowds and enjoy complementary snacks and beverages. The only complaint some have about South Station is its temperature. In the winter it can be quite cold and in the summer hot and humid. This is not a problem in the “Club Acela” though.

4. Penn Station I believe has luggage lockers or you can store your bags with the baggage attendant. Both will require some sort of fee. If you are able to use the “Club Acela” you can safely store your bags there at no charge. For safety make sure all your bags have personal identification.

I hope this helps and please don’t hesitate to ask any more questions you may have. Enjoy your holiday in the United States and have a fun ride aboard Amtrak. :)
 

AlanB

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Let me correct a few things here. New York does not have any luggage lockers at all. They are way to dangerous. You can check you bags at the baggage handling station, I think that it costs either 4 or 5 bucks per bag to do this.

You cannot leave your bags in the Club Acela lounge, unless you are departing on a train from New York in First Class. Even then they frown on your leaving the bags there, if you are not in the lounge. This all has to do with security concerns.
 
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gsnichol

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Thank you all for your comments.

The concept of a reserved seat that isn't really reserved at all is quite odd; in Britain, reserved means that a coach and seat number are assigned to you, and you can choose window or aisle when you book. You can also choose smoking or non-smoking and if you want the 'quiet' coach where mobile phones are banned. It isn't a free-for-all, and if someone is sitting in your seat they have to move. Reserved seating is found (compulsory!) on all InterCity long-distance trains (ditto the TGV in France and Eurostar). They also serve you food (coffee, sandwiches etc) at your seat, even in standard class. Commuter trains don't have reserved seating.

I'm also grateful for the comments re checked baggage; nowhere that I could find on Amtrak's website does it say that checked baggage is not available on this route (it doesn't say that it is either). It simply states that checked baggage is available at Boston South and New York Penn stations - so thanks for the tips on that one.

Thanks also for the coments about left luggage; I asked as I have quite a few hours to kill between checking out of the hotel and the flight from JFK. If the hotel won't keep the suitcases it's nice to know I can leave them at the train station. This may be a better option anyway, as I believe I can get a bus from Penn station to JFK.

Thank you all very much.

Gary.
 

Amfleet

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Alan, back in April we were graciously allowed to leave our belongings in the Lounge while we went to get a snack. However, we were leaving on another train out of New York.

You can not use the Club Acela unless your are departing or arriving in a First Class accomadation that day. So you can't check out from your hotel, wait at the Club Acela, then head over to JFK. :)
 

AlanB

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Amfleet said:
However, we were leaving on another train out of New York.
Amfleet,

And that's the key phrase. You were leaving on another train. However if you had arrived in NY via first class on a train, but were not taking another train that day, then you would not have been allowed to leave your bags in the lounge. :)
 

battalion51

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On a slightly unrelated subject, when I travel to Baltimore this summer I'm taking P195 from BAL to WAS, then transferring to P091 (this is so I have less time between hotel checkout and getting on the train, also so I can see Washington Union as a railfan). Do you think Baltimore'd let me check my bags for 91 there so I don't have to carry them on P195 with me? My Mom really likes the idea of ClubAcela so she can relax and read there, while I roam Washington Union. I will of course spend the 15-30 minutes before the arrival of 91 in ClubAcela, the go out to the platform to record them as they pull in/back in (I don't know which).
 

AlanB

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battalion51 said:
Do you think Baltimore'd let me check my bags for 91 there so I don't have to carry them on P195 with me?
I don't know about that. In theory they might let you do that, however with today's security levels they really shouldn't. I suppose since 195 is only about 2 hours ahead of 91, if you just show up for 195 and only present your tickets for 91, that they would accept your bags without question.

However, if you tell them what you are going to do then I don't know what will happen. Also make sure that you keep your overnight carryon's with you.

battalion51 said:
I will of course spend the 15-30 minutes before the arrival of 91 in ClubAcela, the go out to the platform to record them as they pull in/back in (I don't know which).
Train 91 will pull straight into Union Station on one of the through tracks, the highest numbered tracks. However unless you can sweet talk an employee into opening a door for you, you won't be going down to track level to see it pull in. They keep all doors at Union station locked until boarding time.

Additionally you may well get challenged even if you do get someone to open the door for you. Plus, since WAS is a service stop, they will pull in long before it will be announced in the station and the doors are opened.
 

battalion51

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Well I mean what service is there to be done, change crews and water the train. The diesels should already be on the train since the change is at Philly. Although with mail and express going away, it wouldn't surprise me if they started using AEM-7's on all Silver Service trains (ala Silver Meteor).
 

Amfleet

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I'm not sure you will see an engine change in DC on your trip, but the E-60s are being phased out.
 

Bill Haithcoat

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When I went to DC very recently I was told that they had started changing engines at DC again instead of at Philly. Whether the person I was talking to knew what he was talking about I don't know.I think it was the guy at at the Acela Lounge..
 

battalion51

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Hmmm, I'll try to see if I can get that info off of ARROW or one of the manifests.
 

Amfleet

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Acutally, I believe the Palmetto, Silver Star, and Three Rivers are the only trains running with an E-60 between NYC and PHL. The Crescent I thought started changing in WAS last fall.
 

Viewliner

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I've ridden the Meteor enough to know that they change in D.C., they always have, I know Philly does the change for the Silver Star, and probably will continue to until another schedule change, as they don't allow enough time at that stop right now for the other change.
 

Bill Haithcoat

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That must explain it. The person I was talking to was probably speaking for the Crescent only, since that was what I was boarding, and not necessarily for the others.
 

AlanB

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battalion51 said:
Well I mean what service is there to be done, change crews and water the train. The diesels should already be on the train since the change is at Philly. Although with mail and express going away, it wouldn't surprise me if they started using AEM-7's on all Silver Service trains (ala Silver Meteor).
Well the schedule allows for 15 minutes of down time at DC. The crew is changed here, along with rewatering the train. Also I believe that the lounge and perhaps even the diner, receive new supplies here.

Then they pre-board any handicapped and families, before the general boarding announcement. So you may or may not get to see it pull in. Plus in theory there is still the extra security measures. If I got challenged in New Orleans walking down the platform this past December, don't be surprised to get stopped in DC.

One other note however, head for the upper levels of the attached parking garage. Entrance is down near gate A or B, I think. You can get a really nice overhead view of much of the action as trains enter the station from the NEC.
 

AlanB

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Viewliner said:
I've ridden the Meteor enough to know that they change in D.C., they always have, I know Philly does the change for the Silver Star, and probably will continue to until another schedule change, as they don't allow enough time at that stop right now for the other change.
Agreed they would need to change all the scheduled arrivals at stations between Philly and DC, before they could change engines at DC for those trains that currently change at Philly.
 

Bill Haithcoat

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Alan, thanks for noting that "upper level of attached parking garage". That is what I was attemting to explain in my recent trip report. In all my visits to DC I for some reason had never discovered that until this last trip and it was indeed, a grand viewing site.
 

battalion51

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Ok thanks Alan for the advice. I'm going to try to do some train watching while in Baltimore. If anyone knows good spots there I'd love to know.
 

Amfleet

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Well, I have never been in the station, but there is a walkway over the trcks and stairs that lead down to the platforms. There may be some large windows to look out of on the walkway.
 

Amfleet

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Yes, Baltimore's station is off to one side then sticking out is a pedestrian walkway that has stairs comming off the sides leading to track level.
 

Bill Haithcoat

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B51, here is a non-rail related tip for you on sightseeting. If you can be on the left hand side of the n.b. train after leaving Alexandria, you will see the the Jefferson Memorial,the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and a couple of views of the Capital. You do not see the White House. But MUCH of the major scenery of DC is on the northbound train's left....so keep that in mind.

And even in the dark these buildings are usually somewhat lighted.
 

Amfleet

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It is very neat as you almost feel your right there. If you sit on the other side you'll just get a view of Regan-National. Also some items of internest along the way. When going northbound you will actually want to be on the right to get a look at the Quantico Air Station, though once in the DC area be sure to look to your left.
 
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