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Amtrak?

Biscotti

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I plan on going to NYC in early May; I've been seriously considering taking the train out of Cincinnati. I don't want to drive there mainly because parking, fees, and I don't really trust my car that much (it is a piece of shit). Round trip Amtrak is about $100 cheap than a plane, and I end up in Manhattan, so I would be able to just take a the subway to my friend's house.

How is Amtrak's service though? Would appreciate feedback from those who've actually used Amtrak. I want to go this route, but if it is going to be a huge headache then I'll just fly.
 

dcg

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It's been 10 years or so, but I used to take the train a few times a year between DC and Philly. Don't recall ever having any issues.

My sis took the train from the Philly burbs to NYC recently. She ordered tix online, and went to print them out at the kiosk in the station...which was broken. Called customer service and was told to just show her receipt, but the conductor wouldn't accept that. She had to buy a ticket on the train, then deal with calling Amtrak to get a refund for the initial ticket. Kind of a hassle, but it worked out in the end.

I take SEPTA to work daily (uses the same rails as Amtrak), and if they are to believed, then Amtrak had pretty frequent switch problems (at least in the Philly area). I suspect SEPTA is just looking for someone else to blame for their shitty service.
 

MrGoodBytes

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Its been a number of years since I've used amtrak as well but if you don't mind the additional travel time, its a great option. only complaint has ever been that I find navigating around a lot of the train stations to be confusing.
 

Biggskip

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My coworker recently did Cleveland to Chicago. He was pretty thrilled with it. There was a dining and bar car. There is plenty of leg room in the seating area and most of the cars are equipped with Wi-Fi (free) so you can keep up on all the SF threads you are currently following.
 

Pundit

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My impression is that going thru Pittsburg is a roll of the dice with Amtrak, seems like there are extended stops for engine changes etc. there, so perhaps try a route that avoids Pitt or just start your trip from there. If you can drive a bit further, consider the Keystone train that goes between Harrisburg-Phila-NYC, I will often take this train between Phila-NYC instead of the regional trains (i.e., Bos-NYC-Phila-DC) because it tends to be less crowded.

Best of luck.
 

Teacher

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It's been a number of years since I've taken Amtrak, but the trip was quite pleasant overall with the exception of probably the crabbiest group of employees I've ever seen. Food and comfort were very nice, though.
 

Michigan Planner

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I've taken short trips quite frequently from the northern 'burbs of Detroit to Chicago and love it compared to flying. I also use it in the fall to go to Ann Arbor to go to football games and don't have to deal with any of the traffic of folks coming into town or leaving. I can walk to my local Amtrak stop and not have to worry about parking or stuff like that. As mentioned above, the seats usually have more legroom than an airplane, and I like the view from the train - going through gritty industrial areas is pretty interesting to me (though certain stretches with lots of farms can get a bit old). They also have outlets next to your seat that allow you to plug in your laptop or cellphone which is convenient.

My only complaints is that the trains can get painfully slow when traveling through certain areas because Amtrak generally doesn't own the lines and the freight trains have right of way.

Overall though, I love traveling by Amtrak and I wish it were more convenient to do so out of Detroit (nearly everything here has to go out of its way to Chicago first).
 

Aldehyde

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Don't know about the east coast, but I've done trips from SF to PDX along the coast on the Coast Starlight. It is a much more relaxed, classier way to travel. Surprisingly good food (keep in mind it is a train) and a wine / cheese tasting with local fare.

I think this train is quite different than the commuter trains on the east coast, but i love it.

 
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criss crossed the US a few times on Amtrak in my younger years. Priceless experience.
 

suited

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Copied from a review website:

You see, I foolishly chose Amtrak once. Once.

Back around 1992 some friends and I all decided to travel to LA so we could watch the Aggies (Texas A&M) play Stanford in the Disney Pigskin Classic Football Thing Bowl (Aggies won, whooooop!). We saw an ad for Amtrak and how favorably it compared to air travel in terms of pricing. We looked through the snazzy Amtrak brochures. Saw lots of smiling people resting in comfort on big reclining seats. People sleeping peacefully (again -- smiling) in nice big berths in sleeper rooms. Families smiling through large windows at breathtaking scenery. Couples smiling at one another as they enjoyed a good-looking meal ("prepared by chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America" as the brochure described it).

Sure, it was going to take 2 days to go from Houston to LA, but what the heck -- it would be an adventure.

Surprise #1-- The snazzy Amtrak brochures showed people (smiling, of course) resting and reading and riding comfortably on the big reclining seats, and these seats could be had for roughly the same cost as airline tickets for the same route. When we asked about the sleeper rooms, we discovered that sleeping accommodations on Amtrak cost approximately as much as a well-used sedan. THOUSANDS of dollars.

Surprise #2-- the train arrived three hours late for departure, meaning we were sitting around the downtown train station (imagine a bus-stop with slightly less warmth and charm) until near 11 PM. Little did we know at the time, but this delay would be the high-water mark for Amtrak punctuality on our trip.

Surprise #3-- all the smiling people in the brochure had apparently elected to take other conveyances, 'cuz there were NO smiling faces on the train we boarded. The A/C seemed to either be not working or not turned on. There were people dragging FEEDSACKS full of belongings down the aisles, including one large shirtless man who had an ancient Hoover upright tossed over one shoulder and an Igloo Playmate cooler in the other hand. I kept expecting to see someone stuffing a wooden cage filled with chickens into an overhead bin.

Surprise #4-- the conductor gave us the Amtrak welcome by explaining over the microphone that (and this is as close to an actual quote as I can recall) "I ain't here to pick up after you people. The pockets on the back of the seat are NOT for trash, and if you stop up one of the toilets, I'm NOT fixing it, so be careful about how much paper you toss in there. The snack car closes in ten minutes, so if you want something you better move now or be ready to wait until breakfast." And then he left the car without further comment.

Surprise #5-- the comfy looking recliners from the brochures had apparently been replaced with extension ladders covered in old carpet. I am not an overly large man -- six feet tall -- yet my feet would wedge under the seat in front of me, meaning I was unable to recline on the seat without turning sideways into a fetal position with my back twisted up at a 30 degree angle. Try sleeping that way for two days in 80 degree heat.

Surprise #6-- the train pulled over on a siding in San Antonio in the middle of the night (3 am?), ALL power was turned off (including the ventilation fans) and then we just sat there with no explanation for 90 minutes or so, sweating in the silence.

Surprise #7-- those "CIA-trained" chefs apparently concentrated their training on how to over-microwave vending machine sandwiches. Six dollars and a twenty minute wait for a gray rubber chicken sandwich that was literally still inside the plastic bag when served. We all agreed that cold pork&beans from the can would have been more appetizing than anything we were served on the train.

Surprise #8-- the observation car is basically useless for observing since it looks like a refugee train due to all the people (obviously repeat Amtrak victims) who have turned the floor of that car into a huge campground, complete with sleeping bags, bags of groceries, and piles of games and books. It was almost impossible to walk to the snack car without hopping carefully over at least a few snoring lumps.

Surprise #9-- the snack car is the only smoking car on the train. I'm not a smoker, but in order to get a soda or a two-dollar bag of smokehouse almonds I had to hold my breathe and dive into a room choked with gray smoke. The snack bar, by the way, is ALSO where the TV-VCR is, so if you travel Amtrak with kids and hope to let them kill an hour or so with a movie, you have to leave them hanging in the smokehouse like bacon to be cured.

Surprise #10-- somewhere outside Tucson one of our fellow travelers suffered a stroke. He was obviously dying before our very eyes, yet the only response from the Amtrak employees was stop the train and to tell people to stand back and leave him alone. My wife, an ICU nurse, immediately jumped in to assist the man, and my party ended up administering CPR and mouth-to-mouth for 20 minutes until paramedics arrived. They had to strap the man to a board and then drag him down the narrow spiral staircase that is the only access to the upstairs seating area. As soon as the man and his wife were removed, the train resumed its journey westward. No Amtrak representative ever said a word to anyone in my party -- no "thanks for trying to save our passenger" or "would you like a towel to wipe off the vomit from that poor convulsing man" or even "man -- that was scary, huh?" Nothing.

Surprise #11-- we arrived at LA some TEN hours late, meaning that our first day in LA was already shot, and the other friends (who had wisely FLOWN in) had wasted half their day waiting for a train that wasn't coming. Again, no comment or apology from Amtrak.

Surprise #12-- after spending several days in SoCal, it was time to get BACK on the train for the trip home. We were literally IN TEARS at the thought of repeating that experience, but we found that Amtrak would only refund 40 dollars of the 220-dollar fare if we canceled, and that plane travel would cost us 200 dollars each on such short notice. SO we trudged back to the train, this time making sure to stock up on groceries and sleeping pills so as to be better prepared for the rolling shipwreck before us. Again, the train was late in arriving, and this time we sat in the motionless train in the LA switchyards for four hours with no explanation. When we finally got an Amtrak employee to explain what was going on, we were told that we'd be waiting for a few MORE hours to hook up with a train coming down from Seattle. It was 2 am and we snapped. We demanded our luggage. The Amtrak people tried to talk us down, but we were past the point of listening. We got off the train (amidst a car full of cheers from folks who sympathized with the agony), ran back to the station and demanded our damned 40 dollars. When the clerk asked if we wanted that refund "in cash or in vouchers for future Amtrak travel," I thought one of my traveling companions was about to crash through that bulletproof window and throttle the poor woman. We loaded what luggage we had collected into a cab, drove to LAX, slept on the floor of the terminal and grabbed the first available flight to Houston. When we heard the airline captain apologize for running three minutes behind schedule (THREE MINUTES!), we laughed at our earlier folly.

We later learned that the train BACK to Houston had been delayed until past dawn, and that it arrived in Houston some 18 hours late.

Despite numerous letters and complaints to every Amtrak office and official that I could track down over the course of the next year or so, we never did get anything more than the 40 dollar refund. We did find out that that poor man had in fact died later that night in Tucson. The trip has become somewhat legendary among our friends, and we still get requests to tell the horrific story of our Amtrak Trip From Hell.

That Amtrak trip ranks as the absolute WORST travel experience I have ever had the gross misfortune to experience. I would rather be dragged behind a low-flying blimp than to ever travel by Amtrak. I'd rather be repeatedly fired from a cannon to travel. Amtrak makes bus travel seem luxurious. Given a choice of Amtrak or not traveling at all, my recommendation would be to stay home.

As we actually told a man who was complaining about a missed flight at LAX: "Dude, it's better to miss a plane than to take the train."
 

newinny

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I'm actually riding amtrak right now from boston to nyc on business. Not bad but there's a 20 minute delay due to weather. Usually prefer Amtrak to planes if the train ride is less than four hours.
 

Teacher

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Originally Posted by suited
Copied from a review website:

You see, I foolishly chose Amtrak once. Once.


Well, okay. There's one.
 

whiteslashasian

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Originally Posted by newinny
I'm actually riding amtrak right now from boston to nyc on business. Not bad but there's a 20 minute delay due to weather. Usually prefer Amtrak to planes if the train ride is less than four hours.

GF did that a couple of times for some interviews, said it was fine.

I've only really done Metro North and Jersey Transit trains...
 

suited

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Originally Posted by Teacher
Well, okay. There's one.
I've heard terrible things about Amtrak, this review being the worst...but all the experiences that I've had shared with me in conversation were all unpleasant. The biggest beef was the timing. If the train arrived on time it would make a world of difference. It just seems like a pretty unreliable way to travel, unless you have a lot of time you can risk. I believe I documented my 'almost' Amtrak trip on here a long time ago. The train was going to be some 6 hours late because of a broken part, so we just took a flight.
 

otc

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I have had OK and not so OK trips.

Did Minneapolis to MT to go skiing and it was pretty sweet. Chicago to Minneapolis however sucks.

The problem with amtrak is that they don't own any rails...so some shitty old train filled with coal gets to go ahead of you. I have been pushed backwards on the tracks in the middle of wisconsin so that a freight train could go ahead of us. Yes, we were already at the point where we were past it, but we had to back up to let them go first.

Also for CHI-MSP, the MegaBus costs a fraction of the amtrak ticket, has internet, leaves several times a day, and takes less time (and even less when you factor in the fact that amtrak has never been within even an hour of on time for me). Of course lately I have been flying this route since southwest entered the market and pushed prices down (though round trip time is not *that* far off of megabus time since I have to factor in security and trains to and from the airports)
 

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