I rode Amtrak up and down the Northeast Corridor during the pandemic and found it surprisingly clean, cheap, and stress-free


Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
  • Amtrak has been muddling through the pandemic with reduced ridership but is still full steam ahead of health and safety protocols.

  • Face masks are required and capacity is blocked at 50% on all trains, and Amtrak now tells riders how full their train currently is during booking.

  • I rode on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and Acela services to see how the rail company is tackling the pandemic. 

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Although a life-long flyer, I’ve always enjoyed the occasional train trip. 

Traveling by rail long has been overlooked by the public, including myself, as airlines have been able to provide faster, and often cheaper service. But Amtrak’s new health and safety protocols should have travelers giving it a second chance for regional travel, at least during the pandemic. 

Face masks are required onboard all trains and Amtrak has kept its loads consistently capped at 50% by blocking all adjacent seats even while some airlines have buckled on their commitments to block middle seats. Travelers can even see how full their trains are by checking Amtrak’s website so they know exactly what to expect when stepping aboard. 

Read moreAirline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

And that’s even while keeping its fares pretty low on its most popular routes. The 3-hour hop from New York to Washington still starts at $29 on the Northeast Regional while the slightly longer journey from Boston to New York is often the same price, with all the nostalgia of inter-city train travel included. 

On a weekday recent trip to Boston, I took Amtrak to and from New York’s Pennsylvania Station. I started on the Northeast Regional and returned on the high-speed Acela to get adequately acquainted with the service. 

Here’s what it’s like riding on Amtrak during the pandemic.

My journey started in the heart of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor at New York’s Pennsylvania Station underneath Madison Square Garden.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It’s definitely not as grand as Washington, DC’s Union Station, Los Angeles’ Union Station, or even Chicago’s Union Station, but is still more convenient than heading to anyone of my local airports.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Surprisingly, it was quite empty on the Wednesday morning of my visit, which echoed on my train.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

One of the perks of traveling by train is being able to arrive mere minutes before your train’s departure and still having time to spare. My Northeast Regional train was scheduled to depart at 9:35 a.m. and I arrived just 10 minutes prior to departure thanks to a delay on my inbound commuter train.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I quickly got my ticket from one of the self-serve kiosks. Amtrak also has a mobile app from where the conductor can scan a ticket, similar to a mobile boarding pass when flying, if travelers prefer not to use the machines.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Ticket in hand, I stopped by the Amtrak waiting area available only to Amtrak and NJ Transit riders.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Social distancing placards lead the way into the area compounded by signage reminding visitors to social distance and of Amtrak’s face-covering policy.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Seats weren’t blocked, as I’ve seen in airport waiting areas, but the space wasn’t nearly crowded enough for concern.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The station is open to the public but this waiting area is only open to Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers, making it the ideal place to wait before the journey away from the general population.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Soon enough, it was time to board the 9:35 a.m. Northeast Regional to Newark Liberty International Airport where I’d catch a flight to Boston. It sounds counterintuitive but I had an important flight to catch.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Read More: I flew on Spirit Airlines’ first ‘shuttle’ flight from Newark to Boston for $25 and still overpaid – here’s why it’s a great budget option

Just like with the waiting area, social distancing placards created a path to the platform.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

A quick ticket check and I was on my way to the train with no invasive security checks or unnecessary waiting. Train travel was already beating airplane travel.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I was riding in coach for the 24-minute journey to Newark, having paid $24 for the trip. It’s more expensive than taking NJ Transit but the seat-blocking guarantee appealed more than riding on another commuter train.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The train was less than half full and finding a seat in the car was quite easy. Amtrak’s website showed this train was 20% full when I checked the night before the journey.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I sat in the first pair I found, with these large gray leather seats becoming my home for the next 24 minutes.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The seats were comfortable, the legroom was more than adequate, and with every adjacent seat blocked for social distancing, I didn’t have to worry about getting a neighbor.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Each pair also comes equipped with two 120v AC power outlets, ideal for working on a laptop during the longer rides or charging a phone.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As soon as we got out of the tunnel into New Jersey, the nostalgia of train travel was all around. I suddenly wished I was taking the train all the way to Boston instead of just to the airport.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The car was clean and quiet, offering a truly relaxing and stress-free environment.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

These placards were spread throughout the train, furthering the social distancing messaging, and masks were required at all times.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Moving between the cars, I noticed that the doors already had foot releases so that passengers didn’t have to touch the button with their hands. That nifty functionality certainly comes in handy during the pandemic.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

In the cafe car, the dining area was closed for all riders as part of pandemic-related safety precautions.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

But the cafe was open, though outfitted with some new safety measures including a plexiglass partition and social distancing placards on the floor.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And even the lavatory was clean, a surprise for any mode of public transportation.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

After saying goodbye to the Northeast Regional, I then flew to Boston to meet up with the Acela.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

In Boston, trains depart from Amtrak’s terminus at South Station, a truly grand station in the heart of the city.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

This time, I’d be riding on Acela, Amtrak’s high-speed rail that only serves the Northeast Corridor.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Amtrak’s ticket counters had been upgraded with new plexiglass partitions…

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

But I once again visited the self-serve kiosks for my ticket.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

We boarded at 4 p.m. for the 4:15 p.m. Acela to New York. The high-speed service made only four stops with a scheduled travel time of three hours and 45 minutes.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It was my first time on the Acela and although the service is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, the trains still seemed new to me, but only to me.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

These trains will eventually be upgraded to newer, faster trains in 2021.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Read More: The history of Amtrak’s new Acela trains, which will likely be delayed beyond their 2021 estimated date

Unlike the Northeast Regional, all seats are now assigned on the Acela as a result of the pandemic so I didn’t have to worry about finding the right seat.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The train was noticeably older and tired-looking. But thankfully, it was a lot emptier than the Northeast Regional train I took earlier with Amtrak also showing this service as 20% full the night before the journey.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Seats on the Acela trains are split between pairs and tables.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I chose a window seat for the journey. It was clean and ready for me to enjoy for the next four hours.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The seat had a similar size to the Regional and the legroom was similarly generous.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Seats also come with a tray table, the functionality of which was quite interesting but the surface was clean, nonetheless.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Above the seats were personal reading lights, much like on a plane, but no air vent.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And on the floor, there are two 120v AC power outlets.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As this was going to be a long ride, I quickly reclined and got comfortable.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I was lucky as there was nobody around me for rows in each direction on this Wednesday evening run from Boston to New York.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I must’ve been one of less than five people in the car.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I recommend the quiet car as it was the most empty and made for a tranquil environment in which to relax.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Other cars were more full up and seats can be changed via the Amtrak mobile app or website up until departure for the most accurate depiction of each car.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As we settled in for the longer stretches of the journey, Acela staff turned down the lights so we could get some rest.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Almost as if they read my mind, it was exactly what I needed to get comfortable and eventually drift off between Providence, Rhode Island and New Haven, Connecticut.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

When I woke, I went to tour the rest of the train, starting with the lavatory. Just like on the regional, the lavatory was clean but this one, however, was more spacious.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Acela has these personal water cup dispensers, which was a nice touch as I was very thirsty after stepping onboard.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Eventually, I stumped upon the “Cafe Acela.”

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

A hand sanitizer dispenser and social distancing placards guided me into the empty cafe car.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Just like on the Regional, the seating area in this car was closed and riders weren’t allowed to linger here.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The slightly more stylish space didn’t seem ideal to hang out in, however, as the bar stools didn’t seem as comfortable as the Regional’s cushioned cafe car bench seats.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

But the cafe was open with a full menu.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Food items were reasonably priced for a premium train service and Amtrak could probably charge more considering the normal high-end clientele. A cheese and cracker tray was $5.75, a cheeseburger was $7.50, and coke products were $2.75.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I returned to my seat for the last hour of the journey for a Zoom meeting, in which Amtrak’s free WiFi performed most excellently.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

We ended up arriving in New York around 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

This would be the last stop for the train as it wouldn’t, in fact, continue on to Washington.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And just a few minutes later, I was in the heart of New York City once more.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Both of my train trips were highly enjoyable, to say the least, and showed how Amtrak is a hidden gem for regional travel during the pandemic. I didn’t once have to worry about social distancing or the cleanliness of the cars while onboard. 

The key advantage Amtrak has over the airlines, even on a short trip to Boston, is that traveling by train is often a more stress-free experience than flying when everything is going right. Case in point, I didn’t have to arrive two hours before my train, go through a security checkpoint, or line up in a jetway to board.

On the Northeast Regional, I arrived just a few minutes before my train was to depart and didn’t have to wait in line at all. On the Acela, reserving a seat ahead of time also allowed me to sit as far away from others as I could without having to worry about finding the perfect seat upon stepping aboard. 

Train travel, unfortunately, isn’t fast or luxurious but that might change come January. Amtrak will soon have an ally in the White House to help fund much-needed improvements and infrastructure projects that will make the railroad company more competitive with the airlines.

Despite the system’s greater shortcomings, however, Amtrak is a great option for regional travel thanks to its new health and safety protocols. And I’ll certainly be looking forward to my next train trip. 

 

 

Read the original article on Business Insider



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *