There are four basic ways to travel among Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. You can fly, drive, ride a bus or take a train. Every traveler has his preference, but having played with all four options, I’ve found that hitting the rails is the right one for me, an increasingly popular position. I hate to be behind the wheel (a side-effect of living in Manhattan), and buses do tend to be slow, uncomfortable and unpleasant (though incredibly inexpensive). Flying … well, flying is everything a bus is only more expensive, a little bit faster and still slower, usually than driving or taking the train.
Usually, my decision on how to travel these routes comes down to flying versus rail. There’s no choice any more. Last weekend, I took the Amtrak Acela Express on a Boston-to-New York round trip, my second this year, and I was thrilled with every aspect of the experience.
Here are five reasons why the Acela is far, far superior to air travel in the Bos-Wash corridor:1. Save time up front: whether you’re in Boston or New York, you don’t have to leave the middle of the city to get to your transportation, and the same holds when you arrive at your destination. In New York, you get on at Penn Station, and in Boston, you can choose either South Station or Back Bay Station.
2. Save more time up front: the track isn’t announced until around 15 minutes before your train departs. So, don’t worry about having to get there an hour early or longer. I know, I know: for the Delta Shuttle, you don’t have to get to Marine Air Terminal an hour early, either. If you’re flying at a peak time (think Friday at 5 PM or Monday at 7 AM), you really do need to get to the terminal more than an hour ahead of time. They’re “peak” for a reason.
3. Stretch your legs: business class is the minimum on the Acela Express, and I won’t even begin to fantasize about what first class is like. Everything is comfortable, from being able to recline (and have the person in front of you do so) to the clean, spacious bathrooms. It can be difficult to get up and walk around when the train is moving at its top speed, but you are free to do so – with no “fasten seatbelt” light to slow you down.
4. Service with a smile: several of the announcements on the ride came with the simple yet highly effective suggestion, “Have a positive day.” It worked. I’ve hear similar announcements on planes before, but not often and not with the same voice (this guy was good). The food options weren’t great, and you do have to pay for them, but again, there was that smile involved.
Note: I have no problem with airlines charging for food and think they should have moved to this model a while ago. A la carte just makes sense to me. The differentiator for the Acela is the service that puts it into your hands.
5. There’s no dehumanizing security process: first, there’s no reason not to feel safe, and there are security measures in place to protect Amtrak’s customers. That said, you don’t have to squander your youth waiting to get wanded by someone from the TSA. You just carry your bags on board and take your seat.
[photo by Mr. T in DC via Flickr]