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The Experience Of Riding Amtrak Trains

Not bad. Not bad at all.

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JFK, New York- I was telling my parents about the experience of taking the train:

“It’s actually pretty nice. It’s clean. The trains are generally on time. All you have to do is get on board, sit down, and sleep for seven hours until you arrive at Penn Station.”

Except for its range, scope, and sometimes price, the experience of commuter rail transport in the USA is top notch. I would say it’s even better than Europe. I pay $60, show up at the station five minutes before my train is set to depart, walk over to the tracks, get on board, pass out, and wake up seven hours later in the heart of Manhattan. In the world of over-developed country travel, you can’t beat this.

If I wanted to fly I’d be dropping $130 – $200 and it would still take roughly the same amount of time porthole to porthole (show up 2 hours prior to departure + flight time + transport into the city). Then I’d also have to go through the hassle of airline carry-on baggage restrictions, paying for checked baggage, security checks, being trapped in an airport terminal full of over-priced food and drinks. Then when I finally get on the plan I will be strapped to a seat for the entire duration of the trip. Sure, I can get up and walk down the aisle, but where am I going to go?

Amtrak train

Amtrak does not weigh my bags. I do not need to pay for baggage. I can (pretty much) carry on whatever I can carry. I can also get up out of my seat and walk between the cars. I can stand in the area by the doors. I can go to the dinning car, drink a beer, and hang out. For a frequent flier, train travel spells peace. There is no more relaxing way to travel in the USA.

My take on Amtrak has vacillated over the years. In 2007, I was undecided, stating that Amtrak was good … but only in comparison with Greyhound, the USA’s depressing dominant bus service. By 2008, I was a little more decisive, claiming that Amtrak was the worst public transport option in the world. But just four years later my opinion apparently changed, as I declaring that I actually preferred to travel by Amtrak train than plane. Three months later, I was apparently an Amtrak fanboy, claiming that the rail service provided the best public transportation in America.

I rode down from Rochester to New York City with my two girls. My visit to my family’s home had come to an end. I stood on the rail platform in Rochester as a younger black lady that was the Amtrak attendant responsible for keeping us from getting hit by the train cracked jokes:

“Back up from the yellow line. The closer you are to the yellow line the longer it’s going to take for the train to arrive. If you want the train to come you need to back up.”

“You’ll think the train is coming on these tracks. Well, how do you know that? The train could be coming on the other tracks behind you. We don’t know. So those of you crowding up to the front, if the train comes on the other tracks you’re going to be the last to get on. If everybody stood in the middle then you all would have a fair shot at getting on first.”

I wondered how many times she says that each day.

The train arrived on the tracks everybody thought it would (of course) and we got on and took our seats in a section that had four seats facing each other. We sat down and waved to my parents and Chinese sister as the train pulled away from the station. I realized that I forgot to pack food. My girls began playing their tablets and then conked out. I slept too. I looked out the window as the sunny version of Upstate New York rolled by. Trees, small towns, rivers, canals, lakes. It’s nice here. I grew up in a nice part of the world.


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Filed under: New York, Train Travel, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

5 comments… add one

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  • Trevor June 1, 2019, 8:17 pm

    seems very cheap. by comparison. here 45 minutes on the train to london costs 15£

    Eurostar from London central to Brussels or Paris, is a bit like flying. id check, waiting, though not as much as when flying, strict baggage scanning.. and its a cramped as ur favourite, budget airline. Europe sucks (u dry).

    re staying single, on your other post, my first backpacking trip, in 1992, i hated it , didnt see the point of travelling, as i was missing a then time gf.

    the ‘missing some one feeling’ screwed my trip.. since then, i travel, with no longing for ‘things’ left behind, no heavy heart..

    keep on walking slow

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    • Wade Shepard June 2, 2019, 4:16 pm

      The value of Amtrak decreases the father you travel — at least in comparison to flying. But those shorter day routes though are excellent.

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    • Wade Shepard June 2, 2019, 4:17 pm

      Yes, I’ve had those “missing someone feeling trips” before. They suck.

      Link Reply
  • Sophie O'Kelly June 2, 2019, 4:39 pm

    The journey I have dreamed of for a lifetime.
    Kids are great …

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard June 2, 2019, 7:29 pm

      Buy the ticket, take the ride …

      Link Reply