If we were an airline you’d be dead

Yup.  That’s the line I just heard from one of the attendants in the cabin on the Amtrak Acela train from Washington, DC to New York City. 

I’m a huge fan of the train on this route, particularly in the afternoons which is generally when I’m heading north.  As La Guardia starts to back up with weather, ATC or other delays the afternoon flights start to get delayed, even for the Shuttle service from Delta and US Air, which are arguable the most profitable flights in the USA.  My experience has been almost universally positive on the Amtrak ride.  Sure, there was one trip where our train broke down and we had to transfer to another train across a bridge plate, but that is a fun story and I still made it where I was going at a reasonable time.

Today, however, it seems that the 4pm Acela Express train out of Washington broke down in Trenton.  I don’t know the details, but we pulled in to Trenton on the 5pm train out of DC and picked up the passengers off the 4pm train.  And wow were they a grumpy bunch.  I don’t blame them, as the hour delay is certainly annoying.  Plus they apparently weren’t really given any information about what happened or when our train was going to be passing through to pick them up.

So when the passengers all came across the platform and onto our train the attendant made the appropriate announcement that they were all in the first class compartment and that they needed a first class ticket.  That evoked a less than pleasant response from one of the passengers about being an hour delayed.  And that brought about the line that is the title of this post.  I certainly chuckled a bit when he said it, and he has a point.  Doesn’t mean that it was the best customer service moment in history, but it was definitely entertaining and true.

As for why I prefer the train over the planes on the afternoon north-bound flights, I managed to catch the 5pm train having left the office at 4:10 and stopping at another office on the way to say hi to another acquaintance.  I had about 15 minutes to spare on making the train and I took the Metro in DC from the office in DuPont circle to Union Station.  Given a similar departure time I would’ve taken the 5:30pm Delta Shuttle from Washington National airport.  My train arrives at 7:45pm at Penn Station in NYC, while the Shuttle is scheduled to land at La Guardia at 6:44pm.  But on a day that had clear skies and no weather issues at all throughout the NE Corridor the Shuttle flight was delayed, landing at 7:13pm, arriving 1:43 after departure on a flight that takes, at most, about 45 minutes.  My train might be a couple minutes late thanks to the extra stop at Trenton, but I’ll still make it home within ~15 minutes of when I would have had I flown.  And the train is way more consistent in its ability to arrive around when it is supposed to.  Sure, the one train today was late, but there aren’t systemic delays that are affecting all trains, unlike the air traffic system in the NYC area. 

Lower stress, bigger seats, a more reliable schedule, a much tamer ridiculous security theater and lower fares.  All in exchange for about 15 extra minutes on the total travel time.  And I still get my Continental OnePass miles for the trip or Amtrak Guest Rewards Points.  What’s not to like about the train?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. “If we were an airline you’d be dead”

    What a silly comment to make. If Amtrak were an airline they’d have much more rigorous safety checks and thus almost certainly not have broken down.

  2. Of course it was a stupid comment. And that was probably one of the less stupid things that guy said on the ride. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

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