Image source: www.capemay.com/
People complain about Amtrak. The two biggest complaints I hear are that, one, the trains are often extremely late, and, two, it costs a lot.
Maybe it's because it wasn't so long ago that I was sitting the back seat of a car, but I say it's a lot nicer to sit in the back seat and look out the window than worry about directions, gas stops, bathroom breaks, traffic, and all the other things that can possibly go wrong when you're behind the wheel (a LOT).
So a train ride with music in my ears and a book in my lap (or laptop or newspaper or magazine or homework) with all the greenery passing by is preferable to sitting shotgun for four hours.* So let's see what people do wrong when they use Amtrak...
*sitting shotgun after spending months as a pedestrian is a MOST HARROWING EXPERIENCE. My rule while walking around the city is stay far, far away from those crazy cars, so being in a car is nerve-wracking at best.
1. The trains are late, late, late and more late.
I have been there, sitting in Union Station or 30th Street Station for three hours, watching all the little numbers flicker to reveal that my train is ... another half hour late, at least. Amtrak is different from a plane in that it's a much more integrated system than a plane jumping off the ground in one place and landing on it the next, trains work more like traffic: if there's a jam ten miles down the road, you're going to feel it right where you are.*
So what can you do? Call ahead. It seems like a "Well, DUH." move but it's the best way to save you 30 minutes to 5 hours. The Amtrak machine lady's name is Julie and she's super nice and ... easy? Can I say that about a robot woman? It's all voice command so you don't have to punch numbers in, which is great in case you're driving to the station in I-78 style traffic. The attendants are also nice and super-efficient. And, to be fair, it's only a couple times I've been sitting in a train station for more than 15 minutes more than I expected. But, ya know, it's those few times that really, REALLY get you.
*Hello, I-78, how are you? OH, backed up. Well that's good. I guess. I mean, I didn't REALLY want to do anything with my afternoon, anyway.
Of course, if you're considering taking the train instead of driving a deciding factor is going to be gas prices. So the price of a ticket is really relative to how big your gas tank is, how many cylinders you've got going on, your tire pressure, your oil levels, and your MPG. So it's probably going to be better if you've got one of those Lincoln Navigators. Then again, if you have a Lincoln Navigator, you probably don't care about gas prices ...
But! If a ticket is going to cost you 90 dollars just to get to DC and you have to drive to the station, anyway,* why bother?
But I can get a one way ticket from DC to Philly for 30 bucks. Like planes and whatnot, prices are significantly cheaper if you buy ahead and ridiculously expensive if you buy then-and-there. Plus they offer lots of different kinds of discounts. Student Advantage and AAA are ten percent discount if you've got them, there's NARP, ISIC, military and veterans advantage, too.
It's worth a try, at least once. Don't you want to go someplace and not worry about parking the car? Looking at the scenery for once instead of an ocean of license plates sounds nice, doesn't it? I think it does.
*or take the Beiber bus. But their to and from Philly schedule SUCKS, to be frank.
EDIT: Hooray! Amtrak MIGHT get new funding to start fixing these problems! (link to treehugger.com)