The Great Train Experiment: A Liveblog

10:40 a.m., aboard the Northeast Regional #174

The Amtrak station at New Carrollton

Last month, as I was planning my annual 4th of July trip to Albany, I decided to take the train – both to save money and cut down on all the hassle associated with flying. I was assured by people who love to travel by train that this would be the best experience I’ve ever had, while others used the word “nuts” to characterize my plan.

I’ve just boarded an have an aisle seat in the quiet car, which is pretty much what I was after – so far, so good. I did realize, however, that the outlets are by the window seats, so I may try to switch if an opportunity presents itself, even though I like sitting on the aisle better.

My train to NYC.

I’ve got plenty to keep me busy: a Kindle full of books (“A Game of Thrones” is currently in process), three knitting projects, a ton of podcasts, and of course a busy Twitter feed (NHL free agency starts at noon). I’ll update in a while as to how I’m doing – bored or happy to be relaxing.

Apologies, by the way, if the formatting is wonky. The iPhone app for WordPress doesn’t give much in the way of photo options, so I had to code some of it by hand, and my coding is rusty at best.

11:15 a.m.

I got my window seat – and electrical outlet – in Baltimore. Yippee!

11:55 a.m.

Hello, Wilmington!


12:35 p.m., somewhere between Philly and Trenton

Only gripe so far: I am freezing! There is way, way too much air conditioning in this train car. Of course, I am *always* cold, so not having a sweater or wrap easily at hand is totally a failure on my part. No blame to Amtrak for this one.

12:52 p.m., just past Trenton

Big win for taking the train – I realized I could warm up by hanging out at the doors when we stopped! I basked in a muggy little sunbeam in the doorway when we paused in Trenton and now I’m feeling all toasty again. Yippee!

I also gave the restroom a try while I was out and about, and it was fairly decent. But then again, the last time I used the toilet in a train I was in Thailand, and it was literally a hole straight down to the train tracks, so my standards are, perhaps, not so high.

Forty-five more minutes to Penn Station…

2:11 p.m., waiting to depart Penn Station on Amtrak #235 to Albany

I want to note here, that had I been on an airplane for the last half hour or so, I would not have had the amusement of watching Twitter blow up when the Flyers signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr to a $3.3 million dollar contract. Had I not been on the quiet car, I would have laughed out loud. Instead, I’ll just say: “Hahaha! Suckers!”


As someone who has only taken the train long distances in foreign countries, I kinda thought big-city train stations (Cairo, Bangkok) were confusing because I didn’t speak the language. I assumed making a very quick transfer (under 30 minutes) at Penn Station in New York would be easy, since the signs would at least be in English.


Lesson learned: giant train stations are confusing, irrespective of the language the signage is in. I managed to find my train with time to spare, but I had that same flustered, fish-out-of-water feeling I’ve had before. Huh. Wasn’t expecting that.

The big disappointment on this train is that there’s no food service – I had counted on eating on the train to make up for not allowing myself enough time to pick up lunch. Of course, the upside here is that at least I have a bottle of water and some cookies (of the chocolate salty oat variety from Teasim – my favorites) in a cooler bag, so at least I have a snack.

Albany is an hour and 45 minutes up the road. I’ll try to check in one more time before I arrive…

3:00 p.m., just north of – I think – Croton

As noted at the beginning of this post, I brought a backpack full of amusements on this train ride, but I’ve hardly touched any of them because the NHL free agency tweet-o-rama started at noon. (I did knit one repeat on the lace trim for the long-in-process green skirt and promptly screwed it up, so that went right back in the bag.) Between the aforementioned Jagr-to-the-Flyers bonanza (giggle) and the Caps making some interesting moves – bringing back former captain Jeff Halpern, letting Boyd Gordon go to the Coyotes, sending Semyon Varlamov and his brittle groin to the Avalanche for two years of first-round picks (!), I’ve been plenty entertained en route.

(And I’m now wondering what all has been transpiring in the 10 minutes I’ve been thumb-typing this. It’s been craaaazy. Gotta go look!)

3:45 p.m., Poughkeepsie-ish

Observation: chocolate salty oat cookies are very messy. Much better suited for their usual role in picnicking than for eating on the train. Glad I have ’em, though.

Oh, and hello Hudson Valley!


4:18 p.m., somewhere between Poughkeepsie and Albany (sorry, wasn’t listening at the last stop)

Still glued to the twitters waiting to see where the Caps are gonna find the cap space to make today’s trades work. (They’ve picked up Joel Ward and Roman Hamerlik since last I updated – crazy!) I’m hoping they trade Alex Semin, and for my brother’s stress level, I hope Tom Poti is retiring, even though I don’t dislike him quite as much as Brian does.

Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting this to evolve into an NHL free agency liveblog, but it’s what I’m thinking about at the moment, which is what liveblogging is for, right?

Ah. We’re at Hudson. The train is starting to thin out now. Almost there!

4:30 p.m., in the home stretch

Since the point of blogging live from the train was to help determine if it is a reasonable alternative to flying (for me, anyway), I thought I’d better write about something other than hockey trades for a minute.

Overall, I’d say this was a fairly successful experiment. My back hurts a little from sitting for so long, which I’ll have to remember for the trip back and plan to get up and walk around more. The seats are much better than on an airplane – both wider and with better leg room. There has been very little accidental bumping into my seatmate, and even when the people in front of me have reclined, my knees have not been crushed.

The general vibe has been much more low-key, too – plenty of courtesy and none of the fraught nerves that are common in airports and on airplanes. Even in the crazy zoo of humanity that was Penn Station, people just seemed rushed, not hostile.

I don’t know if I’d want to do this for every trip – it would really eat up a regular-length long weekend – but when time is not an issue, it’s not a bad way to spend a day.


Oh, and to Brian, who emailed the following:

“Take the train, regret it, and then blog about it….but make sure to clearly put in there ‘my brother said I was nuts and it pains to me say this but he was 100% right.’ :)”

Sorry, dude. You were wrong.

4:52 p.m.

I am here.


Poll: To Train or Not to Train…

See? There's really a moonbounce!
See? There's really a moonbounce!

Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that I live in the city that really pulls out the stops for the 4th of July, it’s the one holiday I regularly flee. I generally head up to the Albany area, where I went to college and lived for most of my 20s, to visit all the folks I miss up there. My friends Linc and Michele throw this big shindig – I’m talking moonbounce and fireworks – and everyone comes. Needless to say, it’s much more fun than sweating on the National Mall with what feels like half of America.

I’m having a bit of a dilemma about my travel planning this year, though. In the past, I’ve been able to fly from BWI for $150 or less… and for a while, it was only $75, round trip. Really. This year I am not finding anything less than $250, and only for flights at times I just can’t make. (And not just because I hate mornings; I’m talking planes that leave before Metro can get me to the airport.) Booking a flight at a reasonable hour is going to run me about $275, and, well, I’m suffering from sticker shock. The price isn’t quite a deal breaker, but – given what a pain in the ass it is to fly anymore – it’s got me thinking about other options.

There’s not a chance in hell that I’d drive, of course. I’ve been there, done that and won’t ever do it again – and not just because I loathe the idea of driving that far, but because a rental car and gas would actually cost more than a plane ticket. I am, however, starting to give some fairly serious consideration to taking the train. I floated the idea on Facebook the other day and got a lot of feedback* – for and against – but I’m still wavering, so I thought if I wrote out my pros and cons, maybe the answer would become more clear.


  • $100 cheaper than flying.
  • More convenient scheduling.
  • No naked scans, pat downs, or magnetometers.
  • Internet access. (Even if the train doesn’t have WiFi, there should be enough 3G service to keep me happy.)
  • No size limit on my toiletries. I can leave the three-ounce bottles and quart-sized bag at home.
  • Slightly more space to move around. Possibly the option of just moving to another seat if someone reclines their seat into my lap.
  • Lots of time to knit, read, write, play Angry Birds… whatever.


  • It takes a long time – about 7.5 hours counting the layover in NYC. This is long enough for me to possibly get fairly stir crazy. (By comparison, with getting to the airport and waiting factored in, flying would not likely take more than 3.5 hours.)
  • An hour each way in Penn Station, the dirtiest place in the Western world.

Ahem. Well, I do seem to have found more pros than cons, but take the poll anyway, please. I already made it.

* The one piece feedback I got on Facebook that I’m ignoring entirely is the option of taking the bus. It’s all the cramped quarters and no club car of the airplane and slower than the train. No good all around.