Sunday, August 16, 2009

Auto Train

Since I'm moving to the Washington DC area for my new job, I decided to try out the Amtrak Auto Train. After all, I am moving from one end of the route to the other. Plus, the alternate option was to drive my car up, and that didn't sound as appealing.

The trip takes 17 hours (depart 4 pm, arrive 9:30 am the next day), and it went by pretty quick. Dinner was tasty and included complimentary white wine. The seat next to me was unoccupied so I stretched out a little bit and had no trouble sleeping. But then I doze off easily on airplanes and sometimes in cars.

One friendly couple gave me a ton of advice on the route - they live in Philadelphia and were frequent travelers. The main advice was that the sleeper cars (super liner roomette, and bedroom) weren't really worth it since the trip was just one overnight. And who hasn't taken a long plane flight and slept en route? Same thing, except the train is more spacious even in regular seats.

Another tip is to always try to get a lower level seat. That's because each car connects on the top level, so foot traffic is higher in general above. On top of that, half of the lower level is occupied by restrooms. So if you sit on the top level, you will have a better view from the window, but people will walk by you all the time on the way to the stairs down for the restroom. Meanwhile, on the lower level, there is a sliding door separating the passenger compartment (big enough for 12 passengers) from the restroom half, so we don't hear much noise at all.

The train included a "lounge" car, which had booths, coffee and snacks available all the time, and small TV screens for movie showings. Amtrak tries to arrange families and especially kids near the lounge cars, since they tend to go back and forth to the lounge. Another reason the upper level tends to be busy. All the way at one end was the dining car, which served up a very nice dinner (I had vegetarian lasagna).

There were electric sockets available along the windows, and if I had known that I might have brought my notebook on so I could watch a movie. Instead it stayed packed in my car, which wasn't had since then I didn't have to worry about my computer when I went off to eat. I brought a book, but wound up looking out the window until dinner time, and doing that again after dinner until it was dark. When I woke up around 6:30 am, I had breakfast and then the staff announced we were running nearly an hour ahead of schedule and would arrive at 8:30 am!

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