Trying to be prepared for my December and January Silver Meteor trips, while visiting family in Greenbelt, MD, I took Metro Rail to Union Station for a lengthy observation of the activities, services, and procedures for boarding and detraining procedures for Amtrak trains. I will have two large bags that need to be checked along with a carry-on bag as well as a small bag specifically with the on-board train items that I know I will want. It was an interesting few hours.
#1: A fire alarm caused guests to leave the area nearest the gates. Trains departing during this time still were allowed to have guests que and board their trains. Amtrak Police and the Department of Homeland Security Police swarmed the Station, both in the area near the gates as well as the area closer to the front of the Station.
#2: Watching several trains depart and arrive when I was at the Station, I was very impressed with the number of people using Amtrak. Long lines to embark the NEC trains as well as lines to embark Silver Star. Clearly, there is a desire for the services that Amtrak provides.
#3: Too few check-in agents are provided at WASH. A separate baggage check-in area to the right of the regular check-in area is available. Only one agent seemed to be assigned to this area and only when guests were there to be checked-in. A wait time for that agent to arrive at that area seemed "normal" for the guests whose services were needed.
#4: Red Cap Service in the baggage claim area is very good. Outside, at the Massachusetts Avenue entrance to Union Station, a Red Cap was available only 50% of the time when I visited the location.
#5: The Union Station Information Desk woman with whom I spoke was most helpful. Yes, one must download timetables and route guides before boarding; none are available at the station or on the train. She provided me with a phone number to call to ensure (I hope) that a Red Cap will be on duty when I arrive at the Massachusetts Avenue entrance.
#6: Not unlike many airport PA systems in passenger areas, WASH's is the same as to clarity.
#7: As a non-ticketed passenger for the day of my visit, there were no seating areas available for me to rest my feet/legs during my visit. One had to either patronize one of the dining establishments for a seat or find a Gate Area that was not busy. I was very impressed that the Amtrak Police kept an eye on these areas, particularly close to when the "final boarding call" was made. The Officer I witnessed "made a sweep" of that boarding area for the Silver Star.
#8: I patronized a well known chain restaurant for a bite of lunch during my visit at WASH. The price I paid for my lunch was less than what I expected it to be in such a venue. There was no price gouging due to its location.
#9: For anyone not familiar with Washington Union Station, I would suggest for one to take time to observe the beauty of the building. It's magnificent. Engage the services of a Red Cap and allow that gentleman to help you navigate the check-in and embarking process.