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Heading North

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  1. Heading North

    New Amtrak Arbitration Agreement

    In general I am opposed to mandatory consumer arbitration for a bunch of reasons including that decisions are private and not eligible for appeal. But as far as I know, the airlines all do this in their conditions of carriage, as do lots of other companies including Uber and Lyft, and lots of tech firms. If the courts allow it (which they currently do) and their competitors do it (which they do), from a business perspective one might argue it seems foolish not to. It’s up to policymakers to change the laws, and some members of Congress as well as the previous administration have all tried to put limits on arbitration in different contexts, with mixed success. In a different political environment I would not be surprised if this decision attracted heat because public agencies do not get to arbitrate, but a private corporation receiving taxpayer dollars apparently does.
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    Seat assignments (Acela pilot Feb 2018)

    I could be wrong, but I recall the seat lettering starting with the Acela and crossing over into the Northeast Regional and Amfleet trains (or Acela Regional as they were briefly called) as a marketing pitch to compete with airlines and show that there are no middle seats. Whenever Ive traveled on a Superliner or a long-distance Amfleet (II) the seats have always been numbered sequentially with no letters, seat 1 to 59 or whatever.
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    Experience on the "Nightowl" Trains?

    I have taken these trains quite a bit (mostly from NYP south), and it is surprising how crowded they can be at times. Most passengers will be hoping to get some sleep, but you never know who you will get (for example, a snorer). If you plan on sleeping, I would encourage having a hoodie or something else to cover your eyes as these coaches do not have curtains (just like all the other Regionals) and if my memory is correct, the crew may or may not turn the lights off. Aside from the stop at NYP, the cafe stays open. One thing to keep an eye out for if you have never been at NHV late at night: does the station itself stay open? Is it policed? Some stations almost entirely close down, like NWK, even if trains are still passing through. I have boarded late (or very early!) trains at NYP, WAS, and LAX, and while the NYP waiting area was secured and well-patrolled, the others could be a little more hit or miss. It may be worth planning a reverse move to PVD/BOS or other steps to get on the train earlier and get something closer to a full night of sleep, if that matters to you.
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    Silver Meteor #97 Between New York and Washington

    I have not taken the Silver Meteor in a few years but I remember (at Trenton, at least) either 1) a station employee going up and down track 4 asking passengers for their destination and coach/sleeper status, and telling them where to stand, or 2) a manual announcement over the PA about where to stand. Nevertheless someone would always be running down the platform to find the proper door, but if you were there in advance and stayed alert, it was generally easy to get situated before the train arrived (and so easy to board).
  5. No idea how occupancy levels worked back in the Twilight Shoreliner era, but I imagine there would be some through traffic south of WAS in sleeper (and not just because I would benefit in ALX). From Boston, the train overnight would be a better connection to morning NY departures like the Palmetto/Carolinian/Cardinal and (for the first two) the transfer could even be in RVR for folks wanting to sleep in. It also makes the New York calling times a little more doable for the Peninsula compared to losing a whole day on the train. I havent taken it north in years, but recall coach being sold out often from WAS to PHL and sometimes at other points too. Re: staffing, unless I am missing something, a crew change in WAS wouldnt be the end of the world. The Virginia shift would be easy, returning to WAS each night, while the WAS-BOS shift would be kinda wonky. Or could crews deadhead to PHL and do a handoff there? That seems closest to halfway.
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    Late night/early morning arrivals

    A few years ago I arrived in Charleston, SC at 5 AM off the Meteor. Id looked up phone numbers for cabs in advance (from this site I believe) but had no trouble finding one waiting at the station, went to the hotel, and waited in the lobby until the restaurant opened for breakfast. If its a stop in town somewhere, theres probably a coffee shop or something thats open by 6-6:30 am for early risers... Google Maps can help with that.
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    Luggage storage at destination station?

    Its not clear where you are getting on, but if you can check your bags before you board the train, they will be held for you automatically in DC and you can just pick them up whenever you want later in the day. The Circulator is a great deal for most sightseeing. Depending on where you start and where youre going in Georgetown, one of the 30-series Metrobuses (30, 32, etc.) may be a good option heading that way too.
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    Lower Level Roomette

    Until my last trip I was always on the upper level--and was initially a little miffed to find I was assigned a lower-level room from DC to Montana, but ended up really liking it. I didn't feel like much was lost view-wise (and was in the lounge for most of the best parts anyway), liked quick access to the bathrooms and shower, and it was easy to step off at longer stops... though it can get a little noisy if the family room is occupied.
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    Boarding Coach in Pittsburgh

    In coach there's often a separate train car (or close to a full car) assigned for people detraining in Pittsburgh, so there may be quite a few seats opening up when you board. (When I took the CL a few years ago, boarding in Washington the coaches were divided between Pittsburgh, Ohio/Indiana, and Chicago.) You may be assigned a seat or given a choice. If you're by yourself and strike up a conversation at the station, you might also find someone you're comfortable sitting with as opposed to seeing whoever ends up next to you.
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    Izaak Walton Inn, Essex Montana

    I stayed one night at the Inn this July (arrived on the westbound EB one night and left the next night) and really enjoyed it--I wouldn't say service was lacking as much as they just seemed a bit understaffed, and that took a little patience. Plus, they had to explain repeatedly about the phones, Wifi, etc. as some people had (for whatever reason) expected to be well-connected there. In addition to the Red Bus tours I would call Glacier Park Sun Tours and see if they are operating/will pick up at the Inn (it depends on availability). Sun Tours is a company owned by the Blackfeet Tribe that does its own Going to the Sun Tour from the local perspective, and our tour also drove through Browning and the reservation a bit too which was a neat experience.
  11. I'd second the Alexandria plan (as someone who lives there)--it's a great option. And, it's not necessary to go to WAS to board the southbound Meteor or Star, as they both stop in ALX, though it would be close to last call for dinner on the Meteor. The only plus going up to WAS is waiting in the lounge and/or getting a red cap if you need it, but it typically takes 30-40 minutes on the metro or at least 20 minutes driving to get there. Richmond parking can be a mess, and the station's nothing fancy (I think it was the original Amshack?), but on a nice day there's an outdoor patio area where you can sit and watch the trains. I don't know anything about Petersburg. If the parking is convenient that could be a good choice although (at least from the train) the area looks a little depressed.
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    DC Hotel

    Alexandria is very safe, especially in Old Town--there's no need to worry about the walk from the Amtrak station to the hotel. At most, you may encounter a homeless person when you walk underneath the tracks. The intersections by the station are complicated but to reach the Embassy Suites, it's easiest if you walk toward the main Metro entrance (near the buses) and then cross through the parking lot there. The last time I stayed at the hotel, they also offered a local shuttle service that could pick you up or bring you back if you have lots of luggage or other limitations. Bonus: if you're on a high floor at the hotel, you may have a great view of the trains!
  13. In Washington and Boston this also has the benefit of Business Class passengers boarding closest to the station--and the drawback (I imagine) of lots of coach passengers running into the second car not knowing it's the Quiet Car.
  14. Good point, jis. I've done the same with flights--the upgrade is worth it to me in my own miles or money for a long trip, certain times of day, etc. Yet with the exception of redeeming AGR coupons, Amtrak seems to make upgrades cumbersome.
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    Unchecked baggage on a viewliner

    The backpacks may also fit under the two seats--but you'll want to take out anything you might use overnight before the beds come down. Once the bottom bunk is down, you won't have much luck reaching them. If you're putting a suitcase in the cubby, it can be awkward to get it there. Sometimes it's easier to place it on the top bunk temporarily and then slide it across.