Riding Amtrak as a Student
As students, my peers and I often commute between large cities in the Northeast for many reasons – going home for breaks, going back to school after breaks, and travelling for interviews. Over time, I have found that the most efficient way for me to do this is to travel by train. Rather than commuting to an airport, going through security, and squeezing into a cramped plane seat, I opt for a relaxed and comfortable journey on the Northeast Regional.
Thursday morning was a breeze. In fact, it was more than breezy – it was gusty; it was a blizzard! I was travelling from New York Penn Station down to Washington Union Station, a roughly 4 hour trip. Yes, a flight would only take about an hour and a half, but consider the time it takes to get through security checkpoints and to collect your luggage and it all adds up; not to mention, most major airports are located significantly far from city centers. Amtrak’s promise to “arrive downtown, not out of town” truly does hold up.
On the snowy morning, I arrived to Penn Station before the worst of the storm had come, and I spent time relaxing in the spacious waiting room. When the track was called, I lined up and made my way down to the train; I stowed my luggage overhead and sat in the window seat. There are, of course, no middle seats on Amtrak, meaning every cushioned leather seat is much wider and more spacious than any other way of getting from city to city.
Once settled, as the New York airports began to cancel flights and shut down for some time, Northeast Regional train 95 pushed forward against the storm with a promise to get me safely to where I had to go. I knew there would be some weather-related delays, but my mind was at ease as I noticed snow removal and de-icing equipment on sidings along the way. Given the amount of time I had, I reclined my seat and took a nap for about an hour, the gentle rocking of the train not disturbing at all and the sunlight blocked with the blue curtain. Even in coach class, I had room to recline and stretch my legs.
When I woke up, I decided it was time for some food. I excused myself past the man in the aisle seat and walked one car forwards to the café car. One of my favorite parts of train travel is being able to walk such long distances and not feel restricted to, say, the length of an airplane. I ordered a Banh Mi sandwich (reasonably priced), paid conveniently with a credit card, and returned to my seat. I figured since my hands would be full, I wouldn’t need to use my phone for the time being. So, I was able to plug it into one of the two 120-Volt outlets located at every pair of seats. The sandwich was actually quite good, much better than airplane food, and the tray table was spacious enough for everything I ordered!
After eating, I disposed of my trash in the receptacle at the end of the car and washed my hands in the restroom. Especially since Amtrak’s Amfleet I Coach Refresh project, the restrooms are spacious, clean, and aesthetically pleasing. After returning to my seat, I found that I still had a couple of hours left in my journey, so why not get some work done? I switched on the LED reading light, set my notebook down on the tray table, and began writing, all while my phone was charging. I put in some headphones and connected my phone to the free Amtrak Wi-Fi and I was able to stream music (even “Amtrak All The Way” to continue the holiday spirit) to listen to whilst working without the risk of using too much cellular data.
I finally heard the announcement – we were in New Carrollton and only a short distance from Washington, D.C., the train’s final stop of the day. I packed up my belongings, my notebook full of progress and my phone fully charged, put on my jacket, and prepared to brave the elements. Thankfully, though, I only had to stay outside for a very short time, making my way from the low-level platform to the station building, a beautiful one to say the least. The best part was that there was a direct indoor route to the D.C. Metro which would take me to my final destination of the day – the Catholic University of America.
I was pleased with how easy it was to get from New York City all the way to one of the many colleges in Washington, D.C. without really having to go outside in such cold weather. I even had a chance to do some sightseeing before heading back the following morning with yet another pleasant journey on the Northeast Regional, what I consider the best form of student travel in the Northeast!
About the author: Dalen Ferreira is a New York born-and-raised train enthusiast and a music student at Harvard University.