Monday, May 12, 2008

Untrained

On my recent 48 hours East Coast trip, I had a rare joy; the use of a train instead of a plane to travel. For the first time, I took advantage of Amtrak's Acela Express to get from New York to Boston, and I have to say, the easy access to trains is one if the few things I miss about the East Coast, but the Acela Express takes it to a whole new level.

First, why did I choose the train? My New York meetings were in Long Island. I flew in to JFK and grabbed the connecting Long Island Railroad to get to my destination, so I was already rail-enabled. The price for a shuttle flight from JFK to Boston was about $200; the train? $100. Between waiting for the plane and security, it would have been about 2.5 hours, plus having to get from Boston's Logan airport to 25 miles south of the city to my destination. The train? 3 hours, station to station, 10 miles from where I was staying and no downtown traffic. No brainer.

The experience is all city to city travel should be: fast, comfortable, efficient and elegant. It started with picking up my e-ticket in Penn Station from one of about 50 kiosks. Just like the airport, swipe your credit card for identification, and your ticket prints out. Next came the Acela Express Lounge: a huge area for waiting, away from the hustle and bustle of crowds, just for Acela passengers. Of course, Penn Station's choices of food and drink were ample; I picked up a classic NY Deli sandwich for my dinner to be eaten onboard.

The only annoyance was the lack of information as to what track the Acela would be on until 10 minutes before boarding. Why? Is it a surprise? Don't they know, as it's the most profitable line they run?

On the train, sheer luxury. Each car was filled with oversized recliners, complete with footrests. Power? You bet: a plug at every seat. Storage? Overheads for the coat, or the seat next to you for the laptop case, as there were plenty of seats. Food in the dining car was reasonable, well priced, and an easy walk. But nothing beats the feeling of chatting on the cell, rocketing along in gentle ease, and occasionally checking e-mail or watching a movie. The utter opposite of plane travel. 3 hours of comfort and connectivity, and I arrived at my destination, refreshed, relaxed and ready.

So, explain why we can't have a 4 hour train between LA and SF? Currently, it's a full 24 hours; now, I grant you, it's the nicest ride in the world, but can we pick up the pace for a traveler? I'd definitely go for that for a lunch meeting in LA...

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