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Tell me about Amtrak from DC around the East Coast

I am moving to Washington DC later this year and I’m
eager to spend time exploring the East Coast of the USA by train. I don’t drive and quite frankly hate driving, although I do have a valid license.

Boston and NYC jump of the page as two destinations to visit. Where else should I consider that’s easily accessible by train? I know that train service is much better on the East Coast than it is here in Chicago. I took Amtrak once from Chicago to Detroit and it was maddeningly slow.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Posted by
1520 posts

If you also want to explore southward, Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA would be good options.

Posted by
693 posts

While there is lots to see in the other cities serviced by Amtrak there's plenty to see in and around DC. I lived there 10 years and never came close to seeing it all. The Smithsonian complex could take a week on its own. Plenty of things to do in DC then there's all the outlying areas like the homes of Washington, George Mason, and Jefferson; Colonial Williamsburg; tons of civil war battlefields; biking/walking the paved path that goes from Mount Vernon along the Potomac to Georgetown connecting to the old C&O canal paths, etc etc.

Posted by
3176 posts

Amtrak’s Northeast corridor is the most reliable and thereby the most profitable of all Amtrak service. It doesn’t share the tracks with freight lines which is why their reliability is the best in the US. It certainly doesn’t mean that the trains are always on time.

You could take the train to Boston but that would be a long trip.

Consider taking the train to Philly.

Posted by
2773 posts

You can take the train to Boston, and then up to Portland, Maine on the Downeaster. You can then Island Hop in Casco Bay by taking the Ferry between islands, staying at Inns on the islands or just going out for the day, and basing in Portland, then head back via the train.

Posted by
5004 posts

My experiences with Amtrak have not been good. Trains always late. Trains don't compare in quality to Europe.

Also, on a long trip down south from DC, the train averages about 40 MPH and sometimes is sitting on the tracks for a long time.

Amtrak is usually more expensive than flying, but still if traveling in the NE corridor from DC to NYC, Philly or Boston, the train is the way to go.

Charleston and Savannah are great places to visit in my part of the country, but not sure about the Amtrak connections.

Posted by
806 posts

Dale, welcome [in advance] to DC! We have a monthly meetup on Sunday mornings in the Penn Quarter area, and we'd love to have you join us to talk about traveling.

I'll add Richmond to your list of places to visit; that's a quick train trip from DC, and there's a lot to see, both museums and historical sights.

A few suggestions about Amtrak and other ways of getting around the East Coast. Someone upthread mentioned Colonial Williamsburg, and you should know that Amtrak will take you there; for southbound trains you can go to the Alexandria train station rather than Union Station in DC, and for northbound travel there's the New Carrollton station. All of these are on the Metro. Don't waste your money on the Acela trains; they save about 30 minutes at most to NYC and cost a LOT more.

Also consider the bus companies, including Vamoose, Big Bus, Megabus, Boltbus, and maybe more. The last few times I've gone up to New York City I've taken Vamoose or BestBus, which leave from various Metro stations; it takes 4.5 - 5 hours depending on traffic and costs around $25. I've found them quite comfortable and reliable; once we got slowed by traffic on 95 but our driver was able to exit and take a different route back home, which of course is not feasible on a train.

Posted by
1022 posts

Philadelphia-an easy day trip

Jamestown, Yorktown and Richmond.

Be aware that Amtrak isn't that reliable so trains are often late and slow, not to mention dirty.

You can also go to NYC by Megabus and other coach companies.

Posted by
19404 posts

South of DC the tracks are iffy enough that the train speed is capped at 35 mph on days when the temperature reaches a specified level (80F? 85F?)--which can happen as early as April. That adds about 2 hours to the DC-Raleigh trip.

Posted by
6766 posts

Although this is Amtrak's most successful and profitable route (largely due to business travelers), it is still quite underwhelming, especially on non-commute days like weekends. For one thing, the constant delays mean unpredictability. Paired with that is the price. So, on one extreme, driving is by far the most expensive option, mostly due to all the tolls (and gas, parking, etc). On the other extreme, are the different long-distance buses that compete with each other and with Amtrak. I take one of them regularly over Amtrak - Bolt Bus - because it's the most cost efficient, even though it takes longer to get there. Amtrak is in the middle. I got tired of paying an Amtrak premium (on the regional line) only to arrive late. The Acela line is priced even worse because it's squarely aimed at business travelers - to me, the time savings are not worth the cost. So I've been mixing and matching one-way trips with Bolt, Megabus, even Vamoose (more expensive then the former two). You'd have to be both lucky and proactive to get one of those $1 one-way tickets right when the schedule gets posted for your travel date (which are really $4.25 or so with all the fees). But it's not difficult to get tickets for somewhere between $13-25 each way to NYC if you are flexible on dates.

The only places I would take Amtrak are: Harpers Ferry (beautiful place but not urban), Baltimore, Wilmington (if you want to see the Brandywine Valley), Princeton, Philly, and New York, and Richmond and Charlottesville. Basically between 2-3.5 hours or less. And I would compare all those points with bus service, and do the tradeoff (is the cheap fare worth taking a bit longer to get there?). Boston and other cities north (Maine, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, etc) are well served by plane and take a fraction of the time to get there (and the fares could be very good, especially to Boston). It's about 7 hours or so by Amtrak to Boston (if you're lucky and not late), so that's a "no go" for me.

Posted by
26379 posts

Especially fun if not using the car - Dale won't have a car.

Posted by
908 posts

Train service is expanding southward to meet demand parallel to the I-81 Shenandoah Valley corridor. The long distance Cardinal stops in Staunton VA, and also near The Homestead and White Sulphur Springs (Greenbrier Resort). If you like history and Shakespeare Theatre, I recommend Staunton for an overnight trip.

I would add Harpers Ferry, WV, to your list of places to visit (west out of DC).

Regarding the Northeast Corridor and Hudson Valley, I’ve taken the Ethan Allen to Saratoga Springs (you’ll transfer at Penn Station NY) and the Hudson valley section is gorgeous. Saratoga is also a town full of history & horses! I’ve also done the long haul day to Providence, RI. The “Amtrak beach” in CT is interesting if not slightly bizarre (tracks run right along the water). Some scenery but a very long day on the train if you don’t stop over somewhere. Philly’s station is worth popping upstairs—great early 20th century architecture.

An Amtrak credit card may be a good investment for you if you don’t already have one! They have a no annual fee one.

Posted by
19404 posts

There's a National Association of Rail Passengers that used to have a relatively low membership fee, and members supposedly get discounts on Amtrak tickets. HOWEVER: I couldn't get the discount to work for online purchase the one time I tried, and lo these 10+ years later I'm still getting the occasional email from NARP. And my Outlook filter can't block them. The messages are not frequent, but I find it mildly annoying since I was only a member for a year and never got a single discount. So check this out carefully before joining. I have no idea whether there are discounts on any trains not operated by Amtrak.

Posted by
1520 posts

Staunton, VA was mentioned above; a great place to visit there is the Museum of Frontier culture (http://www.frontiermuseum.org). I'm really glad to read that the train stops in Staunton now. I also wanted to mention places to visit in Baltimore: the National Aquarium, and the American Visionary Art Museum.