Riding the One-Stop Acela Express
September 13-14, 2007
A business trip to Washington on September 13-14, 2007 enabled me to sample the new one stop Acela service on the return trip.
My trip began on Thursday, Sept. 13 on Amtrak Empire Service #238 from Croton-Harmon, NY, to New York's Penn Station. From there I rode Regional Service #127 at 3:30 which runs to Washington on a fast 3 hour, 5 minute schedule.
While on board I called my daughter who answered while riding on a BART train in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The return trip on the one-stop Acela was on Friday, September 14th. Exactly one hour before departure time I called Amtrak to inquire about a first class seat. Yes, one was available so I reserved it using a Guest Rewards upgrade certificate. Upon reaching Union Station I exchanged my ticket and then relaxed in the Metropolitan Lounge until train time.
Both the one-stop Acela at 3:55 and the 4 pm multi-stop Acela had been sold out the previous Friday so I considered myself lucky to get a first class seat. But on September 14th there were quite a few available seats in both business class and first class. My car was on the rear of the train and Lead Service Attendant John Pallotta introduced himself at the door. After I had settled into a single seat on the left side, he soon came by for a drink order and handed me the dinner menu. Because of the 6:30 arrival in New York dinner would be a little early; mine was about 5pm. Before departure I noticed train #29, the Capitol Limited, loading on a nearby track. Georgia RR business car #300 was on the rear and former Seaboard RR glass top Pullman-lounge car "Hollywood Beach" was ahead of that. Yet another former Seaboard car appeared to be next in line but my view became blocked when Acela #2159 pulled in across the platform on time at 3:45.
After a smooth on time start Acela 2120 headed north at good speed. The consist was the regular Acela trainset with a locomotive at each end, 4 business class cars, a bistro car and a first class car. The dinner choices were "small bites" [selection of poached shrimp, assorted nibbles and crackers], "Italian Cold Plate" [assorted cured meats and cheeses, skewered tomato and olives, and stone ground mustard, served with a dinner roll], "Rack of Lamb" [oven roasted lamb rack with rice pilaf and petite green beans] or cheese lasagna.
I selected the rack of lamb, accompanied by what turned out to be two glasses of red wine, all of which was quite good. When finished, coffee and a double Bailey's Irish Cream materialized. The service was excellent, partly because there were but 14 passengers in the car this trip, but also because of the really good attendant who seemed to know exactly when something was desired. Six of the riders got off in Philadelphia where two boarded. As we neared 30th Street Station the attendant apologized for the early arrival.
Schedule details: Lv. WAS 3:56pm OT Pass BAL 4:24 Pass WIL 5:03 Ar. PHL 5:20 Lv. PHL 5:25 OT Pass TRE 5:47 Ar. NYP 6:34 (6:30)
Between Trenton and New Brunswick we passed one of the new NJTransit double deck trains and I clocked one mile in 27 seconds. Unfortunately, we seemed to catch up to another train near Secaucus Jct. and made a few pauses in the Hudson River tunnel. Thus we reached Penn Station 4 minutes late but making the trip in two hours, 38 minutes was a nice experience. Back in the beginning of Metroliner service I recall a non stop run with the original emu equipment as well as another with Amfleet equipment in later years. I don't recall either of them making the trip this fast but even this schedule could be improved upon a little.
After bidding goodbye to Mr. Pallotta, I adjourned to the Metropolitan Lounge upstairs to await Amtrak #241, the 7:10 departure to Albany which I rode as far as Croton-Harmon. That train had the "normal" consist of 1/2 business class, 1/2 unattended café car and 4 Amfleet I coaches, all of which were quite full. The destinations seemed evenly split between Rhinecliff, Hudson and Albany with a very few to Croton and Poughkeepsie.
Departure came at 7:15 (scheduled for 7:10) and we reached Croton at 7:56 (7:53). After finding my car in the parking lot, I was home in a few minutes. Overall the trip had been "good to excellent" with the first class experience on the one-stop Acela as the highlight.