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Unwind on the Fast Track

Fast Track on Amtrak - A Mood Elevator for Peaceful Travel

by Courtney Caldwell

Ask anyone who travels for a living and they'll tell you that traveling is not as glamorous as one thinks. In fact, since 9/11 frequent travel has become a nightmare leaving many travelers edgy and irritated by trip's end. Security lines can take hours to get through, and by the time you finally get to the check point, you end up disrobing all but your pants and shirt. On more than one occasion I've thought that wearing a thong and two Band-Aids might be a quicker solution for getting through security.

For those who travel frequently and are looking for ways to cut corners, shorten lines, reduce waiting time, stay clothed, and gain more productive time we may have a solution for you.

Amtrak Interior

On a recent business trip from Detroit to New York I decided to try something different. The trip was short but had several legs… Detroit to New York, NY to Providence, Providence to NY then NY to Detroit. With so much travel within such a limited time I needed to find a more productive use of my time. My solution: Amtrak.

Your first thought may be, "Well, that would take even longer, wouldn't it?" As it turned out, taking the train provided more free time to get more done, less time on the road, far less hassle and more importantly, elevated my mood by final destination.

Here's how it worked. I flew into New York for a few days of meetings. Upon completion of my business in NY, I took a taxi from the Edison Hotel in Times Square to Penn Station, about a $10 cab fare including the tip. During the walk through the train station you can't help but notice the dozens of restaurants and boutiques. If your schedule permits there is plenty to see and do at Penn Station. Or if you prefer, you can show up at the last minute. Amtrak doesn't require a two hour arrival before boarding like airlines do. Simply allow enough time to get through the station because it is enormous.

I chose the Amtrak Acela to Providence, first class. I'd had a busy week in NY and wanted to pamper myself, however Amtrak also offers coach and business class.

Tickets can be purchased in advance online at Amtrak.com or at the station through either a kiosk or agent at the window. Amtrak also offers a rewards program for frequent travelers earning points towards free travel (if you're a student or senior be sure to ask about their special rates.) Amtrak prices vary according to your destination and which class you choose so do some research.

I was directed to a first class (non-smoking) lounge where I waited for the train. Red Caps (same as airport skycaps) will assist with luggage if requested. The lounge was clean and comfortable with a conference room that seated 10, fresh coffee and juice, a business center, a TV, dozens of pamphlets on NY Broadway shows, and an entire breakdown of all Amtrak national schedules.

As for WiFi, according to the Amtrak website, it states 'Amtrak WiFi is a public WiFi network which utilizes wireless technologies and does not require any secure pass code or login. Similar to networks found at coffee shops and public libraries, it is not inherently secure and communications can be intercepted. Passengers are solely responsible for providing security measures that are suited for their intended use, including protecting their data and equipment from viruses, spyware and other harmful components. Passengers are also solely responsible for any security breach or accidental disclosure of their personal information in their use of Amtrak WiFi.'

An announcement is made when your train arrives giving everyone plenty of time to get to the boarding platform; so don't be late - the train waits for no one. And yes, real conductors hang out the doors and yell "All Aboard" right before the doors close.

The Acela Express is just that, an express service, with fewer stops along the way decreasing your time on the tracks. In some parts of the journey, the train reaches 150 miles per hour, which I enjoyed immensely. If you're not in a hurry, Amtrak also offers regular service which includes more stops, which in turn increases the time to get to your destination.

I overheard many say that they took the train to work daily so however you end up using the service is a personal choice based on your own needs and time flexibility. No matter which service you use however there will be plenty of time for work, socializing, relaxing, napping, or using your cell phone or laptop, benefits which are severely limited or non-existent when driving or flying.

To give you an idea of how much time and hassle I saved, here's how it went. The Acela from NY to Providence is about a two and a half hour ride door to door. I slept in at my hotel, took a cab to Penn Station around 11am, boarded the train at noon, and arrived in Providence at 2:30pm. My daughter picked me up at 3pm and we enjoyed a nice, early, relaxing dinner. Everybody was happy. It's definitely a no-stress option for travel, especially if you want to see the U.S.A. as many of their trains run through the heartland and other scenic routes.

When I drive to Providence from NY, I get up at 5am, take a cab to a rental car company, hurry up and wait another hour or two. Then I get on the expressway with 10 million other cars heading north to New England for what usually ends up being a 3-5 hour drive. That's the good news. If there's an accident along the way, and there usually is, add another two to three hours to the 180-mile trek.

I usually end up in Providence somewhere between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., and so mentally drained that my daughter won't talk to me because she's afraid my head will spin with poison gasses spewing from my mouth. No one is happy, and I usually spend the evening alone trying to chill out. With train travel, there is no jet lag. There is no stress. There are no crowded seats. In fact, everyone onboard appears mellow and friendly.

Another thing to keep in mind is that NY is one of a handful of states (so far) that prohibits handheld cell phone use while driving, which they heavily enforce. Headsets are permitted but many people still don't know that unless they're caught and fined for using their phone to their ear. So not only do you end up frustrated stuck in traffic for hours upon end your time is completely unproductive except for the side show of road ragers screaming out their windows, blasting horns, and sharing the universal sign.

Amtrak's Snack Car

Acela Express first class is very roomy with each seat providing ample table space for a laptop or spreading out your work. The windows are huge for sightseeing which can be awesome if you've never seen New England's old world seaside heritage. If you prefer to nap, just slide the curtain across the window, recline your seat, and snooze away. A train attendant serves a hot meal (via a menu) and offers a variety of beverage options. And yes, you can use your cell phone on Amtrak. In fact, you can do "almost" anything on Amtrak. The one thing you won't do is worry about productivity, traffic jams, or ending up at your final destination a grump.

Because some of the seating is arranged face to face for two or four people, divided by a roomy spacious table for work or dining, strangers sometimes sit opposite one another and begin chatting. The common thread among rail riders was their perspective on taking the train. Remarkably, there were many who were taking the train for the first time for varying reasons. Two young business men sitting behind me were telling an older couple (who they had just met) how they opted for the train because the cost was half the airfare price to the same destination. Another woman was on the phone telling her listener how she was on the train because she had so much work to do and couldn't get it done on the plane. She sat across from a business man who preferred the train for his week-ends up north to visit his son. Each ended their conversation emphasizing the positive experience they'd had on the train instead of flying. It all kept coming back to peace of mind and productivity.

After only an hour on the train, I too could see the benefits. No doubt with the price of gas these days, and sardine-packed flight, Amtrak seemed likely to become man's new best friend.

By the time I arrived in Providence, I had finished my work leaving me completely relaxed and worry-free of deadlines. I was able to focus all of my time and energy on my family.

The following Monday I boarded the Acela train back to New York which started my day stress free. After arriving back at Penn Station, I opted to take a Minute Man car service to La Guardia Airport. Both car and driver were patiently waiting right outside the station door. I chose a private car service over a cab because of the professional attitude and clean environment Minute Man offers not to mention the comparable cost to a cab, around $40. Let's face it, for the same price, who wouldn't opt for a private car and being treated like royalty?

The flight back to Detroit was as long as the train's ride to Providence, a little over two hours. The difference was that it took more than an hour to get through airport security, and another two hours to wait to board. Because Amtrak started my day peacefully, it helped get me through the challenges of airport travel, which sometimes one just can't avoid no matter what you do.

Security at Amtrak is visible but not as obvious as at airports. They do check ID's with tickets but at the time I went through there are no luggage scanners. There may be some today. You take your own luggage on board yourself where it is stowed in overhead bins or in a compartment in the back of the car in which you're riding. You may also tip a porter to assist with luggage. Uniformed guards with bomb sniffing dogs were scattered about who were visually scanning everything and everyone all the time, and of course there are cameras everywhere. I assume there are plenty of well-trained, plain clothed armed undercover agents also milling about the crowds and blending in.

Amtrak, surprisingly, goes all over the USA with routes both north and south and east to west. Their time schedules are plentiful enabling you to plan out your travel itinerary to utilize both train and plane connections. Using both breaks up the monotony and makes travel much more interesting.

Traveling by train is a great alternative for business travelers, especially for those who need to get more done during travel time than other modes of transportation will allow. It's also easy to see how a train trip may be an awesome way to travel as a family on vacation. Two or three days on a train seeing the country together can only bond the family unit stronger. What a uniquely educational experience that would be, especially for kids! And yes, most trains do offer sleeping cars.

I highly recommend Amtrak to any frequent traveler who is sick of long lines, waiting at airports, and wants more productivity time. The benefits are substantial… save money, no traffic jams, spacious seating, meet new people… but the ultimate prize is arriving at journey's end in a peaceful state of mind. That way, everybody is happy!

IF YOU GO....

Amtrak Reservations:
www.tickets.amtrak.com

Edison Hotel:
www.edisonhotelnyc.com
Reservations: 212-840-5000
228 West 47th Street
(btw. 8th Avenue and Broadway)
New York, NY 10036

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