I just completed the first trip on a non-Acela, non-Northeast Corridor Amtrak train that I’ve taken in something like…. oh well…never mind. Let’s just say I was 8 years old the last time I did this. In truth, I had a thing for trains way before I had a thing for planes, so rail and I go back a ways. I mentioned on the blog a few days ago that I was booking a one-way journey aboard Amtrak’s Palmetto from Washington DC’s Union Station to Fayetteville, NC. I booked the trip at Amtrak.com, and upon searching for availability found that the only accommodations available on the train were in Business Class. As I mentioned yesterday, I could not have been more wrong in my thinking that Business Class would offer a sedate and spacious travel experience. On the contrary, the Business Class car was quite full. For the record, the one-way fare on this route was $141 dollars in coach, plus a $32 dollar upgrade fee to Business Class.
But about halfway through my train ride, a few of my fellow train enthusiasts reached their destinations allowing me to move to a row where I had 2 seats to myself. At that point, I finally got comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the seats are enormous compared to your average airliner, even in Coach. Legroom is expansive, and frankly, I found the Business Class car to be especially comfortable except for my seatmate. He was a pleasant enough fellow, but a little larger than average, and even with the wide seats seemed to have an issue keeping all of himself in his seat and not spilling over into mine. Yes, I was thankful when the row behind me opened up.
I tried to snap a few pictures with my iPhone that give you some perspective on the seats.
I think the crowding issue may have had to do with the time of year. There were a lot of families with children, even in Business Class. This particular train was also equipped with AmtrakConnect, Amtrak’s Wi-Fi service. I’ve tried AmtrakConnect before with not so much luck. I usually travel with a 4G Mi-Fi device, and this trip was no different. I used that most of the time, but did give the AmtrakConnect service a try for a few minutes. It actually worked….not exactly blazing, but it did work. Certainly better than when I tried on Acela a few months ago. I still wouldn’t plan on doing any heavy duty web surfing and file downloads, but it was acceptable for email and a little light web browsing.
I tried Amtrak’s Cafe Car for lunch, ordering the cheeseburger and a soda. The cheeseburger wasn’t the best or worst I’d ever tried. It was certainly edible, perhaps even a little better than I’d expected. And one little-advertised benefit of springing for Business Class on the non-Acela services is that you get complimentary non-alcoholic beverages when presenting your Business Class boarding pass in the Cafe Car.
One negative thing about the trip other than being a little crowded at first. We were operating under speed restrictions most of the way due to the heat. The end result was that even though we departed DC right on time, I ultimately arrived at my destination just over 1 hour late. I think this 250 mile or so journey is about the absolute maximum that I would be able to tolerate for most train travel. But in this instance, the positives of taking Amtrak outweighed the negatives. Honestly, it’s a different kind of travel experience, and one that I hope to make more use of in the future. The comfortable seats, power outlets, and Wi-Fi (mine and there’s) allowed me to be productive for almost 6 hours. I actually got work done, which was exactly what I needed to do.