Getting to NYC

 There are many ways to get from Albany to New York City.  Among those I’ve tried are driving, taking the train, taking the Greyhound bus, and driving to Poughkeepsie and getting the train there.  Which of these works best depends on many factors – when you’re going, your travel budget, your destination within the city, etc.

 Today, I  had to go from Rensselaer to New York City on business, and decided to take the Amtrak train down and Megabus, a low-cost carrier that offers several routes around the country, back. Buses, though not as romantic as trains, are much less costly to operate, use existing highway infrastructure, and can change route in response to delaying conditions. On the down side, they share that infrastructure with a lot of traffic, which can subject them to delays. Trains enjoy the use of a more limited-access infrastructure, but, unless given priority over other traffic, such as freight, still can be subject to delays. Here’s a thumbnail summary of my two trips:

Amtrak:

  • Indoor waiting area in case of inclement weather.
  • On-time departure.
  • 120v electrical outlets
  • No wireless internet
  • Wide, fairly comfortable seats; airplane-style fold-down tray table; car a bit stuffy and antiseptic-smelling
  • No food/beverage service
  • One-way trip cost: $37.00; advance reservation required; refund request may trigger penalty
  • Two hours, thirty-five minutes scheduled travel time; actual arrival 10 minutes early, though in the past I’ve been on many trains that have been very late.
  •  
    The biggest “little thing” Amtrak could do to add value would be to install free wireless internet access, which is now standard on many other public conveyances.
    I don’t know the top speed of the present trains, but it is obvious that most of the trip is run at considerably lower speeds. Before committing to a huge expenditure for state-of-the-art, high-speed trains, perhaps the State should examine the relative costs and benefits of improvements to the existing track – eliminating grade crossings, easing curves, negotiating priority for passenger trains over freight, etc. A reduction in trip time of 45 minutes would substantially undercut the competition (automobile and bus) in travel time.

    Megabus:

  • Waiting area on W. 31st St. outside Penn Station – efficient boarding process, but outdoors in inclement weather
  • Bus clean, not odorous and A/C works well. 120V outlet and free wifi (wifi stopped working midway through trip)
  • Bus left on time, but hit lots of traffic going to Lincoln Tunnel
  • Seats comfortable, reclining, but smaller than train and no tables; working on my netbook would have been difficult if the seat next to mine had been occupied
  • Scheduled trip time 2-3/4 hrs; actual arrival about 15 min late
  • Fare $10.50, including reservation fee; reservation required; change may incur penalty; no refunds
  • Conclusions – I found the train more comfortable and the scenery better, but Megabus is a good value for the price. If you reserve far enough in advance, you can go one way for $1.50, and even the higher fares substantially undercut Amtrak. In fact, it cost me less to take the Megabus from NYC to Albany than it would have to take Metro North from NYC to Poughkeepsie (off-peak), from which I’d still have a lengthy drive with tolls and parking at the station to pay for.

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    2 Responses to Getting to NYC

    1. David Gunn says:

      As an aside, the state of New York has been working with Amtrak and Metro North and CSX, the railroad that owns these tracks, to reduce trip time.

      As for internet access, this route has very poor cellular service, by and large, which has complicated introducing wifi on the trains. Amtrak added free wifi to its Acela fleet in March, and has stated they plan to bring it to all of their services. Limited finances slow this down.

      Most changes or cancellations of Amtrak tickets do not result in any fees or penalties.

    2. capitolview says:

      Thanks for your comments. My comment on refunds relates to a time when, on arriving at the station, I saw that the train I was to take to NYC – for which I had bought an advance ticket – was so late that it wouldn’t have gotten me there until after the event I planned to attend would be over. The ticket agent refused me a full refund. After I wrote to Washington, I received a “courtesy” refund and noticed thereafter language to the effect that “refunds may be subject to a penalty charge” had been added to tickets.

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