I took Amtrak’s famed Northeast Regional line from New York to Boston just a few days after the capacity limits were lifted. Here’s what it was like.
I booked Amtrak’s 8:30 a.m. Northeast Regional service from New York on train 170, making all station stops en route to Boston.
The travel time for this journey clocked in at four hours and 19 minutes, making it markedly longer than the air journey on one of the shuttle routes. But the ticket had only cost a whopping $49, making it a true value for travel between New York and Boston.
Even though Amtrak no longer blocks seats, riders are still notified of how full their trains are and can book accordingly. My train was showing only 50% full just a few hours before departure.
The newly-opened train hall offers a modern alternative to Amtrak’s former subterranean home in New York.
There’s more room to breathe while waiting for a train and definitely space to social distance.
Amtrak just debuted this space on January 1, with most inter-city trains departing from and arriving here.
Masks are required in the train hall and on all trains, per federal law, and Amtrak has outfitted its facilities with additional safety measures.
Ticket counters feature plexiglass partitions and hand sanitizer stations can be found throughout the station.
I visited a self-serve kiosk and quickly grabbed my boarding pass for the trip to Boston, and saw the default screen saver was a reminder that masks are required on trains.
I also noticed that Amtrak now requires travelers to complete a COVID-19 checklist, similar to the ones airlines require at check-in. I forgot to do this before departure and nobody on the train checked to see if I had.
There are no seating areas in the main train hall, leading to some crowding when trains are nearing their departure times as riders seek to board as early as possible.
But just across the hall is a waiting area for ticketed riders, providing an exclusive place to sit and wait for a train.
Riders have to show a ticket for either Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, or NJ Transit to enter.
The room is filled with cushioned bench seating and lined with commissioned artwork. Private restrooms are also available.
Power outlets and charging ports are also readily available at nearly every seat.
I made my way back into the train hall around 15 minutes before the train’s departure. Amtrak typically makes track announcements between 10 and 15 minutes before departure, and I wanted to get a good seat.
Amtrak’s Acela trains have moved to reserved seating in all cabins but the Regional trains remain a free for all. A rush started once the track was announced and all social distancing went out of the window.
Amtrak’s standard Northeast Regional train cars were being used for the four-hour service up north.
This was the first time I was heading north from New York and was excited to see what the trip had in store.
I ducked into one that seemed reasonably empty and scored a window seat with no problem. The train was incredibly clean, even though it started its day in Washington, DC, and I had no concerns in that department.
It seemed that Amtrak’s new policy of filling trains wasn’t going to factor in on this ride. Most solo travelers didn’t have to share their rows, with some rows going completely empty.
We pulled out of Penn Station at 8:30 a.m. on the dot. There were 11 stops to go until Boston and a rider could choose to sit in my adjacent seat at any time, but I was hopeful that wouldn’t be the case.
The morning glow was in full effect as the train crossed the Hell Gate Bridge and entered the Bronx.
New Rochelle, New York was the first station stop and to my luck, not many riders embarked and my seat remained open. The true test would come at the larger stops in New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence when more riders were likely to board.
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