Your High-Speed Ride Awaits

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, August 15, 2018

In general, it’s safe to say that railfans seem to prefer watching and/or photographing passenger trains to riding on them.  In many cases, this is related to the fact that there are few, or no, opportunities to take a short, relatively inexpensive ride just for the experience. 

In some areas, (think South Dakota, for example), there simply isn’t any regular service available.  And even in cases where there is, now that Amtrak has adopted airline-style pricing, which typically involves high prices for spur-of-the-moment trips, that kind of trip may be too expensive. 

Plus, the schedules can make short round-trips difficult, particularly on lines with a low frequency of service.  That’s a shame, particularly for families with children that are looking for the opportunity to introduce their kids to train travel, at least in a modest way. 

Fans also tend to decry the lack of truly “high speed” trains in the U.S., as opposed to the plethora available in places like Europe and Asia.  Sure, Acelas can operate at 150 miles per hour for a small portion of the Boston-New York portion of their operating territory, but that’s an expensive ride, and it’s also only convenient to those living in the Northeast.

At least residents of that part of the country can avail themselves of Northeast Regional services that both operate at speeds up to 125 miles per hour, and don’t have Acela-style pricing.  Plus, by purchasing in advance, or waiting for one of Amtrak’s sales promotions, this can be done for a reasonable amount of money.  And while “only” 125 mph may not be up to “world” standards for high speed rail, it’s still exhilarating to watch mileposts going by routinely about every twenty-nine seconds.

While many fans interested in a possible Amtrak ride for themselves and/or their families don’t live in the Northeast, the large cities there, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington do attract many tourists from other areas in the country.  If you’re considering a visit to one of these places, why not take at least part of one day and plan to take a high-speed ride to and from one of the others?

Some of the possibilities include Washington-Baltimore, which is a relatively short trip, but does include 125 mph running.  For those with budget concerns, the short distance translates to a relatively low fare, and it’s also possible to ride Amtrak one way and take the inexpensive, albeit slower, MARC commuter service the other.  MARC now operates this line seven days a week, although service on Sunday is relatively infrequent.

Philadelphia-Trenton-New York is another option.  Turning back from either endpoint at Trenton allows a commuter service return; on SEPTA to and from Philadelphia, and NJ Transit for New York City. For that matter, although it involves changing commuter carriers and trains in Trenton, it’s even possible to travel between Philly and New York via commuter trains. 

The Philadelphia-Trenton portion of these trips does involve some relatively slow running within the northern part of the city of Philadelphia; New York-Trenton features an extensive amount of high-speed running between New Brunswick, New Jersey and Trenton, and in the future, Acelas will be able to operate at 160 mph here.

Unfortunately, since the maximum speed on Metro-North between Stamford, Connecticut and New Haven is 75, New York-New Haven is not a good candidate for speed, although the ride across the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City is worthwhile for the elevated views of the “Big Apple”.  (For more information on maximum passenger train speeds, here’s a link to the digital version of TRAINS Railroad Maps special issue, which also is available in print again:

East of New Haven Northeast Regional trains have 125 mph running between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island (and Acelas have some 150 mph territory on this segment); the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) provides a commuter train alternative, as well. 

If you’re willing to commit a day to this, it can be an excellent way to have a brief visit to a second northeast city.  The larger cities generally have good transit alternatives right at the stations served by Amtrak, facilitating this possibility.

So, why not consider a fast ride in an Amfleet coach during your big trip east to one of the big cities?  By the way, free Wi-Fi is available, along with 120 volt power at each seat, although you might want to consider looking out the window instead of at your electronic device.  Although virtually all the mainline Northeast Corridor trains have a snack car, it’s OK to bring your own food and (non-alcoholic) beverages on the journey with you.

I suspect that once you’ve ridden at 125 miles per hour, Amtrak’s typical maximum operating speed elsewhere, 79 mph, just won’t seem the same.  Enjoy!

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

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