Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday Travel with Amtrak on the Pennsylvanian, Kinda Classy Newark to Pittsburgh, Kinda Itchy on the Return

I always have the most interesting travel experiences! With the holiday, I’m a little late in posting this travel review, but thought it might be helpful if you’re weighing your travel options this Holiday Season.

 Getting There

Thanksgiving morning kicked off with a jolt this year as I realized that instead of oversleeping my alarm for the office, I was oversleeping my Amtrak reservation. Today’s journey would take me on a trek with Amtrak from Newark, NJ, to Pittsburgh, PA (followed by a 2 hour drive to the-middle-of-nowhere-Ohio).

Because I was pressed for time, I opted to call a cab to Newark Penn Station. I realized that this was a very bad idea after the cabbie asked for a $62 fare. This seems mildly ridiculous considering that my train ticket was not much more than that.

Shaking off the sting from the gauging taxi fare, I entered the station to print my ticket, grab a coffee and peruse the newspaper racks and drop $16 on lunch-to-go at Zaro’s, located just outside the Amtrak waiting area in Newark Penn Station.

A word of caution on Newark Penn Station, if the taxis and the deli don’t gauge you, the bums will. I am all for giving to the needy, and I would be the first to buy a stranger lunch, but if you’re heading to the station, come prepared to drop more than a pocketful for the moments when you’re entering the station, ordering from the deli and waiting on the train.

Traveling as much as I do by air, I was expecting the long train ride to be a drag, but honestly I was impressed by the quality of the accommodations in business class - plenty of leg room, luggage space, very comfortable seats and even 120V outlets to keep my laptop going through the ride. While the ride is considerably longer on the train than it is by plane, there is ample opportunity to stretch legs, snack at the dining car and gaze out the window at the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania.

While I brought my lunch on the train, I was pleasantly surprised to see vegetarian options in the dining car. For business class passengers, the dining car also offers complimentary soft drinks and coffee in small sizes.

For the trip out to Pittsburgh, despite the very comfortable accommodations, there were some set-backs. The train became very cold about halfway through the ride. I found myself reaching for my coat and still shivering. Also, as time went on, the quality of the restroom declined considerably. I’m guessing there are some men who need to be taught the dynamics of relieving nature’s call while standing on a moving surface. (Do everyone a favor gentlemen, and just this once, sit down.)

 Coming Home

Coming back to Newark from Pittsburgh on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, I rode in coach in an effort to compare the differences in service and comfort.

The stark contrast was immediately apparent. The mass of riders huddled into the decaying semblance of a train station in Pittsburgh corralled the tracks to vie for the first crack at preferred seats.

Being the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, we all knew that the train was sold out, and yet there were those who felt that “sold out” did not apply to them. The people of the train ran amuck with varied feelings of mutual disgust, emotional laziness and lack of holiday spirit.

To the anonymous snob riding to Philadelphia, sitting in front of me, who felt that she was too good for just one seat wins the title “Queen of Classlessness” for her completely tactless and disheartening lack of consideration and Holiday Spirit. In her reign over two seats on a sold out train, the Queen of Classlessness dismissed the couple with a baby who needed to occupy the other 2 seats, seats which of course they paid for.

The baby began to scream out in horror of the Queen of Classlessness’ day-glo, over-tanned face as it scratched out a scowl at the poor child. Music to my ears, the nasty wench writhed in horror that an infant would dare cry in public in the presence of her royal highness, adding a statement to the father of the child to the effect of, “Great, now I have to listen to this kid scream. Can’t you quiet her down.”

After several unnecessary and inappropriate comments by this snobby, horrible young twit, the father of the child finally spoke up for himself and his family, snapping at her that she, and those around her purchased 1 seat, not 2. Then he added a statement to the effect of “You’re a spoiled, mean, selfish person.” (Yes!)

After several uncomfortable moments, the family moved to another section of the train. The twit who caused the trouble and then the people around her that wouldn’t give up their second seats complained about the family butting into their trip. Utterly disgusting.

And the worst part? The Amtrak employees were nowhere to be found during this whole episode.

Intent on calling out the snob for her heartlessness, the young woman sitting next to me and I discussed very loudly the importance of Holiday Spirit and the lack of consideration between people. Of course, since the snob was sitting directly ahead of me, I adjusted my tray table often and used the top of her seat as a support when standing up, 2 to 3 times per hour.

In an odd twist, I came to realize that I knew the woman sitting next to me. We used to live 2 blocks apart from each other in Pittsburgh a little more than 3 years ago. We frequented the same coffee shops, shopped at the same stores and rode the same bus. It’s kind of bizarre how small the world really is.

Getting back to the travel review…So, the ride in coach was less comfortable with less leg room, no arm rest between seats and very small tray tables. Luggage space and fresh air were limited, to say the least. The bathroom disaster was considerably more pronounced. If it weren’t for the electrical outlets and the frequent walks to the dining car, I would have been in crawling the windows to escape.

Tip on coach: Order a small coffee, tip well, be extra nice to the man in the dining car and you just might get free coffee for the rest of the ride.

Coming back into the Newark, the Pennsylvanian arrives at 10:40ish into Penn Station. If you’re a woman traveling alone, I would not suggest this route as a viable option. The station was full of shady individuals and the display of human suffering in the corridors was frightening.

Would I do it again?

In business class, with someone waiting for me at both ends of the train, absolutely. The cost was on point and the accommodations were comfortable.

In coach class, on a long trip, not unless I had to. With no one waiting for me (at either end of the line), absolutely not.

Some ways in which Amtrak can improve:
  • More secure stations
  • Cleaner restrooms on the train
  • Stronger conductor presence for problems when passengers go a little crazy
  • Recycling options to reduce the massive amount of waste from all of the paper coffee cups

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous review. I've always wanted to take a train for a trip just for the experience. The nastiness that gets directed at people with children disgusts me. We took our 10 week old on his first plane ride last year and the looks we got from people were horrendous...and the little dude slept the entire flight. Ah ha. Happy Saturday Sharefest!