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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Amtrak Tips - Roanoke/Lynchburg to NYC

Having just returned from New York City after a maiden voyage on Amtrak via Lynchburg I thought I'd give a primer on what to expect if you plan to travel by train.

Since we live in Roanoke, a "rail town" that does not have a rail passenger station we had to make our way to Lynchburg to catch Amtrak. Although the Roanoke Times has reported today that there will be bus service starting July 19th from Roanoke to Lynchburg for now you would have to drive to get there.

Luckily the train departs at a good time...7:38am and arrives in NYC at a good time, 3:18pm, perfect for hotel check-ins. We left at 5:45am giving us enough time to get our tickets. We arrived with 15:00 to spare. Lynchburg is the first stop so securing a seat is not a problem.

Although you may be tempted to sit near a bathroom, do not!!! Every time someone opens the door a foul smell wafts out. As the train rolls on it gets worse and worse. I suggest you take a seat in the car right before or after the snack car. You will get bored at one point and want to stretch your legs and perhaps get a bite or drink to eat. Walking through a moving train is challenging. Going to the bathroom on a moving train is even more challenging, so be warned.

Amtrak has upgraded their food choices. I didn't try anything other than a Perrier water. Do not ask for ice. Amtrak's ice is funky and will ruin the taste of whatever you are drinking. Do yourself a favor and pack a sandwich and snacks and just get a drink on board. On our return trip I stopped at a deli in NY and brought back a most delicious turkey, brie, avocado on a multi-grain roll sandwich. My daughter opted for a pretzel and huge chocolate chip cookie. Yummmmmm....

If you're lucky you'll be sitting across from someone who is personable and not too obnoxious, so the trip will move faster. Going up to NYC we met someone from Roanoke who was fun so we scored. By Washington the train will get real crowded. People will walk up and down the aisles asking, "Is this seat taken?" so don't get out of your seat when the train pulls into the station. Wait a couple of minutes and then you can stretch your legs outside since the train waits about 20:00 before leaving DC.

When you arrive at Penn Station be's chaotic. A must when travelling is luggage on wheels. I can't imagine what we would have done without them. Don't check your bags, carry them on so you can get out and on your way immediately. You'd be surprised what you can fit in a 22" roll-on. They allow you two carry-on pieces and a pocketbook or laptop.

The return trip was not as pleasant as the arriving one. The train leaves Penn Station at 12:35pm -- again a perfect time as most hotel check-outs are either 11:00am or 12:00pm.

Our train was a half-hour late and it seemed everyone in Penn Station was boarding it. They do not report what track the train will be on until the very last minute. Then there's a crazy rush to get to the escalator. My daughter was panicked that we wouldn't get on. I wonder if they oversell the train. You walk through the train dragging your luggage through the narrow aisles looking for a seat. Everyone seems to take single seats by the window so it's challenging finding two together. Once you do you have to lift your luggage above you -- not an easy task for two girls. Luckily we found the last two seats together in a "quiet car."

I call the "quiet car" the "mean people car." As we were lifting our luggage a woman turns to my daughter and says nastily, "You know this is the quiet car, don't you?" And??? Did she think because she's a teenage she was going to be running up and down the aisles, playing music and yelling on her cell-phone? I turned to her and said, "What's your point?" She gave me a dirty look and turned away.

The "quiet car" means you're not supposed to have loud conversations or talk on your cell phone. A woman in front of the nasty woman called over the train attendant and told her to ask a woman with twins to go into a different car because one of the children was making too much noise. That woman had her hands full with twins, and where the hell was she supposed to go anyway when there's no freaking seats? Geeze! That's why I call it "the mean people car." By the way, once nasty woman # 1 got off at DC another woman sat down and spoke the entire time to Lynchburg on her cellphone. It didn't bother us at all.

With the price of gas these days I thought $264 round trip for both of us was a good deal. I also felt very safe. My daughter thought the train was cold, I thought it was hot. Since I'm always hot you might want to bring a little jacket. I enjoyed not having to worry about hitting traffic and being "on guard" constantly as I am when my husband drives us to New York. You see many sights, some good...

...some not so good. I kept hearing Iggy Pop singing, "I am a passenger and I ride and I ride. I see the cities' ripped backsides..." And you will.

I'm glad our trip was successful as this opens up many possibilities to us. In fact before the summer is out my daughter and I plan to spend a long weekend in DC. Girl's weekends can be very liberating and fun.

I have 239 pics to go through from New York City...stay tuned!


  1. I am glad to hear this is a good way to travel. I've considered it many times but never actually followed through. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Me too...I was a little anxious, but the first time is the hardest so now I know what to expect.