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Water From Home

Posted by Leo Jakobson on June 03, 2008

Next month, I’ll be leaving New York to attend the Incentive Marketing Association’s Ninth Annual Executive Summit in Boston, and I won’t be flying. I’ll be doing something I haven’t done since my early teens—I’ll be taking Amtrak. And, apparently, I’m not alone.

According to a story in the San Francisco Examiner, ridership on the Northeast Corridor line I’ll be taking rose more than 11 percent from October to April, and nationally, the quasi-public company has seen a more than 10 percent increase nationally in that period. A spokesperson attributed the jump to spiraling gas prices, but speculated that growing flight delays and maddening security lines may also be responsible. For me, it’s the latter.

Now, as a New Yorker, my choices are JFK, LaGuardia or Newark airports, which is rather like being given your choice of hanging, electrocution or lethal injection. And, as I live in Manhattan, owning a car is ludicrous (average monthly parking garage fee: $400-ish, and far more in Midtown) even without gas prices at $4 a gallon and everyone resigned to $5 soon.

Still, Amtrak is a tough call for me, despite the fact that I can get to Penn Station in half an hour with bad traffic, whereas I never leave for the New York airports less than three hours early. And a cab to Penn would be around $10, whereas a car to the airports runs $50-$60. From around 8 until I was 13, I went to Vermont every summer, and because my father hated flying, we took an Amtrak overnighter, spending a fair chunk of money on a sleeping compartment. Theoretically, the trip was an easy one—get to the train station around 10:30 pm and wake up around 6:30 in Burlington.

But the delays were astonishing: the engines broke down regularly, the Customer service was rarely better than okay and the microwaveable food was nearly inedible. I particularly remember being awakened at 3 am one night to get off the train, wait in a huge line for buses and be driven around a section of broken track to a new train.

So why am I taking Amtrak to Boston? Well, including the cost of getting to the airport, the price is the same. Accounting for the six hours of my life wasted in transit (at least half of which would be on a workday), it’s far cheaper. And, more recently, I’ve been bumped, delayed up to five hours, left on the runway for two hours without air conditioning and nearly left on a bench overnight in Dallas after missing a connection. Nor, I might add, does Amtrak even have middle seats.

Plus, when boarding I can keep my shoes on, my computer in its bag and my personal belongings out of the pockets of TSA personnel, who I sincerely believe have taken about $200 worth of my belongings that “went missing” during several flights. (See “Five tips to ensure the TSA doesn’t steal your stuff,” a recent article by Tribune Media Services writer Christopher Elliott.)

And really, if I’m going to buy a sandwich to avoid airline food, I can manage to do the same at Penn Station for about $5 less. Heck, I can even bring a bottle of water from home!


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Christopher Parker

Get a seat on the right hand side of the train if you can - the views along the ocean in Connecticut are stunning (once you are past about Bridgeport . . . ). Might even distract you from all the work you can get done on-board.

Also, know that they have a quiet car, if you don't like cell-phones.

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