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U.S. Rail Travel News, Bargains and Best Buys – Nov. 16

Amtrak's Friday Hoosier State passing through Shelby, Indiana on June 24, 2011 by Buddahbless (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons Amtrak's Friday Hoosier State passing through Shelby, Indiana on June 24, 2011 by Buddahbless (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons

Headlines: Reopenings, New Services and Sales

  • Amtrak will run the Winter Park Express again this winter, connecting Denver with the Winter Park ski center. Trains will operate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays Jan. 14 through April 14, with fares starting at $29 each way and no charge for skis.
  • Amtrak Cascades trains have resumed running on the Point Defiance Bypass between Seattle and Tacoma, after a five-year closure due to rebuilding and improving tracks that led to a derailment. The new route will shave several minutes off running time.
  • Amtrak still says it is “working with federal agencies” to resume cross-border trains a “short time after the borders reopen,” but still with no specific dates.
  • Brightline resumed service Nov. 8 for its traditional Miami-West Palm Beach services. It continues to offer a “first ride free” promotion through Dec. 31. Go online to gobrightline.com, open an account, and enter the program. It is also featuring some $10 fares.

Headlines: Temporary Disruptions

Washington’s Metro will remain at “reduced service levels” at least through Nov. 30 and maybe longer due to mechanical problems with a majority of its vehicles. Access to National airport remains a problem.

Cleveland’s light rail Waterfront line remains suspended north of Tower City indefinitely due to a failing bridge, with no resumption date set.

Metra North Central Service continues to operate a reduced schedule, with service to/from O’Hare available mainly at commuter hours and not at all on weekends.

Conventional Amtrak Deals: General Conditions

Except where noted, all Amtrak promotions apply to coach travel only; discounts apply to full-fare tickets and cannot be combined with other discounts; most deals entail blackout dates; seats are limited; some promotions do not apply to all trains; most promotions make provisions for one or two children accompanying each adult traveler. Companion and most children’s deals require all travelers to travel together. Amtrak also offers other minor deals and promotions. In most cases, the Amtrak website automatically computes and displays eligible discounts for any trip you enter. Check amtrak.com/deals for details and booking.

Standard Ongoing Discounts

Amtrak routinely offers modest discounts to certain travelers. For the most part, these discounts apply only to coach travel and are generally not combinable. Most routine discounts do not apply to weekday Acela Express trains, and many do not apply to some Thruway bus travel. When you enter itineraries and personal details, the Amtrak website automatically computes discounted fares. Discounts are subject to capacity control.

  • Senior: 10% discount for travelers aged 65 or over except on cross-border travel with VIA Rail, where the minimum age is 60. Senior discount is not valid on business class (except limited Acela options), Auto Train, Saver fares, or sleeper accommodations. Fifty percent senior discount on Downeaster trains. Fifteen percent discount for seniors aged 62 or over on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Sunliner and San Joaquins; any-age advance purchase fares may be lower.
  • Disability: 10% discount for travelers with disabilities and traveling companions, with appropriate ID. 50% discount on Downeaster trains.
  • Children: One child aged 2-12 travels for 50% off with an adult age 18 or over.
  • Military: 10% discount for travelers on active duty and their spouses/dependents, including travel on Auto Train, excluding Canadian portion of transborder trains.
  • NARP: 10% discount for members of National Association of Railroad Passengers with three-day advance purchase.
  • “Share Fares:” Average 35% discount for groups of up to six traveling together with three-day advance purchase. Works best for groups of three or more; ends soon.
  • Veterans: 10% discounts for veterans; applies to all coach seats and business class on Acela. Check “Military Veteran” in the booking window. Proof of veteran status can be required. Also, 15% discounts in California on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquins for veterans and family members, ending on Dec. 31, 2021.

Advance-Purchase Discounts

Amtrak routinely offers Saver Fares discounts of 15% to 25% on most trains with 14-day advance purchase. These discounts are limited to coach class and to Saturday and select off-peak Acela business class trips.

Time-Limited Promotions

California Deal: Up to five companions: 50% discounts on most dates. Capitol Corridor through Dec. 31, 2021; San Joaquins through April 29.

More California: Up to three half-price companion tickets on Pacific Surfliner midweek trips Monday through Thursday in the San Diego-San Luis Obispo corridor. Buy at least one day before travel, through March 20, and travel through March 31. Blackouts apply over holiday periods.

BOGO for Saturday travel on Northeast Corridor: Buy one full fare ticket, get a second free, three days or more in advance of travel. Deal covers both Regional and Acela service. Usual blackouts and limitations apply. No cutoff date specified.

Short-Term “low fare” promotions: Amtrak regularly selects individual routes and areas to cut normal fares by as much as 50%. Discounts require 7- 14-day advance purchase. Current focus is on Northeast Corridor and the Lakeshore Limited.

Acela promotion: Buy 14 days in advance, with no cutoff date specified; not available for travel on Fridays and Sundays and a Thanksgiving-weekend blackout. Sample one-way fares include $79 Boston-Washington, $69 New York-Washington, and $59 Boston-New York.

Other U.S. Rail

Everywhere: communities around the country are using the low pandemic traffic levels as opportunities to maintain and upgrade their light rail, metro, and heavy suburban rail systems. This means temporary shutdowns of various lines at various times, typically with substitute bus service. I will try to highlight major changes, but I cannot keep up with every local transit system. Check any city you plan to visit. Ditto major tourist lines, many of which are reopening this summer.

See our report on rail news outside the U.S.

Ed Perkins, editor

For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel

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