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U.S. Rail Travel News, Bargains and Best Buys – June 21

Acela trainset bypassing Rahway, N.J. by Fan Railer via Wikipedia commons Acela trainset bypassing Rahway, N.J. by Fan Railer via Wikipedia commons

Commentary

High-Speed—Slowly. Amtrak announced that the speed limit for the new generation of Acela trains will increase from 135 to 150 miles per hour—on a 16-mile stretch between New Brunswick and South Brunswick, New Jersey I calculate the new speed will cut a bit less than a minute from travel time over the segment—maybe a half minute, given the need to accelerate and brake at either end. That improvement is better than none, but it will not mean much until the entire line is upgraded.

Headlines: Reopenings, New Services and Sales

  • This summer, one child aged 2-12 accompanying an adult can travel for $5 on Amtrak’s Piedmont and Carolinian trains to/from all cities within the state of North Carolina. The sale does not apply to through trains between Washington and the South. Buy and travel though Aug. 31; enter code V256 on the booking page.
  • Grand Canyon Railway is offering discounts up to 30% on the railway fare portion of rail-hotel-food packages for trips through Sept. 1. Hotel rates are not discounted, so the total package reduction is less than 30%, but at least it is something.
  • Amtrak announced that a new route connecting New York City with Pittsfield, Massachusetts, will start operating on July 8. Weekend Berkshire Flyer trains will leave New York/Penn Station on Fridays and return on Sundays through the end of summer, with intermediate stops along the Hudson Valley. No new trackage is involved: the train will take the same route as Empire Service from Penn Station to Albany and the Boston segment of the Lake Shore Limited from Albany to Pittsfield.

Headlines: Temporary Disruptions

  • Local media in Seattle are reporting that Amtrak will not resume Cascades service to Vancouver BC until “late 2022,” supposedly due to staff shortages. Amtrak as not yet issued a confirming report. No change in Amtrak’s mushy schedule for resumption of its other two transborder services: Adirondack and Maple Leaf, where the outlook remains “We hope to resume passenger rail service between our two countries as soon as possible.”
  • All rail and transit systems continue to face possible service cuts due to maintenance and staffing issues. New York subway riders can expect delays on the B and D lines within the Bronx. Check any system you plan to use.
  • Most rail operators in the UK—intercity, suburban, airport trains and the underground—are expecting massive strikes this week, and negotiations are not near an immediate agreement. Travelers headed for the UK over the next few months are likely to face further disruptions. If you are headed that way, be sure you check your arrival airport’s website for current alternatives and alternatives.

Ongoing 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 the National Association of Railroad Passengers with a 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 are no longer tagged as “ending soon,” presumably, it is on indefinitely again. The deal applies to all coach seats and business class on Acela. Also, 15 Percent discounts for Veterans on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquins. Check “Military Veteran” in the booking window. Proof of veteran status can be required.

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

  • Northeast Sale: Discounts up to 50% on travel in the Northeast, with a 14-day advance purchase on Keystone and Pennsylvania trips and 21-day on Northeast Regional. Does not apply on Friday and Sunday plus numerous blackout days, coach only, no upgrades. Amtrak posts no expiration date.
  • Saturday BoGo: Buy one full fare ticket at least three days before travel, get two for Saturday travel on almost all Northeast Corridor trips, including Acela. Couple must travel together. No cutoff date specified.
  • California Deal: Up to five companions: 50% discounts on most dates in Capitol Corridor; buy through Dec. 31, travel through Jan. 1, 2023.
  • 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.
  • Acela promotion: Buy 14 days in advance, with no cutoff date specified; not available for travel on Fridays and Sundays. Sample one-way fares include $79 Boston-Washington, $69 New York-Washington, and $59 Boston-New York.

Other U.S. Rail

  • Brightline’s current promotion is “free” rides on the line’s hourly shuttles, for travel within a five-mile radius of the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations. Also, groups of four or more traveling together on a single reservation get 25% off regular rates.
  • South Shore (Chicago-South Bend) trains are not operating between Dune Park and Carroll Avenue now through “fall” to permit double-track and off-street construction. Bus replacement is filling in the gaps.
  • 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.

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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