Posted by: reformedmusings | November 20, 2010

Amtrak – a viable TSA alternative

I wrote in this post about the TSA (Touching Sensitive Areas) buffoonery. I also stated that I would be taking Amtrak for my next trip. I just returned from that journey and thought it might be useful to post about it.

First, I found the Amtrak website packed with useful information and simple to navigate. You can explore routes and options using the tabbed interface. You can also read about their baggage processing and restrictions (note that thanks to Congress, you can now check firearms in your checked baggage). Searching for specific trip information matches the format of most airline and travel agency sites, so should be very familiar.

Along the North East Corridor routes between Washington D.C. and Boston, Amtrak offers multiple options. I chose the Acela Express which Amtrak designed for business travelers. Those trains offer power outlets at every seat, good leg room for working on your laptop, and makes minimal stops. The Acela costs a few bucks more than the coach regional trains, but the increased productivity is worth the price and it’s still cheaper than flying.

Union Station in D.C. has to be one of the best stations in the country. I has all the amenities of a major airport and the train gates and boarding work pretty much the same way. Plus, Union Station also houses a Metro stop for accessibility. Trains usually board about 30 minutes prior to departure if they’re ready. Boarding on mine was delayed about 15 minutes.

Here’s the great part: NO TSA (Thousands Standing Around). Just show your ticket and ID to the person at the loading door and off you go. They do have some common sense random bag checks, but I didn’t encounter that. Then you walk down the platform, get on the train, and pick a seat. Here’s another productivity enhancement – you can set up and start working on your laptop immediately and for the rest of the trip!

The trip went smoothly. I used an AT&T air card with my laptop and it and my cell phone had pretty consistent 3G connectivity all the way with just a few momentary drop offs in the couple of tunnels. The ride quality isn’t as smooth as an aircraft usually provides. The tracks could probably use some upgrading. There’s a food car which also has places for you to work on your laptop. The trip basically provided a productive day at the office on the move.

The return from the station in downtown Newark proved more challenging. Newark’s station only has five tracks! From those, they support all the necessary Amtrak service plus the New Jersey Regional trains. Monitors announce your train’s track about 15 minutes or so before departure. At that point you simply go up to the track and wait. Be sure to read the number on the front of the train as it arrives so that you don’t get on the wrong train. Again, mine was about 10 minutes late. You have only about five minutes to board, so don’t wait down in the terminal until the last second. An again, NO TSA (Transparently Senseless Aggravation)! The trip home proved equally as productive with my air card. From this perspective, Amtrak seems like a business traveler’s dream.

I found Amtrak employees friendly and helpful. As a first-time traveler on their service, I asked and received courteous answers to what must have seemed like dumb questions. The Acela Express trains proved comfortable and provided huge overhead bins as well as some baggage capability at the end of each car. Despite the train being full after Philadelphia when headed north, the overheads still had ample space available. As I said, the ride quality wasn’t the best due to aging tracks, but I found it acceptable. Everything stayed on the tray table.

I did not miss the TSA (Taking Scissors Away), nor did I feel unsafe at any time on the train. I carried my perfectly legal pocket knife and my tiny Swiss Army Knife with the scissors and orange peeler on my person, my mustache scissors in my carry on bag, and my water bottle in my hand. Even with all that dangerous contraband, I didn’t blow anything up, hurt anyone, or try to hijack the train. Nothing bad happened. Nada.

So, the next time you need to travel and you don’t want to drive, I highly recommend Amtrak. I found Amtrak to be a professionally-run transportation alternative at a reasonable price. They provide a productive alternative to hanging around airport security lines, and you can carry on the tools and liquids that enhance your existence every day. And best of all, NO TSA (Twisted Sexual Abusers) to touch your junk or fondle your wife and children. Thanks Amtrak!



  1. […] for me, I’m driving or taking Amtrak to the max extent possible until TSA dissolves or gets a clue. I suggest that you do the […]

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