I took Amtrak for the first time since it started filling trains to capacity and it's still my favorite way to travel the Northeast

·11 min read
Arriving at Boston's South Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Amtrak began selling all seats on its trains in May after limiting capacity at half for most of the pandemic.

  • Safety features still include mandatory mask-wearing, plexiglass partitions at ticket counters, and hand sanitizer dispensers in stations.

  • Ridership is still down leaving inter-city trains with scores of open seats from which to choose.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Amtrak has joined the airline industry in welcoming back more travelers by opening up as many seats as possible on its trains.

An Amtrak train pulling into the station.
An Amtrak Northeast Regional train arriving in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

While airlines were fighting over whether to block middle seats, Amtrak pressed on with its own policy. Capacity was limited to 50% on all trains until May 23, nearly a month after Delta Air Lines stopped blocking middle seats.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I flew Delta for the first time since it stopped blocking middle seats and found cracks showing in its mask enforcement— here's what it was like

Riders could get on a train knowing that they wouldn't have a seat neighbor, regardless of where they sat. Combined with Amtrak's already generous legroom and seat width, it made for a great value proposition over flying on some journeys.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic
Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Read More: I rode Amtrak up and down the Northeast Corridor during the pandemic and found it surprisingly clean, cheap, and stress-free — here's what it was like

But Amtrak has been seeing an increase in ridership and has been discounting fares in a bid to get more riders back on its tracks. With more travelers choosing Amtrak once more, trains are filling up and there are no capacity limits holding back crowds.

Arriving at Boston's South Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: Amtrak relaunches USA Rail Pass, a ticket that lets you travel the country for 30 days for $299

I took Amtrak's famed Northeast Regional line from New York to Boston just a few days after the capacity limits were lifted. Here's what it was like.

Arriving at Boston's South Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I arrived at the Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Penn just 30 minutes before my train. One of the perks of taking Amtrak is that you don't have to arrive too early since there are no security screenings required.

Front view of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: New York just debuted a $1.6 billion train hall to upgrade its notorious Penn Station, complete with skylight ceilings and a premium lounge — see inside

I booked Amtrak's 8:30 a.m. Northeast Regional service from New York on train 170, making all station stops en route to Boston.

Front view of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The travel time for this journey clocked in at four hours and 19 minutes, making it markedly longer than the air journey on one of the shuttle routes. But the ticket had only cost a whopping $49, making it a true value for travel between New York and Boston.

Walking into Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even though Amtrak no longer blocks seats, riders are still notified of how full their trains are and can book accordingly. My train was showing only 50% full just a few hours before departure.

Amtrak's booking website
Amtrak's booking website. Thomas Pallini/Insider via Amtrak

The newly-opened train hall offers a modern alternative to Amtrak's former subterranean home in New York.

Walking into New York's Moynihan Train at Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There's more room to breathe while waiting for a train and definitely space to social distance.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Amtrak just debuted this space on January 1, with most inter-city trains departing from and arriving here.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Masks are required in the train hall and on all trains, per federal law, and Amtrak has outfitted its facilities with additional safety measures.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Ticket counters feature plexiglass partitions and hand sanitizer stations can be found throughout the station.

Inside the Amtrak ticket office at Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I visited a self-serve kiosk and quickly grabbed my boarding pass for the trip to Boston, and saw the default screen saver was a reminder that masks are required on trains.

Inside the Amtrak ticket office at Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I also noticed that Amtrak now requires travelers to complete a COVID-19 checklist, similar to the ones airlines require at check-in. I forgot to do this before departure and nobody on the train checked to see if I had.

Inside the Amtrak ticket office at Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There are no seating areas in the main train hall, leading to some crowding when trains are nearing their departure times as riders seek to board as early as possible.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But just across the hall is a waiting area for ticketed riders, providing an exclusive place to sit and wait for a train.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Riders have to show a ticket for either Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, or NJ Transit to enter.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The room is filled with cushioned bench seating and lined with commissioned artwork. Private restrooms are also available.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Power outlets and charging ports are also readily available at nearly every seat.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I made my way back into the train hall around 15 minutes before the train's departure. Amtrak typically makes track announcements between 10 and 15 minutes before departure, and I wanted to get a good seat.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Amtrak's Acela trains have moved to reserved seating in all cabins but the Regional trains remain a free for all. A rush started once the track was announced and all social distancing went out of the window.

Inside the main hall of Moynihan Train Hall at New York's Pennsylvania Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Amtrak's standard Northeast Regional train cars were being used for the four-hour service up north.

Boarding Amtrak's Northeast Regional train - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

This was the first time I was heading north from New York and was excited to see what the trip had in store.

Boarding Amtrak's Northeast Regional train - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I ducked into one that seemed reasonably empty and scored a window seat with no problem. The train was incredibly clean, even though it started its day in Washington, DC, and I had no concerns in that department.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It seemed that Amtrak's new policy of filling trains wasn't going to factor in on this ride. Most solo travelers didn't have to share their rows, with some rows going completely empty.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We pulled out of Penn Station at 8:30 a.m. on the dot. There were 11 stops to go until Boston and a rider could choose to sit in my adjacent seat at any time, but I was hopeful that wouldn't be the case.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The morning glow was in full effect as the train crossed the Hell Gate Bridge and entered the Bronx.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I was immediately reminded why I love train travel. The gentle jostle of the train was incredibly relaxing and the view was not to be missed.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

New Rochelle, New York was the first station stop and to my luck, not many riders embarked and my seat remained open. The true test would come at the larger stops in New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence when more riders were likely to board.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The train was around half full with a lot of open rows as I walked through the cars.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Most rows had at least one person in them but I didn't see too many rows doubled up.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Prominently on display in the cars was social distancing and face mask reminders, with conductors enforcing the rule.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Amtrak had also installed hand sanitizer stations in between train cars so riders can stay clean during the journey.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to BostonInside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And train car doors can also be opened via ground-level latches that can be easily pushed by a rider's foot, further reducing contact.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I made my way to the dining car and found that around half of the tables had been opened for seating.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The entire car was closed off for seating the last time I'd taken Amtrak.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The cafe was open with extra precautions like plexiglass partitions and social distancing floor placards.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Breakfast options included a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich for $5 and a blueberry muffin for $3.25. The prices were reasonable for the offering but I wasn't too hungry.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The New Haven stop came around two hours into the journey. It's almost the halfway point for this section of the Northeast Corridor between New York and Boston.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Not many riders boarded here so I was once again spared from having a neighbor. The next major stop was Providence and that was another hour and 40 minutes away.

A station stop in New Haven, Connecticut while on Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Regrettably, there was no time to stop for pizza while in New Haven.

A station stop in New Haven, Connecticut while on Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We pulled out of the station and I opened my laptop to get some work done. Amtrak offers free WiFi that made it possible to work,

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Power outlets are also available to keep devices charged.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The Connecticut stretch of the Northeast Corridor is arguably the most scenic and enjoyable of the line.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We were nearly on the beach as the tracks were mere feet away from the Long Island Sound.

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Every time I ride Amtrak I always wonder why I don't do so more. The rides are often enjoyable and bring meaning to the phrase "the journey is the destination."

The view from Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Passing through New London, Connecticut also proved fascinating. Winding tracks pass right through the heart of the town, forcing slow speeds, and the train is too big for the station so there's quite a big overhang.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

In Providence, not many riders boarded and it was looking like I'd be free and clear all the way to Boston.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And even then, if I did have a seat neighbor, it would only be another 45 minutes to Boston. The Providence-Boston leg of the trip is where Amtrak's trains reach their top speeds thanks to the straight track.

Inside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to BostonInside Amtrak's Northeast Regional train from New York to Boston - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We arrived at Boston's South Station and though Amtrak's new policy opened up the train to be filled, it didn't make much of a difference in my journey since ridership is still markedly down.

Arriving at Boston's South Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

That may change as more travelers return to Amtrak but it's still a fantastic way to travel for now.

Arriving at Boston's South Station - Amtrak Northeast Regional New York to Boston
Riding Amtrak's Northeast Regional service from New York to Boston. Thomas Pallini/Insider

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