The Third Rail One man's quest to take the train to New York without ever boarding Amtrak.

Josh Kucera

It’s no wonder that Amtrak rules the well-traveled path between the District and New York. It’s fast, the stations are conveniently located, and it’s comfortable. The first time I took the quiet car, by the time I got to New York I was so relaxed and engrossed in my book that I didn’t want to get off.

But that comfort comes at a price—$97 for the regular train and $188 for the high-speed Acela.

So I, and many other Washingtonians, suffer the bus.

The Greyhound and Chinatown buses each have their partisans. I have been a Greyhound man, mainly because it’s the lesser of two evils—it’s flexible, doesn’t require reservations, and offers a more pleasant ride than Chinatown, which subjects travelers to C-grade movies at earsplitting volumes, not to mention some well-documented safety problems.

(I have not yet tried the new Bolt Bus, a Greyhound offshoot with comfier seats and onboard WiFi. Its main draw is its complex, gimmicky pricing scheme with some fares only $1. But whenever I’ve looked, it’s been the same price as Greyhound, with the same inconvenient schedules as Chinatown.)

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The $38 round-tip Greyhound ticket comes with its share of get-what-you-pay-for indignities. Like the traffic on I-95, which can add several hours to the trip. And Greyhound’s first-come-first-serve policy on getting a bus can mean you wait a couple of hours on busy days.

On a recent Greyhound trip back from New York, I showed up at Port Authority on Sunday afternoon, and at the gate for D.C. buses encountered a line so long I couldn’t see where it ended.

But I happened to remember seeing, when I bought my tickets online, a notice for Greyhound’s new “Priority Seating” program. According to the Greyhound Web site, “you can reserve your own seat and pre-board without waiting in line first. Relax in the terminal while knowing in advance where you will sit on the bus, and board ahead of other non-priority passengers.” And it costs just $5. Aside from the absurd notion of “relaxing” at Port Authority, it seemed like a good idea. But for whatever reason you can’t do this online; you have to do it at the station. And since it’s not well advertised there, I don’t think many people know about it.

Fortunately I did, so I went to the ticket office, paid my extra $5 and got another ticket stapled on top of the original. I asked what to do with this. “Just walk to the front of the line,” the ticket agent told me.

The people in line, naturally, were livid. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting in this line?” one kindly old woman asked me. Meekly, I tried to explain the Priority Seating program and that I had paid $5 for the right to cut in line and recommended that she try it next time. She was incredulous, as I would have been. Had this happened in any other country, I would have laughed it off as some banana republic petty corruption scheme.

But it worked—I got on the next bus and was on the road in less than 10 minutes. Still, I was shaken by the opprobrium of my fellow passengers, and even more by the close call. Imagine having had to actually wait in that line! Something snapped in me, the scales fell away from my eyes, and all the rationalizations I’d made throughout the years seemed like self-delusion; all the annoyances I’d explained away as exceptions —the hours-long traffic delays, the endless lines to get on a bus, the hassle of getting to the Washington bus station—now revealed themselves as the rule.

Was there any other option, I wondered? Something cheaper than Amtrak and less of a hassle than the bus? When I got home, exhausted from the trip, I fired up the laptop and did a little research.

A couple of weeks later, on a gray, rainy Monday morning, I was on a train pulling out of Union Station. Just to the left, below the tracks, was the Greyhound station, with its rows of buses and the sorry lot of travelers about to board them and brave the traffic of I-95. Not me. I had found my other option.

A voice came over the intercom. “This is MARC train number 506 to Perryville, stopping in New Carrollton, Odenton, BWI airport, Baltimore Penn Station and every stop north of Baltimore.”

Many of my fellow passengers had luggage, heading to flights at BWI. Most of the others were dressed for work, on their way to jobs in Baltimore. I doubted that any of them, like me, had a final destination of New York. But MARC, along with a couple of other regional commuter trains, was going to get me to the big city at a fraction of the price of Amtrak, albeit at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

Only one MARC train per morning, the 7:12, goes all the way to Perryville, in far northern Maryland near the Delaware border. There were only 15 people in my car leaving Union Station, and I was able to stretch out—something that’s pretty much impossible on Greyhound. It was as quiet as the quiet car on Amtrak, and for just $11 to Perryville, a bargain.

After Baltimore, the scenery quickly became rural, with pickup trucks parked in front of split-level ranches. This is not an obvious market for mass transit; almost everyone got off at BWI or Baltimore and by this point there were only three other people in my car. Shortly before Edgewood, the train eased to a stop, in the middle of a pleasant neighborhood of pastel-painted houses and honest-to-god white picket fences. After a minute in this bucolic scene, an Amtrak train passed us with such velocity that I couldn’t even tell if it was an Acela or regular train, and its force rocked our train from side to side. We slowly started up again.

At 8:53 we pulled into Perryville, the end of the line for MARC, and this is where things got tricky. There is no commuter train service between Perryville and Wilmington, Del., 30 miles away.

Into this public transportation void has stepped the Cecil County Department of Senior Services and Community Transit. It operates a bus service called “The Bus,” which conveniently stops at the MARC station.

Less conveniently, the next bus wasn’t scheduled to arrive until 10:15, so I had an hour and 20 minutes to kill in Perryville. I sat for a while in the train station, which was open but apparently completely unstaffed after the train headed back to Baltimore. The train station also houses the one-room Perryville Railroad Museum, but it was also closed, so I peered through the glass at the model train and ’70s-era Amtrak uniforms on exhibit. I walked a couple of blocks to the post office and bought a copy of the local newspaper, the Cecil Whig, and read the front page story about the homecoming of a company of local soldiers who had just returned from Iraq.

Apparently, Cecil County tried to coordinate the bus with the MARC schedule, but there wasn’t enough transfer traffic to make it worth it, says Leslie Gorak, Cecil County’s transportation supervisor. “The intention is for people to go to the doctor or the grocery store, it was never really intended for commuters,” she says.

Finally the bus came. Despite its apparent origins as a service for seniors—evidenced by scheduled stops at senior centers and dialysis clinics—the passengers were of all ages. The story of one woman who sat behind me, a 24-year-old single mother of two and cancer survivor, could have been written by Denis Johnson. Opening up to the woman next to her, hers was the kind of saga that included lines like “We moved to Elkton because my mother had a heart attack and a triple bypass so she lost her house, and I was living with her because of the cancer, so we had to move here.” She was riding the bus because she had recently been carjacked at knife-point.

The itinerary of “The Bus” is clearly designed for those for whom time is not money. We drove into the Villas at Whitehall (“A Senior Rental Community”), stopped at Union Hospital and at Foxridge Manor Apartments. We did a loop through one neighborhood where all the houses were identical aluminum-sided duplexes and the streets had names like “Road 1” and “Road 12”—and then came out exactly where we had entered 15 minutes earlier. I had to change buses; the transfer station was at the Acme grocery store in the Big Elk Shopping Center in Elkton. We also made a 10-minute stop at the Cecil County administration building, where we all had to get out of the bus and into another one with a new driver to continue the journey.

At 11:50, we pulled into People’s Plaza in Glasgow, Del., 17 miles from Perryville.

This is where I caught the DART bus into Wilmington. The DART bus, I learned to my disappointment, was no quicker than “The Bus,” and it took another hour to make it into Wilmington, stopping to let passengers on and off every two blocks.

For a brief, glorious moment, we got on I-95 and made some real progress, and we passed an apartment complex I always notice on the Greyhound, with its sign: cavalier apartments—if you lived here you’d be home by now. Seen from I-95, the sign is kind of a joke; “here” seems like nowhere. But now I know it’s next to the Christiana Mall.

Although this part of the trip was excruciatingly slow and largely through a landscape of used car lots and boarded-up motels, I did get glimpses of a little local color. There were handsome churches, like St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal (established 1706) in North East, Md., and Christiana Presbyterian (1732) amid graceful stone houses in Christiana, Del. There were quaint renovated downtowns in North East and Elkton. And in Wilmington, where I had to walk a few blocks from the end of the bus line to the train station, I picked up a cheesesteak and drink at time-warped Gus’s Sub Shop, with bright orange and yellow Formica booths and elderly Greek proprietors (who gave me back $1.50 from my $10 on an $8.25 bill).

From Wilmington, there is a Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train to Philadelphia, and from here on it’s no more buses, just trains all the way to New York. But when I arrived at the station I got the dispiriting news that I had just missed a train to Philadelphia and would have to wait an hour and a half—until 2:45—for the next one. That makes a total of six hours after arriving in Perryville that I left Wilmington.

I got in the first car on the train to Philadelphia, where a dreadlocked man in a SEPTA uniform sat in the front seat, head back, eyes closed. At 2:45 p.m. he got up slowly, walked into the cab, and 30 seconds later we were moving through Wilmington’s Baltimore-esque row-house squalor and then northern Delaware’s rusting seaside oil terminals and junkyards. The effects of the early alarm, the long trip thus far and the cheesesteak combined to put me to sleep, and I woke up underground in Philadelphia, one stop past where I should have gotten off.

But here, the trains were more frequent, and I only lost about 20 minutes. The next SEPTA train, to Trenton, was the only one of my entire trip that was remotely full—by now it was a little after 4 p.m., the beginning of rush hour, and it was standing-room only with chatty commuters going home to Philadelphia’s northern suburbs.

The conductors knew many of the passengers, and one—a short, shaven-headed guy with a Rocky Balboa accent and a Hillary pin (the next day was the Pennsylvania primary)—told some of his regulars in the seat in front of me a story that happened on this route a few days before:

An elderly woman got on the train with a cat in a handbag. SEPTA rules apparently require pets to be in hard cases, and when this conductor came up to check her ticket and saw she had a cat, he told her he would refund her money if she got off at the next stop and took her cat home.

“Everyone was all in a commotion, there was a blind lady here with her dog, saying ‘My dog doesn’t like cats.…’ So you know what she did? The train stopped, and she just threw the cat right off the train and stayed on.”

He continued: “I’ve seen everything on this train, ladies, everything.” He told another story that involved a woman traveling without a ticket or money, who reached an arrangement with a fellow male passenger to fellate him for the price of a ticket. “She just put her jacket over her head and went to town, I swear to God.”

That’s the sort of local color you don’t get on Amtrak.

Two sorts of landscape play a game of tag on this trip north: urban/industrial blight and semi-rural strip malls. Strip-mall areas—everything between Baltimore and Wilmington, for example—corresponded with depopulated backwaters and low ridership. And in urban areas—the stretch from Wilmington through Philadelphia, for example—the trains had been pretty well patronized. But as we got farther north out of Philadelphia, the windows again showcased strip malls, and at Cornwells Heights the train emptied out and the conductor, with no one to talk to, sat quietly reading his Philadelphia Metro newspaper. A sign out the window read: thrift store—up to 50 percent new clothes.

At 5:24, we got to Trenton, and I had just enough time to get off, buy a ticket from the kiosk, and jump on the New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station. The NJ Transit train was as genteel as the SEPTA was earthy; the conductor wore a jacket and tie and billed formal cap (on SEPTA they wore windbreakers and baseball caps), there were relatively few ads on the train walls, and the notice to passengers seemed written with an uncommon amount of grace for public transportation:

“NJ Transit wants your trip to be safe and enjoyable. To that end NJ Transit holds the conductor of this train responsible for collecting the appropriate fare and enforcing the rules governing passenger conduct. When passengers do not cooperate with the conductor regarding payment of fares or conduct on the train, the police will be summoned and the passenger will be removed from the train at the next station stop.”

The sign looked at least 40 years old, and the font looked like it came from a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye; I felt like Holden Caulfield going home from Pencey Prep.

We passed from the thick woods around Princeton Junction to the exurban and then suburban New Brunswick, Edison, Elizabeth, and Newark, and finally pulled into Penn Station at 6:59, 11 hours and 47 minutes after I left Union Station.

It was, however, a bargain compared to Amtrak: I paid $11 for the MARC train, a total of $4.50 for two “The Bus” buses, $1.15 on the Delaware DART bus, $9 on SEPTA, and $12.50 on NJ Transit, for a total of $38.15.

And if it weren’t for that 30-mile gap in Maryland and Delaware, it would come close to a reasonable option. Say, for example, the MARC train went all the way to Wilmington. I could have also caught the 9:15 a.m. SEPTA to Philadelphia, and the connections would have gotten me to New York by 1:36 p.m., for a 6-hour-24-minute trip.

Yes, that’s more than double the length of an Acela trip and a couple of hours longer than Greyhound should be, but I’ve been on several Greyhound trips that lasted much longer than that.

And only for a short time—just north of Philadelphia—were any of the trains more than 10 percent full, which made it a far more comfortable experience than the bus. There are no current plans to expand MARC service to Delaware, says Jawauna Green, a MARC spokeswoman. But the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure plans, which will shift about 4,400 net new jobs to the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds near Perryville, may change the outlook. “That may be a topic of conversation as we look at the BRAC realignment, we may have people who live in Delaware and commute down into Maryland to work at Aberdeen,” Green says. “So I can’t say it’s out of the realm of possibility.” Another possibility, says Gorak of Cecil County, is that MARC and SEPTA would each expand to Elkton; that’s something that state Delegate David Rudolph is trying to broker.

Of course, when it was time to go back to D.C., I went Greyhound. This time there was no wait at Port Authority, a friendly seatmate, and no traffic. We cruised into Washington in just over four hours, and—at least for a while—I’m a Greyhound man again.

Josh Kucera reports at joshuakucera.net.

Our Readers Say

After reading this article, the author has to be crazy and cheap to go thru all those destinations to get to NYC in 12 hours. I had to attend my 100 year old great aunt's funeral in Brooklyn, New York back in January, 2008. I didn't want to drive, because the traffic can be long and the high toll an gasoline prices. Years ago in the 90's, I had taken the Delta shuttle from D.C. National into LaGuardia Airport for $99.00 round trip. I called Delta and for a round trip fare, it cost over $600.00 and they didn't give a discount on attending a funeral. Catching a Greyhound or Trailways were out of the question, but it would be my last choice. I hadn't ridden a Trailways bus since 1978. I called Amtrak and they had a round trip fare of $99.00 leaving on a Saturday and returning on a Sunday. This was beneficial to me, because my great aunt's funeral was on a Monday. I ended up paying for a round trip fare on Amtrak in the amount of $187.00 leaving on a Sunday morning and returning back to Union Station on a Monday evening. I enjoyed my ride going up to NYC and coming back to D.C. I had a seat mostly by myself and plenty of leg room. I packed my lunch with bottle water that Sunday morning before I left D.C., because food prices on Amtrak are expense. It only took the train 3 1/2 hours going and coming. In the future, I will only take the Amtrak up to NYC from D.C. Sometimes in this life, you have to make sacrifices if you want to be comfortable. I would never do a Greyhound or Trailway to NYC from D.C., unless I am desperate. Amtrak is the only way to go!
There is a quicker connection in Cecil County. Arriving at Perryville at 8:46, and then taking "The Bus" into Elkton, it's not necessary to take the second "The Bus" to Peoples Plaza. Rather transfer to Dart route 65 to the Newark, DE Septa R2 station, and that will put in you place to catch the shuttle bus to Wilmington (trains don't run to Newark middays), and you'll get to Center City Philadelphia at 1:33. It will shave some time off the trip, while keeping with the challenge to not taking Amtrak or intercity motorcoach.
Interesting article! I routinely drive from DC to NY in 3 hours. I can't imagine taking 12. It's crazy that in this country, where we used to have such a great train system, it takes 12 hours or $100 to get 250 miles.

I wonder if there are cabs in Perryville. What would a cab ride cost from there to Wilmington?

I rode the Greyhound for an entire summer in 2000. I bought an unlimited ticket that lets you get on any bus anywhere for I believe a 3-month period. I used it to get to job interviews across the country.

What a different world it was. It was packed with guys who looked to be fresh out of prison or headed there soon. A couple of buses broke down on the side of the road. They often left late with no explanation of any kind. In a way I'm kind of proud I did it, but I'll never ride a Greyhound again.
I took the ACELA quiet train for the first time last month and there's no way I'm going back!
Hrrag, I agree with you 100%. After reading Amtrak from Union Station to Penn Station in NYC, I refuse to go travel to NYC by bus or those round about cheap ways the author and Chris mentioned. My God, are you guys that cheap, you can't pay a little money to be comfortable. Many of the people riding the Greyhound and Trailways have no class and act uncivilized. I told my aunt in Philadelphia last summer to catch Amtrak from Philly to Durham, North Carolina, because the train ride was much more comfortable and nicer than Greyhound. She recently stated, she would never catch the bus from Philly to North Carolina, because it's a long uncomfortable ride. She did state, going by Amtrak to Durham was a long ride, because the train stopped in every little horse town in Virginia and North Carolina, but she had a comfortable train ride.
Hrrag, I agree with you 100%. After riding Amtrak from Union Station to Penn Station in NYC, I refuse to travel to NYC by bus or those round about cheap ways the author and Chris mentioned. My God, are you guys that cheap, you can't pay a little money to be comfortable? Many of the people riding the Greyhound and Trailways have no class and act uncivilized. I told my aunt in Philadelphia last summer to catch Amtrak from Philly to Durham, North Carolina, because the train ride was much more comfortable and nicer than Greyhound. She recently stated, she would never catch the bus from Philly to North Carolina, because it's a long uncomfortable ride. She did state, going by Amtrak to Durham was a long ride, because the train stopped in every little horse town in Virginia and North Carolina, but she had a comfortable train ride.
The $5 priority seating on Greyhound doesn't just mean you don't have to stand in line... it means you may actually GET a seat on the bus.

Buying a Greyhound ticket doesn't mean you'll actually get a seat on a bus... it just means you have the right to stand and wait and get on a bus IF THERE IS ROOM at some point on your journey.

You could stand in line all day, but if that bus has 12 seats available when it arrives at the station and you're number 13 in line, you're waiting for the next bus. In line. For as many hours as it takes.

"They'll add another bus," you say. No way. "$*%# you" is apparently the way Greyhound feels about the customer. (Oh... and if the folks working in the station don't feel like it, they can say, "We don't do that here," when you try to get that $5 priority seat, despite the ads on the website that say NOW AVAILABLE IN THIS STATION!)
I enjoyed reading this. True, it is expensive riding Amtrak to NYC, but I am afraid my Jack Kerouac days are over. I just plunk down the extra bucks and take the Acela. Fast, less cramped-and, for cell phone haters like me, there is the quiet car. And let me tell you-the no cell conversation rule is enforced! Bless them...
reuben, this is good news to know, because people talking on cell phones on the train, Supermarket, in church, at the movies, at a funeral, etc. get on my last nerves. The next time I travel to NYC, I will try the Acela. I will just start saving in my budget. I know one thing, I will never catch a bus (Greyhound/Trailways) to NYC or any place else. I can believe these cheap losers making excuses for taking a long bus ride to NYC with a bunch of dirty, loud, and unruly people. Joshua Kucera you really need to seek some mental health counseling, because no one in their right mind would go all around the barn and take 12 hours to travel from Washington, D.C. to New York City.
I should point out to the "I'll never take Greyhound or the bus" crowd in the comments here that taking Greyhound in the northeastern corridor is a lot different than the rest of the country. In the same way that Amtrak service in the Southwest is dismal, so is Greyhound service in the Southwest.

Greyhound in the northeast, esp. from NYC to Boston and NYC to DC, is excellent. I've taken it 20 times and never had a trip of more than 4.5 hours, having it usually take 3.5-4, max. It's a mix of young professionals, students, immigrants, and some low-income people - occasionally you sit next to an odd person, but 90% of the time, it's fine.

Obviously, the train is more comfortable and faster, but at nearly 4 times the price, it's not an option for me, especially at the frequency I will go up to New York

I've taken pretty much every mode of transit to and from DC and New York, and Greyhound or other buses (Boltbus), is generally the best. Amtrak is awesome, of course, but expensive.

Now, Greyhound in other parts of the USA, ugh. I've taken it there and it was miserable and sketchy.
Sorry to say,
but even seen from very far away most of the commenters do not have understood the purpose of this posting.
They do not seem to see that if you want to find out about other means of transportation you really have to DO it.

And thank you very much for the insight shown in this article.

From a city with no trains at ALL.
Takes me four hours by bus to cover 40 miles of city grounds.

Nigel from PHX, AZ
Bravo, Joshua, on your insightful article. I think you do a great job of pointing out the difficulties that a lack of funding for public transportation -- especially Amtrak -- has caused for travelers in this country, and especially in this region.

I live in DC now but used to live in Baltimore and still have many friends up there. Being poor and carless, before Zipcar came along, it was nearly impossible for me to visit my Baltimore crowd on a weekend if I wasn't willing to cough up roughly $25 each way for Amtrak - a ridiculous price for such a short distance. This is a price and a problem not seen in too many other dual-city metro areas in this country, which all seem to have decent 7-day commuter rail services (Boston-Providence, Dallas-Fort Worth, Palo Alto/San Jose/San Francisco/Oakland, Minneapolis-St Paul).

I fashioned my own cheap way of getting from DC to Baltimore and back on weekends, and it only takes 3 hours each way! I would take the Metro Green Line to Greenbelt, then the B30 Express Metrobus to BWI Airport, and then I would catch the MTA Light Rail into downtown Baltimore. And here, I thought I was the only one crazy enough to spend the hours patching together transportation that was cheap!

They really do need to figure out a solution for that Perryville-Wilmington stretch. I went to school in Baltimore and grew up in Philly and always wished I could take MARC and SEPTA all the way, but I never was able to figure out how to get to Wilmington from Baltimore...
David,

Good news for you! MARC should be starting weekend service on the Penn Line this coming fall. It was really more of a budget issue than anything else, but i'm sure you know the demand is absolutely there.

(Also, just an aside - the T in DFW does NOT run on Sunday between Dallas and Fort Worth....)

Also, the plan is to eventually stretch up the MARC (or pull down the train the other direction) - some local politicians are pushing for it and it will eventually happen.
The "Chinatown" buses--there are several lines now that pick up at Rosslyn and other places--could be wonderful if they would only do two things: 1. Quit playing movies. 2. Quit stopping on the way at the James Fennimore Cooper Memorial Restrooms or whatever it's called.

Their prices are great ($40 round trip or $25 each way in some cases), and the riders aren't sketchy, but good God, the movies are played deafeningly loud. And the stop takes almost an hour. So it took I believe 4 or 4.5 hours to get there. Better than 12 at least.

The commenter who said Josh is nuts for doing this missed the point. It was a what-if exercise. It's not like the guy is making this his regular commute.
I am sorry, but many of you guys are too cheap to pay to ride Amtrak to NYC from D.C. Fox 5 News did a report of those buses leaving from Chinatown. Most of the buses were falling apart and wasn't certified. The Driver's were driving into other lanes on 95 as if they were falling to sleep. My life and safety is more important than taking a cheap way out to get to NYC. Would you buy cheap shoes that hurt your feet? I will pay the $187 any time to travel from D.C. to NYC if I had too. If you leave on a Saturday and come back to D.C. on a Sunday, you can get a round trip fare on Amrak for $99.00. I am sure many of your guys spend money hanging out and drinking in bars on the weekends in Adams Morgan, Georgetown, or on U Street, NW. One must be crazy to go around the barn and take 12 hours to get to NYC from D.C.

Your parents should have named you Jack Benny for being a cheap person.
"Ride On Josh!"
In the spirit of a true traveler: getting from one point to the next.
They say that back before the dismantled all the streetcars across the country, you could get from DC to Boston with one ticket and a bunch of transfers. I'm not sure I believe that, and it would certainly take even longer than 12 hours, but like this article, that saying is more about what infrastructures we have, or don't have, than it is about the most desirable route to take.

This is a very interesting article Joshua, thanks for braving the trip to prove the point.
This sounds like a great adventure!

Some of the commenters are missing the point of the article - it is just to see whether or not it is actually possible to get from Point A to Point B without using well known services such as Greyhound or Amtrak.

I admire you for taking this trip - and I hope to do something similar one of these days!
Hey Gang,

I thoroughly enjoyed reading THE THIRD RAIL and your very interesting AND informative comments. In fact I forwarded this article to friends, co-workers, PASSENGER TRAIN JOURNAL, and my union.

Josh, thanks for posting NJT's "Notice to Passengers". David, the cheapest fare between BAL and WAS is $14. Hope 2 see yall rock 'n' roll on the Northeast Corridor.

"ALLLL ABOAAARRRD!"

Samuel A. Jennings
Amtrak Conductor
WAS-NYP
If they ever get MARC and SEPTA to connect together, this might be a reasonable alternative to Amtrak and Greyhound. (The senior bus connection sounds a little dicey to me)

On the left coast, I've heard of people riding from San Diego to LA, and beyond, on local buses. This involves a long bus ride through Camp Pendleton Marine Base and then along the Orange County coast into Long Beach...takes pretty much all day, but only costs $4-5, as opposed to the $20+ for Greyhound (or $30+ for Amtrak....)
I once did NY-Springfield, MA by connecting local buses (about 10). And for a total of $10, 11 hours. This was not to be cheap, but I always wanted to see all that stuff inbetween. Now, I find that NY-NORFOLK was once connected like that. (NJT/SEPTA/DART/Seashore Transit/Star Transit) but ST and STAR cut out their connecting services at the state line between Chincotegue and Pocomoke as well as STAR's Chesepeake Bridge Tunnel service. At 3 times the distance of the NY-Springfield connection and the carriers being small town operations (Connecticut has a string of larger cities), the schedules probably would not allow you to make the trip in one shot. But it's interesting that you could do something like that, with stopovers, perhaps. Expecially since Greyhound/Carolina Trailways cut out so many of the stops, and bypasses the DE portion on the new Rt. 1 expressway.
Hi-Speed Queen

Cruising the Corridor
Hi-Speed Queen
Acela Express
upscale scene

Civilized Shuttle
blazing trails
Heavy metal
sizzling rails

Gotham flash
dc power
chic connection
on the hour

Double any
Regional fare
Save 5 minutes
"I do declare"

But chronic breakdowns
far from rare
Where R we?
"I swear!"

Corporate cult
ticket to success
Fastraking on
American Express

1st Class clones
sophisticated style
Custom service
tailored with a smile

Executive Trainig
Class on the run
"Scotch on the rocks!"
Lesson #1

NO deadheading!
Passriding taboo
Restrictions apply
even 2 U

Yet those excluded
from inside
must subsidize
this royal ride

Federal funds needed
to put trains on track,
but taxes spent
on War in Iraq.
you forgot to mention the Vamoose bus that leaves DC to NYC. they are great. clean, cheap. great.
Interesting "what-if" article, because no one in their right mind would take this route on any kind of regular basis. But I've wondered about alternatives to Amtrak, because it's pretty damn expensive, and my experiences with them in the past were pretty bad (one train ran 6-7 hours late in one instance).

Having gone up to NYC three times last year, on business, pleasure, and even my grandfather's funeral, I would still give a thumbs up to those traveling out of Arlington or Bethesda on the Vamoosebus. It would be nice if there was as good a service based in the District.

A co-worker told me about it, and it is cheap ($25 each way), efficient, fairly clean, and there are no blaring DVDs playing on the times I've traveled. Only problem is an occasional chatty Kathy on the cell phone on the morning run around Christmas time, but I've had it far worse on 3 hour plane rides lately. Best thing is that it takes you right to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, where you can catch the city subway or the Long Island RR. It's never taken more than 4 1/2 hours one way.

More alternatives the better, what with $5/gallon gas not far off.
Grey Hound to Philly and then Septa Subway to 30th st from the market street bus station. From 30th street you can buy a nj transit ticket and all you have to do is change from the septa train to nj transit at Trenton. I used to do that all the time to get back from DC to Edison when i was in college.
I liked this article better when it came out in the Philadelphia City Paper LAST YEAR.

http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2007/05/31/fumbling-toward-portland
Whenever I take a trip to Baltimore, I get on the Metro express bus to BWI & then take the city's light rail system into town. Since MARC commuter rail doesn't run on weekends, this is a good alternive.
You can get an Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard and start earning points towards free Amtrak travel. If you pay your balance in full every time, you'll accumulate some points for free trips between WAS and NYP in no time.
@Max(May 8, 2008 - 12:36pm): The train to Durham is subsidized by the state of North Carolina. So you can see why it stops at every little town in North Carolina. (Yes, the state of Virginia is getting a free train without paying for it -- just like New Hampshire gets free trains to Boston that Maine pays for. On the other hand, the stops in Virginia are hardly the "little horse town[s]" that you call them -- they're pretty sizeable suburban communities or even medium-to-large cities: Alexandria, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Petersburg.)
Why stop at New York? If you really want to you can continue on commuter rail all the way to New London, CT. If you can figure out a way to get from New London to Providence then you could even take MBTA commuter rail to Boston (and even further, almost to the NH border) - all on public transit.

Of course, that offers similar pitfalls. All the NJ Transit trains pull into Penn Station and all the Metro-North trains leave from Grand Central. Getting from the two is not easy - I think you have to take two subway lines to do it. (Similar situation in Boston trying to get from South Station to North Station.)

Once you're in CT, Metro-North had frequent service to New Haven at all hours. Beyond New Haven, though, you have to transfer to Shore Line East which doesn't run very often. I haven't a clue how you'd get from New London to Providence.

South of DC ... I live in Richmond. Theoretically I could now take public transit to DC. The Richmond transit agency just started an express bus to Fredericksburg where you can transfer to VRE. However, VRE is strictly a commuter operation - minimal midday service and no late night or weekend service. If I want to take a day trip to DC on the weekend it's either Amtrak, Greyhound, or driving. (And Richmond's Greyhound terminal is about the most depressing structure I've ever seen.)

In DC area, what would really be nice is if VRE and MARC partially merged so that trains could thru-run from Richmond to Baltimore and back. It saves a lot of operational inefficiencies by not having trains "deadhead" in Union Station, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for, say, MD residents who work in Alexandria or vice versa.
Damn! I've always wanted to do this, but I was prevented from such an epic journey by the lack of transit in between Perryville and Delaware. It is incredible that you did this and you got a great story out of it though.
A more useful variation is the DC-Baltimore trip that avoids amtrak (MARC doesn't run on weekends). Take the greenbelt-bwi airport bus, followed by the lightrail out of bwi to practically anywhere in baltimore. $4.60 all week long!

Another great option is a trip to richmond for $13 using the VRE to fredericksburg, followed by the richmond regional bus, which operates a line that runs all the way from richmond to fredericksburg.

Things get iffier furhter south, and i haven't figured out any way to get to raleigh or hampton roads using regional transport (trips that far cost $40-$50).

THANKS FOR A GREAT ARTICLE
NE Regional trains also have a quiet car (well, some do anyhow). They are significantly cheaper (for DC travel anyway, for Boston it's sometimes a wash).
I can't believe that some one actually did it. I was wondering if you ever decided to go all the way from DC to Boston. I would like to see that trip. And maybe I'll do it sometime and tell you about it.

Sir Bikes A Lot
San Antonio, TX
Good article on a alternative to expensive transit from Washington to NYC.
You discovered the one problem spot can be bridged-by using Cecil County Transit and DART buses between Perryville and Newark or Wilmington.
Chris P's suggestion is a good one-it would save time on that layover.

One thing you did was a good move-I ride SEPTA Regional Rail frequently and instead of transferring at 30th Street Station you traveled to Suburban Station-a good move if time allows. By transferring there or Market East if your schedule allows it you get first chance of a seat on SEPTA trains going towards Trenton-I have seen myself that large crowds board at 30th Street sometimes and some have to stand on busy trains. By buying the ticket thru from Wilmington you did the right thing-many make the mistake of paying twice for both legs of the SEPTA trip instead of one $9 ($10 on board) "Anywhere" fare.

NJ Transit gives you options of stopping in Newark and taking the PATH train to Jersey City,Hoboken and both Downtown(WTC Memorial) and Midtown(33rd Street) stations. Other money-saving fare options are available-one I sometime use is the any point on other line via Newark fare-which is the SAME as traveling from only Trenton to Newark-a good example I have right now is a valid ticket from Trenton to Bay Head Junction-good to any point on the North Jersey Coast Line serving the northern NJ Shore-for the same cost as traveling from Trenton to Newark only.

MARC is the way to go for reasonable cost in the Baltimore-Washington region and with the growing service demand 7 day a week sevice may be coming soon.
Going NE of Baltimore one thing that was not mentioned was that DelDot subsidizes SEPTA rail service operating into Delaware - having MARC and SEPTA/DelDot meet at a place like Elkton if issues could be worked out with Amtrak may offer more rail transit possibilities.

JB: As one who has driven the WAS to NYC route myself a three hour drive trip is only possible at the quietest road times-like early Sunday mornings-and then where you can by exceeding the speed limit by 15 to 20 mph. Five hours is usually a good driving time-not counting any stops or serious traffic let alone
possibly being stopped for speeding.

Another thing I have to say is not everyone can afford the Air Shuttle or Acela Express-that is where having a variety of transit can help all whoever they may be. Comments and observations from MACTRAXX
There is a quicker way to transfer in Elkdale then having to take two buses up to Wilmington. The Dart route 65 bus stops at some of the government offices and the senior center that the cecil county bus stops at. You could have transferred from "The Bus" to a Dart route 65 bus in Elkdale, then could have taken the route 65 to the Newark, Del. station, which is the Southern terminus of Septa service, and about 15 miles south of Wilmington.
Here it is, the end of 2009 and we still do not have train service north of Perryville. Regardless of BRAC, the politicians do not have the initiative to bother.
And there is a perfectly good train station in Elkton, the Amtrak trains just speed right by. MARC won't come up here.
Interesting article, even if it is a bit dated when I read it. I do not much about DART, SEPTA & NJTransit as the only one I have ever used is a bus from Center City Philadelphia to Oak Lane back in the 1970s. It was like riding in a sardine can. I have used the MARC train between Perryville and Washington numerous times and always have had good results except for once several years ago, we had to change trains in Baltimore due to an engine problem. Since we were going to Washington for the day, it was not a big deal since we were commuting to work.
If the US Government had put a pittance of what it put into the Interstate System in the last 50 years into the decaying railroad systems in the 1960s, we would probably still have a decent rail system and not the traffic congestion that is now a running commentary on the evening news.
Bro Jennings; Yuo are a Genius!

Your Writing Skills Surpass William Shakespeares.

Remember Orlando, and Please Write More about the City
{ Beautiful! } When Everyone is treated Fairly.

YES, One Day Soon that Will Happen also!
OOPS!

Bro Jennings; You are a Genius!

Your Writing Skills Surpass William Shakespeares.

Remember Orlando, and Please Write More about the City
{ Beautiful! } When Everyone is treated Fairly.

YES, One Day Soon that Will Happen also!
Great article, love the writing and the photos. Thanks for taking that trip that not many of us have taken and wrote such beautiful experience. This was what I imagined my November holiday trip (a month holiday going around the coast and south border from San Francisco to New York) was going to be, but three friends are tagging along, so we're flying it all the way. Ah well, next time.
Ok, so DC-NY is almost doable by rail, but for a small gap.

Now, how much farther north can one go? Boston, maybe? Would it be possible to Fredericksburg-Boston by commuter rail/bus?
I've made this trip via car, bolt bus, greyhound. I've always wondered the best way at the least cost, so thank you for the article so I won't have to experiment. I think my next trip (after this weekend by car) will be by Amtrack. (hopefully Acela)
I often travel to NYC from DC using Vamoose buses. They have a good price, better or similar to greyhound and every fourth trip is free! I have never had a problem with safety or drivers. There are also plenty of trains that go straight from Bethesda or Rosslyn (stops right by the metro) to NYC (drops you right by penn station). For a bit more money they have a gold bus that has extra perks. Enjoy!

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