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Rail vs. Air Travel Battle: Boston/Providence to New York City

By December 16, 20234 Comments

I often travel to New York City (LGA) from Boston Logan (BOS) for work and fun: around 20 times per year.  Up until last year, it was exclusively by air on American Airlines (AA).  Lately though I’ve been fielding some major issues with air travel. 

Out of my 14 flights last year, six were cancelled with a few hours’ notice, five were hours late to take off, with three arriving after 2AM. And two flights were cancelled with NO options to get home for three days.  For one of these cancellations, my only option was to fly to Worcester Airport two days later, take an Uber 54 miles away to get my car and drive home. If you do the math, that’s all 14 flights I took in one year. Every one has a problem.

amtrak train first class seats

On top of all this, I spent 2021 and the first half of last year where the BOS to LGA route shifted from AA to JetBlue.  It was a mess.  Only to find out, in 2023, the alliance did not go through and they pulled the airlines apart.  That left a gaping whole in the BOS to LGA flights because AA was not ready to take it back.  There simply were no flights for several months.

Also, driving home for five hours from NYC was not an option after working a 10-hour day. Besides, city parking would cost another $200 – $300.

Something had to change, and I couldn’t count on the airlines anymore for now.

So I started exploring Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Train.  They run multiple trains all day and some are “regular” trains. They also offer the Acela Train, which basically is the same route with less stops.

amtrak train outside

Best perks of switching to Amtrak

  • If I leave and arrive from Providence, Rhode Island, based on where I live, the travel time to the station is about the same as if I drove to Boston Logan.
  • If you calculate the time to drive into Boston Logan earlier than necessary to get a parking spot in Central Parking, wait for the flight, travel (taxi) from La Guardia to NYC, the train is actually faster than flying!
  • I was attracted to trains because even though it’s not the 45-minute flight I was used to, I could work on my client reports and thusly cut down on weekend time I would normally use to do it.
  • Another HUGE benefit is the Acela is all assigned seating, no first come first serve.  It’s awesome.  No jockeying to get on the train early in Penn Station using a Bell Cap: just wait and walk on to your assigned seat. 
amtrakstaion with bench
  • You can go on the Amtrak website and change your seat at any time.
  • Many of the seats have full tables and not the fold down trays making working a lot better.
  • Customer service – made a mistake making three trips (Boston instead of PVD) – I called Sunday at 7AM and the Amtrak person changed all trips, refunded money, gave me some hints about Parking in PVD, and had absolutely no issues to change my mistake.  She also told me they strategically add more Customer Service when there is an increase in demand, not just time of day (just like the airlines? Not usually.)
  • There is a Quiet Car!  Before finding this fact, there was always someone conversing loudly or talking on their phone handsfree.  A Quiet Car… and it is really quiet.
  • You can print your boarding pass anytime after buying the ticket or do it electronically.
  • If you do go First Cass, the meal is surprisingly very good.  You choose from a menu upon arrival to your seat.  Also beer, wine, soft drinks, etc. during the entire trip.
  • NO TSA!  Bring all the liquids you want.
  • It is in our genetic code that we are to be 2 hours early for flights.   If you add in going in early to get a parking spot, it could be twice that.  You will not know what track you are on until 10 – 15 minutes before boarding, so Don’t bother arriving early.
  • A real plus is that Amtrak, for many of the miles traveled are running parallel to I95.  I can’t remember being on the train where I didn’t see miles of stop and go traffic from my seat!

A few minuses for northeast train travel

  • If you take the Acela, First or Business Class, the cost is about the same as an airline ticket.
  • The parking under the Providence Train Station is very challenging if you drive an SUV.  Very tight clearances, however, under plus side, there are other options for parking 50 yards away, indoors and outside as well as cheaper!
amtrak station
  • Parking in Boston for the train is not easy and not at the train station.
  • There are only a few seats with tables where someone is NOT sitting across from using the same table.
  • The Amtrak website is a little funky.  I have signed in and called up my trips and they are not always accurate.  When I called in, the representative simply said to focus on the details on my ticket and not trust the website.
  • Not everyone will find this a negative, but security is light.  I am sure there is substantial security behind closed doors.  One has to look at Amtrak’s track record for sabotage, they are doing something right!

I understand the dynamic are different for longer routes or different ones.  I do know my observations can be applied for the entire Northeast Regional Route, which goes from Boston to Washington D.C. It would be easy to use this list as a checklist for any route to compare the pluses and minuses!

P.S. – If traveling with kids, Amtrak offers 50% off regular fare for children under 12.

To read more of Rick’s takes on travel, check out the latest in Dad Diaries!

Rick Cotter

Author Rick Cotter

Rick Cotter is a Massachusetts native and new world traveler. After scuba diving throughout the Caribbean and road tripping across the USA, he's moved onto Europe as a new baby boomer playground. Follow Rick's adventures in his 'Dad Diaries' series on Pure Wander.

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