Train travel is an environmentally friendly mode of transportation and a popular way to get to and from Washington, D.C. Amtrak is the national train operator of the U.S. and runs approximately 85 trains daily on seven routes into and out of Washington, D.C., primarily along the 457-mile northeast corridor that runs between D.C. and Boston. The Northeast Regional line has a traffic mix that includes freight trains traveling at speeds of 30-50 mph, commuter trains at speeds up to 125 mph, Amtrak Regional trains at 110 or 125 mph, and Acela Express trains that can reach speeds of 150 mph.
Since 1971, Amtrak has served as the nation’s intercity passenger rail service and its high-speed rail operator. More than 300 daily trains connect 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces with a total of 500 destinations served. Amtrak operates intercity trains in partnership with 17 states and contracts with four commuter rail agencies to provide a variety of services. Amtrak is also making efforts to become more environmentally friendly. While it's already 47 percent and 33 percent more energy efficient than car and domestic air travel respectively, Amtrak is actively working to reduce emissions and allow passengers to offset their carbon emissions.
Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Union Station is the second-busiest train station in the United States (following New York’s Penn Station). Located about ten minutes away from the United States Capitol (you can see the Capitol Building from the Union Station entrance), the station is easily accessible by Metrorail and Metrobus. Passengers also travel to the train station by MARC and VRE.
Union Station is a major transportation hub that offers a wide range of shopping and dining destinations. It is a beautiful historic building with more than 130 stores, a variety of restaurants, and over 2,000 parking spaces.
Amtrak operates an average of 57 MARC Penn Line trains every weekday, under contract with the Maryland Transit Administration, and provides access to Union Station for all MARC services (Penn, Camden, and Brunswick lines). In December 2013, MARC began offering weekend service on the Penn Line. Amtrak also provides access to Union Station for Virginia Railway Express trains. In addition to service to Union Station, Northeast Regional service trains to/from Lynchburg, Virginia, also stop at the VRE L’Enfant Plaza station for passengers with VRE tickets.
Tips for Using Amtrak
To get the best fare, make sure to book your reservations early. You'll also want to arrive early because, unless specific seats are assigned, seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. If you want to ensure a good seat, consider upgrading to first or business class.
Most trains have several different fare classes, each with different perks. Saver fares are deeply discounted and go quickly, so advance purchase is recommended however after 24 hours the tickets are non-refundable and there is a cancellation fee. Value fares are 100 percent refundable as long as you cancel 8 days before departure with a reserved seat. After that there is a cancellation fee. Flexible, business, and premium tickets are refundable and have no cancellation fee. If you're traveling on the Acela route, all cabins are business or first class, making for a more comfortable ride and a much more expensive ticket. All fare options include two free checked bags and no-fee changes.
Most trains have on-board dining, but you are free to bring your own food and drink. Wi-Fi is available on most trains, and you will find standard 110-volt electrical power outlets are available in all classes of service, so you can charge your devices if you bring a plug.
The Auto Train
The Auto Train provides transportation for you and your car, van, motorcycle, SUV, small boat, jet-ski, or other recreational vehicle from Lorton, Virginia (20 miles south of Washington, D.C.) to Sanford, Florida (just outside of Orlando). The trip takes approximately 17.5 hours and allows you to pack your vehicle and enjoy a stress-free journey without putting wear and tear on your car. Trains depart daily and sleeping accommodations are available. In 2020 there will be upgrades to the sleeping cars, including complimentary wine with dinner and complimentary meals, and there will be a new dining experience for coach travelers.