On my visit to June Farms which is located near Albany, New York, I decided to take a train from New York Penn to Albany. The train we would be on was the Empire Service, and the scheduled duration was 2 hours and 29 minutes. This occurred a few days before the Empire Service faced disruptions where trains to New York Penn were canceled due to an unstable parking garage above the tracks in Manhattan. My return trip ended up getting canceled, which I documented in a previous post.
BOOKING AND PRICING:
Pricing on Amtrak is dynamic and they do get more expensive at the last minute. I booked my ticket a month in advance for $31 in their lowest Coach Class fare. Checking the prices the day before departure, they were $85 for the lowest fare.
Amtrak has a program called BidUp where you can place a bid to upgrade your reservation to an upgraded cabin. On the Empire Service, the upgrade would be to business class, which offers additional legroom (and 2-1 seating versus 2-2), plus complimentary nonalcoholic beverages. The lowest bid I could enter was $12 to have a chance to upgrade my coach seat to business class. They “rate” your offer and for this route, $15 was Fair, $18 was Good, $20 was Strong and $23 was Excellent, with $25 being the max bid. I put in an offer for $18 but did not win.
Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station New York (NYP)
Poughkeepsie, NY (POU)
Rhinecliff, NY (RHI)
Hudson, NY (HUD)
Albany-Rensselaer, NY (ALB)
AT THE STATION:
As I’ve expressed in my other reviews, I’m always worried about the reliability of Amtrak. When I arrived at Penn Station and took a look at the departure boards, multiple Northeast Regionals and Acelas were delayed over 2-3 hours. Hopefully, the new bill 16 billion dollar bill the White House passed for Amtrak rail improvements in the Northeast Corridor will help. On the plus side, Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station looks great.
They announced our track number just 10 minutes before our scheduled departure and people ran to the track to wait in line. It showed on the board about 5 minutes later, which I thought was quite last minute. I checked train availability the night before, and it was 90% full. Based on the line I saw, I believe it, and my friend and I were not able to find two seats together so we had to settle for two aisle seats with one in front of the other. Halfway through the ride as people started leaving at the stops along the way, we were able to sit together.
SEATING & EXPERIENCE:
The seats on the Empire Service look practically identical to the Northeast Regional and are in a 2-2 configuration in coach. There are power plugs at the window seats. The seats were pretty comfortable and they had a recline function. Free Wi-Fi was also offered but slow and spotty throughout the ride.
The loudspeaker was broken in our car and sounded like the adults who talk in Charlie Brown. So, thankfully, a train associate walked up and down the aisle to announce each stop.
Since this particular Empire Service was only going between New York and Albany (and not continuing to Niagara Falls), there was no Cafe Car service.
The train ride went by relatively quickly, and we got to Albany on time.
We had a smooth ride to Albany from New York Penn on the Amtrak Empire Service. I like the idea of Amtrak (when it works as scheduled), and hope that it continues to improve its operational reliability. And of course, I hope that we avoid trips like my one back to New York.
Have you been on the Amtrak Empire Service? How was your experience? Comment below!
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