Train Travel Rights

Traveling by train – know your train travel rights. Learn the ins-and-outs of train travel AND how to complain for the best service.

by Malcolm Kenton

This train travel rights section is specific to the United States, but its lessons are generally applicable in other countries as well.

Primer on US train operations

Amtrak (a short name for and registered service mark of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a quasi-governmental company formed by an act of Congress in 1970 that took over operation of passenger trains from private railroads in 1971) is—for now, at least—the US’s sole operator of intercity passenger train service. Most of Amtrak’s trains operate on tracks owned by private freight railroads whose predecessors relinquished their common carrier obligation to carry passengers to Amtrak in 1970 in eagerness to be relieved of the burden of running unprofitable services. Amtrak does, however, own most of its busiest corridor—the Washington-New York-Boston Northeast Corridor—as well as a stretch of track in southwest Michigan.

The Northeast Corridor

Amtrak runs frequent service (several departures each hour for most of the day) along the Northeast Corridor with two types of trains: Northeast Regionals and Acela Express. Northeast Regionals consist of 1970s-built Amfleet equipment, make more stops, and travel at top speeds of 125 mph. Acela Express trains are made up of more modern equipment built in 2000, have larger windows, and travel at top speeds of 135 to 150 mph. Acela Express travel time is as much as 45 minutes shorter than Northeast Regional between Washington and New York, and 1 hour and 15 minutes shorter between New York and Boston.

Acela Express fares are generally at least $100 higher than for Northeast Regionals for the same city pair on the same date, and discounts cannot be as readily applied to Acela fares as to Regional fares.