Amtrak to Launch Nonstop Acela Service Between New York and Washington, DC

Jul 25, 2019

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While flight delays are on the rise, and the idea of a high-speed hyperloop is still a pipe dream, those along the Northeast corridor have a new option to get between the biggest city in the US and the nations’s capital.

On Thursday, Amtrak announced the launch of nonstop service between New York Penn Station and Washington, DC’s Union Station with its high-speed Acela train. The new service will make zero stops between the two cities, cutting travel time from three hours down to about two hours and 35 minutes.

The weekday-only service will begin on Sep. 23. The southbound train will depart from New York at 6:35am and is scheduled to arrive in Washington around 9:10am. The nonstop return train will depart Union Station at 4:30pm and arrive at Penn Station around 7:05pm.

The Acela was already marketed to business travelers, and departure times appear to indicate that the nonstop service is catering to the same group — those who want to spend a whole day in Washington but be back in time for dinner in New York.

The Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston, is one of Amtrak’s most-profitable routes, and it’s the only route the high-speed Acela runs on. In 2018, New York Penn and Washington’s Union Station were Amtrak’s top two busiest stations across the national network.

The train uses special technology to go faster on tracks that aren’t made for traditional high-speed cars, and also cuts down on time by making fewer stops than the slower and less expensive regional trains.

Passengers can expect the same hard product as other Acela trains, so first and business class configurations will remain untouched and the quiet car and dining car will still be available.

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)
Acela First Class. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)

However, there will be a change in the soft product, said Roger Harris, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer of Amtrak. Amtrak wouldn’t confirm any items that customers might expect to receive, offering those details closer to the launch date.

Amtrak also plans on introducing new trains in 2021 that will be able to reach even higher speeds than current models. This could cut down travel times on the new route even more, said Harris, but there are still infrastructure concerns that make it unclear exactly how fast nonstop service can ultimately be on this route.

With the new trains, Amtrak will have increased capacity to run additional nonstop services, but for now it’s limited because of a lack of cars.

“This one trip is all we can manage from an availability point of view,” said Harris. “This is just the most we could do with our current fleet.”

Once the new trains arrive, they’ll operate nonstop service between New York and Boston, and Harris says the train operator will consider adding morning trains originating in DC and returning from New York in the late afternoon. Amtrak also said it’ll likely increase frequency of the new service and left open the possibility for other nonstop routes.

This is one of the ways Amtrak’s been working to innovate its offerings, and the new train will be introduced around the same time of the new Moynihan Train Hall in New York City, alongside a new Metropolitan Lounge and other renovations of Penn Station (including a refreshed Club Acela).

Related: The 6 Best Cards for Travel Purchases (Including Trains)

It makes the ever-present debate of what’s the best way to travel between the two cities a bit clearer. TPG recently tested five methods of transit on the same route — while the American Shuttle from LaGuardia to DCA beat the Acela, this new nonstop service would have you arriving at about the same time — and the Acela is much more immune to delays and takes you directly into each city’s center.

However, don’t expect this to be all good news. Harris said that the trains would still be subject to dynamic pricing, and it’s all but certain there will be a huge demand for this new service.

Tickets go on sale on Thursday, and you should be able to redeem Amtrak points for a seat on the exclusive train. If you don’t have any points, you’re best off putting the purchase on card that earns bonus points on train travel, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve of Citi Premier Card, both of which earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel.

Featured photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

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