The Nissan Express Private Train to Washington
It was an intriguing invitation: “Join Us on the Nissan Express.” Automaker Nissan, along with the International Motor Press Association and the Washington Automotive Press Association, had banded together to not only invite New York-area journalists to the Washington Auto Show but to take them there in a private train car. Such an offer elicited an immediate and affirmative response.
While I’ve taken Amtrak’s Acela Express between New York and Philadelphia, I had never taken a longer train trip. Indeed, the longest scheduled train ride I’ve taken was from Brussels to Paris on the TGV (one hour, 15 minutes), just two minutes longer than the Acela Express from New York to Philadelphia.
Nissan was taking us on a three-hour, 20-minute ride on an Amtrak Northeast Regional train. A “higher-speed” train, the regional isn’t capable of running at the Acela’s high speeds, hence the slightly lengthier trip to the District.
The New York automobile journalists contingent gathered at the Acela Express waiting area and Nissan staff members handed out badges and checked off names.
Amtrak boards passengers traveling in a private car before all others . Our car was the very last one on the train and we headed over there as a group approximately 25 minutes prior to departure.
Boarding was straightforward. There was no security check and several Amtrak staff members were on hand to facilitate the process. Approximately 40 people were in the group and there was ample room for us to spread out. Most travelers had a row of seats to themselves.
Between Nissan executives and other journalists, I knew about one-third of the people on the train, and, despite the early hour, everyone was busy renewing acquaintances, chatting with friends and scoping out the train.
Unlike on a plane, there’s no safety demo and no request to take one’s seat so, when the train started to pull out, it was almost a bit of a surprise. Soon we were underway.
AMTRAK’S NORTHEAST REGIONAL
The trains, between Boston and Washington, use overhead electric wires (catenaries) for power and travel mostly on Amtrak-owned tracks. They are capable of speeds as high as 125 mph (201 km/h) with electrically driven locomotives. All-electric service began in 2000, after Amtrak electrified the route from New Haven to Boston in preparation for the Acela Express service.
Amtrak inherited the routes from the Penn Central Railroad when the former was established in 1971. The railroad has been rather inconsistent in its naming, having started with its NortheastDirect brand and then restoring names such as Yankee Clipper and Federal and then adopting the somewhat confusing Acela Regional branding when the Acela Express high-speed train was introduced. To eliminate the confusion, Amtrak switched to the Regional name and then a few years later to Northeast Regional.
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