Amtrak (800-872-7245, www.amtrak.com) offers rail passenger service nationwide, which it promotes with vacation deals, rail access to ski resorts, the Auto Train to Florida, air/rail packages and Metroliner and Acela service to New York. For discounted fares, travel on Saturdays and during off-peak seasons. Senior citizen and children's fares are available as well as special packages for students and veterans. The Rail Sale (tickets.amtrak.com/Amtrak/railsale), an Internet-only deal, offers discounts on specific routes.
The Acela Express and Metroliner provide daily high-speed service between D.C. and Boston and/or New York City. Reservations are required and fares are higher than regular service. Service for both is available only at select stations between D.C. and the Northeast cities. Acela stops in such cities as Philadelphia; Newark; New Haven, Conn.; and Providence, while Metroliner runs only between D.C. and New York City, with stops at BWI; Philly; Wilmington, Del.; and Newark, among others.
Passenger service from Washington includes some scenic routes. The Vermonter attracts skiers in winter, cyclists in summer and leaf-peepers in fall. Heading west to Chicago, the Cardinal transports passengers past luxe resorts like the Homestead and Greenbrier as well as Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains and West Virginia's New River Gorge. And although you have to get to New York City first, the Adirondack, which runs from Manhattan to Montreal, chugs past such beautiful landscape as the Hudson Valley wine country and Lake Champlain.
The Auto Train operates daily between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla. Prices vary according to season and holidays. In mid-October, for instance, round-trip fares are in the $700 range for two people, one car and reserved coach seats. For sleeper car accommodations, prices get much steeper, such as $926 for a superliner standard bedroom to more than $1,350 for a deluxe bedroom with private shower and toilet.
Amtrak's Air Rail Program links the rail system with United Airlines, so passengers on a round-trip journey can travel one way by train and the other by plane for quite a bit less than if they booked the two legs separately. Destinations crisscross the country. For info: Amtrak Vacations, 877-937-7245.
For information on tourist trains that offer scenic rides in the United States and beyond, check out Routes International Travel (routesinternational.com/touristtrains.htm) and Rail Serve (www.railserve.com/Tourist). Many chapters of the National Railway Historical Society (215-557-6606, www.nrhs.com) also organize special rail outings.