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Ride the Rails, With or Without Your Car

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Amtrak (800-872-7245, http://www.amtrak.com) offers rail passenger service nationwide, as well as Amtrak Vacations packages (e.g., Broadway theater package; 800-268-7252, http://www.amtrakvacations.com), the Auto Train to Florida, rail passes, multi-ride tickets, and Metroliner and Acela service to New York. For lower fares, travel during off-peak days and/or times. Discount fares are available to seniors, children (half-price for ages 2 to 15), students, veterans, military personnel and AAA members. The Weekly Specials (Internet-only deals) offer discounts on certain routes, such as the District to Chicago or Pittsburgh. Reservations are required.

Acela Express and Metroliner provide daily high-speed service between D.C. and Boston and/or New York. Fares are higher than for regular service. Service for both is available only at select stations. Acela stops in such cities as Philadelphia; Newark; New Haven, Conn.; and Providence, R.I. Metroliner runs only between D.C. and New York, with stops at BWI; Wilmington, Del.; and Philadelphia, 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 to Chicago, the Cardinal/Hoosier State transports passengers past West Virginia's rushing rivers, Kentucky horse country and Cincinnati's skyline. And while you have to get to New York first, the Adirondack runs from Manhattan to Montreal, and has two onboard Trails and Rails programs that work in conjunction with the National Park Service.

The Auto Train operates nonstop service between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla. Prices vary according to season and holidays. In early March, for instance, a one-way fare is $236 for one car and a reserved coach seat. Sleeper car accommodations are additional.

For info on tourist trains that offer scenic rides and train vacations in the United States and beyond, check out Vacations by Rail (877-929-7245, http://www.vacationsbyrail.com/usa), RailsNW (800-717-0108, http://www.railsnw.com), Routes International Travel ( http://routesinternational.com/touristtrains.htm) and Rails USA ( http://www.railsusa.com/links/Tourist_Railroads). Many chapters of the National Railway Historical Society (215-557-6606, http://www.nrhs.com) also organize special rail outings.

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