MTA Alternative to Amtrak Expensive Empire Service

When Amtrak eliminated food service on its short-haul Empire Corridor trains, I vowed to search out alternatives to Amtrak’s extremely high priced, no-frills service. And am I glad I did. I never knew what a pleasant alternative the MTA’s Beacon station is for those who live in the Capital District, especially for weekend and holiday family excursions to the City.

Beacon Station is located on Route 9D, just a hop off of Interstate 84 (which interchanges nicely with the Thruway in Newburgh). The following is a comparison of the weekend/holiday service patterns for MTA and Amtrak.

A conservative estimate of 65-70 mph driving time to Beacon Station from Capital District Thruway entrances is as follows:

#25: 1’35”
#24: 1’29”
#23: 1’24”
#22: 1’18”

(After adding your travel time from your home to your nearest Thruway entrance, compare your that total travel time with your local travel time to Rennselaer station.)

Of course driving to Beacon consumes gas and tolls. I’d budget about $15.00-$20.00 for that.

Then, when you arrive Beacon Station, all you need to park your car, and purchase your tickets is 10″, tops. (I did it yesterday with my 5-year old son and 70 year-old mother in 4″ minutes.)

Unlike Rennselaer, where parking ranges from $3.00 to $6.00 per day, parking is free an extremely plentiful at Beacon Station on weekends and holidays.

Southbound express trains from Beacon to NYG do the run on Weekends in 1′ 13″. Northbound express trains to Beacon from NYG do the run on Weekends in 1’18”. (Compare this with Amtrak’s 2’25” running times between ALB and NYP.) The MTA runs at least hourly, and unlike Amtrak, there is no need to fool around wasting time with Amtrak’s absurd reservation system. At the Beacon Station, you will find ticket machines that are fast and simple to use; they accept cash, credit, and debit cards.

Yesterday, I paid the following round trip fares:

$23.00 for me;
$1.50 for my five year old son (under five is free);
$15.00 for my mother, who is a senior citizen.
$39.50 (total)

Needless to say, even with the $15.00 gas and tolls included, the cost of my MTA ticket was approximately a quarter of the cost that Amtrak would have charged me out of Albany. Also, my door-to-City and City-to-door travel times were actually FASTER than the Amtrak alternative.

And what an improvement GCT is over NYP. Before catching our return train home, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Oyster Bar until exactly 5:10 p.m., whereupon we strolled accross the station to catch our 5:16 p.m. train home, the equipment for which had already long been patformed and receiving passengers. What a joy it was not to have to stand around the sign at NYP waiting for the floodgates to open for Amtrak’s late-arriving equipment from Sunnyside yard.

Conclusion: On weekends and holidays, there is really no need to waste one’s time and money with Amtrak’s expensive Empire Corridor services.

Best Amtrak routes for snow lovers

The best part about train travel is watching the world pass by at ground level. For snow lovers, a winter rail journey offers a bonus chance to revel in the winter landscape from the comfort of a window seat.

For Winter 2016, Amtrak has identified five rail routes that promise great seasonal scenery.

California Zephyr, Chicago – Emeryville (San Francisco): This route passes the Rockies and Lake Tahoe.

Adirondack, New York – Montreal: See the frosted Hudson Valley as the train makes its way to Canada.

Empire Builder, Chicago – Portland/Seattle: Glacier National Park in the wintertime provides some stunning sights.

Lakeshore Limited, Chicago – New York: Frozen lakes and snowy shores are the main attraction on this route.

Vermonter, Washington, D.C. – St. Albans, Vt.: Nothing says “snow” like Vermont.

Comets 5 vs. Pirates 2

Once again the Utica Comets special teams stepped up to lead the team to a 5-2 win over the Portland Pirates. Buoyed by a power-play goal and a short-handed tally, the Comets completed the season sweep of the Pirates with a perfect 4-0 record.

Alexandre Grenier (1-2-3) exploded for three points, including the eventual game-winning goal in the second period. Brendan Gaunce (0-2-2) and Jon Landry (1-1-2) recorded multi-point games for the Comets, while Joe Cannata made 33 saves for his 14th victory of the season. Gaunce’s multi-point game gives him eight points (4-4-8) in his last five games.

Brandon Prust, in his first period as a member of the Comets, kicked off the party at The AUD the right way. After he received a pass in the slot from Landry, Prust spun and fired a wrist shot on net that Joseph LaBate redirected past McKenna for his fifth of the season. The goal came just 7:06 into the game.

Chris Higgins doubled the Comets lead a little over eight minutes later when he buried a short-handed breakaway goal. Brendan Gaunce and Andrey Pedan assisted on the marker.

The lead was stretched to 3-0 when Grenier tapped home a beautiful back door feed from defenseman John Negrin in the second period. Gaunce’s second assist came when he picked up the secondary assist on the goal.

The Pirates picked up a short-handed goal of their own in the third, but the Jon Landry quickly erased their tally with a power-play goal just 49 seconds thereafter.

With a little over seven minutes remaining in the game, Hunter Shinkaruk inched a goal closer to the franchise record for goals scored in a single season when he sniped a wrist shot over the glove of goaltender Mike McKenna.

Tyler Sikura jammed a loose puck past Cannata 30 seconds later to make the final score 5-2.

With the win the Comets improved to 25-17-4-3, and they have now collected 15 out of a possible 16 points over their last eight games.

The Comets will be on the road Friday night as they meet the Crunch at the OnCenter in Syracuse, puck drop is scheduled for 7:00pm.