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.

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