Friday, November 20, 2009

Amtrak's lounges: Private, but amenities and quality vary.

Amtrak's ClubAcela and Metropolitan Lounge facilities are perhaps the most inconsistent facilities in the U.S. transit industry outside of bus terminals.

Both facilities cater to travelers who have First Class tickets -- either on the Acela or in Sleeper Car accommodations on Amtrak's long-haul lines -- as well as Select Plus members of Amtrak's Guest Rewards program and members of Continental Airlines' Presidents Club.

Beyond that, there is little consistency.

In Chicago, for instance, the Metropolitan Lounge is a grand facility that can seat hundreds, with multiple televisions, soda fountains, and comfortable chairs in a mahogany-paneled setting. New Orleans also boasts a Metropolitan Lounge; it is small room with a tube television and a couch, plus a coffee pot.

The ClubAcela facilities, which can be found in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, also vary in terms of quality:
  • The 30th-Street Station ClubAcela in Philadelphia occupies what was once a passenger lounge during the golden age of rail travel, with elevators to the track and views of concourse.

  • Union Station's ClubAcela in Washington D.C. is less impressive but offers East and West exits directly to the tracks from which Acela trains leave, bypassing lines.

  • In New York, where the grandeur of the old Penn Station has given way to an underground 70s-era shopping mall vibe, the ClubAcela is off to one corner, and passengers heading for their trains need to join the main passenger waiting lines to reach the tracks.
Looking for connectivity? All of the ClubAcela facilities have a few computers set up for Internet access. New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago are among those that also have complimentary Wi-Fi; D.C. does not.

Of course, every lounge does offer a few basics, including reasonably comfortable (if evidently used) armchairs and couches, television, and coffee. And since Amtrak doesn't sell ClubAcela memberships, passengers can rest assured that whatever lounge facilities are offered are meant to augment their ticket accommodations rather than stack up as benefits in their own right (the way that airline lounges do).

But as we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century, and America wrestles with upgrades to its aging rail infrastructure, one does have to ask: could we get some consistency in the lounge amenities?

No comments: