Apple-bound: Amtrak offer more NYC rides

Our little-town blues are melting away, and we have a train to thank. Starting on October 27, Amtrak extended the northbound Cardinal's service all the way up to the Big Apple.

And while taking the train to New York from Charlottesville was already possible on the Crescent, it requires Gotham-goers to embark at 7:05am, a tough wake-up call for some.

The new schedule allows local travelers to hop aboard on West Main Street at 4:21pm on Friday and pull into Penn Station at 11:30pm– just as the good partying is getting rolling. That means no more sitting in D.C.'s Union Station waiting for a connection. With a little advance planning, a round-trip ticket costs $144.

But this piece of good news is tempered by the loss of a longtime train tradition: the roundtrip to Staunton. Once one of the most scenic and kid-friendly afternoon activities around, the round-trip junket by train from Charlottesville to Staunton and back was eliminated back in May by a slight adjustment in the Amtrak train schedule.

For years, the westbound train headed for Chicago came through Charlottesville at 1:13pm on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, reaching Staunton an hour later. The eastbound train, however, didn't arrive in Staunton until 3:31pm, allowing a one-and-a-quarter-hour window for strolling, snacking, and shopping in historic downtown Staunton. If the eastbound train was late and it frequently was that visit could be extended considerably.

If things ran on schedule, daytrippers would be returned to the Charlottesville station at 4:47pm, just in time to head home for dinner. And at just $20-26 per person, this was one-day trip that didn't gouge the wallet.

The new schedule has the westbound train leaving Charlottesville at 4pm and the eastbound train arriving at 4:21. The two pass each other, says Charlottesville station master Bob Aycock, just west of town near Farmington.

Why the change? "I have no idea," answers Aycock. "It's just a minor service adjustment."

That minor adjustment has been a major let-down to area families who had made the trip a tradition.

"A lot of people are disappointed," Aycock acknowledges. "It's scenic, it's neat, and kids of all ages really love it."

Jen Bryerton, editor of Albemarle Kids Magazine, is saddened by the change. "I'm very disappointed," she says "A lot of families do it, and it's always a really special thing."

The length of the trip was its biggest perk, says Bryerton. She took her pre-school daughter on a train trip to Philadelphia. "It was a little too much," she laughs. "We rented a car to get home."

But, Aycock points out, all is not lost. With a little advance planning, a one-way train trip to Staunton is possible, with a driver on hand there to bring the family home.

For years, the Millstone of Ivy preschool has made the one-way trip a "graduation" treat for children heading off to kindergarten. Employee Anne Hoy says the trip will go on as scheduled this year, with parents providing the return trip transportation.

Over in Staunton, have business owners noticed a drop in visitors because of the schedule change?

"No, not really," says John Dickson, a manager at The Pullman Restaurant, one of the first businesses passengers disembarking in Staunton may see.

An employee at The Depot restaurant, also in the station, concurs that there's been no noticeable loss of business.

But it's restaurants around the Charlottesville station who may notice a real change– and for the better.

"If you're in Culpeper," says Aycock, "now you can come to Charlottesville for a daytrip."

It looks like one city's loss is another one's gain.

Roundtrip train to Staunton: no more.