New Haven to Hartford: A CTrail Adventure

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CTrail Opening Ceremony

If you’ve ever argued with me on reddit (and you probably have), you know I’m a huge proponent of public transportation.

I ride my bicycle to work. I take the bus when it rains. I’m a huge fan of trains and Connecticut’s push for CTrail.

On the bus
Uber XXXXXL

I’ve never had a compelling reason to take the new(-ish) CTrail Hartford Line which runs between New Haven and Springfield, MA. Until now.

Every year, I typically attend a few UConn Men’s Basketball games in Hartford. Of course, you can drive. Parking in Hartford is pretty cheap due to the market forces of desperation. But I’ve been wanting to take this train for a while. And also driving sucks.

So I decide, y’know what. We’re gonna do this. We’re takin’ the train to Hartford!

via GIPHY

Part One: Ticket-Buying Confusion

In order to make this process as convoluted as possible, CTrail operates its own service, as well as allowing CTrail tickets to be taken by Amtrak trains (except the Vermonter!). Totally makes sense.

If you’re taking a CTrail train, easy enough. You buy a ticket at the kiosk just like Metro North (no app yet, but we hate apps now right?).

The train we wanted, however, left at 10am: an Amtrak train. I’d heard stories of people being denied entry if an Amtrak train was too full. Would this happen to me? My public shame as being rejected from a train.

via GIPHY

I asked the Connecticut subreddit, which took a short break from complaining about property taxes and cost of living, to let me know I can purchase an Amtrak ticket on that line for the same price as a CTrail ticket: $8 using Amtrak’s website or the app.

Not. Bad.

And away we were!

Part Two: The Amtrak Train

It’s my first time on an Amtrak train. Virtually all of my experience is on smelly Metro North trains. The entire train consists of two passengers cars — one of which is closed. So basically one passenger car.

The Amtrak train is pretty dark and sleek, with carpeting on the ground. Many of the curtains are drawn as if the passengers are suffering from a collective Saturday morning hangover.

The seats are roomy and comfortable, but they all face forward and have extremely high backs, which makes conversations with more than one person impossible.

Amtrak Interior
Image from Amtrak Media

Luckily, two sets of four-seaters which face each other are at the end of the car. I muster the courage to ask a single passenger if we can have the seat, and she politely obliges.

The other side is occupied by a solitary man with incredibly short shorts. It is January.

And away we go! The ride is pretty quick. I think the entire trip took about 50 minutes. I could probably have driven faster, but then I’d be driving a car like some kind of idiot.

Part Three: Downtown Hartford

Did you know it’s actually a Connecticut law that all train stations have to be named Union Station?

“But Josh, that doesn’t seem practical at all!”

Hartford Union Station 03
Er… yea… it’s really nice.

It sure as hell isn’t, but anyway there were we are, at Union Station (Hartford). Which is just two short blocks away from the imposing concrete structure that is the XL Center. And off we are!

Luckily, people don’t attend live things anymore, so tickets were very cheap, and we had a lovely time.

XL Center UConn game
I don’t have right-side-up UConn money.

Until.

Part Four: The Problem with Trains

Here’s some awesome things about trains:

  • More environmentally friendly
  • Sit back and enjoy the ride
  • Trains are neat
  • Old timey

Here are some bad things about trains:

  • Not up to your schedule
  • Other people are allowed on them

via GIPHY

Cars may be terrible for the Earth, but they provide freedom of movement. Go where you want, when you want.

Here we are at the UConn game and they’re down by 9 with a minute left in the game. The next train leaves in 15 minutes. The train after that leaves in two hours. This is a problem.

Do we wait and watch UConn (probably) lose and condemn ourselves to an additional hour in Hartford? Or do we realize the game is probably over and catch the train?

Montana Ghost Town
Hartford on a Saturday afternoon

We chose to go. And boy did we regret it. Somehow UConn tied up the game and went into double overtime. Which, to be fair, they did eventually lose in classic UConn fashion. But still. We missed it. To catch a train.

So here we are watching the basketball game we paid to attend on a tiny phone on a train.

Sigh.

Part Five: CTrail Back to New Haven

We purchase tickets at Union Station (Hartford) easily enough. We board the train and this train reminds me more of a Metro North train. It’s more casual, well-lit, and friendly.

CTrail Train
Fun times on trains with friends 🙂

The train is also surprisingly full and I see a wide variety of types of people. College students, families, fellow regretful UConn fans also watching on their phones. The whole gamut of human experience.

The train back gets back in less than 50 minutes. The whole experience is pretty painless.

Verdict: Riding the Train is Fun

Even though my One Great Regret in Life is now having left a UConn Men’s Basketball game slightly too early, I had a lovely time taking the train into Hartford. It drops you off right downtown, which gives you quite a few options.

If you brought a bike with you, you could easily get into West Hartford as well. Which is where the cool kids are.

Looking for an excuse to check out the Wadsworth Atheneum or the CT Science Center or a Yard Goats game? Take the train!

via GIPHY

Just make sure you check the timetables. You never know when you’re going to need to make a life-or-death decision about how long you’re about to stay in Hartford.

Or better yet, if you’re in Hartford, come visit New Haven, and we’ll show you a real Union Station.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. When I was working in Hartford and living near UConn, my Girlfriend from New Haven would take the train up so we could spend the weekend together. The Hartford line is awesome! I’m so happy that it looks like people are using it at a high rate.

  2. Ah the Connecticut subreddit! It’s been hard for them lately without whipping boy Malloy to lambaste.
    Union stations I think resulted from different railroad companies going in together on a station or terminal. Like the New Haven RR, Boston & Albany and NY Central sharing a station in Springfield, or something like that. Not in New York where the Penna Railroad names its great station after itself and the NY Central added the prefix Grand to its terminal. But in many other places.

    Nice amusing account of the trip!

    See Real Hartford’s posts on the same topic.

  3. Love the Hartford Line. Love that I can get on at State Street. It’s a little annoying having to take the 10:30 to make a meeting in Hartford anytime before 5PM, then come back after 5PM, but I hate driving even more and am strongly motivated by that hatred. Thankfully, Hartford has lunch, coffee, beer, cozy places to work on a laptop, and one of those photo booths that gives you the little picture strip AND a claw machine by the bathrooms in Union Station, so it has yet to let me down.

  4. I normally I take Ct Rail on the week ends one unforgettable Sunday I was threatened with a knife by a passenger who I refused to give a cigarette to I told the conductor discreetly he acted as tho I did something wrong when I got to my stop in New Haven you would think they would have police waiting at the stop but no police were present I walked out of the. terminal with the guy following behind me taunting me just then the MTA police pulled and ran into the terminal by that time the guy was three blocks away he did eventually get arrested by New Haven Police for a number of charges but not for threatening me with the knife on the train I don’t feel safe on the train I haven’t taken it in months the ride was quick but they seemed not to have a protocol set up for things like this

  5. I work in Hartford and from home in New Haven. I love this train and probably would’ve lived in a more suburban city or dreary Hartford if it wasn’t for this option. I too hate the idea that as you look around on 91 it’s all one person per car slaves to the steering wheel. My favorite line about the train is…someone else is driving. Where else can you get 45 minutes of peace intermingled with random quirkiness? Also while busses are plentiful to get to Hartford …the train is more predictable andless susceptible to those
    pesky traffic snarls out there. Long live train life

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