If you're taking the Metroliner from Baltimore to New York, don't look for the smoking car.
Effective this week, Amtrak has eliminated smoking on trains with scheduled running times of 4 1/2 hours or less. The new restriction is similar to a federal rule that bans smoking on airlines for domestic flights of six hours or less.
But for die-hard smokers, there are quite a few opportunities to beat the ban. For instance, passengers who take a one-hour trip from Baltimore to Philadelphia can board any one of nine daily trains that run from Washington to Boston. Because that route takes more than 4 1/2 hours, those trains will continue to provide a smoking car.
"The new timetables are quite specific showing whether it's smoker or nonsmoker service, but most now are nonsmoker," said Clifford Black, an Amtrak spokesman.
Previously, smoking was permitted in designated areas on virtually all Amtrak trains, except the MARC commuter train between Baltimore and Washington.
The new policy was adopted, Mr. Black said, because of growing demand that smoking be further restricted. In the heavily traveled Northeast corridor, nonsmoking cars are often overcrowded, while smoking cars are half empty, he said. As a result, nonsmoking passengers often stand or take a seat in the smoke-filled car.
The new policy continues to permit smoking on long-distance trips, like those to Chicago or Miami. Smokers will still be segregated, however. Typically, there is one smoking car, with 60 to 84 seats, per train.
"Smokers can put up with smoking deprivation for a short period, we've found out with commercial aviation, but it's asking a bit much to ask them to refrain for more than five hours," Mr. Black said.
In California, Amtrak bowed to pressure from state government officials by banning smoking on all trains operating in the state, regardless of the trip's duration.
Yesterday, at Pennsylvania Station here, the new rule was greeted enthusiastically by nonsmokers and seemed to cause little objection, even among some smokers.
"It doesn't bother me in the least," Mary O'Connell, a smoker from San Francisco who boarded a Metroliner from Baltimore to New York.