Lake Shore Limited
From Chicago (Union Station) to New York (Pennsylvania Station) and Boston (South Station). The route crosses northern Indiana and Ohio, clips Pennsylvania, and then follows the New York State Thruway to Albany. From Albany, half of the train continues through the Berkshires to Boston via Springfield, while the other half runs down the Hudson to New York.
Here’s the trick. The Lake Shore Limited splits at Albany into “New York” and “Boston” sections. The New York section has the dining car; the Boston section has the cafe car. The sections are united between Chicago and Albany.
Eastbound: Sleeper passengers out of Chicago have a wine and cheese reception in the dining car prior to departure; no dinner is served. The cafe car is open at departure and serves until midnight. The next day breakfast and lunch are available. Boston sleeper passengers receive a boxed meal for dinner.
Westbound: Sleeper passengers out of Boston receive a boxed lunch. Dinner is served out of New York but is available to Boston passengers past Albany on a space-available basis. Coach passengers should probably just get something from the cafe car.
If you’re in the New York section the run along the Hudson is gorgeous in both directions. Boston passengers will find the Berkshires between Albany and Pittsfield pleasing, if slow-going. West of Albany the Mohawk River and Erie Canal afford many pretty sights. Westbound you can get a look at Lake Erie around Sandusky and Toledo if you wake early enough.
Highly variable. Around major cities (Chicago, Rochester, Boston, New York) it’s excellent. West of Springfield you hit pockets of bad reception until you lose everything in the Berkshires. Signal is weak on the Hudson north of Poughkeepsie. There’s also a notorious dead zone in northern Indiana west of South Bend.
The Lake Shore Limited is a typical long-distance East Coast train and uses Viewliner sleeping cars, Amfleet coaches, a Heritage Fleet diner, and either an Amfleet or Horizon dinette as a cafe/lounge car. Since December 2011 the prototype Viewliner diner (#8400) has been in semi-regular service on this route as well.
Why take it?
Until Amtrak brings back the Broadway Limited this is the best train service from New York and New England to the Midwest. It’s faster and has more amenities than the Cardinal and it is more direct than any combination involving the Capitol Limited. Downsides include a late departure time from Chicago and chronic lateness around Buffalo. Amtrak prices this train fairly aggressively because of capacity constraints; it’s worth it to comparison-shop against the Capitol Limited.