This past weekend was the first time I took the Chinatown bus from DC to New York instead of Amtrak. Let's compare the two:
> An hour or two faster
> More predictable travel time
> Cooler scenery (you see trees, marshes and the backs of buildings, which are invariably more interesting than the fronts)
> Usable bathroom
> Not sketchy (or, at least, sketchy in ways I find charming)
> It's a train!
> About four times as expensive as the bus, even if you buy early
> Less flexible times
> $35 round trip DC to NYC
> If you buy 30 minutes before it leaves, it's still $35
> I can see the DC stop from my desk at work
> Dirty, slightly smelly bus
> Customer service likely to include yelling
> Potentially maniacal driving
> Slow, compared to the train
> Entering bathroom not advised
Cases in point on the sketchiness of the Chinatown bus: On the way out of DC, due to the broken overhead bin netting, a suitcase fell on me. Luckily it landed on my shoulder, not my head. Also, while on stopover in Philly, our driver suddenly came running down the sidewalk yelling in Chinese, ejected the guy collecting tickets on the bus, closed the door and immediately drove off down the street. Lord knows what was going on, perhaps the DOT safety inspectors were on their way.
It's hard to weigh what I'm willing to put up with to save 100 bucks. I must say, having your pick of hourly buses leaving Chinatown is pretty convenient. I'll probably split my future travel between the two, using the train when I'm planning ahead, and the bus for more last-minute trips.