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Amtrak
Travel Tips

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Last major update December 2012

On Track On Line - Amtrak Travel Tips


Introduction

To begin to learn why we say "There's Something About a Train That's Magic" call Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245), or visit your local station, and ask them for their brochure Amtrak America - Your Travel Guide to Amtrak Routes and Services, a 60+ page booklet all about Amtrak. It contains a wealth of information, including a description of each major route. You may also wish to pickup the Amtrak Vacations, a 40 page booklet. It includes special train packages, as well as diagrams of the layout of all of the types of cars used, including sleeping compartments. You can also order either brochure on-line here. Allow two to four weeks for mail delivery. While you wait, much of the same information is on the Amtrak Web Site.

Also ask for a copy of the Amtrak National Timetable which will greatly assist you in planning future trips. New Timetables usually appear in the Spring and the Fall.

Taking the Auto Train? See also our separate, detailed Amtrak Auto Train Tips, compiled by Don Weinstein.

Planning Group Travel? Amtrak's special Group Reservations number is 1-800-USA-1GRP, 8:30am to 8:00pm Eastern Time. A "group" is 15 persons or more.

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Planning



Trip Planning

Study the Brochure and Timetables: Initially plan your own trip even if you intend to use a travel agent later to make the bookings. Familiarize yourself with your train numbers and scheduled arrival and departure times. Watch out particularly for trains that don't run daily, as some long distance trains don't. The timetables contain a wealth of information about every train and every station in the system, and are an invaluable tool for planning ahead for your vacation.

Searching: Learn to use the search feature on the Amtrak web site. A link to search is at the bottom of most pages. Simple one word searches work best and are most likely to result in the display of useful pages. The site also has an Advanced Search page. Additionally, Amtrak now offers "ask Julie" a Virtual assistant. An icon/link to Julie appears at the top of most Amtrak.com pages.

Scheduling Hint: Traveling on days just before the full moon is suggested because you can more easily see many things at night. You may wish to vist either Sunrise-Sunset or the U.S. Naval Oceanography Portal to help you to plan when to take your trip.

Schedules on-line: The complete Amtrak schedule is on-line on the Internet in an easy to use format at the Amtrak Web Page. Amtrak has lots of general info there too.

For specific information about the Amtrak Auto Train (also written "AutoTrain") which travels between Lorton VA and Sanford FL, visit our Amtrak Auto Train Travel Hints.

Check the Train Status Calculator (third party site) for recent on-time status of the trains over the past several days. Historical delay information, as well as the causes of the delays, can be found at the Amtrak Route Performance page.

Visit the Passenger Train Advocacy and Travel Links section of these Travel Tips for links to several more useful Web sites.

"Amtrak Vacations": Amtrak Vacations operated by a private travel agency on Amtrak's behalf, offers complete packages that include Amtrak travel, hotels, rental cars, planes, and travel insurance. You can call Amtrak Vacations at 1-800-AMTRAK2 (1-800-268-7252) or visit them at the Amtrak Vacations Web Site. Their travel planner can be ordered on line by clicking here and a PDF version can be found here. An interactive digital version can be found here.

Additionally, the Amtrak website now offers the ability to book hotels & cars right along with your train reservation. You however must do the leg work when using this feature, unlike Amtrak Vacations or a travel agent who look for the best prices for you and for hotels near where you want to be.

Fares: Amtrak fares are complex and cannot reasonably and accurately be posted here. Please contact Amtrak directly about fares.

Rail Passes: Amtrak offers two different Rail Passes that can provide you with significant savings on train travel. The first is the USA Rail Pass which has gone through an overhaul. It is good for both international travelers and US citizens and can provide significant discounts for travel throughout the US. There are 15 day, 30 day, and 45 day passes. Travel cannot be booked prior to six months from the dates of your trip. Additionally, it used to be that as long as a seat was available, you would get that seat. Now only a set amount of seats are set aside for passes. If those seats are gone on the train you want, then you have the option to pay the difference between the price that Amtrak assigns to a railpass seat and the current price of seats currently being sold.

The second pass that is available is the California rail pass, good only for 7 days of travel within the State of California over a 21 day period. Further details on the California pass can be found here. Note that advanced reservations are required on many trains, and these passes do not cover accommodation charges (see below).

Discounts: Fare discounts available include 15% for seniors, 1/2 fare for children (2-15; under 2 free), 10% for AAA and National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) members on most routes, and others. These discounts do not apply to accommodation charges. Ask about these and other regional and short term discounts. Regional, specially targeted, and short term discounts often require a special code. The code is typically a letter followed by three numbers. You'll need to know that code when booking any reservation. For various promotional fares and packages see the Amtrak web site and select the region you wish to travel in to see the current deals & discounts. Selected 25% discounts are available on Smart Fares page.

AAA Numbers: A note about entering AAA numbers on Amtrak's web site, quoting Amtrak:

AAA numbers come in a wide variety of formats. Please enter your three digit club code followed by a "-" and then the remainder of the numbers and letters. For example, 123-456789ABC is a valid format. If your number contains the word "plus" do NOT enter that along with the rest of your number. Please do not enter any spaces between the numbers.

For example, my number is entered like this: 004-xxxxxxxxx, that is 3 digits, dash, 9 digits with no spaces and omitting other digits. However, we've found that the AAA number can only be entered reliably in one's "profile", after registering on the site (free). Entering the number on the reservation pages sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

Accommodation Charges: Accommodation charges are additional to rail fare and apply to sleeping compartments and service upgrades. Note that there is only one fixed charge (varies by route, segment, and season) for sleeping accommodations so, over and above basic rail fare, two travel as cheaply as one in a two person room. Both receive the same service and perks, including Dining Car meals.

Fare Check Tool: If one has some flexability in travel dates, then AmSnag may be of some help. This interesting tool, written by an Amtrak fan, allows one to search Amtrak fares over several days up to 30 days in total. It will display both coach and sleeper fares. You will need to know the three digit code for your starting and ending stations.

Reservations: When making your reservations you have several options:

  • First there is Amtrak's main phone number, 1-800-USA-RAIL. One has the choice of making simple reservations with Julie (Amtrak’s automated voice recognition system) or any type of reservation with a live agent. Any reservations you make this way will normally require you to pay for your tickets by credit card.

  • Second you can visit a station and talk to an agent face-to-face. At smaller stations, try to avoid their busy times (an hour or so before and half hour after a train is scheduled to depart or arrive respectively). Note that not all Amtrak stations are manned, and many have unusual hours to accommodate the trains they serve.

  • Third you can visit the Amtrak Web Site and use the automated reservations system there. Caution: Other than some standard discounts (AAA, National Association of Railroad Passengers membership, Senior 62 and over), you may pay full fare using the web page; we recommend you call 1-800-USA-RAIL instead if you think any other discounts might apply.

  • Fourth with the advent of Smart Phones, Amtrak now offers Apps for both the iPhone and the Android line. Other Smart phones can still book at m.amtrak.com, a mobile version of the Amtrak.com site. That however contains far fewer features than the Apps for the iPhone and Andriod lines.

  • Last but not least, there are some travel agents (some free to the traveler) that are "plugged into" Amtrak and are knowledgeable about making rail reservations. Not all travel agents are in this group, however. So use caution in picking one and be sure to ask questions and verify train numbers.

Unreserved Trains: Keep in mind that major holidays are peak travel times and on unreserved trains you may find no available seats and may have to stand for all or part of your trip; particularly if you board at an intermediate stop. There aren't many unreserved trains left in the system, and many of those that are left go to a reserved status for the Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday periods.

Upgrading: If you're interested in trying to upgrade your reservation or trying to get a sleeping compartment when one wasn't previously available, try calling Amtrak after 4:00am or so East Coast time. It's about then that they enter daily no-show and cancellation info into their reservation computers. One can also call up an agent and ask to be placed on the waiting list for a sleeping compartment. Occasionally you might wish to upgrade (or even downgrade) a reservation at the very last moment. Sometimes, because of no-shows, compartments or coach seats become available; so it never hurts to ask the conductor when you board. Be prepared to pay appropriately on the spot; only cash and credit cards are accepted.

Changing Reservations: Reservations may be changed in most cases but various rules apply. Ask Amtrak or your travel agent when booking your trip for details about Amtrak's policies related to changing or canceling reservations.

Refunds of Sleeping Car Accommodation Charges: If canceled 15 or more days before scheduled departure, a refund fee of 10% applies with a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $100. If canceled 14 days or fewer before scheduled departure, but before the scheduled departure, ticket is not refundable but the value may be applied within one year toward future travel. Cancellation after departure or no cancellation at all (no show) will result in no refund and no credit. Additional rules regarding cancellation policies can be found here.

Tickets/eTickets: Prior to July 30th, 2012 Amtrak required all passengers to obtain paper value tickets that provided proof of payment for that train. Now all Amtrak trains, except for the Maple Leaf if one is traveling to/from points in Canada, use eTickets. Additionally some Amtrak Thruway buses use eTickets, while the rest still require the old fashioned paper value tickets. Once you've fully paid for your trip you'll receive an email containg a PDF file with a bar code. Simply print out that PDF and bring it with you to the train and show that to the conductor. That bar code can also be displayed on Smart Phones instead of carrying the paper printout. Further details on eTicketing can be found here on Amtrak's website.

Check Train Progress: If you're boarding at an intermediate stop or if someone is meeting you, call 1-800-USA-RAIL to see how the train is doing -- trains often run a little late. Once Julie (Amtrak's automated voice recognition system) answers, simply say "Train Status" to her and she will begin a series of questions to help you get the status for whichever train you want. Try not to call Julie from a noisy area, as she may have trouble understanding you, or she may interpret an outside noise as your response. Train progress can also be checked by speaking with a live agent or on the Home page of the Amtrak Web Site Just click the "Status" tab and enter the necessary information. Note that your train's departure time may depend on other trains. For example, the westbound Lake Shore Limited from New York can't leave Albany until the Boston section joins. When speaking to an agent you may wish to ask if any other trains will affect your train's departure.

Additionally train status can be checked via the Smart Phone Apps or the mobile website m.amtrak.com. Also, Amtrak.com now offers one a choice to be sent an email if the train(s) you are currently booking are delayed for some reason. This must be done during the booking process and it is located at the bottom of the page where one enters the Passenger information. Of course one must be able to receive emails while in transit to the station and at the station to utilize this service.

Yet another tool written by an Amtrak fan is Amtrak Status Maps. This site has maps for various parts of the country that show the approximate locations of every train within that section of the country. Please note these are not real time locations when in between stops. For those without Smart Phones another helpful person setup a text messaging service. If you text your station code and train number to 401-268-7251 (that's 401-AMTRAK-1) the system will send you a text message back with the current estimated arrival time. So for example someone wishing to know the estimated arrival time for the Coast Starlight would text "pdx 14" to that number and in short order you'll get a text back with the current estimated arrival time.

Lateness: Amtrak trains travel almost entirely on the tracks of freight railroads. As such they are at the mercy of many outside forces. Trains may run a little late, sometimes more than a little. Most of the time this lateness cannot be avoided within the constraints that Amtrak has to live with. (If you would like to see better Amtrak service, write to your representatives in Washington; they hold the purse strings and the ultimate control of Amtrak's destiny.) However, if lateness is a concern to you, one specific thing you can to is to plan on spending an overnight off the train at any stop where you will be changing trains. This may save you a lot of stress about missing a connection.

Amtrak Guest Rewards: AGR is Amtrak’s version of a frequent flyer's program. Unlike a normal airline program, one earns points based upon the dollar amount of your ticket, not on the number of miles traveled. Also unlike the airlines, Amtrak has no capacity controls. If you call up and there is only one room left on the entire train for that day, it's your room. It costs nothing to join and as long as one takes at least one paid trip every three years, your points never expire.

If you think that there is any possibility of taking more than one Amtrak trip, it is highly recommended that you join AGR before booking your first and/or current trip. However, if you've already booked your trip, it's still not too late. Once you sign up and get your membership number, just call Amtrak and have the agent add the number (numbers if you've also signed up family members) to your reservation. If you've already taken your trip, it may not be too late if your trip was within the last 21 days, but you'll have to call AGR to get those points. Additional program details and online registration can be found here.

Connections to Walt Disney World and other Orlando Attractions: This subject comes up often. At one time there used to be a special shuttle bus service operated, this has been discontinued unfortunately. At present your options are a Hertz car rental at the station, a taxi, or Orlando's public bus system called Lynx. Lynx bus route #40 runs near the station. This bus in the southbound direction will take one directly to Universal Studios if that is your destination.

Alternatively, one can take the #40 bus in the other/northbound direction to the Lynx Central Station. At Central Station one can then catch the #50 bus. The #50 will take one to Sea World, Downtown Disney, and the Walt Disney World Ticket & Transportation Center (TTC). From the TTC one can catch Disney buses and Monorails to reach all parks and hotels.

Connections to Los Angeles International Airport: We are often asked how one transfers between Amtrak and the airlines at LAX in Los Angeles. The fastest way is to use the Los Angeles International Airport - Union Station FlyAway bus service. The cheaper, but more time consuming method is to take the Metro Red/Purple line, Blue line, and then the Green line to the airport shuttle bus. Note that another good option is to fly into/out of Bob Hope Airport (formerly Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport) in the San Fernando Valley, if possible. Amtrak Pacific Surfliners serve that location (station name: Burbank Airport) with several daily trains which stop within easy walking distance of the airline terminal. The Burbank station is also served by L.A. area commuter rail trains (Metrolink) on working days.

Caution: NEVER get on a train unless you want to go somewhere, you know where the train is going, and you know where you are going. Read the front of your tickets carefully as soon as you get them and before you travel. Also never wander away from the train at intermediate stops; the train will NOT wait for you. Listen to announcements. Ask questions!

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Accommodations



Accommodations

All About Amtrak Trains: The Amtrak brochure Amtrak Vacations has diagrams of each type of car and accommodation that Amtrak uses. You can order the brochure on-line here, or pick it up at many Amtrak stations. An interactive digital version can be found here and a PDF version can be found here. System timetables and other publications are available from the web site at the first link and at stations also.

The Amtrak Web Site On board Page also has diagrams and measurements of sleeping compartments. Additional detailed information about Amtrak accommodations is available at the Amtrak Accommodations portion of the Trainweb web site. Excellent diagrams of each type of sleeping car layout, with every room labeled with its letter or number can be found on this Friends of Amtrak page.

Virtual Tours: Amtrak has recently added a "virtual tour" of each type of accommodation to their web site, via their On board page. Apple Quick Time browser plug-in software is required. If you need it, you can download it here; it automatically installs.

Two other web sites provide additional virtual tours of Amtrak equipment. The first is the Amtrak Superliner Virtual Tour from panoramic photographer Willie Kaemena which can be found here. The second which also contains VIA Rail Canada equipment is 360360.COM on Trainweb. No special additional software is needed.

Accommodations Summary:
  • Western long distance trains (all west and south departures from Chicago, the Coast Starlight running along the west coast, the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited, plus the eastern Capitol Limited and Auto Train) are equipped with double-deck "Superliners", all with the same general types of cars. Sleeping cars have 5 Bedrooms (upstairs), formerly named Deluxe Bedrooms, which are ample for two (or two adults and a small child), and 14 Roomettes (10 upstairs, 4 down), formerly called Standard Bedrooms, which are satisfactory for two (with a upper bunk that is a bit tight). There is also one Family Bedroom (2 adults, 2 children) and one Accessible Bedroom (1 mobility impaired person and 1 companion) on the lower level. Only these latter two rooms have in-room windows on both sides of the car. (Please note that 1 Roomette is given over to the attendant, leaving only 13 for sale.)

    The western long distance trains and the Capitol Limited also have passenger accommodations in their "Transition/Dorm" cars, which are primarily used by the train's Service Crew. Passenger accommodations sold in these cars include six Roomettes on the upper level, four on the Empire Builder. A shower is located on the upper level. The rest of the car is off limits to passengers.

    The Auto Train also has unique Superliner sleeping cars with ten Bedrooms and no roomettes on the upper level. Downstairs the car is identical to the normal sleeping cars. See our Auto Train Tips for more info.

  • Eastern trains (except the Capitol Limited and Auto Train) use single-level Viewliner Sleepers and Viewliner Dining cars, along with Amfleet coaches and lounge cars. Amfleet cars were built in the 1970s. You may also see Heritage Diners. Heritage cars are from pre-Amtrak days; they have been fully renovated and configured to Amtrak standards. Viewliner Sleeping Cars include two Bedrooms and 12 Roomettes similar to Superliners described above, plus one Accessible Bedroom. Accommodations for mobility impaired persons are available on all trains.

    One big difference between a Superliner Roomette and the Viewliner Roomette, is that the later includes a toilet and sink in the room. However, due to space limitations, the toilet is not enclosed. Therefore when two people occupy the room, you may find it more comfortable for the other person to step out into the hall.

  • The Family Bedroom on Superliners is the largest room available and great for a family of four or five, but the relatively small windows make watching the scenery a bit difficult. Also it is on the lower level, near the wheels, so a little noisier (though not too loud for sleeping). Plan on spending much of the day in the Lounge Car.

  • On Superliners, two pairs of Bedrooms have a sliding divider that the attendant can open to convert them into 4-6 person suites. The single pair of Bedrooms on a Viewliner can be similarly configured.

  • Access between cars on Superliners is on the upper level only. One cannot pass between cars from the lower level of a Superliner.

  • Coaches on almost all Amtrak cars have reclining seats in a 2-aisle-2 arrangement with ample leg room. You'll usually see an airline style tray table in the back of the seat in front of you. On Superliner coaches and some others the seats have leg rests built in. Almost all coaches have footrests. Coach seats on all but the cars used on the shortest routes are quite comfortable, approximately like a family room recliner. Tip: Seats on Superliner Coaches have 2" more legroom on the stairway side of the coach.

  • Aisle or window? If traveling alone you'll often have a choice. Window gets you the best view, something to lean against when sleeping, and a bit more privacy. However, an aisle seat gives you freedom, which is not to be underestimated, especially at 3:00am when you must visit the rest room. On the other hand, if the person in the window seat needs the rest room at 3:00 AM, you're probably going to know about it.

  • Where to sit in the car? If you have an option, try not to sit too close to the front end of the car. The view will be better a little further back, particularly out the side opposite your seat. This also applies to seats opposite and just behind the center stairwell area on Superliners. Watch out for other folks with coolers (not you, of course) -- smelly food has been known to appear from them.

  • Lounge cars are intended for viewing the scenery and grabbing a snack or a meal from the cafe area. Seating is generally less comfortable and open to everyone, first come, first served. We've never seen anyone asked to leave because they've "been there too long", but it is considered good manners not to hog a lounge car seat all day long. Double-deck Superliner Lounge Cars are the place to be for scenery highlights and to meet other travelers. Dining cars are another place that you are likely to meet interesting people as you usually share a table with someone new each time.

  • Showers: Superliner and Viewliner sleeping cars have showers in Bedrooms and a single shower (downstairs on Superliners) for others to use (it's larger and easier to use than the Bedroom shower and is available to all passengers booked in that car). Some other cars have larger "changing rooms" or "accessible" restrooms, which have more space for taking a sponge bath. There are no showers in coach cars. Don't expect to wash up too much while on the train. Deodorant is another "mandatory" part of the Amtrak Experience.

    Note: A few older Superliner sleeping cars still have push-button shower controls in the Bedroom combination shower/toilet compartments; be careful not to confuse the shower control with the toilet control.

General info about sleeping accommodations: Passengers traveling in a sleeper will find that Amtrak provides all the needed linens, pillows, and blankets for their beds. While thick luxury hotel mattresses are not provided, the mattresses still do an adequate job and at least allow one to sleep horizontally unlike the coach seats. A compartment is also much darker than what one experiences in coach and you donít typically hear your neighbors either, even if you didn't bring earplugs. One also has some control over the temperature within your room, especially in the Viewliner sleepers where you actually have a thermostat. Your sleeping car attendant can help you to adjust the temperature controls if youíre not certain how they work.

Additionally your attendant will convert the room from its daytime seating configuration to its nighttime bed configuration. This is part of their job and not something that you should need to deal with. The attendant will also return the room back to its daytime configuration the next morning. Most good attendants watch for you to head for breakfast in the diner and will have your room back to seats by the time you return from breakfast. Soap, washcloths, and towels are provided both for quick wash-ups in the bathrooms and for the showers.

As noted elsewhere sleeping car passengers get all of their meals included when taken in the dining car. Additionally there is a common area in each sleeper where one can find free coffee, tea, and juice for most of the day. Ice may also be available at that common area too depending on the car configuration. If ice isn't visible, then ask your attendant for some. Those traveling on the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder routes can also expect a special welcoming gift that contains a light snack and a split of Champagne, for the adults that is. Kids (and adults not wishing to imbibe) will be offered their choice of sparkling cider or juice instead. Finally you should find a morning newspaper under your door when you wake up in the morning. The paper is often a local paper from the last major city that your train passed through earlier that morning, but it's also possible that you'll get a USA Today.

Station Lounges: Amtrak has very comfortable Station Lounges at select stations. In Boston South Station, New York Penn Station, Philadelphia 30th Street Station and Washington Union Station. Club Acela Lounges are available to passengers traveling in First Class on Acela or to sleeping car passengers. Metropolitan Lounges are located at the stations in Chicago and Portland, OR. Sleeping car passengers may use these lounges on the same day they are departing and/or arriving at one of the above stations. Simply show your eTicket, ticket, or ticket stub at the counter in the lounge for admittance. AGR members holding Select Plus or Select Executive cards can also gain admittance to these lounges by showing their membership cards without regard to what train they're traveling on or what class of service. You can leave your baggage in most of the Lounges for no charge while you go off to do other things or just relax in the well appointed and comfortable lounge. The lounges also have WiFi connections for computer users and a few offer computer terminals; ask about this at the reception desk.

Special First Class waiting rooms can be found in New Orleans (called the "Magnolia Room"); St. Paul, MN; Miami, FL; St. Louis, MO (a new addition); and Raleigh NC. These rooms are typically not staffed by Amtrak personnel and don't necessarily provide all of the amenities found in the First Class lounges mentioned above. One gains admittance to these rooms by speaking with a ticket agent at the ticket counter and showing your ticket or card.

Amtrak has also made special arrangements in LA for sleeping car passengers on the Coast Starlight. A special area of the Traxx Lounge, which is closed at the time the Coast Starlight departs, is set aside for sleeping car passengers. Coffee, tea, and pastries are available and passengers are escorted directly from the lounge to the train when it's ready. This lounge is not available to passengers on any other train, nor is it available to those with Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus status.

Notes regarding the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge:

The Chicago Metropolitan Lounge completed a major renovation and expansion project about 6 years ago. Thanks to that work, the lounge can now comfortably accommodate far more people than it could in the past. Additionally Amtrak has basically done away with the open luggage storage area, although large groups still use that area from time to time. Now passengers can check their bags for free with a Redcap who staffs a secure room located within the lounge itself. After checking in at the desk, simply turn around to find the luggage area. While checking your bags is free, the Redcaps manning the room do still appreciate tips.

Due to the late departure times of the Lake Shore Limited, the Capitol Limited, and the City of New Orleans out of Chicago, Amtrak has implemented a special procedure for the boarding of these trains from the Metropolitan Lounge. Assuming that the train is cleaned and ready to go early enough, the lounge now boards the sleeping car passengers 45 to 60 minutes prior to departure.

For the City of New Orleans, usually within 10 to 15 minutes of boarding your sleeper, you will be called to the Cross Country Cafe car for dinner. This means that you are often already seated, with your order taken and will be munching on your salad before the train ever leaves Chicago Union Station. For the Capitol Limited, reservations for diner are taken when you check in with the lounge attendant. But again, if you pick an early time, you could well be enjoying your dinner before the train leaves the station. If you are not in the Metropolitan Lounge at the proper time, then you may well miss getting dinner on the train, depending on how full it is. Also because of the reduced amount of time for dinner, we do not recommend that coach passengers wait for dinner on the train, at least in the dining car. You might get lucky and get in, but you might also end up in the cafe car.

The Lake Shore Limited leaves Chicago so late that it does not serve dinner onboard. All passengers are advised to eat dinner in the station before departure. Sleeping car passengers in the lounge will still board early and they will be invited to the dining car for a wine & cheese tasting. They also usually have grapes and of course crackers for the cheese, as well as a sparkling cider for the kids and those adults who don't want wine.

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - On The Train



On the Train

Safety First: Trains are very safe places to be, but some simple safety steps should be considered. When you stow your luggage, especially in overhead racks, ensure that it cannot easily fall out of the storage space. Train cars move around (jiggle, sway, bounce) when in motion and in particular when stopping and starting, so keep a hold on something as you walk or be prepared to grab a seat back or handrail.

  • Use extra caution when passing between cars.
  • Always wear shoes when passing between cars.
  • Always use the red/white stripped handrails.
  • Be careful not to step directly on the joint between the cars.
  • Be careful of sliding doors which may not easily spring back if you are caught in them.
  • If they are moving wait till they close and then press or kick the marked "Press" plate and be careful where you put your fingers.

More about Safety: Watch your step when boarding and leaving the train. Be especially careful to step over the gap between a high level platform and the train door. Use handrails when boarding, detraining, and climbing stairs. Be mindful that there is often a big step from a low level platform up to the first step on a train car. Don't run, and be sure your children don't run also. Take time to review the Amtrak Passenger Safety Instruction card in the seat pocket, or on or near the table in sleeping compartments. If this card is missing, ask your car attendant.

Pack sensibly: Carry-on no more luggage than absolutely necessary; no more than you would or could carry on an airplane. Amtrak STRICTLY requires that individual bags (carry-on or checked) weigh no more than 50 pounds (federal requirement), and mandates no more than 2 carry-on bags per person. See Amtrak's Carry-on Baggage Policies page for more info, including what constitutes exceptions. Shoulder straps are suggested.

Additional baggage of up to 50 pounds each (up to 2 bags/passenger for free; 2 more paid) can be checked on most trains at and to major stations (but not between all stations, call Amtrak about that); checked baggage is definitely NOT available to you during your trip (just as on an airliner). Properly pack checked items. Do not check delicate items. They will not be handled as fragile! Be sure checked baggage is properly tagged. Baggage to be checked must be brought to the originating station more than 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time (we suggest allowing even more time at the busier stations). Note: Amtrak is serious about the 50 pounds; your bags will be weighed and you will have to repack if you are over the limit.

Baggage can be checked the day before departure. Baggage can also be routed differently to beat you to your destination or on a different train if your train doesn't have checked baggage. Baggage can be held at your destination for up to 2 days at no charge (minimal charge after that). However these rules are subject to change at any time, in part thanks to 9/11, so be sure to check with Amtrak about this before traveling.

Hint: On return trips, some people like to pack all dirty clothes in one bag and check that bag all the way home.

More about packing: If you have a sleeping compartment, carry only a small overnight bag as there is very little room in sleeping compartments for luggage, except for some under-seat room for fairly flat items and a small shelf above the folding seat in Bedrooms and a small shelf above the passageway in Viewliner rooms (see the Accommodations section of these Amtrak Travel Tips). Small roll-on-board airline cabin bags just fit under the Bedroom couch on Superliner II's (but you can't plan to definitely be traveling in a Superliner II). Superliner sleepers and coaches have a luggage rack downstairs, with no special security (but we've not heard of significant problems). Coaches have overhead racks for an overnight bag or two and some have a small area for hanging bags.

Bicycles: Call Amtrak at 1-800-USA-RAIL if you would like detailed info about Amtrak's policies concerning transporting bicycles; the rules vary by route and can be complex.

What to do on a train: Relax! Watch the scenery; that seems obvious but many folks forget to look out the window and miss some of the best parts of the ride. Take a pair of small binoculars if you have them; you'll find a use for them. Take reading material, particularly for evening use. During the day you can expect to be looking out those windows and "schmoozing" with those around you, but things quiet down after dark. AM-FM/CD/DVD/iPod players are desirable, but earphones/headphones MUST be used, and volume should be kept low in any case. A deck of cards is a good idea if traveling with others (some Amtrak snack bars stock cards). Avoid the urge to nap in the daytime -- you'll regret it about 1:00am when you're staring at the night light unable to sleep. Most important thing to do: Relax! That's what train travel is all about.

Keep a journal: It really helps to pass the time constructively and you'll be glad to have the info later. Some people like to use a micro-cassette recorder for this as they can dictate while doing almost everything else. Some like to record the day's events on a laptop computer. Some write up their adventures in a post-trip report. See our Trip Reports section for many of these reports -- we will be pleased to publish your comments too.

Maps and Guides: Knowing where you are and villages you're passing through adds to the enjoyment. The best railroad route maps of which we know are in the multi-volume SPV Railroad Atlas of North America. If you prefer a computer version for your laptop, then consider North American Railroad Map. You may also wish to take a good road atlas with you, even if it doesn't show the rail lines; e.g., the Rand McNally "Road Atlas and Travel Guide". The Amtrak Web Site has basic route guide information for every Amtrak route.

TrainWeb has Amtrak route information on-line here.

Also, some trains may have paper route guides on board, though these aren't actually maps. Be sure to ask for one if you don't see them. See our tips about books in these Travel Tips for more route guide suggestions.

If you plan to use a Global Positioning System receiver to keep track of your location, see our GPS Train Tracking page.

Sleeping in coach: If traveling overnight by coach, definitely take a light blanket (we suggest a dark color as it may get a little soiled over several days). An "army blanket" is ideal. A heavy beach towel may be a fair substitute and may be useful at your destination. Amtrak will usually sell you a small blanket for about $15 on board. The train often gets a bit cool at night, even in summer. Many people suggest that you take a pillow as well. Some suggest taking a pillowcase and asking for two of the small pillows. Another pillow for the lumbar region is desirable, but the car attendant is likely to balk at providing two or three pillows!

More About Sleeping: Especially in coach, take disposable foam rubber or silicone ear plugs -- they'll help in a variety of social and sleep situations. Those who have trouble dozing off may wish to take some over-the-counter medication with sleep inducing side effects, such as Benadryl. Discuss the use of any such medication with your Physician and/or Pharmacist. You may wish to try using Breathe RightTM nasal strips (available in pharmacies and drug stores) which are said to improve night time breathing and reduce breathing noise (snoring).

Bathing and Grooming: The ability to wash up varies from the private facilities including a shower in a Bedroom on a Superliner or Viewliner (see the Accommodations section of these Tips), to the unisex, closet sized rest rooms in some coaches. Some people like to take a small can of Lysol spray for the restrooms and shower. For a long trip, a bottle of skin moisturizer is a good idea. And you'll find a travel pack of moist towelettes invaluable. Frequent travelers have suggested taking a small tote bag with toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, hair brush/comb, aspirin, etc. Flip-flops for your feet can come in handy too!

For those in sleepers, soap & towels are provided. Ask your attendant if you don't see them. The attendant is also normally given a very small supply of shampoo in hotel sized bottles; but it is best to bring your own. But please don't plan on taking a shower too often, as both water in general and especially hot water is limited Note: On the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight, sleeper passengers are provided with a small cloth bag containing shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer.

For those in coach, take a wash cloth for sponge bathing and a zip-lock bag to store it in. You may also wish to pack a super absorbent backpacker towel to dry off after a sponge bath. Take a bar of soap (in a sealed up soap dish); hotel bar soaps are ideal.

Walking the train: Don't stay glued to your seat. Walk around. Meet people. Enjoy your travel mates. "Schmooze!" This is a "required" part of the Amtrak Experience! Generally you can safely leave your possessions on/above your seat while you wander. We always carry our cameras and scanner radios with us, even to the rest room, unless we have someone to watch them (or they are well packed away). You don't have to be paranoid, but simple security considerations should be followed. Of course, considerably more caution is called for at stations and terminals, off the train.

Entertainment: Amtrak has by and large eliminated the practice of showing movies on it's trains, the exceptions being on the Auto Train and the Cascades service. On the Cascades Service you must either buy headphones for a small fee or bring your own to hear them. On the Auto Train movies are shown on TV monitors in the cafe cars. Other entertainment events will be announced on some trains. Several of the long distance trains also have National Park Service Trails & Rails guides or other guides that give a talk during the day as you travel through certain areas. More information on the Trails & Rails program from Amtrak can be found here and from the National Park Service here. Trails & Rails programs for the Sunset Limited & Texas Eagle can even be download as a Podcast here. A service crew member may organize games in the Lounge car also.

Traveling with Children: You will be able to devote much of your attention to the kids because someone else is doing the "driving". Kids do very well on trains. If old enough to wander on their own, they will quickly meet other kids their age and "socialize" as only kids can do. Usually the Lounge Car will become their social center, particularly on Superliner trains. Left to their own devices you may not see your kids for hours at a time, but it is a good idea to check on them periodically. One trick to traveling with children is to have them pack a small carry-on case with their books, game-boy, iPod or similar device, simple non-noisy toys and games, etc. Children quickly tire of just looking at scenery, no matter how spectacular you find it, though they will flock to windows to see wildlife that they would yawn over at a zoo. Small children may wish to bring along a favorite stuffed animal and/or blanket, which will often help them sleep better. A sleeping compartment provides a place for quiet time (or time-out if needed). More about sleeping compartments in the Accommodations section of these Tips.

Clothing: Wear comfortable, casual clothes, the sort you would wear around the house. Most of your fellow travelers will be dressed the same. A jogging outfit is perfect, particularly at night. Comfortable shoes are a must. You can take off your shoes while in your seat or sleeping compartment, but they are required when passing from one car to the next. Some like to take soft hard-sole moccasins, which meet the requirements but are the next thing to no shoes at all.

Dining: Long distance trains will have a snack bar and almost always a dining car. The Timetable shows this info in the "Service" section on the page for each route. Eat at least one meal in the dining car if your train has one. It's fun, only a little more expensive than the snack bar (for equivalent items), good food -- and an "obligatory" part of the Amtrak Experience. Don't be in a rush. Eating in the dining car is often going to be leisurely. Patience is really a virtue here. Seating is 4 to a table so you'll be meeting new friends at each meal unless you are a part of a fixed four-some. By the way, the staff will request that couples sit alongside, not across from each other since many people are uncomfortable sitting side-by-side with a stranger. Reservations are normally taken for lunch and dinner, breakfast is first come first served. Listen carefully for announcements; usually sleeping car (first class) passengers get first choices. Also, sleeping car passengers receive meals as part of their accommodation -- no charges in the dining car except for alcoholic beverages.

Dining Car Summary:

Amtrak has five different types of dining cars that one may encounter during a journey.

  • Superliner Dining car: A full length dining car with the service area in the center of the car. These are the original bi-level dining cars that can seat up to 72 people at one time. They can be found on the Auto Train, Capitol Limited, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, and the Sunset Limited.

  • Cross Country Cafe (CCC): A recently refurbished Superliner bi-level dining car that has been modified to perform a dual role, that of both dining car and cafe car. One side is devoted towards being a dining car, while 4 tables on the other end represent the cafe/lounge area. The cafe service area is offset to one end of the car and separates the cafe seating area from the dining area. At present Amtrak is not using this car in its dual role; it currently functions as a dining car only on the City of New Orleans and the Texas Eagle. The cafe side is unused or when needed used as overflow seating for the dining car.

  • Heritage Dining cars: A historic single level dining car built before Amtrak even existed found only on select eastern routes. They seat either 40 or 48 people at a time. They can be found on the Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, and the Silver Star.

  • Viewliner Dining cars: A single level dining car currently found on select eastern routes. They seat 48 people at a time. Currently only one prototype is in use. However Amtrak has 25 new dining cars currently on order and they should start entering service in 2013. At present, it can be found only on the Lake Shore Limited.

  • Diner-Lite car: This is a converted single level cafe, which has been updated to perform a dual role of dining car and cafe car similar to the CCC. Unlike the CCC however, the Diner-Lite does not have a full kitchen. There is no grill or standard ovens in this car, so no food can be cooked to order. Everything is reheated in a convection oven or a steam table. For this reason, these cars use a slightly modified menu from the sample linked to below. They can be found on the Cardinal where it performs its dual role of cafe & diner. Finally they serve as a cafe car on the Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, and Silver Star.

Dining Car Food: Amtrak has posted their latest Dining Car menus on-line here. The special menus for the Texas Eagle and the City of New Orleans, which use the CCC, can be found here. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required; it can be downloaded free here. The listed prices are subject to change of course. Each train has its own menu; however many of the items are similar from train to train. In an effort to provide some additional variety for those traveling on multiple train Amtrak relies on the Market Place Special, the Seafood Selection, and other specials for lunch & breakfast to provide some variety for those on multi-day trips.

The Coast Starlight also offers a special dining experience in the Pacific Parlour cars that are found exclusively on this route. This car is available only to sleeping car passengers and is setup as a half lounge/half dining car. Seating is very limited for the meals, typically around 10 to 12 people per meal, so make your reservations early! But it is well worth the effort, as the meals served are very different from Amtrak's traditional dining cars. The northbound menu, the southbound menu, and the special bar menu.

Typical Hours of Service (may vary depending on route):

Dining Car
Breakfast: 6:30am-9:30am (board by 9:00am)
Lunch: 11:30am-2:30pm (board by 2:00pm)
Dinner: 5:00pm-9:00pm (board by 8:30pm)
Lounge
6:30am-Midnight (most routes; attendant closes periodically for breaks)

Snacks, etc.: Almost all Amtrak trains have a Snack Bar with typical snack bar food such as sandwiches, drinks, candy, and so on. The national cafe menu can be found here. The national menu is used by most long distance trains. Additional menus for short haul/corridor services can be found by selecting your route from the route listing page found here and then clicking the appropriate link on the page. Prices are also subject to change of course.

You can also bring your own food aboard. However, you may not consume your brought-aboard food in the dining car or lounge car -- only at your seat or in your sleeping compartment (this is not just policy; federal regulations apply). There is room for a small ice chest/cooler between coach seats; this will save quite a bit on drinks and food; but remember that you have to carry it around with you when off the train.

Soft drinks are sometimes cheaper in depot vending machines than in the lounge car, so be alert for the longer stops with correct change (do not detrain at the short stops!). Lounge attendants will sometimes give you a little of their limited supply of ice -- if you ask nicely (i.e., beg well). Bottled spring or drinking water is nice to have and will often taste much better than Amtrak's tap water, and the bottle will be convenient to have at your seat. Sleeping car passengers are provided with complimentary bottled water that should be found in your room when you board. Additional bottles can usually be obtained from your attendant. For those who enjoy an occasional glass of wine and are traveling by sleeper, take a corkscrew and your own bottle of wine. And everyone should bring along some non-perishable munchies as well for those late night, or just about anytime, snacks.

If you are traveling during the busier holidays (e.g., Christmas or Thanksgiving) on trains such as the Northeast Regional or California corridors, then certainly consider bringing your own food with you. The lines for the snack bar can be very long and the wait can be 30 minutes or more.

Special Meals/Diets: With 72 hours advance notice, some Amtrak trains can accommodate certain dietary needs, including kosher and vegan meals (there is always a vegetarian selection on the regular menu), as well as reduced-sodium or reduced-cholesterol selections. Such meals are pre-plated prior to train departure and held until serving. More details can be found on Amtrak's Special Dietary Requirements portion of their general page about meals. Special meals cannot be provided on all trains, nor on connecting Amtrak Thruway buses, nor on buses substituting for trains when such substitution is required. Check with Amtrak for the more specific information.

Wine Tastings: Selected trains also offer wine tastings to those traveling in sleepers. The Empire Builder does it on the second day of travel in the dining car. Your sleeping car attendant will come around with a sign up list. The current menu describing the cheeses and the wines can be found here. The Coast Starlight holds one each afternoon in the Pacific Parlour car and again, reservations are required. The current menu for this can be found here.

The Auto Train does a less formal wine tasting prior to departure in the cafe car and is open to all. On busy trains it can be a bit of a free for all, and seating is limited so you may wish to just bring things back to your room. The Lake Shore Limited also holds a less formal wine tasting for those leaving Chicago going eastbound only. There is no wine tasting for westbound passengers.

Smoking: Amtrak eliminated smoking on board all Amtrak trains other than designated areas on the Auto Train. Occasional longer "smoking stops" on overnight trains will be announced (except during sleep time at night). Persons caught smoking on a non-smoking train will be at least threatened with expulsion at the next stop -- and some conductors we know will give no warnings.

The indoors area of all Amtrak Stations and all dedicated Amtrak "Thruway" buses are also non-smoking.

First aid: First aid kits with all the routine items can be found in most drug stores for less than $5.00. The train crew has first aid materials too, but you may wish to take a small kit for those little cuts or bruises that you don't want to make a big deal about.

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Amtrak People



Amtrak People

Service and Train Crews: The Amtrak personnel are divided into Service Crew (also called OBS for On Board Service) and Train Crew.

  • The service crew includes Car Attendants (not called "porters" please), Snack Bar Attendant, Lead Service Attendant (LSA; head waiter in dining car, and in charge of all service crew members), Dining Car Chefs, and Dining Car Attendants (waiters). Service crew members generally ride the train from origin to destination.

  • Operating crew includes the Conductor, Assistant Conductors, and the engine crew. Train crew will change about every 6-8 hours on long distance routes. With very few exceptions all crew members are Amtrak employees. The Conductor is in overall charge of the train.

Station Personnel: The Amtrak personnel are divided into Ticket Agents, Lounge Attendants, Gate Agents, and Redcaps. Not all stations have employees in all positions and some stations are totally unstaffed.

  • Ticket Agents do exactly as implied by their name, they assist with making reservations and issuing eTickets/Tickets.

  • Lounge Attendants staff the Club Acela's and the Metropolitan lounges in some of Amtrak's busiest stations. In addition to granting access to the lounge to those entitled to enter, they are also fully trained ticket agents. This means that they can also assist with reservations and changes to reservations. Note: They are not setup to handle cash, so any needed payments must be made by credit card.

  • Gate Agents typically found only at the larger/busier stations control access to the tracks & platforms. They open the gate doors, reverse escalators, and check that you are ticketed for that train.

  • Redcaps assist with luggage, as well as those with special needs such as wheelchair service. One is not required to tip for their services, but it is generally accepted that one will indeed do so.


Tipping

General Guidelines: Tipping is NOT required, but is considered correct for the service crew personnel on the train. Recommendations: Snack bar attendant: roughly 10%. Dining car: 15% of menu prices (sleeping car passengers may want to note this when ordering their meals). Coaches: the consensus is that in most cases tips are not necessary, but if special service is given, the guidelines for a sleeping car attendant apply. Sleepers: See the next section. Operating crew is never to be tipped.

Tipping a Sleeping Car Attendant: The sleeping car attendant that will greet you when you board the train will be with you throughout your journey and will be changing your room configuration at least twice a day, and performing other services, so it behooves you to get on their best side -- and they on yours. Here are your options for tipping a Sleeping Car Attendant:
  1. Some people recommend tipping the attendant at the first opportunity -- say $20 for what will be a 2 night trip. The idea here is to "pay" for a good level of service up front, to possibly give you a leg up on other passengers, so to speak.
  2. Others say one should wait until the trip is over and tip according to the level of service provided -- if for example you hardly ever saw the attendant and they did nothing much for you beyond the absolute minimum, then no tip or a very small one is appropriate.
  3. Others suggest tipping the attendant in the morning if the service over the past day or part of day has been satisfactory or better. $5-$10 is appropriate.
  4. Others (yes. there are some) suggest that Amtrak Sleeping Car attendants are not at all badly paid for their hours of service and thus should not needed to be tipped at all.

You could pick any of the options above and not be "wrong".

Personally, we believe tipping is appropriate, and don't recommend the fourth option. We go with the second one -- tip at the end according to level of service. For reasonable service for (say) 2 nights for a couple in a Roomette, we would tip $20. This is probably the most popular option of those above -- though many people just never even think of tipping the attendant.

We also go out of our way to be friendly to the attendants and helpful to them in whatever way we can -- basically to treat them well. Our experience has been that a big smile and friendly greeting gets one that little extra without any need to promise compensation up front.

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Photos & Electrical



Photography, Electricity, and Electronics

Photography: It is fun to record the scenery that you travel through, but it’s not easy to take pictures through the heavy-weight safety windows of an Amtrak train. Glare is a serious problem. Here are some hints from photographers:

  • Technique (focus & glare): Whenever taking pictures out a window, you'll want to either manually set the focus to infinity, or simulate it by blocking one of the auto-focus sensors (use tape or an agile finger). This works great on most 35mm cameras. However many digital cameras have auto-focus systems which do not use sensors, but rather uses image analysis to determine when the image is in focus. In this case, it is vital that your camera is not focusing on the reflections in the glass. To do this, you'll need to either press the camera right up against the glass (careful if your camera's lens moves while taking the picture), or shield the camera from reflections with a dark material (paper, fabric, etc.). If your camera can use a polarizing filter, it will greatly reduce glare.

  • Film: Especially when you're moving fast, you'll need higher-speed film (400, 800, etc). This can make your shots grainier, but that only becomes a problem if you plan on enlarging your photos. For digital cameras, look for the option that allows you to adjust your shutter speed settings.

  • Camera: In order to minimize blur, you'll need to maximize the shutter speed by finding a camera with a lens that lets in a lot of light quickly. We look for a camera with a big aperture (i.e., small F-stop number), f2.8 or better if possible. Set the exposure times as short as possible, 1/250th of a second or faster. Be cautious about using zoom as it reduces the amount of light coming through your lens, thereby increasing your exposure time and creating more blur.

  • If you have an integral flash attachment, turn it off or cover it so that it doesn't ruin a picture by reflection.

  • To give your pictures perspective, try to include the head or tail of the train in your pictures whenever possible. Although please don't open any doors or windows and lean out of the car to do so. Take the photo instead while the train is on a curve. The size and scope of a mountain gorge is made much more understandable if an Amtrak locomotive is in the picture.

Electric items: Electric outlets exist in several places on Amtrak trains.

  • Superliner and Viewliner sleepers have one outlet in each Roomette (near the attendant call button), two in Bedrooms and the Accessible Bedrooms (near the call button and over the sink).

  • Most Superliner coaches have now been retrofitted with two outlets at every seat. There may still be a couple of cars running around that don't have outlets at every seat. In that case you can ask to move to another car, but failing that you can usually find outlets low on the baseboard about midway between the car end and the center stairs on the stairway side around seats 19 & 55, but these are often difficult to find and blocked by the seats.

  • Public restrooms in all cars also have an outlet.

  • Most Superliner lounge cars have been retrofitted with outlets at every table and near every other seat just below the windows. Should you find a car that has not been retrofitted, then an electric outlet can be found on the upper level in the service area next to the stairway, which may or may not be accessible to passengers.

  • Amfleet I and II, including all Business Class cars, have been upgraded to provide electric outlets at every pair of seats in addition to the original ones in the baseboard.

  • Acela Express cars have electric outlets at every pair of seats, and at single seats in First Class.

Other Electrical Info: Superliner II and Viewliner sleeping cars have protruding outlets that accept just about anything, but many chargers won't fit the recessed outlet on the older Superliner I cars, so bring a short 3-prong extension cord or a surge protector with you. The extension cord/surge protector will be useful in all situations where you need to connect more than one item. Also we've found that occasionally the power may not be sufficient to properly activate some chargers, so spare batteries are suggested.

Train power is not exactly stable, so you may want to make sure that your battery is fully charged before doing any major work on a laptop computer. You may wish also to keep your other electronics fully charged whenever possible in case there is a loss of power.

Finally, a surge protector isn't actually needed to protect your equipment as unlike commercial power, there are no surges. But again, it does come in handy if you have more than one item to plug in like many travelers do today.

WiFi: Many people today ask about WiFi. Amtrak has been responding to that demand, but they still have a ways to go. At present Amtrak is using a cell based WiFi system that generally works well on trains in the northeast and on other short haul corridors in California and the Northwest. Please don't count on it always working, there are occasional problems. And it is not capable of streaming video and music. Its use is geared towards email service and web browsing only.

Unfortunately because cellular data signals along the runs of the long distance trains come and go, this system has proven to be ineffective for the long distance trains after testing. Last we knew, the Pacific Parlour Cars on the Coast Starlight still had the system installed and turned on. But the signal is only found in the PPC and service comes and goes, especially when the train is in the mountains. Amtrak is currenlty evaluating other possible technologies to use for the long distance trains, but no timeline for providing any service has been forthcoming.

Scanner Radios: If you're really serious about rail travel, consider purchasing a portable scanner radio (about $100 and up). Check our Scanner Radios section for more info.

GPS: Learn about the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver on a train on our GPS Train Tracking page.

In addition to dedicated GPS receivers, many Smart Phones today are also capable of GPS functions and can be used to track your position as well as approximate speeds. Most phones have a basic map function that will work as long as one has a data signal, meaning on the long distance trains you're going to have problems using such an App. So we suggest looking for an App that will allow one to download maps ahead of time to the phone. As an iPhone owner, my favorite for the iPhone is MotionX GPS for 99 cents. A free version is also available, but it is more limited and it only allows for 1 map file to be downloaded.

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Miscellaneous



Miscellaneous Tips

Notes From All Over: You may wish to take with you:

  • Some paper towels and window cleaner

  • Some Duct Tape to fasten a loose part or whatever

  • A small flashlight to help find your missing things that somehow have crawled under your seat.

  • One or two short lengths of 16 or 18 gauge wire may come in handy (e.g., to wire shut a broken sleeping compartment door lock at night).

  • A few large rubber bands and assorted safety pins which come in handy for all sorts of things

On some Superliner coaches the original leg rest supports have been replaced with a simple support that swings down underneath. Some find that this does not raise high enough at night. Carry something to put under the support to prop it up. A couple of thick paperbacks will do, and provide reading material too.

If you want to change clothes each day, pack a full change as a bundle that you can pull out together without needing to search for it.

Animals are not permitted on Amtrak trains, buses or in stations, with the exception of trained service animals accompanying passengers with disabilities. See Animals On board on the Amtrak web site.

Tips about Books: Here are some books with good information about traveling by Amtrak travel:

  • USA by Rail reveals in comprehensive and entertaining style the unique pleasures of North American passenger trains. The author traveled over 70,000 miles throughout the United States and Canada to cover every destination and route, and the book has all the practical information needed to make reservations, purchase tickets and find your way about train stations. It also contains invaluable advice for sightseeing, transport and accommodation in many major cities along the way. For purchase information see: USA by Rail.

  • Rail Ventures, The Comprehensive Guide to Train Travel in North America contains minute-by-minute route logs, maps and photos, station info, where to stay info, and many Traveler's Tips. The price will be about $14.95US or $19.95CAN if you can find it new, or less if used. This book is out of print but is occasionally available on Amazon.com.

  • AMTRAKing-- A Guide to Enjoyable Train Travel, by Mauris L. Emeka, an Amtrak on-board service attendant from 1989 to 1998. It's very informative, with lots of good hints and tips, even for veteran Amtrak riders. Topics include trip planning, getting the best fare, group travel, eating on the train, keeping fit, sleeping, frequently asked questions, and many other hints to help you enjoy your trip. For how to order, see: AMTRAKing.

  • Heart and Soul of the Train, also by Mauris L. Emeka (see above). For how to order, see: Heart and Soul of the Train.

  • All Aboard by Jim Loomis. It's a guide to train travel in the U.S., containing many of the tips here, and much more info. For more about the book and how to order it, see: All Aboard

  • Railfan Timetables by Altamont Press. The concept behind the railfan timetable is to provide a single source of information needed for railfans to enjoy the covered area successfully. These Railfan Timetables provide all track detail for each major railroad, both mainline and branches. The detail includes the railroad radio frequencies, passenger trains on the line, speed limits, station names, mileposts, location of talking detectors, DTC blocks, siding lengths, helper districts, and other info. These timetables are indispensable for the serious railroad fan.

  • Canadian Trackside Guide from Bytown Railroad Society. This publication provides information similar to the Railfan Timetables above, but covers Canadian rail lines (including those used by Amtrak trains). It is available from Bytown Railway Society, PO Box 141, Station A, Ottawa ON K1A 8V1. US$24 postpaid to U.S. addresses. The 2001 edition is up-to-date as of February 18, 2001. For more information contact Paul Bown.

  • Trainweb has a list of other selected books about passenger rail travel, with ordering info and so on.

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Miscellaneous



Miscellaneous Tips

Notes From All Over: You may wish to take with you:

  • Some paper towels and window cleaner

  • Some Duct Tape to fasten a loose part or whatever

  • A small flashlight to help find your missing things that somehow have crawled under your seat.

  • One or two short lengths of 16 or 18 gauge wire may come in handy (e.g., to wire shut a broken sleeping compartment door lock at night).

  • A few large rubber bands and assorted safety pins which come in handy for all sorts of things

On some Superliner coaches the original leg rest supports have been replaced with a simple support that swings down underneath. Some find that this does not raise high enough at night. Carry something to put under the support to prop it up. A couple of thick paperbacks will do, and provide reading material too.

If you want to change clothes each day, pack a full change as a bundle that you can pull out together without needing to search for it.

Animals are not permitted on Amtrak trains, buses or in stations, with the exception of trained service animals accompanying passengers with disabilities. See Animals On board on the Amtrak web site.

Tips about Books: Here are some books with good information about traveling by Amtrak travel:

  • USA by Rail reveals in comprehensive and entertaining style the unique pleasures of North American passenger trains. The author traveled over 70,000 miles throughout the United States and Canada to cover every destination and route, and the book has all the practical information needed to make reservations, purchase tickets and find your way about train stations. It also contains invaluable advice for sightseeing, transport and accommodation in many major cities along the way. For purchase information see: USA by Rail.

  • Rail Ventures, The Comprehensive Guide to Train Travel in North America contains minute-by-minute route logs, maps and photos, station info, where to stay info, and many Traveler's Tips. The price will be about $14.95US or $19.95CAN if you can find it new, or less if used. This book is out of print but is occasionally available on Amazon.com.

  • AMTRAKing-- A Guide to Enjoyable Train Travel, by Mauris L. Emeka, an Amtrak on-board service attendant from 1989 to 1998. It's very informative, with lots of good hints and tips, even for veteran Amtrak riders. Topics include trip planning, getting the best fare, group travel, eating on the train, keeping fit, sleeping, frequently asked questions, and many other hints to help you enjoy your trip. For how to order, see: AMTRAKing.

  • Heart and Soul of the Train, also by Mauris L. Emeka (see above). For how to order, see: Heart and Soul of the Train.

  • All Aboard by Jim Loomis. It's a guide to train travel in the U.S., containing many of the tips here, and much more info. For more about the book and how to order it, see: All Aboard

  • Railfan Timetables by Altamont Press. The concept behind the railfan timetable is to provide a single source of information needed for railfans to enjoy the covered area successfully. These Railfan Timetables provide all track detail for each major railroad, both mainline and branches. The detail includes the railroad radio frequencies, passenger trains on the line, speed limits, station names, mileposts, location of talking detectors, DTC blocks, siding lengths, helper districts, and other info. These timetables are indispensable for the serious railroad fan.

  • Canadian Trackside Guide from Bytown Railroad Society. This publication provides information similar to the Railfan Timetables above, but covers Canadian rail lines (including those used by Amtrak trains). It is available from Bytown Railway Society, PO Box 141, Station A, Ottawa ON K1A 8V1. US$24 postpaid to U.S. addresses. The 2001 edition is up-to-date as of February 18, 2001. For more information contact Paul Bown.

  • Trainweb has a list of other selected books about passenger rail travel, with ordering info and so on.


Amtrak Travel Tips edited by from personal experience and many inputs from OTOL members, Amtrak travelers and Amtrak employees. Particular thanks to former OTOL Leader HaRRy Sutton.


Amtrak does not endorse this page and other associated On Track On Line pages, nor does it sponsor this or any other On Track On Line page. Amtrak sources were used to compile or confirm some of the information here, but this does not represent official Amtrak information, nor is this information endorsed by Amtrak.

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