THE magazine of railroading

SEARCH TRAINSMAG.COM

Enter keywords or a search phrase below:

Amtrak Rail Pass and Long-Distance Trips

1960 views
16 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 9,116 posts
Amtrak Rail Pass and Long-Distance Trips
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Sunday, April 09, 2017 8:14 PM

I'm thinking about doing an Amtrak Rail Pass trip -

https://www.amtrak.com/take-the-trains-across-america-with-usa-rail-pass 

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1-i12483-k6052854-Using_USA_Rail_Pass_as_well_as_possible-Train_Travel.html 

http://travelhag.com/2013/03/18/travel-cheap-by-rail-amtraks-rail-pass/ 

- across the USA sometime this year, and have done a little research.  Some people love it (note this is from 2011, though some of the comments are quite recent):

http://www.technomadia.com/2011/07/traveling-via-amtrak-rail-pass/ 

This one is from 2010: 

http://gypsynester.com/amtrak-15-day-rail-pass-live-blog-week-one/ 

http://gypsynester.com/amtrak-15-day-rail-pass-live-blog-week-two/ 

Also see these reviews/ guides: http://dereklow.co/across-the-usa-by-train-for-just-213/ 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/travel/08amtrak.html 

http://www.hipstercrite.com/2015/01/28/tips-tricks-and-hacks-to-riding-the-train/ 

http://www.wikihow.com/Circumnavigate-the-United-States-in-15-Days-on-a-U.S.A.-Rail-Pass 

A mixed review: http://gothamist.com/2014/03/25/riding_amtrak_cross-country_6_myths.php#photo-1 

And some really didn't like it:  

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-fadden/what-train-across-us-for-213-doesnt-tell-you_b_8930832.html 

I thought his photo under this heading was a dash of cold water in the face (literally):

"I’ve done the route from Denver to Philadelphia. Here, I’ll show you what it looks like."

Here's another one - warning, "very adult" R-rated language: https://medium.com/@Hipstercrite/you-can-train-across-the-usa-for-213-but-you-ll-lose-your-mind-275d6421f550 

A bunch of mixed reviews (some bad language in here, too):

http://ask.metafilter.com/220980/Cross-country-train-trip-USA-sleeper-or-no 

What do our Forum members (CShaveRR, Deggesty, others ?) who've done similar trips think of it ? 

- PDN. 

P.S. - I'm going to be editing this to add/ fix some things for about the next half-hour or so.

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    December, 2007
  • From: Greendale, WI
  • 34 posts
Posted by saguaro on Sunday, April 09, 2017 9:29 PM

Paul:

I have taken many long-distance trips on Amtrak and enjoyed the vast majority of them. I took the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Flagstaff three weeks ago. But I like trains and grew up traveling on trains. So, if you also like trains and have traveled on trains before, I don't think you will be disappointed. I think you will have a wonderful time. I find the food to be pretty good most of the time and I love meeting people in the dining car -- one of my favorite experiences on a long-distance train. I will say that I have a hard time sleeping well in the coach seats these days -- I really need a sleeper. I am not as young as I once was. But as a couple of the articles mentioned, you can often upgrade to a sleeper on board. You can also space out your segments so you get off the train regularly to stay at a hotel.

If you have not traveled long distance on a train before, and you are not enamoured of trains like many of us on these forums, you may find 15 days of train travel to be simply too long. It might be better to try one long-distance train first to see how you like it.

ST

  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: Northern New York
  • 16,842 posts
Posted by tree68 on Sunday, April 09, 2017 9:33 PM

I've considered this type of trip.  Being able to schedule at will would be a nice feature, though.  Or go "standby," go to the station and see if there's a seat or better.

It would take some planning - where do I want to go, and how long do I want to spend there, etc.

LarryWhistling
Resident Microferroequinologist (at least at my house) 
Everyone goes home; Safety begins with you
My Opinion. Standard Disclaimers Apply. No Expiration Date
Come ride the rails with me!
There's one thing about humility - the moment you think you've got it, you've lost it...

  • Member since
    July, 2011
  • 128 posts
Posted by runnerdude48 on Monday, April 10, 2017 11:33 AM

Paul,

My advice concerning the rail pass is to pass on it (pun intended).  If you want to travel across the country by train, pick a route, save your money and do it in a sleeper.  And, don't pay any attention to those glittering travel promos and articles you see.  They are generally not a true reflection of what you will experience.  I have never travelled on a rail pass but I have travelled every Amtrak and VIA long distance route and all the corridor and short distance routes except one.  Amtrak travel can be good but never wonderful and most likely bad.  Travelling in coach only intensifies the bad because you are stuck on the train for such a long period of time.  I met a guy on a train once, believe it was the SW Chief.  He was travelling on a rail pass.  He had aready done a couple of routes and was having second thoughts about continuing.  Smelly, rude people, crying kids, expensive, unhealthy and sometimes horrible food in the cafe car and filthy restrooms had caused him to reconsider.  When I saw him last in CUS I bought him a beer and he told me that he was going to find a hotel room for the night and then fly home.  He couldn't take it any longer.  Not that sleeper travel is that comfortable especially at night and when trying to get dressed in the 6 inches between the edge of the bed and the door, but at least you have the privacy that saves your sanity.  Also, the attendents in the sleepers make a better effort of keeping things cleaner than the coach attendents.  Some advice I always give people who are thinking of Amtrak long distance travel is to pack more patience than clothes, go with an outsized sense of humor, don't expect to be treated as you would be on a cruise ship, expect the dining car to be an experience rather than a place to get satisfying and healthy nourishment and finally, save yourself the stress and never, ever try to make a same day connection in Chicago.  If you follow those rules you may just arrive at your destination with your sanity intact.  Oh, and if you are married, leave the spouse at home.  With that said, enjoy your trip.

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • 722 posts
Posted by NKP guy on Monday, April 10, 2017 4:52 PM

Yes  You nailed it, runnerdude48, especially your last few points!

  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • 903 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 1:19 AM

Back in the '80's & ‘90’s, I took some long trips using the All Aboard America fare. Chicago to New York (slumber coach) NYC to Philly, To Atlantic City, & return to Philly, Overnight in Philly, Silver Meteor (slumber coach) to Miami, over night in Miami, Sunset Limited, Economy sleeper (ES) to LA, thruway bus to Bakersfield, San Joaquin to Stockton, thruway bus to San Jose, Two days in San Jose (where my Brother lived), Coast Starlight (ES) to Portland, Empire Builder (28) (ES) to Chicago. I will say that one should take something to read on the Sunset as west Texas is miles and miles of boring scenery. Overall, I think I took about ten of these trips. The following is one where I had two unpleasant experiences. 

In October of ’96 when Amtrak proposed to discontinue the Pioneer and the Desert Wind, I planned and took a long trip to the western US. Taking the Pioneer from Chicago thru Denver (ES) to Seattle, ( 1 night in a motel) thence on up to Vancouver (coach). (Stopover #1). Spent 3 nights there doing sightseeing. Then bus back to Seattle, the Coast Starlight (ES) to Emeryville, then back to Denver (ES) on the CZ. Overnight in motel (Stopover #2) then on the Desert Wind (ES) where I originally planned to take a Thruway Bus from Bastow to Bakersfield, San Joaquin to Stockton, thruway to San Jose. [see below for what actually occurred] (Again spent the night with my brother) Coast Starlight (C) to LA, and Texas Eagle to Chicago (ES LA to El Paso, then coach) to Chicago (Sleeper space all sold out). You were allowed three breaks in the trip, and if one train arrived after the next train left on a segment, it didn't count as a stopover. This trip was 15 nights, 2767 miles and the All Aboard America fare was $258.00 and the sleepers cost $862.00. I will say it was good to get home and I think the wife missed me.

The Desert Wind was running about three hours late (and I would not make my Thruway connection) and after discussions with the train Chief (remember them) he told me to stay on the train to LA. So We got into L.A. at about 4:00 PM, I'm handed off to station personnel who give me a voucher for a Southwest Airlines flight to San Jose, put me on a van that takes off like he thinks he's Dale Earnhadrt Sr. down the I-110 at 80 mph and he deposits me at the terminal for SWA. I check in and they direct me to a gate where as I get on and before I can get seated, they close the door behind me. We get into San Jose about two hours before the planned Thruway bus would have arrived. Call my brother and tell him where to pick me up.

 

I found that it does take patience and an open mind dealing with others and I was able to accept what came. Two experiences: On the Pioneer, the sleeper was next to the locomotive and I and another railfan wanted to look forward from the front car door. But when we got to talking, the “gentleman” in the end (E) Bedroom came out of his room and told us he wanted quiet. So we shut up. On another trip there was a feud going on between the Crew Chief and a car attendant. Crew chief was picking on the CA and provoking her. (Both female). I sympathized with the CA and gave her my name and contact info and told her that she could contact me if push came to shove and she got “written up”. Its not good when crews fight. Otherwise, I’ve had good experiences.

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 8,122 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 11:21 AM

I have long appreciated the Amtrak Railpass policy (and the North Amrica Railpass policy before it). Since I am retired (more than ten years now) it is, perhaps, easier for me to plan ahead than it is for most people. For several reasons, I always have sleeper space for any travel that is overnight (and a bedroom, if it is at all possible). I agree that there is very little room for dressing or undressing in what Amtrak calls a "roomette"--but even so that is far, far, superior to traveling coach. For daytime travel, coach or Business class is acceptable, but for extended day travel (e.g., New Orleans to Charlotte) on a long distance train, I ask for a roomette where such may be available.

Being a memeber of the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, I call that number, and make my reservations through it. Even if you travel occasionally only, I believe it is better to talk with someone and not make the reservations on line (I do check on what is available before calling). When you call Julie, tell her, as soon as possible, "Something else."

Last night, I returned from an almost two week trip back east and south, which I enjoyed greatly. I did have to make two 250 mile legs by bus because there has been no rail passenger service to my college city since 1969, and I no longer drive. As I have said in other posts, Greyhound brags on its legroom--but they must be comparing their legroom with that available on airplanes.

As to standing at the end of a Superliner car and looking ahead over the engine, at no time should one make loud noises in an aisle--and Bedroom E is in the center of the car, and not at the end. Bedroom A, being at the end is slightly smaller than B through E because of its location. In the last month of the operation of the Pioneer, my wife and I took avantage of that view., standing between the two roomettes at the end of the car. I doubt that it is at all possible to have such a view now, since the first car behind the baggage car now is usualy the car with accommodations for the onboard service crew and a space for the train crew--with roomettes for passengers (I made one trip from Chicago to Salt Lake City in one of those roomettes).

Johnny

  • Member since
    June, 2001
  • From: Lombard (west of Chicago), Illinois
  • 12,850 posts
Posted by CShaveRR on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 12:07 PM

I traveled east on various rail passes many years ago.  They were interesting and informative trips.  I was just taking to Pat about one experience on the pass:  on one trip (1972?) I had upgraded to Metroclub for Washington to New York, and the seat I was in was double-booked.  I kept the seat, thank you.  Nobody attempted to drag me off the train.

More recently, the trips we've taken by train have been strict orign-destination pairs.  I probably could have saved money by getting a pass, but in every case we had an open-ended return...we just didn't know how long we'd need (or want) to stay.

The rest is just an assesment of travel by train.  We both like it.  The lateness issue we suffered on our most recent trip was more an inconvenience than an aggravation.  With our roomette accommodations on the return, we got an extra meal out of the deal, and as I've said before, I actually appreciated the chance to go through certain areas in daylight that would have been slept through otherwise. I'm still logging sightings from that part of the trip!

Carl

Railroader Emeritus (practiced railroading for 46 years--and in 2010 I finally got it right!)

CAACSCOCOM--I don't want to behave improperly, so I just won't behave at all. (SM)

  • Member since
    March, 2013
  • 287 posts
Posted by CJtrainguy on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 12:47 PM

In the past 1.5 years I've been blessed to be able to cross the US coast to coast on train, both directions. The Capitol Limited Chicago - Washington, DC, NE Corridor service Washington, DC - New York, the Lake Shore Limited New York - Chicago, the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited to Los Angeles, the Southwest Chief Los Angeles - Chicago. 

There were some delays along the way. The Texas Eagle was being detoured in Illinois and quite late into Chicago, but I still made my connection to the Capitol Limited. The Lake Shore Limited was 7 hours late into Chicago after it got stuck behind a broken down freight train during the night. But my friends in Chicago graciously made the lunch a dinner and life was good.

Some of the trains got to their destination early. Yay!

I did all the travel in coach and slept fine (Yes, I'm over 60), just like when much younger and spent summers train hiking around Europe.

I met interesting people in the dining car and elsewhere on the train (including the couple who graciously lent me a charger for my computer when I realized I'd left home without it).

I'm ready to go again. I've driven long distances by car and find I get to where I'm going without having seen anything. On the train I was able to see the world around, enjoy it and relax. Even got work done while traveling. 

I pack light (use a backpack for my stuff). The dining car and café kept me well fed, although I always pack some snacks for the road just in case.

Riding the Lake Shore Limited out of New York along the Hudson (sit on left side of train) was a wonderful experience. Great views of the river. Rivals riding the train along the Rhine in Germany.

Look forward to the next time I can hop a train and log some more miles.

  • Member since
    February, 2017
  • 53 posts
Posted by writesong on Friday, April 14, 2017 6:00 AM

Paul_D_North_Jr

What do our Forum members (CShaveRR, Deggesty, others ?) who've done similar trips think of it ? 

- PDN. 

 
Mr. North, Et Alii:
 
I've ridden on Amtrak numerous times and I love it!
 
I've never used a Rail Pass and don't know anything about them.
 
Having ridden Coach the first couple of times, I now always reserve a Sleeper compartment.
 
A change of clothes is probably all you need, plus maybe a suit and tie if you need to dress up when you get to your destination.
 
Yes, take your computer, your cell phone, and a camera.
 
No matter where I go, I always have my guitar with me, along with a spiral bound book of New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzles.
 
No, even though other passengers have requested it, I don't do any performing in the Sleeper Car.
 
However, other passengers have enjoyed hearing me perform in the Lounge Car.
 
Sleeper Car passengers have their meals included, and when viewing the passing scenery while enjoying a steak in the dining car, you might wonder why there's no background theme music for this Western movie that you are the star of.
 
In my Sleeper Car compartment, I sleep like a baby.
 
Aaaah! 
John Robert Mallernee, Ashley Valley Shadows, Vernal, Utah 84078
  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 2,425 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Sunday, April 16, 2017 7:17 AM

I would not ride more than 7 hours in an Amtrak coach.    Get a sleeper for cross country trips AND if it is more than one overnight, you should seriously consider a Delux bedroom with toilet and shower included.    Most people that ride the train are slobs when it comes to restroom maintenence.    Even worse most folks in long distance coach.......well your going to experence first hand how different folks interpret the phrase "good parenting".     Some Parents just want to be friends with their kids vs. applying any discipline to them.

  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • 903 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Sunday, April 16, 2017 5:14 PM

writesong
In my Sleeper Car compartment, I sleep like a baby.   Aaaah! 

Does that mean you tossed and turned, and cried and screamed?

  • Member since
    February, 2016
  • 431 posts
Posted by JPS1 on Monday, April 17, 2017 9:47 AM
I don't do overnights on any train; I prefer the comfort of a hotel bed.
 
When I want to see some of the best scenery Amtrak has to offer, I fly to a location where I can catch the train for a day run.  Some of the best scenery, by-the-way, is in the winter when snow and ice turn parts of America into a winter wonderland.   
 
On one occasion I flew to Denver, stayed overnight, and then took the California Zephyr to Salt Lake City.  The next morning I flew to San Francisco, stayed two nights, took the Zephyr from Emeryville to Reno, and flew home.  I saw the best of the day time scenery offered by the Zephyr. 
 
Other fly and ride segments have included Jacksonville to Miami, LAX to San Francisco, Portland to Seattle, New Orleans to Houston, El Paso to Tucson, Chicago to Minneapolis, and Atlanta to New Orleans.  Sometimes I book a seat in an economy room, otherwise I go coach class.
 
The best times to go are in the middle of the week during the off peak seasons.  I have gotten better fares and encountered smaller crowds than during the busy seasons.  It makes for a much better experience.
 

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 467 posts
Posted by Sunnyland on Friday, April 21, 2017 11:13 AM

I've traveled on Amtrak's LD trains-Empire Builder from Chi to Portland, stayed overnight because of only 4 hour window between it and Coast Starlight departure to San Fran, but we did make it.  It was Rose Fest weekend so I got to see parade and tour a Navy ship. Also did SW Chief to Williams, AZ and that was very late arriving, we had GCR package and all was taken care of at hotel. And last summer on City of NOLA out of Chicago.  I grew up riding trains like others on here and we always took coach, except for one time when friends and I took a Pullman bedroom. But on Amtrak LD I've only taken the deluxe bedroom or the roomette, remember getting very little sleep on a coach people roaming around all night. You could smoke in lounges then, and that's what people would be doing, or conductor coming thru calling out stops in middle of night.  On a pass, that's the way we rolled, but we didn't care, it was a train ride that got us to our destination.  If you have not rode a train very much, I'd suggest breaking it up into segments, that's a lot of straight riding at one time. Always enjoy meeting new people in the diner, even with parents, they would put someone traveling alone with us.  Have fun and enjoy the trip. 

 

  • Member since
    March, 2013
  • 287 posts
Posted by CJtrainguy on Friday, April 21, 2017 7:47 PM

Sunnyland

But on Amtrak LD I've only taken the deluxe bedroom or the roomette, remember getting very little sleep on a coach people roaming around all night. You could smoke in lounges then, and that's what people would be doing, or conductor coming thru calling out stops in middle of night.  On a pass, that's the way we rolled, but we didn't care, it was a train ride that got us to our destination.  If you have not rode a train very much, I'd suggest breaking it up into segments, that's a lot of straight riding at one time. Always enjoy meeting new people in the diner, even with parents, they would put someone traveling alone with us.  Have fun and enjoy the trip. 

On the Amtrak LD trains I've ridden in the last few years, I've been pretty amazed at how quiet it is in coach even during the day. Seems lots of people like to sleep the whole trip, or just want to kick back and play video games for the duration of the trip. I generally spend most of the daytime hours in the lounge where I can get a table and work, and people are more lively. 

At night, the lights in coach are turned to nightlights and station stops are not called out during the night. Conductor has always announced at some point in the evening that "this is the last PA announcement for the night". Gets pretty quiet during the night and boarding passengers to where they cause the least disruption. Very little roaming during the night.

On the Southwest Chief, I closed my eyes somewhere after leaving Lamar, CO, and when I woke up, the train was standing still outside Kansas City (refueling I believe). Good night's sleep in coach.

Only once did I want to go a couple rows back and tell a woman who was plenty old enough to know better to just shut up… Fortunately, she either finally ran out of words, phone battery or cell coverage.

I've seen plenty of parents traveling with kids or mothers traveling with a couple kids and those have generally all been pretty quiet and behaved. I admire the ingenuity of building snuggly areas of blankets and pillows for the kids in the space of a couple seats.

  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • 903 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Saturday, April 22, 2017 1:03 PM

I'll confirm CJtrainguy's experience. Most overnight trains that I've been on in coach have dimmed the light and suspended the P.A. I've had the crew come through to assist those who were getting off and their seat checks identified them. There was one experience on a day train that were not enjoyable like the time I was on the NYC-Toronto Maple Leaf and there were three foreign couples where the men were inebriated (early in the day) and calling insults ("You drink cow piss") back and forth and their wives were trying to keep them from getting physical and this went on for hours. Only stopped when we got to the border and customs and Immigration personell boarded and had us move out of the coach while the dog searched the car including getting up in the overhead luggage rack. Train crew later told me that a previous days train had been found by Canadian customs to have had contraband and so now the US agents were not going to be shown up by the Canadians. 

  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • 81 posts
Posted by Philly Amtrak Fan on Saturday, April 22, 2017 5:40 PM

I went coast to coast from Philly to California on a 30 day pass. I did the Lake Shore Limited and California Zephyr west and Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited east. I also stopped at Salt Lake City and took a Thruway to the Pacific Surfliner. I didn't like the fact that I couldn't book travel on line and had to wait in a long line when missing my connection off the Capitol Limited.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Trains free email newsletter
NEWS » PHOTOS » VIDEOS » HOT TOPICS & MORE
GET OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Connect with us
ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER

Search the Community