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  #1  
Old 06-01-2009, 10:52 AM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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Traveling on Amtrak train - what to expect? Share experiences.

On the 7th I will be traveling to New York via Amtrak train. It will depart from Indianapolis, stop in Chicago, then I will get on another train to Pittsburgh, and then from there, get on another train to New York. The trip back from NY to IN will be all one straight shot, though. (Why don't they offer the same option traveling TO New York?)

For the Chicago - Pittsburgh portion of the first trip, I reserved a private sleeper room since that will be the longest leg of the journey. However, only Coach seats on the other trains were available. It was particularly frustrating that I couldn't get a private sleeper for the 24 hour straight shot ride back from NY to IN.

All of the trains have "Lounge" cars. I was told by a friend that I could spend a lot of time on those if I got bored sitting in my seat. Supposedly they have outlets for laptops also.

Do the Coach seats have outlets? Some websites I've read said that they do, others that they don't. Some claim that some of them do and some of them don't. What's the story? I would like to be able to use my laptop and plug it in, during the ride.

I will be traveling only with a laptop case and a small duffel bag with some clothes, which I will carry on. Is there anything else I should bring for the ride?

Advice appreciated. Thanks in advance.
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  #2  
Old 06-01-2009, 11:52 AM
Shark Sandwich Shark Sandwich is offline
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I took the Amtrak from Florida to DC once (no stops), and had an individual sleeper cabin for both ends of the trip. Never stayed in coach.

The cabin I had had a pull down bunk bed type thing that came down from the ceiling. You have a little individual TV in there that you can watch while you're laying in bed.

I had a little booth-like table and seats, a toilet, a mirror, and a sink. There were a couple of power outlets in there.

The lounge car was really just a car that had booths in it, and had a cafeteria feel to it, and it also served as the smoking section during the trip. They only let people smoke at certain times during the trip, so when the smoking light is on, the bar car fills up and everyone smokes. Kinda like the glass smoking cages they have in some airports. So if you can't take thick smoke, I'd avoid the bar car during those times.

Other than that it was good. The meal I had in the dining car was good, and the staff was nice. Plus, it was nice to be able to lay down after some drinks and sleep most of the trip.

Last edited by Shark Sandwich; 06-01-2009 at 11:52 AM..
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  #3  
Old 06-01-2009, 12:08 PM
Sigmagirl Sigmagirl is offline
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Take twice as much reading material as you think you will need. Take a pillow if you can; the pillows they give you are the size of postage stamps. Take snacks.

I found the seats to be exceedingly comfortable and could have easily slept there for the night, with a blanket and a real pillow.
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  #4  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:09 PM
even sven even sven is online now
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I did Oakland to New York by coach. It took many days. It was one of the best things I've ever done.

The seats on long distance trains are comfortable and roomy. And long-distance trains are rarely full, so you may well have two seats to yourself, which is not really that far off from having a bed. But I do recall the Chicago-New York leg was more crowded, so maybe you won't be so lucky.

I did spend a lot of time in the lounge car- ours had huge windows so you could watch as you passed through the Rockies. It does feel like a cafeteria, but it's a good change. And I spent a huge amount of time just talking to people. Anyone who goes cross-country is going to be a character, and I met some amazing people- Amish teenagers, a bald guy going to audition for Daddy Warbucks, a filmmaker a still keep in touch with.....all sorts of interesting people.

I'd pack yummy food, a deck of cards, and a washcloth for getting clean in the public bathrooms (it can be done and it's not that bad.)

Anyway, don't worry about it. Long distance train travel is surprisingly relaxing as compared to other forms of travel. Think of it as a cruise without the water. It's a good chance to kick back and enjoy the luxury of doing nothing for a bit.
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  #5  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:16 PM
TheMerchandise TheMerchandise is offline
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I've gone from Chicago to New York City as a straight shot several times. The train schedule you'd want is called the Lakeshore Limited.

Trains east of Chicago have electrical outlets next to the seats... you can plug in a laptop, portable DVD player, whatever.
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  #6  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:21 PM
Kimmy_Gibbler Kimmy_Gibbler is offline
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I've only done short trips on Amtrak: usually Champaign to Chicago and back, once DC to NYC when LaGuardia was snowed in. Unfortunately I don't remember to many of the details. I think on the DC-NYC trip I had an outlet that I could use for my laptop.

What made you choose the train? The last time I priced it, it was roughly as much as air travel, and with a sleeper car ticket, more so. But maybe now it's different? Or you got a deal or something?
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  #7  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:31 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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I'd never taken a train before and I thought it would be an interesting experience. A friend of mine took a train from Portland to Seattle and he made it sound interesting, so I thought I would try this form of travel.
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  #8  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:34 PM
Typo Knig Typo Knig is offline
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Does Amtrak still run a train from Chicago to DC via Indy? I took that once - nice trip. A local historical society put a guide on the train in West Virginia, and the guide gave a lot of great information over the public address system (we were in WV during daylight hours). A good trip, even though I sleep poorly on trains. I should have brought an iPod. Oh wait, it was 1990! Also, and when I arrived in DC I never wanted to sit again. I did get an *astounding* amount of reading done.

Anyway, there are many trains from DC to NYC. You may get a better schedule going Indy to DC to NYC. Assuming your trip is not already cast in stone.
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  #9  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:37 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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It is; I already bought the ticket.
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  #10  
Old 06-01-2009, 01:53 PM
SeaDragonTattoo SeaDragonTattoo is online now
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I took Amtrak from Chicago to somewhere in Missouri a couple years ago. A couple hours past St. Louis, I forget the name of the town (Jackson City?). It was a 9-hour trip, and I took the train both ways. I'm pretty sure it's a shorter-distance type train with no sleepers available.

That train had an option for "Business class" seats for an extra $20. Totally worth every penny! These seats were in the front of the train, in the front third of the cafe car. The seats were like first-class airline seats, with space between them to recline the back and put up the footrest so they were nearly flat. Definitely regular 110v outlets. A $5 voucher for food, and the conductor gave us coffee/tea and newspapers at the beginning of the trip. The location of the seats in the front was in a place no one needed to walk through to get anywhere else, so we were by ourselves (maybe 14 seats) with no one needing to walk through during loading and unloading.

If your coach trains have this Business Class option to upgrade, I highly recommend!
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  #11  
Old 06-01-2009, 03:08 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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I take Amtrak all the time, especially the #3 and #4 Southwest Chief from Chicago to Kansas City. Me and the wife have taken that Pittsburgh to Chicago trip (we got on in Washington) and got a sleeper. A week after we bought our tickets, they called and offered us an upgrade to the Deluxe sleeper for $50 additional.

All sleepers have outlets, as mentioned. But do NOT count on using the outlet in the lounge car. There is one, but it is in a location that is pretty much impossible to use for anything other than charging cell phones. It's located in the upstairs bar area by the stairway down to the snack bar. You can't run a cord to anywhere to sit within 12 feet. So you can charge your laptop there, assuming you don't mind leaving a laptop sitting there. The irony is that the lounge car is where all the Amtrak employees will tell you to go to plug in.

The coach cars are being slowly renovated, and as they are, outlets are installed at every seat. But Amtrak has been putting these cars on their most profitable routes on the east and west coasts. The Southwest Chief doesn't see them except when they are being moved from one are to the other. So you stand a chance of getting one of the older cars. Those only have three outlets per car. Two are on the same side as the stairwell, spaced halfway between the stairwell and the end of the car. The third is directly opposite the stairwell. The problem is that any or all of these outlets may be located behind the seat! There is a gap between the seat and the wall, but it is less than half an inch, and is too small to plug in a regular cord. So you should shop for a cord like this with a flat disc plug. You can rotate the chairs to get access to the outlet by pressing down on the treadle near the aisle. But don't do this while the Amtrak employees can see you, and do NOT rotate any seat around fully. That will piss off the Amtrak employees to no end, and I've seen people thrown off the train for it.

Amtrak used to have TVs in the lounge cars and would play "airline" versions of movies. That ended when they started a program of renting digital players. That program failed, but the movies never came back. So make sure you have your own.

The dining car is a generally enjoyable experience, but a couple of things: The number of employees has been cut in half in recent years all through the train. That means there is one car attendant per two or three cars. And only two wait staff, one cook and one pursuer per dining car. So you might have to wait for your order to be taken or to get your check. But it's not as if you have somewhere else to go. The short staffing means that only half the car might be used at one time, as they tend to alternate ends. And this means that you will sit with strangers, 4 to a table, to minimize how many tables they have to re-set.

Your sleeping car accommodations include meals in the dining car, but not alcoholic beverages or stuff from the snack car. There is coffee and juice in the middle of the car.

I take the train all the time, and for my purposes it's perfect. I don't fit into Southworst's cramped seats and the Amtrak coach seats are roomy and have a ton of legroom. The train goes from downtown to downtown, and for my regular KC to Chicago trip the "90 minutes" of the plane, when you include the trips to and from the airports, the hour you need to arrive early to get a decent seat on Southwest's "Greyhound Bus of the Air", the time to get through security, the time to get your luggage...all together the plane takes five hours compared to the seven hours of the train. And a lot less stress.
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  #12  
Old 06-01-2009, 06:28 PM
2ply 2ply is offline
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I rode Amtrak once a few years ago during a short trip from Michigan to Milwaukee with a change over in Chicago. I rode in coach and the ride was nice, but the first leg was delayed by a couple of hours because commercial freight trains have priority. Instead of getting to Chicago with an hour to spare, I arrived right before my next train was set to depart and had to run from one end of the station to the other, with some business man who has done this before, to catch the next train on time.

I talked to a couple of people displaced by Katrina who were disappointed that FEMA took them to Michigan. I understood why.
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  #13  
Old 06-01-2009, 08:05 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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My wife and I take have taken the Montreal-NYC train at least once a year for a number of years. It's cheap, maybe $115 RT, a third of the air fare. It's slow as hell. I can drive it in 7 hours; the train takes at least 11. On the other hand, you take a good book (or a laptop; there are two outlets at every seat), watch the ice fishing on Lake Champlain; see the scenery, etc. The only good thing about the border crossing is that, unlike the bus (where you have to take everything off the bus and go into the customs shed), the agents get on the train and you stay seated.
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  #14  
Old 06-02-2009, 01:57 AM
Cyberhwk Cyberhwk is offline
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Took a short trip. Trip took longer than expected though I'm not sure why but we were supposed to be in about 9:45 but got in about 11:00. Ride was nice. Crossing the Canadian border was a breeze.

I've heard the horror stories but it sounds like Amtrack has cleaned up their act for the most part.
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  #15  
Old 06-02-2009, 09:53 AM
vertizontal vertizontal is offline
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When riding in coach overnight, I never got any real sleep, because people were constantly going from car to car, so the sound of the doors opening and slamming shut went on all night. I'd recommend getting your seat in the middle, to get some distance away from the doors.
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  #16  
Old 06-02-2009, 10:39 AM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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I recommend it highly. Travelling in a roomette is far superior to the airline experience, in terms of comfort, space, and privacy. There's none of the shoe-sniffing and x-raying searches you get in airports.

However, Amtrak does not run on time. Don't plan to be somewhere close to your scheduled time of arrival, or you could be late. On the other hand, if you run late enough to be on board when the next meal is served, they'll feed you.

We took a small cooler on one trip, so we had our own supply of beer and mixed drinks. You can't do that on a plane.
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  #17  
Old 06-02-2009, 11:20 AM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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I just spoke to a (very nice) rep from Amtrak - she said that there were NO outlets on the coach section! Well, she said there were some, but they were only used for maintenance, and they were located "sporadically." So much for the outlet in coach seat I had hoped for. Is there some kind of battery I could buy that would extend the battery life of my laptop?
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  #18  
Old 06-02-2009, 11:36 AM
zagloba zagloba is offline
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You can get external laptop batteries for this purpose.
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  #19  
Old 06-02-2009, 11:38 AM
Shot From Guns Shot From Guns is offline
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I only use Amtrak when I'm traveling shorter distances (Milwaukee to Chicago, or Milwaukee to Champaign when I'm visiting Dad), but I remember there always or often being outlets to plug into. Can't be more specific than that, but they do at least exist on some trains.
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  #20  
Old 06-02-2009, 12:43 PM
fusoya fusoya is offline
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The only train that runs directly between Indianapolis and New York is the Cardinal, which only runs every other day. Your trip to NYC must be one of its off days. On the bright side, you'll get totally different scenery in each direction (all except for the portion between Philadelphia and NYC, which is the last 80 miles).
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  #21  
Old 06-02-2009, 01:53 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
I just spoke to a (very nice) rep from Amtrak - she said that there were NO outlets on the coach section! Well, she said there were some, but they were only used for maintenance, and they were located "sporadically." So much for the outlet in coach seat I had hoped for. Is there some kind of battery I could buy that would extend the battery life of my laptop?
There are three of them, and they are located exactly here. Their location varies a bit because the spacing of the seats can very a little. For instance, there is usually an outlet beside seat #51, but that is not always the case. As I said above, buy an extension cord with a flat disc plug. If you're getting on at the beginning of a trip, you should be able to get one of the three seats with an outlet, and you'll be ready in case it's hidden behind the seat. I've traded seats with people to get an outlet. Some train attendants are "packers" i.e. they want to get everyone at the front of the car, every seat filled. That makes their job easier when people get on at later stops. If you get up there and it is not one of the renovated cars, find the closest outlet to the seat you have been assigned, and ask the attendant for that one.

I'm traveling to Kansas City tomorrow, and I can document where they are.
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  #22  
Old 06-02-2009, 06:25 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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Just so you know, I actually changed my schedule for convenience. I will now be leaving on the 4th and returning on the 12th. This way, I can take the 50 Cardinal straight from Indianapolis to New York and have a sleeper the whole way, instead of having to take three different trains and wait for hours in Chicago and Pittsburgh. Much more convenient.
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  #23  
Old 06-02-2009, 06:35 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
Just so you know, I actually changed my schedule for convenience. I will now be leaving on the 4th and returning on the 12th. This way, I can take the 50 Cardinal straight from Indianapolis to New York and have a sleeper the whole way, instead of having to take three different trains and wait for hours in Chicago and Pittsburgh. Much more convenient.
Cool. Hopefully it's not going to cost you a whole lot extra.

I'm still going to follow up on this thread about the location of the outlets on the older cars for others who will have to spend time in coach.
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  #24  
Old 06-02-2009, 06:40 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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It cost 105 extra, which in my opinion is a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to take three different trains, and schlep my bags off and on each time. (By the way, I'm amused that the Firefox spellchecker recognizes the word "schlep." Let's see what other Yiddish words it knows. Oy? Nope. Shmuck? Nope. Schmuck? Yup. Putz? Yup. Goyim? Nope.)
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  #25  
Old 06-02-2009, 07:19 PM
Mama Zappa Mama Zappa is offline
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Originally Posted by Argent Towers View Post
It cost 105 extra, which in my opinion is a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to take three different trains, and schlep my bags off and on each time. (By the way, I'm amused that the Firefox spellchecker recognizes the word "schlep." Let's see what other Yiddish words it knows. Oy? Nope. Shmuck? Nope. Schmuck? Yup. Putz? Yup. Goyim? Nope.)
Good idea!

Taking a single train also eliminates the risk of the incoming train being late, and making you miss your connection. I don't know if Amtrak has improved but it was not unheard-of for them to be an hour or three late getting into a station.
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  #26  
Old 06-02-2009, 11:56 PM
Fang Fang is offline
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If you are going by my experience traveling from New York to Baltimore on Sunday, expect your train to break down 5 minutes before your destination, have to wait an extra 3 hours going nowhere without air conditioning (for what was supposed to be a 2.5-hour ride), not have the train crew available to ask questions, and then have to exit the train via stairs, walk across the tracks, and climb back up into another train.

Frankly I would fly.
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  #27  
Old 06-03-2009, 02:06 AM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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If you are going by my experience traveling from New York to Baltimore on Sunday, expect your train to break down 5 minutes before your destination, have to wait an extra 3 hours going nowhere without air conditioning (for what was supposed to be a 2.5-hour ride), not have the train crew available to ask questions, and then have to exit the train via stairs, walk across the tracks, and climb back up into another train.

Frankly I would fly.
I take the trip from Chicago to Kansas City at least twice a month. I'd put it's on-time performance at 85%. I have gotten stuck, one time 30 minutes outside of my destination for 2 hours, and one time because some idiot in a pick-up truck thought he could beat the train. I wish they had better on-time performance, but as they don't control the tracks, and they've been starved for funding compared to the auto industry and the airline industry, they're not doing too bad.
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  #28  
Old 06-03-2009, 09:59 AM
Scuba_Ben Scuba_Ben is offline
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Originally Posted by TheMerchandise View Post
I've gone from Chicago to New York City as a straight shot several times. The train schedule you'd want is called the Lakeshore Limited.
This.

I prefer the train over driving or flying when it's a reasonable option. The seats are MUCH more comfortable, and I can bring more stuff on board.

In April, I had to go to a vendor's site for a week. I found that Amtrak ran out there, and I was happy to pay the extra cost for the train vs. driving my own car. Then I priced the trip, and found that I was saving about 30% on going by train over the private-car milage.
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  #29  
Old 06-03-2009, 10:01 AM
Scuba_Ben Scuba_Ben is offline
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Does Amtrak still run a train from Chicago to DC via Indy?
Cardinal / Hoosier State route runs 3 days a week from Chicago via Indy and DC to NYC.
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  #30  
Old 06-03-2009, 10:00 PM
Hedda Rosa Hedda Rosa is offline
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I am posting this from on board the Lakeshore Limited, waiting for a 9 PM departure from Union Station in Chicago. We are headed to NYC; we are traveling in coach; the trip should take about 20 hours with no changes. We brought a metric ton of crap, 3 huge bags, plus a lot of carryons.

This is a return journey, we took the same train from upstate NY to Chicago last week, again an overnight trip.

As we walked to our car, which is 3rd or 4th from the rear in what looks like a 10 car train we passed 2 cars of sleepers, one lounge car. I didn’t see the dining car so I suppose it is in front of us. The food in the dining car was surprisingly good. Better than an airline. Not high dining but really not bad. Along with the dining car there also is the lounge/snack car – last time we didn’t buy anything there but they have things like bagels, and microwave pizza I think.

The sleeper cars look nice from what I could see through the windows, but there are kind of plastic and industrial, not even as plush or upholstered as you might think of a RV being. Last time I was in a sleeper was in 1996 on a cross-country journey, for that it was totally worth it. For this less than 24 hour trip that we are on tonight, coach is fine. I will say that in the sleeper car you get more personal attention from the train staff and food is included in the price so that may be worth it.

The coach car we are in is one of the newer ones. On the previous trip, I noticed one older car among 6 coach cars in the train. It had noticeably outdated fixtures, bathroom etc. This car we are in now is newer. Very clean, with spacious seats. Each row of seats in this car has two 120 volt outlet plugs - I have my laptop pluged in to post this and also have my iphone charging in the other plug on my side. Across the asile, my husband has his laptop plugged in and my son is watching a movie on an ipod which is also plugged in. (My daughter is singing her ABCs in the seat next to me, waiting for me to finish posting, so I can tell her a story.)

The seats all tilt well back and also have foot rests that flip up (from behind where you calves would be if you were sitting with your feet flat on the floor). With the foot rests flipped up it makes a flatish area that is comfy enough to fold yourself onto for one night. There also are trays, like what you would see on an airplane.


As this discussion said earlier I chose a seat in the middle of the car – we had one on the end last time and the banging of the doors was obnoxious. A few other things I learned from our trip last week:

- Bring a blanket. Even if it is hot outside these things are pretty well air-conditioned.
- They provide each seat with a pillow, just like an airline pillow. But we also brought our own.
- Earplugs. Most people sleep on the overnight trips, so loud talking wasn’t a problem, but I’m sensitive to snoring. An eye mask would have been a good idea too, except I can’t sleep well in one.
- Sleeping pills.
- Bring lots of stuff to do, magazines, books, games, laptop with movies, etc. The train doesn’t have WiFi but I have a Verizon broadband card-thingy and on our trip last week, I never lost access between Syracuse and Buffalo and then somewhere in Indiana to Chicago.
- Bring snacks and water. This may be less of a big deal if you are traveling without little kids.
- Look out the window a lot – this country is huge and beautiful and the experience of seeing farm after filed after town after farm whizz by should not be missed.


I hope that is helpful. The train just started moving so I'm going to post now. If I get bored later and can think of more, I may post again.

Last edited by Hedda Rosa; 06-03-2009 at 10:02 PM..
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  #31  
Old 06-03-2009, 11:15 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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Originally Posted by Mama Zappa View Post
Good idea!

Taking a single train also eliminates the risk of the incoming train being late, and making you miss your connection. I don't know if Amtrak has improved but it was not unheard-of for them to be an hour or three late getting into a station.
The Coast Starlight Express has a rep for being quite late. This is due to the asshats at UP, who insist they have the RoW and thus sidetrack Amtrak at every opportunity.
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  #32  
Old 06-04-2009, 04:15 AM
ruadh ruadh is offline
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I did DC to Tampa last year. I was in the regular coach seats, but they were quite roomy. I had an outlet next to me. My only complaint about the service was that it was too air-conditioned (especially considering that when I boarded the train in DC it was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside). Other than that, enjoyed it. It was significantly cheaper than the cheapest flight, and cheaper than Greyhound even.
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  #33  
Old 06-04-2009, 12:27 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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The Coast Starlight Express has a rep for being quite late. This is due to the asshats at UP, who insist they have the RoW and thus sidetrack Amtrak at every opportunity.
Tragically, they do have the right of way. When Amtrak was set up to save passenger service, that was one of the things Congress gave away that they shouldn't have, and it's been a problem ever since. They need their own track just like in civilized countries.
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  #34  
Old 06-04-2009, 02:32 PM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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You can see a 360 degree view of a sleeper room at the Amtrak website. I'll tell you it looks bigger than it really is. However, I'm 6' 4', and I could stretch out on the upper bunk. On the Cardinal, there's a little toilet in each room. On the California Zephyr, the toilet is down the hall.
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  #35  
Old 06-04-2009, 09:00 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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You can see a 360 degree view of a sleeper room at the Amtrak website. I'll tell you it looks bigger than it really is. However, I'm 6' 4', and I could stretch out on the upper bunk. On the Cardinal, there's a little toilet in each room. On the California Zephyr, the toilet is down the hall.
Yeah, it was definitely shot by the same people who photograph hotel rooms.
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  #36  
Old 06-04-2009, 09:13 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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Tragically, they do have the right of way. When Amtrak was set up to save passenger service, that was one of the things Congress gave away that they shouldn't have, and it's been a problem ever since. They need their own track just like in civilized countries.
They do have the RoW in many cases, but they don;t have to be assholes about it and sideline passenger trains for hours.
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Old 06-05-2009, 09:49 AM
Stan Shmenge Stan Shmenge is offline
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Originally Posted by DrDeth View Post
The Coast Starlight Express has a rep for being quite late. This is due to the asshats at UP, who insist they have the RoW and thus sidetrack Amtrak at every opportunity.
Not any more! I am a railfan and it almost always comes blasting through Glendale within five minutes plus or minus of 8:30. It has like a 95% on time record.

Love Amtrak, haven't had a chance to ride it lately, but I always brought my own food, and was the envy of fellow passengers. Bring a cooler.
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