Amtrak Questions

Wanting to experience something different, a bit of a throwback in time, we’ll be traveling on Amtrak from Denver, CO to Emeryville, CA next week. We spent the extra money for a room that sleeps two, includes meals, has a private toilet, etc. I’m curious, however about showering. There isn’t one in the room itself. I assume there’s one somewhere in the car. True? Is it large enough to dress? What about WiFi? Do these trains have it?

I’m inquiring here as the Amtrak website isn’t clear (at lest to me).

One more thing…if anyone has traveled on Amtrak on a similar-length trip, what can we expect in terms of good experiences vs. less than?


I assume you’re taking the California Zephyr, which is a Superliner. There’s a shower downstairs on the sleeping cars, which is attached to a little room big enough to change in. If you have any questions, every sleeper car has its own attendant, who will introduce themselves to you when you board. They’re super friendly and they’ll help you with anything you need.

Looks like the California Zephyr doesn’t have Wifi yet – they only recently started putting it on West Coast trains.

I recently took Amtrak from Los Angeles to New York City and back, and enjoyed the trip a lot. You’ll get to see a lot of beautiful countryside and maybe meet some interesting people on the dining car.

If you have a toilet, you have a bedroom (as opposed to a roomette), and the shower and toilet share the same space. I’ve never ridden in a bedroom, but I understand you have to be kinda careful the first time you flush to make sure you don’t turn the shower on by mistake.

If you feel you need a bit more room, there’s a shower and changing room on the lower level as Dragonblink said.

There are two different styles of “roomette.” One has a toilet but no shower. The other has neither.

You should determine whether your train is a Superliner or a Viewliner.

AFAIK, chances are close to 100% that SanDiegoTim will be on a Superliner rather than a Viewliner.

Because of tunnel clearances in the Northeast Corridor only the single level Viewliners can be used on trains that travel there which leaves the “double-decker” Superliners for the West. The Viewliners can function perfectly well on the western routes, but I’ve never heard of one being used out there (but maybe they are sometimes because of maintenance rotation and so forth).

The Superliners are pretty nice. IMO, if your room is on the upper level you have a better view. ** But**, the Superliners do not have toilets (or showers) in the roomettes so if you have a roomette you have to share both facilities with everyone else on your car. Which means you have to get dressed if you need to hit the head in the middle of the night (kinda a pain–especially if there are two folks in your roomette).

However, you said your room has a toilet so that would indicate you have a “Bedroom” (or larger), and would mean you also have a shower (unless your train is somehow equipped with Viewliner cars which as I said is rare AFAIK).

A multitasking opportunity!

Thanks much.

Don’t hang out in your roomette, especially on the Zephyr. Go sit in the Club Lounge where the windows are bigger and where you’ll meet fellow travelers. Folks come and go from hour to hour, but no one minds if you sit (and share) a table all day. Having a good map of the route, such as DeLorme atlases or even just state highway maps that show the tracks, will help start conversations. From a few miles out of Denver to Glenwood Springs is the most spectacular part, though this time of year (if you’re not delayed by trackwork) the Book Cliffs of southeastern Utah are also quite wonderful.

If you’re lucky. Amtrak employees are not particularly known for their courtesy or attention to detail. Especially towards the end of a trip. Which Denver to Emeryville will be

Perhaps the most important single piece of advice I can think of to offer a first-time rider, especially on an extended/overnight trip, is simply to relax and go with the flow. No two train trips are alike, and chances are that something unexpected will occur. I’ve shared lounge- and dining-car tables with type-a, must-be-in-control-at-all-times people, and I shudder to think of what they will have to spend on therapists to exorcise the memory of the experience. But if you think of your time on the train as an occasion in itself, rather than simply a means to get somewhere you must be, you’re far more likely to enjoy yourself.

One activity that I find enjoyable — bearing in mind that I’m more than a tad odd — is to bring along a scanner radio and listen in on the conversations between the dispatchers and crews. They all seem to know one another, and some of the exchanges have been fascinating. If that sounds interesting, there’s a wealth of information here.

But above all, relax. In the words of a high-school cheer my father (on whom be peace) loved to quote, “We don’t worry / We don’t fret / We will get there / Yet, yet, yet”.

Very true. When you take a train trip in the USA (other than in the Northeast Corridor) it’s best not to think of it as a way to get from point A to point B.

Think of Amtrak as a land cruise. Think Royal Caribbean… not Delta.

I’ve been on several Amtrak trips and have found that the quality of the
crew can vary quite a bit. I haven’t run into anyone that was really bad
but have found the service to range from good to mediocre. The route
you are taking is a spectacular one. I would also recommend hanging
out in the lounge car as you cross Colorado and Donner Pass in California.
Not only are the windows larger but you can see out both sides of the train.
After dark you can’t see much, so you might want to bring something to
read. There are electrical outlets in the compartments if you want to
plug in a lap top or other sort of device to play games or watch movies. Since the dining
car and lounge car are not open 24 hours a day, it’s a not a bad idea to bring
a few things to snack on. Plus the prices in the lounge car can be little steep.
If I remember correctly, there is a small store on
the platform of the Grand Junction, CO station where you can pick up any additional
munchies you may want. Enjoy your trip!

My son and I took Amtrak from California to Texas a few years ago. It was not very pleasant. We first traveled from Oakland to L.A. Not a bad ride; we found a Hotel a short walk from the terminal. The next morning we were on our way. To a Bus. Which we rode for the next 4 hours to another terminal. Boarded another train.

I couldn’t afford a sleeper berth, so we had to tough it out in our seats (which looked to have been on the train since the '50s). Our seats were at the front of the car. The door switch was intermittant, so the doors would randomly open. Each time a Steward came through, they’d reach up and manually close the door by pushing the switch.

What Amtrak does not tell you is that Freight Trains have the right of way. We ended up being delayed by almost 14 hours. I wanted to call ahead, but no one had a cell phone. I tried the Club car, and was told by a steward to ask in the Kitchen. I was almost thrown off of the train as a result.

We ended up sitting on a side track for another 5 hours, waiting for a train that was carrying a Circus. A Conductor tried to go through the car, but the rest of the passengers were a little upset at that point; we didn’t see him (or any other Amtrak personnel) again.


Well, I sure hope my my experience isn’t anything like yours. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think many first-time riders realize the bus ride out of LA.

When I get back home on Wednesday of this week I’ll post my opinion.

(Bold added.)

Do you really want the full-on throwback experience? You should book aboard the Amtrak Way-Back Zephyr, their extra-special extra-expensive time machine train trip. Departing Denver, August 2012, and arriving in Emeryville, August 1962. (Why Emeryville?)

Think of the 1963 Twilight Zone episode, Of Late I Think of Cliffordville.

This is actually not true.

Well, at least on paper anyway.

One of the caveats of the Rail Passenger Service Act, which created Amtrak from the stormy messes of the dysfunctional and halfway dead rail industry of the 60s, was that Amtrak trains were to receive priority on the freight roads in exchange for the railroads being relieved of their statutory burden to provide (unprofitable) passenger service.

In practicality it’s much like you’ve seen. Although the freight roads have made significant strides in improving on-time performance of Amtrak trains on their rails. Though some are much more accommodating than others… Union Pacific was particularly notorious for delaying Amtrak, before the more recent renaissance of the industry that has allowed for billions of capital investments to improve capacity over the last 3-4 years.

Another interesting fact: Amtrak pads its schedules (off the Northeast Corridor) by several hours to allow the freight roads time to work their hotshots around the passenger trains.

If there is anything this country really needs, it’s dedicated passenger rail lines. Freight trains may not have right of way on paper, but the reality is endless delays sitting on sidings while the freights blow through. Also, thanks to the Republicans, stimulus money was cut off that would have provided for badly needed track replacements in parts of the country. Across the northern tier, there are long stretches where the trains must crawl along because the tracks were wiped out in the flooding a couple of years ago and the temporary track is still in place. It’s slow, rough going for many miles. Our trip was pleasant enough, but we had a sleeper with an en suite bathroom/shower. The train was in need of a better maintenance program, however. Food was included with our fare, and it was surprisingly good.

I’m not intimately familiar with the RPSA, but my understanding is that Amtrak has priority only during the time the train is scheduled to be on the line; if it falls too far behind schedule, it loses that priority.

Example: in May, a westbound Empire Builder was hit by a car at an uncontrolled crossing in North Dakota (and yes, I have the collider and collidee right). The train was delayed a couple of hours for investigations by the various authorities, then allowed to proceed. But by the time it reached its destination, it was more than five hours late because it had to defer to freight traffic.

And as IAmNotSpartacus said, some lines are better than others at recognizing Amtrak’s priority. It’s no coincidence that the Coast Starlight, which operates primarily over Union Pacific tracks, is (or at least used to be) known as the Coast Starlate.

Had a couple of great experiences with Amtrak. Did the whole-family-seeing-the-country thing a few years ago. Daughter just took the… Hiawatha?.. from Portland to Chicago, and loved it.

Best part was the people. The Amtrak people were really helpful and the random travelers were delightfully random. Ended up in an observation car full of Amish (and two non-Amish ladies playing homemade guitars). Chatty folks, those train-ridin’ Amish…

Cost a little more than plane tickets, but honestly I would’ve paid twice as much for the experience.

HEY!!! This ain’t no commie country like Japan or Germany, we gots Commerce to attend to. There’s money to be made, ya know! The Invisible Hand runs the switch-house, donchaknow, and that’s how we like it, dammit!!