"To Niagara in a sleeper . . ." Overnight train questions

My Mom and I are planning to go to Charleston, SC, this fall, from Phila. I don’t want her to fly, because she has bronchial asthma and the recirculated air on planes always makes her ill (one person coughs, and she gets pneumonia!). So we are planning to take a train, if Amtrak still exists this fall. It’s about a 12-hour ride, and they offer sleeper cars! I am all excited, because “reality” and I only have a nodding acquaintance with each other. I am planning to sit atop my Vuitton luggage at the train station as the Pullman Porters sing to me and photographers snap my picture for the rotogravure; I hope to step on Rudy Vallee’s face as I exit my upper berth (where I am hiding from the Quail and Ale Club); I want to see honeymooning couples spooning and singing Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

Now. Can anyone who’s actually ridden a sleeper car give me any helpful hints and suggestions?

I can give you some tips next week. Next weekend I’ll be taking a sleeper car from Philly to Detroit.

If you see Cary Grant and Eva-Marie Saint in the club car say “Hello” for me.

My father worked for the railroad for 45 years and I’ve been in a sleeper a few times. The beds aren’t particularly comfortable, but it sure beats trying to sleep in a regular seat. Take some bottled water, as the water from the faucets in your cabin will probably taste a little stale. Contrary to popular belief, sleeping on a train is more a function of exhaustion than the peaceful rocking of the train on the tracks. There are scheduled stops, unscheduled stops, it can be kind of loud. Like I said, you’ll fall asleep because you’re tuckered out, not because the atmosphere is so restive.

My advice, go to the club car and have a few drinks. That’ll sedate you enough so that you really can sleep.

I have no advice regarding the train, since the only train trip I took was from Charleston to Ft. Lauderdale and we had seats. It was horrible. Get the sleeper car.

But you’re coming to Charleston? That’s fabulous. Would you have time to have brunch one day? I’m sure sidle and Slainte and I could find a good place.

I rode two overnight trains in Europe. It was great: board in Kobenhavn, wake up in Frankfurt; board in Hannover, wake up in Paris… :slight_smile: If you have a rail pass, it’s not that much more.

What’s it actually like? On the first train, I was in a compartment with one other person; on the second train, I was in a compartment by myself.

The compartment in the first train was fairly new; things such as the bed folded into the walls. The compartments were staggered above and below the hallway, so that access was up or down steps from the hall. It was a tight fit, especially with a full pack.

The second train was older, all dark wood and brass fittings. There was much more room in this compartment.

The train staff helps you find your compartment when you board, and wakes you by a knock on the door when you’re about an hour form your destination. On the European night trains, they took my passport as ID and returned it at the end of the journey; I’m not sure whether this was due to border crossings or what, because I was travelling within the Shengen zone that has no internal border controls. No idea whether they’d do something like this on a domestic US trip.

I’ve seen it recommended that you never sleep in a compartment by yourself; if you do, you’re vulnerable to robbery. This makes sense, but I didn’t have a problem. Maybe I was lucky.

I’ve never overnighted in the ‘couchette’/ tilting seat type of accommodations… that sounds more like an overnight bus ride.

Washrooms were separate from the sleeping compartments. I showered before and after the train trip; it was easier to only wash on board.

On the first train, I had dinner in the dining car, sharing a table with another traveler. On the second train, I boarded at 23:30 and arrived at the destination fairly early, so I only slept.

Get the upper bunk if possible.

Bring earplugs in case your travelling companion snores. He or she may not know this.

Smelly socks/feet can be a killer in a small compartment.

Of course, that’s Europe. YM will definitely V.

<waking up and checking cellphone’s builtin clock> It’s four in the morning. This must be Belgium… :slight_smile:

I’ve taken a sleeper car from Toronto to Winipeg. Now, I live in Canada, so things may be a little different in the states, but I figure it’d be pretty close. On my trip, I had an upper berth. I had a shower in the car I was sleeping in, so I had to share with all the other people in the car, which wasn’t too bad, really, not a lot of competing for shower time. I had complimentary meals, breakfast lunch and dinner.

Breakfast was a continental setting, muffins, toast, danishes, fruit, etc. They had coffee and tea. Then they did the lunch call at around 11:00 or so, and when you sit down for lunch, you get your ticket for dinner. the ticket specifies when you can go for dinner. So if you eat lunch early, you get dinner early. It keeps everyone from rushing in at the same time I guess.

Dinner and lunch was always very interesting. You meet some of the most fascinating people on trains. It kinda forces you get out and socialize. The food was very good.

Bring lots of books, or a laptop or whatever. I liked it because it was 3 days of not worrying about getting to hotels, or catching planes etc. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.

On my trip, it was mostly older people, 55+ and one lady and her grandkid. I felt like I was on an episode of the Golden Girls. It was a little weird at first, but I quickly adjusted.

At the end of the trip, it’s customary to tip all of the people who have served you. You can either give a few bucks here and there, or give it to the senior staff person to distribute.

I really liked my train trip, and I’m going again this November.

Doggone you, Eve, for embedding that tune in my brain just before a three-day weekend! I had just barely banished “Cheek to Cheek”, which I had been whistling compulsively all week, and now this. Mr. Pug will not be pleased.

" . . . if she knew as much as we know, she’d be heading off for Reno in a year or so . . ." Stop! For the love of God, stop!

Sorry Pug, and thanks to everyone for the tips. I imagine U.S. Amtrak sleepers are not exactly the Orient Express (though I do hope to tell Clive Brook in the observation car, “I am wee-wee of you now,” as we watch Barbara Stanwyck deposit her husband’s body on the tracks and Jack Lemmon climbs into my berth in drag . . . ).

Mom and I will be traveling together, and we’re willing to spend the bucks for as nice a compartment as is available. I think I’d give her the lower berth, because she’s more breakable if she rolls out of it. The bottled water is a good tip, thanks—and we never leave the house without one or two books on us! I imagine bringing our own pillowcases would be wise, as well.

And yes, a Charleston Dopefest would be lovely—but it would have to be non-smoking, due to Mom’s asthma!

Back in the last milenneum, 1988, Mr. Ujest and I took a sleeper train from Detroit to NYC.

Here are our memories:

When the top bunk was in its lowered position, Mr. Ujest could not turn around ( he has very wide shoulders.)

The sleeper cabins are very small. When we saw how small they were we both wanted to sue " North by Northwest" for not depicting compartment size.

The toilet is in your sleeper doubles as a seat. If the above fan does not work…probably hasn’t since Truman was in office, opt to go else where for your business. Which, elsewhere, bTW, means a public bathroom on the train that was like a road side gas station in cleanliness (YMMV).

Take some snacks with you. The food aboard the train is just like airport food, only worse.
Bring something to do: books, games, heroin. Chat about the good old days of singing porters, fedoras and intrigue. Don’t forget to look for Professor Harold Hill whilst on board.

If you should decide to have sex in the standard white bread position, it is hard to decide if you should have your heads going towards the engine of the train or the caboose for when the engineer decides to slow down and brake, your head(s) will invariably bonk against the wall. Opt instead for the Prostitute against the wall quickie pose, there by only incuring bruises when you fall down during the train breaking instead of a wall paper imprints on your forehead.
Have a great time!

Bad food? No, that can’t be right. It’s supposed to be dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina.

eve, i believe the train line you are looking for is this one:


I’ve ridden overnight trains several times, in the seats and in sleepers. For an overnight trip, the sleeper is definitely the way to go.

You might try to get the handicapped-accessible sleepers - they have a little more room, from what I understand, although you can’t reserve them until 14 days before the trip.

Images of the rooms are available online.
Also, have fun - I’ve always enjoyed the train travel, even if it’s a little slower and sometimes less comfortable than air travel. I like seeing where I’m going - it feels more like a journey than a trip.

I took a sleeper from Washington to Montana last summer. (I was driving a moving van back to WA, so had to be in MT sans vehicle, and I couldn’t get a cheap(er) plane ticket.) I had just taken the Bar Exam (ending that day) so my impression may be a little . . . cranky.

The sleeper I was in was very small – the cheapest sleeper available. It truly was a “compartment.” It was perhaps three and a half feet wide by, oh, say, six feet long. There were two seats in it, facing each other, and the upper bunk folded up against the wall. With the upper buck folded up, you could stand up in the compartment (between the two facing seats), but it would have been very cozy for two people. The lower bunk was made by shoving down the facing seats until they met in the middle and made a bed. When that was done, you could not stand in the compartment at all; only out in the hall. (In other words, the size of the compartment was the size of a single bunk, exactly.)

For dinner, you present yourself at the dining car and they seat you at tables for four. If you’re a party of two, you’ll be seated with another party of two. I hear the food is actually very good – at least on the Seattle-eastward run, which is very touristy – but I couldn’t face dinner with three strangers that particular night, so I grabbed a sandwich from the club car and ate it in my compartment. For breakfast, I ended up seated with a honeymooning couple and an elderly single gentleman, and we really have a nice meal, getting to know each other and just chatting. Very good breakfast – I don’t eat a lot in the morning, but it wasn’t “continental” – full breakfast for those who wanted it.

The bathrooms consistend of toilets (much like those found on planes) and showers, both of which were single-occupant and therefore open for use by either gender. There were four toilets in the car I was in and two showers. There was a bit of a line for the shower in the morning, but not bad. The facilities, the compartment, indeed the whole train, was acceptably clean, but shabby.

Your car will have an assigned porter; remember to tip him. I gave the guy $20 for an overnight trip during which I hadn’t asked him to do anything beyond direct me to the club car. I have no idea if that’s too much or too little; it was about 10% of the ticket price, which seems low, but then like I said I wasn’t much of an imposition on his time.

Overall, I thought the trip was a fun thing to have done once. I was a little disappointed – the scenery on the Seattle-Eastward run is supposed to be spectacular, but we were two and a half hours late leaving Seattle, and by then it was dark. The compartment was small small small, and the atmosphere frankly was more “Greyhound On Tracks” than it was “Orient Express.” Except for the dining car, where they do attempt to swank it up, but I was mostly too tired to appreciate that.


Eve, once you plan your trip, let us know what dates you’ll be available, I’d be honored to meet you & your Mother, I so enjoy reading your posts.

Smoke-Free shouldn’t be a problem… skerri, sidle - what do you think? Something classy in honor of Eve & her Mom - California Dreaming, Blossom, Carolinas, what?

If you plan on sharing Cracker Jack, watch out for Jack Gilford

Eve, make sure you make Manhattans in a hot water bottle and have a party in your compartment with an all-girl orchestra, kay?

And come back and tell us all about it.

I took a sleeper from Boston to Atlanta about 10 years ago. Bring booze. The compartment I had consisted of 1 seat, 1 flip down sink, one toilet/seat, and a hole in the wall to stick my feet when my bunk was flipped down. I, of course was totally charmed, by the experience, and was charming, as a result. As a result, I had a very attentive porter who made up my bunk, stowed my guitar in an empty berth (to make more room for me), and made sure my door was locked. It was not as romantic as traveling in a brass and velvet compartment on a train in Europe (and I do have stories!) but it was a great experience.

I hope you and your mum have a wonderful trip. Trains rock.

Oh Eve, I forgot to tell you. The train station in Charleston is extremely disappointing. Not romantic at all. You know those train stations in the movies that are all alone, out in the middle of nowhere? Ours is barely a step up.

But don’t let that discourage you! Get a cab, and get in the city, and I think you’ll find that much more accomodating. :smiley:

Ooh… we took an overnight train from Toronto to Quebec City, and got a berth with a little curtain thing covering it (not a whole sleeper compartment thingy, just a bed.) We did have access to a shower though, I didn’t try it.

When I say we, I mean the SO and I. It was fun though we didn’t get much sleep. :wink:

On the other hand, I took a day and a half train ride from Toronto to Saskatchewan and we had to sleep in our seats, and I never want to do that again.

No sleeping compartment/berth experience on a train - but I did ride from Chicago to San Antonio in 1991 - 3 day trip & slept in the seat. I was young, but donno if I’d do it again that way.

About 1983 (?) - family took the [url=“http://www.ssbadger.com/”] Lake Michigan Carferry[/ul] on the overnight run & got a room… bunkbeds!