Amtrak travel advice

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by CyOps, Sep 23, 2019.

  1. CyOps

    CyOps Well-Known Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    3,851
    313
    83
    Cat Burglar
    Lincoln
    Ratings:
    +1,463 / 165 / -101
    We're planning on visiting relatives in Utah this December and are considering taking Amtrak. Anyone taken family on the California Zephyr recently? I think we would get a cabin. Travel time would be about 24 hours.

    We're also considering driving or flying. Driving would be faster than the train but has a greater risk of delays due to weather. Flights are expensive for two adults and two kids during the times we are looking at.
     
  2. mred

    mred Well-Known Member

    Oct 19, 2006
    6,093
    735
    113
    SE WI
    Ratings:
    +1,222 / 14 / -0
    I can't speak to the Zephyr, but we took Southwest Chief from Illinois to New Mexico recently. It was similar to your trip: 2 adults/2 kids and around 24 hours each way. We had coach seats, not a cabin. It was fun to do once but I don't think I'd want to do it very often.

    Positives:
    • Amtrak allows a lot more luggage than airplanes (and there's generally no extra cost).
    • Few restrictions on what you can take (feel free to carry on plenty of food and drinks).
    • Boarding process much easier and faster than an airplane.
    • If you don't get a cabin, it can be cheaper than flying (and maybe even cheaper than driving depending on what expenses you include).
    • Unlike driving, you don't have to drive. Seems obvious, but it's a big plus if you are generally the one doing the driving.
    • Amtrak has fewer weather-related issues than flying.
    • Coach seats have comically huge legroom compared to flying.
    • If you get a cabin, meals are included in price.
    • There is a ton of overhead space in coach.

    Negatives:
    • Amtrak is notorious for delays. We arrived at our outbound destination nearly 5 hours late due to a mechanical issue. Our return trip was only an hour late, which is typical. They frequently have to relinquish right-of-way to freight trains, so it's hard to predict when it'll be running late.
    • Combines the slowness of driving with flying's inability to stop and see things along the way.
    • Cabins are super expensive.
    • Although the seats are better for sleeping than airplane seats, it's hard not to wake up every time your train makes a stop in the middle of the night.
    • Having a cabin doesn't necessarily keep you from waking up in the middle of the night when the train stops.
    • They can run out of the more popular food options.
    • If you don't get a cabin, the food can be somewhat expensive for what you get (although it isn't ridiculous).
    If you have any questions, let me know.
     
    • Informative Informative x 6
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. matclone

    matclone Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2016
    3,450
    988
    113
    Male
    Ratings:
    +2,826 / 114 / -8
    I concur with everything mred said (good summary) except that I think the cabins are much more restful because you actually get to lie down all the way (not so in coach). As spacious as the coach seats are, sleep is not that good for long trips. The draw back to the cabins is they're just a lot more expensive.

    You won't get to take a shower for the 2 to 3 days you're on the rails, if that is an issue.

    Another thing I've enjoyed about train travel (and this may not be everyone's cup of tea) are the views--you get to see some nice country and some parts of cities you would not see from the highway. The California Zephyr goes through the mountains, and I'm sure it's picturesque west of Denver.
     
  4. ArgentCy

    ArgentCy Well-Known Member

    Jan 13, 2010
    19,225
    1,274
    113
    Male
    Ratings:
    +12,574 / 2,928 / -1,779
    In before someone just says "DON'T".
     
    • Winner Winner x 1
  5. ISUCyclones2015

    ISUCyclones2015 Well-Known Member

    Dec 19, 2010
    9,654
    1,123
    113
    Dallas, TX
    Ratings:
    +2,906 / 195 / -6
    I love trains and Amtrak!

    I've done the Cleveland to Seattle trip a couple times (57ish hours before delays). I've also done Cleveland to NYC(12h), Cleveland to DC (11h) and Cleveland to Miami(40h). Though admittedly I haven't been on very many since my move to Dallas. So apologies if this info is outdated.

    The biggest thing with the sleeper cars is that meals are completely included! Very useful for a family where it can start to get pricey and don't even think about trying to grab something and catch the train without a lengthy stop.

    Also something to remember with the sleeper trains is find the conductor and offer him $100 for the sleeper room. A lot of times you'll see that people leave on their stop and then the room is empty on a large section of the trip or maybe even the rest of the way. The conductor would rather have someone in the car than not at all. 65% of the time $100 worked unless there were others that knew about this. Basically pays for itself in meals.

    Also about the dining car, MAKE A RESERVATION! Especially if you have a family. They only serve an exact amount of tables per meal and you have an exact amount of time to eat. Once the reservations are full, you'll just have to sit there and hope someone doesn't show up.

    Also enjoy the sightseeing car, a lot of times you'll have volunteers during the day that ride and tell you what you're seeing.
     
    • Informative Informative x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. clones6421

    clones6421 Member

    Sep 26, 2013
    71
    11
    8
    Ratings:
    +28 / 0 / -0
    Took an Amtrak from Minneapolis to Montana last year.

    Delays are the biggest thing we were also about 5 hours late arriving. Granted it was in December and the snow had a lot to do with it.

    Did not have a cabin, but spent most of the time in the observation car which has tables and chairs and overall more space. The seats on the train are more comfortable than airplane seats, but still tough to sleep. We did eat in the meal car once and that was a mistake. Over priced for what it was. We packed a cooler with sandwiches and snacks and drinks and had no problems what so ever.

    I would say it was a good experience besides the delays, but you go into the trip expecting those. For sure ask if you have any questions.

    Good Luck!
     
  7. Cycsk

    Cycsk Well-Known Member
    SuperFanatic SuperFanatic T2

    Aug 17, 2009
    20,735
    1,911
    113
    Ratings:
    +6,400 / 313 / -5
    One more thought. Take seriously the problem of train delays if you have to make a connection. A few hour delay could mean a full day delay (and a day at the train depot) if you miss a connection. If you are on one train the entire time, then it is just a matter of a delay in time.
     
  8. SpokaneCY

    SpokaneCY Well-Known Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    11,584
    1,461
    113
    Male
    Manager of Natural Gas
    Spokane, WA
    Ratings:
    +6,994 / 376 / -17
    Be as high as the train driver. Look, you're going to de-rail SOMEWHERE, may as well de-rail after taking the edge off.
     
  9. khardbored

    khardbored Well-Known Member

    Oct 20, 2012
    6,473
    1,139
    113
    Middle of the Midwest
    Ratings:
    +4,013 / 90 / -2
    I rode Amtrak this summer, my arrival train was delayed about an hour. The employee told me they were 10 hours delayed in the early part of the summer due to flooding in SW Iowa, the had to take an alternate bridge over the Missouri river.

    I have to imagine that could be coming back. Just a thought.

    If you're coach, you have to make a reservation for the dining car, and 1st class gets first dibs, so can be hard to get.
     
  10. CascadeClone

    CascadeClone Well-Known Member

    Oct 24, 2009
    3,249
    472
    83
    Ratings:
    +1,987 / 63 / -0
    I took the Zephyr from Osceloa to San Fran with family. I can't comment on service now, since it was some years ago. We did sleeper car, with full dining service, which was really nice. You will have some delays. First night was hard to get to sleep with noise and shaking, but by 2nd night, no problem.

    BUT - any delays or hassles are COMPLETELY worth it! Being able to see the Rockies, Colorado River valley, the Sierra Nevadas around Lake Tahoe -- up close and personal at like 20 mph is amazing! Every American should do it once. I would do it again.

    You can always fly or drive the rest of your life. Try the Zephyr this go.
     
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Winner Winner x 1
  11. Cyclones_R_GR8

    Cyclones_R_GR8 Well-Known Member
    SuperFanatic SuperFanatic T2

    Feb 10, 2007
    14,461
    4,355
    113
    Omaha
    Ratings:
    +13,503 / 173 / -1
    So it's kind of like that movie Snowpiercer??
     
    • Like Like x 3
    • Funny Funny x 1
  12. khardbored

    khardbored Well-Known Member

    Oct 20, 2012
    6,473
    1,139
    113
    Middle of the Midwest
    Ratings:
    +4,013 / 90 / -2
    Never heard of that movie until I googled it just now!
     
  13. amishclone

    amishclone Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2014
    1,986
    265
    83
    Male
    Entrepreneur
    Ratings:
    +1,373 / 274 / -163
    Ha ha
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  14. Cloneon

    Cloneon Active Member

    Oct 29, 2015
    450
    143
    43
    Ratings:
    +536 / 38 / -2
    I, regularly, take Amtrak between White Sulfur Springs, WV to Chicago and Minneapolis. mred's description is spot on. Driving is faster and has the benefit of having your car on the other end and door-to-door is faster. But the ability to work (ie WiFi) on the train the whole time makes up for that cause I don't have to take 'time-off' during the traveling.
    Also, as you pointed out this appears to be a 'family' trip. It's been over 50 years, but when we were young children we traveled from Chicago to Winter Park, CO on the train to ski. All I know is, as a child, it was one of the coolest things I'd ever experienced. Just a thought from a child's perspective. The mountains were the coolest part.
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
  15. skibumspe

    skibumspe Active Member

    Oct 8, 2006
    294
    41
    28
    Male
    Professor
    Cambodia
    Ratings:
    +70 / 0 / -0
    Every time I return home from abroad, I'm saddened by how insufficient our train service is. Some amazing public transportation out there at very reasonable prices. Wish there were more interest in developing dependable, high-quality rail service.

    Def agree w/Cloneon - the trip into Winter Park is well worth it, takes roughly the same time as driving & the scenery, well, the Rocky Mountains are a spectacular thing....even as an adult!

    So, yeah, OP, take the train, at least once.
     
    • Agree Agree x 2
  16. Cyclones_R_GR8

    Cyclones_R_GR8 Well-Known Member
    SuperFanatic SuperFanatic T2

    Feb 10, 2007
    14,461
    4,355
    113
    Omaha
    Ratings:
    +13,503 / 173 / -1
    The size of the US really makes it difficult. You can fly and be across the country in 6-7 hours. You take the train and it's several days.
     
  17. BigTurk

    BigTurk Member

    Dec 17, 2013
    92
    10
    8
    Ratings:
    +72 / 5 / -0
    After the Sept 11 attacks I was stranded in Philly and got the last ticket on the last Amtrak out of town. Rode that to Chicago then Chicago to Osceola. It has been almost 20 years but it wasn't a bad way to travel. The space you get is incredible. One thing to note, if you ride coach do not get a spot in the designated smoker car (are they still a thing?) I remember the smokers going to the lower level and into the room. They would leave the door open because the room got too smokey, so then the smoke would waft into the main cabin. If you don't like smoke don't get one of those cars.

    Also, my trip from Chicago to Osceola was delayed big time. Part of that was because of the confusion from the attacks. The other, I was told, was Amtrak had to wait for the freight trains to clear out before we could leave. That sucked, and Iowa's tracks are in such poor condition that we couldn't travel more than 45 mph.

    My wife traveled from Osceola to Denver on Amtrak to visit her sister. Yes, it was delayed but she thought it was an ok way to travel. That was overnight too I believe.
     
  18. runbikeswim

    runbikeswim Well-Known Member

    Oct 23, 2014
    2,079
    340
    83
    Ratings:
    +1,469 / 50 / -0
    The biggest challenge is freight rules the rails. Even where there is demand, it takes years for Amtrak to be able to add service. I used to commute on Amtrak the Hiawatha route from SE WI to downtown Chicago everyday. I enjoyed it, for the most part except for the delays, which were usually short on morning commute times, but could be major at night.

    anyway, it took almost 5 years for Amtrak to finally get all through all the red tape to be able to add a 10 PM train return from Chicago to Wisconsin. Yep, that's right, adding 1 train at 10 PM at night between Chicago and Milwaukee took almost 5 years. The last train out was 8 pm. I don't even like to think about all the times I was running through union station to make that 8 pm cutoff. Funny thing is the 10 pm train service started just after we moved....
     
  19. runbikeswim

    runbikeswim Well-Known Member

    Oct 23, 2014
    2,079
    340
    83
    Ratings:
    +1,469 / 50 / -0
    small world. I was stranded in Philly on 9/11. Downtown Philly was a weird place to be for those days until I ended up on a charter bus on 9/13.
     
  20. mred

    mred Well-Known Member

    Oct 19, 2006
    6,093
    735
    113
    SE WI
    Ratings:
    +1,222 / 14 / -0
    No longer a thing. Amtrak is 100% non-smoking. At some stops they allow people to leave the train for a 5-minute smoke break (or sometimes longer), but that's it.

    https://www.amtrak.com/smoking-policy
     

Share This Page