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redshoe Aug 12th, 2004 08:17 PM

Amtrak experience-do tell your train travel
Thinking of hopping an Amtrak from Chicago to Dallas for the xmas season. What has been your experience with train travel and can you share some insider secrets of train travel. I know the rooms are small etc.

Would love to hear about your experiences on trains.

hulagirl Aug 12th, 2004 09:16 PM

Let's just say I'll never do it again!

Traveled from Chicago to LA and we couldn't afford a room. Just too seats, right at the door to the smoking car. God. It was awful. By the end of the trek I smelled like the worst stale cigarette ( I don't smoke and really get sick at the smell), the bathrooms were either flooded with feces/urine or vomit or both and the woman next to us with her babies gave up and let them sleep in the aisle.

It was, by far, the worst trip I've every taken in my life. The highlight? Well, there were 2. 1. At a stop, I jumped out and snuck into one of the sleeping cars and took a shower. (No showers on the other cars) And #2 - somewhere between Colorado and LA - as the train is in the middle of no where - there is this kid - about 9 or so with his pants down around his ankles, bare ass to the train pointing at his bum. My friend saw him, the boyfriend did not. And to this day I get tears in my eyes laughing about that kid mooning the train in the middle of no where.

No video games needed for that kid! :)

But that STILL doesn't make up for a horrible trip.

Get a sleeping car or don't go. Period.


April Aug 13th, 2004 01:29 AM

We had sleeping car accommodations for the leg of the trip from Oakland, CA, to Eugene, OR, and I'd still say it was an experience I'd rather not repeat (but I would in a pinch). The worst of it was not being able to open a window for fresh air while sleeping and it felt cramped even for little 5'2" me. Although I liked the movement of the train, the frequent changes in speed woke me up all night. Maybe this is something one gets used to on longer trips? In the morning we went to the dining car and I thought, "Ah, isn't this lovely." It wasn't. We were seated at a table with a very strange fellow who kept staring at me and then covering his face. This was not Amtrak's fault but it wasn't the relaxing breakfast I had anticipated.

From Eugene to Seattle was a daytime trip so we sat in business class. I thought it was funny that they put business class at the front of the train because the whistle blows constantly at every road crossing. It was much quieter further back on the train.

Booking the trip was a pleasant experience though as were all our dealings with Amtrak personnel.

BTilke Aug 13th, 2004 03:01 AM

I took Amtrak from Eugene, OR, to SF and back, sitting in a coach seat, the cabins were sold out. Actually, I enjoyed it, although much of the trip was in darkness because it was winter. The way down was a little aggravating because there was an IDIOT sitting in front of me spinning all kinds of garbage to some girl he was trying to impress (telling her, for example, that Salem, OR, was 4,000 feet above sea level. And that he'd been a top ranked marksman for the "Oregon Army." arrghh). Without my music CDs to block out his blether, I probably would have hurled myself off the train after a few hours of that crap.
The way back was surprisingly pleasant, especially as we rode through the Cascades in the snow. I had a pretty good French toast breakfast and the staff were nicer than I'd expected.
I got a GREAT photo leaning out an open half door at the back of one car as the train went around a bend through the mountains in the snow. One of my favorite pictures.

Ryan Aug 13th, 2004 05:13 AM

First, find out of that route runs on tracks that Amtrak owns or tracks that is leases from commercial railroads. (On the Northeast corridor, they generally own the tracks)

There have been numerous stories in the Wall Street Journal recently discussing the logjams that are taking place in major rail centers because of an increase rail traffic at a time when several railroads are short trained crews. They highlighted how Amtrak has faced numerous delays in some regions because their trains have been held up to allow for freight trains to pass.

Train travel does have its benefits. But, first I'd find out from Amtrak the on-time record on that route.

Ryan Aug 13th, 2004 05:15 AM

BTW, I can spell, I just can't type.

Miramar Aug 13th, 2004 06:36 AM

I've done Amtrak sleeper service from: New York to Florida, New York to SC, and Boston to Richmond VA. Have also done coach service Massachusetts to Ohio. I will never do another overnight trip in coach again-- while there was a lot of leg room, I found it uncomfortable and distracting have to be in a seat all night. However, i have always enjoyed my trips in sleeper service. While it is not luxurious, I love it because I'm not sitting in a cramped airline seat with my knees in the seat in front of me. Yes, it takes longer than flying, but I make it part of my trip experience; I love looking out the window as the towns roll by. I feel like I get to see a lot more than if I just got on a plane and flew.

rb_travelerxATyahoo Aug 13th, 2004 07:45 AM

An 8000 mile train trip across/thru the US:

His trip is in progress at this time, and he's posting pix when he can.

My own first Amtrak was r/t from Schenectady NY to Orlando, back when NYS trains terminated at Grand Central. The train I was to ride to NYC was 8 hr late, meaning I'd miss my NYC-Orlando trip, and all the station manager would advice me is "call Amtrak". Amtrak told me to take another train to NYC, but that if I missed my connection I'd be on my own for lodging. Well, I made it (by minutes) and took a sleeper compartment. It was one of the old "1-person" compartments -- The bed was very narrow, 28", I think, and being a "sprawler" when I sleep I doubted who well I'd sleep. Well, "like a baby" it turned out. Gentle rocking, the sound of the wheels, the horn, the doppler effect of bells at railroad crossings. I enjoyed the "assigned seating" in the dining car - not only were we "forced" to sit with others, but the attendant would help break the ice by saying things like, "now y'all introduce yourselves, now!"

I've taken the train from Albany area to Williamsburg countless times, usually the overnight, and while I won't pay for a sleeper, I do find the extra $35 or so for "business class" from NYC south is well worth the extra money. The car was not open to regular coach travelers, and had a small cafe car available only to Bus. Class and those in the sleeper.

I write "was" because last year Amtrak ended that train at DC, requiring a transfer to another train for the DC/NewportNews route. I understand the old route has been reinstated - I stopped taking it when they made that change as I refused to make the trip with 3 different trains over 18 hours.

I enjoy train travel (can you tell?) as I find it more relaxing, and other travelers are usually more relaxed & friendly too ... but it's NOT for anyone with a "type-A" personality. You must be willing to "roll with the punches" as far as accepting delays and even cancellations (which usually mean a bus instead of a train).

One of my secrets? I often will board a train 1 stop before a major city, as when many people depart at that city, I can procure a "good" seat before those waiting to board get on.

Orcas Aug 13th, 2004 08:29 AM

We went on a sleeper car from Chicago to Boston. Had a great time. Kids had the little room, husband and I the larger room. Train does stop and start; wheels sceech. Take ear plugs and sleeping pills. Also have flexible itinerary at other end. Our train was 5 hours late, due to a major storm. As stated earlier, the trains are sometimes late as freight trains have precedence.

We often take Amtrak between Portland and Seattle. It is convenient, comfortable, inexpensive, and much less stressful than the roads. We send our kids back and forth to visit friends and family, also. We love Amtrak, and so do our kids!

jimshep Aug 13th, 2004 08:29 AM

We recently took the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago and back. We had a sleeper (which I recommend) but we didn't sleep well because it's a very bumpy ride. The train does not travel on schedule. The equipment is in need of an overhaul and too many Amtrak employees are slackers.

On the trip out we had a surly waiter and bad food; on the way back the food was good and the service was excellent.

I do not recommend this form of travel. It is for people afraid of flying, grandparents entertaining children, and railroad geeks.

missypie Aug 13th, 2004 08:51 AM

My parents took Amtrak from St. Louis to Dallas - ONCE. What you need to know is that passenger trains do not have right of way and there is only one set of tracks, so a lot of time is spent waiting for freight trains to pass. Their train arrived 4 hours late. Apparently that is quite common. They had brought food with them sufficient for the stated length of their journey. But with arriving 4 hours late they had to buy a meal on the train; with its sky high prices, it was almost as expensive as flying. They were really dreading that return trip home!

Kostroma Aug 13th, 2004 09:41 AM

I travel almost solely by train and enjoy it. I'm not afraid to fly, not close to being a grandparent, and not a railroad geek. I just happen to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. As someone else on the thread said, the train is not good for type A personalities. I'm personally in no hurry when I'm on vacation.

Try this board. These people are admitted railfans, but they are upfront and honest about their Amtrak experiences. They don't gloss over the bad experiences, but they don't focus on them either.;LastLogin=

Merilee_Tucker Aug 13th, 2004 09:47 AM

I rode Amtrak from Orlando to New York City and to say I hated the experience is putting it mildly. There weren't any sleeper cars available so we rode in coach. I remember having to choose a dining time and I remember having a choice of brown food or beige food. As the evening wore on the toilet became smellier and dirtier. I found it difficult to fall asleep so I watched the others in the car. Many were snoring loudly and or drooling. Would it be impolite of me to mention the other sound effects during the night? It was a good people watching experience though. There was a car that was packed all night with people smoking and playing cards. This was a period in my life when I didn't want to fly and I drove a car to Florida to leave at my condo. I remember thinking about 2 hours into the ride when we were still in Florida that had we flown home we would be approaching Newark! Twenty two more hours to go! My kids loved it though.

Kostroma Aug 13th, 2004 09:54 AM

Here are a couple more links:

The second link is particularly useful, as it is a page full of travelogues from a couple who travel Amtrak long distances several times per year. Also, the reviews range a span from a few months ago to as far as 4 years ago, so it's multiple experiences instead of one good trip or one bad trip.

dovima Aug 13th, 2004 10:14 AM

In the 1990's, I was taking the Coast Starlight on its Oakland to Salinas leg regularly (about 4 times a year). Caught a bus shuttle from San Francisco over the Bay Bridge to the Oakland rail station. The train was NEVER and I mean never even once, on time in either direction. Ever spent four hours in the railway waiting room in Salinas? Not to be missed, ha ha. Compare this to a recent experience in Germany where I missed my train to Luxembourg - my day was not ruined, because unlike Amtrak, there was more than one train a day - what a concept! - on this route. Settled in with a book and some coffee and an hour and 15 minutes later I was on my way on the correct train.

The one good memory about going to Salinas on the morning run was that it seems the only place I ever seemed to see grits and eggs on the menu was in the Amtrak dining car. Looking at the Leslie Co. salt flats int the South Bay whilst breaking the yolk of my eggs was a pretty regular thing for a while...

FainaAgain Aug 13th, 2004 10:17 AM

I had to use Amtrak for few years battling my fear of flights... so let me put it this way: using Amtrak helped me A LOT to overcome my fears!

SB_Travlr Aug 13th, 2004 11:02 AM

Just had to weigh in on this one.

Love (!) jimsheps' sweeping generalization: "do not recommend this form of travel. It is for people afraid of flying, grandparents entertaining children, and railroad geeks."

Um, not so, jimshep. We are none of the above. A few years back DH and I wanted to go cross country to see more of the USA. Driving would take too long, so we took trains from coast to coast, a 3-week trip. (DC - Chicago - Flagstaff AZ - LA - SF - Seattle - Whitefish, MT) We saw so much, have great memories. And sure, it wasn't all perfect (is any trip, ever?) But we met interesting people from many countries and all parts of the US, and saw the country as you never will on a plane, or even driving the interstate.

We did spring for a sleeping car which included all meals while on the train (and showers), and were glad we made that decision. Our ticket allowed stopovers at Grand Canyon/Sedona, San Francisco/Yosemite, Seattle. We ended the rail journey in Montana, drove thru Glacier NP and Yellowstone, then flew home from Billings.

And one more thing: <get out the soapbox> The reason Amtrak is continually challenged to provide decent service is that our fine elected representatives expect passenger rail in the US to be a profitable undertaking. Sorry, that's just not going to happen. Witness the UK rail problems since they privatized. Euro governments heavily subsidize their railways for many reasons, not least that good train service provides a travel alternative that reduces dependence on imported oil. </get out the soapbox>

Redshoe, check Amazon for good books on planning trips via Amtrak. We hope we will be able to do a trip like this again.

Ryan Aug 13th, 2004 11:20 AM

"not least that good train service provides a travel alternative that reduces dependence on imported oil."

Can you state that for certain? If you increase the frequency of train travel, aren't you simply substituting gasoline for disel fuel. As both are made from a barrel of oil, wouldn't you need to look at the relative burn rate for aircraft versus trains then factor in things like increased waiting time for cars now stuck at crossings.

Assuming the trains are electric and not diesel, wouldn't you need to generate more power?

Not tyring to put you on the spot, but merely suggesting that the answers are usually more complex than a simple "we'll use less oil."

Orcas Aug 13th, 2004 11:56 AM

Don't know the fuel stats. I do know that Americans often forget the cost of road maintenance when discounting the value of mass transit. I-5 between Seattle and Portland (and all the way through California, I hear) is just falling apart. The bridges are poor, the roadway buckling. The traffic is far heavier than when the road was built. Accidents are frequent, delays can be long. Amtrak between the two cities, is almost always on time and takes about the same amount of time as driving. The trains are comfortable. There is lots of legroom. Many trains have movies on little screens, like on airplanes. Tickets aren't expensive and parking for drop-off and pick-up is free (even though, as of 2 years ago, you are supposed to pay in Portland, the machines were always broken so we never paid). Our kids' friends can come to visit and vice versa without their parents having to drive. We've taken it many times for many years.

Some of the people here must have ridden before Amtrak had nonsmoking cars. Many trains have been upgraded. For overnight, we used sleeper cars, which included meals. The room my husband and I rode on had a shower in it. We had priority seating and free meals as part of the cost. Our service was excellent on the run we took between Chicago and Boston.
All that said, we did do it for the experience, and I would only do it again on an overnight trip if I had time, as it cost as much as flying.

I think the idea of going to the train forum web sites is really good. Each train is different.

Orcas Aug 13th, 2004 11:58 AM

PS Sorry for the typos etc. I edit and don't check...

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