Check out these informative Amtrak train details, many of which aren’t well-known.
The Amtrak conductor finds your reservation info on his or her mobile handset, scans your boarding pass, and you enter the train. Mid-size luggage goes in the baggage hold and you find your seat or room with your carry on. Simple. Easy. Totally awesome. We noticed one couple with a movie playing and a small ice chest for drinks and snacks in coach.
There are snack foods at the café in the lounge car. They also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to you in the dining car at appointed times. Dining car meals are included if your accommodations on the sleeping car in either a roomette or bedroom. Coach and business class pay al a carte meal prices: $2 for milk or soda, $8-$10 for a hamburger or light entrée, $20+ for steak or seafood. The menus change often and you have 2-4 choices per meal.
On trips, be prepared to be seated at tables with people you don’t know. It’s part of train culture, and makes for interesting conversations and an opportunity to swap business cards. If you prefer privacy you can schedule your meals to be delivered to your room or roomette. It was easier and faster and roomier to go to the dining car.
Coach or Business: Much like the larger exit seats on airplane, so they’re great for tall people with long legs. Business class was the only seating we didn’t book. The most affordable of the options, but if you have back issues, or are a light sleeper, go straight for a roomette.
Roomette: Bunk beds the size of cots that fold down into an area the size of a regular step-in closet. For people over 6’ 3”, you’ll fit, you’ll be able to stand up, but the top bunk has no view window and must be raised to sit on the lower bunk and catch the sights. Transforms to seating during day hours, which is roomier than a coach seat. Bathroom and showers are down the hall as well as coffee and orange juice in the a.m.
Bedroom: Cozy and much more spacious than the roomette. Differs by train line. We viewed a Texas Eagle version with two upper bunks and a regular window, but loved the Cardinal’s unit with one large upper bunk and double-tiered windows. These had their own shower and bathroom combo, a small sink with lighted mirrors and mini cabinet and closets. Enough room for a bathroom and shower. The beds fold down here as well, but more the size of a twin.
Note: for best sleep, travel mixed with hotel stays or longer distances overnight.
One of the most important parts of the trip is to call the station ahead of time to make sure they’ll be open to receive you. One fellow researched his extensive cross-country trip was stuck outside in Little Rock, AR because Little Rock’s Union Station was closed during the daytime hours when he arrived.
The man had shelter under a huge outdoor porch in the rain for a lengthy wait but without seating or bathroom access. The Amtrak representative has been notified to update web information for the downtown Little Rock train station.
Most of the train staff is friendly and courteous (dining car staff). In the sleeper car, the staff is very timely about hours and schedule. But with our odd boarding hours of 4 a.m., the surprise 9 a.m. wake-up call to change the linens (many announcements and a persistent knock on the closet) was unfortunate indeed. Regulations, ma’am. Those are the rules. So “sleeper car” became an ironic statement for us. You can sleep, if they let you.
Passengers with handicaps/disabilities/ADA folks
The train is a dream come true for passengers who are deaf, blind, vision impaired, etc. Janice communicated with a deaf woman from Austin, TX who was pregnant and on her way to a funeral in St. Louis. The conversation lasted for hours.
Sundry Amtrak train observations:
- Free wi-fi access is available but varies from train to train
- Bathrooms with changing tables for infants
- Complimentary coffee and orange juice in the sleeper cars
- Trains get bumpier the closer to major cities because of overlapping train tracks
- Build in time for delays. For instance, if they add or subtract cars or have accidents, from illegal or unexpected rail crossings. Our train hit a deer. We didn’t notice.
- Overall demographic for Texas Eagle and Cardinal trains: Older established crowd 40’s-plus or children and young teens. Mostly families, couples and business commuters.
- Not every stop is a smoking stop
- Train travel is very smooth for the most part: goes side to side but doesn’t jostle you going up and down, which can hurt sensitive necks and bad backs.
- If you take the train, expect to get lots of questions/interest from friends/neighbors/co-workers wanting to hear what it’s like.
- Just stay alert, y’all, or you’ll wind up in the wrong station.
Such a nostalgic way to travel – a la Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.