Cross-country trip via Amtrak

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catdude
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Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by catdude » Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am

Hi Bogleheads -

For the past year or so I've been thinking of taking a trip to the East Coast (Boston, New York, etc.) to visit friends and family. I'm pretty sure now that I'm gonna do it next spring. I've flown across the country many times (I live in Oregon). Now I'm toying with the idea of making the trip via train. It would be my first such excursion... If I were to do so, I would get a sleeping compartment; the idea of trying to sleep in a standard seat on the train doesn't appeal to me. I checked Amtrak's website and it looks like the cost for a round-trip, reserving a sleeping compartment, would be around $1800 - $2000. It's more expensive than flying, but I'd like to do it once just for the heck of it....

Have any of y'all ever travelled by train across the U.S? What was the experience like? Did you get a regular seat, or a sleeping compartment? If the latter, how comforable was it? Please share your experiences, I'd love to hear about them. Thanks!
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rvflyer
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by rvflyer » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:12 am

Have not traveled by train yet either but the only caution I have heard so far is have some extra time available because of delays to the schedule. Amtrak can be notoriously late. Will be watching this thread as well for info........

Valuethinker
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Valuethinker » Wed Oct 17, 2018 4:14 am

catdude wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am
Hi Bogleheads -

For the past year or so I've been thinking of taking a trip to the East Coast (Boston, New York, etc.) to visit friends and family. I'm pretty sure now that I'm gonna do it next spring. I've flown across the country many times (I live in Oregon). Now I'm toying with the idea of making the trip via train. It would be my first such excursion... If I were to do so, I would get a sleeping compartment; the idea of trying to sleep in a standard seat on the train doesn't appeal to me. I checked Amtrak's website and it looks like the cost for a round-trip, reserving a sleeping compartment, would be around $1800 - $2000. It's more expensive than flying, but I'd like to do it once just for the heck of it....

Have any of y'all ever travelled by train across the U.S? What was the experience like? Did you get a regular seat, or a sleeping compartment? If the latter, how comforable was it? Please share your experiences, I'd love to hear about them. Thanks!
I have no idea if you can get these. But Michael Portillo, a former UK defence minister (and at one time a serious contender to be Prime Minister), has had a second career as a BBC TV presenter "Great Railway Journeys".

The last three have been about America. One on the East Coast. One in the Midwest from Chicago. One in California. His guidebook is a 1900 guide to travelling in America, Appletons - and he goes around comparing what it says to what you see now. He is historically well informed and not afraid to cover dark passages in American history as well as the grand narrative.

On books, Strangers on a Train by Jenni Diski is a rumination on her journeys around America by Amtrak. It is very good, and if you type that into Amazon (or at least amazon.co.uk ) then you might find other books on the same journey (I keep thinking Paul Theroux wrote one, to go with his train journeys to Patagonia, and around China).

The tricky bit, I think, is getting daylight for the spectacular bits. Also Amtrak trains can be delayed by, literally, a day or more (other than on the Acela route in the NE, where they own the track)? So build in lots of flex to your timetable.

22twain
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by 22twain » Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:06 am

Valuethinker wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 4:14 am
I have no idea if you can get these. But Michael Portillo, a former UK defence minister (and at one time a serious contender to be Prime Minister), has had a second career as a BBC TV presenter "Great Railway Journeys".
The North Carolina public broadcasting network has so far shown the episodes based in Europe and the eastern US. I've enjoyed them a lot!
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furwut
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by furwut » Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:15 am

I’d consider the Canadian route. Banff is supposed to be spectacular. Don’t know if I’d do it roundtrip given the extra cost. Last - can you get off the train for a day or so to explore and then resume your journey? I’d pay more for that option.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by 22twain » Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:30 am

furwut wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:15 am
Banff is supposed to be spectacular.
Can't get there on VIA Rail, the Canadian equivalent of Amtrak. You have to use the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury land-cruise operation run by a private company. I've ridden VIA Rail's Canadian between Edmonton and Vancouver via Jasper (sitting up overnight in coach!), and that route is also spectacular.
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by goblue100 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:39 am

We took the train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon and back and loved it. It seemed both old fashioned and more sophisticated then being herded into an airplane and strapped into a seat with 12 inches of leg room. No TSA, no baggage fees. I would never fly between those two places. Having said that, they are probably just the right distance apart to make train travel a good choice. Any further apart and the faster airplane starts to look better.
I wanted to take the train from Dallas to Michigan, but once I worked out the amount of time and the higher cost I just couldn't do it. Sure would be nice for the train system to make a comeback here.

I'm with the other poster, I'd probably book it one way and fly back. If you do it, post a trip review here.
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10.06am
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by 10.06am » Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:05 am

I took the train from Grand Rapids, MI to Portland and back about seven years ago. We didn't have daylight for the Rockies, but the plains across the Dakotas were very cool. It was a fun adventure if a little monotonous. With the sleeper car you will get access to meals in the diner car along with wine-tasting and some other activities. In the diner car you'll be seated at a table of four even if you're traveling alone.

I'm glad we took the time and did it when we did. The only two caveats I would add is that you will meet some interesting people and that there will be delays. Amtrak doesn't own the track, so sometimes you will have to sit and wait for freight trains to pass. We were about 12 hours late on the way out and a full day late on the way back. Amtrak did pay for a hotel and meal getting back to Chicago after 11pm with the next connection back to Michigan being the following morning. I say take a book or bring a laptop and some movies and enjoy the ride!
Last edited by 10.06am on Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:31 am, edited 2 times in total.

daheld
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by daheld » Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:26 am

I've done a single round trip on Amtrak (about 5 hours each way, in the Midwest) before and personally could not manage a cross country trip. By the end of our 5 hour ride, I was ready to get off. It was a neat novelty and interesting at first, but got boring quick. Obviously you'd have the opportunity to see some beautiful country, but I still think it would get old relatively soon.

If it were me, I'd leave out of Oregon, head southeast through Boise and Salt Lake and stop in Denver, then fly the rest of the way.

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Larry3862
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Larry3862 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:50 am

I agree with daheld. We rode the train from Boston to Kansas City (23 hours) and had a sleeper car (recommended). Figured out that about 7 hours (Chicago to Kansas City) was about all we could handle in the future.

Totally glad we did it and I am sure there are better, more scenic routes. One thing was that the major cities do have some very nice train depots. Best of luck to you.
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carolinaman
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by carolinaman » Wed Oct 17, 2018 8:05 am

I would like to something similar. We have done auto trips cross country several times (NC to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Western Canada, Montana). Our best trip was flying to Denver, renting a car and touring several states and national parks. We got to see what we wanted to see and avoided the monotony and travel time of everything between Charlotte and Denver.

We are considering flying to Denver and taking roundtrip train to San Francisco. We could possibly go from San Fran to Seattle and back to Denver. The cornfields and pastures of Midwest are interesting for about 30 minutes. This approach would work better I think.

Since you are coming from Oregon, you may never have seen all the states on the way to the East Coast and a train the whole way may be preferable. Definitely get the sleeper.

This sounds like a great idea. I hope you enjoy it.

Valuethinker
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Valuethinker » Wed Oct 17, 2018 8:16 am

22twain wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:30 am
furwut wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:15 am
Banff is supposed to be spectacular.
Can't get there on VIA Rail, the Canadian equivalent of Amtrak. You have to use the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury land-cruise operation run by a private company. I've ridden VIA Rail's Canadian between Edmonton and Vancouver via Jasper (sitting up overnight in coach!), and that route is also spectacular.
Jasper is a spectacular place. It's in the National Park, so there is a bit more of the 1912 tourist town (opened when the railway reached there) left - it's not as overdeveloped as Banff. Be sure and visit Maligne Lake (it's on one of the Canadian currency notes - overtouristed but spectacular for all that, when we were there a moose swam across in front of the tourist boat, then stood up on the shore and shook itself off, nonchalant). The glacier park off the Icefields Parkway is also great - if only to see how far the glacier has receded.

We took the train from Jasper to Prince Rupert with the train scheduled so that the most spectacular bits are in the day. We stayed overnight in Prince George (a northern timber town which is fairly forgettable) as part of the ticket. Then we flew to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida G'Wai these days) by sea plane, which was spectacular.

I would like to do the Vancouver route as well. You could do Vancouver to Edmonton that way, then take the VIA Rail from Edmonton to, say, Toronto (or Chicago). However be warned that much of Alberta and Saskatchewan are *flat* and that does get dull (but I never tire of sitting, reading, on a train).

OP however wants to go East in America, and it would be a way of getting a sense of the scale of America. Other than driving I can't think of a better way to do it (and driving not on the Interstate, William Least Heat Moon's "Blue Highways" chronicles that journey).

Probably through the Rockies is the best bit. San Francisco to Denver? But, then, I'd also like to see the Great Plains (even if they are monotonous). So on to Chicago. And then the Great Lakes themselves...

You will meet a lot of foreign tourists. A European looks at the map and imagines that the best way to see this all is by train, as it is in Europe (although, tbh, on High Speed Trains things move so fast that it's a bit of a blur).

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lthenderson
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by lthenderson » Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:15 am

catdude wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am
Have any of y'all ever travelled by train across the U.S? What was the experience like? Did you get a regular seat, or a sleeping compartment? If the latter, how comforable was it? Please share your experiences, I'd love to hear about them. Thanks!
I have and it definitely isn't for everyone but I enjoy the experience. First, the seats on Amtrak are not remotely comparable to what you would expect on a plane. They recline quite far with leg rests that pop out and even I well over six feet tall don't have any problems stretching out on the seat to sleep. The sleeping berths are much quieter though because people aren't walking up and down the aisle at all hours of the night so it is worth the expense for longer trips.

I also like the ability to get up and move around, eat in a dining car, etc. I also like getting out at some of the stops for a breath of fresh air.

A ride across country isn't straight forward. You will have to have layovers in Chicago and possibly Denver, with many hours in-between trains where you and your luggage will have to wait in a train station.

The biggest difference to flying is just the moving around. People are forever walking up and down the aisle which can be distracting. Also, due to the way they do tickets, you might be sitting near a bunch of quiet people reading, go to the dining car and come back to your seat now surrounded by a bunch of rowdy teenagers on some adventure. However, you can switch seats by moving your tickets.

SamB
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by SamB » Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:17 am

I have taken Amtrak from DC to Portland, and also from DC to LA via New Orleans. The northern route went through Chicago where you connected from the Capital Limited to the Empire Builder. I just had a coach seat on this trip, which was interesting, but those days are over. I did the southern route last year via New Orleans. You connect to the Sunset Limited. This trip was more scenic than the Empire Builder route, but I enjoyed both. The DC - Orleans leg was not all that interesting. On both of these trips I scheduled a lay over day at a hotel to insure I made the connection. Amtrak cross country trains are basically tourist trains or for people that hate flying for one reason or the other; they use freight lines which are well maintained, but make scheduling impossible. Don't confuse these lines with either the Northeast coast corridor, or the commuter rail lines on the west coast. It is a totally different experience.

Here are some tips. If you want to select a specific compartment, you have to call to make the reservation. Both times I made reservations on line I got the lower level, which I do not like. If you just go coach there is no guarantee that you will be seated in the dining compartment. In this case you are stuck with the garbage food in the Cafe car. Note that if you are first class all of the food in the dining car is included, and you will be seated for all meals; you have priority. The Amtrak dining car food is mediocre, but an improvement over the Cafe car, which as I stated is garbage. The showers are in the lower level, and generally work just fine. You might want to prepare for this, if you intend to take a shower. They provide soap, and maybe shampoo, and towels. The compartment steward generally keeps things pretty clean and tidy.

I have taken the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto and also The Ocean ( that is the name) from Montreal to Halifax. VIA is a step up from Amtrak in many ways. However, not in terms of maintaining a schedule. They also use the freight lines, and the freight lines have the priority. Both of my trips on VIA were more enjoyable than Amtrak. The VIA cars are older, but much more comfortable, and they have refurbished the observation car on the Canadian which is really nice. The food on VIA is almost ocean cruise line quality, but as you might guess, then can only do so much. It was very good. If you arrive late and miss a connection, VIA will put you up in a hotel at no charge. The Canadian got in about 18 hours late and they gave me a room in the Fairmont Royal York, which was unbelievable. I made the connection the next day to NYC and on to DC.

The Ocean trip from Montreal to Halifax was really a good trip. It involved the old rail cars, and I actually had a shower as part of my compartment. It was very comfortable. The train had the old art-deco observation car, which was very comfortable, but had not yet been refurbished as it was on the Canadian. The food was excellent, and generally you enjoy talking to other passengers when you dine. It is pretty much like an ocean cruise. The train actually arrived early in Halifax. Note that the Sunset Limited above will probably arrive early in LA.

My recommendation to you is take the long route to the East Coast to NYC via Vancouver - Toronto-NYC. You will see the Canadian Rockies during the day time. If you travel early winter, you will very often get an upgrade for free. That is what happened to me, and it basically cut the price in half for what I got. Keep in mind that no matter whether it is Amtrak or VIA rail you will be moving across the country at about 45 mph. This experience is strictly for train lovers and people that have a lot of free time, which happens to apply to me.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by cadreamer2015 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 9:33 am

We went cross country from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in 1995. It was a great trip, even with a 3, 6 and 9 year old. Definitely get a sleeping compartment. You will have a change of trains in Chicago.

As others have written, Amtrak is often late. Outside of the Boston-Washington corridor where they own the track, everywhere else they operate on track owned by freight railroads and their ability to move along the track is determined by the needs of those freight railroads. So on a cross country trip you can easily be anywhere from a few hours to half a day late. As long as you are not obsessed about on-time arrival this doesn't have to be a problem.

You get a great view of the country from a perspective few others get. It can be very relaxing. Bring a book or two. Talk to other folks. Sit back and watch the country roll by.

If it were me I would do the train journey one way and fly the other direction.
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Teague
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Teague » Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:15 am

I took the California Zephyr, but only the portion from Reno to Sacramento.

In the regular seating section many passengers had been on board since Chicago. This leg of the trip was ripe with opportunity for scenic mountain views. The passengers who boarded in Chicago were just plain ripe.
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Wed Oct 17, 2018 11:46 am

Excellent questions & answers. I am now retired and beginning to plan these things myself. When I was a kid my family went from Spokane to Chicago and central Illinois numerous times. As a college student went from Toronto to Vancouver and reverse direction for the fall term. More recently (but several years back) Seattle - Vancouver then Seattle to Santa Barbara (for a conference).

I would reiterate what others said: great experience for the ride, interesting people enroute, expect lateness except in heavy commuter corridors, end point to endpoint scheduling often easier than midpoint (example: the train is scheduled both directions through Spokane in the middle of the night) - a situation where you probably want to be several hours late but have to plan for all possibilities.

Other thoughts / observations:

Amtrak tends to be cheaper than flying if you take the coach seating more expensive than flying if you take a sleeping compartment
Sleeping compartments help keep the background noise level down in the daytime and add greatly to the overall enjoyment of the trip in my opinion.

From Oregon you might try a trial run north to Seattle or Vancouver or south (Santa Barbara comes short of LA and is scheduled in there about supper time if I remember correctly.

If you check online schedules to Denver they will have you transfer in Sacramento. I would recommend transferring in Davis instead. Only a half hour or so difference and the Davis Amtrak depot is real close to the UC campus, lots or food places and when I was there a few years back a Whole Foods grocery store. Good chance to stretch you legs & stock up before eastbound.

I remember reading some where the Cardinal from Chicago through DC to I think NYC was less direct but some of an anomoly in the system as it had additional features and services from a pre-Amtrak era. (not sure what those were). This may have changed. I used to go to conferences in DC and thought several times about taking this route but always ended up flying (otherwise too much time from work). But I would look into this route

Appreciate other peoples comments especially regarding US vs. Canada. From what I remember of Canadian website Vancouver to Toronto was about $3000 for a sleeping compartment.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Wed Oct 17, 2018 11:58 am

daheld wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:26 am
I've done a single round trip on Amtrak (about 5 hours each way, in the Midwest) before and personally could not manage a cross country trip. By the end of our 5 hour ride, I was ready to get off. It was a neat novelty and interesting at first, but got boring quick. Obviously you'd have the opportunity to see some beautiful country, but I still think it would get old relatively soon.

If it were me, I'd leave out of Oregon, head southeast through Boise and Salt Lake and stop in Denver, then fly the rest of the way.
The Portland to Salt Lake via Boise service was abolished I believe in 1998. I remember I was going to book it for the experience alone but was too late. The Boise station still stands but has been repurposed (to what I can't remember)

Pay close attention to the color codes on some of the Amtrak route maps. Some of those lines are connecting bus routes (Greyhound etc) not rail connections.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by fposte » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:27 pm

I've done Chicago-Oakland and Chicago-NY with sleeping compartments; even years ago when I was doing that travel, I wouldn't have tried it in seats alone. (I did do Chicago-Dallas sitting up. No fun.)

Back then, the western trains were much nicer than the eastern ones, and the sleeping compartments more luxurious--don't know if that's still true. Either way, though, it's a great way to see the immensity of the land and contemplate history as you travel on the tracks that defined much of the country, for good or ill. I hated going to sleep because I felt like I was sleeping through the middle of the movie.

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Watty
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Watty » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:28 pm

catdude wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am
looks like the cost for a round-trip
For a long trip like that I would look at taking the train one way then flying in the other direction.

I looked into this a while back but I never did it.

One thing to watch out for is that the train may go through some of the most scenic areas like Glacier National Park at night so you may not get to see the scenic areas. You should look at traveling both directions to see if one direction is better than the other for sightseeing during the daytime.

Watch out for train changes or arrival times in the middle of the night.

It was a while back but at one point you could also book bus tickets on the Amtrak web site so make sure that any tickets you buy are actually for a train. I once almost booked my wife a "train" from Boise to Portland on the Amtrak website thinking it would be more fun than flying only to realize at the last minute that it was actually a bus. I dodged a bullet on that one, she would not have been happy. :oops:
Last edited by Watty on Wed Oct 17, 2018 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

tchoupitoulas
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by tchoupitoulas » Wed Oct 17, 2018 12:47 pm

I took Amtrak from New York to San Francisco with my mom and brother a few years ago. We loved it. That route is the California Zephyr. The one you would be doing is the Empire Builder, which is supposed to be just as beautiful (possibly more). They time the schedules so that you are going through the most scenic parts during the day and boring parts at night, although obviously that can get messed up if there's a significant delay. We went in the dead of winter so the days were shorter hence less scenery. I'm the kind of person who loves to just sit and look out the windows as the world going by, so I found it fun and fascinating even when there weren't jaw-dropping mountains to look at. It's also super relaxing. There's a beautiful glass domed observation car where you can spend the whole day in an easy chair reading, looking out the windows, talking, playing games, etc. The food was tasty too. One suggestion for you: we took the train one way and then flew back. I don't think I would feel the need to turn around and spend another four days in the train going back over the same territory.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Darth Xanadu » Wed Oct 17, 2018 1:01 pm

catdude wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am
it looks like the cost for a round-trip, reserving a sleeping compartment, would be around $1800 - $2000.
I know next to nothing about it, but it might be worth exploring Amtrak-branded rewards cards. I know in years past, friends have gotten decent bonuses (like maybe $500 worth of Amtrak points).
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Sum-day » Wed Oct 17, 2018 1:32 pm

Here is a recent article about traveling across the country on Amtrak
http://www.theretirementmanifesto.com/t ... in-travel/

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:32 pm

I am not sure schedules are set to provide peak scenery at daylight. I think they are set more for convenient departure and arrival times from/to the endpoint cities and sometimes (in theory anyway) ongoing connections without overnighting. Even though this makes sense it is one of the reasons it can be rather difficult dealing with mid-route destinations. The scenery component may be factored in but I always felt it was probably a minor component.

Also a tip I got from a conductor. Sitting riding backwards may seem awkward but the scenery, animals etc. stay in your view a lot longer that way.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by catdude » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:25 pm

OP here. Thank you all for sharing your stories! I am much obliged. Keep them coming! I like the idea of travelling by train in one direction and flying back in the other -- that's probably what I'll do.
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123
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by 123 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 3:43 pm

When I was a teenager I traveled from the west coast to the midwest to stay with relatives there during the summer. I've always enjoyed train travel in other countries. It's on my "list" to do more Amtrak travel when time permits. I think one-way is probably preferred to roundtrip to avoid duplication and fly the other way. It would be nice to do at least one stopover for a night or two along the way, the scheduling issue could be locating a suitable stop that works with hotel check-in, i.e. a train stop scheduled for late morning might be best.
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:23 pm

daheld wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:26 am
If it were me, I'd leave out of Oregon, head southeast through Boise and Salt Lake and stop in Denver, then fly the rest of the way.
If this is intended as a train trip recommendation for the OP, it can't be done without going ridiculously out of the way to use multiple trains.

Amtrak did once have a train, The Pioneer, which traveled from Chicago to Salt Lake, then headed northwest and did indeed serve Boise and onward to Oregon (or, vice versa when eastbound). But The Pioneer was discontinued over 20 years ago.

In the present Amtrak route system, Salt Lake City and Denver are stops on The California Zephyr between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area.

The only Amtrak stop in Idaho is Sandpoint, in the state's northern panhandle, nowhere near Boise, on The Empire Builder between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:32 pm

Wilderness Librarian wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 11:46 am

If you check online schedules to Denver they will have you transfer in Sacramento. I would recommend transferring in Davis instead. Only a half hour or so difference and the Davis Amtrak depot is real close to the UC campus, lots or food places and when I was there a few years back a Whole Foods grocery store. Good chance to stretch you legs & stock up before eastbound.
Amtrak's Davis station is, of course, still close to the university and to the charming downtown. But as part of a corporate contraction, Whole Foods closed its Davis store. The excellent Davis Co-op is a few blocks further away.
Wilderness Librarian wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 11:46 am
I remember reading some where the Cardinal from Chicago through DC to I think NYC was less direct but some of an anomoly in the system as it had additional features and services from a pre-Amtrak era. (not sure what those were). This may have changed.
Using The Cardinal would require careful planning if attempting a connection to it from the OP's location in the Pacific Northwest, or indeed from anywhere else. Most of Amtrak's cross-country trains run at least once a day, but The Cardinal runs only three times a week.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by momvesting » Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:40 pm

I know people have mentioned the schedule, but I cannot stress that enough. I used to live very close the tracks that one of these cross-country lines ran on. If it ran on schedule, it passed through our area around 3:00 am. More than half the time it passed through around 7:30 am and sometimes later. I would say it was more the norm than the exception to be about 4-5 hours late.

rgs92
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by rgs92 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:45 pm

If you search on youtube, there are several *long* amtrak travel videos that really give you the feeling of what it is like. And there are lots of tips and pros and cons of the experience. Check them out. There is one from Chicago to the West Coast that is great (in winter with heat failure issues along the way, but still sounding fun).
There another from Boston to NYC that is great.

beardsworth
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:48 pm

catdude wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am
For the past year or so I've been thinking of taking a trip to the East Coast (Boston, New York, etc.) to visit friends and family. I'm pretty sure now that I'm gonna do it next spring. I've flown across the country many times (I live in Oregon). Now I'm toying with the idea of making the trip via train. . . .
You would take The Empire Builder from Portland (or one of its other stops along the Columbia River Valley) to Chicago.

From there you have a choice.

Another poster above mentioned The Capitol Limited. That goes from Chicago via Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, after which you'd have to change trains to get from DC to New York and Boston. But there are frequent trains along that corridor, the closest thing in the U.S. to European train travel for timetable convenience and (to a somewhat lesser extent, comparatively speaking) speed.

A better choice from Chicago, in view of your stated destinations of New York and Boston, is The Lake Shore Limited. It leaves Chicago in mid-evening, so the ride from there to western New York is overnight. But then you get to see upstate New York in the daytime. The Lake Shore is a single train from Chicago to Albany (the station there is actually across the river in Rensselaer), where it splits into separate sections, one continuing to Boston, the other to New York. I would strongly recommend taking it to New York first, because the tracks from Albany to New York are mostly along the shore of the Hudson River, and the scenery is splendid. Then, after some time in New York, you can take a separate train to Boston. . . . If for some reason you have to go from Chicago direct to Boston, before going to New York, then I'd still recommend a little excursion up the Hudson, to anyplace you choose, and back again. . . . For that excursion, you could also use Metro North, the commuter railroad, which runs as far north as Poughkeepsie, making stops at a greater number of small towns than Amtrak does, and is less expensive than Amtrak because of its commuter pricing.

Under the current schedule, the eastbound Empire Builder arrives in Chicago around 4 pm. and the Lake Shore Limited departs around 9:30 p.m. You should be able to make that connection, even if your incoming train is late, but the operative word is "should." Knowing that people are trying to make this connection, Amtrak will often "hold" one long-distance train to wait for a seriously late other. You can also avoid that whole issue by staying overnight in Chicago and doing a day of sightseeing there (which would also get you out of trains for a day) before continuing eastward.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Point » Thu Oct 18, 2018 9:27 am


2015
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by 2015 » Thu Oct 18, 2018 10:27 am

Had such an amazing time on my two trips (LAX to PDX, following year LAX to NOL) that in the next year or two I intend to spend about a month taking routes all over the country. Each time I booked a roomette which was perfect. No way would I consider ruining the trip by breaking it up with riding in a greyhound bus in the sky. Flying these days is just a monstrous experience for me.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by daheld » Thu Oct 18, 2018 10:50 am

beardsworth wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:23 pm
daheld wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:26 am
If it were me, I'd leave out of Oregon, head southeast through Boise and Salt Lake and stop in Denver, then fly the rest of the way.
If this is intended as a train trip recommendation for the OP, it can't be done without going ridiculously out of the way to use multiple trains.

Amtrak did once have a train, The Pioneer, which traveled from Chicago to Salt Lake, then headed northwest and did indeed serve Boise and onward to Oregon (or, vice versa when eastbound). But The Pioneer was discontinued over 20 years ago.

In the present Amtrak route system, Salt Lake City and Denver are stops on The California Zephyr between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area.

The only Amtrak stop in Idaho is Sandpoint, in the state's northern panhandle, nowhere near Boise, on The Empire Builder between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.
Thanks for the correction.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Valuethinker » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:11 am

beardsworth wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:48 pm
catdude wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 2:27 am
For the past year or so I've been thinking of taking a trip to the East Coast (Boston, New York, etc.) to visit friends and family. I'm pretty sure now that I'm gonna do it next spring. I've flown across the country many times (I live in Oregon). Now I'm toying with the idea of making the trip via train. . . .
You would take The Empire Builder from Portland (or one of its other stops along the Columbia River Valley) to Chicago.

From there you have a choice.

Another poster above mentioned The Capitol Limited. That goes from Chicago via Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, after which you'd have to change trains to get from DC to New York and Boston. But there are frequent trains along that corridor, the closest thing in the U.S. to European train travel for timetable convenience and (to a somewhat lesser extent, comparatively speaking) speed.

A better choice from Chicago, in view of your stated destinations of New York and Boston, is The Lake Shore Limited. It leaves Chicago in mid-evening, so the ride from there to western New York is overnight. But then you get to see upstate New York in the daytime. The Lake Shore is a single train from Chicago to Albany (the station there is actually across the river in Rensselaer), where it splits into separate sections, one continuing to Boston, the other to New York.
Upstate NY is splendid. A hidden gem. With the construction of the Erie Canal, an early example of US government economic development via transport, this became a beating industrial heart of North America. Later, Niagara Falls NY was, I think, the world's first hydro electric generation project.

Buffalo Rochester Syracuse it's sad to see their state now (although there has been regeneration since I was last there, I am sure) ... and the nature is spectacular.
I would strongly recommend taking it to New York first, because the tracks from Albany to New York are mostly along the shore of the Hudson River, and the scenery is splendid. Then, after some time in New York, you can take a separate train to Boston. . . . If for some reason you have to go from Chicago direct to Boston, before going to New York, then I'd still recommend a little excursion up the Hudson, to anyplace you choose, and back again. . . . For that excursion, you could also use Metro North, the commuter railroad, which runs as far north as Poughkeepsie, making stops at a greater number of small towns than Amtrak does, and is less expensive than Amtrak because of its commuter pricing.
I'd have thought, crossing the Adirondacks, that the train to Boston would also be spectacular? Never done it.

Hudson River Valley is spectacular. Do you know if it is possible to visit USMA West Point?
Under the current schedule, the eastbound Empire Builder arrives in Chicago around 4 pm. and the Lake Shore Limited departs around 9:30 p.m. You should be able to make that connection, even if your incoming train is late, but the operative word is "should." Knowing that people are trying to make this connection, Amtrak will often "hold" one long-distance train to wait for a seriously late other. You can also avoid that whole issue by staying overnight in Chicago and doing a day of sightseeing there (which would also get you out of trains for a day) before continuing eastward.
Better, I think, to build that 24 gap in - less stress. And Chicago is not a city that one would exhaust its possibilities in a mere 24 hours "the American City" in Carl Sandberg's words. Time to reread Studs Terkel ... https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/15955 ... taft_p2_i3


Ahhh.. this thread makes me want to chuck it in and go a 'railroading across 'merica. :happy :wink:

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Wilderness Librarian » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:14 am

daheld wrote:
Thu Oct 18, 2018 10:50 am
beardsworth wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:23 pm
daheld wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:26 am
If it were me, I'd leave out of Oregon, head southeast through Boise and Salt Lake and stop in Denver, then fly the rest of the way.
If this is intended as a train trip recommendation for the OP, it can't be done without going ridiculously out of the way to use multiple trains.

Amtrak did once have a train, The Pioneer, which traveled from Chicago to Salt Lake, then headed northwest and did indeed serve Boise and onward to Oregon (or, vice versa when eastbound). But The Pioneer was discontinued over 20 years ago.

In the present Amtrak route system, Salt Lake City and Denver are stops on The California Zephyr between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area.

The only Amtrak stop in Idaho is Sandpoint, in the state's northern panhandle, nowhere near Boise, on The Empire Builder between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.
Thanks for the correction.
This is a more detailed and comprehensive version of what I posted previously. Both the Amtrak map and online reservation include bus connections between Amtrak destinations. One time I was going from Vancouver to Seattle via Amtrak and the person standing in line behind me thought they had booked the train but had actually booked the bus which left at more or less the same time instead .

An additional point - when dealing with the intermediate stops check the details concerning the physical station, some have limited hours, and very limited facilities. Example: Sandpoint specifically (doing this from memory but Sandpoint is relative close to me so I have seriously looked at this ): open platform only, no parking, no waiting room, train scheduled in the middle of the night and stops only upon signal.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Valuethinker » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:17 am

rgs92 wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:45 pm
If you search on youtube, there are several *long* amtrak travel videos that really give you the feeling of what it is like. And there are lots of tips and pros and cons of the experience. Check them out. There is one from Chicago to the West Coast that is great (in winter with heat failure issues along the way, but still sounding fun).
There another from Boston to NYC that is great.
Another factor is food cost?

That's something one has to budget for?

https://www.amazon.com/Stranger-Train-D ... on+a+train

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:25 am

daheld wrote:
Thu Oct 18, 2018 10:50 am
beardsworth wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:23 pm
daheld wrote:
Wed Oct 17, 2018 7:26 am
If it were me, I'd leave out of Oregon, head southeast through Boise and Salt Lake and stop in Denver, then fly the rest of the way.
If this is intended as a train trip recommendation for the OP, it can't be done without going ridiculously out of the way to use multiple trains.

Amtrak did once have a train, The Pioneer, which traveled from Chicago to Salt Lake, then headed northwest and did indeed serve Boise and onward to Oregon (or, vice versa when eastbound). But The Pioneer was discontinued over 20 years ago.

In the present Amtrak route system, Salt Lake City and Denver are stops on The California Zephyr between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area.

The only Amtrak stop in Idaho is Sandpoint, in the state's northern panhandle, nowhere near Boise, on The Empire Builder between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.
Thanks for the correction.
Glad to help.

For those who believe that America needs a truly functional passenger railroad system, i.e., a convenient alternative to planes and cars, the whole situation is quite frustrating.

Beyond the issue of long-distance trains which only run once a day (and a few just three times a week), Amtrak's long-distance routes tend to run east–west, particularly radiating out from Chicago, and the main north–south routes run down the middle of the country and at the coasts.

So, for example, Albuquerque has train service on The Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles, and Denver has train service on The California Zephyr between Chicago and the Bay Area, but it's not possible to travel between Albuquerque and Denver by train without first going to Chicago or California. And the same for getting from Oregon or Washington State to Denver or Salt Lake.

And there are a lot of people in the upper Midwest who like to spend a little portion of winter in Florida, but to do it by Amtrak they first have to go to Washington, DC, and change trains. (It's still possible to go from Chicago to New Orleans, from which it used to be possible to get to Florida by taking the three-times-a-week Sunset Limited which stopped in New Orleans on its way from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, but Sunset service east of New Orleans was discontinued after Hurricane Katrina and has never been restored, even though the tracks were fully repaired many years ago.)

Aaaargh.
Last edited by beardsworth on Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:34 am

Wilderness Librarian wrote:
Thu Oct 18, 2018 11:14 am
Example: Sandpoint specifically (doing this from memory but Sandpoint is relative close to me so I have seriously looked at this ): open platform only, no parking, no waiting room, train scheduled in the middle of the night and stops only upon signal.
Yes, the westbound Empire Builder (if on time) stops in Sandpoint shortly before midnight, and eastbound at 2:30 a.m. Sandpoint is an "unattended" station, and it's out on the fringe of downtown where (unless real estate development has expanded) you're not really in plain view of anyone else. I stopped there once, westbound. Was the only person who got off, or got back on, continuing westbound, on the following night. My former city-boy background caused me to feel slightly, uh, creepy about standing out there all alone at that hour, but I doubt any fear was actually justified in a place like Sandpoint. Or maybe it was but I just didn't know it.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:15 am

valuethinker wrote: Do you know if it is possible to visit USMA West Point?
It is.

https://www.usma.edu/visiting/SitePages/Home.aspx

https://www.usma.edu/visitors/SitePages/Home.aspx

https://traveltips.usatoday.com/tours-w ... 56400.html

But that's a separate issue from getting there by train.

West Point is above the west bank of the Hudson, but Amtrak and the Metro-North commuter railroad run on the east bank. The town directly across the river from West Point is (appropriately) Garrison, which is a stop on Metro-North but not on Amtrak. The next nearest Metro-North towns to West Point (again, all on the opposite side of the river) are Cold Spring and Beacon (to the north of Garrison) and Manitou and Peekskill (to the south). Like Garrison itself, they're stops on Metro-North but not on Amtrak, which concentrates on serving just a few of the larger towns along this route where its own service overlaps Metro-North until north of Poughkeepsie where Metro-North rail service ends.

I can't get the URL for Metro-North's route map to "activate" as a link in this post, but click on the Metro-North link here:

https://www.mta.info

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ram
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by ram » Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:26 pm

At the end of our Alaska cruise 3 -4 yrs ago we traveled from Seattle to Minneapolis and the train was 26 hours late. I lost a days' worth of work and I will only travel by Amtrak again after I retire.
Ram

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by dknightd » Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:29 pm

Go for it. It is on my bucket list!

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by bhsince87 » Fri Oct 19, 2018 9:21 pm

If I recall correctly, a few years ago, poster here did a sort of real time, rolling story of his journey across the country on train.

I can't seem to find it though. :(
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by beardsworth » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:32 pm

ram wrote:
Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:26 pm
At the end of our Alaska cruise 3 -4 yrs ago we traveled from Seattle to Minneapolis and the train was 26 hours late. I lost a days' worth of work and I will only travel by Amtrak again after I retire.
That's horrendous and unfortunate, and no doubt incredibly frustrating from a passenger viewpoint.

As has been pointed out earlier in this thread, and other threads about traveling Amtrak, it is only in the corridor from Washington, DC, to Boston where Amtrak actually owns the rails on which its trains operate. Elsewhere it pays rent to run passenger trains over freight lines, who also do their own dispatch work. They are supposed to give priority to make Amtrak run on time, but often do not. There are many places in the country with an inadequate number of tracks, or even a single main line so that trains headed in opposite directions can't pass one another, and/or situations in which a faster Amtrak train can't overtake a freight train headed the same direction but out in front of it, until the freight can reach a siding to let the Amtrak pass.

Since you mention several years ago, and Seattle to Minneapolis is on The Empire Builder, I'd imagine your trip coincided with the following, which has been a repeated problem on that route:

https://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/l ... 20481.html

https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/in ... ongestion/

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Beehave » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:41 pm

Did this one way at age 9 many, many years ago (NYC to SF). Family had intended to round-trip it by rail but we cancelled the return portion by rail and flew back.

My suggestion would be (for west to east) go by train from the Pacific through the Rockies. From the Plains to the East Coast, fly. It's just too long and not as scenic. If the train route I was on is still as it was, some of the views of canyons are stunning and unspoiled - - no roads, no telephone poles -- you ride on track cut out of the sides of canyons.

This is old (ancient now) experience from the 1950s. So others may have a more up-to-date perspective. Hope you have fun and enjoy.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Mickey7 » Sat Oct 20, 2018 12:29 am

I have taken the Empire Builder from Portland to Minneapolis and really recommend the trip. Make sure that you are ticketed for the right side of the train as doing so will put you in great position to see the grandeur of the Columbia River gorge. During the first evening your train will connect with the east bound from Seattle. I got off in Whitefish, Montana for 10 days in Glacier National Park, then I reboarded for Minneapolis. Beside the awe inspiring views of the heartland of the northern plains, you will have the opportunity to meet up with a NPS ranger who will go over the Indian culture of the region. Of course I really enjoyed that sort of thing.
Didn't spring for a sleeping compartment, but would do so if I did it again. It is not the Orient Express, but I wasn't looking for that either. With all the positives that I had, I don't think that I would do an east - west coast roundtrip, but that is just me.

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by c.coyle » Sat Oct 20, 2018 9:13 am

My wife and I took Amtrak from L.A. to Portland last summer and enjoyed it. We had a sleeper compartment, which is a must as far as I'm concerned. There were panoramic observation cars. The crew was friendly and efficient. The meals were very good. Amtrak assigned seats in the dining car so we dined with new people every meal, which we enjoyed. We had a roughly 2 hour delay a little north of L.A., but we were on vacation and had no connection to make, so it was no big deal to us.

We have also traveled by train in Europe, and Amtrak certainly has a long way to go to match, say, the Germans. But, the equipment was clean, comfortable, and spacious compared to flying nowadays. We will do it again.
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Strummer » Sat Oct 20, 2018 9:59 am

My wife and I have done SF to Chicago and SF to Portland and loved them both. We got roomettes each time (meals are included in those fees, plus a few other amenities I'll mention later) and flew back on both trips. (I think flying in one direction is the way to go unless you have the ability to do different routes inbound and outbound.)

The pace of travel is very different, as others have noted. You probably have an idea already if this slower pace suits you. There's lots of time to spend in the observation car, reading, or socializing while the landscape goes by. I noticed that my sense of when my vacation began changed — when I'm flying, I don't quite relax until we arrive at our end destination, but when traveling by train, I feel like my vacation starts when I get settled on board. It's a subtle difference but one I enjoy.

You will probably need to make allowances for delays. As someone else has noted, Amtrak doesn't own the tracks, so your train may stop to let others pass on occasion. If you encounter significant delays, Amtrak will provide some sort of compensation if prodded. (Our train into Chicago in 2013 was rerouted due to historic rains in the Rockies.)

If you can afford it, I highly recommend getting a roomette for long trips. You'll sleep better, the meals are decent (not Michelin star-worthy but quite enjoyable), and you'll be able to take showers. Also — and I think this is a good Boglehead tip — the cars with roomettes have a coffee maker at one end which always has a fresh pot on, as one of the amenities provided for roomette occupants. If one were to carry a flask of whiskey, one would be able to enjoy an Irish coffee in one's room at cocktail hour without having to brave the crowds and fees of the lounge car.

Have fun!

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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by GuyInFL » Sat Oct 20, 2018 12:33 pm


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Jazztonight
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Re: Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Post by Jazztonight » Sat Oct 20, 2018 10:21 pm

Not only did I take a roundtrip Amtrak excursion across the US for my 50th high school reunion, but I wrote all about it on the Bogleheads forum. Here's the link:
viewtopic.php?t=143434#p2130574

I plan to do it again next summer for my 55th high school reunion.

Be prepared for delays when riding Amtrak, particularly outside of the NE corridor. You'll meet nice people, see the country, and not have to feel like a sardine in a can (as when you're on a plane).

I recommend the trip. I was not in a sleeper car, and I was traveling alone.

Good luck!
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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