A Guide to
Traveling by Train
Traveling train can be a wonderful and relaxing experience. The scenery can be stunning through back country that you cannot see by car. Huge bridges, tunnels, pasture land, and a host of small towns along the way. Amtrak passengers seem to have a character all their own. These are people who usually like the travel experience and enjoy interacting with fellow passengers.
The observation car provides massive views of the scenery along with a variety of seating nooks and tables. There is a lounge bar where beer, wine, cocktails and snacks can be purchased, or enjoy your own.
Dinner time is a great experience if you like people. They will seat everyone together, so you'll be meeting new people and sharing stories. You can also order dinner to go.
The train does rock quite a bit, so expect to be jostled around, but that's part of the fun.
Below are some specific tips:
1. For best rates, check ahead and be flexible with travel dates. You can save a lot of money on your fare by traveling on a different day of the week.
2. Note that the baggage you can take on board at a major station is more than at a smaller station. We had a sleeper car booked from Union Station Chicago to Los Angeles. The baggage rules are posted. http://studenttravel.about.com/od/usstudenttraintravel/ig/Amtrak-Train-Photos-Gallery/Amtrak-Baggage-Check.htm We knew that we can check 3 large bags, and carry on 2 plus a personal bag. Since we were driving in from Cleveland, we thought of boarding in Naperville to avoid traffic and the Amtrak reservationist made the change. But, after we booked, we asked again about the baggage to double-check and found out you can only take on two carry on bags at Naperville! Thankfully we found out before arriving with all of our bags! We changed back to boarding at Chicago Union Station.
3. Get a sleeper car when traveling overnight if possible. It's a little more money, but well worth the privacy and attention, plus your meals are included, which can be half the price of the ticket. There are a number of different size sleeper cars. The smaller 'roomette' is more than adequate for two people, although the family sleeper car is nice if you want your own bathroom and shower! They all have beautiful picture windows to enjoy the scenery.
Ask to be on the upper floor of the train. The bottom floor feels the bumps of the rails more in my opinion. Note there is an upper and lower bunk and it is very difficult to sleep two on one bunk, so you'll have to decide on that. It's not easy climbing up to the top bunk but once there it's comfortable for a medium size build.
4. Bring Snacks. Snacks and beverages are expensive if you buy on board, especially if you want a glass of wine or beer. Bring a little cooler and you'll save big time. There is extra storage room on the first floor of the train car to leave bags and a cooler!
5. If you're chemically sensitive, you may have difficulty with the diesel smell. It's intermittent, just a puff here and there when slowing down usually and it doesn't bother me at all. But it bothers my wife who was roaming through the train trying to find the freshest air. Chemically sensitive people also know that sheets and blankets are washed in industrial grade soap and they should probably bring their own. Again, I have no such problems but I know those who do.
6. Safety Issues: If you're taking the train because you think flying is less safe, you probably already know that this is not true. You just feel safer because you're not flying and perhaps you cannot deal with a sense of panic. But it's because you are on the ground that you have many more variables including the track condition, crossing mechanisms, human error etc. Air travel is the safest form of travel. There are about 50,000 people flying everyday. Having said that, I still enjoy both forms of travel. The Amtrak doesn't seem to suffer much when hitting a passenger car. It is huge. It is much bigger than a Metro train which can suffer catastrophic damage and derailment when hitting a car On one Amtrak trip our train hit one car at night, and the next night the train ahead of us hit one! It didn't damage the trains at all, and only delayed us a couple hours each night. Both nights the drivers of the automobiles were killed. The attendants had a confidence about hitting cars. But it's a different story if the train hits a truck. It's rare, but if it happens, a truck accident can derail the train and cause a lot of injuries. We had an attendant who was working on a train that hit a lumber truck and derailed. She was laid up for 18 months. She said she gave her life to Jesus during that time and she is still serving Amtrak. She was a darling woman and I'm glad I met her on our last trip from Chicago to L.A.. Note to drivers: Don't try to beat the train! Assume a train is coming when crossing railroad tracks.
7. Don't count too much on the schedule. There can be many reasons for a delay. Freight trains have priority. So give yourself lots of time.
8. Check your arrival and connections carefully. You might have a long layover in a remote area waiting for a connecting train.
9. Be strong enough for train travel. If you have any problems with knees or hips realize that the train wobbles and sways, like a bus. So it can throw you from side to side as you're walking through the cars. There are many seniors who travel by train, and I've met many who have some mobility issues that do not keep them from travel. They are a hardy lot and I admire them greatly.
10. Relax and have a great
time. You'll enjoy the people, the food and the leisure to catch up on
reading, resting and life.
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