Riding the Amtrak rails on the government's dime

 

News article: Riding the Amtrak rails on the government's dime

There's something about taking a shower as you hurtle at 90 mph through Kansas cornfields.

  BigTrain2015 Junior Train Controller

Anyone here ever traveled on Amtrak in the USA and if there are what was it like?

I have wondered if it is worth taking the trip to see the countryside?

Riding the Amtrak rails on the government's dime

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  Brianr Assistant Commissioner

Location: Dunedin, New Zealand
Anyone here ever traveled on Amtrak in the USA and if there are what was it like?

I have wondered if it is worth taking the trip to see the countryside?

Riding the Amtrak rails on the government's dime
BigTrain2015
I find it a great way to see America although unfortunately the service is not as good today as when I first travelled in the 1990's.

In 1997 I travelled from San Francisco (Emeryville) to Seattle on the Coast Starlight.  I think we were a few hours late departing and about 4 hours late arriving but the meals were wonderful and I enjoy sleeping in a berth.
In 1999 I travelled from Chicago to San Francisco (California Zephyr - 2 nights) on probably the most scenic route through Colorado(so repeated in 2012 below)
In 2007 I travelled from Charleston to Washington on the Palmetto, a day trip but unfortunately a suicide in front of the train ahead of us meant a very late arrival into Washington. Later I travelled to Philadelphia and then New York on the Northeast corridor.

In 2010 I travelled just by day trains from New York to Albany then the next day on the Adirondack to Port Kent a ferry ride across the lake from Burlington. It was someone on this forum who advised me of this connection. I have often wished there was more discussion here of overseas travel. A few days later I was on the Vermonter from Essex Jct (a taxi ride from Burlington again advised here) to New Haven where after staying overnight I travelled to Boston then later to Portland, Maine.
In 2012 I made my big trip. First from Los Angeles to Emeryville on the Coast Starlight. Even though it was not overnight, I was advised to book a sleeper as it is more comfortable, private and all meals are free, still good in the parlour car which is only on the Coast Starlight.
The after a hotel night in Emeryville I was on the California Zephyr again for 2 whole days and a night to Denver. I did a coach tour of Yellowstone and flew from Salt Lake City to New York.
However from New York I travelled down to Washington then overnight on the Cardinal to Chicago where I boarded the Empire Builder. I broke my journey for 4 nights in Glacier National Park (A self guide tour organised through Amtrak) At that time the Empire Builder had severe timetable problems due to the freight traffic on the line, I believe it has improved, but I was very late into Seattle.
Several days later I travelled again on the Coast Starlight a day and a night back to Emeryville and San Francisco.
I still think it is a great ways to travel but cuts forced by Congress have made it less of a wonderful experience than in the past and I find it is a lottery as to the car attendant. Some go far above their requirements trying to provide the service of the past while a few could not care less. My only bad experience was on the California Zephyr in 2012. I let Amtrak know my thoughts. However do not expect the on time running usually (but not always) found on European trains. For example I should have been able to arrive Chicago from Washingto in the morning and join the afternoon Empire Builder to Seattle. As it turned out I could have done so but I chose to stay overnight in a hotel and be sure.  I lost out financially due to the very late arrival into Seattle.
  Valvegear Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Norda Fittazroy
I travelled with Amtrak in 1976/77. I enjoyed it then, and would be interested to have up to date opinions now.
  12CSVT Chief Commissioner

Location: Drowning in accreditation red tape!
I have travelled extensively on Amtrak in 2002, 2008 and am heading over again next year for another go!

Trains I have enjoyed so far include the Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, Cascades, Empire Builder, Wolverine, Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Empire Service, Adirondack, Vermonter, Downeaster, North East Regional, Silver Star, Crescent, Sunset Limited and Southwest Chief.

Had a bit of late running on a few trains, but luckily, so far, nothing extreme. I love the sleepers (especially the twinettes), dining cars and most of all, the Superliner Lounges. Superbly comfortable and the scenery has been fantastic. Some of the real scenic highlights have been the California coast (Pacific Surfliner & Coast Starlight), mountains in Oregon (Coast Starlight), Washington state and B.C. coast (Cascades), Columbia River Gorge, Glacier National Park and the Mississippi (Empire Builder), Hudson River valley (Empire Service), Lake Champlain (Adirondack), Vermont in autumn (Vermonter), open plains of West Texas (Sunset Limited) and the Transcon (Route 66) through New Mexico & Arizona (Southwest Chief). All have been unforgettable experiences I will remember till I die. The food has been fabulous in the dining cars. Even the cafeterias have pretty good food (for America!!) and are generally better than you find in cafeterias on Australian trains. As an earlier poster mentioned, staff are a lucky dip. Some are great to deal with. Some however, need to seriously consider a new career! All in all I am yet to have any BIG issues. Did lose my luggage once on arrival in Houston - but after a wait and great help from the station staff, got it back when they identified some abandoned luggage, contacted the owners, who suddenly realised they picked up the wrong bags and came all the way back to the station, apologetically, with our stuff!

Next year I will be getting a few I haven't experienced yet, like the California Zephyr, Missouri River Runner, City of New Orleans, Texas Eagle, Hiawatha, Cardinal, Piedmont, Carolinian, Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian - plus a few I have done before, again. Can't wait.

This time I booked well in advance to secure twinettes and family cabins. Last time relying on a travel agent, I got mucked around leaving my bookings too late until I could only get roomettes, which are nice, but a bit squeezy. Similar to what you would find on the Ghan or Indian Pacific.

Of course, I am doing VIA Rail & The Rocky Mountaineer in Canada big time as well (as I have also done previously) and will also be going up to Alaska to do the Denali Star. By the time I am finished, it will only be a few regional services I wont have ridden.
  The Vinelander Minister for Railways

Location: Ballan, Victoria on the Ballarat RFR Line
Trains that evoke mystery of a past railroad age like the Coast Starlight, the South West Chief (a nod to Santa Fe’s crack Super Chief), the Empire Builder and the California Zephyr, all long distance services of over 1500 miles that operate on a DAILY basis, these are among my favourite AMTRAK trains to travel on and around every 5 years I return to the USA to do so.

However the excellent AMTRAK trains would not be in existence if it wasn’t for their passengers, many of whom are locals who have to the time to see their own countryside roll by and refuse to abide by their community expectations as we do here in Oz that the only way to travel is by a cramped seat in cattle class in an aluminium tube. AMTRAK beats the airlines in the comfort stakes...hands down.

I never arrive in Los Angeles from Australia without having booked a left side roomette berth for day use and at a very economical cost when travelling by the Seattle bound Coast Starlight to that amazing city of San Francisco, and what a way to travel.

The daily morning departure from the spectacular Los Angeles Union station of the north-bound Coast Starlight sees the train curve along the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River, often seen in car chases on movies and TV shows and on through Glendale towards San Luis Obispo, but before you reach that station with its Aussie gum tree backdrop, you’ll have already booked your seat in the dining car for your complimentary lunch as the train winds along the Pacific Ocean for many miles where you will have uninterrupted views. Later in the afternoon the train arrives at Emeryville or Oakland stations where you can take BART to down-town San Francisco.

The South West Chief travels through Nevada, Arizona, where you can change to the Grand Canyon Railway at Williams or go through to Flagstaff…then travel onwards across the plains through New Mexico, Kansas and ultimately to Chicago.

The California Zephyr departing the mile high City of Denver on the second day of its westbound journey from Chicago, you’ll see spectacular views of the front of the train as it curves around and ascends the face of the Rockies and the GM loco’s working hard and clearly higher in elevation as the rear of the normally 10 carriage train follows along. The tunnels, the curves, the wonderful scenery and as you travel through the Moffatt Tunnel and slowly descend the other side you’ll find yourself entering and winding along a canyon with a growing river. That river is the Colorado which ultimately flows through the Grand Canyon, but before it does that, you’ll be drunk with the vision of spectacular scenery and engineering marvels of how the railway and the adjacent freeway were constructed through the canyon. After a while the train arrives at Glenwood Springs.

These are three small highlights of three trains I love to travel on in the USA.

But trains are only in operation because of the passengers who want to travel on them and it’s the passengers as much as the scenery that makes for a fascinating journey.

Trains encourage people to mix. The combination of the passing scenery completely unlike our Australian countryside, the tiny towns surrounded in season by the never ending fields of corn, the spectacular sunny weather in September and the colours of the leaves in Colorado at that time.

As soon as a passenger sitting near you in the Sightseer Lounge car hears your Australian accent, you’ll become like a moth to a flame. Americans love Aussies because of our similarities and our diversities. As mentioned, many local passengers prefer AMTRAK or have no choice because the train stops at small towns where airlines don’t fly or they are too inconvenient. The stories I’ve heard from despairing locals about the loony Tea Party and the politically powerful National Rifle Association and how it dictates American politics among many other subjects…as small-town America rolls past makes us grateful that Australia is without a doubt the best country in the world.

You may have guessed though, I love America and in particular rural America, from Yosemite National Park to the plains of Nebraska when seen from a train window avoids the constant bombardment of advertising that lines their interstate freeway network. See America by AMTRAK and you’ll have a journey unequalled, but you have to put in to get what you want out of it.

A final note, if you're happy to travel the very economical coach class, you only need to book ahead at Thanksgiving time, if however you want to book sleepers for your overnight travel, become familiar with the user friendly AMTRAK website and plan a journey you'll rave about for years.

Mike.
  james.au Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney, NSW
Ive used Acela twice, once with a connecting train in Philly from middle of Pennsylvania.  Great service all round.  If anyone is wanting to know what sort of train we need in Aus, go have a ride on that.  Ignore the TGV/Eurostar/Shinkansen.  If we are to do anything (which I view is debatable exept maybe for SYD-CBR) Acela would be more than adequate.  

Its a fast service, limited stops, runs to time.  Very well connected to city centres and beats flying those routes as airport security is a nightmare (as I've done some of those same routes too).  If the US was as densely populated as Europe, they might have a Chicago Acela too, though airlines probably have the distance advantage there.
  nswtrains Chief Commissioner

Ive used Acela twice, once with a connecting train in Philly from middle of Pennsylvania.  Great service all round.  If anyone is wanting to know what sort of train we need in Aus, go have a ride on that.  Ignore the TGV/Eurostar/Shinkansen.  If we are to do anything (which I view is debatable exept maybe for SYD-CBR) Acela would be more than adequate.  

Its a fast service, limited stops, runs to time.  Very well connected to city centres and beats flying those routes as airport security is a nightmare (as I've done some of those same routes too).  If the US was as densely populated as Europe, they might have a Chicago Acela too, though airlines probably have the distance advantage there.
james.au
I totally agree with your views on Acela. Much safer than the aluminium junk they make in all those other countries. In May this year wanted to travel on Acela from Boston to New York but my time constraints put us on the regular train which was still very good.

Travelled extensively on AMTRAK and can highly recommend it. Fairly expensive by sleeper on the really long runs (Zephyr, Sunset, Empire Builder and Chief etc) but reasonable on the NE runs. In May ran from NY to Montreal and that was reasonably priced and very comfortable and very scenic, particular the run along the lake.

Just by the by travelled from Montreal to Quebec City on Via Rail last May and it was quite strange travelling in those passenger cars intended originally for the Night Star service London to Paris. Really demonstrates how small the UK loading gauge is compared to the GE P44s that haul it that are of course full US loading gauge. Took some pictures that really demonstrate the difference but not in a position to down load at the moment.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
I totally agree with your views on Acela. Much safer than the aluminium junk they make in all those other countries. In May this year wanted to travel on Acela from Boston to New York but my time constraints put us on the regular train which was still very good.

Travelled extensively on AMTRAK and can highly recommend it. Fairly expensive by sleeper on the really long runs (Zephyr, Sunset, Empire Builder and Chief etc) but reasonable on the NE runs. In May ran from NY to Montreal and that was reasonably priced and very comfortable and very scenic, particular the run along the lake.

Just by the by travelled from Montreal to Quebec City on Via Rail last May and it was quite strange travelling in those passenger cars intended originally for the Night Star service London to Paris. Really demonstrates how small the UK loading gauge is compared to the GE P44s that haul it that are of course full US loading gauge. Took some pictures that really demonstrate the difference but not in a position to down load at the moment.
nswtrains

Acela is actually partly derived from TGV and uses many common parts. Its a heavy smeg at over 23t/axle for the power cars and 16t/axle for trailers, way too much steel for the 21st century. To get the track speeds alot more money needs to be thrown at the track.

However as a concept I totally agree this is ideal for Syd-Canberra provided it has a decent set of rails and alignment under it. The huge popularity over the 750km long Washington to Boston corridor is justified by the investment in the infrastructure backed up by the sure number of people along the route.

However it lacks one thing that is certainly required for Syd-Can, a diesel engine. Despite my most optimistic support, I cannot see enough usage on the best possible rails to justify an O/H on what still would be a single track for last 100km. The Acela and XPT are basically the same concept, just differing in technology driven by time and availability of O/H and with a tilt function.

So something with a diesel at each end, enough grunt to pull 200km/hr, TILT and a few billion thrown at the rails to reduce time down to 2.5hr with closure of Fyswick and relocation of the terminus to the airport would probably pull more than a few plane loads out of the air.
  RedEyeExpress Junior Train Controller

Location: Melbourne
I'd say it's well worth it if you get the opportunity BigTrain! In recent years Amtrak-wise I've travelled on the Pacific Surfliner from L.A. Union Station to San Diego, and the Northeast Regional from New York Penn to Washington Union.

Business Class on the Northeast Regional was good value I thought with plenty of space and comfortable seats.

The L.A.-San Diego stretch of the Surfliner's route is really photogenic, running very close to the coast in parts - almost right on the sand. Many of the 'stations' were simply cleared trackside gravel areas with bus stop-style signage.

For an Australian, the number of stations with low-level (just above rail height) platforms seems surprising, especially for such flagship routes. Even big stations like L.A. Union and Washington Union have them. But it makes it much easier to see the whole of the train and it gives everything a Wild West-type feel.      

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