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What Should I Expect On Amtrak?  
User currently offlineQXatFAT From Israel, joined Feb 2006, 2404 posts, RR: 5
Posted (6 years 2 months 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 3802 times:

So I am getting ready to go back to college in Michigan for my final semester and my parents have suggested I try taking the train. They have both flown and taken the train to Michigan plenty of times to visit me and tell me the train is a really neat experience. I have driven from California to Michigan 3 times but what will I expect on this train? The only time I have ridden on a train is from Washington D.C. to Detroit. This will be a longer route from Fresno, CA to Los Angeles, CA to Chicago, IL to then Jackson, MI.

How are the seats? Meals? Scenery? Should I take things that will help me on this trip besides the books and such?

Thanks in advance!

QXatFAT


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26 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlineDocLightning From United States of America, joined Nov 2005, 19710 posts, RR: 58
Reply 1, posted (6 years 2 months 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 3776 times:

Jackson? Spring Arbor U I'm guessing? What, the weather was too nice in CA? I mean I'm from Michigan and I had the good sense to correct that problem ASAP.  Wink

Anyway, you're about to spend three or four days on a train. I sincerely hope you're renting a cabin. Train seats are way more comfortable than Y-seats on a plane, but not for three whole days. Yes it's expensive. Flying's cheaper.

Long-range trains have dining cars. Meals are not typically included in the fare. Take lots and LOTS to read. A GPS device, if you have one, might also be fun. Get a cabin on the left side of the train if you can so that you don't get the full-on brunt of the sun.

And a camera. But, as you know, once you're past the Rockies, it's just a lot of flat.


User currently offlineGlid4500 From United States of America, joined Sep 2005, 587 posts, RR: 7
Reply 2, posted (6 years 2 months 6 days 8 hours ago) and read 3726 times:

You are about to have a good trip, and please be sure to post a TR when u have time.
But anywho, the train is a wonder way to see the americas. Coach seats are wide, comfty, and offer generous pitch. Only thing u'd prolly need is a blanket...just in case it gets cold. I agree with DocLightning, try and get a seat on the left side of the train...so the sun wont get u in the face. I believe there are draw-curtains in the Superliner coach cars. You might have plenty of time to take a good long walk, stretch at Albuquerque. Across from the Alvarado Transportation Center there is a Coldstone Ice Cream shop. Once u pass Lamar, Colorado is all flatlands. have a nice trip



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User currently offlineF9Widebody From United States of America, joined Sep 2003, 1604 posts, RR: 10
Reply 3, posted (6 years 2 months 6 days 6 hours ago) and read 3703 times:

Try going on the California Zephyr through Emeryville and Denver.


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User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6037 posts, RR: 14
Reply 4, posted (6 years 2 months 6 days 5 hours ago) and read 3688 times:

As far as food, expect the snacks and beverages to be overpriced.


Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
User currently offlineTheSonntag From Germany, joined Jun 2005, 3595 posts, RR: 29
Reply 5, posted (6 years 2 months 6 days 5 hours ago) and read 3680 times:

Just of curiosity, as you mentioned the GPS. How fast are Amtrak trains going? I know the US rail network is very old, on the other hand it has long stretches which could help high speeds. So how fast does such a train travel?

User currently offlinePWM2TXLHopper From United States of America, joined Jan 2004, 1328 posts, RR: 1
Reply 6, posted (6 years 2 months 5 days 21 hours ago) and read 3636 times:

Expect a lot of waiting and delays on side tracks out in the middle of nowhere, while you wait for priority freight trains to pass. After all, you're using their tracks.


They're fun for short trips of a couple hundred miles, but riding cross country is just asking for a headache along the way somewhere.

[Edited 2008-07-16 21:55:16]

User currently offline57AZ From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 2550 posts, RR: 2
Reply 7, posted (6 years 2 months 5 days 19 hours ago) and read 3615 times:



Quoting TheSonntag (Reply 5):
How fast are Amtrak trains going? I know the US rail network is very old, on the other hand it has long stretches which could help high speeds. So how fast does such a train travel?

Depends on the track and signaling systems. In many areas, Amtrak has a 79 mph speed limit due to lack of Automatic Train Control or Automatic Train Stop features on either/both the wayside signals and locomotives. There is one corridor in the Midwest where trains routinely run at 90+mph. Even then, the limit is often 90 or 100.



"When a man runs on railroads over half of his lifetime he is fit for nothing else-and at times he don't know that."
User currently offlineJetsGo From United States of America, joined Jul 2003, 3083 posts, RR: 5
Reply 8, posted (6 years 2 months 5 days 19 hours ago) and read 3612 times:



Quoting DocLightning (Reply 1):
Meals are not typically included in the fare



Quoting Goldenshield (Reply 4):
As far as food, expect the snacks and beverages to be overpriced.

If you rent a cabin of some sort, meals will be included. So while a cabin on a train is more expensive than flying, keep in mind they are providing you with at least three meals a day, showers, linens, and many other comforts. I highly recommend you drive up to SMF and catch the California Zephyr and take it to Chicago. Going through the Sierras and Rockies is absolutely stunning. I have ridden the train to Michigan many times as I have family there. Let me know of any questions you may have.

Quoting TheSonntag (Reply 5):
How fast are Amtrak trains going?

On a good stretch, I have seen the them hit 75-80 mph.



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User currently offlineTheSonntag From Germany, joined Jun 2005, 3595 posts, RR: 29
Reply 9, posted (6 years 2 months 5 days 14 hours ago) and read 3587 times:



Quoting PWM2TXLHopper (Reply 6):
Expect a lot of waiting and delays on side tracks out in the middle of nowhere, while you wait for priority freight trains to pass. After all, you're using their tracks.



Quoting JetsGo (Reply 8):

On a good stretch, I have seen the them hit 75-80 mph.

I understand that the railroad network in the US generally only exits because it retained its importance in the cargo sector, but it is interesting that it is the other way around in Germany. Usually, cargo trains must wait for passenger trains here, at least the long distance high-speed trains have highest priority.

The general average top speed is usually 80 - 100 MpH for long distance trains on the old train network, unless it has been upgraded to 120 mph. Going faster is only allowed on new built high-speed tracks.

Of course, long distance means some hours in Germany, something entirely different than sitting days in an Amtrak train. I would love to do that once when I get to the US.


User currently offlineGoldenshield From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 6037 posts, RR: 14
Reply 10, posted (6 years 2 months 5 days 13 hours ago) and read 3582 times:



Quoting TheSonntag (Reply 9):
I understand that the railroad network in the US generally only exits because it retained its importance in the cargo sector, but it is interesting that it is the other way around in Germany. Usually, cargo trains must wait for passenger trains here, at least the long distance high-speed trains have highest priority.

There's only 1-2 companies that don't give priority to passenger trains here in the states, and that's usually because of union contracts. For the most part, though, passenger trains do take priority if they aren't on their own rail. Amtrak even owns its own rail in the northeast section of the country.



Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
User currently offline57AZ From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 2550 posts, RR: 2
Reply 11, posted (6 years 2 months 4 days 6 hours ago) and read 3521 times:



Quoting Goldenshield (Reply 10):
There's only 1-2 companies that don't give priority to passenger trains here in the states, and that's usually because of union contracts. For the most part, though, passenger trains do take priority if they aren't on their own rail. Amtrak even owns its own rail in the northeast section of the country.

True with some exception. UP would give the Sunset priority if they had the capacity to do so. However, the Sunset Route is over capacity now-thanks mostly to post-PanaMax ships offloading at San Diego or Long Beach. Norfolk Southern and CSXT both do pretty good forwarding Amtrak trains on their lines, especially the NS.

As for track speed, that corrolates directly into costs. It costs much more to maintain a line for high speed passenger service-superelevated curves to maintain, ATC control equipment, high speed switches versus low speed switches, etc. That's why Amtrak is limited to 79 mph in most areas. Back in the day, steam railroads such as the Milwaukee Road ran some trains as fast as 110 mph on a daily basis. Way freights would run at top speeds around 40-50 mph, depending on the road and terrain. Fast freights, such as the AT&SF's Green Fruit Express ran at passenger train speeds. Woe be to the dispatcher that unnecessacerily delayed a passenger train or a GFX.



"When a man runs on railroads over half of his lifetime he is fit for nothing else-and at times he don't know that."
User currently offlineMSYtristar From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 6570 posts, RR: 50
Reply 12, posted (6 years 2 months 4 days 5 hours ago) and read 3514 times:

L.A-Chicago on the "Southwest Chief" is a very nice ride. The train is comprised of bi-level Superliner cars. Expect some great scenery leaving L.A over Cajon Pass and then the next morning cruising through Arizone followed by a full day trek across scenic New Mexico. The stop in ABQ lasts for nearly an hour and they have locals next to the train sellling local gifts and food. Be sure to check that out. That second evening you pass through the extreme Southeast corner of Colorado. It should be getting dark around that time. When you wake up you'll be in or near Kansas City. You'll have time to get off here for some fresh air as well. Then you cruise through the heart of Missouri and Iowa (inclduding a great crossing of the Mississippi River in Fort Madison) before heading into the Chicago area. It really is a nice ride. Bring a few books, a blanket, a pillow (they give out small ones but I always bring one of my own also), iPod, and camera. You'll spend a lot of time in the Sightseer Lounge car which has floor-to-ceiling windows for great viewing. The time will pass by quickly. Don't expect to get a TON of sleep in coach, but if you can manage 4 or 5 hours, you'll be fine. Also, it's very easy to take small naps throughout the day. The food is decent...nothing spectacular...but you'll have pay for all meals since you're riding in Coach. The Dining car's nowadays have generally 4 to 5 entrees, and they range from $9 (for breakfast) to $21 (steak for dinner). Sandwiches and snacks in the lounge car are a little overpriced but nothing too bad. Sodas are $1.75...cheaper than US Airways!   The on-time performance of the Southwest Chief is usually good compared to other long distance trains.

Chicago to Michigan will be on a single-level train known as the "Wolverine". It's a basic commuter railroad-type train (the seats are better, however) with a cafe car.

Enjoy your trip!

[Edited 2008-07-18 13:08:26]

User currently offlineQXatFAT From Israel, joined Feb 2006, 2404 posts, RR: 5
Reply 13, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 21 hours ago) and read 3485 times:

Thank you everyone for all of your insight. It looks like the trip from L.A. on is booked on upper level coach and only lower level is available. So I will not be taking that route. I will be taking the northern route out of Sacramento. I see it is a bit longer as well as there is a bus ride from Stockton to Sacramento and then Sacramento on to Reno, Nevada. How is this? I do not think I will be enjoying a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Nevada.


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User currently offlineNathanr From United States of America, joined Jan 2008, 22 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 20 hours ago) and read 3475 times:

Expect to be late.


Last time I was on Amtrak, a tree fell on our train, and made a 3 hour train trip a 13 hour trip. While this wasn't anything Amtrak could have controlled, all the other times I have rode I've been late...

Good luck

-Nathan


User currently offlineTheSonntag From Germany, joined Jun 2005, 3595 posts, RR: 29
Reply 15, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 12 hours ago) and read 3441 times:

These Amtrak long distance trains travel hours without stopping anywhere, correct? This is something we don't know in most of Europe, except for some night trains.

User currently offlineMSYtristar From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 6570 posts, RR: 50
Reply 16, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 12 hours ago) and read 3441 times:



Quoting QXatFAT (Reply 13):
I will be taking the northern route out of Sacramento

Sacramento to Chicago on the California Zephyr is, in my opinion, the bet route in the Amtrak system. The scenery between SMF and DEN is just awesome the entire way. The entire second day you'll be passing through the heart of the Rocky Mountains en route to Denver. Once you leave Grand Junction be sure to grab a seat in the Sightseer car because it will fill up quickly. If on time ( a big if for that train) you'll be getting to DEN around 8:00pm and you'll have time to get out there for a little bit...maybe :30. Night falls as you leave DEN and head out in the vast plains of eastern CO and then Nebraska . The next morning you'll be in OMA and then you'll pass through the flat lands of Iowa before approaching the suburbs of Chicago.


User currently offlineDeltAirlines From United States of America, joined May 1999, 8902 posts, RR: 12
Reply 17, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 3422 times:



Quoting TheSonntag (Reply 15):
These Amtrak long distance trains travel hours without stopping anywhere, correct? This is something we don't know in most of Europe, except for some night trains.

I believe they do make stops in the middle of the night. I know that when I lived in North Carolina, one train made a local stop at about 2 a.m. on it's way to Atlanta or Miami (forget which).

Up here in the Northeast, there's only two true overnight trains out of Boston - the Lake Shore Limited (to Chicago) and the overnight Regional train to Washington - I know this train makes a good 1-2 hour stop in New York Penn Station to allow for a longer travel time so people can get more sleep (was more practical when they had sleepers on this train; now it's just regular business/coach classes).


User currently offlineMSYtristar From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 6570 posts, RR: 50
Reply 18, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 8 hours ago) and read 3407 times:



Quoting DeltAirlines (Reply 17):
I believe they do make stops in the middle of the night

Yes they do...on every Amtrak long distance overnight train. That's just how it goes with train schedules. On the Crescent line that you speak of, for example, all of the cities in NC and SC are served between midnight and 5:00am.


User currently offlineQXatFAT From Israel, joined Feb 2006, 2404 posts, RR: 5
Reply 19, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 3391 times:

Well I just booked my tickets. I am going to drive up to Sacramento and go on the California Zephyr there. I saved some money only paying $179 with AAA discount. Pretty good price from $330 from here in Fresno. Plus my parents would like to just hang out in Sacramento while we are up there the night before.

My friend is actually going to fly down from Seattle and meet up with me in Sacramento and she will ride the train with me all the way to Michigan. Our other classmate and friend will join the train in Colorado. A nice trip with all three of us.

Question: Are there outlets in Coach that I could charge the ipod and cell phone? Also, I might be pushing it but is there any chance of internet at any of these stations that we stop at for 30 min?



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User currently offlineCadet57 From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 9085 posts, RR: 30
Reply 20, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 3389 times:



Quoting QXatFAT (Reply 19):
Question: Are there outlets in Coach that I could charge the ipod and cell phone? Also

All coach seats have 2 120v outlets at each row.



Doors open, right hand side, next stop is Springfield.
User currently offlineMSYtristar From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 6570 posts, RR: 50
Reply 21, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 3387 times:



Quoting QXatFAT (Reply 19):
Are there outlets in Coach that I could charge the ipod and cell phone?

Many Superliner coaches have a pair of outlets at every seat, but some cars do not. Worst case scenario you'd have to go charge it in the Sightseer Lounge for a while. Hopefully you'll get on a refurbished coach with outlets. The coach I was in from Seattle to St. Paul last month did not have outlets at every seat.


User currently offlineQXatFAT From Israel, joined Feb 2006, 2404 posts, RR: 5
Reply 22, posted (6 years 2 months 3 days ago) and read 3357 times:

Here is a question I have on my luggage, what am I allowed to take? They said I have checked luggage to Chicago but no checked luggage to Jackson. What does that mean? Am I loosing out on precious essentials that I need for school?


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User currently offlineCadet57 From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 9085 posts, RR: 30
Reply 23, posted (6 years 2 months 2 days 23 hours ago) and read 3355 times:



Quoting QXatFAT (Reply 22):
Here is a question I have on my luggage, what am I allowed to take?

2 bags upto 50lbs apice



Doors open, right hand side, next stop is Springfield.
User currently offlineQXatFAT From Israel, joined Feb 2006, 2404 posts, RR: 5
Reply 24, posted (6 years 2 months 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 3345 times:



Quoting Cadet57 (Reply 23):
2 bags upto 50lbs apice

So what does it mean for the Jackson leg? I have to keep them at my seat on the train or what? Thats gona suck if I have two big bags next to me including my sports duffle.



Don't Tread On Me!
25 Post contains links MSYtristar : Check out this link: http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...=am2Copy&cid=1080080553878&ssid=43 You can check 3 bags for free on Amtrak; but, if the t
26 57AZ : The Crescent calls at Greensboro and Salisbury on its overnight runs between Washington and Atlanta. Clemson is a late evening stop-around 10:00 PM.
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