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Best Amtrak Rail Routes?  
User currently offlineUALfa@jfk From United States of America, joined May 2000, 311 posts, RR: 0
Posted (15 years 10 months 19 hours ago) and read 2487 times:

I've grown so weary of free air travel, that I'm planning to do something different: Take Amtrak from the East Coast all the way out West to California or the Pacific NW (just for the scenery). ...The problem? I don't know which transcontinental rail routes are the most interesting:

-The one that goes through Chicago, Colorado, Utah and San Francisco?

-Chicago, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona to L.A?

-Chicago, Nevada, Utah to L.A?

-Chicago through the North Central Plains and Northern Rockies to Seattle?

-or from Jacksonville, Florida through the Gulf states, to New Mexico, Arizona and L.A?

Anyone knowledgeable in this regard would be appreciated!

16 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlinePeter From United States of America, joined Jun 2000, 570 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (15 years 10 months 16 hours ago) and read 2366 times:

I have never been on any of them, but I think the one that goes from Chicago to Seattle would be the best. I think that it is called Empire Builder. I have wanted to go one that route, but haven't yet.

User currently offlineNKP S2 From United States of America, joined Dec 1999, 1714 posts, RR: 5
Reply 2, posted (15 years 10 months 16 hours ago) and read 2365 times:

Try the newsgroups. misc.rail.travel.americas or somesuch--not sure of the exact address. Many will be happy to relay their experiences. I know the 'Cardinal' (DC-Va/WVa mountains-Chicago) is good for scenery on the eastern half, as is the 'Capitol Limited' (DC-Pittsburg-Chicago). 'Capitol' is the fuller service train (sleepers,diners).

User currently offlineDesertJets From United States of America, joined Feb 2000, 7897 posts, RR: 14
Reply 3, posted (15 years 10 months 15 hours ago) and read 2367 times:

I'd suggest the Southwest Chief, that takes you through Northern New Mexico, the Painted Desert, Flagstaff, and the Mohave... if you take a Southern route I would recommend that over the Texas Eagle which goes from Chicago, via Dallas, San Antonio, Tucson.... even though I live in the southern Arizona desert I find it dull.

Stop drop and roll will not save you in hell. --- seen on a church marque in rural Virginia
User currently offlineCstarU From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (15 years 10 months 12 hours ago) and read 2360 times:

The California Zephyr from Denver west to Salt Lake City and Reno, NV to Emeryville, CA (San Francisco).

User currently offlineDk From France, joined Jan 2010, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (15 years 10 months 6 hours ago) and read 2360 times:

Hi Ual......! Years ago I went from Boston to Albuquerque N.M. on Amtrak. The route was Boston-New York-Chicago-Colorado and into N.M. It was a great trip, met lots of wonderful people, and had a good time, however if I were to do it again I would definitely get a sleeper, it is very hard sleeping in those seats for 2-3 nights in a row! The trains from Chicago out west are more comfortable and larger than the eastern ones with club cars and observation cars. Of course I am talking many years ago now and things have probably changed somewhat since then, but it was great to be able to see the country side as you travel. There is not much to see in the east except the cities but as you go further out west the scenery gets better!

User currently offlineHamlet69 From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 2849 posts, RR: 57
Reply 6, posted (15 years 10 months ago) and read 2356 times:

I've done the Empire Builder (Seattle - Chicago) a few times, and I loved it!! I would suggest getting a sleeper car, it's more expensive, but the coach seats are terrible to sleep in. The lounge car is fun, and the best part is probably just watching the scenery go by. Most people would consider the Great Plains to be boring, and in a way they are right. However, I feel they have their own beauty that is wonderful to see. Of course, Glacier National Park and the Cascades (my homeland) are nothing to sneeze at. One interesting point; the train actually goes UNDER Stevens Pass in the Cascades. The tunnel is 7(?) miles long, the second longest in the United States.


Honor the warriors, not the war.
User currently offlineRedngold From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 6907 posts, RR: 40
Reply 7, posted (15 years 9 months 4 weeks 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 2356 times:

Alas the "Desert Wind" has been discontinued... That's the one I took from Chicago, IL to Las Vegas, NV.

You'll actually have to take two trains and it will probably take you at least five days to cross the continent. All of the westbound trains from the East Coast stop in Chicago, with the exception of the JAX-LAX train. For that one you'll have to take a train from New York down the East Coast to JAX.

I agree that the "Empire Builder" is great. Although I have never been on it I think it probably has the most travel time in mountainous territory and I like that.

A nice thing about the trains, as has been already said, is the social opportunities. Gosh, in two days I met people my age from three different countries, ate dinner in the dining car with people old enough to be my grandparents (they had great stories!) and still got to Vegas in a relatively good mood.

Two words of warning, though:
1. AMTRAK does not have a very good on-time record on the western routes. Be prepared to be several hours late -- six was good on the Desert Wind!
2. Do NOT take the Lake Shore Limited from Boston or New York to Chicago... unless it is your only option. It has a terrible on-time record, you are likely to miss your connection if you are more than four hours late to Chicago... That train is also notorious for running out of food and having maintenance problems with toilets, probably because of being so late all the time.

Good luck,

Up, up and away!
User currently offlineTWFirst From Vatican City, joined Apr 2000, 6346 posts, RR: 51
Reply 8, posted (15 years 9 months 4 weeks 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 2349 times:

Empire Builder - definitely!!! Route forged by St. Paulite James J. Hill and his Great Northern Railroad. Scenery is absolutely spectacular (Glacier National Park).

An unexamined life isn't worth living.
User currently offlineVirginA340 From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 15 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (15 years 9 months 4 weeks 1 day 17 hours ago) and read 2347 times:

I like Amtrak's Northeast direct. I'll like it when The Acela begins service. I also like Amtrak's Silver Meteor and Silver Star which is both New York City to Orlando Florida

User currently offlineJohnboy From United States of America, joined Aug 1999, 2663 posts, RR: 7
Reply 10, posted (15 years 9 months 4 weeks 1 day 2 hours ago) and read 2345 times:

This is not answering your specific question, but once you arrive on the West Coast, why not consider taking the Coast Starlight (LA-Seattle)? I haven't taken it, but i've talked to many who have and loved it.

For a small taste of coastal railroading, you might try the Pacific Surfliner route (formerly Amtrak's San Diegans) from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Beautiful scenery along the way, and leaves the coast only to travel to downtown Los Angeles Union Station.

While the Empire Builder probably has spectacular scenery, I think the California Zephyr has both fantastic cities AND scenery on its route over the Plains, Rockies, Great Basin, Sierra Nevadas, and finally over the Sacramento Valley to San Francisco (actually Emeryville, across from San Francisco). I've always wanted to stop at Glenwood Springs ( I think that's the name) and take a dip in that HUGE hot springs pool in the dead of winter!

User currently offlineUALfa@jfk From United States of America, joined May 2000, 311 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (15 years 9 months 4 weeks 22 hours ago) and read 2341 times:

Thanx guys!

All of you have been helpful!

User currently offlineSurf From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 12, posted (15 years 9 months 2 days 2 hours ago) and read 2327 times:

One correction. It doesn't take 5 days to cross the country it really only takes about 3 and half. If i left Los Angeles on Sunday evening on the Southwest Chief I'd arrive in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon, make a connection with the evening departure of the Lake Shore Limited and arrive in New York on Wednesday afternoon.

Re Coast Starlight: is is Amtrak's premier train, and the most luxurious with the most amenities and BEAUTIFUL scenery. There are Sleeepers of course on this train, a dining car a coach lounge and a lounge exclusively for frist class passengers plus a kids car and I dont know if they started this or not but one car was going to be configured to show movies (a cinema car).

Re Lake Shore Limited: it consists of new "viewliner" sleepers and the rooms have video entertainment in them. The silver service routes have them also.

Get yourself of copy of Amtrak's America travel planner to investigate all your options. There are Standard Bedrooms, Deluxe Bedrooms and Family Bedrooms. If you are going over night DO NOT GO COACH! Get a sleeper! Also all meals are included when you travel on a first class ticket. If you go coach, you must pay serperately for meals in the dining car.


User currently offlineRedngold From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 6907 posts, RR: 40
Reply 13, posted (15 years 9 months 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 2321 times:

The five days includes layover time especially in New York and Chicago.

FYI the southern coast-to-coast route (JAX-LAX) is called the "Sunset Limited". It is the only transcontinental route that doesn't go through Chicago.


Up, up and away!
User currently offlineSurf From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 14, posted (15 years 9 months 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 2320 times:

If you cross country from Los Angeles to New York via Chicago on the train it will NOT take you five days (unless you mean a layover where you stay in a hotel on purpouse to sightsee for two days). Actually if you add it up, even with your layover time between your connection in Chicago, it may actually come out to only three days or less (less than 72 hours total). I'll do some research, and post later.

User currently offlineRedngold From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 6907 posts, RR: 40
Reply 15, posted (15 years 9 months 21 hours ago) and read 2313 times:

OK, OK, OK Surf... I give up.... Just remember, most of the trains from Boston take 1-1/2 days to get to Chicago, and the trains to the West Coast take almost 3 days, even if they're on time. and even though I'm a die-hard AMTRAKer, I won't even begin to lie that Amtrak is always on time and you always make your connections.

If you want to say it takes less than five days, be my guest.  


Up, up and away!
User currently offlineSurf From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 16, posted (15 years 9 months 20 hours ago) and read 2310 times:

Well here is the train schedule from Amtrak. You leave on August 9th, arrive in New York on August 12.

3 days.

Train #4
Sold Out Los Angeles-Union Station, CA Chicago, IL 8/9/00
Depart Los Angeles 7:05PM
Arrive Chicago 4:15PM

Train #48
Sold Out Chicago, IL New York-Penn. Station, NY 8/11/00
Depart Chicago 7:00PM
Arrive New York-Penn 3:00PM

Total Elapsed Travel Time (including layover in Chicago): 65 hours (which is actually less than 3 days, to be technical)

Now I will admit too that it is a rare day when Amtrak stays right on schedule (mostly through no fault of their own), so many hours yes, but they sure as hell aren't gonna arrive you in New York two DAYS late!!!

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