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Travel Tips

Last major update December 2012

On Track On Line - Amtrak Tips - Accommodations



Accommodations

All About Amtrak Trains: The Amtrak brochure Amtrak Vacations has diagrams of each type of car and accommodation that Amtrak uses. You can order the brochure on-line here, or pick it up at many Amtrak stations. An interactive digital version can be found here and a PDF version can be found here. System timetables and other publications are available from the web site at the first link and at stations also.

The Amtrak Web Site On board Page also has diagrams and measurements of sleeping compartments. Additional detailed information about Amtrak accommodations is available at the Amtrak Accommodations portion of the Trainweb web site. Excellent diagrams of each type of sleeping car layout, with every room labeled with its letter or number can be found on this Friends of Amtrak page.

Virtual Tours: Amtrak has recently added a "virtual tour" of each type of accommodation to their web site, via their On board page. Apple Quick Time browser plug-in software is required. If you need it, you can download it here; it automatically installs.

Two other web sites provide additional virtual tours of Amtrak equipment. The first is the Amtrak Superliner Virtual Tour from panoramic photographer Willie Kaemena which can be found here. The second which also contains VIA Rail Canada equipment is 360360.COM on Trainweb. No special additional software is needed.

Accommodations Summary:
  • Western long distance trains (all west and south departures from Chicago, the Coast Starlight running along the west coast, the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited, plus the eastern Capitol Limited and Auto Train) are equipped with double-deck "Superliners", all with the same general types of cars. Sleeping cars have 5 Bedrooms (upstairs), formerly named Deluxe Bedrooms, which are ample for two (or two adults and a small child), and 14 Roomettes (10 upstairs, 4 down), formerly called Standard Bedrooms, which are satisfactory for two (with a upper bunk that is a bit tight). There is also one Family Bedroom (2 adults, 2 children) and one Accessible Bedroom (1 mobility impaired person and 1 companion) on the lower level. Only these latter two rooms have in-room windows on both sides of the car. (Please note that 1 Roomette is given over to the attendant, leaving only 13 for sale.)

    The western long distance trains and the Capitol Limited also have passenger accommodations in their "Transition/Dorm" cars, which are primarily used by the train's Service Crew. Passenger accommodations sold in these cars include six Roomettes on the upper level, four on the Empire Builder. A shower is located on the upper level. The rest of the car is off limits to passengers.

    The Auto Train also has unique Superliner sleeping cars with ten Bedrooms and no roomettes on the upper level. Downstairs the car is identical to the normal sleeping cars. See our Auto Train Tips for more info.

  • Eastern trains (except the Capitol Limited and Auto Train) use single-level Viewliner Sleepers and Viewliner Dining cars, along with Amfleet coaches and lounge cars. Amfleet cars were built in the 1970s. You may also see Heritage Diners. Heritage cars are from pre-Amtrak days; they have been fully renovated and configured to Amtrak standards. Viewliner Sleeping Cars include two Bedrooms and 12 Roomettes similar to Superliners described above, plus one Accessible Bedroom. Accommodations for mobility impaired persons are available on all trains.

    One big difference between a Superliner Roomette and the Viewliner Roomette, is that the later includes a toilet and sink in the room. However, due to space limitations, the toilet is not enclosed. Therefore when two people occupy the room, you may find it more comfortable for the other person to step out into the hall.

  • The Family Bedroom on Superliners is the largest room available and great for a family of four or five, but the relatively small windows make watching the scenery a bit difficult. Also it is on the lower level, near the wheels, so a little noisier (though not too loud for sleeping). Plan on spending much of the day in the Lounge Car.

  • On Superliners, two pairs of Bedrooms have a sliding divider that the attendant can open to convert them into 4-6 person suites. The single pair of Bedrooms on a Viewliner can be similarly configured.

  • Access between cars on Superliners is on the upper level only. One cannot pass between cars from the lower level of a Superliner.

  • Coaches on almost all Amtrak cars have reclining seats in a 2-aisle-2 arrangement with ample leg room. You'll usually see an airline style tray table in the back of the seat in front of you. On Superliner coaches and some others the seats have leg rests built in. Almost all coaches have footrests. Coach seats on all but the cars used on the shortest routes are quite comfortable, approximately like a family room recliner. Tip: Seats on Superliner Coaches have 2" more legroom on the stairway side of the coach.

  • Aisle or window? If traveling alone you'll often have a choice. Window gets you the best view, something to lean against when sleeping, and a bit more privacy. However, an aisle seat gives you freedom, which is not to be underestimated, especially at 3:00am when you must visit the rest room. On the other hand, if the person in the window seat needs the rest room at 3:00 AM, you're probably going to know about it.

  • Where to sit in the car? If you have an option, try not to sit too close to the front end of the car. The view will be better a little further back, particularly out the side opposite your seat. This also applies to seats opposite and just behind the center stairwell area on Superliners. Watch out for other folks with coolers (not you, of course) -- smelly food has been known to appear from them.

  • Lounge cars are intended for viewing the scenery and grabbing a snack or a meal from the cafe area. Seating is generally less comfortable and open to everyone, first come, first served. We've never seen anyone asked to leave because they've "been there too long", but it is considered good manners not to hog a lounge car seat all day long. Double-deck Superliner Lounge Cars are the place to be for scenery highlights and to meet other travelers. Dining cars are another place that you are likely to meet interesting people as you usually share a table with someone new each time.

  • Showers: Superliner and Viewliner sleeping cars have showers in Bedrooms and a single shower (downstairs on Superliners) for others to use (it's larger and easier to use than the Bedroom shower and is available to all passengers booked in that car). Some other cars have larger "changing rooms" or "accessible" restrooms, which have more space for taking a sponge bath. There are no showers in coach cars. Don't expect to wash up too much while on the train. Deodorant is another "mandatory" part of the Amtrak Experience.

    Note: A few older Superliner sleeping cars still have push-button shower controls in the Bedroom combination shower/toilet compartments; be careful not to confuse the shower control with the toilet control.

General info about sleeping accommodations: Passengers traveling in a sleeper will find that Amtrak provides all the needed linens, pillows, and blankets for their beds. While thick luxury hotel mattresses are not provided, the mattresses still do an adequate job and at least allow one to sleep horizontally unlike the coach seats. A compartment is also much darker than what one experiences in coach and you donít typically hear your neighbors either, even if you didn't bring earplugs. One also has some control over the temperature within your room, especially in the Viewliner sleepers where you actually have a thermostat. Your sleeping car attendant can help you to adjust the temperature controls if youíre not certain how they work.

Additionally your attendant will convert the room from its daytime seating configuration to its nighttime bed configuration. This is part of their job and not something that you should need to deal with. The attendant will also return the room back to its daytime configuration the next morning. Most good attendants watch for you to head for breakfast in the diner and will have your room back to seats by the time you return from breakfast. Soap, washcloths, and towels are provided both for quick wash-ups in the bathrooms and for the showers.

As noted elsewhere sleeping car passengers get all of their meals included when taken in the dining car. Additionally there is a common area in each sleeper where one can find free coffee, tea, and juice for most of the day. Ice may also be available at that common area too depending on the car configuration. If ice isn't visible, then ask your attendant for some. Those traveling on the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder routes can also expect a special welcoming gift that contains a light snack and a split of Champagne, for the adults that is. Kids (and adults not wishing to imbibe) will be offered their choice of sparkling cider or juice instead. Finally you should find a morning newspaper under your door when you wake up in the morning. The paper is often a local paper from the last major city that your train passed through earlier that morning, but it's also possible that you'll get a USA Today.

Station Lounges: Amtrak has very comfortable Station Lounges at select stations. In Boston South Station, New York Penn Station, Philadelphia 30th Street Station and Washington Union Station. Club Acela Lounges are available to passengers traveling in First Class on Acela or to sleeping car passengers. Metropolitan Lounges are located at the stations in Chicago and Portland, OR. Sleeping car passengers may use these lounges on the same day they are departing and/or arriving at one of the above stations. Simply show your eTicket, ticket, or ticket stub at the counter in the lounge for admittance. AGR members holding Select Plus or Select Executive cards can also gain admittance to these lounges by showing their membership cards without regard to what train they're traveling on or what class of service. You can leave your baggage in most of the Lounges for no charge while you go off to do other things or just relax in the well appointed and comfortable lounge. The lounges also have WiFi connections for computer users and a few offer computer terminals; ask about this at the reception desk.

Special First Class waiting rooms can be found in New Orleans (called the "Magnolia Room"); St. Paul, MN; Miami, FL; St. Louis, MO (a new addition); and Raleigh NC. These rooms are typically not staffed by Amtrak personnel and don't necessarily provide all of the amenities found in the First Class lounges mentioned above. One gains admittance to these rooms by speaking with a ticket agent at the ticket counter and showing your ticket or card.

Amtrak has also made special arrangements in LA for sleeping car passengers on the Coast Starlight. A special area of the Traxx Lounge, which is closed at the time the Coast Starlight departs, is set aside for sleeping car passengers. Coffee, tea, and pastries are available and passengers are escorted directly from the lounge to the train when it's ready. This lounge is not available to passengers on any other train, nor is it available to those with Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus status.

Notes regarding the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge:

The Chicago Metropolitan Lounge completed a major renovation and expansion project about 6 years ago. Thanks to that work, the lounge can now comfortably accommodate far more people than it could in the past. Additionally Amtrak has basically done away with the open luggage storage area, although large groups still use that area from time to time. Now passengers can check their bags for free with a Redcap who staffs a secure room located within the lounge itself. After checking in at the desk, simply turn around to find the luggage area. While checking your bags is free, the Redcaps manning the room do still appreciate tips.

Due to the late departure times of the Lake Shore Limited, the Capitol Limited, and the City of New Orleans out of Chicago, Amtrak has implemented a special procedure for the boarding of these trains from the Metropolitan Lounge. Assuming that the train is cleaned and ready to go early enough, the lounge now boards the sleeping car passengers 45 to 60 minutes prior to departure.

For the City of New Orleans, usually within 10 to 15 minutes of boarding your sleeper, you will be called to the Cross Country Cafe car for dinner. This means that you are often already seated, with your order taken and will be munching on your salad before the train ever leaves Chicago Union Station. For the Capitol Limited, reservations for diner are taken when you check in with the lounge attendant. But again, if you pick an early time, you could well be enjoying your dinner before the train leaves the station. If you are not in the Metropolitan Lounge at the proper time, then you may well miss getting dinner on the train, depending on how full it is. Also because of the reduced amount of time for dinner, we do not recommend that coach passengers wait for dinner on the train, at least in the dining car. You might get lucky and get in, but you might also end up in the cafe car.

The Lake Shore Limited leaves Chicago so late that it does not serve dinner onboard. All passengers are advised to eat dinner in the station before departure. Sleeping car passengers in the lounge will still board early and they will be invited to the dining car for a wine & cheese tasting. They also usually have grapes and of course crackers for the cheese, as well as a sparkling cider for the kids and those adults who don't want wine.


On the Train What do to on the train, what to bring and not bring with you; how to enjoy your experience.

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