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Riding an Amtrak Train Overnight: Tips for First-Time Rail Travelers

Amtrak's Texas Eagle with Superliner cars pulls into Austin, Texas station in June 2011 [L. Henry photo].
Amtrak's Texas Eagle with Superliner cars pulls into Austin, Texas station in June 2011 [L. Henry photo].

Planning a trip on an overnight Amtrak train? Or maybe thinking about it? Maybe even considering traveling more than one night?

Many people like to travel on Amtrak—even though long-distance train trips take longer than flying. After all, there's much less hassle, and it's a lot less stressful than driving. Besides, train travel has some special attractions; just for starters, here are a few:

• You can read, watch a movie on your DVD player, work on your laptop, or just plain relax in a spacious, comfortable seat while interesting and often gorgeous scenery passes by outside your window.

• You can walk through the train, between cars, stretching your legs, and grab a snack or beverage or eat a meal in the diner; you can also step off at stations, breathe some fresh air, or even have a smoke (if you're a smoker).

• You have lots of opportunities to chat with friends, or meet people and make new friends, often in the lounge or dining car.

If you're traveling overnight, the most comfortable way to go is to reserve a sleeping car room. The most affordable is a roomette, which can accommodate two people (in individual bunk beds)—so it's more economical to travel in a sleeper with a companion. This typically costs about two to three times the price of two coach tickets, but keep in mind that all your dining car meals are included in your sleeper fare—plus, you're paying for a lot of extra comfort, relaxation, and perks.

Considered First Class sleeper travel is even more comfortable as it also includes a hot shower, complimentary bottled water, soft drinks and ice, and hot coffee—all managed by your sleeping car attendant. (If you opt to travel this way, be sure to tip your car attendant about $10 per night of stay. Also, in the diner, be sure to tip the table service personnel about 15-20% of the menu price of your "free" food orders.)


Traveling overnight in coach class is also attractive (and more affordable) to many people—Amtrak seats are much larger and more comfortable than those in airliners or motor coaches (intercity buses), and they recline comfortably with full leg rests, somewhat like home reclining chairs. There are also large tray tables, handy for snacks but also useful for setting up a DVD player or laptop, or for use as a writing desk. In coach you also have the option of sitting at a table in the lounge car to write, work at your laptop, or just chat with other passengers.

If you opt for Amtrak coach for overnight travel, you might consider being prepared with several extra items:

Bottled water. Unless you want to pay for pricier bottled water from the snack bar, bring enough water for your trip.

Travel blanket. Even in the summer, with A/C, it can get cool (even cold) at night, so packing a light travel blanket is smart. Also, if you like to take your shoes off overnight, some heavy socks to keep your feet warm may prove useful.

Pillows. Amtrak's reclining coach seats are comfortable, but for sleeping, you'll probably want small pillows (or something cushy) for both your head and the small of your back.

Change of clothing. You might want to change into some clothes suitable to sleep in, then have better clothes on hand to change into in the morning.

Here are some more factors to consider when you're making an overnight trip by Amtrak:

Railcar comfort. In general, the long-distance routes out West use double-deck Superliner cars, which provide more restroom facilities and are a bit more spacious than the Viewliner equipment used on most of the routes in the East.

Washing up. Amtrak's restroom facilities are small but clean, and provide a place to wash up and change clothes after an overnight sleep.

Food services. You can get meals in either the snack bar (cheaper) or dining car (pricier). Amtrak's dining car breakfast choices are delicious, and lunch is several dollars less expensive than supper, so taking your evening meal from the snack bar (where choices usually range from hamburgers and hotdogs to soups and salads) might be a smart, cost-conscious dining plan.

Baggage. You can check your baggage (currently at no cost), but it's probably more convenient to just carry on your luggage—you're allowed two large bags, each 50 lbs. or less (three bags if you're in a sleeper), plus a "personal items" bag for toilet kit, extra clothing, laptop, etc. The big bags can be stowed in baggage storage areas on your coach (lower level in Superliners, one end of coach in Viewliners).

Especially when you're trying out a new mode of travel, it's important to be aware of safety.

• Amtrak and their onboard personnel are extremely safety-conscious, so obey the rules.

• Watch your feet when walking between cars—safety plates on the floor sections where cars meet end-to-end tend to shift and "pinch" when the train's in motion.

• Be sure to keep your shoes on when you're away from your seat.

• Learn to keep your balance by adjusting your movement to the lurching of the car as you walk through.

• At station platforms, be careful stepping on and off, and stay near the door of your car.

• And cross tracks only where it's permitted—and always look both ways before you cross!

Bottom line: Traveling overnight on an Amtrak train can be an unusual, enjoyable, and even exciting adventure. Hopefully, some of these tips will be helpful if and when you decide to try this unique travel experience.

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Comments 43 comments

Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

Thanks for the tips, hubby and I are tossing around going cross country on one of the trains so I shall bookmark this for future reference. UP!


Keith Matyi profile image

Keith Matyi 5 years ago from Denton, TX

I like this article! It is very interesting and I just might take a train as I travelled all over Europe by train. Keep up the good work!


Evylyn Rose profile image

Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

Good hub! I've been considering alternate travel options besides airplanes and driving. Having grown up in areas where the train was a means of local, mass transportation, I hadn't considered it as the travel tool that it is. Thanks for the info!


LHwritings profile image

LHwritings 5 years ago from Central Texas Author

Thanks Lynn, Keith, and Evylyn, for the positive feedback! I intend to post more articles with additional tips - like the fact you can charge your phone, laptop, and other devices aboard the long-distance trains (110 VAC sockets at every seat). No WiFi yet on these trains, however (only on selected corridor trains on the East and West Coasts).

A couple of caveats on planning trips on Amtrak:

(1) Amtrak's routes are very limited, so check with the map on Amtrak's website to see if you'll be able to get "there" from where you are. For example, here in Central Texas, I cannot feasibly travel by Amtrak to Florida, or major cities like Memphis, Denver and Salt Lake City (I'd have to go by way of Chicago!); however, Amtrak works well for for me to travel to St. Louis, Chicago, Little Rock, Tucson, or LA.

(2) Sleeper accommodations are usually in high demand, so it's wise to make a reservation months in advance. No such problem with coach, however.

Good luck - LH


sabrani44 profile image

sabrani44 5 years ago

Awesome hub, very interesting.


SilkThimble profile image

SilkThimble 5 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Some really good tips. I definitely want to try a long-distance trip on Amtrak in the near future. A co-worker just took one cross-country and really enjoyed it.


LHwritings profile image

LHwritings 5 years ago from Central Texas Author

Silk & others in the Northeast - Glad my tips were helpful, so here are more. A couple of long-distance trips from the NE to Florida worth considering are the Silver Star to Tampa and Miami and the Silver Meteor to Miami (they also serve Jacksonville and Orlando plus several other points).

By far my favorite trip is to travel on the Crescent to New Orleans (I've only done this from NOL to Atlanta). From personal experience, I'll note that the scenery through the hills of Alabama is gorgeous. But the really spectacular part is riding across Lake Ponchartrain on the narrow railroad causeway - with nothing but water on each side, you feel like you're riding on the water (coming out of NOL, I was having breakfast in the diner when I did this, so sunrise over the lake made quite an impression). As for New Orleans - I'll save this for another article I'm planning. (Hint: Sort of the Southern Las Vegas.)

Going west from the East Coast to Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited also has great scenery along the Hudson north of NYC. Another trip I haven't done is to take the Cardinal, which travels south from NYC through Philly, Baltimore, and Washington, then turns westward through what I'm told is an extremely scenic run in the mountains of West Virginia, then through Cincinnati and Indianapolis to Chicago. However, this train runs only 3 days a week, and has never fitted my schedule.

All the trains mentioned above use the low-level Viewliner-type rolling stock, which is comfortable but nowhere near as comfortable as the double-level Superliner cars, standard for all the long-distance routes in the West. The exception for the East is the Capitol Limited, which uses Superliner cars and connects Chicago with Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Washington. However, from Philly, you'd have to travel to Washington, or take the Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh (with a nearly 4-hr layover there).

Bon voyage - LH


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination. It would be great to travel on an Amtrak. There isn't one close by us, but I often thought it would be worth a bus ride to do it.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

What a great hub! We're thinking of taking the Amtrak auto train from Virginia to Sanford, FL for our Disney World trip in a couple of years. It costs as much as flying (at least for coach seats), but it takes your car so that you can avoid the cost of a rental once you get to Florida. Plus, our boys would get the experience of riding a train overnight - still not sure if we'll do it or not, but we're definitely thinking about it!


Melissa McClain profile image

Melissa McClain 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I had never really considered an Amtrak train for travel but now I'll definitely look into it for my next long trip. Do you know what their policy is on pets? It's such a hassle to try to carry pets on a plane and with the extra fees it's often better to just board them. Thanks for the hub! Voted up!


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Congratulations! Your Hub about Amtrak train has been nominated on the hubnuggets! Read all about it right here: http://ladyjane1.hubpages.com/hubnuggets6/hub/Last...


videogameviking profile image

videogameviking 4 years ago from California

Great hub! Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination :)


infinitee profile image

infinitee 4 years ago

Excellent information and perfect timing. I've wanted to take an amtrak for a few years now; this information has been very helpful with questions I've had. Thank you.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

My husband and I plan to take a trip by Amtrak sometime in the near future. This information is very helpful and your tips are ones I'm sure you can't get elsewhere. Thanks for the information. Good reading.


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This is a great resource! Congrats on your HubNugget nomination!


Vicki Goldsberry profile image

Vicki Goldsberry 4 years ago from Texas

Very interesting article! My only train experiences have been in Europe (Eurailpass) and a ride with Santa some years ago. Your essay reminds me how fun a train trip can be... and romantic!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Oh, I do so want to take an overnight trip from Austin to St. Louis. I've come very close to booking one just for the experience of it. Sadly, circumstances are not good for me right now. But it's on my bucket list! Thank you for the tips and congrats on the hub-nugget award!


rLcasaLme profile image

rLcasaLme 4 years ago from Dubai, United Arab Emirates

You made Riding an Amtrak Train Overnight very pleasing and tempting. One day I'll get in there. Nice hub. Congrats on your HubNugget!


Kieran Gracie 4 years ago

This article is so evocative - it reminds me of some great train journeys in the past and makes me want to just jump on one of those Amgtrak 'superliners' for another trip across America!

On one point - the train is not always slower than the plane. I did an experiment once between NYC and Washington, DC. Catching the train at Penn Station, enjoying a supremely comfortable ride in just under 3 hours to Union Station in downtown DC was so much pleasanter than the taxi ride to La Guardia, the check-in hassle and then waiting around for the (crowded) flight to Washington National, then another taxi ride to downtown DC. Three hours, say, either way, and about the same cost overall but which one was better? You choose!


Lamme profile image

Lamme 4 years ago

Wonderful article! I've done a lot of train travel in Europe, but not in the U.S. I'd really love to take my kids on an overnight trip on Amtrak. Thanks for the great read!


Sparrow 4 years ago

What an inspiring article. I am ready to go by train! It is also a good plan for elders, the rates are lower for us. Thank you for bringing back great memories of my past train adventures.


maxravi profile image

maxravi 4 years ago from India

Very useful tips.I like this . voted up!


LHwritings profile image

LHwritings 4 years ago from Central Texas Author

Just a quick note to thank so many of you for the supportive comments and positive feedback — and to thank those of you that voted to award a Hubnugget to my article. The nomination took me utterly by surprise...

This article on overnight travel by Amtrak actually actually forms a de facto trilogy of Amtrak tips with my other two articles, which you might also check out:

Amtrak Journey Suggestions — Long-Distance Rail Trips You Could Take Across the USA

https://wanderwisdom.com/transportation/Amtrak-Jou...

Planning a Trip on Amtrak? Tips for Getting Yourself in the Right Frame of Mind

http://hubpages.com/travel/Planning-a-Trip-on-Amtr...

Use the "Journey Suggestions" article to pick out a trip ... then the "Right Frame of Mind" article to prepare yourself for the "unexpected" ... and then this "Overnight Tips" article to optimize your trip.

Happy Amtraking!

L. Henry


htodd profile image

htodd 4 years ago from United States

Thanks for the great post....nice


CondoLux Rentals profile image

CondoLux Rentals 4 years ago from North Myrtle Beach,South Carolina

This is getting me excited to ride a train! Staying overnight in one of the sleeper cars would be an awesome experience. I'd like to ride the blue train across South Africa. Nice post!


Brenda Durham 4 years ago

Oh, I'd love to ride by train! I've never done it because I get motion-sick. And even though Dramamine takes care of that problem when riding by car, I'm still very very chicken to try it on a train. I might have to jump off during the ride! haha. Maybe I could get 'em to take me for a test ride?!

Anyway, good hub,LHwritings. Voted UP.


Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

Great hub! I 'm hoping to one day take an overnight trip - I love trains! On the short trips I have taken, I learned that Amtrak doesn't own most (or perhaps) any of the tracks, so they from time to time have to stop and pull of the main track for other cargo trains which can make arrival times a bit dicey. That's been a few years ago so I'm not sure if that is still the case or not!?!


LHwritings profile image

LHwritings 4 years ago from Central Texas Author

Kris — Thanks for the enthusiastic feedback!

Amtrak owns its tracks in the Northeast Corridor (Boston-NYC-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington), and some trackage serving Union Station in Chicago, but other than that, yes, the tracks are almost entirely owned by private-profit railroad companies such as UP, BNSF, CSX, and NS. This means that Amtrak's passenger trains frequently get sidetracked by some of the private railroads as they give priority to their own freight trains. Amtrak's schedule speeds (about half what they were, say, 50-60 years ago) reflect this to some extent (it's called having "rubber" in the schedule), but it often means unforeseen and excessive delays.

Fortunately, just being on the train can be fun (and productive, with laptops, etc.), but poor schedule reliability is a disadvantage passengers must be aware of. In my view, this is an utterly pathetic situation that even most Third World countries do not tolerate.

Anyway, this issue is discussed also in one of my other Amtrak articles:

Planning a Trip on Amtrak? Tips for Getting Yourself in the Right Frame of Mind

http://hubpages.com/travel/Planning-a-Trip-on-Amtr...

If you know what to expect (i.e., the unexpected), and come prepared, you'll have a much happier trip.

LH


Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

Wonderful - thanks for that additional info! I agree, being on a train can be fun and productive. I'm thinking of all the books I could read, hubs to contemplate and write...a very way nice way to relax while traveling!


mystiquedoz profile image

mystiquedoz 4 years ago from Hoover,AL

Good info. I have been contemplating whether to take the Amtrak on an overnight trip. This is very useful info.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Thanks much for this overview. We've been wanting to check into an Amtrak trip. This is helpful info and the hub is generating helpful comments.


doubleklm profile image

doubleklm 4 years ago

Very good hub!! I've never traveled on a train overnight but your points are well taken!!!


TheNsa profile image

TheNsa 4 years ago

Very informative. Thanks for your tips.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 4 years ago from Cape Cod

Thanks for this great information and for answering my question on train travel from Boston to Florida. I am going to read and heed all of your train travel hubs...and of course: vote them UP!


jacobreeves profile image

jacobreeves 4 years ago from London

Very useful Hub, I'm considering taking a long-distance train down the East Coast from NYC to Miami, this has been very informative.


leonvert 4 years ago

Useful tips.


blessed365 profile image

blessed365 4 years ago from New England

Good info. I may do this one day.


Dawnrichard profile image

Dawnrichard 4 years ago

Superb hub. I have went to my home in train a lot of times. Now i am just remembering those wonderful moments. Nice to see such a heart touching hub.

Voted up.

Dawnrichard


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Interesting. Never ridden the train for a long distance but have thought about it quite a few times. I think it would be a fun experience.


raetravels profile image

raetravels 3 years ago from Tennessee

My best tip for riding overnight in coach is to take some earplugs and an eye mask, ball cap, pashmina, or something you can pull over your eyes. The aisle lighting is lowered at night, but it can still be bright when you're trying to sleep. And there's always that one person two seats back who finds it necessary to carry on a cell phone conversation at 2am!

We are riding overnight this coming weekend in coach, but then we are doing our first sleeper on the way back in a week. Can't wait!


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod

The 'roomette' is very uncomfortable for the price, but is far better than coach. The dining car is always a treat, and meals are free when you have a roomette.


sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

sunilkunnoth2012 14 months ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

Very interesting hub. I loved reading this as train travel is always my passion. Voted up.


jir528 12 months ago

I am 82yrs old,traveling from Phila to Delray Beach.on Amtrak I will be on the Silver Meteor with a Roomette. I have a lot of apprehensions, such as Claustraphobia with the Roomette. Can anyone help me to ease my mind. First class Flying is the same price as I don't like to fly, and time is not an issue to get there in 3 hrs. Would anyone recommend the trip as I don't want to cancel as it is a trip to see my son. ...thanks for your help.

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