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

Lyndon Henry is a transportation planning consultant, freelance writer/editor, and online writer for Railway Age magazine.

Traveling overnight on an Amtrak train can be a wonderful experience. Here's what you need to know.

Traveling overnight on an Amtrak train can be a wonderful experience. Here's what you need to know.

Are you thinking about planning a trip on an overnight Amtrak train? Are you considering traveling for 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 perks.

Advantages of Traveling by Train

  • You can read, watch a movie on a portable 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 to stretch your legs, grab a snack or beverage, or eat a meal in the diner.
  • You can step off at stations to breathe some fresh air or even have a smoke (if you're a smoker).
  • You have plenty of time to chat with friends or meet new people in the lounge and dining cars.
Amtrak's Texas Eagle with Superliner cars pulls into a station in Austin, Texas, in June of 2011.

Amtrak's Texas Eagle with Superliner cars pulls into a station in Austin, Texas, in June of 2011.

Traveling Overnight In a Sleeper Car Room

If you're traveling overnight, the most comfortable way to go is to reserve a sleeper car room. The most affordable is a roomette, which can accommodate two people. These rooms feature two beds (bunk style), 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 of your dining car meals are included in your sleeper fare—plus, you're paying for a lot of extra comfort, relaxation, and perks.

Sleeper travel is considered First Class, so it also includes a hot shower, bottled water, soft drinks, ice, and hot coffee, all of which are managed by your sleeping car attendant. If you opt to travel this way, be sure to tip your car attendant about $10 per night. In the diner, it's customary to tip the table-service personnel about 15–20 percent of the menu price of your "free" food orders.

Traveling Overnight in a Coach Seat

Traveling overnight in coach class is also an attractive (and affordable) option that appeals to a lot of passengers. 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, which are useful when it comes to snacking, writing, watching movies, or working on a laptop. In coach, you also have the option of sitting at a table in the lounge car to write, work on your laptop, or just chat with other passengers. If you do opt to travel overnight in Amtrak coach, you might consider being prepared with a few handy items.

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Important Items to Bring on an Overnight Amtrak Coach Trip

  • Bottled water. Unless you want to pay for pricy bottled water from the snack bar, bring enough water for your trip.
  • A travel blanket. Even in the summer, and especially with the A/C, it can get cool (even cold) at night, so packing a light travel blanket is a smart move. 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.
  • A change of clothes. You might want to change into some clothes that are comfortable to sleep in and have another set of clothes on hand to change into in the morning.
An Amtrak train pulls into a station in Poughkeepsie, New York, en route to Albany-Renssalaer in 2008.

An Amtrak train pulls into a station in Poughkeepsie, New York, en route to Albany-Renssalaer in 2008.

Things to Know Before Riding Amtrak

There are a few things all overnight Amtrak travelers should be aware of whether they are traveling in coach or in a sleeper car.

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 they provide a suitable place to wash up and change clothes after an overnight sleep.

Food Services

You can get meals in either the snack car (cheaper) or the dining car (pricier). Amtrak's dining car breakfast choices are delicious, and lunch is several dollars cheaper than supper, so take 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 (usually at no cost), but it's probably more convenient to just carry your luggage on—you're allowed two large bags of up to 50 lbs. (three if you're in a sleeper), plus a "personal item" bag in which you can keep your toilet kit, extra clothing, laptop, etc. The big bags can be stowed in the baggage storage areas on your coach (this is on the lower level in Superliners and on one end of the coach in Viewliners).

Safety Considerations for Railway Travel

  • Amtrak and its onboard personnel are extremely safety-conscious, so be sure to obey all of 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 can "pinch" when the train is 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 when stepping on and off the train, and stay near the door of your car.
  • Cross tracks only where it's permitted. Always look both ways before you cross!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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