Riding an Amtrak Train Overnight: Tips for First-Time Rail Travelers - WanderWisdom - Travel
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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 at 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.

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 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 (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 their 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.

Comments

Iam,Rimming on August 16, 2020:

Ray go west

Ray on August 02, 2020:

How would I get from Florida to Tulsa

Antoinette M Moses on March 31, 2020:

I live in new york just got in fron nc on friday 3/27. I hope this carona scare is over soon. I need to get back to my other home for the summer.

Jimmy Jones on March 03, 2020:

I like Amtrak

Kathleen simpkins on January 14, 2020:

Good info. How bout phila to ft meyers fla

Ellen Schmidt on August 29, 2019:

I was on the last run of the Super Chief from Indy to Albuquerque. It was one of my favorite experiences of my life. The service was wonderful, the food was fantastic and there is nothing better than being rocked to sleep by a train.

I can’t wait to do it again this Nov.

judy petrich on May 15, 2019:

my husband and I have both taken train trips he went to wash, state. I went to pa. we both loved it enjoyed looking at the sceener and old town along the way

Lyndon Henry (author) from Central Texas on January 15, 2019:

Angela writes: "Buyer beware. Amtrack long distances SUCK."

Will K writes: "Took Amtrak (coach) overnight from Chicago to Williamsburg, VA (round-trip in Fall of 2017) for the experience and to save some $$$ but doubt I'll ever do it again...unless it's my only option."

I can sympathize; I've had my own share of problems riding Amtrak. The "never again" attitude from other passengers is certainly not unfamiliar.

Most of these kinds of issues are covered in my article:

Planning a Trip on Amtrak? Get in the Right Frame of Mind

https://wanderwisdom.com/transportation/Planning-a...

As that article explains, many of these performance problems can be attributed to the political treatment of Amtrak as a stepchild in the federal transportation funding program. These problems have worsened significantly under the administration of Richard Anderson, a former Delta Airlines CEO recently appointed Amtrak's CEO. I've written about this for Railway Age magazine:

The folly of dismantling Amtrak’s National Network

https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/the-folly-of-...

For me, many trips on Amtrak have been enjoyable and relaxing compared to air travel or especially intercity bus. The national political movement to demand improvements in Amtrak has been strengthening, and hopefully this will eventually bring about adequate funding and better service.

LH

Will K on January 03, 2019:

Took Amtrak (coach) overnight from Chicago to Williamsburg, VA (round-trip in Fall of 2017) for the experience and to save some $$$ but doubt I'll ever do it again...unless it's my only option. Why? Well, it's mostly due to the excessive time that "snail-rail" requires, along with the annoying nuances modern train travel exudes, along with the highly confusing ticket booking system and (most importantly) the surprisingly not-so-competitive ticket costs...of which (in most cases) flying (or retaining the freedom of driving one's car) is almost always the better option/decision today, even if it means paying just a little extra to do so! Incidentally, I urge people to be careful when reading articles that over-romanticize modern day rail travel, because the articles often fail to mention (or conveniently leave out) many of the quirks of long distance rail travel. What are those quirks you might ask? Aside from the major issues I listed above... 1) The wireless internet that's offered is wayyy less than perfect and has consistency issues. 2) The train cars are noisy from both a mechanical perspective and (worse) a passenger perspective due to many people forgetting to adjust to their inside (vs outside) voices, or (worse) being inconsiderate of other passengers by FAILING to use headphones/earbuds when carrying on a phone conversation, playing 50 rounds of candy crush or watching a movie from their electronic device...which become even more annoying when it happens during the midnight hours :( 3) Scenery is only as good as the route you're on and/or "if" you get a window seat and/or a observation car has been added to your trains configuration. 4) Train bathrooms are often unable to handle the # of slobs present in the world today :( 5) Most trips by rail either include lengthy layovers (at "no frill" stations) and/or will make at least a few short stops along the line. All that being said, it's worth mentioning that our country's more Eastern rails were built at a much earlier time in the nations transportation history (compared to the the Western rails), which understandably is a challenge for the passenger rail industry in that hey can't typically offer double-decker cars, movie cars and/or observation cars (like they can out West) due to the inherent design capacity limits on a majority of the Eastern rails. Incidentally, I actually took Amtrak from Chicago to Colorado back in the 90's and the experience was notably/slightly better than my experience using Amtrak out East - Hope all this helps!

angela888777 on December 11, 2018:

I took the Starlight with my friend at full price roomette. The staff treated us like poopoo even aside from us tipping, the food was horrible (esp the non meat) even though it was from a famous chef menu, they completely lied about a movie car -and- we couldnt even complain. Dirty bathrooms as even the sleeper car bathrooms are shared with a whole car or two. Buyer beware. Amtrack long distances SUCK. Unless you have a love partner u want to cut off of the internet for days at a time (cos the internet sucks on the Starlight) and put in a small space with you, using amtrak to go long distances sucks. I am going to take amtrak again but only to replace the bus lines and only if it takes a few hours to get somewhere. Their prices long distance are ridiculous for the roomlettes unless u get a buy 1 get 1.

Train King on March 24, 2018:

Great advice.

Karen v on August 24, 2017:

Excellent description and perfect suggestions. I love train travel! Amtrak staff and crew are above par in passenger care! Enjoyed my recent Chicago to Maricopa this past spring.

jir528 on December 10, 2015:

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.

Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on September 24, 2015:

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

Bill Russo from Cape Cod on August 28, 2013:

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.

raetravels from Tennessee on August 27, 2013:

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!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 27, 2012:

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.

Dawnrichard on May 15, 2012:

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

Vicky C. from New England on May 03, 2012:

Good info. I may do this one day.

leonvert on May 02, 2012:

Useful tips.

jacobreeves from London on April 20, 2012:

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

Bill Russo from Cape Cod on February 09, 2012:

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!

TheNsa on January 14, 2012:

Very informative. Thanks for your tips.

doubleklm on January 13, 2012:

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

RTalloni on January 12, 2012:

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.

mystiquedoz from Hoover,AL on January 12, 2012:

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

Kris Heeter from Indiana on January 11, 2012:

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!

Lyndon Henry (author) from Central Texas on January 11, 2012:

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

https://wanderwisdom.com/transportation/Planning-a...

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

LH

Kris Heeter from Indiana on January 11, 2012:

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!?!

Brenda Durham on January 10, 2012:

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.

CondoLux Rentals from North Myrtle Beach,South Carolina on January 10, 2012:

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!

htodd from United States on January 07, 2012:

Thanks for the great post....nice

Lyndon Henry (author) from Central Texas on January 06, 2012:

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

https://wanderwisdom.com/transportation/Planning-a...

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

Ravi Singh from India on January 06, 2012:

Very useful tips.I like this . voted up!

Sparrow on January 05, 2012:

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.

Lamme on January 05, 2012:

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!

Kieran Gracie on January 05, 2012:

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!

Rael Casalme from Dubai, United Arab Emirates on January 04, 2012:

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

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on January 04, 2012:

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!

Vicki Goldsberry from Texas on January 04, 2012:

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!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 04, 2012:

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

Dianna Mendez on January 04, 2012:

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.

infinitee on January 04, 2012:

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.

videogameviking from California on January 04, 2012:

Great hub! Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination :)

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on January 01, 2012:

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

Melissa McClain from Atlanta, GA on January 01, 2012:

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!

Leah Lefler from Western New York on December 30, 2011:

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!

Shasta Matova from USA on December 30, 2011:

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.

Lyndon Henry (author) from Central Texas on December 09, 2011:

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

SilkThimble from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 08, 2011:

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.

sabrani44 on December 06, 2011:

Awesome hub, very interesting.

Lyndon Henry (author) from Central Texas on November 26, 2011:

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

Evylyn Rose from Virginia, USA on November 26, 2011:

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!

Keith Matyi from Denton, TX on November 26, 2011:

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!

Lynn S. Murphy on November 26, 2011:

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!