Overview of Amtrak
Amtrak was created by congress in 1970 to provide passenger rail service across the country. It offers daily train routes all across the continental United States except Wyoming and South Dakota. Amtrak uses mostly diesel powered-engines except in the northeast, where they use overhead electric power. The great thing about traveling by Amtrak is that many of the train stations they stop at in the larger cities, are located near local public transportation to make getting around easier.
Popular Amtrak Routes
Amtrak offers cross-country routes as well as local, regional service. Their vast track network makes it easy to get from place to place. Each route has its own unique name. Each of their trains that has an even number on it, travels either north or east. Conversely, any of their trains with an odd number on it travels south or west. Let us look at a few of their routes more closely.
The Acela Express train runs at speeds up to 150 mph, making it the fastest train in the United States. It offers hourly service between Washington, DC and Boston, MA during the morning and evening rush hours. It is a convenient and popular way for business travelers to get to the major cities on the east coast.
This route goes through Boston (MA), Providence (RI), New Haven (CT), New York City (NY), Newark (NJ), Trenton (NJ), Philadelphia (PA), Wilmington (DE), Baltimore (MD), and Washington (DC).
The California Zephyr is a daily route between Chicago and San Francisco. It is also one of the most beautiful routes because it travels through both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The cities that it stops at along the way are no less spectacular. They include Chicago (IL), Omaha (NE), Denver (CO), Grand Junction (CO), Salt Lake City (UT), Reno (NV), Sacramento (CA), and San Francisco (CA). It takes about two days to complete the trip from end to end.
The Cardinal/Hoosier State only runs three times a week between Chicago and New York. Along the way, you will pass through the Allegheny Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, and along the banks of the Ohio River.
This route runs through Chicago (IL), Lafayette (IN), Indianapolis (IN), Cincinnati (OH), Charleston (WV), Manassas (VA), Washington (DC), Baltimore (MD), Wilmington (DE), Philadelphia (PA), Newark (NJ), and New York City (NY).
The Coast Starlight route is a daily route between Seattle and Los Angeles. It offers a scenic ride through the Cascade Range and along the shore of the Pacific Ocean. This route takes you through Los Angeles (CA), San Francisco (CA), Sacramento (CA), Portland (OR), and Seattle (WA).
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The Crescent route offers daily service between New York City and New Orleans. It cuts through much of the southeastern United States. Stops along the way include New York (NY), Newark (NJ), Philadelphia (PA), Wilmington (DE), Baltimore (MD), Washington (DC), Alexandria (VA), Lynchburg (VA), Greensboro (NC), Charlotte (NC), Spartanburg (SC), Greenville (SC), Gainesville (GA), Atlanta (GA), Birmingham (AL), Tuscaloosa (AL), Hattiesburg (MS), and New Orleans (LA).
The Empire Builder route is a daily route between Chicago and Seattle or Portland. It follows portions of the journey that Lewis and Clark are famous for having made. It is also a very beautiful trip as you head through the Twin Cities in Minnesota, then through the plains of North Dakota, across the amazing Gassmann Coulee Trestle, and then into Big Sky country in Montana. In addition, it will take you through Glacier Mountain National Park on its way to Washington state.
This route offers stops in Chicago (IL), Milwaukee (WI), Wisconsin Dells (WI), St. Paul (MN), Fargo (ND), Grand Forks (ND), Minot (ND), Spokane (WA), and either Seattle (WA) or Portland (OR).
Lake Shore Limited
The Lake Short Limited route is a daily route between Chicago and New York City. It travels along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and the Erie Canal. This route offers stops in Chicago (IL), South Bend (IN), Toledo (OH), Cleveland (OH), Erie (PA), Buffalo (NY), Syracuse (NY), Albany (NY), and either New York City (NY) or Boston (MA).
The Southwest Chief is a daily route between Los Angeles and Chicago that cuts through the southwest. This route starts out more mundane with corn and wheat fields, but then as you move through southwestern Colorado, mountains come into view. As you continue along this route, you will ride through tight canyon passages that are only a little bigger than the train.
Get off at the Williams Junction, AZ station and they offer a bus connection to the Grand Canyon Railway that will bring you to the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon. As an added bonus, the Grand Canyon Railway will entertain you with cowboys and a mock train robbery.
The Southwest Chief takes you through Chicago (IL), Kansas City (MO), Topeka (KS), Albuquerque (NM), Flagstaff (AZ), Riverside (CA), and Los Angeles (CA).
Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited
The Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited connects Chicago to Los Angeles through San Antonio. The Texas Eagle portion of the trip runs daily between Chicago and San Antonio. The Sunset Limited portion of this route runs three times a week between San Antonio and Los Angeles. The full Sunset Limited route runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles.
This trip will take you through Illinois, the Ozarks, Little Rock (AR), Dallas (TX), Austin (TX), San Antonio (TX), El Paso (TX), Tucson (AZ), and Los Angeles (CA).
This is only a sample of the routes that Amtrak offers. Their website lists all of the different routes that they offer. They also offer the ability to put in a starting train station and an ending one and their website will compute the best route for you.