Types of Amtrak Trains

Updated on May 12, 2016
Amtrak 192 ( a P42DC) leads "The Cardinal" through Afton, VA on its way to Charlottesville. Afton is near the top of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Amtrak 192 ( a P42DC) leads "The Cardinal" through Afton, VA on its way to Charlottesville. Afton is near the top of the Blue Ridge mountains. | Source

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.

Acela washington DC An Acela express just departing DC Union station on its way north.
Acela washington DC An Acela express just departing DC Union station on its way north. | Source

Acela Express

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).

California Zephyr at Naperville, IL
California Zephyr at Naperville, IL | Source

California Zephyr

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.

Amtrak's The Cardinal - Prince, WV
Amtrak's The Cardinal - Prince, WV | Source

Cardinal/Hoosier State

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).

Bishops peak from the Coast Starlight The yellow Union Pacific Locomotive is helping push this longer than usual train around Cuesta curves and up the grade .
Bishops peak from the Coast Starlight The yellow Union Pacific Locomotive is helping push this longer than usual train around Cuesta curves and up the grade . | Source

Coast Starlight


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).

Amtrak's Crescent service rounds a bend through Lumberton Mississippi on its way North
Amtrak's Crescent service rounds a bend through Lumberton Mississippi on its way North | Source

Crescent

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).

Empire Builder @ East Glacier Park Montana
Empire Builder @ East Glacier Park Montana | Source

Empire Builder


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).

In a quintessential Chicago shot, Amtrak #49, the Lake Shore Limited, backs in to Union Station. Note the 261 cars on the tail of Amtrak #7 just above the second loco in the consist.
In a quintessential Chicago shot, Amtrak #49, the Lake Shore Limited, backs in to Union Station. Note the 261 cars on the tail of Amtrak #7 just above the second loco in the consist. | Source

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).

'Starvation Peak' From - Southwest Chief Legend has it that settlers were chased up the mountain and held there, surrounded by Indian warriors, until they succumbed to starvation. It was a prominent landmark and made for an interesting story around
'Starvation Peak' From - Southwest Chief Legend has it that settlers were chased up the mountain and held there, surrounded by Indian warriors, until they succumbed to starvation. It was a prominent landmark and made for an interesting story around | Source

Southwest Chief

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).

Amtrak 'sunset limited' Poster artwork Edited
Amtrak 'sunset limited' Poster artwork Edited | Source

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).

Have you ever been on an Amtrak Train?

See results

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        EmmyF 

        2 weeks ago

        Taking the Lakeshore #49 from Albany NY to Chicago to catch the Empire to Wenatchee (eastern WA) - 16 hr trip. Late start but we seem to be making up time. My dh and I had a Viewette (?) sleeping room. It was tight but doable for this elder couple. I must say you need to be nimble and have working shoulders to maneuver into and out of the top bunk. The train ride was smooth and quite enough for us. The one thing I do not like at all is the food. It really is airline food. Breakfast had dairy (yogurt), unripe fruit and a very sweet muffin. If you had any non traditional food needs, you would not do well. I have downloaded info. on the Empire but couldn't find any free info on the Lakeshore. I like knowing a little about what I'm looking at out the window. I would recommend this train.

      • bn9900 profile image

        Clayton Hartford 

        4 years ago from Alger WA

        There are a few trains missing, but they are mainly corridor trains: Amtrak California, Cascades, as well as the Chicago corridor. Very informative hub.

      • April Reynolds profile image

        April Reynolds 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        The train is awesome. It seemed a lot more convenient on the East Coast though than it is here in the desert.

      • profile image

        Pam 

        6 years ago

        Love the Heartland Flyer OKC to Ft Worth great ride Wonderful conductors . Been slow a few times last summer and this summer because of heat slow down ,but conductors always keeps us informed .Wish it would go North into Kansas

      • lindacee profile image

        lindacee 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        I've always wanted to take a Amtrak trip, but have yet to do it. I have traveled by train in Europe and just love it versus driving. You've inspired me to look into the Coast Starlight out of LA or maybe the Surfliner between San Diego and San Luis Obispo!

      • Simone Smith profile image

        Simone Haruko Smith 

        6 years ago from San Francisco

        I've been on Amtrak trains before, but I have yet to go on any of these special routes. I don't typically think of the US as a "train country" so it's great to know that these options exist! Thanks for the fascinating overview.

      • mecheshier profile image

        mecheshier 

        6 years ago

        Yes, bringing snacks and water is a good idea. Thanks for the tip on outlets. She will definitely need to charge her phone. You are wonderful marthamuldoon.

      • marthamuldoon profile image

        marthamuldoon 

        6 years ago from Austin, TX

        I don't know how long that ride will be or if it's overnight. There's usually a snack car and dining car, but she might want to bring some bottled water and snacks to keep costs down. And tell her to check, when she selects her seat, if there are outlets nearby. Most cars have them, but if hers doesn't, and it's important to her (laptop, phone charger, etc.), she could ask to relocate to another car.

      • mecheshier profile image

        mecheshier 

        6 years ago

        My daughter and granbabies will travel from Oregon to N. Montana. Hey maramuldoon, thank you for the tips it is good to know. Hopefully she will not have any layovers or missed connections.

      • marthamuldoon profile image

        marthamuldoon 

        6 years ago from Austin, TX

        Trains can be very, very late, so connections can be difficult. You can look on the website, I think, to see how often a particular train is late. Amtrak doesn't own the tracks it runs on, so if a freight train has to go through, sometimes, the Amtrak train has to wait. It can be problematic if you miss a connection, though they will usually bus you to your destination or something (if you want to sit on a bus for hours). We never take routes that require connections. Also, bring a blanket.

      • ercramer36 profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Cramer 

        6 years ago from Chicagoland

        Glad that you found this hub useful. My wife and I are talking about taking the train from Chicago to San Francisco.

      • mecheshier profile image

        mecheshier 

        6 years ago

        What a great Hub. Your timing couldn't be better. I plan on buying train tickets for my daughter and 2 grand-babies this summer. She lives 13 hours away by car. I think going by train is by far the best option. Voted up for useful.

      • ercramer36 profile imageAUTHOR

        Eric Cramer 

        6 years ago from Chicagoland

        Cool! That is so awesome! I agree their website is easy to use.

      • marthamuldoon profile image

        marthamuldoon 

        6 years ago from Austin, TX

        My kids and I sometimes take the train up or back from Austin, TX to Chicago. We really enjoy the trip. Amtrak's website and reservation process is easy and flexible, and the kids' tickets are half-price. Plus, it's a greener way to travel than by air.

      • point2make profile image

        point2make 

        6 years ago

        A very interesting and informative hub. Thanks for all the information and the photos. We are planning on an extended rail trip later this year. I love trains and when we have the time they are always our first choice for travel. Voted this hub up!

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