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Amtrak: Fun or Boring?
Old 07-31-2014, 08:36 AM   #1
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Amtrak: Fun or Boring?

I'm wondering whether it would be fun to take the train on an upcoming trip from home (near Eureka, CA) to Denver. Note that this isn't considered simply as an alternative from flying or driving, but as an interesting experience on its own.

The idea would be to drive to Sacramento, take the 30-hour trip from Sac to Denver, and fly back after the visit with our daughter.

A roomette would be $532. A bigger room would be $996.

I took Amtrak from Michigan to San Diego once, and I remember enjoying watching the scenery go by and, especially, eating in the diner with a wonderful view. I picture reading or surfing the Internet, and sleeping well because of the motion.

The alternative view, expressed by Jenny: "Yeah, that's great for about ten minutes, then you would just wish that you'd flown."

Lena is, let's say, skeptical. She remembers seeing a roomette once, and felt that it was claustrophobic.

What are your experiences?


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Old 07-31-2014, 09:05 AM   #2
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My son and I took a VIA train from Jasper to Vancouver once, and really enjoyed it. During daylight we hung out mostly in the observation car or dining car. It was early June so we had a lot of daylight. I think I'd get awfully bored if too much of it was in the dark. I'd probably try to get a cabin on the left/north side of the train for less sun in your eyes. I feel like a roomette would be cozy, and with the door open it doesn't seem like it should be too cramped feeling. Plus you can roam the train if you feel closed in.

I've also taken Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor to Boston and NY. It was fine, but I went coach so there was more noise and further north the train was packed. Would've like a roomette but I don't think they were even available, nor worth the price for me.

My issue with using trains on a trip like that has been the time and cost, plus trying to connect in Chicago. There's either a really long layover which seems intolerable, or a short layover that would make me nervous to miss since Amtrak isn't noted for timeliness.

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Old 07-31-2014, 09:29 AM   #3
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Why must it be one or the other? I vote both.

I took Amtrak from Havre, MT to San Diego and back. No room, had an individual seat. All the stopping in every town was tedious. But, it was a very relaxing and fun way to travel too.
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Old 07-31-2014, 09:30 AM   #4
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One year we took the Auto train from Sanford Florida to Washington,DC . We had a roomette . They are cozy but not awful . It is two small couches by day and bunk beds by night . The bathroom is down the hall . The food was decent and there was a lounge car . The sights were not really scenic more industrial . By the way Al what have you done with the Lena who slept in tiny tents in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed it ?
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Old 07-31-2014, 09:50 AM   #5
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My ex and I took the boys (then 9 and 12) on Amtrak from Martinez, CA to Galesburg, IL (SW of Chicago) about 15 years ago. We had side by side sleepers = facing seats by day, bunk beds by night. It was great for both the kids and us.

You go over the Sierras before nightfall--gorgeous views of the Truckee river. Then across Nevada at night. Over the Rockies during the day--there were great views of wilderness areas. We flew across eastern Colorado--you could definitely tell we were going downhill all the way from the mile high city to sea level in Illinois!

I remember reading Harry Potter with my 9 year old and just looking out the window all day. My 12 year old would go to the lounge car (not to drink! ) where he made new friends and played cards. Not sure what my ex did Probably read a lot.

the meals were decent, much better than a previous Amtrak experience in the 70's It was fun eating in the dining car.

I highly recommend it!

PS We did a combo Amtrak/United train/fly thing--the return trip was by air
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Old 07-31-2014, 10:34 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Moemg View Post
By the way Al what have you done with the Lena who slept in tiny tents in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed it ?
Good question, I'll ask her.

plus trying to connect in Chicago.
When going from Ann Arbor to San Diego (1976?), my luggage was lost in Chicago, so I had nothing but what I was wearing until La Junta, Colorado when I made a mad dash to the supermarket for toothbrush etc. during a stop.
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Old 07-31-2014, 11:04 AM   #7
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I take it once and a while from Penn Sta NYC to Lynchburg Va . Going in a couple of weeks. $65 each way. Book during the week and a month ahead and rates are very reasonable. 8 hour trip, would cost more in gas and tolls if I drove. Take a nap, watch a movie on the laptop. Wifi on board but not too good in the rural areas .
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Old 07-31-2014, 11:16 AM   #8
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There is a contemporary bogleheads thread on this topic if you missed it.

Bogleheads • View topic - Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip
How's it going to end..............
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Old 07-31-2014, 11:20 AM   #9
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I posted recently about having taken Amtrak's Cardinal train from NY's Penn Station to Indianapolis and back, withmy final destination Louisville, Kentucky. The going trip (west) was okay but the return trip was awful because the train was 5 hours late arriving at Indy so my ladyfriend and I spent the wee hours (from midnight to 4:30 AM) in the dank Indy waiting room with about 40 other sleepy passengers waiting for the train to arrive. The train arrived at Penn just after 3 AM so we had anther 90-minute wait for a Long Island Rail Road train to get us home.

The food on the train was mediocre and they ran out of much of it due to the delays. I tried to get food from the food court at Washington when they had to change engines, but it wa just after 11 PM and everything was closed. No WiFi on this train, either.

No more Amtak for me.
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Old 07-31-2014, 02:24 PM   #10
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I'm afraid to admit that I've never been on a train in the U.S. Plenty in Europe, they were pleasant. Yes trains in the US are built on the freight train system so I would expect delays. In some very senic areas I've noticed trains tracks following rivers etc.

After our last airline fiasco, the delays don't sound too bad.
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Old 07-31-2014, 04:52 PM   #11
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Well, it was me, I'd ride the train. But then, I always liked trains.
If the Amtrak runs through much of the Colorado river corridor (you run from Sacramento into Colorado? If you go to Chicago first, never mind)
I'd be especially ready to ride the rails. The Colorado river corridor is very scenic and worth seeing by rail. I've seen it all from the river, would love to see it from the rails.
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Old 07-31-2014, 05:26 PM   #12
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Smile Loved it!

My husband and I just rode the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Oceanside, CA to Seattle, Wa in June. (It's a 34-hour trip, but took us 37-1/2 hours because an engine broke down in the middle of the night!) We had a sleeper car and when I first saw it I thought I'd be claustraphobic, but quickly got used to it and it was fine. The meals were all included when you purchase a sleeper car ticket. We had some nice steak dinners that would have cost $30 apiece if we weren't in the sleeper. We both brought books to read, but neither one of us even cracked one open since we enjoyed looking out the window so much at the ever-changing scenery. We went from oceans to mountains to lakes to forests and everything in between. We have our sights set on taking the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago at some point in the future. If you're not in a hurry, do it for the experience!
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Old 07-31-2014, 06:21 PM   #13
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I've taken three round trips from NY to Florida and one one-way trip to Vancouver, all in bedroom or roomettes. All were nice, assuming that you understand that the trip is part of the vacation, so sit back and enjoy it. If you are in a rush to "get there", this isn't the way to travel for you.

With roomette or bedroom reservations, you get your meals included. The food is okay, and enough (especially as you are sitting on your duff most of the trip). The accommodations are tight and somewhat sparse.

For my trips, I had the advantage that I didn't pay (directly) for them, rather I used points I had accumulated while w*rking (where I took trains in the NorthEast corridor quite frequently) plus for a while the Chase Amtrak rewards master card (no annual fee) offered a 30k signup bonus. Nothing like a free trip with beautiful mountains (Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California) with free meals included. [They do charge for alcohol with the meals, but that is what travel bags are for. ]

I bring plenty of reading, tunes to listen to, and my child still loves the experience after the four long distance trips.
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Old 07-31-2014, 11:33 PM   #14
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I rode the Ohio to Chicago route a couple of times. About a five hour trip from NW Ohio. Comfortable seats and a different view of the landscape.

OT, but there is a market in Bangkok where the vendors have encroached on the rail right of way to the point of a mad scramble to pull in awnings and tables when the train approaches.

But I think I could walk as fast as the speed its going on that particular section

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Old 08-01-2014, 06:14 AM   #15
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DW and I are interested in taking a cross country train trip. We took the Auto Train back from Florida last year in a roomette. I would pop for the room but it wasn't available for us. The east coast route is boring but the mountains are nice. I remember riding in the vista cruiser through mountains when I was a kid. Make sure the schedule is such that you are sleeping though the plains, and in the mountains by day.

Don't forget to post a trip report.
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Old 08-01-2014, 07:06 AM   #16
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When I lived in NJ, Amtrak was a great alternative for trips to DC or Philadelphia. I went as far as Boston and that was stretching it- I got a little stir-crazy. (It WAS nice watching everyone else at the meeting frantically calling the airlines after a snowstorm blew in on our departure day, as I walked to the train station. ) I found trains far more civilized than planes- more room, calmer passengers (cramming everyone into tiny spaces and keeping the Fasten Seat Belt sign on for hours isn't conducive to relaxation), easy on/off. The train stops. Exiting passengers get off. You get on. Five or 10 minutes later the train starts up again. Whatta concept.

DH and I love trains in Europe for getting around but I don't think I'd want a multi-day trip. I work out every day unless I'm on my deathbed. I'd miss that.
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Old 08-01-2014, 07:20 AM   #17
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DW and I have some experience on three routes:

1. DC - NYC, In my opinion there is no better way to go from one of these cities to the other. Almost always is quicker than the bus or driving. Buses get caught in traffic and driving is a nightmare.
2. DC to Charleston, SC. This was a nice alternative to driving although, as others have said, you need to accept the pace of the train trip. It is not a way to get there in a hurry. Having said that, 8 hours on the train was much more pleasant than 6+ hours of driving.
3. Coast Starlight Round Trip from SF to Seattle. This was very pleasant. We had a roomette and it is fairly comfortable. It is so nice to get up and wander around. You can socialize or hide away in your room. The food is not great, but was more than adequate. The main thing is that you need to have a tolerance for doing nothing. We really enjoyed just sitting and looking out the window, reading, eating, chatting. If you ask me, a very civilized way of traveling.

I've also traveled from DC to Raleigh, NC and DC to Boston and they were pleasant rides, as well. The advantages on these routes were less obvious. DC- Boston is probably better done flying, but that may because I was traveling for business and felt a bit more time pressure. DC-Raleigh is slightly slower by train than driving and traffic and parking issues are not pronounced in Raleigh so there are good reasons to choose driving for that route.

There is no doubt that Amtrak has on-time problems and that one bad experience with being delayed can really make it hard to accept the positives.
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Old 08-01-2014, 03:59 PM   #18
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Interesting topic. I hope to try a cross country train trip once I no longer have the pup to entertain/travel with me. I vaguely remember a train trip as a kid when we visited my Dad for the summer while he was working in NYC (lived in Knoxville at the time).
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Old 08-01-2014, 04:28 PM   #19
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I've done several Amtrak trips. Never had a berth. just the big recliners in the cars. It is what you make it. I had fun, and talking to the other passengers is nice. But we have been near people who were crabby for whatever reason. If you constantly have to be entertained, a train trip might not be for you. If you are on a schedule, Amtrak is definitely not for you. If you just want to enjoy life, go on the train trip.

I'll probably get a roomette thing next time just to see what they are like.
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Old 08-01-2014, 05:05 PM   #20
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I was traumatized by some bad experiences in my childhood, and learned to despise train travel. Every summer we visited relatives in a Midwestern state and always took the train. There was nothing about those train trips that I didn't passionately detest. This was in the days before Amtrak, and passenger rail service was run by a number of regional RRs, who apparently had never heard of integrated scheduling. We had to switch trains in Chicago and wait around six or seven hours for our connecting train. By the time we embarked it was almost time to settle down for the night. Unfortunately, I rarely got more than two or three hours of sleep because of the noise and unpleasantness of trying to rest on a moving train. We finally arrived at our destination in mid-morning of the next day, just in time to waste the whole first day of our vacation recuperating from the exhausting trip.

The interstate highway system was probably the biggest factor in the decline of passenger trains in the U.S. But I have first hand experience that the RRs failed to help their own cause by providing a viable alternative to the automobile. Those cross country train trips were nightmares that permanently turned me off from rail travel.

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