Tip #1—When visiting a prospective college with your high school senior or junior, take advantage of Amtrak’s Campus Visit “Buy One Ticket, Get One Free” deal. Book on-line at least seven days in advance at the Campus Visit website.
Fill out on-line form indicating name of student, parent/guardian, year of student’s high-school graduation, and the number of colleges you will be visiting. Restrictions apply; they are posted on the website listed above.
Tip #2—When traveling alone in a Viewliner Standard Bedroom, consider sleeping in the upper bunk. This will let you keep a sitting area for working (with papers, laptop, etc.) or watching the in-room television.
Setting up your room in this manner helps make it seem bigger and more user-friendly. It also makes accessing the toilet during the night more simple.
Tip #3—Amtrak passengers ride free on SEPTA commuter trains between Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, Penn Center/Suburban station, and Market East station. Outbound passengers show Amtrak ticket; inbound passengers ticket stub.
Useful for travel to or from Center City Philadelphia, including the intercity bus terminal adjacent to Market East. SEPTA’s regular fare currently is $3.50.
Tip #4—Pick up a copy of the New York By Rail Travel Guide for insight into attractions across the Empire State that are accessible by Amtrak train and Thruway Motorcoach connections.
This guide, published in September, has a wealth of information about attractions in New York State—some of which you may not have realized are accessible by train! The 2004 edition is available from travel agents, tour operators, “I Love New York” information centers, Amtrak stations (and 1-800-USA-RAIL), and hotels and attractions near the stations.
Tip #5—Baggage choices
Amtrak officially limits carry-on luggage to two pieces a passenger; bags may not exceed 28”x22”x14” and 50 pounds. “Personal items such as briefcases, purses, laptops, and infant paraphernalia” do not count against the limit of two. For some trains, the exceptions list includes winter recreational items (see page three). The list does not include “standard large-sized shopping bags of merchandise,” but you can combine “shopping bags, one inside the other, to count as one bag.” Amtrak encourages you to have merchants ship your purchases. Large musical instruments may occupy a seat “at the applicable rail fare” if there’s no safety problem.
Where checked baggage is offered, up to three bags (size and weight limits as above) may be checked free [some special items have a $5 charge]; up to three more for $10 a bag. Also, where Amtrak Package Express is offered (over 100 stations), you can ship larger bags (up to 3’x3’x3’; maximum 500 pounds per shipment and, again, 50 pounds per bag).
That said, in markets without checked baggage service, unfortunately, Amtrak’s luggage policy is more restrictive than the airlines’.
Tip #6—Avoid Southern California traffic…use mass transit between Los Angeles Union Station (or other downtown points) and LAX International Airport.
While it requires three transfers, using Los Angeles MTA rail service between Union Station and LAX is much cheaper than a cab or shuttle—and could mean the difference between making and missing your flight: Red Line subway Union Station-Metro Center; Blue Line light rail Metro Center-Rosa Parks Transfer Station; Green Line light rail Rosa Parks-Aviation/I-105 station; free LAX Shuttle Bus. Total trip time: just under one hour; cost: $3.00.
Tip #7—Want to visit a college campus with your son or daughter? Take advantage of Amtrak’s Campus Visit program: code H459.
Students receive a discount and may bring a parent or guardian with them as a free companion in coach. Reservations may be made for travel through December 15, 2005 (blackout dates: February 18-21, March 24-28, May 27-30, July 1-4, September 2-5, and November 22-29). Not valid on Acela Express, Metroliners, Auto Train, the Canadian portion of the Maple Leaf, or 7000-8999 series Thruway buses.
Tip #8—Take advantage of the Amtrak / Continental Airlines partnership at Newark International Airport for travel to and from Northeast Corridor points.
When booking travel with Continental Airlines, you can connect with Amtrak at Newark’s Liberty International Airport. Four cities provide through reservations services (pickup Amtrak tickets at Amtrak station). IATA (airline booking) codes for Amtrak/Continental stations:
The AirTrain monorail also gets rail passengers to airport rental car outlets, and helps link air travelers with any northeast rail station.
Tip #9—Book NOW for summer travel; trains (especially sleeping cars) sell out early!
Capacity is limited on most Amtrak trains, but especially on sleeping cars during the summer. Several trips of western long distance trains are already sold out.
Call Amtrak’s reservations center at 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245), go to Amtrak’s website or visit your local travel agent or Amtrak station.
Tip #10—Train riding with small children is more fun when you have a “survival bag.” Here are some ideas for what to include.
Tip #11—If you own a cell phone, be sure to give that number in addition to a home or work number to Amtrak when making a reservation.
It is important that Amtrak be able to contact you not only at your destination (for a round trip), but potentially enroute as well. If your Amtrak reservation has only a home or work number in the record, you cannot be contacted in case of a service disruption or very late train. When either the Amtrak website or an Amtrak agent asks for your phone number, provide a cell number, even if they specifically request your home phone number. Tip #12—For a smoother, quieter ride, sit near the center of a passenger rail car or—when possible— reserve sleeping car accommodations in the middle.
If you’re traveling in coach, either chose a seat or, if seat assignments are given, request to be seated as close to the center as possible. This will avoid the possibly irritating sounds and smells of the lavatory (on Amfleets) or enddoor, and will situate you away from the noise of the trucks. If you’re traveling in a roomette, try to reserve rooms 2-6 (Superliner), or 3-6 (Viewliner). Tip #13—Use Travelers Aid.
TA works to reunite families separated in transit, give food or shelter to those stranded without cash, and provide emotional counseling. TA is in 23 airports; train stations in Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Toronto, Washington; and in or near 10 bus terminals. An “e-help” feature at their website lets you type in a problem and get an individualized response.
1. Pack light. The trip is more fun if you are not encumbered with too much luggage, especially when you are at stations, or even just deciding to change seats on board.
2. Have the kids bring their own back packs, whose contents include things that will help keep the kids amused. (Very young children may not bother to look out the window, and even older ones tire of the scenery after awhile.)
3. Older kids need notebooks in which they can record things of interest, even locomotive numbers if they are so inclined.
4. Take wash’n’dries and Kleenexes for spills and emergencies.
5. Wear sturdy shoes in which you can chase the kids. (They like to run down the aisles, although running is a no-no.)
6. Non-flash camera. (Some cameras have a flash that turns on automatically, but the reflection on the window makes it impossible to take good shots out the window.)
7. Take drinks in bottles with lids, or buy same on the train. Don’t rely on those paper cups and the water coolers in the train cars—the kids will spill the water, and you probably don’t want to drink it anyway.
Americans for generations have been familiar with the railroad industry slogan, "Safety First." Passengers likewise should keep some common-sense, simple safety suggestions in mind when they are traveling. Train travel is very safe, but it's in your interest to avoid opportunities for accidents and injury that can arise.
At the Station...
At one time, special accommodations were made for unboxed bicycles on the following trains which still lack checked baggage service: Vermonter, Adirondack, Ethan Allen Express, Cardinal(before checked baggage was restored in October 2009), and Heartland Flyer (though the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is working to restore bike racks to the lower-level baggage compartments of its Superliner coaches). However, none of these trains (except theCardinal as checked baggage) currently accept bicycles at all.
Thanks to the work of the state Departments of Transportation that support them, a certain number of racks or spaces for unboxed bicycles is available on the following short-distance routes:Cascades, Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin, Pacific Surfliner (except trains 798 and 799),Illinois Zephyr, Carl Sandburg, Lincoln Service, Illini, Saluki, Missouri River Runner, Downeaster and Piedmont (except trains 79 and 80). For all of these trains except the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner, advance reservations are required for bicycle space. Reservations cost $5 or $10, depending on availability.
Unboxed bicycles are generally allowed on Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches that have baggage compartments. Call 1-800-USA-RAIL to make sure bicycles are allowed on a specific Thruway connecting service.
All Amtrak trains allow folding bikes that meet certain criteria as carry-on items. They must be stored in the luggage racks near the restrooms (on single-level coaches) or in the lower-level luggage racks (on Superliner coaches).
NARP will continue to work with Amtrak to expand the ability for bicyclists to make full use of the national intercity passenger train network as a complement to bicycling. Amtrak has announced that it intends to implement a pilot program to allow unboxed bicycles on the Capitol Limited to or from all stops on the route. Once this is in place, NARP will work with bicycle advocates to make it successful. NARP has also urged Amtrak to include bicycle racks in the specifications for any new baggage, coach-baggage or baggage-dorm cars it plans to order.
Many people ask why Amtrak does not allow pets on trains (other than registered service animals, as required by federal law).
The idea is not a new one. Amtrak (and its predecessors) allowed pets on board until 1976, often in three places—sleeping car rooms, parlor cars (in carriers), and in baggage cars.
Amtrak changed the policy in 1976. Pets were banned from sleeping and parlor cars. They were allowed in containers of specified dimensions in the baggage car (on those trains that had them). Passengers were allowed to visit them en route during station stops of ten minutes or more “when passenger safety and operating conditions permit, by making arrangements with the train conductor.” The reason for the change seems to have been the need to thoroughly clean sleeping car rooms whenever passengers changed over en-route. [Smoking is now also banned in such rooms.] NARP objected to the change at the time.
Then in 1977, the federal government issued new animal welfare regulations affecting carriage of pets on trains. There were new requirements for the heating and air conditioning of railroad cars that carry live animals, and for providing a constant supply of fresh water to animals. The agency issuing the requirements was the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), acting under the Federal Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (as amended in 1976). Amtrak determined that it would need to spend $13.8 million on baggage car changes and special animal shelters in stations to satisfy the new regulations, and ended the carriage of pets rather than comply.
NARP believes that carriage of pets on trains is desirable, if it can be done legally and affordably. In the early 1990’s, Amtrak was looking at allowing it on the Auto Train when it got new bi-level equipment. The idea was to convert an area in the lower level of certain coaches that had been designed as a baggage room into a kennel that would have been accessible from within that coach and could conceivably have access to the water and ventilation system of that coach. That project was not carried through.