Amtrak trip,,, tips tricks and advice

Except for riding on some short excursion trains I haven't ridden a train since coming home from Fort Bragg in 1966. Next month my daughter and I are headed to Phoeniz AZ.  Alliance OH to Chicago (6 hour delay) and on to Flagstaff. Tell me what to expect.

Thanks

joe

Original Post

Capitol Limited Alliance OH 1:30 AM arrives Chicago 8:45 AM

Southwest Chief leaves Chicago 3:00 PM to Flagstaff AZ arrives around 9 PM next day. To continue to Phoenix would necessitate a bus ride of 1 1/2 hours but we're meeting a friend in Flagstaff so we can do some sightseeing in northern AZ

I guess a specific question would be who and how much do you tip if tipping should be done

That's a 6-hour "layover."  (intentional)

dobermann posted:

Tell me what to expect.

You can expect delays.

You'll be lucky if a 6-hour "delay" is what you will have accumulated over the course of the trip.  The silver lining, if you are a train fan, is watching freight moves, locomotive changes, opposing passenger traffic, and admiring the scenery and interesting ROW infrastructure.  Bring a camera with plenty of memory.

 

Arthur P. Bloom TCA 86-23906 "I love the smell of smoke pellets in the morning!"

We've been taking the Silver Star to Lakeland FL for several years. Have the handicapped bedroom and depending on how helpful/useful the attendant is have tipped $0-$20. We've found them to be either very great folks or terrible. My wife wrote about one to Amtrak and was sent a $100 credit towards the next trip.

 

Farmer_Bill posted:

Been years since we rode the SW Chief and we got into Flagstaff very late, around 2AM.  Hopefully you will have better luck. 

Thanks..Friend meeting us already booked a room so we can just call or cab when we hit Flagstaff. She also got a late checkout so no rush in the morning.

You can't really think of a 6 hour layover in Chicago as a delay, if you think of layover time as a delay you have the wrong mode of transportation. Thats not a delay thats exploration time !!   You can explore a lot in 6 hours and have a really good meal in one of downtown Chicago's great restaurants. get some train watching in also. I travel long-distance Amtrak a few times a year. Chicago, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle, D.C. all have great delays (exploration time). I also ride the Canadian, more great exploration time, Vancouver, Jasper, Toronto.

I do tip the room steward and the dining car staff, I'm never sure how much to tip. Use to be it wasn't expected. two years ago on the VIA Canadian the steward gave me my tip back. It's good you got the room on Amtrak. With sleeper accommodations  you also get use of the first class lounge in Chicago. The first meal on all trains leaving Chicago is evening dinner. You will share your dining car table with other people, some people don't like that but I do, meet a lot of interesting people. Have fun and talk to everyone

Remember its the journey 

Clem 

Remember its the journey 

Thanks Clem. Since1976 I've traveled every couple of years sometimes for months on a motorcycle so I can relate to the journey. Toronto to Vancouver by rail has been on my list for years just not in the budget.

I'm not sure how far it is to the museum of science and industry. I'd like to go there again time permitting. I don't see any problem with spending 6 hours in Chicago .

joe

Get a sleeper car room (if its offered)  The dining car price is included with the ticket.  I've not had a bad experience with AMTRAK and would recommend it to anyone travelling overnight.  You WILL see a lot more of America by train than if you took a car or plane. 

U.P.R.R...THE home of High HP Locomotives, both Steam & Diesel......

Joe; I've just done a trip from Seattle via Chicago, New York and back. Get a room and toilet/shower for sure! Watch the world go by from your own cabin, quiet and peaceful! Each leg of the trip we ran late......3hrs into NY, it seems the norm and passengers I met just shrugged there shoulders! 

With a cabin all meals were free and most folk dropped $2 to $5 on the table, beer you have to pay and I like a beer or two so I tipped accordingly.....

The 'Empire Builder' was much better then 'The Cardinal' and the return 'Lake Shore Limited'. The accommodation, the food, and the service.

All in all for train fans like ourselves....heaven! Great scenery, natural and man made.

Phil.

dobermann posted:

Does the car transfer or will I be moving my belongings?

No, your car from the east does NOT transfer to the westbound train, so yes, you will have to take all your belongings with you. You should be able to "check" them in the First Class Lounge, within Union Station.

clem k posted:

You can't really think of a 6 hour layover in Chicago as a delay, if you think of layover time as a delay you have the wrong mode of transportation. Thats not a delay thats exploration time !!   You can explore a lot in 6 hours and have a really good meal in one of downtown Chicago's great restaurants. get some train watching in also. I travel long-distance Amtrak a few times a year. Chicago, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle, D.C. all have great delays (exploration time). I also ride the Canadian, more great exploration time, Vancouver, Jasper, Toronto.

I do tip the room steward and the dining car staff, I'm never sure how much to tip. Use to be it wasn't expected. two years ago on the VIA Canadian the steward gave me my tip back. It's good you got the room on Amtrak. With sleeper accommodations  you also get use of the first class lounge in Chicago. The first meal on all trains leaving Chicago is evening dinner. You will share your dining car table with other people, some people don't like that but I do, meet a lot of interesting people. Have fun and talk to everyone

Remember its the journey 

Clem 

I would 100% agree with this. Pretty sure there are lockers in Union Station. Store your stuff and go explore. Chicago is a fun city, go see it! You need to try the Billy Goat Tavern, Lou Malnati's Pizza or Al's Beef Sandwiches.

Corey West

Aircraft for work, trains for fun.

Goshawk posted:
clem k posted:

You can't really think of a 6 hour layover in Chicago as a delay, if you think of layover time as a delay you have the wrong mode of transportation. Thats not a delay thats exploration time !!   You can explore a lot in 6 hours and have a really good meal in one of downtown Chicago's great restaurants. get some train watching in also. I travel long-distance Amtrak a few times a year. Chicago, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle, D.C. all have great delays (exploration time). I also ride the Canadian, more great exploration time, Vancouver, Jasper, Toronto.

I do tip the room steward and the dining car staff, I'm never sure how much to tip. Use to be it wasn't expected. two years ago on the VIA Canadian the steward gave me my tip back. It's good you got the room on Amtrak. With sleeper accommodations  you also get use of the first class lounge in Chicago. The first meal on all trains leaving Chicago is evening dinner. You will share your dining car table with other people, some people don't like that but I do, meet a lot of interesting people. Have fun and talk to everyone

Remember its the journey 

Clem 

I would 100% agree with this. Pretty sure there are lockers in Union Station. Store your stuff and go explore. Chicago is a fun city, go see it! You need to try the Billy Goat Tavern, Lou Malnati's Pizza or Al's Beef Sandwiches.

All pretty good selections for food, however if you want a REAL nice lunch prior to your 3PM departure, walk about 3 or 4 blocks east from Union Station to the Berghoff Restaurant. Truly excellent German dining (for what it's worth, they still hold the number 1 Chicago Liquor License). Not cheap, but their sauerbraten & potato pancakes is out of this world.   

Joe, living 45 minutes from Williams, AZ, we've taken the SW Chief and Capitol Limited many times when going to York - always in the deluxe sleeper.  As others have noted, by far the best way to do Amtrak.

All this summer the Chief ran very late due to track improvements and resulting slow running in New Mexico, but that seems to be done now.  However, typically it will be an hour or two late coming westbound into Flagstaff and an hour late eastbound.  But with the slop in the schedules, it typically makes up that time and is on time into Chicago for your layover going home.

I don't know what your plans are in Phoenix, but if you can make sure you visit the train and model layouts in the Scottsdale Railroad Park.

And if you find your self in the Prescott area, let me know and I've be happy to have you come by for a layout visit.

 Jon .......that's what I was getting at! It was fun traveling Amtrack but the times? I purposely stayed the night in Chicago because my connection (The Cardinal) was too close.....good job I did! I did though enjoy my stay in Chicago. 

I missed out in NY though getting in 3hrs late (01:00).......very poor really. 


 

On our westbound trip we had a 6-hour layover in Chicago, which gave us a chance to take a sightseeing tour.  On the eastbound, we lost an engine on the east slope of the Rockies and missed out connection to the Capitol Limited.  Amtrak put us up in a hotel and Mrs. RJR and I had a great day in Chicago.

I would avoid lower level bedrooms.  View is very limited and to move to another car, you have to climb stairs.  I recommend the observation car in the middle of the train as a place to watch the world go by.

We took our first Amtrak trip this summer, LA to Seattle on the Coast Starlight, the Seattle to Chicago on the Empire Builder, and finally the Chicago to Cincinnati on the Cardinal. Nearly 5,000 miles over two and half weeks -- we stopped in San Francisco, Seattle, Glacier National Park, and Chicago along the route.

I asked for advise here and on several other forums before we left, some of which was good, some really didn't apply as we're in our early 40's traveling with a 10 & 11 year old -- rather than traveling a retired couple.

My advise would be:

1) The car may or may not have random sounds which you may or may not be able to stop. Take a small roll of duct tape and be willing to tape things down which rattle. Be prepared with a set of ear plugs too, and perhaps a low dose sleeping pill or two. We had 10 different cars during the trip (2 roomettes per leg), about half of which had something that needed a bit of tape to keep quite, and two which had a screaming pig in the wall that yelled out with every turn -- well maybe not an actual pig but it was a heck of noise with no way to stop it or move  rooms -- take ear plugs!

2) The quality of the car staff makes all the difference in experience, we had some that ran a tight ship, super clean bathrooms, fresh coffee, super helpful, made up our rooms on our schedule, etc., and others what weren't anywhere close -- bathrooms that could have been fresher, coffee that reminded me of the Navy, and room resets when they wanted to do it, even when we didn't want it done -- turned down my own rooms twice because I didn't want to go to be at 8pm. I'm not a 9 year old. If they are good tip them, first time you can, a $10 bill goes a long way.

3) The train will get you there, but it goes when it wants (which sometimes means it doesn't) be prepared to relax and enjoy the ride.

4) I took 6,000+ photos, along the trip, mostly from inside the train. It gives a unique view of the country and one that as a model rr guy are hugely helpful -- what really is along the tracks (hint: it isn't ice cream shops), there a tons of great buildings, signs, bridges, trains on side tracks, and natural wonders too. I spent nearly the whole of the trip glued to a window, camera in hand.

5) Since you're on board for plenty of meals, figure that out early. On our whole trip every lunch and dinner entree came with succotash, great, unless you order pasta which has big scoop of it on top. They put it on every dish, regardless of if that made any sense or not, nope, everyone gets succotash! I ate my weight in signature steaks, they do a nice job with those -- nice basic steak, small baked potato, and succotash. My wife points out even dinner and lunch salads have a scoop of succotash. Just a heads up. 

6) Be prepared to step off at every fresh air stop, there will be plenty. This was a highlight, just getting off for a couple mins, walking the distance of the train, breathing in some fresh air, and great chance for station photos. These breaks aren't long so stay close!

7) Rails and trails is great! We would sit in the coach dome car and listen to the guide narrate the trip, they have prepared guides they follow, it was wonderful to know what one was looking at -- on you're left is XVS on coming up on your right will be ABC, etc. This is only done in the coach dome car, you have to ask the car staff or listen, since you're in the sleepers.

8) Unlike flying you can bring as much as you wish in terms of water, pop, wine, etc., although this can only be consumed in your room. We went through a lot of water and few bottles of wine along the way.

Hope you have a wonderful trip! While this was our first trip, and no one other than me has any love / like of trains, it will not be our last. My wife, wasn't thrilled about all the train travel when we planned the trip, but by mile 5,000 she said she would take another similar trip any time.

Here are some gleanings from my wife and my trip on the Crescent Limited and the Sunset Limited.

* Great regional food in the diner. The best place to meet new people since they fill up tables. A+

* Snack Car is OK for microwaved typed food and junk food. C+

* Usually pretty good scenery and excellent close up views of passing trains and railroad yards. A+

* Lots of common folk riding the rails. We met all kinds of characters. B

* Very hard to sleep in coach cars. D

* On the eastern corridor we were on time. East to west & back we were always late. 5 hours at one point. D

*Once the "train excitement" gets thin have something to read. Intermittent boredom. B-

*Always pay attention to your valuables. OK to leave most carry on near seat but keep expensive stuff with you. Always be aware....

All in all, we loved riding the train. It is not just transportation but an adventure to be sure. Don't have too many expectations about comfort and luxury but enjoy the robust and "pioneer" spirit of the rails. If you want to spend the extra $1,000 for a sleeper it is probably worth it (meals included) but it was too pricey for us.

I much prefer rail over flying. My wife thinks the other way.

Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

TCA - 10 - 64769

Active Ferroequinologist

Collector of 40' scale boxcars

Collector of NYC steam in all gauges

I ride the Cardinal from WV to DC  and bring my own snacks.  There is a water spout and small cups as well by the restroom on one end of the coach cars.  Snackbar is overpriced imho, $8.50 for one hotdog is expensive.   I have always had a comfortable trip and the employees are very nice and attentive.  I ride the coach class and it is a very good value, I even saved more when buying online from the Amtrak site.

On a 8 hour trip, the coach is very comfortable and you can lean your seat back and lower a footrest and sleep easily.

If you go first-class (sleeper), no need to use a locker in Chicago for your handcarry baggage.  In the First Class lounge, they have a check&hold facility.  Also, Amtrak provides golf-cart-style transportation from the lounge to the train, so you needn't walk, in LA, Chicago, and WashDC.

I have ridden AMtrak enough time that Mrs. RJR & I have crossed the US in a bedroom on points, plus using points elsewhere.  I have never been served succotash; to Farmer Bill's chagrin, I have NEVER been been served or offered scrapple.

There was also plenty of bottled water available.  I would not drink water from the holding tank

I never heard or saw Succotash on any of our long distance trips. Our next trip is in Jan. the Meteor to Ft. Lauderdale, rent car and drive to Key West if it is still there. I am working on a trip next June to Glacier & Yellowstone. May I suggest that if you take Amtrak a lot, you get a Amtrak guest rewards MasterCard Issued by Bank of America.

Eddie G

eddie g posted:

I never heard or saw Succotash on any of our long distance trips. Our next trip is in Jan. the Meteor to Ft. Lauderdale, rent car and drive to Key West if it is still there. I am working on a trip next June to Glacier & Yellowstone. May I suggest that if you take Amtrak a lot, you get a Amtrak guest rewards MasterCard Issued by Bank of America.

Eddie,

I grew up in Key West and we still have a home and business there, I hope you have a wonderful time. The drive from Ft. Lauderdale is about 3.5 hours, just as a heads up the drive down the Keys is gorgeous but can take a lot longer than most folks think it will.

Message me with your address and I will send you some guest passes to Harry Truman's Little White House, my dad is the executive director.

Best,

Jason

Sharidon, my wife, corrects me it was corn and edamame. Thus it looks like succotash but with edamame beans rather than lima beans. It came with everything, other than breakfast, including on her pasta the first night, in a entree salad, and even with quesadillas at lunch. We've been joking about it since June -- I keep suggesting we buy a 55 gallon drum and serve it until it's gone -- the kids aren't amused.

dobermann posted:

 

I'm not sure how far it is to the museum of science and industry. I'd like to go there again time permitting. I don't see any problem with spending 6 hours in Chicago .

joe

It's 8 miles from Chicago Union Station to the Museum of Science and Industry. You can look it up on Google Maps. Unless you are a power walker who walks long distances daily that is a bit far for a casual walk.

 

RJR posted:

I recommend the observation car in the middle of the train as a place to watch the world go by.

Amtrak has not operated observation cars since they stopped used steam heated equipment. A true observation car had a rounded end and usually was the last car in the train. This is what an Amtrak observation car looked like back then:

CincinnatiWestern posted:

 

7) Rails and trails is great! We would sit in the coach dome car and listen to the guide narrate the trip, they have prepared guides they follow, it was wonderful to know what one was looking at -- on you're left is XVS on coming up on your right will be ABC, etc. This is only done in the coach dome car, you have to ask the car staff or listen, since you're in the sleepers.

While a small number of Amtrak dome cars were rebuilt with head end power they were all retired circa 1989. I know because I photographed the last dome equipped Amtrak 'City Of New Orleans'. To be clear here the term 'dome car' refers to a single level passenger car with a glass dome having it's own second seating level:

Today's Amtrak only has ONE dome car which sees service system-wide on special assignments - it's a full dome numbered #10031 and named 'Ocean View':

 

What all of you are calling an "observation" and/or "dome" car is actually a Superliner Sightseer Lounge which is not the same thing:

Unlike a true dome the sightseer lounge does not have forward or rear glass plus has less overhead glass compared to a dome. While it provides excellent viewing it does not compare to a classic Budd short dome for viewing visibility in all directions:

 

And there were dome-observation cars too:

The car which Amtrak calls an observation car is actually better suited for observing passing scenery than what used to be called an observation car, except for seeing rails scurrying from beneath you.  If you look at the old cars, except for those with domes, vertical view angle was limited.

I'm sitting in my Chicago office right now and Uber and taxi rides to the Museum of Science and Industry are taking about 20 minutes. The challenge with visiting the museum is that you can easily spend hours there which may not work with your layover.

If the sky is clear when you get here head to the Skydeck at Sears/Willis Tower for an amazing view. You will be able to look down on the rail yard and watch the action, get a great view of all the buildings and even the lake. Best part is it's only a one block walk from Union Station. 

Countless things to do all within a 10 minute walk of the station  

If you need other suggestions or a tour guide send me a message. I ride into Union Station most weekdays. 

Okay, so this was on the return trip from our honeymoon back in 2003 ( Good Lord has it been that long!?).  We were taking the train up from New Orleans and had a 6 hr layover in Chicago, until we got on the east bound Capitol Limited that we took as far as Pittsburgh.  My wife and I had a great time in Chicago.  We went to the John Hancock building, which is not as tall as the Sears Towers but is very impressive and has a great observation floor.  We also had lunch in a world class Blues Bar, even shot a game of pool on blue felt.  Also if you've watch The Untouchables, you can find the stairs from the train station shoot out right in the station.  Just make sure you get back in time to catch your train!  Definitely think of this time as an adventure, not a hindrance, there is a ton to do during your time there.  

fyi- I have been to the science and Industry museum and I don't personally recommend it for this time period. that place is so fascinating you may feel like you didn't do it justice in the time allotted.

Have a great trip,

John Z

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