As many of you may know, I am a railroad aficionado and travel by train as much as I possibly can. On this page and others I chronicle my trips with text, photographs and videos. I hope you find this, at the very least, entertaining but also helpful in understanding the intricacies of Amtrak train travel in the United States.

If you should have any questions, please message me, as I would be more than happy to share my experiences and provide you with insight into your questions.

Happy Travels!

(Click on the photos to enlarge them a bit.)

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

Some of you have been asking about train travel, what trains to take and how it works, so here’s a fairly comprehensive idea, based on my latest trip (a trip for no particular destination, but just to ride the train).

‬During my winter break from teaching in January of 2016, I took Amtrak’s Coast Starlight (the train runs from Los Angeles to Seattle) up the coast to Albany, Oregon. It’s an overnight on the train (I specifically went for that experience) which leaves LA at 10:10 in the morning and gets into Albany at 1:22 the next afternoon. I then waited in the Albany train station a few hours (singing Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” in my head) and boarded the train headed south at 4:10 and arrived in LA the next evening at around 8:30.

There are four trains on the road every day–two northbound and two south. This is true for most routes (on some routes, six)–most run daily, but a few only three times a week–so all you need do is find the city where they meet and schedule the stop. Keeping in mind a bit of layover time, as Amtrak is notorious for being late and you don’t want to risk missing the train home! You could, however, pick an earlier station and hang around that town for a while while you wait for your return train. Do some exploring!

There is a dining car on the train for your formal meals (community seating–they fill the table; that’s how you meet those fascinating people) as well as the Sightseer Lounge (also called the Cafe Car) with a snack bar where you can purchase hot and cold sandwiches and beverages, pizza, snacks and they even serve beer and cocktails (I’ve posted pictures and video of both the cars).

With a coach reservation you can either eat in the diner or the lounge car, or take the meal (or snack) back to your seat. Or check out the Just-For-You Express Meal Service (on the first link I posted for the train schedule below) delivered right to your seat! This would be cash out-of-pocket. You could bring your own food, for that matter. For my three-day trip, I had eight meals on the train.

So here’s the way the fares work. All fares, including the upgrades, are dependent upon destination, time of year, train capacity and how early you book your trip. The fares get more expensive the closer you are to your departure date and the more bookings on the train (A few years ago when planning a trip with a friend, the first fare I found was $60 for our leg of the trip. My friend checked a week later and it was $70, and when he actually booked the trip, his fare was $75).

When I was booking this trip, booking one day or the following day made a difference of a hundred bucks (what a difference a day makes!). Also, the fee changes can be drastic! The bedroom upgrade for my trip up the coast was reasonable, but the same room going south the next day was three times the price (that’s why I had the bedroom going up and the roomette on the way down). It pays to shop around for your best deal and accommodations!

Children of certain ages ride for half fare and infants, well you need to check, but I think they’re free up to a certain age.

There is one fee for just getting on the train (which is pretty reasonable: $98 one-way for my trip! That’s $196 round-trip for three days on a train!). This puts you in coach, however, which is crowded with lots of other people, no privacy and sometimes can get loud, especially if kids are on the train–I’m not saying I don’t like kids!–and it’s not all that comfortable sleeping. I’ve done that a few times (when I was much younger).

The first upgrade you can purchase is “Business Class.” You’re still in a coach seat but there’s more legroom and it’s much quieter with less people (as you saw in the video, the car was practically empty on my trip. My attendant friend said when it’s busy, there are some 30 people in the car–that holds 80!) and this upgrade allows you access to the Parlor car (more on this car later). There’s Wifi in this car but it’s spotty. You’re better off with LTE on your smartphone.

Then there are the room upgrades in the “Sleeper Cars” or “First Class” ? with a coffee maker at the top of the stairs and Wifi here too, but . . .

The Superliner Roomette: Small room with two facing seats, and a pull-up table between them to work, play cards, have a meal, snack, etc. Those seats fold down into a lower bed at night and there’s a bunk bed that folds down from above (all of this is done by your car attendant). I posted a short segment of it in the longer video tour of the train. It’s very cramped, but it’ll do for a private place to hang out and a bed to sleep in at night. Bathrooms are communal, one upstairs and a few more down. There’s a communal shower on the lower level as well (which isn’t bad, actually).

Next is the “Superliner Bedroom.” I posted a full on video of just that room. Comes with a couch and chair, pull-up table during the day and a larger size bed and larger bunk at night (at least a bit larger than the roomette accommodations), along with a sink and bathroom/shower combination. Very private! This room can also be paired with the adjoining room by sliding the partition back for families of four.

Then there’s the family bedroom with four beds, in two sets of bunk beds, but no bathroom in the room in this one. It’s on the lower level and there’s only one of these per sleeper car (there’s usually three sleeper cars on the train, but this trip there were only two).

There’s also an Accessible Bedroom on the lower level which includes a toilet and a sink.

Google “Amtrak Superliner” for images of the train, floor layouts, etc.

Here’s how the room upgrade fares work: The fee for a room upgrade is in addition to the fee to get you on the train, BUT a single fare covers TWO people and it includes meals in the dining car (they also have room service and will deliver your meal to your room!). When you go for a meal, you order whatever you like from the menu (including extra bacon and dessert) and just sign the tab and leave a tip.

As I was traveling alone, I essentially paid for two people and two sets of meals, but only used one. Consider this when examining the fare. When traveling with a friend, you split the upgrade cost between you! There’s a steak dinner on the menu for $25.00 which you would have to pay for in coach, but not in the sleepers, so if you both had steak one evening, that’s 50 bucks out of your budget that’s included in the room upgrade!

On my particular train, the Coast Starlight, there is a first class lounge car called The Pacific Parlor Car (It’s really impressive!) which is reserved for sleeper car and business class passengers only. Unfortunately, they removed the car from service this year, January to mid March, for maintenance (and probably to save some money because ridership is low this time of the year), so I didn’t get to enjoy it on this trip. I’m told that they don’t remove it every year, so check if you want that experience. I’ve traveled many trips with this car on the train. It’s really cool and well worth the upgrade to the sleepers. They have their own menu and serve light meals for lunch and dinner, coffee and cocktails and it’s a place where you can sit alone and enjoy your meal if you so wish. It’s very nicely appointed with plush, swivel seats, couches and tables, wood paneling throughout, along with a bar. Oh, and there’s a movie theater on the lower level with daily children’s features and more dramatic features for the evening screenings!

Keep in mind alcohol is not included in the upgrade. You pay for that as you go. When traveling First Class, you’re allowed alcohol in your room. I bring my own and save money from the $7.00 cocktails in the lounge car (A guy I had lunch with a few doors down from my room on this trip was mixing Margaritas and Manhattans in his room–he even brought the cherries!). You can easily get soft drinks and mixers, like Bloody Mary mix, limes and ice from the diner no charge! Your car attendant will be glad to get you a bucket of ice and anything else you need.

Here’s another tip: Grab the Amtrak app for your smartphone. You can keep track of on-time status (particularly for your returning train).

It really is a great experience! You’ll meet some very interesting people, see some incredible sights, and have some great conversations. You may even make friends! Don’t forget to tip your car attendant when detraining.

Click here for the link to the schedule.

Click here for a link to book your trip (or at least research fares and destinations, as well as the upgrades available, be sure to shop around for dates and such for the better deal). You can search this page for other routes and their timetables as well.

If you have any questions or need advice for your trip, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been around the country twice by train and ridden many of the trains Amtrak runs. I’d be more than happy to help.

Enjoy your travels!

‪#‎Amtrak‬ ‪#‎Trains‬ ‪#‎CoastStarlight‬