Baggage and roomette questions (Empire Builder)

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Auberon Quin

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Our son has moved to the Seattle area, and the wife and I are hopping the Empire Builder in Wisconsin to head out and bring him his stuff.

So ... much ... stuff...

We've ridden the Empire Builder before, but we've never checked baggage. And, as I mentioned, there is a fair amount of baggage. So: Questions.

1. I read the Amtrak guidelines to say two checked bags per person, but you can check more if you pay. Am I reading that right?

2. How rigorous are they on size/weight limits? Most of the packages are ok, but there is one that is flirting with 50 pounds. And when I say "flirting," I meant "has bought it a few drinks and is inviting it back to the apartment to see its etchings." Will they weigh it? What happens if it's 60 pounds?

3. Two of the pieces are cardboard boxes packed like you'd pack something to mail it. Will that be ok?

4. One is (no lie) a furniture dolly because we have to schlep all this crap when we get to Seattle. Any problems with checking that?

5. How much room will we have in a roomette? We've gotten fancy in our old age and have booked beds. All previous trips -- Seattle twice, Portland, and East Glacier -- have been in coach. If we each bring a suitcase and a backpack, will we have room for anything else?

6. What's the outlet situation in the roomettes? Wife uses a CPAP; will we need an extension cord so she can get it to the upper bunk? (I'm not a monster; she prefers it dark. I ... I need a window.)
 

pennyk

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Here is a link to Amtrak's checked baggage policy: https://www.amtrak.com/onboard/baggage-policy/checked-baggage.html

Here is a link to carry-on baggage policy: https://www.amtrak.com/onboard/baggage-policy/carry-on-baggage.html

Here is a link to prohibited items (including household items and overweight items): https://www.amtrak.com/onboard/baggage-policy/baggage-prohibited-items.html
I have seen passengers attempt to check baggage weighing over 50 pounds. Those passengers were unable to check the baggage without taking out items and repacking.

I doubt if the furniture dolly will be permitted.
There is not much room in the roomettes, but there is a luggage rack on the lower level of the sleeping cars.

You may consider shipping some of the boxes.
 

F900ElCapitan

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Unfortunately the best answer is, “it depends”.

It depends on the station agent and maybe even his/her mood when you check in. I can say politeness and a good attitude on your part can go a LONG way. Then it also depends on how full your sleeper is as to how well the SCA is willing to accept your amount of carry on luggage. But as PennyK said, there is a luggage area downstairs that can handle a fair amount.

As far as the dolly goes, again it depends. If it’s a full sized, heavy, rigid dolly, it might be tough. If it’s a collapsible suitcase type...no worries, in fact you could use it to take your stuff to your sleeper that might be your best plan. Another idea would be to go talk to the station agent to clarify it with him or her a day or two in advance, and again, be very nice.

There are lots of videos out there showing the available space in a roomette. But if it’s a standard 22 inch suitcase and a normal backpack or even a medium hiking backpack, you’ll be fine. There is one outlet so you’ll probably need more capability. I’ve bought a square block power extension cord with 3 plugs and 3 USB connectors and it works perfectly.

Good luck!! I hope you have a great trip!!
 

bratkinson

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813
In all my years of riding Amtrak sleepers, I've never witnessed anyone having their carry on luggage 'refused' by the car attendant. In recent years, I've seen everything from people boarding with the biggest rolling suitcases I've ever seen and leave them in the baggage area downstairs. And on that trip, someone else had what looked like a full size collapsible baby crib. Needless to say, the baggage area was overloaded that trip and most of the time, there were a couple of bags in the vestibule area that had to be moved to the other side at the next stop, etc. Part of a normal trip for the attendant, in my opinion.

Depending on how much 'stuff' you're taking out for your son, considering that you'll have your own luggage, some of which you'll need to access during the trip and will need to fit your roomette. I typically travel with an airline carry on size rolling suitcase that fits under the seat and a 'gym bag' of whatever I'll need multiple times per day. Depending on whether your roomette is in a Superliner I or Superliner II, you'll either have a narrow closet - maybe 5" wide, or a U-shaped hook to hang clothing on. That's what I usually pack in my suitcase. I'd estimate that in the roomette, 2 under-the-seat suitcases and a gym bag that I put on the 'steps' and perhaps a smaller crumple-able bag that would fit in the closet/hanger area floor. Everything else has to be stored downstairs.

Simply put, whatever the two of you can schlep down the platform to your sleeper (front of the train for the SEA section) would be the 'practical' limit in my opinion. I've seen collapsible hand trucks used by some passengers. The ones at Harbor Freight might be sufficient - just don't put more than the maximum weight specified in the instructions indicates. Being a former Milwaukee area resident, I think the only stations in Wisconsin that is still staffed is Milwaukee and La Crosse. Columbus shows checked baggage as well in the timetable, but I vaguely recall reading that the Columbus agent position had been abolished. If you're boarding at Columbus, definitely verify there's an agent to check your bags. As for checking bags at unstaffed stations goes, I have no clue with the conductor will handle checked baggage or not. Presumably, they are supposed to do that at unstaffed stations.

In all, including checked bags and carryons, I'd probably limit yourself to 4 items per person - otherwise, you'll quickly regret bringing anything more with you. Otherwise they're falling over / out of your arms / off the pile / whatever. Strapping them together might help, but in the end, it may slow things down. Your physical condition is also a factor which may limit how much you can lug. And at Seattle, you'll have to schlep everything once again. Hopefully, your son will meet you on the platform at the station. And if he drives a car the size of a VW Beetle, that may be a major problem of where to stow the luggage.

Lastly, should you decide to box up some things and ship them, Amtrak -may- still handle items like that. If so, and it's available at your boarding station, check the prices for a 70 pound box vs 70 pound checked item. Alternatively, UPS, Fedex, and the Post Office are a good alternative. Using them, first and foremost, pack <whatever> so that an adult can stand on top of the box and it won't be crushed. Anything breakable such as china or stereo equipment needs to be very well padded. A couple of giant-size bubble wrap things and a 15 pound item will likely be broken if the box gets dropped enroute. Items like glassware and most everything else in the kitchen would be better sold/donated and your son buy new in Seattle. The cost of shipping would likely exceed the cost of new items. Considering that the shipping companies pile boxes floor to ceiling in a trailer, if your package is on the bottom and cannot withstand a momentary 'crush force' of 100 pounds of other packages on top of yours and the truck hits a bump, the downward crush force may double or triple. Also put a packing slip in each box indicating what's in it, along with yours and sons address and phone numbers. I worked for almost 3 years at a Fedex Ground hub and and when boxes break open or the tape gives way, trying to match up loose items to any of a dozen or more other packages that broke open goes far more easily if they know what's supposed to be inside. If it can't be determined, the loose 'stuff' goes to Salt Lake City and will be auctioned in lots if not claimed by the rightful owner. One more thing...be generous with your shipping tape. Don't waste your money on Scotch brand 'shipping tape'. I use rolls of Duck brand of shipping tape I get at Walmart. Be sure to completely circle the box with a continuous strip of tape to hold the flaps down. We had one large volume corporate shipper that put only one strip of tape along each closing seam with 1.5" around the corner and on the side. We'd get 20-30 boxes per night that the tape unsealed itself at both 1/5" ends and the stuff came out. Fortunately, one of my acquaintances worked in the quality control department. It took about 6 months of repeatedly telling her 'more tape' before the shipping department got the message. Going all the way around the box guarantees that the flaps won't pop open from too little tape. If it's a box of pots and pans, the compact weight of them would suggest 2 or 3 times around the box with tape to keep everything inside.

Also, when it comes to shipping, as long as it's under 70 pounds per box and 'regular' dimensions (not a package with a broom inside or a fiberboard poster), any of the carriers will be happy to ship it. Oddball shape items cost a bunch more to ship. The UPS Store will even pack it for you and supply the box(es) for a fee. As shipping prices are dictated by weight, distance, and speed, shipping the heavier items and carrying (or checking) lighter things will cost more money. Also, I'm aware from my own experience that UPS has an 'expected revenue per cubic inch' algorithm in their pricing. Shipping a bed pillow in a box will cost about the same as if the box with the same dimensions had 20 pounds in it. They likely calculated that on average, every full trailer would bring in X dollars of revenue and make sure it gets at least that much. I discovered this by shipping stuff I've sold on ebay.

Lastly, there's no such thing as 'fragile'. Every package gets treated and handled just like all the others. I think the Post Office charges more if a package is marked 'fragile'. But the limits of what they'll cover if it gets broken probably doesn't change if it's fragile or not. Maybe 30 years ago already, I was at the Post Office dropping off a package a couple weeks before Christmas. The lady in front of me had a box that was 12-15" on each edge clearly marked on all sides 'fragile'. After she paid, got her receipt and turned to walk out, the P O clerk took the box and did a rebound off the rear wall about 10' behind him and the package dropped into the big rolling canvas bin.
 

ehbowen

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If you have ever worked "behind the scenes" at a major airport, you will never ever pack anything fragile or breakable in checked luggage again...

The cardboard boxes will probably not pass muster. Nor will the furniture dolly. However, a folding luggage dolly and some canvas tote bags purchased cheaply at a local thrift store won't even draw a second glance.

+1 to the suggestion that you verify the availability of checked baggage and a station agent at your intended departure station prior to your trip. Another +1 to taking a hard look at what it would cost to buy replacement items, either new or thrift store, and leaving anything which doesn't make the cut at home.

Each Amtrak station with checked luggage has a scale, and they use it whenever a bag is questionable. If it's over 50 then you have to take something out. On The Other Hand, carry-on bags are very unlikely to be questioned as long as you can schlep them yourselves without help.
 

Tom Booth

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Jul 5, 2019
Messages
156
Our son has moved to the Seattle area, and the wife and I are hopping the Empire Builder in Wisconsin to head out and bring him his stuff.

So ... much ... stuff...

We've ridden the Empire Builder before, but we've never checked baggage. And, as I mentioned, there is a fair amount of baggage. So: Questions.

1. I read the Amtrak guidelines to say two checked bags per person, but you can check more if you pay. Am I reading that right?

2. How rigorous are they on size/weight limits? Most of the packages are ok, but there is one that is flirting with 50 pounds. And when I say "flirting," I meant "has bought it a few drinks and is inviting it back to the apartment to see its etchings." Will they weigh it? What happens if it's 60 pounds?

3. Two of the pieces are cardboard boxes packed like you'd pack something to mail it. Will that be ok?

4. One is (no lie) a furniture dolly because we have to schlep all this crap when we get to Seattle. Any problems with checking that?

5. How much room will we have in a roomette? We've gotten fancy in our old age and have booked beds. All previous trips -- Seattle twice, Portland, and East Glacier -- have been in coach. If we each bring a suitcase and a backpack, will we have room for anything else?

6. What's the outlet situation in the roomettes? Wife uses a CPAP; will we need an extension cord so she can get it to the upper bunk? (I'm not a monster; she prefers it dark. I ... I need a window.)
I hope your son and daughter-in-law really, really appreciate your efforts. I agree with Penny - ship out most of it.
 
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MccfamschoolMom

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Feb 28, 2020
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224
If you can afford to upgrade to a Bedroom in the sleeping car, you'll have a little more room. But very much agree with others' answers re: shipping most of your son's stuff vs. checked baggage, as well as buying replacements (new or used) for anything bulky/heavy/fragile in Seattle. I schlepped a 50-pound suitcase between train stations in Paris when I was a college student decades ago, and it permanently cured me of not packing light. I also ship a fair amount of eBay items each month, and know better than to sell anything fragile on consignment now (after having learned the hard way what can happen to even carefully-packed fragile items).
 

basketmaker

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Apr 19, 2018
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If you have ever worked "behind the scenes" at a major airport, you will never ever pack anything fragile or breakable in checked luggage again...

The cardboard boxes will probably not pass muster. Nor will the furniture dolly. However, a folding luggage dolly and some canvas tote bags purchased cheaply at a local thrift store won't even draw a second glance.

+1 to the suggestion that you verify the availability of checked baggage and a station agent at your intended departure station prior to your trip. Another +1 to taking a hard look at what it would cost to buy replacement items, either new or thrift store, and leaving anything which doesn't make the cut at home.

Each Amtrak station with checked luggage has a scale, and they use it whenever a bag is questionable. If it's over 50 then you have to take something out. On The Other Hand, carry-on bags are very unlikely to be questioned as long as you can schlep them yourselves without help.
So true on packing fragile, breakable, liquids (booze is a prime example) or priceless/keepsake items (that could be damaged) in checked bags. Spent many younger years smashing bags OOPS I mean handling baggage at MIA. Hard-side luggage give much more protection than the everyday soft-sided stuff most use today. Back in the day carriers would not honor damage claims on soft-sided bags (Leeds were the most common) but would usually cover claims on hard-sided (like Samsonite). Also avoid the big plastic bins you get at Dollar Tree or Dollar General. They are very brittle and most like will be cracked or shattered by normal loading/unloading process. Pelican makes shipping case for cameras or fragile electronics that will last a life time though they ain't cheap!
 

bratkinson

OBS Chief
Joined
Aug 7, 2004
Messages
813
So true on packing fragile, breakable, liquids (booze is a prime example) or priceless/keepsake items (that could be damaged) in checked bags. Spent many younger years smashing bags OOPS I mean handling baggage at MIA. Hard-side luggage give much more protection than the everyday soft-sided stuff most use today. Back in the day carriers would not honor damage claims on soft-sided bags (Leeds were the most common) but would usually cover claims on hard-sided (like Samsonite). Also avoid the big plastic bins you get at Dollar Tree or Dollar General. They are very brittle and most like will be cracked or shattered by normal loading/unloading process. Pelican makes shipping case for cameras or fragile electronics that will last a life time though they ain't cheap!
And it's not only the package handlers/baggage handlers/gorillas (remember that old Samsonite commercial?) that break things, either. Almost nightly at the hub with it's 150 trailer doors for loading and 50 for unloading, several packages would break open on the conveyor belts. I've seen everything from Sunday newspaper insert advertising, to bottled water, to wine from Wine.com, and even paint leaking/dripping/dropping from the overhead belts. My favorite, though, was one night when what sounded like a 50 pound box of nuts and bolts broke open. The entire building was soon filled with the rattling sounds of the stuff working its way through the system for a couple of hours before it quieted down. A broken case of golf balls 'clears' far faster. They don't shut down any of the belts unless it's end of shift or there's a hopeless 'package traffic jam' that the upstairs workers (sorting belt monitors) didn't discover and clear fast enough. They radio the control room to stop the belt, and then drop some of the jammed up packages to the concrete floor 10-12 feet below. Then when they're in the clear, they radio the control room again to start it going. Depending on which belt got jammed up and for how long, there might be 300 or so workers sitting on their hands for a few minutes.

Part of my time at Fedex was in the damaged package repair/return area. Most of what ended up there was the result of insufficient packaging. Basketmakers' comment about big plastic bins is so true. One night, what came down the 'incompatible' belt was the 'floor' only of one of those bins with a 3 speed manual shift automobile transmission on it. The rest of the bin must have gotten scattered to the winds by the conveyor belts. Another time, I saw 15 pounds of stones apparently picked up at the beach in one of our totes used loose and damaged items along with the top of the box with the shipping label on it (we have floor walkers, too, that pick up the pieces and put the stuff in a bin and send it to the QA area). The label said 25 pounds. I think it was only 15, that I got. One of my most favorite damaged packages was a 36-pack of toilet paper right out of Walmart or wherever being shipped to Canada in it's original store packaging. Yeah. Right. Maybe Canada should be shipping us toilet paper these days due to coronovirus. The most heartbreaking of damaged packages are ones carrying family albums, keepsakes and momentos that break open in the sorting system. The parts & pieces of those packages arrive at QA over several hours. Oftentimes there's no label to be found as it got shredded in the belt system. Unidentified stuff gets put into a big box and shipped to the 'lost and found' in Salt Lake City.

Tape is cheap. Your sons' stuff is not. Pack accordingly.
 
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basketmaker

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Apr 19, 2018
Messages
100
And it's not only the package handlers/baggage handlers/gorillas (remember that old Samsonite commercial?) that break things, either. Almost nightly at the hub with it's 150 trailer doors for loading and 50 for unloading, several packages would break open on the conveyor belts. I've seen everything from Sunday newspaper insert advertising, to bottled water, to wine from Wine.com, and even paint leaking/dripping/dropping from the overhead belts. My favorite, though, was one night when what sounded like a 50 pound box of nuts and bolts broke open. The entire building was soon filled with the rattling sounds of the stuff working its way through the system for a couple of hours before it quieted down. A broken case of golf balls 'clears' far faster. They don't shut down any of the belts unless it's end of shift or there's a hopeless 'package traffic jam' that the upstairs workers (sorting belt monitors) didn't discover and clear fast enough. They radio the control room to stop the belt, and then drop some of the jammed up packages to the concrete floor 10-12 feet below. Then when they're in the clear, they radio the control room again to start it going. Depending on which belt got jammed up and for how long, there might be 300 or so workers sitting on their hands for a few minutes.

Part of my time at Fedex was in the damaged package repair/return area. Most of what ended up there was the result of insufficient packaging. Basketmakers' comment about big plastic bins is so true. One night, what came down the 'incompatible' belt was the 'floor' only of one of those bins with a 3 speed manual shift automobile transmission on it. The rest of the bin must have gotten scattered to the winds by the conveyor belts. Another time, I saw 15 pounds of stones apparently picked up at the beach in one of our totes used loose and damaged items along with the top of the box with the shipping label on it (we have floor walkers, too, that pick up the pieces and put the stuff in a bin and send it to the QA area). The label said 25 pounds. I think it was only 15, that I got. One of my most favorite damaged packages was a 36-pack of toilet paper right out of Walmart or wherever being shipped to Canada in it's original store packaging. Yeah. Right. Maybe Canada should be shipping us toilet paper these days due to coronovirus. The most heartbreaking of damaged packages are ones carrying family albums, keepsakes and momentos that break open in the sorting system. The parts & pieces of those packages arrive at QA over several hours. Oftentimes there's no label to be found as it got shredded in the belt system. Unidentified stuff gets put into a big box and shipped to the 'lost and found' in Salt Lake City.

Tape is cheap. Your sons' stuff is not. Pack accordingly.
I didn't even take into account 33 years at UPS. Just several years working with the airlines. Where passengers always loved to put bottles of duty-free booze in their soft-sided bags. Always made a sticky mess of baggage carts!

Luckily I opened and managed regional truck hubs (Nashville & Denver) that only had 10-20 doors and no belt systems as most of it was oversize (up to 10k# piece) forklift freight. And yes even stuff packaged by "professionals" can fall apart in blink of an eye. Spent many hours recooping crates, rebuilding pallets and cleaning up messes! And a couple of HazMat spills too. Many issues were improper packaging by the shipper that should have been refused at pickup or at least at the origin terminal. Luckily very few "hey guess where I'm supposed to go?" track downs.
 
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