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Booked Amtrak Trip. Now I'm Confused.

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cnpeters

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Akron, Ohio
Hi all -

This is all kind of a confusing thinking out loud kind of post... so bear with me (or ignore it I guess!) - My wife and I were looking to get away for a week, but with most of America spending the year in limbo, we figured a nice slow paced rail trip would cure our wanderlust. As a quick aside, this is our second attempt to take a rail vacation this year after our trip through Canada to the Briar was cancelled because of the Indigenous issues affecting ViaRail in March.

So, we're trying again here next month. We live south of Cleveland, and have booked a trip from Cleveland - (LSL) - Chicago - (EB) - Portland - (CS) - Sacramento - (CZ) - Chicago - (LSL) - Cleveland.. with a couple days in Portland. I think I've got those acronyms right. I've been studying these forums. At first we weren't sure how to park at Cleveland or if we could get a ride, because all of our train times are in the middle of the night. We live much closer to Alliance, which is a stop on the train that goes from DC-Chicago, but it looked like we'd be alone at a train station the looked like a bus stop, and the train might only stop for 2 minutes, and who knows if we'd be able to pull off getting on the train or not... so we scrapped that. Thanks to these forums, I found out that I think you can indeed park at the hidden Cleveland train station, and it's free but locked up during the day?

We figured that we'd just ride in a seat on the Cleveland-Chicago legs, and bedrooms for the rest. I figured business class would be nicer and it wasn't much more - but now I'm reading today that it isn't nicer in Illinois only? Huh? But this train goes to Illinois. Then I read that it's not nicer on two level trains but it is nicer on one level trains? What? Is the LSL is a one level train?

Then I read that the LSL is often very very late. How late is very very late? Is it late enough to miss the Empire Builder four hours later out of Chicago? If I miss the Chicago train will I have to wait two days to get my next train? When I booked this, I though I'd have to wait maximum one day.

I called the same Amtrak number I used to book the train to get help, and the lady was SUPER nice, but she didn't know, and wasn't sure if we could check a bag or not.

I guess I don't really have a point here. This confusion hasn't affected our excitement, but it's greatly affected our apprehension, if that makes sense.

Is it always this confusing?
 

FrensicPic

Conductor
Joined
Jan 15, 2012
Messages
3,051
Location
LAX
As far as the value of business class goes, you are reading that persons experience and a lot of times the value of business class vs coach is minimal. We all have different expectations. The LSL is single level; the Capital Limited is two level. My business class experience on the Illini/Saluki several years ago was satisfactory. I've also had good experiences in BC on the Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight. I'd say give it a try, especially if the price difference wasn't that great. You can always do coach the next time. As far as two level vs single level ... you generally do not have a choice... it depends on the train. Eastern trains tend to be single level; western trains two level.

Yes, if a connection is missed, its may not be a simple next day's train now that three days a week have been implemented.
As far as lateness goes, you can look at the historical OTP (on time performance) of trains here...
 

cnpeters

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Akron, Ohio
Thanks! That site is really good. Just took me a few to realize that my trains 449 on the LSL and 27 on EB actually arrive in Chicago as the 49 and the 7.

All the information about Amtrak seems to be out there... somewhere. It never seems to be as simple as it all being in one place.

I appreciate the help and it's kind of reassuring to know that the trains have made the 49-7 connection 198 times and missed 2 of the last 200.
 

Lakeshore

Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 8, 2010
Messages
163
Location
AKO
Yes, there is free parking at Cleveland. They lock the gate during the day, when nobody is there. So it is relatively safe.

If you are checking bags, make sure to get there an hour or so before departure to do that.

Both trains going through Cleveland can be an hour or so late, but rarely late enough to miss the western connections in Chicago.
 

Qapla

Conductor
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
1,388
Location
Gator Country Florida
This is a link to an Amtrak train map. It is "interactive" so you can click on the train you want to look at. It will give you a list of the stops it makes. If you click on any particular station it will give you a page for that station with trains times. Look around that page and click on the various links to see what they do (you can't hurt anything). You will find a "current" listing of OTP of all the trains for any particular station.

 

cnpeters

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Akron, Ohio
Thank you!

Is there a thread here with train links and resources that I missed? I apologize - I hate to start a thread that you guys have hashed out eleven times a year for the last decade or something.
 

Steve4031

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 27, 2002
Messages
5,862
Location
Chicago
Are you aware of the changes made to the dining car menu?

Here is a link. Amtrak Flexible Dining

On my trip a couple of weeks ago on the train to Los Angeles the lounge car had run out of items by the afternoon. Amtrak is not stocking trains adequately. So plan accordingly.

In Chicago you there are restaurants near the station as well as supermarkets. Google maps will help you. Same applies for your other stop overs.
 

bms

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 29, 2018
Messages
205
Location
Cleveland
I usually book Coach from Cleveland-Chicago, and change to a Roomette in Chicago. Business Class on #449 has nicer seats than Coach and includes free nonalcoholic drinks, but the Cafe Car isn't open anyway when you board in the middle of the night at CLE. #49/449 used to be late a lot but is usually on time these days. You can check your bag in Cleveland all the way through to Portland, and just take a smaller bag with you on the train.
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
90
As you may know you can only travel from Cleveland to Chicago only three days a week. You can still get to Portland from Chicago every day using multiple routes. The most direct,the Empire Builder only runs three days a week. Haven't checked if you can make a same day connection in Chicago on the EB. What a way to run a railroad. It would be nice if the online reservation system would offer alternate days of travel. Seems they are doing everything to discourage travel outside the NE corridor.
 

caravanman

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
3,821
Location
Nottingham, England.
My two cents worth here is to say that new travellers don't need to be overloaded with miscellaneous extra info...

Don't be apprehensive, just enjoy the experience. You will be on a train, don't worry about the business class or whatever, just relax and enjoy whatever you have booked.

I wish I could be travelling on Amtrak again, I can't even get to America at the moment...

As a matter of interest, Cleveland was the first city I ever visited in America, it felt like I was sliding in via the side door! ;)
 

MilwaukeeRoadLover

Train Attendant
Joined
Sep 21, 2020
Messages
27
Location
Milwaukee
In Chicago you there are restaurants near the station as well as supermarkets. Google maps will help you. Same applies for your other stop overs.
True. But I've always found it difficult quickly finding places relative to Chicago Union Station...the place is HUGE. But there are places to eat in the station.
 

cnpeters

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Akron, Ohio
As a matter of interest, Cleveland was the first city I ever visited in America, it felt like I was sliding in via the side door! ;)
Well, we've got all these beautiful things if you can get past our warts. Honestly, we’re pretty easily the greatest city in America, so I’m glad you got here. :)

Thanks everyone. I'm not sure we'll venture too far around Union Station. Quite frankly, it's only a couple hours from Cleveland to Chicago, so we can load up here at home. I appreciate all the help. The downside of spending all day every day just waiting for COVID to keep rolling through (kind of the story of the last 7 months) is that you have seemingly infinite time to google every little zero-chance scenario.
 

Barb Stout

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
562
Thank you!

Is there a thread here with train links and resources that I missed? I apologize - I hate to start a thread that you guys have hashed out eleven times a year for the last decade or something.
I think people enjoy doing this, so not to fret.

One time when my sister and I took the LSL from Boston to Chicago, it departed Boston 5 hours late because the incoming LSL had hit and killed someone walking on the tracks wearing headphones, so presumably he couldn't hear the train's approach. Trains can't stop on a dime as most of us know. Anyway, our connection, the SWC, was scheduled to leave 5 hours, I think it was, after the LSL's scheduled arrival. However, our arrival was after the SWC's scheduled departure, but not by much; probably less than 1 hour. However, the SWC was held for us as there were a number of passengers on the LSL who also had the same connection. So Amtrak does sometimes hold trains in such cases. If you happened to have made the reservations as separate reservations, you can call Amtrak to ask them to link the reservations, so they know you're trying to make a connection.
 
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oregon pioneer

Conductor
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,289
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
I've traveled Business Class on the LSL within the last few years. Here are a couple of notes about it:
  1. The reason you are on 449 is that Business Class is located in half of the cafe/lounge car. The cafe/lounge is attached to the Boston section (449), and the diner (now the first-class lounge?) is attached to the NYP section (49). The two sections are put together at Albany, and go on to Chicago as one train.
  2. The seats are nice and big, softer and more comfy than in coach. The only drawback to the seats is that if you are a single traveler, there is no way to sprawl across two seats to sleep (assuming you don't have a seatmate). That is because there is a console between the seats. Seating is 2x1 meaning two seats on one side of the aisle, and one on the other.
  3. The main advantage, other than the comfy seats, is the free beverages (as others have said). Before breakfast time, you will see the cafe attendant arrive and open for business. You can then request coffee, tea, bottled water -- pretty much any non-alcoholic beverage.
  4. The main disadvantage is that everyone from the BOS section has to pass through Business Class section to get to the lounge or the diner. Usually that is not too many people, though, as that section only has one sleeper and two coaches. And during COVID, I believe the sleeper car attendant (SCA) now goes to the diner to fetch meals back to the rooms?
My big caveat is that I have not done this since the changes for "contemporary dining" and the COVID epidemic. If someone else has more recent experience, I'd love to hear how things work in this new era.
 

daybeers

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
772
Location
HFD
First off, welcome to the Amtrak Unlimited forum cnpeters! Glad you joined; please don't worry about asking questions. We're all bored at home with COVID anyway and answering questions from new travelers while dreaming of train travel is a great way to pass the time
😉


Sorry things are confusing. Amtrak's management is a bit of a mess and it seems they don't care much about consistency. I'm sorry the Amtrak agent you talked to didn't know the answers to your questions. They should've known and should have gotten the answer for you if they didn't. 1-800-USA-RAIL is 24/7 but I often have better luck with the Amtrak Guest Rewards number at 1-800-307-5000, open daily 5am-12am EST. I would recommend signing up for the rewards program as it gives you points just for signing up, travel, and special offers & sales which have been fairly frequent lately.

I agree with your decision to drive to Cleveland instead of Alliance. Alliance is what is known to some as an "Amshack", pretty much a barebones platform and that's it. You are correct that it is a little sketchy. I applaud you for braving the middle-of-the-night calling times, but do yourself a favor and upgrade to business class. Like oregon pioneer said, 449 is the same train, just a certain section of it. It is a single-level train using Amfleet coaches and Viewliner sleepers since it needs to fit in the short tunnels around NYC. The other trains on your trip use Superliner equipment. Here's a list of which trains use which. The seats in the split cafe/BC car are great. Legroom for days, curtains on the windows, cupholders in the console between seats, lots of recline, and a footrest. Not sure how much the upgrade CLE-CHI is going for these days but if you can spring for it, I think you'll thank yourself when you arrive in Chicago, especially considering the calling times.

Here's Amtrak's page on Bedrooms, and on Roomettes. This is a great page with maps of all the car designs. Bedrooms provide more space and a dedicated bathroom & shower but come at a significant premium. The designs of each are a little different depending on if you're in a Viewliner (single-level) or Superliner (bilevel) car, but you don't have to worry about that for this trip since Cleveland-Chicago is just a few hours.

Sleeper reservations include same-day access to station lounges in Chicago and Portland. The one in Chicago is particularly nice and newly renovated with showers.
 
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daybeers

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 6, 2016
Messages
772
Location
HFD
I love using the resources already given like ASMAD for checking history and the third-party map. As for baggage, you are able to check baggage at all the stations you are traveling to. Technically you can bring two carry-on bags and two checked bags per person, with $20 per additional checked bag up to 2. I don't know if you need to arrive at the station a full hour before departure to check a bag, but 45 mins would probably be a good safe buffer. It will be tagged with your info if not already and then it is in Amtrak's control until you arrive at your destination. Like airline checked baggage, it will be transferred between trains with no action on your part. It travels in a dedicated baggage car that is not climate-controlled.

Make sure to let Amtrak know if you have any allergy or dietary restrictions. The flexible dining that's now on all the long distance trains is a mixed bag. I haven't personally experienced it, but just make sure you set your expectations appropriately as it's not white tablecloth & silverware service anymore. You can either eat in the diner spaced from other passengers or opt to have your meal brought to your room. Coach passengers can't use the diner anymore, only the cafe car.

Please let us know if you have any other questions and enjoy your trip!
 

LinPhil

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 23, 2020
Messages
23
As mentioned, I would also highly recommend signing up for Amtrak Guest Rewards! I've been able to earn hundreds of dollars worth of free trips. Also, If you enjoy your experience I would also recommend applying for the Amtrak Credit Card which has a very generous Welcome offer and is an easy way to earn points. Three points per dollar with the card plus four points (with double days normally two points) per dollar means seven points per dollar! Each point is worth about 2.7 Cents so if you spent $100 on Amtrak you would get almost $20 of Amtrak travel back!

The number is 1-800-307-5000 and they close at 10 PM Eastern unlike the regular 1-800 Number. I wouldn't worry that much about that connection in Chicago because there's almost five hours of buffer time in-between. Hope you enjoy your trip!
 

AmtrakFlyer

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 27, 2016
Messages
90
What they don’t know they won’t miss. They may not want to ride again however.

QUOTE="caravanman, post: 862015, member: 256"]
My two cents worth here is to say that new travellers don't need to be overloaded with miscellaneous extra info...

Don't be apprehensive, just enjoy the experience. You will be on a train, don't worry about the business class or whatever, just relax and enjoy whatever you have booked.

I wish I could be travelling on Amtrak again, I can't even get to America at the moment...

As a matter of interest, Cleveland was the first city I ever visited in America, it felt like I was sliding in via the side door! ;)
[/QUOTE]
 

cnpeters

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Messages
20
Location
Akron, Ohio
These is all great advice and tips. Thanks everyone.

This trip is me and my wife, we booked it when our expected trip to Poland was scotched due to COVID.. but basically we're Business Classing to Chicago, and then Bedrooming from Chicago to Portland to Sacramento to Chicago to Cleveland. We got the rooms when the deal on free second rider fare for roomettes was happening (and trains were daily!), and then we just upgraded to full bedrooms a few months ago..

We're basically expecting lower-than-stouffers quality food. Kind of Banquet/Hungry Man type Microwave food. Oh please lord don't tell me we're overshooting with THAT expectation.

As for checking bags - the one thing they weren't able to tell me is if the transfer in Sacramento from the Coast Starlight to the California Zephyr would happen with the bags. To be honest, this whole trip for us is about seeing parts of the country we'd never see via train, and not about any destination. Basically, the only thing checking bags would do is give us a chance to swap clean clothes into our carry on so we don't have to do laundry in Portland. Tough to fit 9 days worth of cold weather clothes into a single carry on.
 
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