Question about cross-country train trip

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Joined
Nov 7, 2021
Messages
162
Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
The problem with the Cardinal is that the consist is limited -- it usually only has one sleeper, and one Amfleet cafe car that is used as a diner-lounge, with one end reserved for the sleeper passengers, who are served flex food, and the other end for the coach passengers, who have to order off the limited cafe menu.

I've taken the Cardinal a number of times, and I like the ride, but they really need to upgrade the consist and provide additional lounge space for people to be able to get out of their seats during such a long ride.

They really need to make the good end of the Cafe car available to paying customers, whether coach or sleeper customers. It was frankly infuriating last week to see all the Reserved for Crew signs on the excellent booths (half not being used at all) on the longer all-window end, while we were shunted to the shorter end where two of the booths don't even have a window and at least one booth had one side taken out. Does Amtrak realize some of these are trips are once in a lifetime for some passengers, and that they picked your route to see the scenery? This thread is a perfect example, a great thread that's all about which routes have the best American scenery and which side of the train to sit on and which direction train to choose! ... End of rant.
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
AU Supporting Member
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
33,179
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
They really need to make the good end of the Cafe car available to paying customers, whether coach or sleeper customers. It was frankly infuriating last week to see all the Reserved for Crew signs on the excellent booths (half not being used at all) on the longer all-window end, while we were shunted to the shorter end where two of the booths don't even have a window and at least one booth had one side taken out. Does Amtrak realize some of these are trips are once in a lifetime for some passengers, and that they picked your route to see the scenery? This thread is a perfect example, a great thread that's all about which routes have the best American scenery and which side of the train to sit on and which direction train to choose! ... End of rant.
The current Lounge Car situation in single level LD trains is an abomination. They all need one Lounge Car for the staff and another for the Customers, for all practical purposes IMHO.

Ideally Amtrak should acquire 25 or so Dorm-Lounges for its staff so that they do not have to infringe on customer space.
 

PaulM

Engineer
Joined
Jun 27, 2008
Messages
2,332
Location
Quincy, IL
3) I would like to suggest getting off the train in some of the small towns to get a feel for non-urban America. You may like it.
Some of my favorites are:
Southwest Chief: Las Vegas, NM (not Nevada)
Cal. Zephyr: Galesburg, IL, Mt. Pleasant, IA, Glenwood Springs, CO, Davis, CA
Empire Builder: Whitefish, MT
Coast Starlight: El Paso de Robles, CA
 
Joined
Dec 4, 2012
Messages
1,980
Location
UK / France
Some of my favorites are:
Southwest Chief: Las Vegas, NM (not Nevada)
Cal. Zephyr: Galesburg, IL, Mt. Pleasant, IA, Glenwood Springs, CO, Davis, CA
Empire Builder: Whitefish, MT
Coast Starlight: El Paso de Robles, CA

May I ask what it is you like about El Paso de Robles, I'm always looking for a new US town to visit.
 

tgstubbs1

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
645
 

tgstubbs1

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Messages
645
Bend has lots of microbreweries.

 

BCL

Engineer
Joined
Nov 16, 2012
Messages
4,161
Location
San Francisco Bay Area
Thank you ! I'm 24 and will probably doing this with 2 or 3 other people, in fact i'm divided between 2 train trips : american train coast to coast experience (NYC -> D.C -> Chicago -> Denver -> SLC -> SF -> LA) and what I'm calling american train inland experience (NYC -> D.C -> Chicago -> Denver -> SLC -> SF -> Portland -> Chicago).

I'm planning to stay some days on these points : 1 or 2 days in NYC (I already visited), 2 days approximately in D.C, 3 days in Chicago, 2 days in Denver, 1 day in SLC, 3 days in San Francisco + 1 for Yosemite, then : 3 days in LA or 2 in Portland depending the choice. Maybe is it too much ?

I'm not american so I will probably not doing this multiple times that's why I'm searching for the most scenic by train. I'm considering myself more like a small budget traveller so coach class.

Yosemite is going to be tough. Not sure if the reservation system is still going to be in place. Strike that - it was only for those coming in with personal vehicles and currently that's no longer required. What Amtrak does is work with Yosemite's regional transportation system to get passengers from the Merced Amtrak station to different points in Yosemite. It's called the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS). They accept both passengers with Amtrak tickets as well as others who pay cash fares, who have have reservations, or even commuter passes (mostly for those who live outside the park but work there). It's my understanding that Amtrak ticketed passengers have the highest priority. I believe this is the pickup point at Merced Amtrak.

YARTS_Bus_at_Merced.jpg



hwy140-img-map.jpg


As for lodging, that gets a little bit tricky. It is tough getting a reservation in Yosemite. They become available a year in advance. It might be possible to camp, although I don't know how comfortable you would be with that and whether you could manage all the equipment in addition to your other baggage. I'll send you some info through a private message.
 

PaulM

Engineer
Joined
Jun 27, 2008
Messages
2,332
Location
Quincy, IL
May I ask what it is you like about El Paso de Robles, I'm always looking for a new US town to visit.
First of all its bike and pedestrian friendly, then there's Joe's Place for breakfast. The countryside around it is also bike friendly and contains a bunch of wineries. One of them has, or had, several vintage Pullman cars available for visiting.

The station is near downtown; but has no agent and thus no baggage service.
 

Kevinx244974

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 8, 2021
Messages
27
Location
France
Thank you all of you guys for these information, I really appreciacte ! :)

I readed on the net about train delays, is that true for all lines ? It could be also the case in advance ? I mean, should I come before the train is suppose to arriving ?
 

joelkfla

Engineer
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
2,205
Location
12 miles from Walt Disney World
Thank you all of you guys for these information, I really appreciacte ! :)

I readed on the net about train delays, is that true for all lines ? It could be also the case in advance ? I mean, should I come before the train is suppose to arriving ?
No, Amtrak trains will not leave before the scheduled time, if it's a station where passengers board the train. But you do need to arrive early, usually 30 minutes, if you're checking baggage. It can vary a bit by station. There have been stories on here of the station agent refusing to check a bag one minute after the deadline.

Amtrak trains sometimes run on time, but frequently run late. That's mostly because the rails are owned by freight railroads except in a few locations, and although there's a law saying they're supposed to give Amtrak priority, it's widely ignored. There are also the common problems of freight trains breaking down or derailing and blocking the route, cars and pedestrians being struck (rail lines generally aren't fenced in America, and a fair number of drivers do stupid things at grade crossings), and Amtrak equipment breakdowns. When a car or pedestrian is struck (called a "trespasser incident" in Amtrak lingo), a line can be blocked for hours while the police investigate.
 

BCL

Engineer
Joined
Nov 16, 2012
Messages
4,161
Location
San Francisco Bay Area
Thank you all of you guys for these information, I really appreciacte ! :)

I readed on the net about train delays, is that true for all lines ? It could be also the case in advance ? I mean, should I come before the train is suppose to arriving ?

It's generally a good idea. Also make sure that you know where the boarding is going to take place. I've made a mistake and ended up in the wrong place and missed a train.

If you miss a train and you have different segments linked together, you can potentially have your entire reservation cancelled as a result. There's typically about 2 hours given for a no-show where they generally cancel the entire reservation.

So it's very important to figure out what to do if you somehow miss a train. You might be able to call it in to Amtrak or contact a station agent to sort out your options. The last time I missed a train I still had about 2 hours to do that and just cancelled my entire reservation (with a 10% penalty) and repurchased tickets using a slightly different routing. You might need to call in to Amtrak reservations to handle it while you find alternate transportation. For example, a large family that missed the same train I did was advised that the next stop was an extended one and they might be able to catch up by taking an Uber ride. But that was the Coast Starlight in Emeryville, and the train had an extended stop in Oakland where it wasn't leaving for maybe 35 minutes and the Uber ride was maybe 15 minutes.

If it's late, you should be able to monitor the status if you have an electronic device with internet connection, whether that's cellular data, WiFi, or whatever else. I used the Amtrak app on my iPhone, but Amtrak has a website with trains status available. My last ride the return train was over 3 hours late and I felt comfortable with the estimated time just staying in town about 2 hours longer than I'd originally planned. However, the estimated time when late is very much a guess and they have been known to make up time. Often trains had extended dwell time or where they go slowly through certain sections of track when on schedule, but if it's late they may not do that.

Trains can be late for any number of reasons, including collisions on the track or equipment failure. I mentioned my train that was more than 3 hours late. That train had no problems on its own, but it was coming from Los Angeles and apparently a commuter train had run over someone sleeping on the tracks. That resulted in pretty much all trains coming out of LA being delayed. But that train just didn't slow down. It normally takes about 2.5 hours for my routing, but since it was late it only took about 1.5 hours since they didn't slow down and made it up by ignoring the padding.
 

Alice

Conductor
Joined
Mar 6, 2007
Messages
1,101
Location
California
Make reservations early for Yosemite. Lodging inside U.S. National Parks fills up quickly, and Yosemite more so than most.

Most historic lodges in the National Parks are spectacular, and expensive. Yosemite has the Ahwanee. Depending on the season, there may also be motel-style accommodations and tent cabins available.
There is lodging outside Yosemite that might meet your needs better. Yosemite Bug Hostel has a variety of accommodations and prices, and you can eat at their very good cafe or use their kitchen. The YARTS bus runs from Amtrak Merced (on the San Joaquin route) to Yosemite with a stop at Yosemite Bug. It is better to pay cash for the bus than to spend a segment on it. The same probably applies to getting between SF (or Emeryville) and Merced. I was able to get last minute reservations in one of the lodge rooms earlier this week when everything in the park under about $400/night was booked up. Even the walk-in and bike-in campgrounds were packed. It is about an hour driving from Yosemite Valley.
 

DaveW

Train Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 11, 2020
Messages
28
What type of countryside do you want to see? Do you know how it will be affected by the time of year you are there?

youtube shows condensed versions with various bloggers making those individual legs.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,898
Location
Denver
I highly recommend the Cardinal. The views through the New River Gorge and under the bridge are not to be missed. I also recommend the Portland end of the Empire Builder (often called the Baby Builder). You can immediately take your dinner to the lounge car and enjoy your evening traveling through the Columbia River Gorge, right on the river's edge.
On the North Bank Line, the Columbia River and Mount Hood:

-- Maryhill, looking west, taken on one of the Amtrak staff educational trips.

1976 095.jpg

From the Sightseer Lounge on Train 28.

P1040608.JPG
 

Rambling Robert

Service Attendant
Joined
May 30, 2021
Messages
196
Location
Boston
LA
In consensus 3 days in LA is a bit much but rent a car for three days in LA and drive north and south on the “Coast Highway” is great.
Day trip to Yosemite YES BUT GET THERE EARLY. The Grand Canyon ,via Route .66) is 8 hours away! Generally car rentals are $35 or more a day unlimited mileage. Pickup and dropp off the same - if different that costs.

AMTRAK BUS
Talking about being on time - arrive 45 minutes early so you defiantly understand where the bus picks you up. In early AM I took an Uber/Lyft from SF Airport to the Amtrak Bus. The Lyft driver knew about the Amtrak bus too! When booking I also talked in detail to a specialist that knew the bus. I was all set.

TEAL
The shoulder boards (epaulettes) that have four teal (blue green) stripes designate the conductor’s uniform. There are assistant conductors and other staff to help but the conductor is responsible for the overall operation of train. Example- the conductor witnesses the coupling of the train and everything else. When I injured a knee staff called the conductor to see if I needed a wheelchair as well as filing a claim.
 

caravanman

Engineer
Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
4,636
Location
Nottingham, England.
Thank you all of you guys for these information, I really appreciacte ! :)

I readed on the net about train delays, is that true for all lines ? It could be also the case in advance ? I mean, should I come before the train is suppose to arriving ?
There is the chance of delay on any lines, but most often on the long distance lines in the west, which share rails with freight trains.
You don't need to worry about a train departing early, it will wait for it's timetable time.
It makes sense to arrive to board a train a little early, Amtrak employees love to make passengers stand in line for a long time before you board... ;)
 

happycamper

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 11, 2017
Messages
75
We did a private tour in LA all over including Rodeo Dr, Hollywood, Santa Monica Pier, etc that was very very cool. If you go to LA and you said you are not driving might be worth looking into a tour. Also if going to spend time in LA might want to hop the train down to San Diego with the coastal views and spend a day there as you are right by the water when you get off the train. LA you are about an hour to Long Beach to see the Pacific Ocean. SW Chief route you get to do the Iconic Route 66 to Chicago and get to go through Kansas (not in Kansas anymore). Also that route takes you through Flagstaff if you are interested in taking a tour from there to Grand Canyon and or Sedona for awesome views. The Coast from SF to Seattle is beautiful train ride. Might go to Seattle instead of Portland as it is a great city to visit where you can walk to Pikes Place Market with the flying fish and take a foot ferry across to an island to walk around. Great young city. Seattle to Chicago on the EB is a beautiful trip. I honestly prefer the Mountains on the CZ route as they are more rocks (Rockies) where the ones at Glacier are covered in pine trees. Both are beautiful. It was great to see Montana for the first time! The views in Minnesota (Land of the Lakes) is really pretty. Hard to say which is more "American" as one you have Los Angeles, Route 66, Kansas, and Grand Canyon and the other you have Montana and Seattle... Which sounds better????
 

happycamper

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 11, 2017
Messages
75
Asked hubby and he said Grand Canyon, Kansas route would probably be more american. Of course being from TX we think what about TX? LOL LOL LOL
 

Kevinx244974

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 8, 2021
Messages
27
Location
France
Thank you all again !! How many days could you recommend me at places I could stop like for example : Chicago I thought 3 days, Denver 2 to 3 days (I have no car but take a day tour trip), Salt Lake City : 1 or 2 days, San Francisco : 3 days, Los Angeles 2 or 3 days ?
 
Joined
Nov 7, 2021
Messages
162
Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
I have talked to other visitors from Europe, or even the Eastern US, who find our Great Plains more astounding than the mountains. I'm from wooded Pennsylvania, and my strongest memories from the SW Chief and the Empire Builder are of the Plains. The sky is always changing, the light is amazing, and you're just crossing such wide open spaces for hours and hours. It doesn't happen in Europe. And read the short masterpiece Great Plains by Ian Frazier before you go. Of course, sit in the SSL as much as possible to get the full effect.
 
Joined
Nov 7, 2021
Messages
162
Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
Thank you all again !! How many days could you recommend me at places I could stop like for example : Chicago I thought 3 days, Denver 2 to 3 days (I have no car but take a day tour trip), Salt Lake City : 1 or 2 days, San Francisco : 3 days, Los Angeles 2 or 3 days ?

That is a lot of cities, it would be too much for me and I love cities. (But, I'm 43 years older than you.) I've spent several days in each of those cities, and prefer Chicago and San Francisco among them, but also Seattle and Portland. My favorite big cities in the US are New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, all very compact and walkable. Miami is also fun (Miami Beach even more so). Depends what you want to do - if you want to see a lot of architecture, restaurants, clubs, and museums, by all means go to all of them. How about some less-visited Midwest cities like Kansas City? (On the SW Chief route.) So many choices, you lucky person!
 
Joined
Dec 4, 2012
Messages
1,980
Location
UK / France
Thank you all again !! How many days could you recommend me at places I could stop like for example : Chicago I thought 3 days, Denver 2 to 3 days (I have no car but take a day tour trip), Salt Lake City : 1 or 2 days, San Francisco : 3 days, Los Angeles 2 or 3 days ?

We are fortunate to have a friend who lives in LA for the winter months and he has pointed out other things to do and places to see there on top of the good examples mentioned above. One example is the Griffith Observatory where you not only get an open to the public observatory and museum, but a completely unique view of Los Angeles. There are many more examples of lesser visited places and things to do especially if you or your friends like film or art.
Some of our experiences in LA came from suggestions from people here on this forum too, we haven't been dissappointed yet.
What surprised us about LA was thinking that the only transport would be car, but LA has an excellent, very extensive and easy to use public transport system reaching out to places a long way outside downtown, and the ticket prices or passes are so so reasonable.

San Francisco also has a very extensive public transport system, you don't need a car in either city or many of the places around them.

We've only used buses in Denver within downtown so can't comment on Denver, but others here particularly Willbridge have a vast knowledge.

If architecture is your thing then your arrival station 'Union Station' is special, built in the local style and very different to most or even all others.

We have always avoided the summer in the US as most popular places can be very busy so we are told. Spring in the mountains and the southern states is perfect.

Good luck, and enjoy your planning.
 

joelkfla

Engineer
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
2,205
Location
12 miles from Walt Disney World
There is lodging outside Yosemite that might meet your needs better. Yosemite Bug Hostel has a variety of accommodations and prices, and you can eat at their very good cafe or use their kitchen. The YARTS bus runs from Amtrak Merced (on the San Joaquin route) to Yosemite with a stop at Yosemite Bug. It is better to pay cash for the bus than to spend a segment on it. The same probably applies to getting between SF (or Emeryville) and Merced. I was able to get last minute reservations in one of the lodge rooms earlier this week when everything in the park under about $400/night was booked up. Even the walk-in and bike-in campgrounds were packed. It is about an hour driving from Yosemite Valley.
How does a party get from the hostel to Yosemite without a car?
 
Top