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Who travels in the Sleeper Cars?

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Nick Farr

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The discussion of full service dining on Long Distance trains got me thinking about who's riding today's Sleeper Cars. Amtrak probably made some assumptions about who's traveling and those decisions informed the demise of dining. I figured I'd ask here to see if my assumptions are aligning with everyone else's.

Over the past 12 months, I've completed 5 trips on the California Zephyr (CHI<>RNO) and one on the Southwest Chief (CHI<>ABQ). One of these trips was in July, while COVID was in full swing.

While I haven't gone to the lengths to interview every passenger I come into contact with, the folks I have interacted with seem to fall into these buckets:

  • The Bucket Lister/"One and Done" - These passengers are riding for their first time and it's a novelty experience for them. They appear to mostly go into the experience without ever intending to do it again. Many are just trying it out to see if it works. Foreign travelers or those who speak very little English fall into this category a lot
  • Rail Fans - The radio scanner gives them away. In non-pandemic times, you can find them in the observation lounge giving pointers. (Note: I didn't see any on my COVID trip)
  • Families with Kids - If not in one family room, they split roomettes. The odd thing I've noticed is that kids just skip the diner altogether and go straight to the cafe car if they need anything. They seem to mostly be families that are sick of road trips.
  • Couples or others traveling between big cities, but not the whole way - These couples only have a one night stay if that and go from Chicago to Denver, or Denver to Salt Lake.
  • People who cannot/will not fly - They can afford to fly, but choose not to.
I would consider myself a rail fan, but on the rare times I need to head somewhere else in the country, I intend to do it in a sleeper car. I would expect that this particular segment can grow, since it enables you to travel the country and cut down the number of people you come into contact with from hundreds to dozens. I also really enjoy the experience (even with TV Dinner Dining).

If you have traveled in the sleepers, what kind of passengers have you noticed? Is there a class of passenger I'm forgetting?
 

crescent-zephyr

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Obviously not right now but I’ve met many international travelers who wanted to use Amtrak to see as much of the USA as possible while traveling between major cities.

This is most common on the California trains - Sunset Limited, Chief, and Zephyr.

The single overnight trips like silvers, Capitol, etc. do have a class that I would call “do something different” crowd. Usually young couples or solo travelers who just wanted to try something different and see what it was like.
 

Palmland

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Interesting survey, Nick. Not what i expected as I see many, like my wife and I, who enjoy train travel and want to see the country. Our 'type' is certainly older, usually retired, with time and money to afford sleeper fares. While the trip involves an ultimate destination to see friends, relatives, or new sights it is also about the journey. Usually we travel end to end of the train's route and often take the plane in the other direction.
 

mitako

Train Attendant
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May 21, 2018
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My #1 reason for traveling by train is absolute terror of flying. But I also enjoy seeing the scenery way out where no road goes. Hubby and I travel in sleeper -- roomette usually, but I upgraded to bedroom for our trip next month so no sharing bathroom during pandemic -- as we can manage to afford it and prefer the peace and relative quiet of a sleeper. In the future, I am going to think long and hard about paying thousands of dollars for a lengthy trip that includes days of "flex" meals, however. It's hard enough to justify the $$$$$$$ of a sleeper as it is.
 

PVD

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My curiosity is what percentage of the SC passengers on the multi night trains are onboard long enough to have multi day meal considerations. Very often, there is criticism of lack of choice for 2 days of meals, I wonder what percentage the end to end traffic (or close enough for duplicate meals to matter) actually is? I've done LSL or CL to CHI, and CZ to Denver a number of times, but that's one night on each train. I might feel very different about limited selections if I was on the rest of the way....
 

me_little_me

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Business people. My son had to take multiple trips to NYC from Atlanta to visit customers. He found he could spend the day at work, then say good bye to the family then catch the overnight sleeper to NYC while giving him an opportunity to do work on the computer and arrive in NYC in early afternoon in time to meet with one or two customers.
He no longer needs to visit customers but he probably would not do that any more since he would not at all enjoy either the dinner or the breakfast and at the price, he could fly first class. My statement reflects pre-Covid, but post-garbage food travel vs pre-garbage days.
 

crescent-zephyr

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I’ve used Amtrak sleeping cars for business travel as well. Some managers I’ve worked for will only book me a flight but some will give me a travel stipend equal to the ticket they would have booked me.

One manager was convinced I was taking the train so I could pocket some of the money... until I showed them the receipts and that I was actually spending some money out of pocket in order to take the train. Haha.
 

Qapla

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I have taken the train to go places due to distance as well as taking some short trips just because I enjoy it. I am in the group that doesn't fly

However, I have yet to use a sleeper. I have ridden coach - even overnight. At the current rates, traveling by sleeper has been out of my range ... I would like to try it sometime but, I have to be able to afford the fare in both directions and still have money to use at my destination.
 

pennyk

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I would add "women traveling alone" (who do not want to sleep next to a stranger) to the list.

When I was younger (at least 25+ years ago), due to finances, I would travel in coach overnight. However, the last time I traveled from BAL to WPK, the person sitting next to me in coach was a man who had just come from work as a maintenance man and who was a smoker. I was very uncomfortable sitting next to him and dreaded looking forward to attempting to sleep next to him. At that time, I learned somehow that conductors would sell available sleepers at the rate based on the current location of the train. I found the conductor in the cafe car and he informed me that there were no available sleepers at that time, but would let me know if something came up. I stayed in the cafe car waiting. In North Carolina, the conductor informed me there was a no show for a one-person tiny room (slumber coach?). I recall paying the increase in fare from wherever in NC to WPK in cash. I do not recall how much it was, but I remember it was less than $100 and well worth what I paid. It turns out dinner was included. Since this was my first time in a sleeper, I had no idea what to expect. I recall dinner was served cafeteria style and I walked with a tray back to my room and ate there. I think wine was included (but I may be wrong). I have traveled in a sleeper ever since (but never again in the same type of room or with the same meal service). I joined AGR and accumulated points, and when travelling to WAS or BAL to visit my sister, I would pay one way and use points the other way. If I was not able to afford a sleeper, I did not travel.
 

Nick Farr

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Interesting survey, Nick. Not what i expected as I see many, like my wife and I, who enjoy train travel and want to see the country. Our 'type' is certainly older, usually retired, with time and money to afford sleeper fares. While the trip involves an ultimate destination to see friends, relatives, or new sights it is also about the journey. Usually we travel end to end of the train's route and often take the plane in the other direction.
Eeep! I totally forgot elderly couples with mobility issues! I think that's the only kind of passenger I've ever seen in the Handicapped rooms (except for the SCA or Conductor)
 

Bob Dylan

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I would add "women traveling alone" (who do not want to sleep next to a stranger) to the list.

When I was younger (at least 25+ years ago), due to finances, I would travel in coach overnight. However, the last time I traveled from BAL to WPK, the person sitting next to me in coach was a man who had just come from work as a maintenance man and who was a smoker. I was very uncomfortable sitting next to him and dreaded looking forward to attempting to sleep next to him. At that time, I learned somehow that conductors would sell available sleepers at the rate based on the current location of the train. I found the conductor in the cafe car and he informed me that there were no available sleepers at that time, but would let me know if something came up. I stayed in the cafe car waiting. In North Carolina, the conductor informed me there was a no show for a one-person tiny room (slumber coach?). I recall paying the increase in fare from wherever in NC to WPK in cash. I do not recall how much it was, but I remember it was less than $100 and well worth what I paid. It turns out dinner was included. Since this was my first time in a sleeper, I had no idea what to expect. I recall dinner was served cafeteria style and I walked with a tray back to my room and ate there. I think wine was included (but I may be wrong). I have traveled in a sleeper ever since (but never again in the same type of room or with the same meal service). I joined AGR and accumulated points, and when travelling to WAS or BAL to visit my sister, I would pay one way and use points the other way. If I was not able to afford a sleeper, I did not travel.
I dont ever recall Slumber Coaches having Meals included Penny, and for sure not Alcohol.

And usually a Slumber Coach upgrade, say from WAS-ATL on the Crescent was only like a $25 Upgrade.( I rode this route many times in both directions).

This makes me think you were in a Heritage Sleeper, and the upgrade was for a Roomette, since your Meal was included.
 

Nick Farr

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I would add "women traveling alone" (who do not want to sleep next to a stranger) to the list.
Apparently this is the rule in COVID travels--nobody will be seated next to someone they're not traveling with.

I overheard the conductors trying to figure out how they'd manage the passenger jenga through busier stops in coach on the CZ.
 

joelkfla

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Eeep! I totally forgot elderly couples with mobility issues! I think that's the only kind of passenger I've ever seen in the Handicapped rooms (except for the SCA or Conductor)
Not just couples -- singles, too.
 

Nick Farr

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Not just couples -- singles, too.
I'm sure that's the case, but I have yet to notice a mobility challenged passenger ride alone in those rooms. I once saw one elderly lady with a walker struggle up/down the stairs--the SCA and the Conductor managed to swap this lady into a downstairs roomette, but that's the only thing I noticed.
 

Cho Cho Charlie

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If you have traveled in the sleepers, what kind of passengers have you noticed? Is there a class of passenger I'm forgetting?
One type of sleeper passenger I have come across over the years, is the "token" sleeper. They are a member of a group (a family ?) that otherwise are all traveling in coach. They swap the usage (tag team) of the sleeper compartment throughout their trip (for a nap?). It becomes my interest or problem, when the person currently in the sleeper, resists turning it over to the next person, especially when this disruption happens at like 3am.
 

Palmland

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Eeep! I totally forgot elderly couples with mobility issues! I think that's the only kind of passenger I've ever seen in the Handicapped rooms (except for the SCA or Conductor)
Yes, that is another category. Fortunately we have yet to need a handicapped room. Still hiking the Rockies in our 70’s.
 

Sidney

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I book sleepers on my cross country trips out of Chicago. I can't justify the price to get to Chicago. I normally leave from Harrisburg Pa. I ride trains for the experience. I've been taking long distance trips for 30 years and as I got older I normally book roomettes. Having your own little room while traveling across country is one of life's great pleasures and it never gets old. I'm Disappointed with the flex dining which is now the norm,but it doesn't deter me from riding.

As for riding in Coach,during the pedemic you are guaranteed two seats to yourself which is a godsend. Nothing is more uncomfortable and awkward than sharing a seat with a stranger on an overnight run. I would gladly pay a premium to have the seat next to me vacant,but Amtrak doesn't address this. I m booked from Chicago to Utica as part of a cross country circle trip next month.. I just can't justify paying $240 for a bed from 9:30PM until noon the next day. No dinner and that pitiful breakfast they now serve is not worth it so I opted for business class. Usually that seat next to you is vacant in business class,so I opted for that.
 

Nick Farr

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One type of sleeper passenger I have come across over the years, is the "token" sleeper. They are a member of a group (a family ?) that otherwise are all traveling in coach. They swap the usage (tag team) of the sleeper compartment throughout their trip (for a nap?). It becomes my interest or problem, when the person currently in the sleeper, resists turning it over to the next person, especially when this disruption happens at like 3am.
Is this even permitted? They generally do a pretty good job of intercepting coach passengers through the dining car (since they would see them )
 

jiml

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Is this even permitted? They generally do a pretty good job of intercepting coach passengers through the dining car (since they would see them )
How would they know it wasn't a sleeper passenger returning from the lounge? Anyway, I've definitely seen what @Cho Cho Charlie has described. In one case several children were involved, with the parents taking turns "supervising".
 

PVD

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No it is not permitted, but rather difficult to enforce. Chicago to Utica would be the LSL, BC is the split car, one side is singles, never have to worry about a seatmate there.
 

Willbridge

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I’ve used Amtrak sleeping cars for business travel as well. Some managers I’ve worked for will only book me a flight but some will give me a travel stipend equal to the ticket they would have booked me.

One manager was convinced I was taking the train so I could pocket some of the money... until I showed them the receipts and that I was actually spending some money out of pocket in order to take the train. Haha.
Yes, when the schedule is right for one night there are business travelers. For two-night travel they seem to be entrepreneurs or people in the entertainment fields, both types with homework to do on the train. On the SWC I've met an (employed) actress traveling BOS>LAX and a movie producer traveling LAX>BOS. Neither was particularly alarmed that I was a coach passenger.

My favorite on the first morning eastbound -- while riding LAX>RAT in a roomette I was chatting with a cable tv specialist who regularly traveled LAX<>ABQ and we overheard a guy playing the role of a big shot NYC executive loudly on his cellphone. The "New Yorker" was trying to figure out why overnight his phone had added an hour to the time, when we weren't anywhere near Central Time yet.
 

Sauve850

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I travel from a west coast city each year back to my home in Florida. ( I will fly home this year) I fly to my summer destination and take the train back with 1-2 nights in Chicago and Washington, DC. I choose a bedroom but have been in Viewliner roomette which is fine. I simply enjoy the slow cross country travel. Its good for reflection.

Ive always enjoyed the dining experience with others but even that menu got old for me. Breakfast was good, lunch ok and struggled with dinner. Dessert to go back to the room was always good after dinner. Ive had the new dining experience and while breakfast is ok for me that's about it. It wouldn't stop me from traveling though. I do carry a scanner but spend little time in the lounge.
 
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JoeShmo

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May 4, 2019
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Waynesville, Ohio
The type of sleeper car passenger that I am is the 'visit family once a year' type. I take Greyhound from Ohio to Chicago. Then catch the Friday departure Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited and arrive in Tucson Sunday evening. I love taking the train and usually spend the entire time on the train staring out the windows loving the scenery. Once my family visit is over I usually am in a rush to get home so I fly back. I already have a trip planned for this fall and I am hoping that full dining service will be restored by then.
 
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