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Who travels in the Sleeper Cars?

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Ollie12

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 24, 2020
Messages
16
Location
Melbourne, Australia
It maybe different in the US but if you're interested I actually did quite a lot of analysis on exactly this question in Australia, especially on the more expensive luxury trains which have really interesting and changing demographics! The article I wrote is published here: TrainReview
 

CameraObscura76

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 10, 2014
Messages
23
Location
Mobile, AL
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?
I’m an Amtrak regular (or was pre-Covid) mainly because flying absolutely terrifies me but I also do appreciate seeing scenery and new places that I wouldn’t see otherwise.
My Amtrak preference would always be a roomette because I’m very introverted and the thought of having a stranger seated next to me for an entire trip (again, pre-Covid) just makes me rather uncomfortable and I enjoy having my own little private space with the added bonus of having meals included. That being said, I haven’t yet decided if it’s still worth the extra cost with the Flexible dining.
 

Pat Harper

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 8, 2011
Messages
272
Location
Louisiana
Hubby and I prefer roomette travel because he doesn't like crowds and I don't much care for the noise. We also like the fact that meals are included. We've had some really interesting talks with strangers sitting across from us. You meet people from all walks of like. One such person was Amish who was traveling to check on property he owned in another state. One time we dined with a couple and found out that the husband was related to a member of the quilt guild I belong to. Small world...
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,135
Location
Baltimore. MD
Me too. My managers got a deal from me, as they would reimburse coach fare, and I did the sleeper part out of pocket. Considering that the Amtrak coach fare was usually a lot less than airline coach fare, they got a deal from me. But I'd only do it for 1-night trips.
The routes I've taken are:

Baltimore to Ann Arbor MI: CL via Toldeo. Sometimes I'd take the Ambus to Ann Arbor (once Detroit for a conference), other times I'd get a cab to the Toledo airport and rent a car. On one trip, I went up to New York and rode the LSL to Toldeo. After a while, I started driving out, as a rental car (about $250) was way cheaper than a train or a plane plus rental car. Did it all in a day, 10-11 hours, what a grind! (But no traffic to speak of)

Baltimore - Chicago via CL. Involved me having to talk management into an extra day of travel, but when I took sleeper, I didn't claim meals while in transit.

Baltimore - Greenville SC -- via the Crescent. It gets in so early and leaves so late you can have a full 1-day meeting without having to pay for a hotel room.

Baltimore - Savannah, GA: via SM or Palmetto. For conferences I had in Hilton Head. Cab to the airport to pick up a rental car. Hertz lets you leave the keys with the station agent, thereby eliminating the extra rental car check in and time and expense of a cab ride. Naturally, toward the end, management forced us to rent from various budget brands that didn't provide that service. SM arrives from north very early and leaves for the north at about 7 PM. I'd usually spend the night in Savannah after the meeting and take the Palmetto the next morning.

Baltimore - Tampa via the SS. Did this twice for a conference. Once they were doing track work, and I had to the the Ambus from Orlando, and on the way back, I wanted an earlier arrival, so I took the Ambus and caught the SM in Orlando. The other time I took the SS the whole way. This was back when the SS had a dining car.

Of course, any business trip up and down the Northeast Corridor was a train ride by default, and once I had a meeting in Sacramento, couldn't find any non-stop flight, so I flew to San Fransisco and took the Capital Corridor, Ambus from the Ferry Terminal to Emeryville, train from Emeryville to Sacramento. But those weren't in sleeping cars.
 

Maglev

OBS Chief
Joined
Sep 4, 2016
Messages
938
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
I have not traveled very extensively by train, although I have traveled much of Amtrak's system over most of its history. I took a cross-country trip in coach as a teenager, but since then most travel has been in a sleeper. I and my present as well as my previous (late) wife love our privacy. I remember my first wife insisting we get a Roomette on the Capitol Limited from Washington to Connellsville because she couldn't stand the idea of sitting in coach or using the coach restrooms.

The amount of train travel I do depends on economics (thus indirectly getting time off work). With my first wife, I had free travel privileges on United Airlines, so it was hard to justify paying thousands for a train. Since moving to Orcas Island in 2004, we have not traveled much and have no desire to go anywhere with COVID-19.

The condition of the rooms has increasingly become a problem. Low quality of food, poor on-time performance, and crew that are often ambivalent or surly are some of the things we have grown to expect on Amtrak. But my philosophy is, "Ride 'em while you can," since I view long-distance passenger trains as threatened with extinction in America.
 

drdumont

Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 16, 2017
Messages
207
Location
The Great (and may I add) SOVEREIGN State of TEXAS
I guess I fit in the general description of "Foamer". I traveled for over 35 years, and took Amtrak whenever the schedule would permit. Damn near got fired several times, as some companies for which I worked refused to book Amtrak, as the "Corporate Travel Bureau" said they "could not book Amtrak". In other words, management didn't get a kickback on Amtrak fares. I paid the difference over the air fare. Crescent, Meteors, Sunset, even the Starlight. Even then I still booked over 7 Million airline miles.

Now that I am almost retired, I plan to add the Zephyr and the EB to my bag. I've got a wheeled cooler for food to make up for the crap now on the menu, scanner, computer, GPS, and of course a jug of snakebite medicine.
I really miss the diners, as I have experienced them beginning in the silver and china days up through the plastic and indifferent service days of late.
I sleep like a baby in the sleepers, tho I will ride a lot in the Big Glass Room.
As the old TV ads used to say, "There's something about a train".

Hi! My name is Doc, and I'm a foamer who I travels in the sleepers.
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
72
In the sleepers I have seen lots of retirees -- people who have the time and can afford the cost -- but also younger people, families, people who don't fly. Some are hard-core train buffs, and lots of others are partial to trains, even if they don't carry a scanner with them. On longer trips, there are a lot of people who revel in the time-out from daily life, who enjoy quality time with family or me-time if they're traveling alone. A fair number are bound for intermediate points that are difficult/costly or impossible to reach by plane. There may be some business travelers, but it's hard to tell; certainly no one is wearing a business suit and freshly polished shoes like the Pullman riders of old. I have also seen a fair number of first-time riders who almost invariably seem disappointed; often they seem to be expecting a cruise-ship level of luxury that Amtrak doesn't come anywhere close to delivering.

In my own case most of my sleeper trips have been for leisure travel. For most of the past 15 years, I made an annual trek with my wife and son from upstate New York to California to visit family there. Usually we took the direct route (Lake Shore & SW Chief) in one direction and planned a vacation stop somewhere else in the other direction, so we got to visit the Grand Canyon, Glenwood Springs, Glacier Park, Seattle, Portland, Jasper and so on. We've also done a fair number of trips to places short of the West Coast -- Tennessee, southern Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Orleans, Florida -- to visit family and friends. Most of my business travel has been in the Northeast on corridor trains or driving, though some of those trips have involved the Lake Shore Limited. I've also booked sleeper rooms for day use, such as Albany-Boston, Erie PA to Albany, or NYC to Lynchburg VA -- either alone or with my family -- just for the sake of privacy, comfort and, in the past, the food. If the food offerings don't improve from the current level, I doubt I will ever book another sleeper room on Amtrak -- certainly not for an overnight run.
 
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Cho Cho Charlie

Conductor
Joined
Apr 9, 2009
Messages
2,201
Location
Near an Amtrak station
I’m an Amtrak regular (or was pre-Covid) mainly because flying absolutely terrifies me but I also do appreciate seeing scenery and new places that I wouldn’t see otherwise.
While I have flown a few times, I am really quite uncomfortable flying. Flying leaves me arriving at my destination with my nerves shot, and doesn't make for a pleasant experience, for numerous compounding reasons.

To me, sleeper class is somewhat like cruising. My roomette is like my cabin (yea, smaller). The dining car is like the MDR. I can get up and walk around. The dining car use to offer some good basic meals.

Taking Amtrak s a pleasure when I get to wait up in the Acela lounge, where the attendant comes and gets me, and sends me down on the private elevators to the platform, when its approaching time to board.

I don't want wait in endless airport lines. I don't like being interrogated by the KGB, ah, TSA. I don't like having to be all but stripped searched (hay, that is not a gun!).

Its been almost 20 years, and I still remember how I was treated by the TSA. I was "randomly" pulled out of the line for additional screening (I guess Italians are on a terrorist watch list). I was required to leave my 4 y.o. behind, unattended, all alone in the terminal while they escorted me to a private room. I kept trying to check on my kid thru the window, ignoring the TSA agent, and was accursed of being non-cooperative.
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
62
I agree that Amtrak has to reconfigure their Coach seating. An overnight sitting next to a stranger is the most unappealing aspect of a trip. I've had obese seat mates and a couple of times I was hit upon for money. It's so nice now you are guaranteed both seats to yourself now,but I'm sure that will end sooner than later. I have read people will bribe their attendant to keep the seat open. I just wish there was a way to keep the other seat open without paying full price for another seat. I actually asked if I could do that and they said no. If a roomette is too pricey for one night and there is business class I will opt for that. The Cardinal and LSL have single seats in BC. That is a guarantee.




I
 

fdaley

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
72
I just wish there was a way to keep the other seat open without paying full price for another seat. I actually asked if I could do that and they said no.
At least three times in the past few years I have been in coach on the Lake Shore leaving Boston and seen solo travelers who presented two tickets so they could keep the seat next to them open, and the train crew respected that and would not allow anyone else to occupy the second seat. So there are at least some trains where they allow this. In one case, the solo traveler parked a cello case in the second seat.
 

Devil's Advocate

Conductor
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,544
Location
Texas
Hmmm, seems like Amtrak is missing out on a source of revenue. They should think about it, once this COVID business is over.
The fact that they had disclaimers on their website and in the employee handbook indicates that they did think about it and simply chose not to allow it.

At least three times in the past few years I have been in coach on the Lake Shore leaving Boston and seen solo travelers who presented two tickets so they could keep the seat next to them open, and the train crew respected that and would not allow anyone else to occupy the second seat. So there are at least some trains where they allow this. In one case, the solo traveler parked a cello case in the second seat.
According to Amtrak's website and handbook you had to claim a disability to purchase two valid coach seats for yourself. Otherwise they reserved the right to ignore or cancel one of them. I tried to find confirmation that this was still the case but it looks like the new Amtrak.com no longer addresses this.
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,152
Location
South Florida
I don't see why someone could not purchase more than one seat, and be entitled to keep it. Heck, if they wanted to pay for the entire car, and have exclusive occupancy, that should be allowed too. Everyone gets the same first come, first served opportunity when space goes on sale...
 

Qapla

Conductor
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
1,188
Location
Gator Country Florida
They would probably be more agreeable to allowing someone to purchase the entire car than they would to allowing a single person to purchase two seats together.
 

Lonestar648

Conductor
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May 17, 2015
Messages
2,690
Before I retired, I worked out of Chicago, so most of my travels could be on Amtrak. I became very efficient getting my reports, memos, etc completed in my room on my way back home. I actually worked less at home than those who flew because they couldn’t do much work in a middle seat, waiting on a delayed flight, etc. Eventually, my whole team traveled on Amtrak whenever possible. We got to know many of the SCA. Oh I still flew, I have almost 3M miles on just one airline. When one granddaughter asked how much I traveled by train it got me thinking, so I went back through expense reports totaling up the actual miles based on Amtrak schedules. It was just short of 250k. I found several business people were always traveling between CHI and DC, PHL, NYC, MSP, DEN.
 
Joined
Jan 24, 2017
Messages
8
I'm retired and a single traveler. I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere, and that's an attitude one must embrace when riding Amtrak long haul. I have ridden mainly for the experience of the conveyance, and always book a roomette. For me, 50% of the experience has been meeting folks of all ages, persuasions and nationalities in the dining car. Usually I'll book a trip to meet friends or relatives. There's always an adventure to be had. Hitting a boulder and disabling the lead engine outside Albuquerque. Losing power and replacing an engine in Helper UT. Gingerly crawling along east of Denver because a tornado had just passed across the trackage. Boarding late in Grand Junction at Thanksgiving because a whacked out passenger had kicked out an upper level window and jumped into a snowbank outside Glenwood Springs (yes, they found him.) C'mon, who's up for adventure?

I pray they bring the dining cars back on the western routes, but if not, I'll make adjustments and continue to earn my rewards points :)
 

Twinkletoes

Train Attendant
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
21
I’m an Amtrak regular (or was pre-Covid) mainly because flying absolutely terrifies me but I also do appreciate seeing scenery and new places that I wouldn’t see otherwise.
My Amtrak preference would always be a roomette because I’m very introverted and the thought of having a stranger seated next to me for an entire trip (again, pre-Covid) just makes me rather uncomfortable and I enjoy having my own little private space with the added bonus of having meals included. That being said, I haven’t yet decided if it’s still worth the extra cost with the Flexible dining.
You are like me. I am terrified of flying and have been even before the TSA hyper security era. However, being seated with a stranger is a necessary part of those who need to travel coach in the Northeastern Corridor to travel to New York or DC or Albany to connect with a sleeper. Strangers generally are not the real problem. The most common type of problem strangers are people who are bad with social cues -- realizing their seatmate would like to dig into that 400 page novel in her lap or catch a snooze! Fortunately a polite, "excuse me but I'd like to ... "works
Rarely does one encounter the truly unpleasant--extreme obesity that spills across two seats or individuals who persist in attempting a pickup after being deflected several times. Even these situations can be handled by speaking to the attendant. Otherwise, I have had many pleasant conversations with interesting people. It helps to pass the time.
 

Shanghai

Conductor
Joined
Feb 4, 2008
Messages
3,885
Location
Florida
I enjoy traveling by train. I nearly always travel in a sleeper because I like space and privacy. I am a million-mile flyer on two airlines but when I retired my preference changed to trains. We can travel to see our children and grandchildren conveniently by train. Our Amtrak station is 7 miles from our home, compared to 50 to 60 miles to the airports. When we visit our family in California, we break the trip in Chicago and spend one night in a hotel then take the two day trip to San Fransisco the following day. I am generally pleased with Amtrak.
 

Lonestar648

Conductor
AU Supporter
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May 17, 2015
Messages
2,690
I forgot to say that since 2007 I always take one of my grandchildren on the train over night. Two of them loved the train so much that we have traveled several 5,000 - 6400 mile loops. 2020 trip got canceled unfortunately.

on Business travel, when the doctors grounded me from flying for a year after a very severe ear infection, I created a spreadsheet showing average airfare between various cities and the fare going by Roomette, then deducting the hotel I wasn’t paying for. he was surprised that costs were very close, so he looked at my travel costs based on a month. I was always on or under budget each month and for the year, traveling 40-45 weeks a year. I approached this issue with costs verses costs, if there is minimal differences what difference does it make? In the end, even our SVP agreed and he was a hard liner.
 

drdumont

Service Attendant
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Apr 16, 2017
Messages
207
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The Great (and may I add) SOVEREIGN State of TEXAS
Lonestar 648 - I always made sure there was no cost penalty to the Company. What I ran afoul of was the "Travel Counselor" company hired by my Company ave rakeoffs, upgrades and free cars to certain executives based on the travel volume.
I eventually quit, started a Subch S Corporation and did what I used to do as a Contractor. Made more money, did what I wanted, the Company was able to write off more expenses, and I rode Amtrak whenever possible.
 

drdumont

Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 16, 2017
Messages
207
Location
The Great (and may I add) SOVEREIGN State of TEXAS
Shanghai - I did the cost comparison several times and usually came up with similar results. The benefits of arriving rested and relaxed, plus avoiding the practiced stupidity of the TSA outweighed whatever extra expenses there might have been.
Alas, I had to eschew Amtrak when there could have been a time crunch.
 

Big Green Chauvanist

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2009
Messages
106
Location
Seattle, Washington
I'm old enough to remember the great "liners" the extinct railroads had plying the country. I never traveled on one, but vowed I would take a long distance train some day. By the time I finally did, Amtrak had arrived. I have gone cross country from coast to coast several times over the past decades. I have not done so since the food service went downhill (there seems to be so little vegetarian fare currently that that in itself would pose a problem for a three-day trip). But I have collected so many Amtrak points that I'd like to use them up before I'm finished traveling. I was once upgraded from a roommette to a bedroom and--another vow--I will choose a bedroom on that probably last trip. I dislike flying and enjoy looking out at the countryside, even if I've taken the same routes multiple times. It's the romance of the rails and so much easier to do when one has his or her own compartment.
 

drdumont

Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 16, 2017
Messages
207
Location
The Great (and may I add) SOVEREIGN State of TEXAS
I'm old enough to remember the great "liners" the extinct railroads had plying the country. I never traveled on one, but vowed I would take a long distance train some day. By the time I finally did, Amtrak had arrived. I have gone cross country from coast to coast several times over the past decades. I have not done so since the food service went downhill (there seems to be so little vegetarian fare currently that that in itself would pose a problem for a three-day trip). But I have collected so many Amtrak points that I'd like to use them up before I'm finished traveling. I was once upgraded from a roommette to a bedroom and--another vow--I will choose a bedroom on that probably last trip. I dislike flying and enjoy looking out at the countryside, even if I've taken the same routes multiple times. It's the romance of the rails and so much easier to do when one has his or her own compartment.
As stated before, I take my cooler on wheels and thus have food I like to replace the preprepared stuff. If you look at the menus, you might like what is presented, the fare is heavy on veggies and the sort of stuff which does not suit me. You MIGHT like it, as it appears typical of what menu writers seem to think is popular.
I put up with the crappy, declining service in the diners over the years. Although the loss of the classic diners and service is greatly mourned, the romance or whatever it is of traveling in my own space, watching the scenery go by, and relaxing in general still beats dealing with the horrors of air travel today.
And to be honest, I miss air travel the way it was in the "good old days", just as I miss the "good old days" of rail travel.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
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Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,135
Location
Baltimore. MD
And to be honest, I miss air travel the way it was in the "good old days", just as I miss the "good old days" of rail travel.
HaHa, in the "good old days," we used to complain bitterly about the lousy quality of airline food (in coach, at least) and the cramped seating. Little did we know what was in store for us... :)
 
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