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Who travels in the Sleeper Cars?

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joelkfla

Service Attendant
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Oct 16, 2018
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183
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 a badly faded memory of riding the Southern Crescent while it was still being run by Southern Railway in defiance of Amtrak. I think it was in the 1970's, and I would have been traveling from California to somewhere in the Southeast. After doing some web research, I think I was on the Sunset Limited - Crescent thru-sleeper. I have just 2 vivid memories: creeping through the West Texas badlands on endless curves, and watching fresh food (including sides of meat, IIRC) being loaded onto the train, probably during the overnight in New Orleans. I also remember changing trains somewhere after NOLA, perhaps onto the Floridian at Birmingham on the way to a conference in Nashville. That was my first long distance train trip, and unfortunately my last until some 40 years later.

Here's a timetable from that period that I found on the web:
 
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SarahZ

Conductor
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May 8, 2011
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8,087
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KAL
I never even considered a long-distance trip until 2010, when I met my boyfriend, who lived in Albuquerque. I couldn't afford a flight, so I looked into other options. I noticed Amtrak had a direct train to Albuquerque, and it was about half the price of a flight.

I traveled coach on that trip and had an immediate love/hate relationship. I hated sharing a seat with a stranger for 26 hours, and I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep. I spent the entire trip in the lounge car and enjoyed the scenery.

My boyfriend eventually moved to Michigan. He was terrified of flying, so any time we traveled anywhere, we took the train. We tried coach for our first LD trip, thinking that sitting next to each other would make it more comfortable, but I still couldn't sleep. We were both cranky the second day and fought about stupid things we normally wouldn't fight about, so we decided to get a roomette on every trip thereafter.

After we broke up, I spent some time traveling around the country, mostly to experience the routes I hadn't traveled yet. I booked a sleeper each time, for the reasons mentioned above.

Now that I've seen most of the routes (and time and money are both an issue), I'm back to flying whenever I travel long-distance. I actually like flying and prefer it to the train for several reasons.

There are a few Amtrak routes I haven't seen yet, so those are on the list for the future, along with all of the Canadian routes.
 

tricia

Conductor
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,111
Location
Spring Creek, NC
I have a badly faded memory of riding the Southern Crescent while it was still being run by Southern Railway in defiance of Amtrak. I think it was in the 1970's, and I would have been traveling from California to somewhere in the Southeast. After doing some web research, I think I was on the Sunset Limited - Crescent thru-sleeper. I have just 2 vivid memories: creeping through the West Texas badlands on endless curves, and watching fresh food (including sides of meat, IIRC) being loaded onto the train, probably during the overnight in New Orleans. I also remember changing trains somewhere after NOLA, perhaps onto the Floridian at Birmingham on the way to a conference in Nashville. That was my first long distance train trip, and unfortunately my last until some 40 years later.

Here's a timetable from that period that I found on the web:
Thanks for posting that. I too have a badly faded memory of this train. Heavy metal flatware stamped with the train's brand IIRC--even at the time it seemed like a leftover from better days.
 

NativeSon5859

OBS Chief
Joined
Aug 5, 2003
Messages
982
Location
NOLA
I grew up in a family that flew everywhere. Yet my grandparents owned some land near Hattiesburg, MS, so about once a month we’d take the train there. This went on for years (during the 1980s), and those trips sealed my love for trains. Of course I liked to fly, but the first time I ever took a Sleeping Car (2004, Sunset Limited JAX-NOL), it was love at first ride. It felt like being in my own little time capsule, far away from the problems of normal life. I loved every second of the experience, so I vowed to continue doing it.

I’ve been on all the LD routes multiple times, I’ve witnessed the downgrades in service, yet I keep going back, because I like the fact that the train forces you to slow down. And just laying there at night in the Roomette, looking up at the stars, it’s just perfect for me. I don’t care if it takes two days as opposed to a four hour flight. If I can, I’ll avoid air travel and take a sleeper to wherever I have to go, “assuming the train can get me there”. Amtrak can count on me as a Sleeping Car customer on its LD network for as long as they are running because it’s the most enjoyable way to travel (for me). Ive used the train for business travel (Chicago, mostly, due to the perfect overnight schedule) as well as vacations and simple joy rides.
 

railiner

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Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,159
Location
South Florida
I have a badly faded memory of riding the Southern Crescent while it was still being run by Southern Railway in defiance of Amtrak. I think it was in the 1970's, and I would have been traveling from California to somewhere in the Southeast. After doing some web research, I think I was on the Sunset Limited - Crescent thru-sleeper. I have just 2 vivid memories: creeping through the West Texas badlands on endless curves, and watching fresh food (including sides of meat, IIRC) being loaded onto the train, probably during the overnight in New Orleans. I also remember changing trains somewhere after NOLA, perhaps onto the Floridian at Birmingham on the way to a conference in Nashville. That was my first long distance train trip, and unfortunately my last until some 40 years later.

Here's a timetable from that period that I found on the web:
Thanks for that timetable link...brought back some great memories...


And this sad one...

 

Wolverine72

Train Attendant
Joined
Sep 19, 2016
Messages
35
Any trip I do overnight is in a sleeper. The food is generally pretty good and filling so I only do two of those meals a day.
I tried an overnight in coach once. That was enough for me.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
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Apr 5, 2011
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Baltimore. MD
MARC Rider:
Actually, I was referring to THE Good Old Days. Like the 50s and 60s...
I think I was born 40 years too late...
OK, (1), I was half Joking, and (2):

By the end of the 60s, when I started flying on airplanes, it was common to joke abut the perceived poor food quality, in coach, at least. "Such lousy food, and the portions are too small!" I think there was was also something about how the chefs for the airlines hadn't yet perfected techniques to make food taste good when served under the low pressure (~8000 ft. altitude) and low humidity conditions of the typical airline cabin. I particularly remember a nasty pot roast served up by El Al out of New York in 1971, but to be fair, they served up a good New York lox and bagel sandwich for breakfast. When I flew El Al in 1989, I think they served the same thing, but the recipe had improved. The best coach in-flight service I ever had was on British Airways in 1985. They not only served us our choice of cocktail, wine with dinner, and after-dinner drink (not top-shelf, but not nasty, either), they also had the steward serve us our main dish (some kind of roast beef) individually, with silver tongs.

During the period 1970 - 1990, my personal experience was the the food was nothing to write home about, but it was perfectly serviceable. When I used to fly to and from college PHL -ORD, I would make it my business to get a meal flight, not because the food was so great, but because if I didn't, meal time would occur when I was at the airport, and the food options at airports back then were much worse than what was served on the plane. Plus it would have been extra money out of my poor student pocket.

I noticed that things were going downhill some time around 1986. First my breakfast flight from Dulles to Denver on Frank Lorenzo's Continental had a menu choice of cereal, yogurt, breakfast sandwich, pick 2. Then, when I was at Stapleton waiting to fly home, I finally noticed that the terminal had been redesigned, and with the crowd, much larger than back in my college days, it had all the ambiance of a bus terminal. Then there was an American flight to Chicago in the 1990s where we picked up a bag lunch from a cooler at the gate. You could still get reasonably full service on longer flights, but soon after 9/11, that all went away.
 

jruff001

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
101
Interesting thread. I don't quite fall into any of the five buckets Nick Farr outlined in his original post, though I agree that captures a lot of the sleeping car ridership. I suppose of those options, "Railfan" comes closest to me. I don't think I rise to the "foamer" level - for example, I don't have a scanner! - but why else would I choose to take an overnight (or multi-overnight) train trip and sacrifice time either at home or at my destination when I could just get the trip over with in a couple of hours by plane?

I do it because I find travel in a sleeper extraordinarily relaxing. I could look out the window at the world going by forever. I also find traveling alone in a roomette (let alone a bedroom) a luxurious way of traveling these days compared to the other options out there. (Two people is nice as well, but gets a bit cramped in a roomette, so not "luxurious.") Yes I know people will have trouble with that word because there have been cutbacks to dining car service, and some of the rooms are in less than perfect shape, and the on-board attendants can be nasty, etc., so maybe the right term is not "luxury." I am talking about purely from a personal space perspective. A private plane or varnish is beyond reasonable financial reach for most of us so leaving those aside, what other way is there to travel around the U.S. and be able to stretch out, sleep, work (with free WiFi), chill, etc., with so much space? Car? Bus? "First Class" domestic airplane seat? No to all of those.

So I take a sleeper whenever it is realistic which, unfortunately, is not very often. I travel by plane a lot for work but can never make Amtrak's schedules work for me for business trips, especially taking into account the reliability factor. I try to take a train for personal travel when I can but then it comes down to the fact that I only have limited time off and have to make the best of it, so that usually means flying. But I always at least consider Amtrak and will go through some degree of inconvenience or time sacrifice to do it. I hope when I retire I'll be able to do it more - if the long-distance network is still around.
 

Exvalley

Service Attendant
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Jul 7, 2020
Messages
169
I travel by plane a lot for work but can never make Amtrak's schedules work for me for business trips, especially taking into account the reliability factor.
This is a huge issue for me as a business traveler. When I take the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, the earliest I will schedule a meeting is 1:00 PM and even then I am somewhat nervous.
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
66
I have been taking Amtrak for over thirty years. In 1990 I was going to fly to a convention in LA from Pa. The cost was a bit much,so I thought about taking the train. Once I got on the Southwest Chief I was hooked. Ever since,I ve been taking Amtrak across the country for vacations. I ve done most of my early trips in Coach. I never minded three days in a seat,but as I got older the lure of a sleeper captivated me and these days I ll take Coach to Chicago and a roomette to the West Coast.

I don't carry a scanner so I wouldn't consider myself a foamer,even though I still get that wonderful feeling everytime I see a train coming. Traveling in a sleeper watching the world go by in my own little world is one of life's great pleasures. I've been on every LD route many times and it never gets old. I do miss full service dining
 

Exvalley

Service Attendant
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169
I am not at all a foamer. The train itself does not excite me. It's the scenery that appeals to me. I love to watch the country through the window. Being able to sit back and soak it all in makes the train much better than driving.

But here is where I differ from most. I find even the "un-scenic" parts to be interesting. Traveling by abandoned steel mills in Ohio and Indiana is just as interesting to me as mountain vistas. It all paints a picture of our country and its history. Every snapshot out of the window has its own story to tell and I like to daydream about what that story might be.
 

MARC Rider

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Baltimore. MD
This is a huge issue for me as a business traveler. When I take the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, the earliest I will schedule a meeting is 1:00 PM and even then I am somewhat nervous.
I know what you mean. When I used to take the Capitol Limited to Chicago for a conference that started at noon, I'd have to come out the day before after arriving late one year, and that took some fast talking to convince the managers that an extra day on the road was worthwhile. Mind you, if the train kept to schedule, it would arrive at about 9 AM, which would be plenty of time, even if the conference site was out by O'Hare Airport.

In fact, keeping reliably to schedule is far more important to me than the nature of the food service. Other important things: working equipment (HVAC, toilets, etc.) and safety. Cleaning the insides of the cars is also a high priority for me. As for food, it doesn't have to be too fancy, but, yeah, Flex dining is going a little too far. But I'd still ride the train anyway, just make stopovers, so I don't have multiple days of Flex dining all at once.
 

MARC Rider

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Baltimore. MD
I have a badly faded memory of riding the Southern Crescent while it was still being run by Southern Railway in defiance of Amtrak.
Give that the Southern Crescent was operated by Amtrak between New York and Washington, and that the Southern advertised connections via Amtrak at New Orleans to Los Angeles (including operating a through sleeping car), I wouldn't say that the Southern Crescent was being run in defiance of Amtrak. I suppose in 1971, the Southern Railway figured that it would be cheaper to continue to run their trains rather than pay the fee to join Amtrak. At some point, obviously, that changed.
 

Nick Farr

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 25, 2019
Messages
267
Location
Michigan
I do it because I find travel in a sleeper extraordinarily relaxing. I could look out the window at the world going by forever. I also find traveling alone in a roomette (let alone a bedroom) a luxurious way of traveling these days compared to the other options out there.
It's the scenery that appeals to me. I love to watch the country through the window. Being able to sit back and soak it all in makes the train much better than driving...I find even the "un-scenic" parts to be interesting. Traveling by abandoned steel mills in Ohio and Indiana is just as interesting to me as mountain vistas. It all paints a picture of our country and its history.
These two ideas perfectly capture it for me as well. When I travel to RNO it's usually for a week or so of work out in the middle of nowhere. The views are great and I love having the space and privacy to relax while the world goes by. If I want to socialize, I have options to do that, otherwise I'm just content to prepare myself or unwind from a longer journey.

I'm not sure how Amtrak can preserve this service and be "profitable". From a societal standpoint, I feel there is value in preserving this kind of travel and routes simply as a "backup" to air and vehicle travel AND as an accommodation for those who can't fly or greyhound.
 

crescent-zephyr

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Oct 21, 2015
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But here is where I differ from most. I find even the "un-scenic" parts to be interesting. Traveling by abandoned steel mills in Ohio and Indiana is just as interesting to me as mountain vistas. It all paints a picture of our country and its history. Every snapshot out of the window has its own story to tell and I like to daydream about what that story might be.
Oh I agree with this! Certainly I love the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and that section of the Zephyr is my favorite of any train trip I’ve taken. But yes... seeing the catfish farms in Mississippi, small southern downtowns in North Carolina, rows of corn in Illinois, abandoned industries in Alabama and watching for Aligators in Florida and Louisiana are all very interesting as well.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
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Dec 22, 2006
Messages
960
I took a couple of coach overnights, that was when I was very young yet, around 1960. One was a dreadful trip from New York City to St. Louis at Christmas. They ran coaches that didn't have reclining seats, no water in the cars other than the diner which was pretty much a joke. It was below freezing outside and the windows were iced over the entire trip.. Then there were a few Milk Runs on the Missouri Pacific to Kansas City from St. Louis. I don't think I slept a wink on those either. After that I decided any overnight trip would be by Pullman. They were still wonderfully run at that point. Just being away if you wanted to from all the chaos the coaches could be with people hanging out over the aisles trying to sleep made me love the sleepers. I know a lot of people say the cost ratio between a coach and a bedroom are still the same. Somehow I just doubt it. I never made much money and in the earlier days of my travel by train you could upgrade to a pullman room for what then seemed to be a pretty reasonable difference in cost. Now the differences are huge in my book. Still If I take another long distance rail trip it will still be by sleeper. Yes they are dingy, yes the food can be awful, and the service at times snarly. But as many say something about a train on the rails and scenery passing by is enough to make me very happy when it happens. If you never experienced the fine trains of the past I feel for you, the Amtrak Experience is much different when everything is the same, you can't tell one from the other anymore which is some way not quite as exciting as boarding a name train with all its variations in diners, lounges, even the coach cars were a part of the consist, not to mention the excitement of seeing a wonderfully painted exterior like the Union Pacific had or the Stainless Steel of the Zephyrs or Green of the Empire Builder. It was an all encompassing effect that made part of the trip.
 

Nick Farr

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Dec 25, 2019
Messages
267
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Michigan
I do it because I find travel in a sleeper extraordinarily relaxing. I could look out the window at the world going by forever. I also find traveling alone in a roomette (let alone a bedroom) a luxurious way of traveling these days compared to the other options out there.
It's the scenery that appeals to me. I love to watch the country through the window. Being able to sit back and soak it all in makes the train much better than driving...I find even the "un-scenic" parts to be interesting. Traveling by abandoned steel mills in Ohio and Indiana is just as interesting to me as mountain vistas. It all paints a picture of our country and its history.
These two ideas perfectly capture it for me as well. When I travel to RNO it's usually for a week or so of work out in the middle of nowhere. The views are great and I love having the space and privacy to relax while the world goes by. If I want to socialize, I have options to do that, otherwise I'm just content to prepare myself or unwind from a longer journey.

I'm not sure how Amtrak can preserve this service and be "profitable". From a societal standpoint, I feel there is value in preserving this kind of travel and routes along heritage, defense and transportation alternative lines. I know that Congressional support is the only reason these routes still exist at all, perhaps there's a way we could keep Congress out of the specifics of running these lines?
 

mitako

Train Attendant
Joined
May 21, 2018
Messages
69
But here is where I differ from most. I find even the "un-scenic" parts to be interesting. Traveling by abandoned steel mills in Ohio and Indiana is just as interesting to me as mountain vistas. It all paints a picture of our country and its history. Every snapshot out of the window has its own story to tell and I like to daydream about what that story might be.
YES. I think my time on a train is the most "mindful" I ever feel. For most of the trip, I listen to music and stare out the window. Gorgeous scenery, rundown dirt-poor towns, industrial areas, agricultural areas...... I watch it all go by without any judgement at all and an open, interested mind. I'm never so blissfully mindful anywhere else.
 

Qapla

Conductor
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Jul 15, 2019
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1,227
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Gator Country Florida
The first time I rode the SM from NY I was told there was some good scenery "once you get out of NJ" ... well, I live in the country and have seen the countryside on a daily basis. I found the scenery coming through NJ to be rather interesting - especially since I do not live anywhere near a population density of that magnitude.

The fact is, once you start getting far enough south, the tracks run through miles-and-miles of trees on both sides of the track so there is not much "scenery" to see.
 

TEREB

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 5, 2009
Messages
45
The very first time I traveled on Amtrak (3 or so years ago), my sister and I were assigned to the H room. We hadn't asked for it and paid the same price as the roomette we thought we would be traveling in. I don't know why Amtrak changed us from a roomette to the H room, but it gave me the opportunity to practice my flute without bothering other people.
We were once "upgraded" to the H bedroom on one of the silvers. They did call and asked if we were willing to change bedrooms. It seems there was a family that needed 2 bedrooms together. I guess with small children. Of course we said yes. I remember traveling coach NYP to FBG with 2 children and no one willing to change seats so I could at least sit with my youngest child.
 

cirdan

Conductor
Joined
Mar 30, 2011
Messages
2,391
And the pricing, seems to be modeled for the land cruise market. I honestly have a hard time justifying the train, a lot of times. In a week or so, I need to be in Scranton. I can fly, in 4 hours, first class for $618. The train, to Philadelphia, is $820, and I'm still 2 hours dive away. Just going to have to fly. Even roomettes, tend to be hundreds more, than the same trip in first class by air. Honestly, it's like Heroin. I know it's bad for me (time wise, and money wise) and I know it's going to be disappointing. But I still do it. 6-10 trips a year. Plus, the occasional Acela trip between NYC and WAS (those, actually make sense to me). But the long distance trains, are just getting really hard to justify anymore. But I do. Not even sure why anymore!
This is probably small consolation to you. But speaking as a tourist from Europe who comes to the USA specially to ride trains, I must say that with the exception of the NEC, Amtrak is far cheaper than most trains in Europe on a dollar per mile basis when you look at something with comparable levels of amenities.

Yet even so, even here at home, I take the train almost all the time, even when it's more costly, because it's just more comfortable and I don't have to worry about what I can and cannot pack in my luggage or what airport security are going to do this time.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 26, 2020
Messages
706
Location
Oregon Coast
Way way long ago as a young adult I pursued my love of railroad travel during the declining years of the golden era... venturing out West, to the southeast, the Appalachians, eastern cities, and western shores.

Coming back to Amtrak travel about 20 years ago, it my every intent to be a first class traveler enjoying an actual bed so as to be lulled to sleep by the rails... and to me... nothing can compare! Also enjoyed the camaraderie of making new friends in the sightseer car and while dining on some rather indulgent meals. I mean... when you're sitting around a table with other travelers, sipping red wind and enjoying steak, shrimp, and baked potato as the world speeds by out the window... of course there's going to be upbeat conversation and friendships made.

Speaking of making friends, that happened with a couple a few years ago and we have been keeping in touch ever since... and although it is rare to establish long lasting friendships from chance meetings with people... it does happen.

Towards the end of my second grand adventures on Amtrak... establishing Executive Plus status and raking up the points, things started to happen. The roomette was either too hot or too cold; food started to become more standardized; chinaware and glassware were replaced with plastic; there were more breakdowns and mechanical problems; remembering once when a fire alarm just outside the room started 'chirping' and keeping me up. The conductor warned me it was a 'federal offense' to remove that battery which would have brought peace... and that coveted sleep.

Sadly the restaurant cars on eastern routes were replaced by what could now be described as an 'upgraded version' of the new 'flex dining.' Then that too began to decline. And just when it seemed that things just couldn't get any worse... the pandemic hit. That recently ended the 2nd phase of my rail travel experience.

I wonder if there will be a third chapter for this rail enthusiast???

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Shortline

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Mar 13, 2011
Messages
1,102
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All over the United States
I had booked Birmingham to Philadelphia, and back next week for a meeting I have in Scranton. But on a whim....and since I have have some projects to work on, figured I can do it on the train, as easy as I can working at home, so making another trip up largely for the heck of it burning up some e-vouchers that were getting close to expiration.

Flying to Los Angeles, early Thursday (Aug 13th)

Los Angeles-Chicago Aug 13-15 Southwest Chief Family Bedroom
Chicago-Newark Aug 15-16 Cardinal Roomette (This train, and the Coast Starlight are the only name trains I haven't been on yet)
Newark-Philadelphia Aug 17 Acela First Class

Philadelphia-back home to Birmingham Aug 19-20 Crescent Roomette
 
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