How to Catch an Amtrak Train

Many cities have Amtrak service. In today's age of air travel losing is popularity and rising gas prices, Amtrak can be a better way to go.


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    Find out where the nearest Amtrak stations are to your home and your destination. Often, you can look at Amtrak to locate stations.
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    Plan your trip. Because Amtrak does not travel at 450 mph (720 km/h), like airlines, it may take a few days to get where you are going. Make sure to take this into consideration.
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    Purchase your tickets. Tickets can be purchased 3 ways: through Amtrak, by calling Amtrak directly (1-800-USA-RAIL, 1-800-872-7245), or at the station from an agent. Not all stations are fully staffed, however, so an agent may not be an option in your area. Also, it is recommended to purchase your tickets at least 3 days in advance to assure availability. Amtrak's popularity is on the upswing, and some trains sell out quickly.
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    Pack for your trip. If you are going on a longer trip, you may want to pack an extra bag that has some clothes in it for while you are on the train. In the western US, most trains have cars called Superliners that have 2 levels. They have restrooms downstairs; there are showers onboard, but they are only for passengers who book a sleeper room. If you booked a sleeper car room, you will have a small room to yourself. Plan to be on the train up to 4 days on longer trips (i.e. Chicago to San Francisco, Seattle to L.A., or Seattle to Chicago). Wear comfortable clothing. A t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers would suffice, but something a little nicer never hurts, especially in the evenings or at dinnertime. You may not be trying to win a fashion show, but a little goes a long way. A button-down or polo shirt combined with jeans or slacks would be a perfect match for staying comfortable without looking like you just rolled out of bed.
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    Get to the station. Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure. Trains can be several hours late, or a few minutes early. You don't want to arrive at the station with 3 minutes to spare and have to rush to the platform in time to see your train pulling off into the distance. If your station of origin (and destination) offers baggage service, you can check baggage, like an airline. Not all stations offer this feature, however, and BOTH your origin and destination city need to offer baggage handling for you to check bags.
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    Board your train. Methods of getting on the train can vary greatly from station to station. At some stations, the conductor will scan your e-ticket before you board the train. At others, you get on the train and the conductor will scan your e-ticket onboard. The conductor will also give you a slip of paper called a seat check that has the number of people in your party, your destination, and your seat assignment on it. You must have the seat check in the slot above your seat at all times, otherwise your seat might be reassigned.
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    Enjoy your ride. People that ride Amtrak trains are often the most friendly, casual, and laid back people in America. It is not hard to strike up conversations with random strangers, but don't be rude and persistent either. If somebody just wants to watch the scenery go by, let him be.
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    Watch for your stop. Trains are usually at a stop for about 2 minutes. Be ready to disembark from the train as quickly and safely as you can. The conductor will announce several minutes prior to a stop, which car the doors will be open at, and what the stop is. Make sure not to leave anything behind.
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    Stand to the side and watch the gleaming animal that is/was your train pull quickly away. Think of all the manpower that went into your trip, from the Conductor, Engineer, and Dispatcher to the ticket agents, station agents, car cleaners, and maintenance personnel that make Amtrak possible.
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    Write to your Congressman/woman and urge them to continue to support Amtrak. Amtrak is only made possible by government subsidies that keep it running. Plan your next trip, because YOU vote for Amtrak with your wallet! If you use Amtrak and get your friends and your friend's friends, Amtrak will continue!


  • Taking trains is not recommended if you are on a tight schedule. Because Amtrak does not actually own the tracks it runs on (except between Washington D.C. and Boston, and between Kalamazoo, MI and Porter, IN), it is subject to being delayed by freight trains. Trains can rarely be up to several hours late.
  • Pack lightly. You don't want to have a ton of luggage to carry if you are rushed.


  • While waiting for your train, stand behind the yellow line on the platform.
  • Always wear shoes while walking around the train. It is very easy to get injured if you are barefooted.
  • Look, Listen, and Live.

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Categories: Train Travel