Traveling on Amtrak can be cost effective and fun. It can be cheaper than airfare or even driving. Taking the train can be the perfect alternative for shorter road trips this summer. For less than the cost of gas, tolls and parking, you can take the train round trip. Instead of doing all the driving, you can relax and enjoy the scenery. Riding the train for the first time can be exciting, and a little more complicated than you would think.
Does Amtrak have a route that meets your needs? Amtrak has many routes that run all over the country. However, there may not be a route that runs near you. If there is, you need to make sure there is a route running near your destination. Sometimes you will be lucky, and you will find one train that will take you from point A to point B. Other times you will have a layover. For example, there is a route that goes through Indianapolis, and there is a line that goes through Toledo, OH. They are two separate routes; however, they both run into Chicago. You can ride one rain from Indy to Chicago, and then transfer to another train.
Even if there is a train, is Amtrak for you? You will need to be aware of the station details, Amtrak Rules and Regulations and other miscellaneous details. Knowing and understanding these details will make your life much easier.
Look online at www.amtrak.com. Find out about the stations you will be utilizing. Some stations are full service. Some are a little less accommodating. Other stations are just stand alone buildings or even shacks. Find out what you are getting yourself into before you leave for the station.
What if you have to drive yourself to and from the station? Find out of your station has a parking area. You can usually do this by e-mail Amtrak, or by calling the actual station. If it does not, they can usually tell you where there is nearby parking. If they give you multiple locations, be sure to get contact information. Find out who has the best rate, where is the closest location and where is the safest location.
Does your station have a ticket counter? Some stations have actual ticket counters, others have machines you can get your boarding passes from. Find out of your station has either. If so, when are they available? Know this before getting to the train station that morning only to discover the ticket counter does not open for another hour.
When should you get to the station? If you need to check luggage or pick up tickets, you need to be at the station at least 45 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave. If you are departing from a busy station, you will need to be there earlier. If your trip is around or on a holiday, you will need to get there even earlier. Stations quickly become congested, and you do not want to be rushing around.
Before you start your packing, be sure to check the luggage check options at the local train station and the station you will be arriving at. Find out if the stations have checked luggage capabilities. Some stations you would think have luggage check do not have it. If either your departing or destination station do not have baggage check, you will not be able to check your luggage at all. If you have a connecting train, you may only have checked luggage for part of your trip. It just depends on the stations you will be utilizing. Be aware of this as you pack. Do not assume just because your stop is in a larger city, that a baggage claim area is guaranteed.
Sometimes you will have a lengthly lay over between connecting trains. If you have a long layover, it is good idea to know what things are in the station. It may even be a good idea to find out what things are in the surrounding area as well. What can you do the pass the time? Re there any nearby sites you can visit? If not, is there a place in the station where you can sit and relax?
Amtrak Rules and Regulations
Amtrak usually has pretty reasonable rates. When you are booking your reservations, try to make them as early as possible. The earlier you book, the cheaper the tickets will be. There isn’t a set time line for the price hikes. It isn’t like every two weeks they up the rates. Instead the prices rise as the train becomes fuller. If the train is filling up slowly, the price may remain the same for weeks or even a month. If the seats are selling quickly (like during the holiday season) the prices will also rise quickly.
Depending on whether you are checking or carrying on luggage will determine your bag limit. Amtrak has luggage requirements for carry on and checked luggage. Customers are allowed three checked bags and two carry on bags. The two carry on bags do not include purses, laptops or other personal devices. Amtrak also has bag size and dimension limits. Before you start packing, make sure your bag meets those requirements.
Boarding an Amtrak train is a lot like boarding a Southwest flight. It is basically a cattle call. Once you have made your way to the waiting area, you can usually see where you will need to line up. People will start lining up to board long before the announcement is made. About twenty minutes before the train leaves they begin boarding. They make an announcement for senior citizens, passenger with small children, and other passengers that may need assistance to board first. Then the rest of the cattle are processed through the line. Some conductors sort passengers by destination. They assign you to a car, and then you can pick your own seat. Other conductors ask how many people are in your party, and then give you an assigned seat number in a particular car. It just depends on the conductor you are dealing with.
Amtrak has a strict no pet policy. Assistance animals are allowed, but all other animals are prohibited. That means Fido will have to stay home. Unlike planes, you cannot take your pets with you. Even if they are in a carrier, they will not be allowed on board. If you have to take your pet with you, the train will not work for you.
All Amtrak trains (except for Auto trains cars) are non-smoking. If there is enough time at a stop, you can get off the train for a smoke break. However, if the train is running behind, the stop may be shortened. Make sure you verify how long the stop will be with a conductor before you get off the train.
Once you are on the train, what will you do? If you with a group, you will have other people to talk to. Even if you are in a group, you may not be up for talking. This may even be a solo trip. Some trains have activity cars that show movies. However, most times you will be on your own. You can befriend the passengers around you, but that doesn’t always work. Make sure you bring something to fill your time. If you can read in a moving vehicle, bring a book. If you can write in a moving vehicle you can bring a journal or homework. You can bring portable electronic devices on board You can listen to music on your I-pod or CD player. You can watch movies (with your headphones on) with you portable DVD player. You can work on your laptop. Make sure you have charged your item up, or have extra batteries. Many trains have outlets you can use, but there may only be one per set of seats. If you cannot reach an outlet, or the outlet at your seat is already in use, you will not have a power source. If you are bringing small children, make sure you have enough things to keep them entertained. Dealing with a bored child on a train trip is not fun.
Will you be eating on the train? Even a four hour trip can overlap over a meal time. Maybe you won’t have a meal, but maybe you will be hungry for a snack. Amtrak allows customers to bring their own food and beverages on board. Some trains having dining cars. Other trains have snack cars. Many routes do not provide food at all. Food on the train can be a little pricey, but it can be more convenient than packing your own. If you want to save money, or your train does not offer food, be sure to throw a few little snacks into your carry on.
Amtrak has taken quite a bit of heat for running behind schedule. Sometimes trains run late. This could be a variety of reasons. Sometimes a train will get stuck behind a slow moving freight train. There could have been an accident on the tracks that slowed train traffic. This has implications for both waiting on a train, and while you are on the train. If you are on your way to catch a train, check to make sure it is running on time. Amtrak has an automated system that tells you if a train is on time. If it is late, it lets you know how late the train is running. Sometimes the delays are not posted until after your each the station. Hopefully the staff at the station can help you figure out how long the delay with be. If you are on the train, a conductor should tell you about any delays. If they do not advise you of your delay, that is just bad communication. If you have a cell phone you can call the automated number to find out your arrival time. Once you return, contact Amtrak’s customer relations. Let them know that their employees did not properly inform you of your delay.
Amtrak can help you afford a well deserved vacation. It can take some of the stress off your holiday travel. You can sit back and enjoy the sights as you are carried from point A to point B. Is train travel for you? Now that you know the basics, you can make that determination for yourself.