CS Sharada Prasad | trains
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Amtrak Passenger FAQs

Answers are from my own personal travel as of December 2013

  1. Where should you sit if you are taking California Zephyr?
    The scenery switches a lot between left and right side. Also, what you see depends on whether you are travelling from or to Chicago. I sat towards the Northern side (left side of the train) and enjoyed the scenery a lot. I would say, if you can, sit to your left on first day and to your right on the second day (if you are travelling form Emeryville to Chicago)
  2. How comfortable is coach class on California Zephyr to sleep?
    I found it to be very comfortable. Carry your own blanket and pillow. People around you might snore (I snore, fyi) and hence it helps to carry ear plugs.
  3. Are there electrical outlets in coach class?
    Yes. One per seat. But I carried a multi-socket strip with me as I had multiple devices to charge (laptop and my phone).
  4. Can I sit anywhere inside the coach?
    Yes. There is also an observation dome to better experience panoramic views.
  5. Is there a shower facility inside the train for coach class travellers? No. Carry some shower wipes as an alternative. And yes, deodorants help.
  6. Is there a microwave available for coach class travellers?
    No. Pantry car does have microwave ovens but the panty car people will politely reject your request by stating some FDA regulation related to food safety.
  7. Is there any kind of refrigeration system available for coach class travellers?
    No. But you can get ice to keep your medications.
  8. How many times can I change my reservation if I have a USA rail pass? Rail pass is for coach class. You can change your coach class reservations as many times as you want. But if your upgrades and other reservations might incur a cancellation / change fee.
  9. Will I be charged for ticket changes?
    I changed my tickets a few times and I had a USA rail pass. I was not charged for any of those changes.
  10. Why is it that I don’t see my rail pass booking on Amtrak website? Only bookings made through the website are available for online access. Though you may buy your USA rail pass online, you have to call Amtrak to make your reservations. Hence you will not see your reservation details online.
  11. I lost my booking information email. What should I do?
    Since you cannot retrieve your booking online, you have to call Amtrak and they will resend your email.
  12. Can I carry some personal stash of alcohol?
    Many people did and many people drank alcohol at their seats.
  13. Is there internet access in California Zephyr?
    No.┬áLong distance trains don’t have internet. Only some commuter trains along the eastern corridor have internet.
  14. Why shouldn’t I board at Berkeley?
    Berkeley is a local station. If you are taking long distance trains, boarding at Emeryville or Richmond will save you a stop (changeover in Sacramento) and hence a segment on your pass. Also, since Berkeley is an unmanned station, you cannot check your bags in.
  15. When should I print my tickets? Two days before your journey day. That way you can save on rail pass cancellation charges if you decided to cancel your trip.
  16. What food should I carry?
    YES! The train food served on-board is expensive and is tasteless. If you are a vegetarian, you have even fewer options. During later part of my train journey, I learnt that it is better to pack two meals from places like Chipotle so that you can eat them during your journey. Of course, dry fruits and packaged food will also be very useful.
  17. What are the important things that I should carry when I travel long distance?
    If you are travelling coach class, carry a blanket, ear plugs, eye mask. It can get quite cold during the night.

Across America on Amtrak

I have to attend a research workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 16 December. By then, I would be done with my Ph.D. qualifying exam. I have to be in USA till mid-January to get a cheaper ticket to fly back to India. Since I don’t have any family in USA to visit during Christmas, I have decided to visit my friends in north-east and north-west of USA. As I have plenty of time, it is time for me to explore USA through its trains. After some research, I decided that 30 day, 12 segment USA rail pass is the best option for my travelling during the month of December and January. I bought the USA rail pass on October 16 and made reservations.

The exciting part is, I will be saving a ton of carbon, exploring some of the remotest parts of USA, travelling comfortably while it is snowing outside, experiencing the train culture of USA, getting to know what it is to live in the northern parts of this country during winter. It has been more than three years for me in Berkeley. In summer 2011, I travelled across the country in a car with my parents. I was busy and tired driving. Yes, driving in certain parts of this country is a great experience but I have always been a huge fan of travelling by trains and there is nothing like peering through a window into the remoteness and vastness of this country.

I’m looking forward to the journey with excitement and anxiety. I’m travelling coach class. I know that it is not very comfortable to travel for 84 hours from Emeryville to Philadelphia. But the sleeper class will end up to be thrice as expensive. Also, I don’t want to spend a lot of money buying food on the train. I have to figure out how to optimally carry food for four days and if possible, some alcohol, so that I can get some good sleep during the night. I will soon be writing another post which will list all the questions that I had in my mind and the answers I found through different websites and my own personal travel experience. Stay with me!

Train Name Departure Station Arrival Station Duration States (26 States in all)
Emeryville Chicago
California Zephyr Dec 12th 9:10am Dec 14th 2:50pm 51hr 40min CA, NV, UT, CO, NB, IO, IL (7 new)
Chicago Philadelphia
Cardinal / Hoosier State Dec 14th 5:45pm Dec 15th 8:20pm 25hr 35min IL, IN, OH, KY, WV, VA, DC, MD, DL, PA (8 new)
Philadelphia Newark Will be in Philadelphia for 7 days
164 Northeast Regional Dec 21st Dec 21st 1hr 10min PA, NJ (1 new)
Newark Boston Will be in Newark area for 5 days
170 Northeast Regional Dec 27th 7:57 am Dec 27th 12:44pm 4hr 47min NJ, NY, CT, MA (3 new)
Boston Chicago Will be in Boston for 3 days
449 Lake Shore Limited Dec 30th 12:00pm Dec 31st 9:45am 22hr 45min MA, NY, OH, IN, IL (0 new)
Chicago Seattle Will be in Chicago for 3 days
7 Empire Builder Jan 3rd 2:15pm Jan 5th 10:25am 46hr 10min IL, WI, MN, ND, MT, ID, WA (6 new)
Seattle Emeryville Will be in Seattle for 4 days
11 Coast Starlight Jan 9th 9:35am Jan 10th 8:10am 22hr 35min WA, OR, CA (1 new)