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Old 09-21-10, 09:16 AM   #1
SonataInFSharp
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Amtrak - What to Expect?

So, my wife and I are taking a four-day trip without the kiddo in a few months. We are to take the Amtrak train and public-transportion the rest of the trip while we are there. I am super excited as I have never been on a train, but I have no idea what to expect. My wife was on a train as a kid but doesnít remember anything.

First, what is the deal with the price? From Mpls to Chicago itís going to cost $232 for both of us round trip? That seems so high to me, but again, I know nothing about it. Canít you fly for less than that? Also, there are two trains listed for the same days, times, route, but two prices for the same thing and seats? I still canít figure that out at all.

How fast does the train go? Itís an 8-hour, 16-minute trip, but there are tons of stops along the way. So, that taken into account, the train must push 80, 90, 100+ mph?

What do you do during the stops? Just hang out?

We are getting reserved coach seats. I searched all over the website, and it tells me nothing. Do we get food? It seems like we do. Can you eat whenever you want? Do you make reservations like a restaurant?

Can you walk around to the other types of cars to look out windows, etc?

What do you do on a train for 8 hours? The longest flight I have ever been on is 3 hours, and that drove me nuts. I canít imagine sitting still on a train for over 8 hours! (Driving 15+ hours without stopping doesnít bother me, but that is different to be driving your own car.)

I hope the scenery is awesome. Driving through Wisconsin is actually pretty darn attractive, so I hope the train is even more so.

Are there going to be cowboys and bandits along the track trying to hi-jack and rob us? (Kidding, kidding)

I had a bunch more questions, but once I started asking, I forgot them. Figures.
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Old 09-21-10, 09:38 AM   #2
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I used to ride the train a lot with my mother when I was a child. Dad took a job in Oklahoma City and my brother in and I were still in school in Dallas, so on Friday, mom would pick us up and we would drive to the train station and catch an Amtrak to Oklahoma City to spend the weekend with dad so the family could be together.

We became regulars and there was an old (to my 5 or 6 year old eyes) porter that befriended us and would take my older brother and I on a tour of the train, letting us go places that we normally would not get to see. I remember that we would go to the baggage car and stand in an opening that only had a waist high door, so we were really exposed and had a great view. There was one place were the tracks followed a river and as the tracks curved, you could see the front and rear of the train and is sort of wrapped around this bend in the river. I can still see the boulders and the white water and the silver Amtrak with it's red and blue stripes in my mind's eye.

I find trains to be a very relaxing mode of travel. Pack a bag of snacks and a few good books and just find a place to chill and let the miles roll by without worrying about traffic jamns or gas stops or rest room breaks, etc. It makes getting there part of the trip instead of something to be suffered through to get to the end.
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Old 09-21-10, 10:00 AM   #3
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I find trains to be a very relaxing mode of travel. Pack a bag of snacks and a few good books and just find a place to chill and let the miles roll by without worrying about traffic jamns or gas stops or rest room breaks, etc. It makes getting there part of the trip instead of something to be suffered through to get to the end.
This is what I am really looking forward to!

As much as I love to drive long distances, this time I am excited to hop on a train, worry about nothing for nearly 9 hours; hop on a bus or subway once we are in Chicago, and spend the rest of the weekend like that whenever we need to go somewhere.
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Old 09-21-10, 10:49 AM   #4
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Don't get too fixated on the scheduled times of arrival and departure at the various stops. Amtrak leases the tracks from the commercial rail companies and as such, are obliged to stop frequently in order to give way to the freight trains. Just relax and enjoy it. As jsharr says, train travel is all about the journey.

And yes, you can walk around. Depending on the train, you'll probably have a snack bar and maybe an observation car, where the seats swivel to face out of the big windows. Train travel can be a very social experience and if you're so inclined, you'll find plenty of people to chat to. Nothing like a plane.

Enjoy.
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Old 09-21-10, 10:57 AM   #5
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I've used it a couple times - was amazed how smooth it was - initially it felt like I was taking off on a roller coaster.

There's a food car, little pricey --- we had food with us and asked to use the microwave that was there, and were told no. The food car on both occasions was right next to the first class car - had nicer seats.

The first time was a short trip --- and unfortunately there was one family on there with young children who ran all over the place Just because they can't get off the train doesn't mean they have the OK to annoy the rest of the passengers.

Other than that family, it's relaxing and yes it was nice not to drive.
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Old 09-21-10, 10:59 AM   #6
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Trains are the best. When I have to go from Philly to NYC, DC, or even Boston, I *always* take the train. Much less time, even if a bit more expensive (sometimes). And, you get to take your shoes off when YOU want to, not when some yokel in a TSA uniform tells you to. Train travel is ever so much more relaxing and fun than air, and definitely more so than driving. Have fun and enjoy!
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Old 09-21-10, 11:03 AM   #7
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Probably not going to be getting on and off at stops unless you're changing trains or at a large station. Most stops are just a couple of minutes. Oh and my experience is at least one leg is going to be running an hour late, so don't worry about time and just enjoy.
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Old 09-21-10, 11:15 AM   #8
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Prepare to be late, possibly by hours.

I was an Amtrak regular in college, riding from SLO to the LA area and back every quarter break (a 6 hour trip one-way), and I took some longer trips later (SLO-Oregon and SJ-Denver). It was not uncommon for me to arrive in SLO at the end of the day a couple of hours late. Very relaxing, but sometimes a little slow.

Depending on what sort of train it is, there may be a sit-down diner that takes reservations and also a cafe car that does walkup, mostly microwaved stuff. If you are first class (or have a sleeper), your dining car meals are free (except for alcohol).

They seat 4 to a table in the dining car, usually with complete strangers. I've eaten with a nanny from Sacramento, old ladies from South Carolina (who were shocked to see a Californian eating grits), and a train museum employee from Utah. The cafe car and/or lounge car are more of a free-for-all.

They do every few hours schedule a ~15-20 minute stop to add fuel or water or crew change or something, and you can get out and walk the platform. I did that at Salt Lake City at 3am just to say I got off in Salt Lake City.

The only really bad Amtrak experiences I've had involved the Amtrak bus service. But I have much love for the trains.
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Old 09-21-10, 11:49 AM   #9
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There is an Amtrack stop in Cleveland next to the Rock-n-Roll Museum in Cleveland.
For @$17 admission you can see a Yugo suspended from the ceiling,Elvis's cape,Madonna's underwear,etc then on to Pittsburg for the worlds biggest rubberband ball.
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Old 09-21-10, 12:01 PM   #10
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There is an Amtrack stop in Cleveland next to the Rock-n-Roll Museum in Cleveland.
For @$17 admission in Cleveland you can see a Yugo suspended from the ceiling in Cleveland,Elvis's cape in Cleveland ,Madonna's underwear in Cleveland,etc then on to Pittsburg for the worlds biggest rubberband ball.
FIFY, in Cleveland.
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Phobias are for irrational fears. Fear of junk ripping badgers is perfectly rational. Those things are nasty.
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Old 09-21-10, 12:20 PM   #11
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I love trains! Teh bf and I went up to SF last July by way of Amtrak. So relaxing. We pretty much had a whole side of the train for ourselves, right next to the dining cart. We could stretch out our legs! We could get up whenever the hell we wanted! We could bring our own food and drinks! You can't do that in a plane. We just slept all night, and got up refreshed and ready to explore the city.
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Old 09-21-10, 12:28 PM   #12
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There is an Amtrack stop in Cleveland next to the Rock-n-Roll Museum in Cleveland.
For @$17 admission you can see a Yugo suspended from the ceiling,Elvis's cape,Madonna's underwear,etc then on to Pittsburg for the worlds biggest rubberband ball.
Good god, you're old.
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Old 09-21-10, 05:12 PM   #13
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How do you spell DELAY? AMTRAK!!

Last time my mother-in-law came to visit, she decided she HAD to Amtrak it from NYC to Charleston WV. Supposed to take 8 hours. Only took 9 getting here, but took 18 hours getting back. My 90 year old mom-in-law had new friends by the time they hit Grand Central, anyway!
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Old 09-21-10, 05:21 PM   #14
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Get a sleeper, food is included, then and if you time it right, it'll be a wash cost wise as compared to buying food on the train. It'll also be a lot more comfortable.
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Old 09-22-10, 12:03 AM   #15
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I took the train from Portland to Seattle and it took 5 hours when it would normally take 2. I didn't mind though. People always strike up conversations with me for some odd reason. I like taking the train rather than flying because i can enjoy the scenery. Can you take your bike on the train?
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Old 09-22-10, 08:55 PM   #16
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How do you spell DELAY? AMTRAK!!

Last time my mother-in-law came to visit, she decided she HAD to Amtrak it from NYC to Charleston WV. Supposed to take 8 hours. Only took 9 getting here, but took 18 hours getting back. My 90 year old mom-in-law had new friends by the time they hit Grand Central, anyway!
The train had to dischard the passengers to go through the West-By-God Customs/Immigration Bureau then reboard the train.
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Old 09-23-10, 07:29 AM   #17
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My advice is to be prepared for anything, time wise. Do not have too set a schedule. I've taken amtrak a few times, and it has mostly been late. The worse was a 3-hour delay...and they ended up putting us on a bus. How horrible! Being on a bus for any extended period is excruciating for me.

Also, take a lot of stuff to eat, water, other drinks (including beer, but keep on the down low). The observation car is nice to sit back and relax, checking out the scenery. Walk around, don't let your legs atrophy. Explore the train, talk to people, sit and drink coffee in the resto car.

Yeah the train is often more expensive than the plane, but it is a completely different experience.

Are you taking your bike?

Oh how i wish the USA would buid an efficient high speed train network, and apparently this is one of Obama's things, but a presidency only lasts so long, and it takes a long time to build a good train network, so hopefully the next presidents will also be on board. (pun intended)
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Old 09-23-10, 09:18 AM   #18
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As I will have "Reserved Coach Class" seats, will I have access to the observation car, diner car, etc? I imagined that I could only roam my own area where my seat is, and those fancier cars are for higher-class people?

When I was a tiny tot, my goal in life at the time was to ride in an observation car on a train. Looks like at least one goal in my life could possibly be attained...
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Old 09-23-10, 09:25 AM   #19
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So, my wife and I are taking a four-day trip without the kiddo in a few months. We are to take the Amtrak train and public-transportion the rest of the trip while we are there. I am super excited as I have never been on a train, but I have no idea what to expect. My wife was on a train as a kid but doesn’t remember anything.

First, what is the deal with the price? From Mpls to Chicago it’s going to cost $232 for both of us round trip? That seems so high to me, but again, I know nothing about it. Can’t you fly for less than that? Also, there are two trains listed for the same days, times, route, but two prices for the same thing and seats? I still can’t figure that out at all.

How fast does the train go? It’s an 8-hour, 16-minute trip, but there are tons of stops along the way. So, that taken into account, the train must push 80, 90, 100+ mph?

What do you do during the stops? Just hang out?

We are getting reserved coach seats. I searched all over the website, and it tells me nothing. Do we get food? It seems like we do. Can you eat whenever you want? Do you make reservations like a restaurant?

Can you walk around to the other types of cars to look out windows, etc?

What do you do on a train for 8 hours? The longest flight I have ever been on is 3 hours, and that drove me nuts. I can’t imagine sitting still on a train for over 8 hours! (Driving 15+ hours without stopping doesn’t bother me, but that is different to be driving your own car.)

I hope the scenery is awesome. Driving through Wisconsin is actually pretty darn attractive, so I hope the train is even more so.

Are there going to be cowboys and bandits along the track trying to hi-jack and rob us? (Kidding, kidding)

I had a bunch more questions, but once I started asking, I forgot them. Figures.
Yes, the cost is higher than flying and I would def fly instead of taking the train....ever!....again! and this from a man that hates flying more than anything in the world. It was a really bad trip from Philly to Florida and even worse coming back, seems its the choice of travel for all the low life scum of the earth. They don't even check your carry on! One can transport anything from drugs to guns along Americas railways with no problem. It really truly sucked and I will never ever take Amtrak ever again. but thats just me.
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Old 09-23-10, 10:08 AM   #20
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As I will have "Reserved Coach Class" seats, will I have access to the observation car, diner car, etc? I imagined that I could only roam my own area where my seat is, and those fancier cars are for higher-class people?

When I was a tiny tot, my goal in life at the time was to ride in an observation car on a train. Looks like at least one goal in my life could possibly be attained...
Yes, you will have access to that stuff. You'll have to pay for food in the diner. You can roam all you want, but they really don't want you walking through the dining car unless you're eating.

Some long-distance trains actually have two lounge cars, one dedicated for first class/sleeper people, and one for the coach people.
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