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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 12-03-07, 02:19 PM   #1
JosephPaul86
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Amtrak experiences

Being without a car and no more renting for a trip, I am taking my first train ride today. Great thing is it cost $16 one way, for a 2.5 hr drive. I was searching their website to be prepared for the baggage issues, and found out you can check your bike for up to a $10 fee. This sounds exciting as Southwest airlines wants $80. Plus I have never liked the rushes of flying, airports, ect.


Why have trains been invisible to me as a form of transportation?


Share any train experiences you have and advice, I board at 5pm Mountain time.
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Old 12-03-07, 03:38 PM   #2
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Being without a car and no more renting for a trip, I am taking my first train ride today. Great thing is it cost $16 one way, for a 2.5 hr drive. I was searching their website to be prepared for the baggage issues, and found out you can check your bike for up to a $10 fee. This sounds exciting as Southwest airlines wants $80. Plus I have never liked the rushes of flying, airports, ect.


Why have trains been invisible to me as a form of transportation?


Share any train experiences you have and advice, I board at 5pm Mountain time.
Don't forget to post your experience after your train trip. I certainly had a different opinion about cross country train trips after experiencing a January 1980 train trip from Chicago to Pendelton OR. Left Chicago on time, arrived in Pendelton one day late, expensive crappy food, passenger cars with no heat in Wyoming, surly porters, etc. Hope your experience is much better but don't count on getting anywhere by train on time in AMTRACK land.
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Old 12-03-07, 03:45 PM   #3
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Being without a car and no more renting for a trip, I am taking my first train ride today. Great thing is it cost $16 one way, for a 2.5 hr drive. I was searching their website to be prepared for the baggage issues, and found out you can check your bike for up to a $10 fee. This sounds exciting as Southwest airlines wants $80. Plus I have never liked the rushes of flying, airports, ect.


Why have trains been invisible to me as a form of transportation?


Share any train experiences you have and advice, I board at 5pm Mountain time.
Pretty inexpensive; let's see, the Acela Express to DC from NY is 10X that amount and no bike onboard for you! Good luck with your trip; I had posted Amtrak bike on board here:

Amtrak - no bike carry ons - ever?
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Old 12-03-07, 03:48 PM   #4
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Amtrak Warning

AMTRAK WARNING:
You must call Amtrak to see if you can take the bicycle on the trains you are thinking of.
NOT EVERY TRAIN is capable of taking Bicycles. They must have a seperate Baggage Car and it must be boxed.

I was planning a trip from NYC to anywhere and I found that there was almost no train that had a sepearte baggage car. Their web site is weak on the issue and if you do not ask, you may get stuck.

Good Luck

Rob
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Old 12-03-07, 03:49 PM   #5
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I'll be sure to update, but Bread Springs I don't have internet/phone/water. We have electricity sometimes and propane for heat.

I'm happy as long as its not as bad as Greyhound bus lines.
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Old 12-03-07, 03:53 PM   #6
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AMTRAK WARNING:
You must call Amtrak to see if you can take the bicycle on the trains you are thinking of.
NOT EVERY TRAIN is capable of taking Bicycles. They must have a seperate Baggage Car and it must be boxed.

I was planning a trip from NYC to anywhere and I found that there was almost no train that had a sepearte baggage car. Their web site is weak on the issue and if you do not ask, you may get stuck.

Good Luck

Rob

Thanks for the heads up. Luckily this time I am not bringing the bike as its set up for commuting, the roads out there are dirt and gravel. I volunteered to clean up trash in the Cibola forest.
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Old 12-03-07, 04:02 PM   #7
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AMTRAK WARNING:
You must call Amtrak to see if you can take the bicycle on the trains you are thinking of.
NOT EVERY TRAIN is capable of taking Bicycles. They must have a seperate Baggage Car and it must be boxed.
Some trains have a baggage car that allows you to bring the bike un-boxed. I know The Cascades and The Vermonter feature these kinds of cars for sure. Don't know about others. The Coast Starlight requires that you box the bike.

My housemate has found it is far easier to go to the local train station and have them check than it is to call someone who may live far away. I think it's because the local people know what train model to look for in the computer. Then you can just purchase the ticket on the spot.

My friends and I have had nothing but good experiences with The Cascades line. (except for when the trains that take bikes went out for repairs) It goes from Eugene, OR to Seattle, WA. It seems the shorter the route, the better the experience people seem to have.
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Old 12-03-07, 04:51 PM   #8
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In college I used to take the train to go from school to home during the holidays, and I brought along my old Peugeot. Later, a girlfriend and I used the Amtrak to go from L.A. to Oxnard and then from Santa Barbara back to L.A. as part of a train/bicycle trip. We then pedaled from Oxnard to Ojai, to Santa Barbara, to Solvang and back to Santa Barbara. Those were great trips.

I also took the Amtrak from San Diego to Seattle for a Christmas holiday. There was beautiful snow scenery in the Northern California mountains. But other than that, it took waaaaay toooo loooong. I was really in trepidation of the return trip.
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Old 12-03-07, 05:01 PM   #9
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Some trains have a baggage car that allows you to bring the bike un-boxed. I know The Cascades and The Vermonter feature these kinds of cars for sure. Don't know about others. The Coast Starlight requires that you box the bike.

My housemate has found it is far easier to go to the local train station and have them check than it is to call someone who may live far away. I think it's because the local people know what train model to look for in the computer. Then you can just purchase the ticket on the spot.

My friends and I have had nothing but good experiences with The Cascades line. (except for when the trains that take bikes went out for repairs) It goes from Eugene, OR to Seattle, WA. It seems the shorter the route, the better the experience people seem to have.
The Vermonter stopped allowing bicycles several years ago.
I gave up on Amtrak on the East and found almost any major bus line can accomodate you for $10
and some even have the bicycle boxes. I even wrapped my bike onece in plastic garbage bags and that was fine. $5 to the driver made sure it was kept safe.

Robert
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Old 12-03-07, 05:07 PM   #10
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To travel happily on Amtrak (or Greyhound for that matter) you have to have a pretty laid back attitude. You don't have much control over the trip once you board, so control freaks beware. And you do need patience because the waits can be long, and there can be delays for weather and traffic. Take a good book and extra batteries for your mp3 or gameboy. One of those cellphone insta-chargers is a good idea for a cross country trip. Also take dollar bills and change, because sometimes the only food you can buy is from vending machines. Make sure you understand your route and connections, because the ticket agents do make errors. One guy I talked to (on a combined Amtrak/Greyhound run) got routed from Salt Lake to Houghton, MI instead of Houghton Lake, MI. That's a 300 mile error, and he had to wait two days for a bus back from the U.P.
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Old 12-03-07, 05:51 PM   #11
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I have taken the Amtrak from Chicago to Normal, Illinois a number of times but only twice with my bike. It is a 2.5 hour train ride. I just ride to union station and then wheel it through and onto the train. I have never had to box the bike or remove pedals or anything like that. One time the guy asked me to put it up in the overhead rack since it was a crowded train, but that was it. No big deal, it fit fine. The other time I just leaned it up against the window in an area that was meant for wheel chairs and/or strollers.
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Old 12-06-07, 02:50 AM   #12
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I'd like to take Amtrak more often but Jetblue always seems to be cheaper (around Thanksgiving time at least) and although taking your shoes off, and quart bags, and expsed laptops are a real pain in the butt, I'm one weirdo who gets an exciting rush out of both take off and landing. You always feel one of the landing gear hitting the tarmac a split second before the other one: more fun than a roll coaster!
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Old 12-06-07, 03:43 PM   #13
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Amtrak is a joke. End. Of. Story.

12 hours from Chicago to Cincinnati and $60.
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Old 12-06-07, 11:20 PM   #14
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The Cascade line here in the PAC NW isn't too bad, just don't take it if you need to get somewhere on time. The tracks here are owned by Union Pacific freight, which means they can play around with their trains and switch tracks all they want, which often delays the Amtrak trains.

Frankly I'm amazed that Amtrak stays in business, nearly every train I've taken has been mostly empty (which is great for me, plenty of space to spread out and relax) and behind schedule. I took the train from Eugene to Portland this Thanksgiving (w/ the cross bike and panniers) and it was almost completely booked. Overall it's fun and relaxing, but every trip I've taken has been at least 30 min. behind schedule and one time was an hour and a half late. It wasn't a problem for me, but you have to make sure to plan accordingly.

They charge $5 per train (can get expensive if you have to transfer trains) for a non-boxed bike; if you bring a trailer, make sure you can fold it down (Burley Nomad w/ carry case works) or else they charge another $5 (per train). I've found it easiest to travel with panniers and a messenger bag for 3-4 night trips to Portland, the one time I took the trailer was a hassle. My cross bike is set up for dedicated commuting/traveling with fenders, rear rack and disc brakes and it works pretty well. I can just bring my panniers with me as carry-on and check the bike. They have you take your bike straight to the luggage car (and pick it up at your destination there), so I don't have to wait in line at baggage claim.

Overall it's fun and relaxing, but not very cheap and definitely not reliable.
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Old 12-07-07, 12:45 AM   #15
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Frankly I'm amazed that Amtrak stays in business, nearly every train I've taken has been mostly empty (which is great for me, plenty of space to spread out and relax) and behind schedule.
They run on freight railroad owned tracks.... the freight railroads give priority to their own freight traffic and don't care whether they make the Amtrak trains late.
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Old 12-07-07, 06:38 AM   #16
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They run on freight railroad owned tracks.... the freight railroads give priority to their own freight traffic and don't care whether they make the Amtrak trains late.
"Wah Wah, its not amtracks fault." Whatever, every business is responsible for there own position, if they can't make a profit at the current set up it is their responsibility to evolve or perish. I'm not going to pay to much for their services just because I feel bad for the deal congress gave them.

three day trip from New York to Arizona, the food was bad and expensive, the beer was expensive and they ran out somewhere in Texas, we arrived in Tucson 18 hours behind schedule at 3AM in the morning. Made my host real happy when I called them at 3AM and said I was downtown. I got to see a mugging while I was waiting to be picked up. All of this for more than an airline ticket.

The only good thing was they allowed me to take more baggage for no charge than an airline would have. The bad part is the bags ended up going to LA and waiting two days before coming back to Arizona. I prefer greyhound, although I've never done more than a 24 hour trip.
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Old 12-07-07, 09:20 AM   #17
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My housemate has found it is far easier to go to the local train station and have them check than it is to call someone who may live far away. I think it's because the local people know what train model to look for in the computer. Then you can just purchase the ticket on the spot.
This is probably a very good idea. I don't know about for a cross country trip but locally a lot of us in OKC take our bikes south to Paul's Valley or Ardmore and ride back to the city when there's a good south wind. (Often the case with all that Texas hot air) When we called we were told that bicycles weren't allowed but no one has been turned down at the station.
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Old 12-07-07, 09:53 AM   #18
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I like Amtrak, and overly negative rants for other members aside, all sound relpies and advice. Your trip is short, so any delays will be slight. Just bring a book, and don't expect to get to your destination on time, and enjoy the peaceful ride! I always love seeing the country from the rails, they go to some really pretty places to be sure!
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Old 12-07-07, 11:08 AM   #19
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Here's an Amtrak experience, for the record. I think I already posted it somewhere, prob'ly on the folder forum, but whatever.

I took a day trip (business trip) from Trenton NJ to DC in September. Amtrak's rule is, a folding bike may be stowed in the closet-like area near the door to the coach, and may not under any circumstances be stowed in the overhead rack. I had a reservation for a very early AM train. I left the house ca 4:50 AM, got to the station in good time to catch my train, but it never came in; the next train on the same route was delayed but I was able to get on it no problem. Needless to say it was crowded, and the closet was full of nice coats (belonging to businesspeople who wouldn't want bike chain grease on their clothing), so I stowed my bike in the overhead rack despite the rules. The conductor saw it but said nothing. I got to DC just before my meeting was scheduled to start, so I had no time to fool around, but by zipping through traffic on the folding bike I was able to get to the meeting within a few minutes --less than five-- after it all started. Other people, whose travel arrangements were the same as mine, but without the folding bike, arrived some 40 minutes later (less sweaty, but more P/O'd than I!).

There may or may not be an excuse for my train to be canceled, but I got to destination, close enough to on-time, and had a nice time tooling around the city after the meetings were over. I was home by 1 AM. All in all, I'd give Amtrak a B-; I docked them a few points for unreliability, but gave them a couple back for flexibility.
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Old 12-07-07, 01:49 PM   #20
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"Wah Wah, its not amtracks fault." Whatever, every business is responsible for there own position, if they can't make a profit at the current set up it is their responsibility to evolve or perish. I'm not going to pay to much for their services just because I feel bad for the deal congress gave them.

three day trip from New York to Arizona, the food was bad and expensive, the beer was expensive and they ran out somewhere in Texas, we arrived in Tucson 18 hours behind schedule at 3AM in the morning. Made my host real happy when I called them at 3AM and said I was downtown. I got to see a mugging while I was waiting to be picked up. All of this for more than an airline ticket.

The only good thing was they allowed me to take more baggage for no charge than an airline would have. The bad part is the bags ended up going to LA and waiting two days before coming back to Arizona. I prefer greyhound, although I've never done more than a 24 hour trip.
I would LOVE to see the big trucking companies try to make a profit if they had to build and maintain their own shipping roads.
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Old 12-08-07, 01:16 AM   #21
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I would LOVE to see the big trucking companies try to make a profit if they had to build and maintain their own shipping roads.
That would be interesting.
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Old 12-08-07, 01:30 AM   #22
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In spite of the fact many long distance trains are chronically late. I love to ride the trains. They say in the Norht East, Amtrak pretty much runs on time. Long distance trains are far more comfortable than planes. Much easier for lugging about one's bike. You can get up and roam about, have a beer in the club car. When taking the train , I'm in no hurry and enjoy my time on them. /Want to experience a better funded train system. Come to Europe. The fast trains are great. I'd never take a plane , if I can take a European fast train.
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Old 12-08-07, 02:15 AM   #23
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I remember Amtrak got a lot of government money (i.e. tax payer money) to build a railroad track that they claimed would allow people to travel from NYC to Boston in 2hr 40 min. In return for the money, they promised not to raise ticket prices. Oddly, neither promise happened.
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Old 12-08-07, 09:54 AM   #24
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I recall reading that Amtrak in the northeast was upgrading their fleet of trains to faster trains. Still, seems the norhteast has the country's best train record for being on time. Besides, how many hours is it from New York to DC on the train. Not much. ? THe real problem for Amtrak , I have read is the lousy condition of the tracks. But, they can't do much about it because the track in owned by the freight trains.
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Old 12-08-07, 10:10 AM   #25
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Between NJ (metropark) and Baltimore, Amtrak is over $70-$80 when I used to ride it a few years ago. So about $150 for round trip. Pretty expensive. I'm flying from NJ to Orlando for that much on Friday, I'd have to guess Amtrak would be like a lot more.

Only two problems on all the trips, one day all trains on the NE corridor were running late, including NJ Transit so I can't blame Amtrak for that one, but another, I was stuck in Philly for a freakin hour. It was late at night and its supposed to be a 3 hour ride, and I was getting hungry. Didn't tell us anything but to stay in our seats. That was immediately after Sept 11 so who knows.

Cars were routinely half empty or more. No bikes on board though, that would be a hazard.
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