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Old 09-29-12, 09:20 AM   #1
johnin
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Amtrak experience

I recently completed a tour from Seattle to Florence Oregon and used Amtrak to get from my home in San Diego to Seattle. I also used Amtrak to get from Eugene OR to Santa Barbara CA after the tour. I ride an Easy racers Fold Rush with a front wheel hub motor due to a heart condition that requires me to monitor my pulse rate and keep it below a certain level. The slightest hill will put me above my "redline" so without the motor I end up walking more than riding.

Back to Amtrak - for the trip to Seattle my riding companion and I reserved a "Roomette" sleeper compartment. It has 2 beds at night and 2 chairs during the day. It was a very pleasant way to travel. When you pay for a sleeper compartment the price includes all meals in the dining car so for this trip that was 10 meals between the 2 of us. With the senior discount the extra cost for the sleeper was about $270 and looking at the prices on the dining car menu we ate about $150 - $200 worth of Amtrak meals. The food was actually pretty good, not just microwaved TV dinners like on airplanes.

The really nice thing about traveling Amtrak with a bike is the ease of carrying the bike. Amtrak will sell you a box for $15 that is big enough to accept most touring bikes on their wheels. You just have to remove the pedals and turn the handlebars 90 degrees and roll it into the box. For my recumbent I had to do a little more, i.e. remove the seat and fold the rear wheel and unbolt the handlebars and strap them to the top tube. The seat bottom went in an Amtrak "baggage box" along with panniers etc. The baggage boxes are also available at the Amtrak stations for $5 each and we found that each would hold 2 panniers and a little bit more, i.e. a helmet and in my case a battery. On the way back from Eugene to Santa Barbara we again used the baggage boxes but found that in early September they had changed them, the new ones being noticeably smaller than the old ones. Fortunately the Eugene station still had 3 of the old boxes available so we got those and only one of the new ones. For future trips we might have to find bigger boxes at a grocery store or just take less stuff so we can carry on our panniers. For this trip we used a handlebar bag and a seat bag for carryons.

For the trip to Seattle we made our reservations several weeks in advance but the trip from Eugene to Santa Barbara was a last minute decision. This meant that the sleeper car prices were considerably higher than they were going up so we took coach to save the $400 they wanted for the sleeper. In retrospect it might have been worthwhile to pay the $400. Since we got so little sleep in coach we arrived in Santa Barbara exhausted and my companion woke up quite ill a day later in Oxnard. She felt so poorly that we called her husband to come rescue us and he drove up from San Diego with his car and trailer and my girlfriend to navigate. The original plan had been to ride from Seattle to San Diego but the group dynamic wasn't working so Plan B became take the train to Santa Barbara and ride to San Diego from there but my companion's illness forced us to Plan C which was to have Tom drive up and collect us.

It was still a good bike trip (are there any bad ones?) and Amtrak was a great way to travel. All the Amtrak employees we dealt with were pleasant and friendly and willing to do whatever they could to help us. We're looking at Amtrak schedules for the spring to go ride the Katy Trail and maybe the Great Allegheny Passage and the C & O Canal Towpath as well. With my physical problems I may have to forgo the hilly terrain and stick to rail trails in the future. Fortunately there are more and more being introduced.
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Old 09-29-12, 09:37 AM   #2
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We had a similar great experience lat month. My wife and went from Cleveland to Minneapolis. we boxed or tandem in 2 boxes and a third box for our gear. Also got a Roomette and the meals very very good. Would not hesitate to travel that way again.
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Old 09-29-12, 12:23 PM   #3
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Glad you had such a good experience with Amtrak. It is indeed a very relaxing way to travel. Very economical, sans sleeper. And no body searches before boarding.

I too found the employes very helpful and motivated. Even after a checked pannier was 2 days late arriving, having been "lost" in that zoo of a station in Chicago. It was Fedex'd to me. I will not be checking any more panniers.

Yeah, sleeping in coach is problematic. Ear plugs are good, as is a pillow and light jacket. Strangely, I found I got more sleep on a long bus ride than on a long Amtrak ride. Something about the seat configuration.
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Old 09-29-12, 01:25 PM   #4
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I'm going to be taking the Downeaster from Portland, ME to Boston soon and I've booked my bike onto the train. The cost was $25 for me and $5 for my bike. The $5 gets me one of the bike racks on the train so there's no need to box it up.
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Old 09-29-12, 01:47 PM   #5
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My only complaints about Amtrak over the decades involves Amtrak changing the stations handling checked luggage and bikes and their refusal to carry tandem bikes. I assume union rules dictate that only Amtrak employees can handle checked baggage such as bicycles. This eliminates the use of smaller cities and better jump off points for a bike tour. Instead of using Dunsmir, CA near Mt. Shasta as in the past, I now must travel to Klamath Falls, Oregon to access the same tour route with an added 200 plus miles to return to my preferred starting point. If I want to take a tour in Moab,UT I have to go to Grand Junction, CO. and then backtrack 100 miles although there is a station at the junction of Hwy 70 and Utah 191 that leads to Moab.

As to tandems, Amtrak station managers created their own local policies in the 1970's and early 1980's rejecting tandems. I had to have the Congressional Liaison for Amtrak call the Santa Barbara manager to make him take my tandem to Eugene,OR. Amtrak has now returned to the No Tandem policy recently. They complain about size and weight yet modern tandems weigh less than the 50 limit normally used for baggage. Tandems often fit in the bike boxes Amtrak supplies with the front wheel removed depending on frame size.

As long as you begin or stop at a larger town or city Amtrak can enhance a bike tour. I love trains and would like to use them more often but these impediments often shut me out of that choice. Too Bad.
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Old 09-29-12, 02:12 PM   #6
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Buses, for all their shortcomings, are often faster than Amtrak and service lots more towns. They are not as finicky about box sizes or weight as Amtrak.

There's checked baggage. A bicycle in a standard box qualifies. May be an extra charge 'cause it's a bicycle. Then there's "express" where they'll take larger boxes and heavier items, like a tandem. Bigger charge for that.

Be proactive with an 'express' shipment to ensure it arrives when you do. All 'checked' baggage is your responsibility, including a boxed bicycle.
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Old 09-29-12, 06:25 PM   #7
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I really enjoy Amtrak. I use the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card for all my purchases and that gets me several sleeper tickets each year. Unfortunately, I ran out of points recently and had to travel coach from the Bay Area back to Eugene. I ended up in a car that was full of what appeared to be college students on a tour from Asia, so it was a grand night on the Coast Starlight. I haven't been in a room full of people being so quiet since I used to take my son to chess tournaments.

The tandem policy is not the best thing Amtrak has ever done. However, with the availability of couplings it won't affect all of us. If I decide to bring my uncoupled tandem onto Amtrack I'll just strip it down and box it myself away from the station; without wheels and forks it's not much longer than a single.

My neighbor recently brought two triples down from Seattle on Amtrak. Of course these were coupled Bike Fridays that he could break down and hang on the hooks of the Cascades Train. I'm sure the presence of his four young children helped encourage the staff to look the other way.
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Old 09-29-12, 06:27 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by arctos View Post
My only complaints about Amtrak over the decades involves Amtrak changing the stations handling checked luggage and bikes and their refusal to carry tandem bikes. I assume union rules dictate that only Amtrak employees can handle checked baggage such as bicycles. This eliminates the use of smaller cities and better jump off points for a bike tour.
I wonder about that one. In most cases, this rings true. However, on the Cascades trains (Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver BC), the "roll on" bike storage is in the luggage compartment. You can get on and off with a bike at unstaffed stations on this line, like Olympia-Lacey, WA. Usually the conductor or another on-board worker will go into the baggage car and remove or receive the bike. Sometimes they have let me do it!
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Old 09-30-12, 03:52 PM   #9
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I've used Amtrak a bunch in the last 5 years.
I live in Monterey, Ca, and my trips have been between Portland and San Diego. I've used amtrak a lot.

my last trip was up to Portland out of Salinas.
albeit it was a free trip, being that I had enough Amtrak Rewards Points.

a couple of years ago I used Alaska Airlines from San Jose to Calgary, AB.

for me, being on the train for 16hrs is kind of crazy. it gets old real quick.
I'm thinking that I'm just about over it. instead I think I will spend the money and fly.
at least I don't feel sick when I fly, and it over real quick.
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Old 10-01-12, 05:31 AM   #10
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I assume union rules dictate that only Amtrak employees can handle checked baggage such as bicycles.
Liability concerns as well. Can you imagine letting passengers climb in and out of a loaded baggage car with boxed bikes? Those doors are pretty high off the ground. And with longer trains at smaller stations, the baggage car might not be at the platform but rather along pure ballast, which would make access even more difficult and present good twisted ankle conditions.
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