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Bikes on Amtrak: detailed logistics for noob

Old 07-05-15, 07:49 AM
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Bikes on Amtrak: detailed logistics for noob

I'm planning on a tour from Maine to western Massachusetts later this summer, and of course the first question is how do I get myself and my bike to my starting point in Augusta.

I think I've found an answer: Amtrak from Philadelphia to Boston, then switch over to "Concord Coach" bus line. Amtrak will accept checked luggage, including bikes, on certain trains; and the bus company says they'll take bikes as long as they're boxed up.

I'd like the assembled wisdom of the Touring Forum to check my plans:
- call Amtrak or go to station a few days in advance of trip, confirm that they have bike boxes
- get bike all ready for tour. Ride loaded bike to train station, along with hubbie who will be coming (on his own bike) to the station to wave me goodbye. Bring shipping tape, pedal wrench, and a few other things I don't plan on bringing with me all the way.
- get bike box from Amtrak folks
- disassemble bike in train station lobby. Stuff clothing, etc, around bike as padding. (Note to self: some garbage bags would keep clothes from getting greasy.)
- hand off unused packing tape, wrenches, etc back to Phil.
- Anything that didn't go into bike box goes into duffle bag as regular luggage.
- Wait for train, check bike, get on train, ride to Boston.

In Boston:
- collect bike box
- Problem #1 : bus station and train station are seemingly across the street from each other, and they don't let you take luggage carts from one side to the other. Best way to schlep large bulky heavy cardboard box?
- get to bus station. Hope bus folks really meant it when they said I could bring boxed bike.

In Augusta:
- disembark bus
- reassemble bike at bus station
- cardboard box into garbage
- any tools used only to dis/reassemble bike (tire bags, etc) get mailed back home.


Does this seem right?

Yes, I know these are very low-level questions. Thanks for indulging me.
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Old 07-05-15, 08:03 AM
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Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
I'm planning on a tour from Maine to western Massachusetts later this summer, and of course the first question is how do I get myself and my bike to my starting point in Augusta.

I think I've found an answer: Amtrak from Philadelphia to Boston, then switch over to "Concord Coach" bus line. Amtrak will accept checked luggage, including bikes, on certain trains; and the bus company says they'll take bikes as long as they're boxed up.

I'd like the assembled wisdom of the Touring Forum to check my plans:
- call Amtrak or go to station a few days in advance of trip, confirm that they have bike boxes
- get bike all ready for tour. Ride loaded bike to train station, along with hubbie who will be coming (on his own bike) to the station to wave me goodbye. Bring shipping tape, pedal wrench, and a few other things I don't plan on bringing with me all the way.
- get bike box from Amtrak folks
- disassemble bike in train station lobby. Stuff clothing, etc, around bike as padding. (Note to self: some garbage bags would keep clothes from getting greasy.)
- hand off unused packing tape, wrenches, etc back to Phil.
- Anything that didn't go into bike box goes into duffle bag as regular luggage.
- Wait for train, check bike, get on train, ride to Boston.

In Boston:
- collect bike box
- Problem #1 : bus station and train station are seemingly across the street from each other, and they don't let you take luggage carts from one side to the other. Best way to schlep large bulky heavy cardboard box?
- get to bus station. Hope bus folks really meant it when they said I could bring boxed bike.

In Augusta:
- disembark bus
- reassemble bike at bus station
- cardboard box into garbage
- any tools used only to dis/reassemble bike (tire bags, etc) get mailed back home.


Does this seem right?

Yes, I know these are very low-level questions. Thanks for indulging me.
BoltBus (www.boltbus.com) will take you and your bike, no extra fee and no box required, from Philly to Boston and the search I just ran quotes that at $23.

BoltBus is here in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast Corridor where you are only, but whenever they are available I use them, even if their schedule isn't as convenient, JUST because I want to support their enlightened bicycle policy (no surcharges, no hassle).

BoltBus is a subsidiary of Greyhound and uses the same drivers, so it's not a fly by night outfit.

I've talked with their drivers while on their buses and they have all told me they really like not having to hassle cyclists about transporting their bikes. They will even help load and unload the bicycle for you sometimes, even though that does technically incur some liability if they damage your bike, as the fine print in the contract/ticket I think covers that.

Now, the bike lies on its side in the luggage compartment under the passenger cabin, so it could get dinged up by other bikes and by luggage, so be forewarned. Bikes I take on trips like you are talking about I pretty much expect to get small cosmetic dings and such, and I tour only with steel bikes, so anything significant like a dent can be repaired relatively easily.

I would avoid Amtrak and the box hassle if there is any reasonable alternative, and to me, if you happen to be in the small service area BoltBus covers, and you and I both are, I would use it. Comfy seats, express service and free WiFi on the way plus a bathroom on board.

No dining car, though.

The Boston to Augusta leg is a problem though, so all together, my suggestion is that you ship your bike to a local bike shop in Augusta ahead of your arrival and then just go pick it up.

A service like BikeFlights, which advertises on this forum, quoted me $35 one way to ship a bike from Seattle to Chicago, so I can't imagine Philly to Augusta wouldn't be even less expensive.

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Old 07-05-15, 08:55 AM
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Tie every thing to bike with tape/zip-ties, so holes in box wont lose parts .

just across the street ? you can carry/drag it that far .. Then, I wouldn't Load more stuff in the box, than the bike
unless you pack a folding hand truck in the Box too.

my tools needed were 'allens' 8mm & just a pedal wrench Now many pedals use an allen wrench I have a short 1/8"thick 15mm wrench

and I keep my tools , what if the pedal was not tightened enough and you mailed the tool away. ??

I've bought packing tape the clear stuff, on the road .. its handy, highlighting 1 use:

I Used big panel maps, taping where they fold, keeps the ink on the paper after numerous re-foldings..


We get bike flight bike boxes at the local shop & UPS, FedEx, ... take them in , @ LBS (ACA member shop at touring destination)

Cost: Approx $50 labor to make it ready to ride. $10 for handling, and space inside, and tool loans for DIY re-assembling ..

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Old 07-05-15, 09:34 AM
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1) you might want to pack your gear separately from the bike. I think Amtrack might say "bike only." You will at least want to make sure bike + gear is under the weight limit.

2) make sure the Amtak box is acceptable to the bus. Amtak uses a pretty big box which allows for packing the bike with minimal assembly. It's too big for most airlines, and I wouldn't be surprised if it exceeds the bus luggage dimensions, too.
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Old 07-05-15, 09:46 AM
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If you have not packed a bike into a box before, assume it will take an hour more than you would normally estimate. You do not want to be rushed.

The day before you leave, make sure your pedals are loose enough you can get them off. Some bike shops put them on really tight.

Figure out what you want to take on the train with you, that includes food and beverages, reading materials, etc. Amtrak carry on policy is MUCH better than airlines. If it is raining when you arrive, you will want rain gear handy. The trains I have been on had 110v outlets, you can plug in a phone or tablet if you want to.

For checked stuff which includes the bike box, Amtrak is pretty firm on weight. I carry a small electronic luggage scale to make sure I am below 50 pounds on my bags, then excess weight if any (dense stuff like tools and spares) goes into a carry on to keep the checked bag below 50 pounds.

I would keep all the tools. How are you going to make sure the pedals get there? Plastic bag for pedals to keep grease off your other stuff?

Maybe add some disposable gloves. I often ask the dental assistant if I can have a few pair for on the road bike repairs, they are always happy to give me a few pair. Harbor Freight also sells nitrile disposable gloves for cheap, boxes of 100.

Some Amtrak stations provide tape, but you are better off to bring it just in case.

My bikes are larger frame sizes, I usually have to remove handlebars to get them into the box, but if your bike is a smaller size frame, the Amtrak box should work fine. That simplifies things a bit.

I usually put two panniers, a water bottle in each cage, and of course the bike, in the Amtrak box, but nothing else.

A very lightweight duffle (mesh ones work pretty good) for your stuff is better than lugging around a heavier one later. I pack stuff in garbage bags inside of mesh lightweight bags. Three of the four bags on the sidewalk are lightweight mesh bags with our gear. Two of those bags were carry on bags.



Put the bike rear derailleur in a lower gear (chain on an inner bigger sprocket in back) so that the derailleur sticks out less and is less likely to get damaged or out of adjustment against the side of box. Sometimes I really have to wonder how the luggage handlers do what they do to get parts of a bike to start leaking out of the boxes.



No flammable liquids or gases on the train, have a plan on where you buy your stove fuel upon arrival. Some Amtrak staff want you to have all liquids in your carry on so they do not have to worry about any leakage in baggage car. Some people break these rules, but I have no idea if you can get in trouble or not. I found out the hard way that REI was out of the stove fuel I wanted to buy in Portland OR when I arrived, I wished I had broken the rule and carried my own fuel there - that really was inconvenient when I had to go searching for stove fuel later.

If you have to drag the cardboard box on pavement across the street, not a big loss, you are throwing the box away later anyway.
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Old 07-05-15, 10:38 AM
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Here's my advice for taking Amtrak.

Step 1: Tear up Amtrak ticket
Step 2: Get a flight in to Bahstan
Step 3: Be happy you didn't endure a ridiculously long ride on a metal coffin you aren't allowed to leave with crazy people, bad food and water that costs $9 a litre.

Simple
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Old 07-05-15, 11:50 AM
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OP/jeneralist, a few comments and notes:
  1. While Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is the best for frequency of service, it's pretty bad for bikes. From what I remember, there's only one of the Corridor trains that handle checked baggage (incl. boxed bikes), and that's the overnight train. So to use Amtrak with a boxed bike, you may have to ship it ahead a day in advance.
  2. The Downeaster line (Boston-Portland ME) is better with bikes, but note that it only accepts UNBOXED bikes, and only at three stations: Boston-North Station, Portland, and Brunswick. So, you'd need to unbox the bike at South Stn. (where the Philly train will stop), and get it over to North Stn.
  3. And now the problem is to get on that bus, you'll need to box the bike again. Have you considered taking the train to Brunswick, ME and then riding the 30 miles or so (according to Google Maps) to Augusta?
  4. Amtrak really doesn't want anything in a bike box other than a bike, and if they catch you putting other stuff in there, they will stop you. And note that boxed bike can't weigh more than 50 lbs, and they do weigh those boxes from time to time.
  5. If you haven't already checked out this link, you should: Amtrak - Experience - Onboard - Bring Your Bicycle Onboard
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Old 07-05-15, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by TallTourist View Post
Here's my advice for taking Amtrak.

Step 1: Tear up Amtrak ticket
Step 2: Get a flight in to Bahstan
Step 3: Be happy you didn't endure a ridiculously long ride on a metal coffin you aren't allowed to leave with crazy people, bad food and water that costs $9 a litre.

Simple
Wait, isn't an airplane also a metal coffin?
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Old 07-05-15, 03:59 PM
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We always leave our empty panniers on the bikes. Only questioned once, and was told OK after explaining the panniers were empty.

Pedals go in zip lock bag, and stowed in a water bottle cage or an "empty" pannier.
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Old 07-05-15, 07:46 PM
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Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post

In Boston:

- collect bike box
- Problem #1 : bus station and train station are seemingly across the street from each other, and they don't let you take luggage carts from one side to the other. Best way to schlep large bulky heavy cardboard box?
- get to bus station. Hope bus folks really meant it when they said I could bring boxed bike.
Concord Coach Lines picks up right at South Station. They share gate 17 with Dartmouth Coach Lines. It's a bit of a shlep with a bike box but it's in the same building. You may find a porter to help you. Concord Coach Lines is very accommodating with bikes as long as they have room in the cargo hold.

Can I bring a bicycle on the bus?

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Old 07-06-15, 12:12 AM
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Originally Posted by adventurepdx View Post
Wait, isn't an airplane also a metal coffin?
Yes, it is.

I guess you missed the part about how an airplane takes a lot less time. You should probably hold you condescension in the future if you're going to make mistakes like that
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Old 07-06-15, 05:44 AM
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Originally Posted by jeneralist View Post
Does this seem right?
Who is to say what is right and wrong? What it does sound like is a P.I.T.A. considering you could ship your bike using bikeflights.com to this place and have it assembled and waiting for you when you arrive:

Auclair Cycle and Ski | Augusta Maine | Bicycles, XC Skis, Skateboards, Snow Shoes, Sport Racks

I recently toured South Dakota and used bikeflights for the second year in a row. Four-day shipping of my bike and racks estimated at 65 lbs. was only $57 each way with $1,500 in insurance. That also included a $5 surcharge for pick up at a LBS in Rapid City for the return trip home. The service is basically one that gets a discount on FedEx shipping of bikes. You can go to their web site to get a free quote if you have the origin and destination zips box dimensions and estimated total weight.

Where you going in western Mass? I was a four-year Deerfield Boy, class of '83.
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Old 07-06-15, 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by TallTourist View Post
Yes, it is.

I guess you missed the part about how an airplane takes a lot less time. You should probably hold you condescension in the future if you're going to make mistakes like that
Depends on how you define a lot. Philly to Boston via the Acela Express is only five hours, and that's for downtown to downtown. The actual air time is certainly less than the time on the train, but when you factor in the additional travel time to and from airports (E.g.,She would have to get from Logan to the bus station, which is right across the street from the train station.) and the time required to get through security, the total travel times become competitive. The train is also more reliable. The percentage of cancellations is far fewer.
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Old 07-06-15, 06:45 AM
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Bikeflights dot com does make sense, but the checked baggage Amtrak trip from Philly to Boston is only 8 hours, boards at midnight, you drift off to sleep and wake up pulling into Boston with a cup of coffee in your hands. The bike goes for only $10 and it's free on the bus on to Augusta.

Minimal disassembly required for the big Amtrak boxes. Make sure your pedals are not frozen on and all you need is a 6" crescent wrench to remove them. You'll likely have that in your travel tool kit. Handlebar rotation only requires an allen wrench also likely to be in your travel kit.

The transition from airplane to bus pick up area at Logan Airport is further than from the train at South Station (gate 17, no longer across the street last time I travelled). If you add a connecting flight from Boston to Augusta the total fare will exceed $200 + Bikeflights fee. Looks like $137 + $10 bike + $40 bus fare to Augusta taking the train. So fare on train is somewhat lower.
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Old 07-06-15, 07:03 AM
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Take lots of extra munchies on the train and make sure you plan your schedule so that it's very flexible. Also know ahead of time that things might well go poorly and to just keep a laid back attitude if they do. Including my own, I've heard So many stories of Amtrak being way behind schedule, up to 12 hours, and not being very accommodating to their customers who just got stuck on their train for hours due to hold ups, train break downs, etc. It's cheaper than flying, but just know that it might be fine, or it might be a huge hassle and **** service and attitude from the staff. I'm guessing because the staff has to deal with a lot of train delay situations and upset customers and they're tired of dealing with it, so many of them aren't very friendly when it happens. Out of my trips on Amtrak(Every one has gotten delayed), the people in Seattle were nice, CA was nice, SC was nice, and the people in the Chicago area had Unbelievably terrible "customer service" both times. We were delayed 10 hours once and they wouldn't give anyone anything to eat or even open the dining car so that you could purchase food. There were children who hadn't eaten all day crying of hunger and the crew was sitting in the front car eating, drinking coffee, and just casually hanging out. ...Unless someone went to see if there was any progress on the broken train situation. Then even the nicest question got nothing but hostility in return. Like I said, plan a loose schedule, extra snacks, good attitude...

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Old 07-06-15, 07:10 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
The train is also more reliable.
Well I'm glad someone has had that experience. I've taken Amtrak several times just because I don't fly and I've honestly never had a train make it half way across the country within 4 hours of the time it was supposed to, and once we were 10+ hours late with Terrible service. I've heard Sooo many similar stories about Amtrak. It's tolerable if you know what you're getting yourself into and plan accordingly, but I wouldn't call it more reliable than a flight... I haven't flown much, but I've never had the kind of delays that I've always had with the Amtrak. If I didn't dislike flying, I'd Gladly take an 8hr flight vs. 40hrs stuck on a train, that will end up being 45hrs.
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Old 07-06-15, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by 3speed View Post
Take lots of extra munchies on the train...
Midnight to 8AM Philly to Boston with checked baggage. She won't need munchies. The NE corridor routes are a lot more timely than the long haul cross country routes. They don't have the long stops to yield for the freight trains. Maybe she should remind the conductor to slow down for that first curve out of Philly!
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Old 07-06-15, 07:34 AM
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Originally Posted by 3speed View Post
Well I'm glad someone has had that experience. I've taken Amtrak several times just because I don't fly and I've honestly never had a train make it half way across the country within 4 hours of the time it was supposed to, and once we were 10+ hours late with Terrible service.
Read the OP. Philly to Boston, not across the country or something like along the PAC coast. Riding the Northeast Corridor is an entirely different animal. Amtrak owns and controls that line, and there is almost no freight traffic on the tracks used for passenger service. I have taken the Acela express between Philly and Boston several times with no issues. Your comparison is inapposite.
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Old 07-06-15, 07:35 AM
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For getting to a tour, I'd suggest prepacking the bike in a bike shop box unless you want or need to ride to the Amtrak station. The box will be easier to handle and will be less likely to be a hassle for the bus. For the trip home from a strange town when packing is more of a hassle the Amtrak box is really nice though.

On the Amtrak vs flying issue. I personally much prefer flying for longer trips, but the train sometimes starts to make sense on shorter hops. Everyone is different, but I have generally found the train ride tiresome if it is more than a couple hours. Also depending on the location and distance it can be as expensive or even more expensive.

Also I have often found that by the time you factor in fares, baggage charges, and so on that sometimes a rental car can be cheaper, more comfortable, and faster. If there is more that one person to share the cost and driving it starts to favor that option even more. If you go that route book the rental online and maybe go airport to airport. When I have walked up to a counter and tried to book a one way rental, more often than not they said they couldn't let a car go out one way, or they hit me with a large one way drop off fee. When booking online airport to airport that has never happened to me.
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Old 07-06-15, 07:38 AM
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^ Well good to hear that from both of you. I've never taken that particular line.
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Old 07-06-15, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by 3speed View Post
^ Well good to hear that from both of you. I've never taken that particular line.
Depends on where you are in the country. Generally the really long routes like Empire Builder which goes thru North Dakota oil country can be expected to be terrible. California Zepher somewhat better. But in the Northeast they have much shorter routes and are much better.

There however was a bar with a really good price on Guinness on tap when the Amtrak train was parked for most of the day in Shelby Montana while waiting for repairs.

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Old 07-06-15, 09:49 AM
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Originally Posted by TallTourist View Post
Yes, it is.

I guess you missed the part about how an airplane takes a lot less time. You should probably hold you condescension in the future if you're going to make mistakes like that
No man, I got that, and the other points you made. I just found humor in the irony of using the term "metal coffin" to disparage rail travel, when the very same thing can be said about air travel.

Condescension? No. Since your response was snarky, I was just giving you some good-natured snark back.
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Old 07-06-15, 10:42 AM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by adventurepdx View Post
No man, I got that, and the other points you made. I just found humor in the irony of using the term "metal coffin" to disparage rail travel, when the very same thing can be said about air travel.

Condescension? No. Since your response was snarky, I was just giving you some good-natured snark back.
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Old 07-06-15, 10:51 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by 3speed View Post
Take lots of extra munchies on the train and make sure you plan your schedule so that it's very flexible. Also know ahead of time that things might well go poorly and to just keep a laid back attitude if they do. Including my own, I've heard So many stories of Amtrak being way behind schedule, up to 12 hours, and not being very accommodating to their customers who just got stuck on their train for hours due to hold ups, train break downs, etc. It's cheaper than flying, but just know that it might be fine, or it might be a huge hassle and **** service and attitude from the staff. I'm guessing because the staff has to deal with a lot of train delay situations and upset customers and they're tired of dealing with it, so many of them aren't very friendly when it happens. Out of my trips on Amtrak(Every one has gotten delayed), the people in Seattle were nice, CA was nice, SC was nice, and the people in the Chicago area had Unbelievably terrible "customer service" both times. We were delayed 10 hours once and they wouldn't give anyone anything to eat or even open the dining car so that you could purchase food. There were children who hadn't eaten all day crying of hunger and the crew was sitting in the front car eating, drinking coffee, and just casually hanging out. ...Unless someone went to see if there was any progress on the broken train situation. Then even the nicest question got nothing but hostility in return. Like I said, plan a loose schedule, extra snacks, good attitude...
Wow 3 speed, your experiences with Amtrak are even worse than mine! They at least occasionally opened the snack bar and let us purchase 6 dollar thimbles of water and salt cake sandwiches for 7 bucks, hah. Amtrak is the worst. Probably faster to ride there
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Old 07-06-15, 11:32 AM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by TallTourist View Post
Wow 3 speed, your experiences with Amtrak are even worse than mine! They at least occasionally opened the snack bar and let us purchase 6 dollar thimbles of water and salt cake sandwiches for 7 bucks, hah. Amtrak is the worst. Probably faster to ride there
Another person who does not understand the difference between riding the Northeast Corridor, as the OP is intending to, and riding other Amtrak routes, but this bikeforums, so I guess I should expect some comments to be completely irrelevant to the topic at issue.
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