Sunday, July 21, 2019

Amtrak adventures

It is no secret; I’m a big time train geek. My European friends are amazed at the state of railroads in the US. Yes, friends, railroads in the US are mostly for hauling freight. There are some good commuter trains in larger cities and metro areas. And, many cities have good subway and light rail systems. But, medium-to-long distance passenger service? Not so much.

But, we do have Amtrak. Surprisingly, I have never set foot on an Amtrak train (commuter or otherwise.) Recently, I had a meeting to attend in California and decided to take Amtrak. I took the California Zephyr from Denver to Sacramento. I sprung for the big bucks and booked a Superliner bedroom rather than just a seat or a roomette.

Amtrak GE Genesis Locomotive
The room can comfortably *seat* 3 or 4 people during the day if you want to have your friends stop by. It has nice big windows, a private bathroom / shower, and was comfortable. The views through the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains were spectacular.

Our car attendant was friendly and helpful. The couch folds down in to a bed and there is an upper bunk that folds down. The room can sleep 2 adults comfortably and you might be able to have a small child sleep with an adult in the lower bunk. The folks in the room next door did have 2 adults and a teenager in their room and they seemed to be okay. (They do have “family” bedrooms which are a tiny bit bigger. And, they can combine 2 bedrooms together through a common door between the two rooms.)

The meals in the dining car were decent but not spectacular. The lounge / observation car offered great views and was very popular.

The Superliners do have cheaper Superliner roomettes, quite a bit smaller, intended for up to 2 people. Smaller beds and common area shared bathrooms and showers. The Superliners have both an upstairs and a downstairs. 
Superliner car

Observation car
If you are planning a trip cross country and time is not a factor, this is a great way to travel. No snippy flight attendants, no “sit down and buckle your seatbelt” turbulence, no haughty TSA agents, no airport lines, no body scanners. 

I figured I would share a few observations and tips. 
  • Amtrak in the ancient Latin means “late”. Get used to it. In their defense, they share track with freight trains and freight trains, by law, get priority. But, we are not in a hurry, right? 
  • You will meet some very nice people. I had many great conversations with people in the dining car and lounge car.
  • The top speed I have measured is about 79 MPH. This ain’t Europe or Japan.
  • Bring a small power strip. There will probably not be enough power outlets for all of your devices.
  • Some of the mainline track in the US is, well, how should I put this.... horrendous. The train ride is not always smooth as silk.
  • Bring some cash. Tip your car attendant. They work long hours. Usually at least $10 per person per night. Meals for sleeper car passengers are included but do tip your waiters in the dining car.
  • The Amtrak Superliner equipment is old. Like 1970’s. They have refurbished them and they are not bad. But, they are rough around the edges.
  • Amtrak has some bus services to cities they do not serve or to connect between cities.
  • At some stops, they allow people to get off the train to stretch their legs or for a smoke break. Do *not* go far. The train *will* leave without you.
  • Sleeping on a train, much like sleeping on an airplane, is not something everyone can do. I was out like a light when my head hit the pillow, but my spouse said it took a while. 
  • Bedrooms and roomettes fill up fast during busy seasons. Try to book plenty of time in advance.


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