Never traveled by train? You're not alone. Based on Amtrak's most recent statistics, fewer than one in ten Americans took the train last year. Yet 2012 was Amtrak's best year ever, with ridership surging past the 30 million mark. Americans are getting back on board. You could be one of them!
People take Amtrak for all sorts of reasons. For one, Amtrak is the greenest travel option going. Automobile, plane, and other popular forms of travel can raise CO2 levels through the roof. Travel by train reduces congestion and helps to limit carbon emissions.
Among 'regulars,' comfort and convenience rank high. Unlike modern air travel, Amtrak's pre-boarding process is fast and non-invasive: just arrive at the station — with valid ID — at least a half hour before your train is scheduled to depart. Centrally located, most stations are more accessible than airports, and even smaller stations are apt to provide ready access to shopping, dining, services and connecting transportation.
Amtrak also beats highway travel in many instances. LA–San Diego, Chicago–Milwaukee, and the Boston–Washington corridor are just three of the routes where a growing stream of converts have traded traffic snarls and rising gas prices for spacious reclining seats and Wi-Fi.
Onboard, in addition to roomy seats, frequent wireless access and power outlets, most routes offer food and beverage options. Long-distance trains usually feature restaurant-style dining cars. Detailed guides, available online and onboard, describe stops and sights along many routes. Some trains host National Parks Service interpretive programs highlighting parklands along the way.
Where do you want to go? Amtrak's 500 stations dot 46 states and Canada. Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite: take your pick. Sunny Florida, Midtown Manhattan and San Francisco Bay are also just an Amtrak train ride away. Once you zero in on your route and destination, it's time to book your trip.
On most trains, reserved Coach seats are standard, with Business class upgrades sometimes available. On Acela Express, Business class is standard and First Class upgrades are an option. Sleeping accommodations are available on most long-distance routes. Pack freely! Two carry-ons and three pieces of checked luggage are allowed per person — at no extra cost. All trains are accessible to passengers with disabilities and mobility impairments.
Amtrak's website makes it easy to book and printout your itinerary. The site also features a variety of Amtrak discounts. Limited-time promotions can cut fares by as much as half. Everyday discounts are available for kids, students, seniors, active military and veterans. And new SmartFares specials are posted each Tuesday. For extended itineraries, USA Rail Passes are available. In addition to online, you can book Amtrak travel by phone or through your travel agent. While advance booking is always preferred, Quik-Trak self-service ticketing kiosks are available at some stations.
So what are you waiting for? Ready to put America's passenger rail network to the test? The TrainTraveling.com Amtrak Guide provides a thorough and user-friendly overview of Amtrak routes, destinations, and services.