Welcome aboard! This trip planning guide to train travel in the USA features trips and pointers for booking, boarding and riding Amtrak. Information includes USA Rail Pass travel discounts, accessible travel, Amtrak travel services, and more.
For the best possible fare, book early, be flexible with travel schedule and avoid peak travel times. Amtrak's Fare Finder web tool lets website users compare fares and buy tickets online. Tickets can also be purchased at many Amtrak stations or by phoning 1-800-872-7245 (TDD/TTY 1-800-523-6590). All passengers are eligible to participate in Amtrak Guest Rewards, a complimentary program that awards points for Amtrak travel. Points are redeemable for rail travel, airline miles, gift certificates and more. Reservations for special needs, including wheelchair access or space, can not be processed online.
US train travelers are eligible for a wide range of Amtrak discounts including limited-time offers and low advance purchase fares. Anyone can save up to 50% off ticket prices by booking travel at least two weeks (14 days) ahead. In addition, age-based discounts are offered on senior and youth fares. Groups are also eligible for reduced fares, and organizations like Veterans Advantage, Student Advantage and AAA offer Amtrak discounts to their members. Amtrak also offers money-saving regional promotions including SmartFares are travel between selected stations.
Amtrak's USA Rail Passes give guests the flexibiity to visit multiple destinations over an extended period of time. Passes are available in three travel durations and travel segments (15 days/8 segments, 30 days/12 segments and 45 days/18 segments) and are valid for travel throughout the entire United States. USA Rail Passes are valid for travel on all Amtrak services except Auto Train, Acela Express, thruway motorcoach connections and the Canadian portion of trains operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada. USA Rail Passes are for regular Coach class travel. In some instances, travel class upgrades may be available for an additional charge.
No two Amtrak stations are exactly alike. Stations range from unstaffed facilities with few amenities to bustling terminals that house ticket and baggage services plus ATMs, restrooms, payphones and more. At selected stations, passengers may opt to have their baggage handled by uniformed Red Cap agents and many locations also provide luggage handcarts. While advance ticketing is advised, many larger stations staff ticket counters or house Quik-Trak self-service ticketing kiosk. Exclusive to First Class passengers are: Club Acela Lounges in Boston South Station, New York Penn Station, Philadelphia 30th Street Station and Washington DC Union Station; and Metropolitan Lounges in Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Portland OR, Raleigh and St. Paul/Minneapolis. Internet and/or Wi/Fi access is available in some Lounges and at selected Acela Express stations.
Reserved Coach Class seating is offered on all routes except Acela Express (Metroliner) and a few short-distance trains with unreserved seating. Reserved Business Class, an upgrade on many trains, is standard on Acela Express. First Class upgrades are available for Acela Express passengers. On long-distance trains, Sleeper Service is equivalent to First Class. Seating is generally on a first-come, first-served basis. Onboard requests for upgrades are honored based to availability.
Amtrak is committed to meeting the special needs of individuals whose eyesight, hearing, mobility or learning capacity is impaired. Most trains and stations are ADA compliant. Special provisions usually available include advance-boarding and assistance with boarding, detraining, meal service and baggage. Oxygen transport is restricted and requires 12-hours advance notice. Certified service animals are entitled to free travel. Reserve accessible seats or sleepers (at least 14 days in advance) at many Amtrak stations or by phone at 1-800-872-7245 (TDD/TTY 1-800-523-6590).
Available on most long-distance trains, Sleeper Service options include Roomettes (two adults), Standard Bedrooms (two adults or one adult/two children), Bedroom Suites (four to six adults) and Family Bedrooms (Superliner only; two adults and two kids). Accessible Bedrooms are also available. A Sleeper supplement is charged in addition to basic rail fare. Regular meals a range of hotel-style amenities are included. Sleeper Service should be booked along with reservations.
Carry-on baggage is limited to two pieces excluding personal items such as briefcases and infant-care items. Items such as bicycles, golf clubs and musical instruments must be checked except on trains with special self-stow facilities. There is a three-piece limit on checked baggage. A fee is charged for additional pieces. All bags must be tagged and none may weigh over 50 pounds (22 kilos/3.5 stone). Dangerous, fragile, valuable, oversized and overweight items are prohibited as are animals, except service animals. Allow 30 minutes before departure and after arrival for baggage check-in and pickup.
Travel enhancements vary by route. Most First and Business Class seats and Sleepers — and many Coach Class seats — have standard 110-volt outlets to power personal electronic devices. WiFi is increasingly available onboard and at major stations. A number of lines are described in route guides, available online and onboard. Aboard selected trains, National Park Service personnel present multi-media 'Trails and Rails' interpretive programs highlighting parklands along the way. On some long-distance runs, lounge cars feature movies. And many trains feature Quiet Cars in which distractions are kept to a minimum. In contrast to air travel, use of cell phones is never restricted.
Most long-distance trains have full-service dining cars featuring open seating for traditional or Continental breakfast; reserve-only lunch and dinner with changing menu, wine list, desserts and children's selections. Sleeper and First Class fares include all meals. Most trains have Lounge, Dinette or Cafe Cars offering sandwiches, snacks and beverages. Kosher, vegan, vegetarian, low sodium, low fat and low cholesterol menus are generally available with 72-hour notice. (24-hours, Acela Express First Class). Special needs passengers may request in-room or at-seat tray meals; passengers in wheelchairs may be transfered to Lounge Cars in many instances.
When making a reservation for services crossing the US-Canadian border, the Canada Border Services Agency and US Customs and Border Protection Department require travelers to provide basic identification information including country of citizenship, and details regarding the form of ID (passport or other accepted document) to be carried on your trip and presented at the border. In general, international travelers should arrive at departure staions at least one hour prior to departure time. Children under 18 are not allowed to cross the US-Canadian Border unaccompanied however unaccompanied children 16-17, carrying proper documentaion, are allowed to return to their home country. Children not accompanied by both parents require special documentation. The Amtrak website provides detailed border crossing information.