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How Does Boarding Process Work?


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#1 wintersummer

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 09:49 AM

We will be taking the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. This is our first train trip!

I'm curious about the boarding process. Train leaves at 4:45 p.m. Is that the final boarding time or the actual departure time? We need to print tickets at the station with the quik-ticket machine. How long will that take? How far in advance of departure time does boarding start? Do you board casually once you are there at the station with your ticket OR is it a more structured (airline type) boarding process? How much time will we have in our sleeper before the train pulls away? With a 4:45 departure, what time would you suggest getting to the station in Seattle? Thanks!

#2 Rex

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 10:36 AM

We will be taking the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. This is our first train trip!

I'm curious about the boarding process. Train leaves at 4:45 p.m. Is that the final boarding time or the actual departure time? We need to print tickets at the station with the quik-ticket machine. How long will that take? How far in advance of departure time does boarding start? Do you board casually once you are there at the station with your ticket OR is it a more structured (airline type) boarding process? How much time will we have in our sleeper before the train pulls away? With a 4:45 departure, what time would you suggest getting to the station in Seattle? Thanks!


Congratulations -- the Empire Builder is probably the best train in the Amtrak system. You're going to enjoy it.

Get to the station AT LEAST 1 hour before the posted departure time. That way you can relax and take a look around. Technically you could cut it closer but you'll only stress yourself out. The 4:45 time for the Empire Builder is the time the train pulls out of the station. They will most likely start boarding passengers 30 minutes prior to that.

There are really two boarding processes in Chicago. One for the Sleeper cars, and one for the Coaches. You indicated you have tickets for a sleeper car. That means you have a first class ticket which entitles you to the Metropolitan lounge. If you had coach tickets, you would be waiting in a separate area.

Enter the Metropolitan lounge, and check in with the front desk attendant. You will need to show him/her your tickets, so print them out first. Once in the lounge, relax and enjoy. The attendant will make an announcement when boarding starts. You just need to be ready to go when the call comes.

Once that happens, you'll be escorted to your sleeper car and shown to your room. You'll probably be on the train about 20-30 minutes before it departs.

Enjoy your trip and post your thoughts (good and bad) back here.

#3 Rex

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 10:44 AM

We will be taking the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. This is our first train trip!

I'm curious about the boarding process. Train leaves at 4:45 p.m. Is that the final boarding time or the actual departure time? We need to print tickets at the station with the quik-ticket machine. How long will that take? How far in advance of departure time does boarding start? Do you board casually once you are there at the station with your ticket OR is it a more structured (airline type) boarding process? How much time will we have in our sleeper before the train pulls away? With a 4:45 departure, what time would you suggest getting to the station in Seattle? Thanks!


OK I just realized you are going Seattle to Chicago. Sorry about the confusion. The Seattle Amtrak station does not have a Metropolitan Lounge so forget what I said before. Instead, you will be waiting in the station with everyone else. The Quik-Trak machines are pretty quick -- it will only take about 2-3 minutes for the machines to print your tix. Allow some time in case there are lines.

There will be a bulletin boad announcing the track number that the Empire Builder will be departing from. I have not been to the Seattle station but I would think there will be a waiting area close to that track's gate. Go hang out there. About 30 minutes before the train departs, the station attendant will make announcements. They will probably board sleeper car passengers first, then coach passengers.

Also, it's Amtrak's policy to check your ID. Have it and your ticket in hand when you board. The gate agent will probably check it.

Again, enjoy your trip and post your comments back here.

#4 PRR 60

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 11:18 AM

With no checked baggage, you can show up anytime before departure and just board. It is not a big deal. Quite frankly, King Street Station is not much, so there is little reason to get there too early. However, if you need to get your tickets printed, then you should allow about 45 minutes since the ticketing process can be slow unless there is a kiosk and it is working. You will need ID to pick up your tickets from an agent, but will not if you use the kiosk. If you are in Seattle the night before and do not have tickets, you could swing over to the station to get your tickets then to save the trouble the next day.

The actual boarding process varies from station to station. At Seattle I suspect they will call the train and they may or may not call for sleeping car passengers first. When called, they probably will check your ticket as you go out to the platform area. They may ask for ID, but probably not. The process will be much more informal than airline check-in and boarding, and sometimes it borders on haphazard.

Once on the platform you will walk toward the front (locomotive end) of the train and find your sleeping car. The car numbers that correspond to the car number on your ticket are next to the entrance doors. The car attendant should be standing by the door to give you a hand. The attendant will check your ticket and escort you to your room. Your Bedroom will be upstairs and off the hallway that runs next to the windows (not down the middle of the car). Once you find your room and get over the shock of how really, really small it is, you will settle back and wait for that first slight movement that means you are on your way.

Since you are not returning by Amtrak, the information involving the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago (something like an airline lounge wannabe) does not apply to you.

Edited by PRR 60, 07 June 2007 - 11:21 AM.


#5 Guest_Amtrak OBS Employee gone freight_*

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 11:34 AM

If it is still the same, SEA has two separate lines (one for sleepers and the other for coaches), and when I was there they called for the sleepers to begin lining up for boarding. And about halfway through they called for coach passengers to begin lining up in the appropriate line. The conductors inspected and lifted tickets in the station similar to how I have seen it in MIA (though MIA does tickets on the train now I believe) for years. And at that point they were directed to their boarding locations on the platform. Maybe a local resident/employee can correct me if I am no longer correct here. Formerly OBS...

#6 Squeakz2001

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 12:02 PM

This was a great question- thanks for asking! You have answered questions for me as well!

#7 Eris

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 03:35 PM

My experience in Seattle is that there is actually a separate check-in and then boarding process- they'll check your tickets and ID at a stand (separate ones for coach and sleepers), give you boarding pass stubs, and then sometime after they begin that process the lines for actual boarding form. As a Harried Mother Traveling Alone With Small Children ™, I've been able to board with first-call, along with people with disabilities or other issues which impede their personal mobility, and other parents of small children. Nobody without a boarding pass thing is allowed outside the station building onto the platform, from what I have been able to see.

4:45pm sounds like such a civilized time to pull out. I am not a morning person, and the 9:45am Coast Starlight is tough for me, arriving by 8:30am or so, leaving home by 8am! Oh, and a warning: King Street Station has no espresso stand. It's absurd! Small branch libraries in Seattle have espresso stands, there's an espresso stand on every corner, but NOT at the train station. Last trip, I had several people ask me where I got the cup of coffee I was holding (thought ahead, drove through on the way to the station!) This trip, maybe I'll pick up a tray of half a dozen lattes and sell 'em in line. Seriously, Business Opportunity here, folks.

#8 wintersummer

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 03:44 PM

Eris - thanks for the info re: boarding. You are my kind of person! Thinking of the coffee!! If this was an early AM train, I'd be in need of coffee. With this "civilized" hour of departure, I think I should be OK in the coffee department. However, my husband has already asked me what Amtrak coffee will be like...I'm kind of a "coffee snob" and I realize that I won't be able to pull in to a nice coffee place on my trip across county. Husband was checking with me to make sure I'd be able to make it. Good coffee on the train would do the trick. So, here's the serious question - how's the coffee?

#9 Eris

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 03:47 PM

The coffee on the train... erm... yeah... I don't have great news for you there.

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 04:29 PM

My experience in Seattle is that there is actually a separate check-in and then boarding process- they'll check your tickets and ID at a stand (separate ones for coach and sleepers), give you boarding pass stubs, and then sometime after they begin that process the lines for actual boarding form. As a Harried Mother Traveling Alone With Small Children ™, I've been able to board with first-call, along with people with disabilities or other issues which impede their personal mobility, and other parents of small children. Nobody without a boarding pass thing is allowed outside the station building onto the platform, from what I have been able to see.

4:45pm sounds like such a civilized time to pull out. I am not a morning person, and the 9:45am Coast Starlight is tough for me, arriving by 8:30am or so, leaving home by 8am! Oh, and a warning: King Street Station has no espresso stand. It's absurd! Small branch libraries in Seattle have espresso stands, there's an espresso stand on every corner, but NOT at the train station. Last trip, I had several people ask me where I got the cup of coffee I was holding (thought ahead, drove through on the way to the station!) This trip, maybe I'll pick up a tray of half a dozen lattes and sell 'em in line. Seriously, Business Opportunity here, folks.

If you get there a bit early, walk over the bridge that crosses the tracks, through the little office plaza, where you'll find a Starbucks (for those who "do" corporate coffee), and just beyond on the corner is the Japanese supermarket "Uwajimaya", which has a great little pan-Asian food court just inside the front doors - unlimited snack, food, and beverage options!

#11 blueman271

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 04:35 PM

It is absolutely hilarious how civilians complain about 8am being early. I don't mean any disrespect whatsoever, but by 8am the day is already three or sometimes four hours old.
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#12 Larry H.

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 05:02 PM

The coffee on the train... erm... yeah... I don't have great news for you there.


Well maybe I have odd taste in coffee but we took the empire builder both ways in early May.. I found the coffee to be quite good. As a matter a fact on returning home I looked up the company, Green Mountain, on the net and called for the name of it. The girl told me what she thought it was, but what I got I am not positive is the same flavor exactly? I also wasn't sure how it was made. In the sleeper I looked in the top of the large pot at the serving area, it had what appeared to be several large bags of coffee in the top? The coffee both in the diner as well as the sleeper had a "foam" to the top, something you don't always see. I am still wondering if its just a drip process or something else.. Usually a drip doesn't create that foam.. Every one who we traveled with commented that they enjoyed the coffee.. But coffee is an odd product, so many different kinds and taste.

#13 AlanB

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 05:16 PM


However, my husband has already asked me what Amtrak coffee will be like...I'm kind of a "coffee snob" and I realize that I won't be able to pull in to a nice coffee place on my trip across county. Husband was checking with me to make sure I'd be able to make it. Good coffee on the train would do the trick. So, here's the serious question - how's the coffee?


The coffee on the train... erm... yeah... I don't have great news for you there.


Actually I don't think that Amtrak's coffee is all that bad. If you're looking for anything fancy, you can forget it, there's just coffee and decaf. But again, I have far worse coffee at many restaurants and other fast food places, than I've had on Amtrak. And while I'm not into Lattes and other fancy stuff, I do like my coffee in the morning.
Alan,

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#14 AlanB

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 05:18 PM

I also wasn't sure how it was made. In the sleeper I looked in the top of the large pot at the serving area, it had what appeared to be several large bags of coffee in the top? The coffee both in the diner as well as the sleeper had a "foam" to the top, something you don't always see. I am still wondering if its just a drip process or something else.. Usually a drip doesn't create that foam..


Last I knew the coffee pots in the Superliner sleepers were still the old style perculate type of 30 years ago. I'm not sure about the dining car.

But coffee is an odd product, so many different kinds and taste.


Yes it is. One of my clients is a coffee roster, he roasts coffee for companies that will come to your office and give you a coffee pot and then drop off a case of coffee as needed.

Watching the roasting and grinding process is a real eye opener, and not in a bad way. It's just a very interesting process, especially since there are so many nuances to roasting.
Alan,

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#15 D.P. Roberts

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 05:26 PM

It is absolutely hilarious how civilians complain about 8am being early. I don't mean any disrespect whatsoever, but by 8am the day is already three or sometimes four hours old.



Personally, I wouldn't complain about 8:00 am either. I'm usually in bed by 3 or 4 am, but I've stayed up until 8:00 on occasion. When you get up at two in the afternoon, staying up until 8 am is not that big of a deal. :D

But seriously, what's the deal with the early sleeper boarding? I figure that I'll already be on the train for two days anyway, I really don't need to add another 45 minutes on the train while it's still in the station. In my case- as with others on the EB- I'll be connecting in Chicago, and I'd like to use the time between trains to see the Windy City. While I don't want to cut it close enough to risk missing the train, if I have an assigned sleeper and no luggage to check I don't see why I would need to board so early. Am I wrong?

#16 wintersummer

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 06:29 PM

Original poster here! I was the one who steered this topic from boarding to asking about coffee. Anyway, a poster mentioned that Amtrak uses Green Mountain coffee. I LOVE Green Mountain coffee!! It's based in Vermont. I don't routinely purchase it, however, a place where I do business uses it and I always enjoy their coffee.

Now, to the subject of boarding times. I much prefer to fly early in the day. In years past, we didn't think anything of taking the 6:30 a.m. flight out of our local airport. As I get older, I'm more into taking something between 8 or 9 a.m. With the Empire Builder, I'm just going with the flow...after all, I didn't have a choice of departure time, did I?

#17 The Metropolitan

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Posted 07 June 2007 - 07:46 PM

Hey Wintersummer,

Odd as it may seem, you may have two choices of Coffee brands aboard the train. Typically, Diners use a Chilled Liquid concentrate from Douwe Egberts, while Cafe Cars (the snack stand below the Sightseer level) use Green Mountain. Not sure what is brewed in the Sleepers, nor if the EB is any different for its atypical diner configuration.

Personally, I've really had some great cups of Amtrak Coffee, to the point where I've actually looked forward to drinking some weeks before a ticketed voyage. ;)

And to confirm, you didn't have a choice of departures for the EB, 445pm is indeed the ONLY choice.
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Posted 11 June 2007 - 04:00 PM

Just curious, but the Seattle Amtrak station was all torn up with construction when I was there last. Not only was there no lounge area, but the "benches" were under scaffolding, the ceiling was falling down, and the radiant heaters hanging from up above were turned off. The "boarding area" was just a choice of either one door or the other which led to the area that was somewhat protected by the overhang of the building but mostly out in the open. The "platforms" where the Sounders came in had more protection from the rain, and access to an elevator to get up and over the tracks. "Is the construction done now? If so, are there any differences in the facilities available to Empire Builder passengers there, such as perhaps a lounge for sleepers?

If the area is now completed, could somebody post a photo? I would love to see the new facilities.

#19 Penn Central

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 05:41 PM

Just curious, but the Seattle Amtrak station was all torn up with construction when I was there last. Not only was there no lounge area, but the "benches" were under scaffolding, the ceiling was falling down, and the radiant heaters hanging from up above were turned off. The "boarding area" was just a choice of either one door or the other which led to the area that was somewhat protected by the overhang of the building but mostly out in the open. The "platforms" where the Sounders came in had more protection from the rain, and access to an elevator to get up and over the tracks. "Is the construction done now? If so, are there any differences in the facilities available to Empire Builder passengers there, such as perhaps a lounge for sleepers?

If the area is now completed, could somebody post a photo? I would love to see the new facilities.


According to Wikipedia, they're trying to restore the station to how it was in the Great Northern/Northern Pacific days. Of course Wikipedia always needs to taken with a grain of salt, but the fact that there is construction going on is encouraging.

#20 AlanB

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 07:18 PM


Just curious, but the Seattle Amtrak station was all torn up with construction when I was there last. Not only was there no lounge area, but the "benches" were under scaffolding, the ceiling was falling down, and the radiant heaters hanging from up above were turned off. The "boarding area" was just a choice of either one door or the other which led to the area that was somewhat protected by the overhang of the building but mostly out in the open. The "platforms" where the Sounders came in had more protection from the rain, and access to an elevator to get up and over the tracks. "Is the construction done now? If so, are there any differences in the facilities available to Empire Builder passengers there, such as perhaps a lounge for sleepers?

If the area is now completed, could somebody post a photo? I would love to see the new facilities.


According to Wikipedia, they're trying to restore the station to how it was in the Great Northern/Northern Pacific days. Of course Wikipedia always needs to taken with a grain of salt, but the fact that there is construction going on is encouraging.


This is one time that Wikipedia is correct. The station is was just sold to the City of Seattle last December for $1, by BNSF RR. Further details and some plans for the reconstruction can be found here. No timeline seems to be given though for completion of the renovations.
Alan,

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