Silmaril from Australia here! I am planning a trip to the US at some point between October and December 2017. I will have about 18 weeks of leave, so am flexible with start and finish times (aiming to spend approx 8 weeks in the US). I am hoping to bombard you all with a whack of questions if that is ok! Forgive me please if I can slide in some general 'travel in the US' kind of questions along with the Amtrak ones!
1. What do people consider the best/most scenic cross country train? Of the reading I have done I am leaning towards the California Zephyr or the Empire Builder.
2. I have previously toured England and Scotland with a BritRail pass (very flexible, hop on/off any train, any operator, no reservation required). I have done some reading into Amtrak passes and am a bit concerned about the segment system. Ie, the Bus from San Francisco to Emeryville would be one segment? Do you think the passes are worthwhile generally, or do you really need to get into the nuts and bolts of how many trips, stopovers etc to thoroughly work it out?
3. Is it likely to add significant cost to book a lot of smaller trips compared to one overall booking from San Francisco to New York? I'd imagine there's a price premium in doing this? One part of me likes the idea of just settling in for an epic cross-country ride, the other part thinks I'd be crazy to travel across so much of the US and not stop at a few places along the way.
4. What's the overall feeling about travelling in Coach vs. a Roomette?
5. If you were taking the Zephyr from West to East, where would you recommend stopping for a night or two?
6. I've read that the Roomette fare includes meals in the dining car, and so should factor these into the cost difference - what does an average meal cost if you were paying for it from Coach class?
7. If you had the break the West - East trip into a combination of some Coach, some Roomette, which would be the best segments to do in each?
8. Is the Lake Shore Limited the best option from Chicago to New York? (It doesn't really matter where I end up on the east coast, as once there I'll travel up and down in any case).
9. Am I right in thinking that Business Class seating is not very common on the long distance trains? A friend travelled from San Francisco to LA in Business, but doesn't look like it's available on the main West-East trains.
10. What would be the best way to get to San Francisco from LA? (99% likely my flight from Aus will be to LA).
11. More generally, with a travel window from the start of October, and needing to return late January, what would be the best months to travel? I will be spending most of my time on the east coast, and some up into Canada.
Many thanks if you can answer some or all of these
And because I like sharing photos; pictured below is an A-Class loco that still runs revenue services in Victoria, despite being 'officially retired' about six months ago!