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#1 silmaril

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 12:18 AM

Hi there,

 

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  :D

 

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!

 

6075_1261036017.jpg

 

Cheers,

Silmaril.

 



#2 greatcats

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 01:01 AM

Google Amtrak menus. The prices are rather high for what you get, but it is not all bad, either. I recommend making a stopover in Glenwood Springs, CO. The most interesting, albeit slow way from LA TO SF is the Coast Starlight.
I was a commuter railroad employee in NJ for many years until 2002, and have since been a tour guide at Grand Canyon National Park and Ketchikan, Alaska. Also, have been a National Park Volunteer at Hawaii Volcanoes and now Sunset Crater Volcano near my home. If not on Amtrak, also like long road trips, camping some of the time.

#3 silmaril

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 01:21 AM

Google Amtrak menus. The prices are rather high for what you get, but it is not all bad, either. I recommend making a stopover in Glenwood Springs, CO. The most interesting, albeit slow way from LA TO SF is the Coast Starlight.

 

Awesome thanks. Having a look at the menu, I know there's an exchange rate issue involved, but those prices look cheap compared to here in Aus!

 

Plugging in LA to Chicago on AmTrak only gives me the Coast Starlight if I then take the Empire Builder. Assume I can get around that by booking to SF first. Is it hard to get from SF to Emeryville? 



#4 Maglev

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 01:31 AM

I traveled by coach cross-country when I was a teenager, but since then all my trips have been in sleepers.  I think it is universally agreed that sleeper travel is better than coach--the question is how much money is it worth.  And this is an individual decision.  Just know that the coach seats are very comfortable with plenty of legroom, while on the other hand the upper berths in Superliner rooms have very low ceiling clearance (If you are sharing a room). 

 

As far as which segments to choose a sleeper, again this is a personal decision based on cost.  Note that room cost can vary widely from train to train or from one segment to another--for example, rooms on the Lake Shore Limited are often more expensive than the Zephyr.

 

There is no Business Class seating on the main east-west trains at this time.  


Northeast corridor Heritage, Amfleet and Acela, CN Super Continental, Broadway Limited, Lone Star, Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, San Joaquin, Southwest Limited, National Limited, Champion, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Wolverine, Crescent, Empire Builder, Cascades, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Meteor, Cardinal. 

#5 ScouseAndy

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 01:50 AM

are you the sort of person that is happy staying in low quality hostels with hard mattresses and noisy dorms to save a few bucks, taking overnight red eye buses to save a hotel bill or be happy to sleep on a bench in an airport overnight rather than paying for a airport hotel? If you are then a) you are the Oz version of me and b) 3 nights by Amtrak Coach in a reclining seat will be a luxury for you.

 

However if you are the sort of traveller that would think a 4 star hotel is too down market or would pay twice the air fare for a direct flight rather than one with a change and short layover then you may struggle to view even a Superliner Bedroom as sufficient for your needs.
 

If you are somewhere in between these 2 spectrums then there are plenty of You Tube Videos both Recliners, Roomettes and Bedrooms which will give you a good idea which is suitable for your comfort levels and then it will come down to a trade off between what you can afford and what you'd rather spend on other parts of your trip.

 

I would say also remember to cost in the value of the inclusive meals you get in sleeping class compared to coach class even if you are on a budget sometimes this can sway things


Edited by ScouseAndy, 28 December 2016 - 01:54 AM.


#6 Seaboard92

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 02:31 AM


 
1. What do people consider the best/most scenic cross country train? Well this is definitely an opinion question as each train is so different. I would say the California Zephyr has two days of mountains and that is amazing. But the Empire Builder has the Columbia River Gorge, the Rockies, and the Mississippi River valley east of St. Paul. So both I would say are equal but I haven't ridden them personally though I have chased the Empire Builder.
 
2. 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? It depends how many stop overs you put in and how late you make your reservations to the value. You will however still need a reservation for each segment.
 
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? Yes the long distance thru tarriff is definitely cheeper. But you should stop over and see places. So whatever fits your interests.
 
4. What's the overall feeling about travelling in Coach vs. a Roomette? I personally prefer roomettes but I like my privacy. And the included food certainly helps. Plus I can't sleep in seats. It's worth the money.
 
5. If you were taking the Zephyr from West to East, where would you recommend stopping for a night or two?  For the Zephyr Denver for sure then rent a car for surrounding sights. Omaha is pretty cool as well.
In the Empire Builder Whitefish and St Paul.
 
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? 7-11 for breakfast, 10-15 for lunch, 15-25 for dinner.
 
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?overnights in sleeper.
 
8. Is the Lake Shore Limited the best option from Chicago to New York? I personally don't think so but that's an opinion. If you can make your schedule work the Tri Weekly Cardinal is the most scenic. It's much longer but the New River Gorge is the Grand Canyon of the East. Sleeper is expensive but we know tricks on this board. Definitely worth riding this train.
 
9. Am I right in thinking that Business Class seating is not very common on the long distance trains? The Coast Starlight, Lake Shore Limited, Cardinal, and Crescent have business class. It's in the sleeper category on the fares. Fairly hidden.
 
10. What would be the best way to get to San Francisco from LAX? I would take the Coast Starlight which rides the Coast. Lovely ride and worth the time.
 
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? October is nice for the leaves changing in the east especially the Cardinals route November can be good too depends on our rain situation.
 
 Regards
Seaboard92
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Amtrak Routes I've riden: Silver Star(NYP-ORL), Silver Meteor(KIS-NYP),Carolinian(CLT-NWK), Palmetto (FLO-NYP), Acela(WAS-NYP), NE Regional(WBG-RVR), Pacific Surfliner(SAN-OSD), Piedmont(CLT-SAL), Crescent(NYP-CLT), Cardinal (WAS-CHI), Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS), Cascade (PDX-SEA)
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#7 anumberone

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 04:15 AM

8 weeks to burn in the States is a lot of time, what are you planning besides the train?

#8 silmaril

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 05:56 AM

8 weeks to burn in the States is a lot of time, what are you planning besides the train?

 

An organised tour on the east coast, that will poke into Canada and end in Chicago. Then depending on budget, would like to do Western Canada and Alaska. 

 

Would also like to traipse along the Appalachian trail at some point. 



#9 silmaril

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 05:57 AM

 Regards
Seaboard92

 

Thanks! All opinions most welcome. 



#10 caravanman

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 06:11 AM

Hi, welcome to the AU forum. 

 

Many of us on AU have strong opinions, but do not rely too much on any one opinion, including mine.  ;)

 

I used to use the railpass for my trips to America, back in the day when it was unlimited segments, just use within the 15 days, etc.

 

Each "segment" will cost you between $50 and $58 approx with a railpass, so pretty good value for a long segment. You can always buy a seperate regular ticket for a short segment, if you need to save the railcard just for longer rides.

 

I like to stay in a place for a day or two, so I now tend to just buy point to point tickets.

 

I started riding Amtrak when I was aged 50+, and more often than not, when in coach, one could have the two big seats to sleep in overnight... passengers were much fewer 12 years ago!  Nowadays, busier, you have much more chance of trying to sleep next to a fellow passenger in your coach seat. The seats are very roomy, and there is lots of leg room too.

 

Roomettes are nice, but can be very expensive. I like the "everyday" nature of riding in coach, and have met some real characters there! 

Play around with some fake bookings on the amtrak website to see which parts of a long journey can be done economically in a roomette. Switching between coach and roomette can work out well. (Best make sure the roomette is booked for a night section of the route, methinks!)

 

I would suggest the Zephyr hands down for breathtaking scenery between California and Denver, the bit from Denver to Chicago is less interesting farmland.

 

Although I love train travel, America is very much geared up for road trips, with cheap motels and affordable car hire. If you can cover the longer distances by train, that's if you like trains, and rent a car to see more places, that would be a good option. Sadly, the Amtrak and even Greyhound bus networks just cover a few main routes, so pubic transport to lesser places in such a big country is difficult.

 

Ink in a few places you are certain of wanting to visit, then see if there are places between that are worth stopping off?

 

I like Chicago a lot, and New Orleans, so am happy to spend a day or two there between trains.

 

A lot comes down to your own comfort levels and your budget.  

 

There is a free "shopping/commuter" bus in Emeryville that connects one of the Bart (metro) stations to Emeryville Amtrak. You can use Bart to get to and from central San Francisco, if you don't use the amtrak bus service.

 

An exciting time for you, planning such a trip!

 

Ed. 



#11 brianpmcdonnell17

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 07:45 AM

There is a free "shopping/commuter" bus in Emeryville that connects one of the Bart (metro) stations to Emeryville Amtrak. You can use Bart to get to and from central San Francisco, if you don't use the amtrak bus service.
 

If travelling to/from San Francisco and the California Zephyr (as well as Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin if you used them for some reason), there is a direct connection to BART rapid transit trains at Richmond. If coming from the south on the Coast Starlight, I recommend detraining in San Jose and taking the Caltrain commuter line to San Francisco. Caltrain and BART connect to each other at Millbrae and both systems connect to Muni metro light rail trains at other locations. The cable cars connect to directly to Muni and BART, but a double transfer via one of these systems is necessary if transferring between Caltrain and the cable cars. Sorry if it sounds confusing, San Francisco has a great public transportation system but the combination of many smaller systems makes it one of the hardest for a visitor to understand.

Edited by brianpmcdonnell17, 28 December 2016 - 01:49 PM.

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New Routes: LSL NYP-CHI, CZ CHI-RIC, CS SJC-SEA, EB SEA-MSP, SS FTL-MIA


#12 Palmetto

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 08:04 AM

#8 :  I would take the Lake Shore Limited to Boston and then work down the East coast from there, which goes all the way down to Miami, by the way.  Are you planning to that far south?  I say Boston, because New York City is smack dab in the middle of the Northeast Corridor service, and you won't have to back-track if you start doing the East coast in Boston.  

 

A nice side trip might be to do a day trip up to Portland, ME on the Downeaster service.  If you like lobster, that's the best place to get a nice lobster dinner, or classic fish and chips.  



#13 CCC1007

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 09:58 AM

There is a free "shopping/commuter" bus in Emeryville that connects one of the Bart (metro) stations to Emeryville Amtrak. You can use Bart to get to and from central San Francisco, if you don't use the amtrak bus service.
 

If travelling to/from San Francisco and the California Zephyr (as well as Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin if you used them for some reason), there is a direct connection to BART rapid transit trains at Emeryville. If coming from the south on the Coast Starlight, I recommend detraining in San Jose and taking the Caltrain commuter line to San Francisco. Caltrain and BART connect to each other at Millbrae and both systems connect to Muni metro light rail trains at other locations. The cable cars connect to directly to Muni and BART, but a double transfer via one of these systems is necessary if transferring between Caltrain and the cable cars. Sorry if it sounds confusing, San Francisco has a great public transportation system but the combination of many smaller systems makes it one of the hardest for a visitor to understand.
When did BART get to emeryville?

#14 caravanman

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 10:46 AM

The local free bus is called Emerygoround, and connects Amtrak Emeryville station to MacArthur Bart station.

 

https://www.emerygor...-schedules.html

 

I have used this route myself when staying in a cheaper hotel in Emeryville itself, rather than in a downtown San Francisco hotel.  (Stay cheaper and stay longer is my mantra!)

 

 

Ed.


Edited by caravanman, 28 December 2016 - 10:47 AM.


#15 Karl1459

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 11:24 AM

As Caravanman noted we tend to be opinionated. Especially Coach vs Sleeper. So try to do some of each so you can be qualified to sling mud with the rest of us. Personally I can sleep ok for one night in a coach seat, two nights I want a sleeper! Also consider what you are doing after you de-board. If you are going to be spending the day out and about having the morning shower in the sleeper might be nice.

 

A note on meal prices, while somewhat expensive for the type of food it is there. Amtrak is very liberal about allowing you to bring your own food on board (a lightweight soft side cooler is nice to take). Some adventuresome types have arranged for trackside delivery of meals ("chinese" and "pizza" stores often offer delivery). Don't forget the burrito lady in El Paso! A note on booze. Personal booze is only allowed in your sleeper room. If you need real beer consider a layover in Portland Oregon, where there are a lot of micro-brewerys.

 

Consider not traveling our week of Thanksgiving and immediately around Christmas and New Years day. These tend to be the busiest travel days and trains tend to be crowded (Christmas day itself is usually lightly traveled).

 

You mentioned possibly going up to Alaska. Think October. December and January the days are very short (some days the sun barely rises) and possibly very cold, -40 is common. I deep winter there are basically only two things to do up there, contributing to a higher percentage of fetal alcohol syndrome babies born in June to September. Also think October for the best scenery view in the northern half of the US, December and January we get down to only 8-10 hours of daylight.



#16 chakk

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 12:54 PM

There are also city buses on AC Transit from downtown San Francisco (the main bus terminal in the city) that stop within two blocks of the Amtrak Emeryville station). Timings should come up on Google Maps if you click the transit icon when you ask Google for a route from the San Francisco bus terminal to the Amtrak Emeryville station. That would save your Amtrak segment for something more substantial.

#17 Lonestar648

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 01:46 PM

My preference is traveling by Roomette for privacy, resting, showering, meals, and sleep.  The Coast Starlight is worth the trip from LA to SF for the views along the Pacific.  There is direct service from Emeryville into SF depending if you want to pay for direct service.  The CZ is a beautiful run where you will be taking pictures at every turn through certain areas.  Traveling in the Fall you may catch the Aspens turning into their fall colors which is beautiful itself.  Chicago is a special city as well as being a major Amtrak hub.  There are so many museums, the lake, views from either the Hancock or Sears Towers (recommend Handcock by eating lunch at top, though pricey includes the observation fee and you get to sit by the window while you eat). Taking the LSL to BOS, you could travel up to Portland, Maine to see the beautiful rocky tree lined coast line and the most photographed light house in the US if not the world, Portland Head. Boston has so much history, then a quick trip down to NYC, where you could spend days. Then there is Philadelphia, Washington, DC.  From DC you can head to Florida or to NOL, but remember there is still no train between Florida and NOL since Hurricane Katrina.  From NOL you can go north back to Chicago or west to San Antonio a unique city one must consider stopping for a couple days. It should be noted that out of Denver, there are spectacular national parks to see in Colorado and Wyoming.  I hope you have a wonderful trip.  It is good you have started you planning now, since some routes can sell out of their sleepers.  beware of US holiday travel times of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years when almost every plane and train and bus is full. I have traveled to and slept in all 50 states, so I can say this is a beautiful country with spectacular scenery no matter what state you go to.



#18 brianpmcdonnell17

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Posted 28 December 2016 - 01:50 PM

There is a free "shopping/commuter" bus in Emeryville that connects one of the Bart (metro) stations to Emeryville Amtrak. You can use Bart to get to and from central San Francisco, if you don't use the amtrak bus service.
 

If travelling to/from San Francisco and the California Zephyr (as well as Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin if you used them for some reason), there is a direct connection to BART rapid transit trains at Emeryville. If coming from the south on the Coast Starlight, I recommend detraining in San Jose and taking the Caltrain commuter line to San Francisco. Caltrain and BART connect to each other at Millbrae and both systems connect to Muni metro light rail trains at other locations. The cable cars connect to directly to Muni and BART, but a double transfer via one of these systems is necessary if transferring between Caltrain and the cable cars. Sorry if it sounds confusing, San Francisco has a great public transportation system but the combination of many smaller systems makes it one of the hardest for a visitor to understand.
When did BART get to emeryville?

Sorry, I meant Richmond.

Routes Travelled: CL WAS-CHI, Card. CHI-WAS, Caro. CLT-RGH, CS SJC-LAX, Cre. BAL-ATL, EB MSP-CHI, ES NYG/NYP-NFL, LSL BOS-ALB, ML ALB-NYP, NER FBG-RVR+WAS-BOS, PS LAX-ANA, Pen. NYP-PGH, Pie. RGH-CLT, SM ORL-NYP, SS FTL-WAS
New Routes: LSL NYP-CHI, CZ CHI-RIC, CS SJC-SEA, EB SEA-MSP, SS FTL-MIA


#19 KmH

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Posted 29 December 2016 - 12:06 PM

I usually book a combination of coach and sleeper for long distance train trips.


1963U. S. Congress - underground trolley system • Disneyland train (1968/various other dates) • Old Tucson steam train (1969)

Amtrak: California Zephyr Coast Starlight •  Southwest ChiefSunset LimitedTexas Eagle • Illinois Zephyr

. . . . . . . Amtrak miles - 16,383, so far.

 

 

 

 

 


#20 Don Newcomb

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Posted 29 December 2016 - 01:07 PM

I usually book a combination of coach and sleeper for long distance train trips.

 

Is this done for personal, scheduling or financial reasons? Some years ago, I was told that a rail fan I know would book a trip partially in coach and partially in a roomette to save money over just a roomette but when I priced our trip as HBG-> ATL in coach + ATL->WAS in roomette vs HBG->WAS roomette, the former was actually more expensive. 






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