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Experiences with Rail Tours and Group Travel on Amtrak


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#1 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 07:29 PM

Since the other thread was locked for some reason, perhaps this discussion could continue here?

Lots of interesting thoughts on how Amtrak group travel and Rail Tours work, and it was great to hear from passengers who have traveled with those tour groups.

Amtrak: - Coast Starlight*, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin*, Cascades*, Empire Builder*, California Zephyr*, Southwest Chief*, City of New Orleans*, River Cities, Illinois Zephyr*, Wolverine, Cardinal, Capitol Limited*, Lake Shore Limited, Downeaster, Acela Express*, Crescent*, Carolinian*, Silver Star*, Silver Meteor*, Maple Leaf* Texas Eagle.

 

VIA: - Canadian*

 

Iowa Pacific - Hoosier State*, and City of New Orleans Pullman*.   


#2 OlympianHiawatha

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 08:31 PM

My only direct encounter with them has been in the Chicago Met Lounge.  A huge group of them overwhelmed the place and carried on like it was THEIR lounge and the rest of us had no business being there.  Now I was on a California Zephyr that had a group in a couple private cars and to me that is a win-win scenario all the way around.  Amtrak gets bonus rev for hauling the PVs.  The PV operator gets paid.  Amtrak still sold out the sleepers and the travel group was not fighting Amtrak pax for Lounge and Diner space.



#3 jebr

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 08:42 PM

If this thread devolves into a hate fest on tour groups or any sort of classist overtones (inferring or explicitly stating that one group or class of passengers is better than another,) this thread will be locked, as will any future threads on the topic for the foreseeable future.



#4 JayPea

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 09:15 PM



As for me I have encountered tour groups many times on both the train and Chicago's Metropolitan Lounge and have had nothing but good experiences with all of them.

Edited by JayPea, 08 August 2017 - 09:16 PM.

Amtrak Routes Traveled: City of New Orleans, State House/Lincoln Service, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Cascades, Crescent, Capitol Limited, Coast Starlight, Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited, Silver Meteor, Lake Shore Limited, Pacific Surfliner, Cardinal.
 
Pre-Amtrak Routes Traveled:
Empire Builder (Great Northern), North Coast Limited (Northern Pacific), Abraham Lincoln (Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio), City of Hinkle  (Union Pacific) Panama Limited (Illinois Central)

Bustitutions: Portland-Spokane (EB),Galesburg-Bloomington (CZ/Lincoln Service )
 

Amtrak Miles: 81242

Pre-Amtrak Miles: 8478

Bustitution Miles: 450

Excursion trains ridden:  Centralia and Chehalis Railroad, Mt. Hood Scenic Railroad, Alaska Railroad, 1880 Train (Black Hills Central RR) and trains at the Illinois Railway Museum, California Railway Museum, and the Monticello (IL) Railroad Museum.

#5 MikefromCrete

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 09:26 PM

Isn't this just a retread of the previous topic which was locked after it ran its course? Maybe we should also come out against parents changing their baby's diapers on lounge car tables. 



#6 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 09:28 PM

My recent experiences - 

 

This Summer I was laying over in the Chicago Lounge and there was a large group of Vacations by Rail in the lounge. The lounge is large enough that everyone has room but when they brought out the snacks they all formed a line that reminded me of a cruise ship buffet. I guess they planned on making that their lunch buffet? (I've done the same thing at times so I can't blame them.) 

 

Earlier in the year, when traveling from LA to Williams Junction I was seated with 2 ladies from a Vacations by Rail National Parks tour. Initially they acted annoyed that I was seated with them and mostly talked to their fellow tour members across the aisle. I asked them some questions about their tour, and they just gave quick answers but asked where I was going. I told them Williams Junction to take the Grand Canyon Railway and they lit up and asked me all sorts of questions after that.


Amtrak: - Coast Starlight*, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin*, Cascades*, Empire Builder*, California Zephyr*, Southwest Chief*, City of New Orleans*, River Cities, Illinois Zephyr*, Wolverine, Cardinal, Capitol Limited*, Lake Shore Limited, Downeaster, Acela Express*, Crescent*, Carolinian*, Silver Star*, Silver Meteor*, Maple Leaf* Texas Eagle.

 

VIA: - Canadian*

 

Iowa Pacific - Hoosier State*, and City of New Orleans Pullman*.   


#7 jebr

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Posted 08 August 2017 - 09:47 PM

Isn't this just a retread of the previous topic which was locked after it ran its course? Maybe we should also come out against parents changing their baby's diapers on lounge car tables. 

 

The moderating team (myself included) is hoping that this thread doesn't devolve in a similar fashion. There's certainly viewpoints worth discussing on this and it is relevant to many of our members.



#8 Bob Dylan

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 04:58 PM

The only problems I've encountered with Groups on LD Trains were: 1) When groups would take all of the Water,juice and coffee from the Sleeper 2)on the Coast Starlight where they booked up All of the Meal Slots in the PPC and "hogged" the Swivel Chairs all the way from LAX to SLO

3) Also On the Zephyr where they camped out in the SSL through the Sierras and the Rockies.*

* Disclaimer: when one knows to snag a Seat early in the SSL in Denver or Emeryville or Grand Junction, the Zephyr isn't as bad as the PPC on the Starlight.

Edited by Bob Dylan, 09 August 2017 - 05:01 PM.

"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 
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Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#9 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 05:40 PM

I can see the Parlour Car becoming a bit of a problem with a large group. I've gotten lucky and always had an easy time finding a seat in the car (if not a purple chair, a seat in the outward booths) even during the Thanksgiving Rush last year when they added a sleeper.

 

I'm not sure I would expect anything less on the Zephyr though... the point of riding the zephyr is to see the scenery... so one would expect a tour guide to say make sure you get a good seat for the scenic portions.  Since I've only seen the SSL totally full during the most scenic portions (which only last an hour or so really..) I'm not sure what the solution is. "Ok from 20 minutes outside of Denver to Granby is one scenic section.. after that you must leave so we can rotate a new set of passengers into the lounge. Excuse me were you in here for the Denver to Granby section? You already used up your scenic time and we are approaching Glenwood Canyon... back to your room!" 


Amtrak: - Coast Starlight*, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin*, Cascades*, Empire Builder*, California Zephyr*, Southwest Chief*, City of New Orleans*, River Cities, Illinois Zephyr*, Wolverine, Cardinal, Capitol Limited*, Lake Shore Limited, Downeaster, Acela Express*, Crescent*, Carolinian*, Silver Star*, Silver Meteor*, Maple Leaf* Texas Eagle.

 

VIA: - Canadian*

 

Iowa Pacific - Hoosier State*, and City of New Orleans Pullman*.   


#10 dlagrua

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 07:14 PM

The bigger question is: are these rail tour groups beneficial or detrimental to Amtrak? If it is decided that they are beneficial then Amtrak needs to establish a set of rules that tour participants are required to follow. From what I can see the tour operators are marketing Amtrak trips as something that they are not. It needs to be explained up front, that tour passengers will be traveling on a public train and are only entitled to the same service as everyone else. Last year we could not grab breakfast on the CZ going into Denver as all the seats in the dining car were full when they opened and the same tour group was taking all the seats when we pulled into Denver Union Station.  Limiting the time that they are permitted to dine would be a good first step to fairness. Am I wrong about this?



#11 AmtrakBlue

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 07:22 PM

The bigger question is: are these rail tour groups beneficial or detrimental to Amtrak? If it is decided that they are beneficial then Amtrak needs to establish a set of rules that tour participants are required to follow. From what I can see the tour operators are marketing Amtrak trips as something that they are not. It needs to be explained up front, that tour passengers will be traveling on a public train and are only entitled to the same service as everyone else. Last year we could not grab breakfast on the CZ going into Denver as all the seats in the dining car were full when they opened and the same tour group was taking all the seats when we pulled into Denver Union Station.  Limiting the time that they are permitted to dine would be a good first step to fairness. Am I wrong about this?

Yes, you're wrong.  Just as they shouldn't have special privileges, they should also not be treated differently in a negative way.


2011: Jun: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER) // Nov: WIL=>WAS=>CHI=>PRO (NER=>CL=>CZ)
2012: Apr: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER) // May(NTD): WIL=>PHL=>WIL (NER) / PHL=>PAO=>PHL (Keystone) // Aug: WIL=>WAS (NER) / BWI=>WIL (NER) // Oct(Gathering): PHL=>WIL (NER) / PHL=>HAR=>PHL (Keystone) / SEPTA, NJT, PATCO, River Line, Princeton Dinky
2013: May(NTD): WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER)  // Oct (Gathering): WIL=>CHI (Card) / CHI=>MKE=>GLN=>CHI() / CHI=>JOL=>CHI () / CHI=>WIL(CL=>NER) / CTA, Metra. SEPTA (WIL=>NRK) // Nov:  PHL=>PHL (Autumn Express) 
2014: May(NTD):  WIL=>PHL=>WIL(NER) // May:  WIL=>BOS=>WIL(NER) day trip

2014: Oct(Gathering): WIL=>NYP=>TOL(pd-NER=>LSL) / TOL=>CHI=>LAX=>EMY(pts-LSL=>SWC=>CS) / EMY=>CHI=>TOL (pts-CZ-CL) / TOL=>WAS=>WIL(pd-CL=>NER)
2015: May: CHI=>CIN(pd-Card) / CIN=>WIL(pts Card)
2015;  Oct(Gathering):  WIL=>WAS(Acela) / ALX=>WAS(NER) / WAS=>BAL(Acela) / WAS=>WIL(NER)

2016: Mar: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER)  // Oct:  WIL=>NYP=>NYP=>WIL (Autumn Express) 


#12 OlympianHiawatha

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 08:21 PM

 

The bigger question is: are these rail tour groups beneficial or detrimental to Amtrak? If it is decided that they are beneficial then Amtrak needs to establish a set of rules that tour participants are required to follow. From what I can see the tour operators are marketing Amtrak trips as something that they are not. It needs to be explained up front, that tour passengers will be traveling on a public train and are only entitled to the same service as everyone else. Last year we could not grab breakfast on the CZ going into Denver as all the seats in the dining car were full when they opened and the same tour group was taking all the seats when we pulled into Denver Union Station.  Limiting the time that they are permitted to dine would be a good first step to fairness. Am I wrong about this?

Yes, you're wrong.  Just as they shouldn't have special privileges, they should also not be treated differently in a negative way.

 

All he is asking is that they be treated like any other passenger.



#13 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 08:29 PM

 

 

The bigger question is: are these rail tour groups beneficial or detrimental to Amtrak? If it is decided that they are beneficial then Amtrak needs to establish a set of rules that tour participants are required to follow. From what I can see the tour operators are marketing Amtrak trips as something that they are not. It needs to be explained up front, that tour passengers will be traveling on a public train and are only entitled to the same service as everyone else. Last year we could not grab breakfast on the CZ going into Denver as all the seats in the dining car were full when they opened and the same tour group was taking all the seats when we pulled into Denver Union Station.  Limiting the time that they are permitted to dine would be a good first step to fairness. Am I wrong about this?

Yes, you're wrong.  Just as they shouldn't have special privileges, they should also not be treated differently in a negative way.

 

All he is asking is that they be treated like any other passenger.

 

In his example, the tour group members were having breakfast, which is a first come - first served meal, on the Zephyr. The only way to fix that problem is to tell the tour group they are not allowed to eat between certain hours, which is being treated worse than regular passengers who get to dine first-come first-serve. 


Amtrak: - Coast Starlight*, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin*, Cascades*, Empire Builder*, California Zephyr*, Southwest Chief*, City of New Orleans*, River Cities, Illinois Zephyr*, Wolverine, Cardinal, Capitol Limited*, Lake Shore Limited, Downeaster, Acela Express*, Crescent*, Carolinian*, Silver Star*, Silver Meteor*, Maple Leaf* Texas Eagle.

 

VIA: - Canadian*

 

Iowa Pacific - Hoosier State*, and City of New Orleans Pullman*.   


#14 AmtrakBlue

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 08:29 PM

 

 

The bigger question is: are these rail tour groups beneficial or detrimental to Amtrak? If it is decided that they are beneficial then Amtrak needs to establish a set of rules that tour participants are required to follow. From what I can see the tour operators are marketing Amtrak trips as something that they are not. It needs to be explained up front, that tour passengers will be traveling on a public train and are only entitled to the same service as everyone else. Last year we could not grab breakfast on the CZ going into Denver as all the seats in the dining car were full when they opened and the same tour group was taking all the seats when we pulled into Denver Union Station.  Limiting the time that they are permitted to dine would be a good first step to fairness. Am I wrong about this?

Yes, you're wrong.  Just as they shouldn't have special privileges, they should also not be treated differently in a negative way.

 

All he is asking is that they be treated like any other passenger.

 

I'm not aware of a set of rules that other passengers are required to follow.  Do they send us these rules every time we book a trip?


2011: Jun: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER) // Nov: WIL=>WAS=>CHI=>PRO (NER=>CL=>CZ)
2012: Apr: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER) // May(NTD): WIL=>PHL=>WIL (NER) / PHL=>PAO=>PHL (Keystone) // Aug: WIL=>WAS (NER) / BWI=>WIL (NER) // Oct(Gathering): PHL=>WIL (NER) / PHL=>HAR=>PHL (Keystone) / SEPTA, NJT, PATCO, River Line, Princeton Dinky
2013: May(NTD): WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER)  // Oct (Gathering): WIL=>CHI (Card) / CHI=>MKE=>GLN=>CHI() / CHI=>JOL=>CHI () / CHI=>WIL(CL=>NER) / CTA, Metra. SEPTA (WIL=>NRK) // Nov:  PHL=>PHL (Autumn Express) 
2014: May(NTD):  WIL=>PHL=>WIL(NER) // May:  WIL=>BOS=>WIL(NER) day trip

2014: Oct(Gathering): WIL=>NYP=>TOL(pd-NER=>LSL) / TOL=>CHI=>LAX=>EMY(pts-LSL=>SWC=>CS) / EMY=>CHI=>TOL (pts-CZ-CL) / TOL=>WAS=>WIL(pd-CL=>NER)
2015: May: CHI=>CIN(pd-Card) / CIN=>WIL(pts Card)
2015;  Oct(Gathering):  WIL=>WAS(Acela) / ALX=>WAS(NER) / WAS=>BAL(Acela) / WAS=>WIL(NER)

2016: Mar: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER)  // Oct:  WIL=>NYP=>NYP=>WIL (Autumn Express) 


#15 AmtrakBlue

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 08:31 PM

 

 

 

The bigger question is: are these rail tour groups beneficial or detrimental to Amtrak? If it is decided that they are beneficial then Amtrak needs to establish a set of rules that tour participants are required to follow. From what I can see the tour operators are marketing Amtrak trips as something that they are not. It needs to be explained up front, that tour passengers will be traveling on a public train and are only entitled to the same service as everyone else. Last year we could not grab breakfast on the CZ going into Denver as all the seats in the dining car were full when they opened and the same tour group was taking all the seats when we pulled into Denver Union Station.  Limiting the time that they are permitted to dine would be a good first step to fairness. Am I wrong about this?

Yes, you're wrong.  Just as they shouldn't have special privileges, they should also not be treated differently in a negative way.

 

All he is asking is that they be treated like any other passenger.

 

In his example, the tour group members were having breakfast, which is a first come - first served meal, on the Zephyr. The only way to fix that problem is to tell the tour group they are not allowed to eat between certain hours, which is being treated worse than regular passengers who get to dine first-come first-serve. 

 

That was what I was thinking too.  

 

Plus I'm wondering how he knows every person in the diner was part of the tour group.


2011: Jun: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER) // Nov: WIL=>WAS=>CHI=>PRO (NER=>CL=>CZ)
2012: Apr: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER) // May(NTD): WIL=>PHL=>WIL (NER) / PHL=>PAO=>PHL (Keystone) // Aug: WIL=>WAS (NER) / BWI=>WIL (NER) // Oct(Gathering): PHL=>WIL (NER) / PHL=>HAR=>PHL (Keystone) / SEPTA, NJT, PATCO, River Line, Princeton Dinky
2013: May(NTD): WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER)  // Oct (Gathering): WIL=>CHI (Card) / CHI=>MKE=>GLN=>CHI() / CHI=>JOL=>CHI () / CHI=>WIL(CL=>NER) / CTA, Metra. SEPTA (WIL=>NRK) // Nov:  PHL=>PHL (Autumn Express) 
2014: May(NTD):  WIL=>PHL=>WIL(NER) // May:  WIL=>BOS=>WIL(NER) day trip

2014: Oct(Gathering): WIL=>NYP=>TOL(pd-NER=>LSL) / TOL=>CHI=>LAX=>EMY(pts-LSL=>SWC=>CS) / EMY=>CHI=>TOL (pts-CZ-CL) / TOL=>WAS=>WIL(pd-CL=>NER)
2015: May: CHI=>CIN(pd-Card) / CIN=>WIL(pts Card)
2015;  Oct(Gathering):  WIL=>WAS(Acela) / ALX=>WAS(NER) / WAS=>BAL(Acela) / WAS=>WIL(NER)

2016: Mar: WIL=>WAS=>WIL (NER)  // Oct:  WIL=>NYP=>NYP=>WIL (Autumn Express) 


#16 JRR

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 08:56 PM

I saw a tour brochure the other day in which the SSL was described as being the " gathering place."

M wife and I were on the VIA this summer from Jasper all the way o Halifax and there was never a problem with getting a seat in the dome car. I don't know what the experience was from Vancouver to Jasper through the mountains as we took the Rocky Mountaineer.

#17 Skyline

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Posted 10 August 2017 - 09:06 AM

Tour operators' marketing is only going to accentuate the positive. And exaggerate. Their ads, brochures, and websites are meant to attract business, not deter business.

 

However, one should expect tour operators to be 100% candid about life on a current-day Amtrak train at one or more points prior to departure. SSL, DC, other amenities that are shared with other passengers and the democratic nature of it all. The possibility of train tardiness. And more. That could be in a letter, email, or even a disclaimer they make each passenger sign. Their tour guides should also be instructed to perform the same service at any pre-boarding orientation, and also during the trip.

 

Tour operators are more likely to do this is if Amtrak makes it a condition for tour operators doing business with them.



#18 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 10 August 2017 - 10:07 AM

Does Amtrak have extra ssl cars? I wonder how much it would cost a tour operator to charter a private ssl just for their group.

Amtrak: - Coast Starlight*, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin*, Cascades*, Empire Builder*, California Zephyr*, Southwest Chief*, City of New Orleans*, River Cities, Illinois Zephyr*, Wolverine, Cardinal, Capitol Limited*, Lake Shore Limited, Downeaster, Acela Express*, Crescent*, Carolinian*, Silver Star*, Silver Meteor*, Maple Leaf* Texas Eagle.

 

VIA: - Canadian*

 

Iowa Pacific - Hoosier State*, and City of New Orleans Pullman*.   


#19 Lonestar648

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Posted 10 August 2017 - 10:08 AM

Amtrak must find the tour business good business for Amtrak, probably because the tour operators commit very early in the reservation cycle giving Amtrak guaranteed revenue even though it is deeply discounted.   In reality, when the tours are during the busiest time for a certain route, is Amtrak throwing away revenue just to get a guarantee when there is an extremely high probability that the train will sell out without the tour group?  How much revenue does Amtrak receive from tour groups or other groups?  

 

If all the members of the tour group are treated like individuals, then there shouldn't be a problem, it is just a busy train, but if the tour director traveling with the group shows up just before 6AM on the CZ going into Denver, to reserve seats for their 30-40 member tour, that is a problem.  Also, if the tour group is occupying say 8-10 table at breakfast but they all stay extra long drinking coffee just visiting because they can all be together, this is also a problem since tables do not turn over for other passengers.

 

I wonder if Amtrak has any periods of time that it will not accept group reservations?


Trains Traveled On:
Texas Eagle                                      Sunset Limited                            California Zephyr                                Southwest Chief                Empire Builder            Capitol Limited           Lake Shore limited (NYP & BOS)      Crescent
Kentucky Cardinal                             Cardinal                                       Pere Marquette                                  Wolverines                        Lincoln Service            Empire Service          Keystone Service                               Acelas
NE Regionals                                    Pioneer                                        Desert Wind                                       Broadway Limited             Three Rivers                 Coast Starlight                          
 
Amtrak Miles Logged: over 211,000


#20 KmH

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Posted 10 August 2017 - 11:38 AM

Does Amtrak have extra ssl cars? I wonder how much it would cost a tour operator to charter a private ssl just for their group.


Assuming Amtrak has a spare SSL car, in addition to whatever Amtrak would charge to charter an SSL car they charge for the miles the car would be used over - @ 2.90 per mile.

If the charter isn't round trip expect the mileage charge to include returning the car to it's starting point.

Private car charters run about $5000 to $8000 a day and the CZ is a 3 day trip one way so figure $25,000 or more one way for a tour operator to have their own private SSL car on the CZ.


Edited by KmH, 10 August 2017 - 11:39 AM.

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.

 

 

 

 

 





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