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Questions for first time AMTRAK travelers for long-distance trip.


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#1 Guest_Savannah_*

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 12:12 AM

Booking a trip for my father and I. We're going to a wedding in December from Savannah,GA to Dallas,TX. My dad hates flying and neither of us have ever used Amtrak before. I figure why not try now and take a few days of taking in a view of some of the scenery. The wedding is on Saturday the 9th of Dec, so I figured a few days of travel just to be safe should suffice.
 
There are three route options for us according to the website, leaving on Tuesday December 5th:
 
  • 98 Silver Meteor/Savannah to DC - 29 Capitol Ltd to CHI - 21 Texas Eagle to DAL. Would arrive in DAL estimated at 11:30am, Friday Dec 8th
  • Silver Meteor/SAV to DC - 51 Cardinal to CHI - 21 Texas Eagle to DAL. Same expected arrival time as above.
  • Silver Meteor/SAV to NYC - 49 Lake Shore LTD to CHI - 21 Texas Eagle to DAL. Same expected arrival time as above.
How often and long are the delays? Are they bad enough that we should leave Monday December 4th to give ourselves a bit more leeway? Based on the estimated schedules above, Leaving Savannah Tuesday night (only option from SAV) getting there Friday late morning would give us enough time to get checked in, settled and rested for the wedding on Saturday. But if the delays are going to total 7-8 hours, perhaps we should leave Monday the 4th instead of Tues-5th? Again neither of us have ever used Amtrak, and I'm the one booking so I just want to get a good handle on this.
 
TRANSFERS
OPT 1: the transfer layover time in DC is est. 8hr,58 min before departing to Chicago at 4pm. That's fine with us as we have some family friends in D.C. we can have brunch with for a bit before going back to the station. The second layover in CHI is est. 5 hours. We don't know anyone there but I figure that's a good amount of time for me to get us an Uber or Lyft to get breakfast/lunch in a nice spot in Chicago before we depart at 1:45pm for the final ride to DAL.
OPT 2: Arrival in DC est. 7a. Only 3 hr, 53 min est. layover time in D.C. can still get breakfast somewhere with family friends close to the station before the 51 Cardinal departs to CHI at 11am. Arrive in CHI at 10am next day, only 3hr 45 min layover time. With us not being familiar with Chicago I'm not sure if that's enough time to get a quick bite somewhere without risking being late for the 21 Tex. Eagle departure at 1:45.
OPT 3: Arrival at New York Penn Station at 11am. 4 hr 40 min layover. Would that be enough time to have a quick lunch with a relative somewhere near Penn Station before the 3:40pm departure to CHI? Final layover in CHI would be 4 hrs est, so would that be enough time to get a quick bite for brunch before the 1:45pm departure to DAL?
 
 
Sorry for the multitude of questions, how long does it take to check in at the D.C., Penn, and CHI stations if we leave? I don't anticipate it being as thorough of security as airport TSA, but I wanna make sure if we do leave during the layover to meet and have lunch with someone, is it enough time for us to pass through security to make our transfer train? And just as a backup option, do the stations in D.C. and NYC have dining options? Doesn't have to be fancy just something for us to be able to meet our friends and family and catchup for a bit before leaving. Chicago I'd be ok with a dining option in the station since we don't know anyone there. But if the layover is 5 hours like in OPT 1, I wouldn't mind getting some fresh air and checking out a quality local spot close enough to the station to Uber and back with enough time to leave. Obviously I don't know how often or long delays are, so this could totally screw up the website's estimated arrival and transfer times in turn screwing up any of our side plans in our transfer cities.
 
 
As for the return trip no worries on that, we're probably just going to take the Greyhound back since it's a 1 day trip and much cheaper (almost 1/2 the price of Amtrak). I'm sure I forgot something to ask, but any help would be much appreciated! Oh and one more side question, what are options for charging my phone on the train? Are there outlets on coach? Is there complimentary WiFi as well for when my cell phone goes into dead spots passing through rural areas or is it something you have to pay for? I hadn't used Greyhound in almost 18 years until earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised there were two outlets per two-seat to plug in electronics as well as on-board WiFi. Just need to know if I need to stock up on some external usb batteries for our phones. I personally plan on sleeping most of the trip anyways. I have my earphones and just ready to relax. My dad is more of the guy to stay awake and look out the window for most of the trip.


#2 the_traveler

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 12:31 AM

There is no "check-in" or "going thru Security" on Amtrak. As long as you're at the station, you just board.

There are plenty of food choices in the stations in Washington, New York and Chicago.
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#3 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 12:32 AM

If this is your first time on AU, welcome.

 

When it comes to long distance travel, it is better to be safe than sorry. Delays may not be common but the problem is that trains often run just once a day so if you miss a connection often you are stranded for up to a whole day for the next train. Therefore if your eventual start and end times are going to be the same, your best option would be to allow the longest layovers to minimize the chance of a missed connection so that would be using the Capitol Limited (CL) connection in Washington DC (WAS). It gives you plenty of layover time if there happens to be a delay and you say you have family friends in DC so it is worthwhile to have the extra time in DC. It's a no brainer for me. In addition, you get the longest layover in CHI (although not much difference there).

 

In Chicago if you have the time the Willis Tower is within walking distance although it is December so it'll likely be cold. If you are into Chicago style stuffed pizza, there is a place called Giordano's that I really like.

 

As for WiFi, the one problem with the CL is it doesn't have WiFi but the Lake Shore Limited (LSL) does (reason is the equipment is different) but it does mean a shorter layover and New York is a little bit farther out of the way than DC and it seems like you don't have the friends/family there.


Trains Traveled: Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA), Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI), Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS), Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI), , Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL), Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX), California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY), City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)
Bring back the Broadway Limited (or Three Rivers or any Chicago-Pittsburgh-Philly train)!
 
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#4 Guest_Savannah_*

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 01:34 AM

There is no "check-in" or "going thru Security" on Amtrak. As long as you're at the station, you just board.

There are plenty of food choices in the stations in Washington, New York and Chicago.

 

Thanks. I've never been to Penn Station, but have walked around Manhattan a few times as a tourist and wanderer. I've been to D.C. only twice as an adult, but that was mainly the government tourist stuff and Pentagon City. So with no checking-in or security, if I leave the station to meet someone then come back, is it going to be difficult going from the entrance to the boarding area?

 

 

If this is your first time on AU, welcome.

 

When it comes to long distance travel, it is better to be safe than sorry. Delays may not be common but the problem is that trains often run just once a day so if you miss a connection often you are stranded for up to a whole day for the next train. Therefore if your eventual start and end times are going to be the same, your best option would be to allow the longest layovers to minimize the chance of a missed connection so that would be using the Capitol Limited (CL) connection in Washington DC (WAS). It gives you plenty of layover time if there happens to be a delay and you say you have family friends in DC so it is worthwhile to have the extra time in DC. It's a no brainer for me. In addition, you get the longest layover in CHI (although not much difference there).

 

In Chicago if you have the time the Willis Tower is within walking distance although it is December so it'll likely be cold. If you are into Chicago style stuffed pizza, there is a place called Giordano's that I really like.

 

As for WiFi, the one problem with the CL is it doesn't have WiFi but the Lake Shore Limited (LSL) does (reason is the equipment is different) but it does mean a shorter layover and New York is a little bit farther out of the way than DC and it seems like you don't have the friends/family there.

 

Yes, first time thank you. And thanks for your advice on potential connection time. Definitely understand that.

We have some friends/family in D.C. We've driven to D.C./Maryland area to visit them before so we've done the sight-seeing. If we're only laying over in Washington for a few hours, we're not really looking to go into the city and hang out. If there are some restaurants near the station that's fine, if there's options inside the station that's fine too. As long as they can come to where we are and sit and eat and chat for a bit.

 

So you're saying there's no WiFi on the Cardinal or Capital Ltd? Cardinal WAS-CHI is option 2, Capital LTD WAS-CHI is from option 1. That's a big deal breaker for me. Would prefer to have WiFi if possible. If I'm going to be on a train for the majority of the day with my dad, I'd prefer if he have WiFi for his iPad and I have WiFi for my laptop to get some office work done. 

 

Not sure if you misread, but I mentioned in New York we do actually have some family there. I've never been to Penn Station so I'm not sure if there are good local options around there. If I'm going to be in New York for a few hours might as well have some NY pizza or hit up a nice Italian joint if they're within distance.
 

Never been to Chicago, so the issue is if we do go to Willis Tower what do we do with our luggage? I'm assuming we'd have one luggage bag for me, one luggage bag for my dad, and then my laptop bag for carry-on.  I understand with it being December that it's likely both New York,Chicago, and even D.C. would be really cold, so I'm prepared to bring proper attire for those cities if we're going to be off the trains for a few hours in those respective cities. The logistical issue is again the luggage. Speaking of the cold weather, how cold is it on-board the trains when you're in those areas? 

 

D.C. and NYC we have family there to meet and catch up, it's Chicago where we'd be strangers. Dallas it's going to be warm when we get there I'd assume.



#5 Guest_Savannah_*

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 01:38 AM

I also have to ask, I'm very interested in the Roomette/Bedroom options.

 

Are meals covered in the price for Roomette option or is that only Bedroom?

 

Since the travel times for each train ride is going to be from 11 hrs to potentially 24 hours, how many meals in that time frame are covered if we pay for the Roomette or Bedroom options? I considered going Coach, but after viewing the Youtube videos of some of the Roomette and Bedroom options it may make more sense for me to get us a Roomette or Bedroom. I'm leaning towards Roomette right now, but if we get more food paying for Bedroom I would consider that.



#6 JayPea

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 02:05 AM

Meals are included in the price of all sleepers, whether they be bedrooms or roomettes.


Amtrak miles traveled: 85410
Pre-Amtrak miles traveled:8478
Bustitution miles traveled:450
States traveled through on Amtrak: 44

#7 Guest_Savannah_*

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 02:17 AM

Meals are included in the price of all sleepers, whether they be bedrooms or roomettes.

 

So how many meals is that? Does that include 3 as in Lunch-Breakfast-Dinner (in no particular order since some train rides may begin at night and finish afternoon next day.



#8 AmtrakBlue

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 04:47 AM

Meals are included in the price of all sleepers, whether they be bedrooms or roomettes.

 
So how many meals is that? Does that include 3 as in Lunch-Breakfast-Dinner (in no particular order since some train rides may begin at night and finish afternoon next day.
Yes all meals are included. Check Amtrak’s website for the general hours for each meal.
Dinner is by reservation-they’ll come to your room and ask you which seating you’d like. Lunch is usually by Rez also. Breakfast is just show up.
Meals are community seating - 4 at a table, so you’ll most likely have one or two others at your table.


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#9 the_traveler

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 07:43 AM

As long as you're in a roomette or bedroom and on the train at meal times, the meal is included IN THE DINING CAR. (Anything you get from the cafe, you must pay for yourself.

If you are in a room either arriving or departing from Washington, New York or Chicago, you are allowed to use the Lounges during the wait. All have a place where you can leave your luggage free of charge.

In Chicago, the Willis (Sears) Tower is 1 block from Union Station. Gioadono's is 2 1/2 blocks away.
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#10 PVD

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 08:02 AM

As a sleeper passenger, you are also entitled to lounge use in Chicago, NY, or Washington. It is a place to relax while waiting, or drop carry ons while exploring a city if time and weather are cooperative.



#11 AmtrakBlue

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 08:19 AM

Regarding meals:  https://www.amtrak.c...d=1248539615772



#12 Bob Dylan

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 10:03 AM

The others have given you good advice and info.

Please book the Roomettes ( Bedrooms are usually much more expensive, but Supply and Demand sometimes makes them close in Price/ if so take the Bedroom))

All things considered I'd say ride the Meteor to Washingtin, take the Cap Ltd. to CHI and then the Eagle to Dallas.

There are lots of posts and Trip reports here on AU about these routes,cities and what to take along on the train!Please read up for ideas and feel free to ask questions, we love to help folks here @ AU!

This is a wonderful idea, cue Dean Martin singing "Memories are made of this!"😎

Edited by Bob Dylan, 22 September 2017 - 10:04 AM.

"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 "..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#13 PVD

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 10:17 AM

also, keep in mind that bedroom and roomette can be mixed across trains   if you get a bargain bedroom on the CL it does not mean you have to be in one on the other trains.....Don't forget to consider any available discounts that may apply (sr,aaa,handicapped, etc) 



#14 jebr

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 10:33 AM

I'd spring for a roomette, at least for the overnight portions, if your budget allows. It'll be significantly more comfortable, and there's something about having your own little abode while traveling that makes the trip that much more pleasant. There's almost nowhere else (short of hiring your own driver for an RV or maybe first class international) where you can step in, shut the door/curtain, and simply sit back and watch the world go by while traveling.

 

Personally, I'd do Option 2. Sure, it leaves less layover time at your layover points, but both should still be enough to meet someone near the station and grab a bite to eat. I love the Cardinal's scenery, Amtrak states that it has wi-fi, and if the cost is the same I'd recommend it. I wouldn't pay a lot more for it (there's a few disadvantages with the Cardinal, namely the weaker food options and, like the Silver Meteor and Lake Shore Limited, a toilet in the roomette that can feel awkward to use when traveling with someone else) - if that's the case, I'd personally opt for the Capitol Limited for the second segment.

 

Note that on all the trains that have wi-fi, wi-fi is based on cellular connectivity. It'll likely have reception more places than your phone (better antennas and maybe a different/more extensive network than what your phone uses) but it won't be there 100% of the time. If you have a smartphone, you may want to look to see if there's an option to use your phone as a wi-fi hotspot; this would help on the Texas Eagle and the Capitol Limited (if you decide to take that train) where the train itself doesn't have wi-fi.



#15 Lonestar648

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 10:43 AM

You can use AMSNAG (biketrain.net/amsnag2.0/amSnag.php) to check fares and set up fare alerts.  If you are flexible in your travel days this site may help you get the lowest available fares. 

 

I would use the CL (WAS-CHI) since it is superliner with a Dining Car and a Sightseer Car.  Also, the CL usually has some good fares compared to the Cardinal and the LSL.  

 

Texas Eagle (21) meals D, B , CL (29) meals D, B



#16 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 11:09 AM

(there's a few disadvantages with the Cardinal, namely the weaker food options and, like the Silver Meteor and Lake Shore Limited, a toilet in the roomette that can feel awkward to use when traveling with someone else) - if that's the case, I'd personally opt for the Capitol Limited for the second segment.

 

Note that on all the trains that have wi-fi, wi-fi is based on cellular connectivity. It'll likely have reception more places than your phone (better antennas and maybe a different/more extensive network than what your phone uses) but it won't be there 100% of the time. If you have a smartphone, you may want to look to see if there's an option to use your phone as a wi-fi hotspot; this would help on the Texas Eagle and the Capitol Limited (if you decide to take that train) where the train itself doesn't have wi-fi.

 

I of course have to point this out but the biggest difference is it is the longest trip. It's a 24 hour trip between WAS and CHI compared to a 17 hr 40 min trip between the exact same cities on the CL. That's an extra 6 hr 20 min on a train and you're already spending a lot of time on the trains between SAV and WAS and CHI and DAL. Would you rather spend those 6 hours stuck captive on a train or 6 hours sight seeing around DC? To me the Cardinal is literally a waste of time. Now the Cardinal does have Wi-Fi so those extra 6 hours you can pass the time better vs. the Capitol Limited which doesn't have it (plus the scenery is better from what jebr says, I don't know since I've never taken it). The Capitol Limited has bi-level Superliner cars which are better for sightseeing than the single level Viewliner cars. Going the LSL route you go farther up to New York and then all the way up to Albany before heading west. It would be less train miles/distance than the Cardinal (19 hr, 5 min on LSL from NYP-CHI but you'd spend more time on the Silver Meteor). The most direct route to CHI would be the CL but no wiFi. I don't know how big a deal that is but you mentioned it. There will be wiFi on the Silver Meteor (SM) but not on the Texas Eagle (TE).


Trains Traveled: Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA), Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI), Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS), Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI), , Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL), Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX), California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY), City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)
Bring back the Broadway Limited (or Three Rivers or any Chicago-Pittsburgh-Philly train)!
 
https://www.facebook...roadwayLimited/

#17 PVD

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 11:15 AM

More and more of the phones can now extend wi-fi by serving as a hotspot, but of course one's data plan and coverage in remote areas come into play.....



#18 jebr

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 11:33 AM

I of course have to point this out but the biggest difference is it is the longest trip. It's a 24 hour trip between WAS and CHI compared to a 17 hr 40 min trip between the exact same cities on the CL. That's an extra 6 hr 20 min on a train and you're already spending a lot of time on the trains between SAV and WAS and CHI and DAL. Would you rather spend those 6 hours stuck captive on a train or 6 hours sight seeing around DC? To me the Cardinal is literally a waste of time. Now the Cardinal does have Wi-Fi so those extra 6 hours you can pass the time better vs. the Capitol Limited which doesn't have it (plus the scenery is better from what jebr says, I don't know since I've never taken it). The Capitol Limited has bi-level Superliner cars which are better for sightseeing than the single level Viewliner cars. Going the LSL route you go farther up to New York and then all the way up to Albany before heading west. It would be less train miles/distance than the Cardinal (19 hr, 5 min on LSL from NYP-CHI but you'd spend more time on the Silver Meteor). The most direct route to CHI would be the CL but no wiFi. I don't know how big a deal that is but you mentioned it. There will be wiFi on the Silver Meteor (SM) but not on the Texas Eagle (TE).

 

 

First, the full trip time is the same - taking the Capitol Limited doesn't get them to their final destination any sooner. The question is whether you'd rather have a few more hours in DC (enough time to see a sight, maybe two) or spend that time on the train. Personally, I really enjoy taking the Cardinal and seeing its scenic route, especially through the New River Gorge. I'll admit I've never taken the Capitol, but if the price is the same I'd rather have more time on a train and a more scenic route (at least from what I've heard regarding the Capitol's scenery.) The layover time is enough to account for most major delays, and there's still the Capitol as the backstop should the delays be truly crazy that day. I've been to DC and while it's a city I enjoy visiting, an eight hour layover wouldn't be enough, especially with having to account for potential delays, to really plan out sightseeing or intentionally see things I haven't yet.

 

I don't think the Capitol Limited is a bad option either, but I'd personally take the Cardinal (even with its flaws) over the Capitol Limited if it's a "middle train" between two other train segments (so it doesn't extend the full travel time from origin to destination.)



#19 Lonestar648

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 11:34 AM

Amtrak's wifi does limit heavy data use so more people can use the system.  Don't plan to stream anything. 



#20 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 11:48 AM

 

I of course have to point this out but the biggest difference is it is the longest trip. It's a 24 hour trip between WAS and CHI compared to a 17 hr 40 min trip between the exact same cities on the CL. That's an extra 6 hr 20 min on a train and you're already spending a lot of time on the trains between SAV and WAS and CHI and DAL. Would you rather spend those 6 hours stuck captive on a train or 6 hours sight seeing around DC? To me the Cardinal is literally a waste of time. Now the Cardinal does have Wi-Fi so those extra 6 hours you can pass the time better vs. the Capitol Limited which doesn't have it (plus the scenery is better from what jebr says, I don't know since I've never taken it). The Capitol Limited has bi-level Superliner cars which are better for sightseeing than the single level Viewliner cars. Going the LSL route you go farther up to New York and then all the way up to Albany before heading west. It would be less train miles/distance than the Cardinal (19 hr, 5 min on LSL from NYP-CHI but you'd spend more time on the Silver Meteor). The most direct route to CHI would be the CL but no wiFi. I don't know how big a deal that is but you mentioned it. There will be wiFi on the Silver Meteor (SM) but not on the Texas Eagle (TE).

 

 

First, the full trip time is the same - taking the Capitol Limited doesn't get them to their final destination any sooner. The question is whether you'd rather have a few more hours in DC (enough time to see a sight, maybe two) or spend that time on the train. Personally, I really enjoy taking the Cardinal and seeing its scenic route, especially through the New River Gorge. I'll admit I've never taken the Capitol, but if the price is the same I'd rather have more time on a train and a more scenic route (at least from what I've heard regarding the Capitol's scenery.) The layover time is enough to account for most major delays, and there's still the Capitol as the backstop should the delays be truly crazy that day. I've been to DC and while it's a city I enjoy visiting, an eight hour layover wouldn't be enough, especially with having to account for potential delays, to really plan out sightseeing or intentionally see things I haven't yet.

 

I don't think the Capitol Limited is a bad option either, but I'd personally take the Cardinal (even with its flaws) over the Capitol Limited if it's a "middle train" between two other train segments (so it doesn't extend the full travel time from origin to destination.)

 

 

In this case the negative is if the SM runs late you would miss your Cardinal connection. In this case, they'd rebook you on the Capitol Limited anyway (assuming you're not so late you miss that too) but having to rebook could be a pain in the you know what (it was for me when I had to wait in a really long line to rebook my connection at Washington Union Station last time I had to change my connection!) It's less of a hassle to just book the CL at the beginning and if the SM gets in when it should maybe you can go to the ticket counter at WUS to see if you can switch to the Cardinal when there aren't 100 people who have to switch their tickets. I wonder if they tell you that you'd arrive in Chicago later or that's just me.


Trains Traveled: Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA), Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI), Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS), Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI), , Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL), Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX), California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY), City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)
Bring back the Broadway Limited (or Three Rivers or any Chicago-Pittsburgh-Philly train)!
 
https://www.facebook...roadwayLimited/



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