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Guest Karen Jane

My First Train Trip

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Guest Karen Jane

I will be traveling from Pittsburgh PA to Fort Madison Iowa in January to visit family. As this is my first train trip, I am nervous and not quite sure what to expect. I will be traveling coach. My first train (Capitol Limited) leaves Pitt and takes me to Chigaco where I will have a 6 hr lay-over. Then I catch the Southwest Chief to Fort Madison Iowa. I am wondering about:

 

~ How often are these two trains known to run late? (And I do understand the winter weather may play a factor.)

 

~ Where do I stow the 2 carry on bags I am permitted to have in coach seating?

 

~ Is it safe to leave my bags and venture to the dining car? I am concerned about them being unattended, but then again I don't want to be glued to my seat the entire time.

 

~ Can I bring my purse, a blanket, and a pillow along with me in addition to the 2 bags?

 

~ Can I bring a bottle of wine which is a gift for a family member? I DO NOT intend to consume it on the train, I do not drink at all myself due to medical reasons.

 

That's all I can think of for now, probably enough questions anyway. :P

Any and all advice will be helpful. I will also be returning the same route by the same trains, but with only a 3 hour lay over in Chicago on the return trip.

 

Many thanks!

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Is it safe to leave my bags and venture to the dining car? I am concerned about them being unattended, but then again I don't want to be glued to my seat the entire time.

Keep your valuables away from prying eyes and never let critical items leave your side, but so long as you don't get sloppy you should be fine.

 

Can I bring my purse, a blanket, and a pillow along with me in addition to the 2 bags?

So long as you're not struggling to carry your stuff with you they'll probably let it slide.

 

Can I bring a bottle of wine which is a gift for a family member? I DO NOT intend to consume it on the train, I do not drink at all myself due to medical reasons.

Absolutely. Just keep it under wraps and you'll be fine.

 

I'll leave the on-time performance and luggage storage availability for others to answer since these are not my usual routes. Usually you can store your bags above your seat or in the luggage area near the door so long as they're not too big.

Edited by Texas Sunset

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I will be traveling from Pittsburgh PA to Fort Madison Iowa in January to visit family. As this is my first train trip, I am nervous and not quite sure what to expect. I will be traveling coach. My first train (Capitol Limited) leaves Pitt and takes me to Chigaco where I will have a 6 hr lay-over. Then I catch the Southwest Chief to Fort Madison Iowa. I am wondering about:

 

~ How often are these two trains known to run late? (And I do understand the winter weather may play a factor.)

Since you have a six hour layover, you should make it into Fort Madison roughly on time. The train may be late into Chicago, shortening your layover, but the trains are usually within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival into Fort Madison from Chicago. It may be a bit late coming back, but not terribly so.

~ Where do I stow the 2 carry on bags I am permitted to have in coach seating?

There's a luggage rack on the lower level that will have room to store your baggage.

~ Is it safe to leave my bags and venture to the dining car? I am concerned about them being unattended, but then again I don't want to be glued to my seat the entire time.

They should be fine. Store them away in a backpack or bag when you leave, and don't make a big fuss about it. Check them when you get back if you're worried...after all, a thief won't jump out of a train going 79mph! ;)

I've never had a problem, though.

~ Can I bring my purse, a blanket, and a pillow along with me in addition to the 2 bags?

Yes. There's plenty of room on the train to have a pillow and blanket, and the purse can fit in the overhead rack or under the seat.

~ Can I bring a bottle of wine which is a gift for a family member? I DO NOT intend to consume it on the train, I do not drink at all myself due to medical reasons.

I believe so. Carry-on luggage isn't inspected, so as long as you aren't drinking it, you should be fine.

That's all I can think of for now, probably enough questions anyway. :P

Any and all advice will be helpful. I will also be returning the same route by the same trains, but with only a 3 hour lay over in Chicago on the return trip.

 

Many thanks!

Edited by jebr

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Welcome to the civilized mode of transportation!

 

it is both true that trains can be late, so can all other forms of transportation. And as ar as winter delays, it is less likely then on a plane or roads. In fact, when airports and roads are shut down, most times trains will be running. Most time, they will be nearly on time or just slightly late.

 

Both of these trains are Superliners (2 level trains) and will have a luggage rack on the lower level. There is also a luggage rack above your seat - which is MUCH bigger than on planes! And I wouldn't care too much about the 2 carry on limit. I have never seen it strictly enforced. The basic rule is if you can carry it yourself without trouble, you can carry it on. Also, there are many exceptions to the carry on limit. Some on these are:

  • Purses
  • Coats
  • Sweaters
  • Pillows
  • Blankets
  • Car Seats
  • Strollers
  • Etc...

Ad far as thefts, they may occur just like anywhere else, but where would the thief go? Very few people get off a train going 79 MPH! Besides a train is like a community. Others generally watch out for you. Still, I would keep my valuables (purse, computer, camera, etc...) with me.

 

Yes, you can carry liquor with you. There is no "Security Theater" to go thru.

 

Sit back and enjoy the ride - and let someone else "drive"!

Edited by the_traveler
Added info

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~ How often are these two trains known to run late? (And I do understand the winter weather may play a factor.)

You can get a really good sense for this by making use of this website, which allows you to view the arrival history of any Amtrak train into any station for at least the past week: http://www.amtrakdelays.onlineschedulingsoftware.com/

Your train numbers are 29 and 3, and the station codes are PGH, CHI, and FMD for Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Fort Madison, respectively.

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Guest Karen Jane

Thank you all for such great advice! I will be bringing my laptop with me, certainly don't want to leave it unattended, or my purse either. I had planned on packing the laptop in a carry on and stowing it in the rack above me, but maybe I should just keep it in a seperate bag and use that bag as my "purse" as well? I am diabetic and I have to eat something at some point...and sometimes packed sandwiches just don't cut it, so I will likely have to visit the dining car at some point.

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Just to clarify... there are no luggage racks above the seats in coach: there are bins, which are smaller than the ones found on a typical airliner, and are meant for "personal items" such as backpacks, purses, etc. An airline-sized roll-aboard will not fit; these are stored on the luggage racks downstairs by the door, as mentioned in one of the posts above. Thefts are exceedingly rare, so it's not really a safety concern. With regard to laptops, I use them on trains often, and when it's time to go to the dining car or whatever, I usually just shove it into a backpack and stow it in the overhead bin. I haven't had anything stolen on a train, ever, but depending on the value of your laptop and/or its contents, you may choose to keep it in sight.

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Guest Karen Jane

Thanks for the advice on stowing the laptop. It doesn't contain any info that anyone would be interested in and is almost 5 yrs old and not top of the line. But still, I'd hate to lose it. Perhaps I should put it in a tote bag of some sort and just take it with me to the dining car? The tote could serve as my purse as well. I know....I am overthinking all of this! :P

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Guest Nathanael

One thing to know: the boarding procedures are different at each station. At Chicago, they'll make you get into a line to get to the platform. At Ft. Madison, you'll just walk up to the platform and get on when the train shows up. At Pittsburgh, I'm not sure how it's done.

 

There are several places to eat within Chicago Union Station, though the layout is confusing; there's a deli on the same level as the trains, and then a food court which is kind of hidden (you have to use the "correct" escalators to get to it). If you want to see a little bit of Chicago on your 6-hour layover, the station is 2 blocks from the Sears Tower. There are (rather expensive) lockers to put your luggage in if you don't want to drag it around with you.

 

The dining car is lovely and well worth going to. If it's too expensive or if you have to eat sometime when it's not open, there's also a cafe car. You can also bring your own food (particularly useful if you have dietary restrictions). I've done all three. :-)

 

Your trains will probably be on time, though I wouldn't be surprised if any of them were up to an hour late. The one most likely to be late is the eastbound Southwest Chief from Ft. Madison to Chicago, because it starts in Los Angeles and so delays can pile up before it gets to you. However, it's usually on time. The others are extremely likely to be on time, and the arrivals into Chicago are likely to be early. Trains usually leave Chicago on time because they originate there. There's a lot of "recovery time" scheduled at both Pittsburgh so that trains can arrive late and still leave on time. And there's a lot of padding in the schedule of trains arriving at Chicago, so that you're likely to arrive *early* into Chicago.

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I think you'll feel more comfortable if you put the important things into your purse/bag to take with when you leave your seat. It is unlikely that anything would go wrong but why put yourself through worry when you don't need to. The main places you'll go are the dining car, the restroom, the observation car and the snack bar lounge area. I don't carry a purse anymore but there was a time in my life where it was almost a part of my outfit and I think you might want to treat it that way during your trip. I bet you're going to enjoy your trip because it's such a relaxing way to travel. I resent it when I have to fly nowadays. Have a good time!

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Just to clarify... there are no luggage racks above the seats in coach: there are bins, which are smaller than the ones found on a typical airliner, and are meant for "personal items" such as backpacks, purses, etc. An airline-sized roll-aboard will not fit; these are stored on the luggage racks downstairs by the door, as mentioned in one of the posts above. Thefts are exceedingly rare, so it's not really a safety concern. With regard to laptops, I use them on trains often, and when it's time to go to the dining car or whatever, I usually just shove it into a backpack and stow it in the overhead bin. I haven't had anything stolen on a train, ever, but depending on the value of your laptop and/or its contents, you may choose to keep it in sight.

I do not leave my laptop. I would definitely carry it with me going to the dinning car, restroom or whatever. It may be OK to leave it on your seat or in the overhead rack, but you have to be wrong on this only once.

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Just to clarify... there are no luggage racks above the seats in coach: there are bins, which are smaller than the ones found on a typical airliner, and are meant for "personal items" such as backpacks, purses, etc. An airline-sized roll-aboard will not fit; these are stored on the luggage racks downstairs by the door, as mentioned in one of the posts above. Thefts are exceedingly rare, so it's not really a safety concern. With regard to laptops, I use them on trains often, and when it's time to go to the dining car or whatever, I usually just shove it into a backpack and stow it in the overhead bin. I haven't had anything stolen on a train, ever, but depending on the value of your laptop and/or its contents, you may choose to keep it in sight.

I do not leave my laptop. I would definitely carry it with me going to the dinning car, restroom or whatever. It may be OK to leave it on your seat or in the overhead rack, but you have to be wrong on this only once.

 

Just another take on the laptop: I take my work laptop with me on train trips, and work on it as I roll along. It is old-style (not widescreen) and obviously loaded with a classic OS (WinXP). Sometimes I carry it with me to the lounge/cafe car, and work as I eat or sip my tea. If I want to head to the diner from my coach seat, I leave it therre, plugged in and running, but closed and stuffed into the seat-back pocket in front of me. It must be too much trouble to swipe, and too obviously of too little value. It has never been bothered at all. Of course, I back it up before I leave home. Alternatively, you may have a small backpack with a computer sleeve, which makes it convenient to carry everywhere. If I had a new one, I would certainly do that.

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Just to clarify... there are no luggage racks above the seats in coach: there are bins, which are smaller than the ones found on a typical airliner, and are meant for "personal items" such as backpacks, purses, etc. An airline-sized roll-aboard will not fit; these are stored on the luggage racks downstairs by the door, as mentioned in one of the posts above.

 

On Superliner trains, which both the Capitol Limited and the Southwest Chief are, the overhead luggage racks are actually much larger than what you would find on an airplane. You will have plenty of room to stow any luggage either above the seats or in the downstairs luggage racks. Check out the following pics of an luggage rack with bags and one from the Capitol Limited showing a bicycle up there!

719893758_pEs7M-S.jpg

2foldedbikesontrain.jpg

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Just to clarify... there are no luggage racks above the seats in coach: there are bins, which are smaller than the ones found on a typical airliner, and are meant for "personal items" such as backpacks, purses, etc. An airline-sized roll-aboard will not fit; these are stored on the luggage racks downstairs by the door, as mentioned in one of the posts above.

 

On Superliner trains, which both the Capitol Limited and the Southwest Chief are, the overhead luggage racks are actually much larger than what you would find on an airplane. You will have plenty of room to stow any luggage either above the seats or in the downstairs luggage racks. Check out the following pics of an luggage rack with bags and one from the Capitol Limited showing a bicycle up there!

 

719893758_pEs7M-S.jpg

 

 

It's true that there are many commercial aircraft with much smaller luggage bins than Amtrak's Superliner fleet. However, there are also many commercial aircraft with much larger luggage bins than a Superliner car. It all depends on who you're flying, where you're going, what aircraft they use on that route, and how recently the aircraft were refurbished.

 

luggage.jpg

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Apparently theft is a rare thing on Amtrak, but I always take my purse, camera, Kindle, and netbook to the dining car with me. I put them in a large purse but a small tote bag would work, too. Not hard to do, and better safe than sorry. I love riding the train. Enjoy your trip!

Edited by crescent2

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I have taken these same trains several times. I'm in Cleveland, the city punished by all Amtrak trains arriving and departing in the wee small hours of the morning. I've taken the Capitol Ltd, Lakeshore Ltd and Pennsylvanian east and west. My hometown is L.A. and this year I'm taking a full round-trip thanks to AGR (usually I have to fly one direction). I will be taking the Capitol Ltd and Southwest Chief out to L.A. just before Christmas. While I prefer the Lakeshore Ltd (higher ceilings due to it being single-story - I am 6' 2"), I have been on the Capitol Ltd as well and the overhead luggage racks have plenty of room with no worry about being able to close any pesky door. And while I rarely take Coach anymore, I can tell you that Coach on the train beats a plane ride any day. You will have plenty of legroom. I might also recommend bringing a second pillow to place under your thighs - the seats recline well, but the lower half of the seat stays flat, which tends to make you slide down the seat at times - I find putting that 2nd pillow under my thighs/knees prevents this from happening. I only wish the lower half of the seats could be inclined when reclining the back. If you can, get a window seat - much easier to fall asleep with your pillow partly against the window. And yes, take all valuables with you at all times. Even when I'm in a bedroom, the cell phone and iPod come with me just in case.

 

Recommendation while you're in Chicago - Giodarno's Pizza is only a couple blocks from Union Station - 223 West Jackson just southeast of the SEARS Tower (nobody calls it the Willis Tower). I HIGHLY recommend them for authentic Chicago Deep Dish pizza and you can even order a personal pizza to go to bring on the Southwest Chief with you! There is also a CVS on the northwest corner of Adams and Canal right outside Union Station in case there's anything you think you might need before returning to the trains.

 

PS - if the Capitol Ltd is horribly late, they will try to hold trains at Union Station since they know there will be connecting passengers - has happened to me before where they held the Capitol Ltd 30 minutes so Empire Builder connecting passengers could make the connection.

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Check out the following pics of an luggage rack with bags and one from the Capitol Limited showing a bicycle up there!

719893758_pEs7M-S.jpg

2foldedbikesontrain.jpg

 

I know it's off topic, but how did you (or they) get what looks like a mountain bike onto a superliner coach? If this were "legal", it would certainly stop a lot of complaints by the bicycle community, especially those wanting to ride the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Trail which parallels the Capitol Limited between PGH, Cumberland, and DC.

 

A little known fact. According to the rules, folding bikes go as carry on luggage but can't be stowed in overhead racks. But full size bikes can be stowed in the overhead racks, at least according to a newbie conductress on the IZ a couple years ago. She told my wife to put her reserved and paid for full size bike in the rack. When I argued, she said the rule applied only to folding bikes. Duh!

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Guest Karen Jane

Thanks so much to all of you for the useful advice and helpful comments. My trip from Pittsburgh to Ft. Madison IA was supposed to take place in January, but has since been rescheduled to March. Friends/family/husband begged me not to travel in "iffy" January weather, so after much insisting...I relented and rescheduled my trip for March. They do have a point, I could encounter a snow storm which could totoally foul up my travel schedule. In any case, I am still fretting about my luggage. Ideally I'd like to take 2 carry on bags and stow them in the racks on the lower level, but beyond that I am uncertian what I could bring to my seat. I want to keep my laptop with me as well as bring some food. I am diabetic and I have to eat a little something every few hrs. Any further insight to this matter is much welcomed. And I must say I am impressed by all the responses I have received to my post and all the helpful people who took the time to leave comments. Bless you all, and thank you! :) Please keep the tips and advice coming, I have never traveled by train before so any info is welcomed. Thanks!

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Guest Karen Jane

PS: To those that posted the photos, thanks! They are very helpful in getting an idea of what to expect on the train. :)

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Karen, you can bring a small cooler for your food and what ever you want to drink (No alcohol tho) with you to your seat. You can bring a carry on bag,/backpack and pillow to your seat.

 

I've had my bags at the luggage rack downstairs, and then I a backpack, and small carry on.. one of those bags was our electronics. We had no worries about issues, as other pople said, we look after one another on the train.

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Friends/family/husband begged me not to travel in "iffy" January weather, so after much insisting...I relented and rescheduled my trip for March.

I traveled last Christmas from Albuquerque to San Diego. My departure from ABQ was seven hours late. A huge blizzard covered much of the midwest prior to my leaving,, and the Southwest Chief out of Chicago had some difficulties getting here. Amtrak shares the local station with Greyhound and there were people packed into the station like sardines waiting for buses.

 

On the plus side, mega credit to the Amrak crew. With the long delays and problems they had, I expected the rest rooms to be a mess.

They were spotless and well supplied.

And the crew was super nice and friendly, even laughing at one or two of my stupid jokes. I love Amtrak !

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Hi- One thing we have learned over the years is to under pack- to keep our bags fairly light.

 

Hope you have a good container for carrying wine.

 

Have a good trip.

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Guest Nathanael

Thanks so much to all of you for the useful advice and helpful comments. My trip from Pittsburgh to Ft. Madison IA was supposed to take place in January, but has since been rescheduled to March. Friends/family/husband begged me not to travel in "iffy" January weather, so after much insisting...I relented and rescheduled my trip for March. They do have a point, I could encounter a snow storm which could totoally foul up my travel schedule.

 

I've travelled in mid-February, height of the storm season around here, several times, and the trains *always* run. They're the most reliable way to travel in the winter. They sometimes get stuck in the Rockies, but not from Pittsburgh to Ft. Madison. You're in more danger from summer and spring flooding, particularly on the Mississippi on the route you're taking. So actually that's what to watch out for on your March trip. :-( There's been a lot of flooding cancellations over the last few years.

 

In any case, I am still fretting about my luggage. Ideally I'd like to take 2 carry on bags and stow them in the racks on the lower level, but beyond that I am uncertian what I could bring to my seat.

Purse, pillow, blanket, laptop case are all exempt from the carryon limit. I advise travelling light, but I admit that I've been taking more and more luggage since I switched from air travel to train travel. :-)

 

I want to keep my laptop with me as well as bring some food.

Not a problem. Some people actually bring a small cooler (small enough to fit under the seat in front of you), although that *does* count as a carryon. If you don't mind lugging your laptop and purse up and down the stairs, I'd suggest keeping a small amount of food in your purse and putting the rest of it in one of the carryons in the rack, then going down and refilling your purse as needed.

 

I am diabetic and I have to eat a little something every few hrs. Any further insight to this matter is much welcomed. And I must say I am impressed by all the responses I have received to my post and all the helpful people who took the time to leave comments. Bless you all, and thank you! :) Please keep the tips and advice coming, I have never traveled by train before so any info is welcomed. Thanks!

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There is really no strict limit or checks on the number of carry-ons and other paraphernalia that you can bring on to an Amtrak coach car. The rule of thumb is, if you can carry it, you can bring it on. If you have the energy to do it, you could probably carry enough material to fill up a small house with you and no one will stop you from doing so. It all boils down to how much you can fit in your hands and shoulders.

 

Bring your own food onboard no problem, both your trains have a Sightseer Car open to everyone which has some restaurant-style "dining tables". If you so desire you can bring your food, dishes, silverware, glasses, napkins et al and set up your own fine candlelight dinner there :P

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