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Amtrak : Best Kept Secrets

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Guest wannacruise

Hi veterans,

 

I've seen these types of threads on other travel forums and have learned many very usefull tips:

 

eg. Best seats, best routes, how to get the best deals, best times and worst times to travel, things to bring/not bring, services and things that are avilable IF you know to ask....

 

 

I'll start:

 

I have found out that when talking to Amtrak agents on the phone, that if one agent tells you something is not available or not possible, try another call... they don't all know everything and sometimes you may catch someone new or someone who's having a bad day and just isn't interested in helping.

 

I have talked to some VERY helpful agents, who can offer a weath of information, don't be shy about asking.

 

ML

 

OK next...

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1) If you are told by an agent or the website that a train/accommodation is sold out, keep trying back. Availabity can change as people cancel, reschedule or additional equipment is added.

 

2) Especially if two people are travelling together, ALWAYS check the price of a sleeper. Many times two can travel as cheaply in a sleeper as in coach when you consider the costs of meals.

 

3) Be patient. Like planes, cars and busses, delays can occur on the train as well.

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I have already posted this on another thread, but if you ever absolutely have to travel from Toronto to Vancouver and need to save some $$$, Amtrak can do the trip for much less than VIA Rail and it takes only a couple of hours more... you just need to book it in stages. Going west it looks like this

 

dep. TWO 08:30 train # 64

arr. BUF 12:55

dep. BUF 23:30 train # 49

 

arr. CHI 09:05

dep. CHI 14:15 train # 7

 

arr. SEA 10:20 (two days later)

dep. SEA 13:15 bus 8900

arr. VAC 17:00

 

For a test booking in November the cheapest available adult fare (low season Comfort Supersaver) on VIA Rail is CAD $439.90 (about USD $387). On Amtrak (as above) it's USD $204, about $180 less.

 

*j* :blink:

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Years ago, I was told by an Amtrak reservations person that if the fare is high when you call for reservations, call back on Thursday or Friday. She said that people often make reservations on weekends and early in the week and then cancel them toward the end of the week. Thus those lower priced "buckets" we hear about become available.

 

When traveling in coach with a friend or family member, if you are in an outside seat, it's a bit difficult to sleep. After you and your friend by the window have reclined the seats as far back as they can go, ask your friend to raise his seat one notch up from yours. That way you can lean your head against his seat and get a whole lot more comfortable. Your friend won't notice any difference because one notch up isn't a whole lot.

 

This is a great idea for a thread. I've seen it on cruise forums and I'm glad someone introduced it here. I hope we'll all keep it alive.

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When someone calls and cancels or changes their reservation, or it gets zeroed out due to credit card problems, the seat doesn't get re-listed until 6:00 AM the next morning, Eastern Time. So, if I can't get reservations, I simply get up the next morning and try again-- and keep trying. I've done this somewheres around twenty times, and although I've had to try more than five days in a row several times, it's failed me only once.

 

Riding SuperLiner coach? I'm always a right-side rider (to read signals), middle of the car (better ride), and somewhat behind the stairway (human behavior-- being able to match a noise with seeing what's making it makes it less of a disturbance).

 

In the late '80's, when Amtrak was having difficulties finding a supplier of the reclining seat part that somehow knows when you're using the legrest and when you're lowering it, I happened to find a small case taht perfectly fit between the legrest and the floor. It not only kept the leg rest from slooowly lowering itself, but I could keep my scanner, camera, walkman, etc safe inside-- I weighted 90 pounds more back then, and that pretty much made it theft proof. They don't have the seat problems like they used to any more, but I'll still set the leg rest on the case (instead of latching it)

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Nice Thread Idea!

 

Here's a couple...

 

*When booking Amtrak online, it may well help to play with using the MULTI-PART TRIP instead of booking straight one way: Depending on your destination:

 

1) It may allow you other options.

 

2) It may save you some money on your ticket.

 

3) It may allow you a short stopover at a place you've never been and want to explore a bit.

 

4) It may increase your AGR points.

 

Case in point wherein last week, I booked a trip from BAL to PGH with a stopover at HAR. It gave me the option to leave early in the morning. My rail fare was $10 cheaper doing this. It gave me nearly three hours to explore the Harrisburg area right in the middle of the day, and by having 3 tickets instead of 2, I got 50% more AGR points.

 

*If you're travelling into a hub station, and you want a little more adventure as well as an additional 100 AGR points, consider booking a connecting trip one stop out of that hub, and then maybe using an available commuter rail alternative to return to the hub. For example, if coming into Chicago on the SWC, maybe book to Joliet on the State House and return on METRA. The difference in ticket prices is minimal, and by adding the new segment, you get 100 AGR points for just a few bucks.

 

*If you want to add new life to an already travelled route, I can't recommend an SPV Railroad Atlas strongly enough, particularly if you're a history buff like me. It shows locations of current and former stations, current and former connecting lines, and CPs that make an hour or so trip between stations go in the blink of an eye. Just be warned, you're eyes will get tired from gawking out the window! :blink:

 

I'm sure others have more! :)

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I'm completely new to Amtrak, but as I've been reading this forum for the past few months, I've been writing down some of the good hints I've come across. Here are a few:

 

Take a small tote bag (a.k.a. a "survival kit") that can fit under the lower bunk in a roomette (a 9"x24"x26" space), or on the steps to the upper bunk. Include:

1. a small flashlight

2. 3or4 large pins like the diaper pins(this is to keep the curtains closed at night)

3. some small snack packs

4. a very small sewing kit and

5. a few bandaides.

6. Instead of pjs I take lightweight knit pants and a t shirt to sleep in. Then if you get up during the night to use the bathroom you are for all purposes dressed.

7. I always carry a small bottle of water as there have been times in the past when they run out.

8. Take along 12" or so of duct tape, wrapped around a ballpoint pen. Use the tape to silence any squeaky panels or fixtures inside your roomette.

9. GPS scanners (so you can find out exactly where you are) and scanners (so you can listen to the train crew) can keep you entertained and informed. I've found NASCAR-type scanners pretty cheap on eBay- just remember not to TALK into them.

10. Roomettes 3-10 on most sleepers are usually the best in terms of having the least noise from nearby plumbing or rail noise.

 

Thanks to all the OPs whose hints I stole!

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On Long Distance trains, particularly the Sunset Limited, which has Superliner equipment, we have booked Bedroom E (in the center of the car and in our opinion the best riding bedroom, (also next to the coffee station and hall bathroom) from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Then, we would buy bedroom D from Houston to Del Rio. The chances of room D being sold twice are minimal and the attendant will usually keep the sliding door open for you between the two rooms for the rest of the journey into LA. It's the closest you will get to the overly spacious drawing rooms of the old heavy weights.

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I've never booked a sleeper. Never needed it, but if I do, you can bet i'll be sure to use all the tips above.

In the interim, i've come up with some secrets that have kept me on time, kept me well prepared, well informed, and have made for more comfortable travel.


  1. [1]Get To Your Station At Least 1 Hour Prior To Catching The Train
    Amtrak says at least 30 minutes before, but they don't do well at informing passengers that a train can
    run up to 30 minutes early. This also gives one a chance to not feel so rushed and worn out while getting
    prepared for train arrival and boarding.
     
    [2]Call Amtrak One Day Prior To Departure To Ask Questions Such As: "Should I Expect Any Delays?", "Is My Train Schedule Expected To Change?", and then...
     
    [3]Call Amtrak The Day Of Departure Two hours Before Going To The Station To Ask If Your Train Is Running Early Or Late, Ask If Your Train Is Running With Any Equipment Problems (Especially during the winter and very hot summer temps.), Ask Again About Possible Delays Once You Are On The Train, Ask Every question You Can Come Up With As To Your Travel That Day.

If you are on a long haul, you should bring plenty of your favorite food that doesn't have to be refrigerated or frozen. Just about anything you can think of to keep you entertained and happy that is allowed on board is highly reccomended.

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I've never booked a sleeper. Never needed it, but if I do, you can bet i'll be sure to use all the tips above.

In the interim, i've come up with some secrets that have kept me on time, kept me well prepared, well informed, and have made for more comfortable travel.

[1]Get To Your Station At Least 1 Hour Prior To Catching The Train

Amtrak says at least 30 minutes before, but they don't do well at informing passengers that a train can

run up to 30 minutes early. This also gives one a chance to not feel so rushed and worn out while getting

prepared for train arrival and boarding.

That's a good idea for LD trains, but I can't imagine being booked on #42, and having it arrive at GNB an hour early...

 

...in that case, 30 minutes ahead is great. Even 15 minutes is okay in the example I've given. A dose of common sense helps.

 

The other items in your list are mostly harmless, and especially helpful on the LD trains.

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I've never booked a sleeper. Never needed it, but if I do, you can bet i'll be sure to use all the tips above.

In the interim, i've come up with some secrets that have kept me on time, kept me well prepared, well informed, and have made for more comfortable travel.

[1]Get To Your Station At Least 1 Hour Prior To Catching The Train

Amtrak says at least 30 minutes before, but they don't do well at informing passengers that a train can

run up to 30 minutes early. This also gives one a chance to not feel so rushed and worn out while getting

prepared for train arrival and boarding.

That's a good idea for LD trains, but I can't imagine being booked on #42, and having it arrive at GNB an hour early...

 

...in that case, 30 minutes ahead is great. Even 15 minutes is okay in the example I've given. A dose of common sense helps.

 

The other items in your list are mostly harmless, and especially helpful on the LD trains.

 

only bad thing is that advice(though good for most trains) doesn't apply for all trains! especially #6, the EB California Zephyr(which has been averaging 21/2-4 hours late the last few weeks). lol....

 

but in honesty, that advice does work most of the time(my rule, albeit slightly different and cutting it slightly closer, is to give myself at least 30-35 minutes before a train's departure, and if a train isn't departing from Chicago, to check the on-time status at least a few hours before getting to the station, and of course to also get there preferably within 30-35 mins.).

Edited by boratwanksta

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This may not be necessarily an Amtrak secret, but it should go well here. One of the best tidbits of advice I believe I can ever offer is the following which I am providing from both an employee point of view as well as a passenger point of view. This actually pertains to the travel industry as a whole, not just for Amtrak. Anyway....

 

When using any form of public transit, travel, etc, always have some sort of contingency plan in place should something go wrong or your own plans must change. This ranges in having necessary extra funds available to the flexibility to go with the flow. The scenarios which can occur are too numerous to list in detail, however, it always pays off in the long run to be an "informed traveler." When you know your other options prior to, during, and after a segment of your trip, you are already a step ahead of the game! So always have some sort of "plan B" in place to help bail you out of the unexpected or at least make it better able to be dealt with. It takes a little more planning, and a lot more effort depending on what type of person you are, if you have other members in your party, family issues, etc. But I always say it pays to be in the know, and always to have an alternate plan or at least an idea of other options!

 

OBS...

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leaving new york's penn station enroute to chicago on the lakeshore limited, the staff had all chicago bound coach passengers crowd into the last car in the back. passengers headed for albany or other places were put into other cars. the chicago car was packed and as we left the station we realized we had sat on the opposite side facing the beautiful hudson river valley. we were very dissapointed. but after a few minutes we went to another car and sat on the left (more scenic) side. the car attendants said no problem, we could move, just take our seat reciepts from the overhead compartment with us. and so it was no problem to move to a nicer, less crowded car, and spend the whole trip there. i guess they want to initially prevent people from spreading out across all the cars, so when people get on at later stops it will be easier to find a seat.

 

this might not be surprising advice, but i guess if you're unhappy with your coach seat, and the car you're in is full, and the staff told you you have to sit in that car upon boarding, trying to move to another car after departure might not be a problem if you take your seat reciept with you and place it at your new seat.

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leaving new york's penn station enroute to chicago on the lakeshore limited, the staff had all chicago bound coach passengers crowd into the last car in the back. passengers headed for albany or other places were put into other cars. the chicago car was packed and as we left the station we realized we had sat on the opposite side facing the beautiful hudson river valley. we were very dissapointed. but after a few minutes we went to another car and sat on the left (more scenic) side. the car attendants said no problem, we could move, just take our seat reciepts from the overhead compartment with us. and so it was no problem to move to a nicer, less crowded car, and spend the whole trip there. i guess they want to initially prevent people from spreading out across all the cars, so when people get on at later stops it will be easier to find a seat.

 

this might not be surprising advice, but i guess if you're unhappy with your coach seat, and the car you're in is full, and the staff told you you have to sit in that car upon boarding, trying to move to another car after departure might not be a problem if you take your seat reciept with you and place it at your new seat.

 

 

You said you checked with the staff on that first time. This would be OK from my point of view, but please continue to make sure it is OK with the crewmember in charge of the car(s). They may have a differnent situation in the works regarding the loading plan such as a group, or they may have designated additional handicapped seating, etc. Just continue to make sure it is OK or you might encouter a bit of a problem, especially on the high volume trains such as 'Silver Service." On these trains we also use a diagram to keep track of seats, and there is nothing more aggrivating than to assign a seat and someone return to the door hollering "there is someone in that seat!" This kind of stuff slows down the boarding process, causes the train to lose additional time in the station, and people get misplaced in the wrong car, etc. When that happens, the chances of someone missing their stop go way up! This is not good especially in the overnight or when the PA doesn't work properly! So please make sure it is OK! Most of us attendants will work with you. You might have to wait, but we'll work with you! Thanks. OBS...

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Since I always travel with my laptop, digital camera etc, I would like to get your tips and tricks on getting an electrical outlet in amtrak

 

In California, it is much easier, the local Cal train has outlet at every seat.

 

However my experience last January on Amtrak - from Montreal to Albany, Chicago, St paul and then Seattle which I archives in (pls click)

 

My Travel blog

 

I found out that there is normally only 2 outlets per car, they are located in the middle of the car and frequently hidden by the car seat (it is difficult to plug in to that outlet since it is only half visible). I wish an Amtrak staff can tell us here why this practice is adapted in this day of cell phones Ipod and laptop.

 

The other way is for you to go down from the passenger's car and go to the children's room or go near the toilet near the exit door. What a way to get electrical outlet! You can also go to the sightseeing car, there is one or two outlet there, but you have to compete with cell phone users who are charging their cell phones.

 

I also have some more tips on my travel blog here My Webpage

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I found out that there is normally only 2 outlets per car, they are located in the middle of the car and frequently hidden by the car seat (it is difficult to plug in to that outlet since it is only half visible). I wish an Amtrak staff can tell us here why this practice is adapted in this day of cell phones Ipod and laptop.

 

 

I'm not an "Amtrak staff," but this practice is simply because when the cars were built, it was not the day of cell phones, iPods, and laptops. People didn't have portable electronic devices, and therefore, the only people that needed access to plugs were the car cleaners at the end of the trip that would vacuum the floors.

 

As cars go in for remanufacturing, plugs are added. This has been the case with single-level cars for quite some time. A few Superliner coaches received electrical outlets some years ago, but it appears to have been part of a program that was quickly cancelled (likely) due to lack of funds. Unfortunately, the minor refurbishment that is going on for coaches (primarily assigned to the Empire Builder) does not include electrical outlets, or at least it didn't when I rode the train last year.

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As cars go in for remanufacturing, plugs are added. This has been the case with single-level cars for quite some time. A few Superliner coaches received electrical outlets some years ago, but it appears to have been part of a program that was quickly cancelled (likely) due to lack of funds. Unfortunately, the minor refurbishment that is going on for coaches (primarily assigned to the Empire Builder) does not include electrical outlets, or at least it didn't when I rode the train last year.
I just walked through a single level coach in the Beech Grove repair facility. They had put plugs in that car at every seat.

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[

 

I'm not an "Amtrak staff," but this practice is simply because when the cars were built, it was not the day of cell phones, iPods, and laptops. People didn't have portable electronic devices, and therefore, the only people that needed access to plugs were the car cleaners at the end of the trip that would vacuum the floors.

 

Thank you for your kind reply

 

There is also a quality control problem.

Those outlets are halfway hidden, you can see one hole, while the second one is hidden behind the seta. I have to forcefully push my cable - and then the connection was not good. This surely is a manufacturing probelm with Amtrak supplier.

 

I am disappointed that the upgrading was canccelled. I saw many people walking around asking where they find outlets. Thiis is unacceptable and in the end the younger generation will avoid travelling with Amtrak

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[

I am disappointed that the upgrading was canccelled. I saw many people walking around asking where they find outlets. Thiis is unacceptable and in the end the younger generation will avoid travelling with Amtrak

 

the previous message is from me. Somehow I was logged off.

I really wish the Superliner got upgraded at my next trip. Planning to travel from Seattle to New York this time. Probably in 2007

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Again, I don't think it was necessarily a manufacturing problem, as when the cars were built, the need wasn't there. In fact, considering that people didn't have a need for the plugs during their trip back in the day, "hiding" the plugs behind the seats was probably done intentionally for safety reasons.

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Again, I don't think it was necessarily a manufacturing problem, as when the cars were built, the need wasn't there. In fact, considering that people didn't have a need for the plugs during their trip back in the day, "hiding" the plugs behind the seats was probably done intentionally for safety reasons.

 

Actually I strongly suspect that the hidden outlets simply has more to do with some employee being told to install the seats X inches apart from one another, and simply not paying any attention or caring to pay attention to the fact that they were blocking the outlets.

 

I've seen construction workers build new offices and place the support leg for a countertop directly in front of an outlet effectively blocking it. Ask them why, "well that's where the blueprint told me to put it." Doesn't matter that they can clearly see that they've rendered the outlet useless, that's someone else's problem. Let them deal with it. And sadly all too often, if they are consientious enough to report the issue to a supervisor, the supervisor will either not care or worse may yell at them for wasting time, such is the way our society has gone. :(

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Yep. And the construction worker is probably sure that if he moved the leg to uncover the outlet, a supervisor would fire him for ignoring what the blueprint told him to do. And the supervisor would think that if he allowed it, then further along in the construction, an inspector would red-tag it and require tearing down and rebuilding to put it where the blueprint required it, because the inspector doesn't care about usability, just about whether the blueprints, which were approved by the Building Department, were followed. It's no longer just "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing" now the left hand doesn't even CARE what the right hand is doing. When my previous church did a building project, the city required a complete re-do of the parking lots. They didn't have enough parking to start with (a common problem at churches in urban and suburban environments) but the city's requirements for landscaping and trees and shrubs and curbing reduced actual parking space availability by about 40% in the main lot. And now it has so many curves in and out that it's almost impossible to get a bus or a semi into or out of the lot. It's beautiful, but there's no room to park. Apparently the city bureaucrat involved hadn't ever quite gotten the concept that a parking lot IS FOR PARKING CARS so that people could go to church.

And we wonder why the Country's in such a mess.........

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Because if you blindly follow the rules, no one can fault you for breaking them. Good common sense is actively discouraged in a lot of circumstances. I could fill a book with these things. Suffice to say that some of us have a saying that decisions are made in a logic free zone.

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It's no longer just "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing" now the left hand doesn't even CARE what the right hand is doing. When my previous church did a building project, the city required a complete re-do of the parking lots. They didn't have enough parking to start with (a common problem at churches in urban and suburban environments) but the city's requirements for landscaping and trees and shrubs and curbing reduced actual parking space availability by about 40% in the main lot. And now it has so many curves in and out that it's almost impossible to get a bus or a semi into or out of the lot. It's beautiful, but there's no room to park. Apparently the city bureaucrat involved hadn't ever quite gotten the concept that a parking lot IS FOR PARKING CARS so that people could go to church.

And we wonder why the Country's in such a mess.........

 

Because if you blindly follow the rules, no one can fault you for breaking them. Good common sense is actively discouraged in a lot of circumstances. I could fill a book with these things. Suffice to say that some of us have a saying that decisions are made in a logic free zone.

 

That's precisely why some of these odd, stupid, and often wasteful things occur. Here's one such example from my neck of the woods. Not far from my office, which is located in Rockland county, is a JP Morgan/Chase branch. The main office is about 1/4 of a mile away from a drive through facility. This facility is free standing, not connected in any way to the main branch. The only way to bank here is by driving up in a car to one of the pneumatic machines and sending your stuff via the tube.

 

The teller area is barely big enough for two people, and I've never seen more than 3 inside at any given time. There are 4 parking spots for the staff. Yet the bank had to spend extra money on painting, signs, and other stuff for a handicapped parking spot. :blink:

 

It's a frigin drive through branch! You can't park there, ever! And I'm sure that if there ever was a handicapped person who started working there, that the other worker would certainly give the handicapped person the closer spot. But the law say you have to have a handicapped spot if you install a parking lot, so even though it makes absolutely no sense, they have a handicapped spot and wasted money to install it.

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How do you think I feel about my apartment complex. Not a single Handicap spot is used in this whole place, and there's 924 residents. If one happens to be Disabled, throw up a sign in front of their building when they move in. Jeez.

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