The Amtrak Railpass: The Basics

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by Matthew H Fish, Jun 10, 2019.

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

  1. Jun 10, 2019 #1

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    After doing a search, I saw that while this was mentioned in some threads in the past, there was no single thread that was all about the Amtrak Railpass. So I decided that I should make one to do so.

    Note that this information is current at the time of writing, but this is a general overview, and much of the specific information is liable to change. Obviously, consult Amtrak to see if things have changed. This is the current URL for the program:

    https://www.amtrak.com/take-the-trains-across-america-with-usa-rail-pass

    The Amtrak Railpass is a way to take a variety of different train rides in the Amtrak system, within a set amount of time. Currently, this is in the form of 15, 30 and 45 day passes, which currently come at prices of 459, 689, and 899 dollars.

    Railpasses do not, however, function as "hop on, hop off" passes that can be used however and whenever you want in the designated time. Along with the time restriction, there is also a "segment" restriction, which is currently 8, 12 and 18 segments. "Segments" are just another way to say "Tickets". Anytime you board or get off a train, you use up a segment. So basically, the pass is a way that you get a set amount of tickets that can all be used together in the allotted amount of time.

    And, you have to make reservations, just like for any other ticket. You call up the Amtrak number, give them your railpass number, and get reservations, and then pick up your ticket(s) at the station. But, just like with any Amtrak ticket, you have to buy your tickets while they are still available. If the train is sold out, the railpass won't help you. You don't have to select your entire itinerary before travel begins, but in general, you want a few days before ordering tickets.

    The railpass also only pays for coach seats, although you can upgrade to a higher level seat. As I understand it, you just pay the difference between coach and business, or coach and a roomette.

    Currently, the railpass is not valid for tickets on the Autotrain, the Acela, and some Amtrak routes in Canada, and a few thruway connections.

    Basically, all of the above means: the Amtrak railpass can be very useful, but people who want to use it should understand it is not a carte blanche where you show up on the platform, flash it at the conductor, and then choose your favorite seat on the train.

    Another important thing to remember about that trip is that your segments count the same whether you are travelling from Chicago to Springfield or Chicago to Los Angeles. This includes connecting service or shuttle service. I wanted to go from Dallas to Oakland/Emeryville, and that necessitated taking a shuttle van from Springfield to Galesburg. And that two hours in a van counts equally as a "segment" to the trip on the California Zephyr from Galesburg to the West Coast. Of course, as a rider, you can also buy Amtrak tickets, or other transportation tickets, even while your pass is active. I did this on my trip: I was going from Boston to Portland, Maine, and decided to spend 25 dollars on bus tickets each way, rather than ride the Amtrak both ways and lose 2 segments.

    The railpass isn't for everyone, and it involves some planning, but there are some things you can do with a railpass that you can't really do with anything else. With the 14 day railpass, it is quite feasible to circle the entire United States and see all the major Amtrak lines. It doesn't even take that long: 10 days, for less than 500 dollars! It is an incredible bargain. I myself used the 30 day railpass, and, counting some time spent with friends in New York, Maine, and Texas, managed to pass through 38 states and take almost every major Amtrak route, in 30 days.

    I know I am preaching to the choir here, but it is an incredible bargain. Like, my trip across the US, even with hotels and food, averaged out to probably a little more than 30 dollars a day. I say pretty much the entire United States, and the daily cost was a little more than the average price of lunch at a mid-range chain restaurant!

    Anyway, I have more to say about the railpass, but that should be enough to get started. Feel free to ask me technical and non-technical questions about the railpass. And, of course, if you have experienced it, share your experiences.
     
  2. Jun 10, 2019 #2

    PaTrainFan

    P

    PaTrainFan

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
    May 1, 2017
    Messages:
    114
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, Pa.
    The best and most complete explanation I have yet seen about the railpass. Thank you. I have often wondered about this, and may some day take advantage. I wonder if the segments count toward AGR. And is there not a North American Railpass, or did that go away? I am familiar with the Canrail Pass.
     
  3. Jun 10, 2019 #3

    Devil's Advocate

    Devil's Advocate

    Devil's Advocate

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 24, 2010
    Messages:
    10,489
    Location:
    Америка
    This is the part that seems to cause most of the confusion. Why call it a pass when it no longer functions anything like an actual pass? I guess to make it seem a lot more versatile and valuable than it really is.
     
  4. Jun 10, 2019 #4

    GreenRose

    GreenRose

    GreenRose

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2019
    Messages:
    6
    Because amtrak calls their seats on longer distance trains 'reserved', which would be difficult to promise without this right?
    I think the segments maximums causes the most confusion.
     
  5. Jun 10, 2019 #5

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    I think they call it a pass, because "pass" is easier to market than "A fixed number of tickets in a fixed amount of time".

    Also, for most long distance travel, which is what the pass is marketed for, hopping on and off the train is not going to be an option. Since, for example, the Coast Starlight only goes through once per day, someone is not going to hop off in Chemult to walk around town and then jump back on. There is places on the NEC where someone might actually want to do that, start in Boston and spend an hour in Providence, NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore before ending in DC, and yeah, for that, a real, no-exceptions railpass, might be better. But for someone who wants to ride Chicago-New Orleans-Los Angeles-Seattle-Chicago, the restrictions on the railpass are not going to be that bad.
     
  6. Jun 10, 2019 #6

    caravanman

    caravanman

    caravanman

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2004
    Messages:
    3,547
    Location:
    Nottingham, England.
    A good explanation of the pass, well done.
    I think many foreign visitors will be confused or put off by the need to pay for the pass before one finds out if the seats one requires are available! Contacting from overseas is problematic for some folks too. The pass is bought online, and one is then sent an email with the reference number. One needs to contact Amtrak to make reservations, quoting the reference number, and collect pass and all tickets on arrival in USA, from a staffed station.
    If all the low bucket rail pass seats are sold out, one can still use the pass and "upgrade" to a higher bucket price coach seat by paying the difference.
    Pass ticket segments work out around $57 a segment, so as you say, it might be better to buy additional short hop point to point tickets for fares below that amount.
    The original Amtrak pass was valid 15 days, and had no segment restrictions. I used mine to ride 12,500 miles on one pass. :)

    Ed.
     
  7. Jun 10, 2019 #7

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    This is another problem, and something I was afraid of...you have to go to the rail station and get it printed out. I picked mine up in Spokane, and I was very worried that the clerk would look at me with a dazed look and say "Railpass...?" but luckily it all worked out.

    Also, travellers have to keep their physical railpass, and if they lose it, there is no way to regain it. This seems like a problem, especially for foreign travellers (going from NYC to LA, with a flight back to Antwerp in LA, and while trying to board the Southwest Chief in Chicago, they realize they lost their railpass...)

    So there are certainly things about this that could be improved and make it more intuitive and easy to use. But for people who know how Amtrak operates, it is a great deal.
     
  8. Jun 11, 2019 #8

    Steve4031

    S

    Steve4031

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2002
    Messages:
    5,450
    Location:
    Chicago
    One could run into similar difficulties with a EuroRail pass. I have. There are trains in Italy and France that require seat reservations. On a few occasions I purchased a pass and was unable to get reservations on my first choice. One time I spent an unplanned 7 hours in Milano Central waiting to board the first train to Rome that had seats. At that time it was not possible to book reservations in Italy from the US.

    I think you can do those reservations online now. But not sure.

    With Amtrak having one train a day it’s harder.
     
  9. Jun 11, 2019 #9

    Steve4031

    S

    Steve4031

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2002
    Messages:
    5,450
    Location:
    Chicago
    A few questions: can one earn AGR points from using a rail pass? How hard is it to book sleeping car space in the pass?
     
  10. Jun 11, 2019 #10

    chakk

    c

    chakk

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 27, 2011
    Messages:
    2,405
    regarding booking sleeping car space with a rail pass, it is no harder (or easier) than booking without a pass. some trains at some times of year sell out all sleeper space many months in advance
     
  11. Jun 11, 2019 #11

    spinnaker

    s

    spinnaker

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2018
    Messages:
    373
    You need to pay the difference between roomette and coach. I assume this is the price on the day you booked the segment?

    Has anyone used a pass for first class? Is it even worth messing with?
     
  12. Jun 11, 2019 #12

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 31, 2009
    Messages:
    17,898
    Location:
    Austin Texas
    You will get AGR Points for buying the Pass, and for any upgrades to BC or Sleepers, plus 2x Points on Purchases in the Diner and Cafe if you use one of the BOA AGR Master Cards.
     
  13. Jun 11, 2019 #13

    Steve4031

    S

    Steve4031

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2002
    Messages:
    5,450
    Location:
    Chicago
    Thank you. I might try the pass sometime.
     
  14. Jun 12, 2019 #14

    AutoTrDvr

    A

    AutoTrDvr

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    May 29, 2012
    Messages:
    584
    The first train travel I ever did outside of the USA was with a "Eurrail Pass" (15 day). I think, back in those days, a US Citizen could not get a USA Rail pass... They were given only to foreign citizens. Just as more recently, I used a Japan Rail Pass in 2004 & 2005. Of course, there are exceptions to it. You could not use the Japan Rail pass on any "Nozomi" service level Shinkansen trips (but you could on the others). Nozomi's were a separate expense and reservation, and they were, of course, the most expensive.

    Have they opened USA based rail passes to US Citizens of late? Can Europeans use a Eurrail pass?
     
  15. Jun 12, 2019 #15

    Devil's Advocate

    Devil's Advocate

    Devil's Advocate

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 24, 2010
    Messages:
    10,489
    Location:
    Америка
    JR Rail Pass is based on residency rather than citizenship and the Nozomi is still off limits. USA Rail Pass is available to absolutely anyone regardless of citizenship or residency, which makes sense since it's not much of a benefit under the current rules. I didn't use a pass when traveling on trains in Europe so I'll leave that for someone else to clarify.
     
    Matthew H Fish likes this.
  16. Jun 13, 2019 #16

    caravanman

    caravanman

    caravanman

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2004
    Messages:
    3,547
    Location:
    Nottingham, England.
    As far as I am aware, the Amtrak passes are available to anyone to buy. Eurail was originally a younger persons pass, I think the cut off was age 26. I believe the age restriction has been lifted, and the pass renamed "Interrail". Anyone can buy the pass, but there may be different costs for different age groups... Here in the UK, there are many other discounts available. I pay £30 to buy a yearly senior discount card, which gives 33% off all rail fares, even already discounted ones.

    Ed.
     
  17. Jun 13, 2019 #17

    TiBike

    TiBike

    TiBike

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2015
    Messages:
    608
    Location:
    Alta California
    I just bought and used a JR Hokkaido rail pass last week. The one I got was good for all non-Shinkansen train service and some buses on the island of Hokkaido (there's also a Shinkansen option that takes you to the main island of Honshu). They have 3, 5 and 7 day unlimited travel plans, and another option that gives you unlimited travel on any 4 days you choose over a 10 day period, which is the one I got. It was very simple – bought it at the Sapporo train station, just had to show a passport with a temporary visitor visa in it. Like everything else with JR, station staff knew exactly what it was and what to do with it.
     
  18. Jun 13, 2019 #18

    Steve4031

    S

    Steve4031

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2002
    Messages:
    5,450
    Location:
    Chicago
    The Japan Railpass is easy to use. It includes seat reservations. With a little planning and google translate to translate your request into Japanese and their agents will work diligently to ensure you get window seats on the side you want. For example I’ve successfully requested window seat right side. One agent checked in a train that I planned to ride 3 days latter and explained that since the train switched ends mid route he could not accommodate the request for the entire journey. He was apologetic and I was amazed.
     
  19. Jun 13, 2019 #19

    AutoTrDvr

    A

    AutoTrDvr

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    May 29, 2012
    Messages:
    584
    Just remember, if you are in the first class cabin of any Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, (i.e. 2 x 2 seating) you want seat "D". That's the "Mt. Fuji" window seat side.
     

Share This Page



arrow_white