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Learn what travel by Amtrak has to offer.

Amtrak began operation on May 1, 1971, and operates across 21,000 route miles. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Amtrak began operation on May 1, 1971, and operates across 21,000 route miles.

Amtrak, a private company, was created in October 1970 when Congress passed the Rail Passenger Service Act. The nationwide passenger rail system began operation on May 1, 1971. Until that time, airplanes and cars had almost completely replaced passenger rail travel. According to NationalAtlas.gov, trains operate every minute over 21,000 route miles. The company owns 730 route miles, primarily in the Northeast Corridor and Michigan. The Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington, DC, is Amtrak's busiest route.

Amtrak is used for commuter travel, getting from one city to another and touring certain regions of the country. As of 2009, Amtrak had 33 routes operating through more than 500 cities in the United States and into Canada. Travelers who do not like flying or would like to witness the natural beauty of North America might want to explore what Amtrak has to offer. Sleeping accommodations and meal cars are some of the conveniences that make it a pleasant journey. Smoking is prohibited on trains (except the Auto Train), but passengers may get out and smoke on the platform during longer stops.

Amtrak Rail Journeys

Amtrak offers the following nine different rail journeys ranging from 9 to 14 days, traveling across the United States and into Canada:

  • American Heritage By Rail is a 10-day loop that begins in Boston and travels through New York, Washington, DC and Philadelphia
  • Grand Canyon Discovery Tour heads west from Chicago with stops in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff during a 10-day period
  • The Northern Border & Pacific Northwest By Rail takes passengers from Chicago to Seattle during an 11-day journey
  • West Coast Spectacular By Rail heads south from Seattle to Los Angeles during a 10-day trip
  • Eastern Seaboard & French Connection is a 14-day excursion that begins in Boston and travels to Portland, Maine; Nova Scotia, Quebec City, Montreal and New York City
  • Southern Heritage By Rail spends 10 days travelling down the East Coast from Washington, DC to St. Augustine, Fla.
  • Jazz, Blues and Rock 'N Roll By Rail is a nine-day journey that leaves Chicago for Memphis, where Rock 'N Roll was born, before ending in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz
  • Peaks to Pacific By Rail is a 10-day journey that departs from Denver with a stop in Salt Lake City before ending in San Francisco
  • California Dreamin' By Rail spends nine days traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco

Amtrak Seating Arrangements

Reservations are required for overnight trains and some shorter distance trains. Coach-class seating on long-distance trains is more spacious and comfortable with leg rests. Business class always requires a reservation and is the only type of seat on Acela Express trains. First class and sleeping accommodations are only available on some trains. Upgrades to business class or first class can be purchased on board when available.

According to Amtrak, some routes have Quiet Cars to make resting or working easier. Cell phones, other devices that make noise and loud conversations are prohibited in the Quiet Car. Seats are on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Amtrak Sleeping Accommodations

Amtrak long-distance trains typically use either two-level Superliner or one-level Viewliner trains. The sleeping accommodations are slightly different for these two types of trains. The Superliner has more configurations, including:

  • Roomettes that accommodate two adults but do not have an in-room toilet or shower
  • Bedrooms accommodating two adults with an in-room toilet and shower
  • Accessible Bedrooms accommodating two adults with an in-room toilet, but no shower
  • Bedroom Suites accommodating four adults with two toilets and showers
  • Family Bedrooms that accommodate two adults and kids but do not have an in-room toilet or shower

Viewliners feature a Roomette with a toilet, as well as the same Bedroom, Accessible Bedroom and Bedroom Suite accommodations as the Superliner. Sleeping accommodations have limited availability and should be booked ahead. When several people are occupying a sleeping accommodation, only one passenger is charged the add-on fare. All occupants receive meals, fresh linens and towels, complimentary bottled water and daily newspapers as part of the fare.

Amtrak Dining Options

Dining Cars provide sit-down meal service for breakfast, lunch and dinner; while Lounge, Dinette, and CafCars have sandwiches and snacks. Amtrak staff move through the train after boarding and take reservations for lunch and dinner times. Alternately, passengers can bring their own food on board.

Purchasing Amtrak Tickets

Travelers can find rates online by entering departure and arrival stations and dates in the Fare Finder tool on the Amtrak Web site. Tickets can be purchased online with a credit card, by phone, from an agent at the station, from a Quik-Trak kiosk at larger stations or through a qualified travel agent. Only in limited circumstances can tickets be purchased on board.

Reduced fares may be available to certain groups and through rail passes and multi-ride tickets. According to Amtrak, children under age 2 are free and under age 16 are half-price. Seniors, veterans, students, active duty military personnel, AAA members and National Association of Railroad Passengers members receive discounts.

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