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Old 08-02-2009, 06:42 AM
22 posts, read 55,047 times
Reputation: 10


Hey all,

I just moved to fairfax, va and plan to visit my parents in Denver, CO for Christmas. I was considering taking the train (amtrak has the monopoly I believe), and I was just wondering if anyone else has done this and if they would be willing to share their experiences advice.

The trip I would be taking would be an overnight train from DC to Chicago and then the next night from Chicago to Denver (so 2 days) I don't want you to tell my to fly (I'm still considering that) I want people to share their experiences of taking the train. Also is the expense of a roomette worth it (about $1000 round trip, versus $400 round trip for coach)?

My main concern is that I've heard that trains are as bad as busses (I tend to think this is baloni but I'm wondering what people that have actually traveled by train would say).
- legit
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Old 08-02-2009, 08:44 AM
Location: Arvada, CO
13,241 posts, read 24,463,501 times
Reputation: 13015
Amtrak isn't necessarily a monopoly, it's a government-owned corporation.

Amtrak can be fun, but it takes forever, so bring something to keep you occupied.

If you think of it as a traveling trip, and enjoy what there is to see along the way, it might be worthwhile. There are different 'cars' to enjoy, like the dining car, and I'm sure they still have some sort of lounge. It really is a cool experience if you have all the time in the world, but if you want to get where you're going fast, forget it.
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Old 08-02-2009, 09:49 AM
Location: Lakeland, Florida
6,976 posts, read 12,506,495 times
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I did it once coast to coast Boston to Portland. I can't say I enjoyed this trip actually it was horrible, but I would not want to sway someone from the enjoyment of their trip. Perhaps Amtrak has improved since 1994, but my trip was a series of mishaps and delays no one would be comfortable with.

I did not make it as far as Conn before the train broke down, and I was left to find my way to NYC to make a connection to Chicago. I ended up on NYC commuter rail trains and a taxi cab to find my way to Grand Central Station to catch the Chicago train. No Amtrak employee ever guided me.

In NYC I was then put on a train to Chicago by way of Philly because I was late getting to NYC. The train went to Philly with my seat facing backwards and was as slow as molasses. In Philly I was put on a train to Chicago and it hit a truck in Ohio. The DOT kept us on the train for 5 hours while the accident was investigated. The driver of the pickup truck was killed, evidently he tried to race accross the tracks as the train approached.

By the time I made Chicago the Denver train had been delayed for passengers such as me to make the connection. At least Amtrak had that taken care of. The train ride Chicago to Denver was pleasant and I was exhausted by this time, I barely remember it. I remember it was a double decker train and much more appealing.

By the time I got to Denver I was exhausted and got off the train and spent two days there. Fortunately I have a cousin there and visted him and his family.

I did make it to Portland and definitely was glad I made the stopover in Denver because I needed the break from the train ride.

The ride back to Boston was thankfully not as horrible as the truck being hit in Ohio. The ride back was a series of delays due to lightning strikes that knocked out signals on the tracks. The train I remember ran out of water or needed some type of repair in Montana. We had a lengthy delay there. I found out that Amtrak does not own its tracks and does not have right of ways. Amtrak must wait for freight trains to use the tracks. That means your train will sit in the middle of no where waiting and waiting for these freight trains to move by.

There is or at least in 1994 just alot of delays that are unscheduled and yet my train when this trip was over was just a little over schdule. So AMTRAK I guess in some way must figure in delays when it gives the passenger departure and arrival times. All I can say is I was so glad when this trip was over. I could not describe my happinesse when the train pulled into South Station in Boston and I got off the train.

I will say this that I learned from this trip on a train. Do not buy a coach seat ticket for a trip of this distance, it is to much. I don't know your age, but unless someone is in their teens or 20's, most people would want a room in the sleeper cars. Just buying a seat on a train ride that is almost a 4 day jouney or two day in your case is a bit much. I really could not sleep in the seat, there is noise from other passengers. Its really not a comfortable way to travel, get the room if you can swing it. I think I would have tolerated the trip better if I had bought the sleeper room, but yeah it adds another $1000 or so to the ticket price. Also the meals on the train I found were very expensive and I think I was assigned a time to eat. You don't get a table to yourself you sit with other passengers. I didn't mind that, I like to talk. I think if you buy a room the meals are included, but I'm not sure on that one. I did miss there was no way to take a shower, but there were bathrooms some bigger than I thought they would be.

I hope you get some info from people that have taken the train in more recent times than my 1994 trip. Surely it must be better now, but in this country who knows.

I hope you will have a nice trip and let us know how it goes. I would love to hear.

Last edited by Jimrob1; 08-02-2009 at 09:59 AM..
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:53 AM
Location: Cold Frozen North
1,928 posts, read 4,636,275 times
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I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle during the winter of 1996/1997. I had a sleeper car both ways, so it made the trip much more enjoyable. On the way out, the train had mechanical problems overnight somewhere in Montana so it delayed us 4 hours. On the return trip, I remember the trip across North Dakota and Minnesota and how fast the train was going. It seemed it was running at 90 mph with very smooth track. I know that this number seems high (I think they're limited to 79 mph), but I'm a pretty good judge of time and distance, so who knows. But I do know that at the next stop, the train sat for an unusually long time, so maybe it was going that fast, since trains are never allowed to leave a stop early. If they arrive early, they can't leave until the published departure time or afterwards.

This was my first trip on a long distance passenger train and it was quite an experience. The scenery going through the west was wonderful. Places you would likely never see in a car and certainly not on a plane. I normally drive on a business trip, but that year there were record snowfalls in the northern states so the train was the best bet.

The train is nowhere near as bad as a bus trip. The meals were OK. Nothing like the meals I read about from years gone by on cross country trains, but everything these days has been cheapened.

What is really nice is when they make stops to do minor maintenance on the train and locomotive. You're allowed to get off the train and stretch for 20 minutes. I remember getting off in Minot, North Dakota. The temperature during the middle of the day was 5 above - very refreshing.
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Old 08-02-2009, 01:32 PM
Location: Cosmic Consciousness
3,871 posts, read 15,523,586 times
Reputation: 2638
Default Train Travel Rocks!

"Traveling by train -- should I?" Absolutely!!

There's nothing quite as enjoyable as traveling by train! Especially if you've never done it before. It's a discovery because there's so much to see out the windows that you will never, ever know about by any other methods -- driving, seeing photos, hearing others' stories, watching movies.

The train trip itself should be one of your destinations. And on the trip back, sit on the side of the train that you didn't sit on during the first trip -- and by the end of your adventure you'll have a 3-D view in your mind forever.

When you fly, you're completely stuck with the person sitting next to you. On the train, you can roam around and try people out -- and leave if you don't like them, and try out others. You can also walk and get some exercise, much more easily than on a plane.

Definitely get the roomette! Trying to get any real sleep in those coach seats is death. The worst train trip I ever took I saved money and barely dozed all night even though I usually sleep like a baby. The roomette is totally worth the money, assures that you're likely to arrive as a rational person, and makes the trip more exotic in a sense, and a destination in itself.

Have a wonderful trip!
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Old 08-02-2009, 09:59 PM
5,772 posts, read 13,742,385 times
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Way better than the bus. The train has much more legroom. If the difference in price between coach and the roomette is workable, I'd suggest the roomette. It would be nice to have the privacy, and to be able to sleep on something resembling a real bed.

I'm guessing that JimRob's experience was a worst-case scenario. Even if you have more of the usual experience, expect delays. Amtrak does not have top priority on all stretches of track it uses. Sometimes they have to sit parked on the tracks while freight trains move through. I used to live in western Massachusetts, and take the train from Springfield to visit family in Boston. It took only a few trips for me to learn that it was best to take the Northeast Corridor trains, not the one coming east from Chicago. With all the distance the Chicago train had traveled by the time it got to S'field, the accumulated delays made it consistently three or four hours late. I assume you could expect delays to add up in a similar way on a cross-country trip. Definitely not the way to travel if you want to get where you're going quickly, but I'd think it would be a great trip to take for the experience of the train trip itself.
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:29 PM
Location: US
1,189 posts, read 3,621,526 times
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I really enjoyed my trips on the Texas Eagle, but like everyone else said-- don't make any plans. I did make plans, naively, but luckily the train made up earlier lost time and I arrived at my destination when needed. The train was about 2 hours late at my initial departure depot so I idled in a friend's car before getting underway with my trip.
But I -love- travel in general so the setbacks really didn't bother me at all. I'm a bit of an introvert and travel somehow allows me to open up more often.
The BYOB for Amtrak does help lubricate communications.
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:57 PM
443 posts, read 1,094,102 times
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I have travelled the SW Chief between LA and Chicago a number of times (sometimes not the whole route, just LA to Albuquerque). And, like flying, sometimes it's just perfect and everything works out - other times it's delays and annoyances. It really depends, and I feel for those people who take Amtrak for the first time and have a bad experience. My first experience was bad but I told myself to do it again, and the next time was perfect.

Good things about it: you're choosing to go this route. You're not just flying like everyone else because it's cheaper, quicker, it's the only real way, security checks are just a part of life, blah blah...you're saying **** you to the airlines for once and doing it your own way. You can move around the train, hang out with other people, read or watch a DVD comfortably, go and get something to eat, get off the train at a stop and walk around...no airports, no turbulence, and the scenery constantly changes. I think the only way to do Amtrak is to see it as an adventure, which admittedly isn't great if you have to be somewhere on time.

Bad things about it: sometimes other passengers can be a pain and ruin the mood, but it's usually a small minority. The train takes a long time, so you have to be patient with that. Sometimes you stop for an hour and you have no idea why - you have to just take a nap or keep reading your book instead of looking at your watch and huffing. That won't get you there any sooner. Things are more spacious but you're still in a little car, and after two days that gets old.

In terms of the roomette, my husband hates them because he's 6'3 and it's just too cramped for him, even though he can fit in the beds. I like them, but I found being in the top bunk really unnerving and kept feeling like I would fall out even though I never came close to that. I slept pretty well in the regular seat, but that was because everyone around me was cool enough to sleep as well.

I'd say Amtrak has to be experienced in your lifetime, for good or for bad. Mostly it's good
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Old 08-03-2009, 09:50 AM
Location: Philly
9,922 posts, read 14,062,986 times
Reputation: 2715
I wouldn't recomend cross continent travel by train as a way of getting around; however, as an experience it's pretty neat. I did philly to seattle. One way I did Philly-Pitt and the other chi-Dc and back to Philly. the ride from Chicago to Seattle arrived 20 minutes early. the DC-chicago trip is okay, somewhat forgettable. the roommettes are more comfortable to sleep (you can lie down) and have more privacy...you also get showers, etc. If it saves you money, you could do coach the first night then get a roomette out of chicago. as an east coaster, the plains were mesmerizing (though I took the northern route, I have no idea what the Zephyr looks like). I never would have seen places like minot.
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Old 08-03-2009, 12:07 PM
Location: Rochester, NY
1,293 posts, read 4,336,452 times
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I have taken the train before, compared to flying and driving I prefer the train. The only reason I would fly is if it were cross country. The train is too slow for cross country. Otherwise the train is far easier to deal with. The check is a breeze. You can get up and walk around, the seats are spaced out more and are comfortable. You can see the landscape. There is food and drink (yes alchohol) on board. Alot of times you can get rates cheaper than flying or driving.

Some cities, like NYC, it makes more sense to take the train. You literally pop up under the city in the middle of Manhattan, you don't have to worry about parking, driving or taking a cab from the airport.
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