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Saturday, January 26. 2019
Have any readers done this? Sure seems like a cool idea for native or foreign visitors, to see the real USA. Long list of stops along the way. Truckee, etc.
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Yes both with a roomette and sleeping in the chair. I love trains and I'm just glued to the window when I travel on a train. The downside is not huge but you have no control about which part of the trip will be in darkness. Not a big deal but if you go so you can see the mountains and that part of the trip is dark you will be disappointed. One trick is to take it both directions, not necessarily on the same trip, and the daylight part of the trip will cover different territory. Meals are good but if you are a food snob you will be disappointed. Bring snacks, there is a snack bar and it's OK but if you want something they don't have you are out of luck. If you choose to ride the seats and not get a sleeper don't bring anything too valuable. Your luggage is not secure, probably safe but no guarantees. Go to the lounge car, even if you have a roomette, and find a good seat, the view is better from there. If you are planning on sleeping in your seat bring some kind of pillow and something soft for your butt. If you tend to get cold bring a blanket/throw.
Their safety record is not great. Quote: "The rate of Amtrak accidents per million train miles traveled grew from 41.1 in 2008 to nearly 58.8 by November 2017, according to FRA."
We have taken the train from Salt Lake to Denver and back. It was a fun trip - taken right around Christmas time a few years back. Lots of beautiful scenery and the romance of the rails, however, it is NOT a competitive transportation alternative to air or automobile travel. For our trip, the train took about twice as long ans driving (16 hours vs 8-9 hours driving), and cost nearly as much as plane tickets (1 hour flying time). Worth doing, but only if you have time and money to do it.
We took the California Zephyr from Nebraska to Emeryville a few years ago.
It was a most enjoyable trip, though if you plan to take this trip, allow plenty of extra time for making any scheduled connections or appointments. The schedule can sometimes be little more than a suggestion.
We had the family room compartment. Very pricey for two people and you sleep on plastic mats, not mattresses.
Food is okay. I believe it is all microwaved.
Still a fun trip, particularly if you like trains.
It used to be, you could load up your vehicle onto this train, enjoy the ride, and then have it offloaded at the destination so you could drive around and then back. I don't think they do this anymore though, although that would really be a fun trip for me.
The Zephyr never had the auto on the train feature. However, it is available to this day on the Auto Train. That train runs from a Virginia suburb just outside of Washington, D.C. to Florida. Better yet, it is a non-stop train. Your car goes on the train, right behind the passenger cars. There are two diners, I believe, as well as one or more lounge cars. Regular passenger cars coach style, and sleepers
Not this one, but i took the 24hr train from Houston to Tucson with my son 6 years ago. Scenery not so impressive, but not bad.
We took the kids about 20 years ago on the Zephyr and then a couple years later on the Empire builder. It was grand fun, we had family bedroom, shower,, the food was cooked on board. Steaks, Chicken, Wine, cloth table covers. My wife took the train a few years ago, the southern route into Arizona. She was appalled. Her description was that it was like a urinal on wheels. (smell and cleanliness). The food was some sort of microwave overpriced slop. We have never went since.
Went to a wedding 25 years ago. NYC to Jacksonville. We thought it would be fun. It wasn't. Regular seats and some guy in S.C. sat on the tracks and offed himself so that was another 6 hour delay.
It was a disaster.
Amtrak is good for DC to NYC but that's it.
And never take a Greyhound.
I haven’t taken Amtrak’s California Zephyr since the last millenium. It is the best of the United States trans-continental rail routes for scenery, IMO.
Do it for the view out the window. Spend lots of time in the sightseeing car. If you remember or have heard tales of Santa Fe’s Super Chief or the pre-Amtrak California Zephyr, everything else is going to be a disappointment.
Travel between San Francisco Bay (Emeryville) and Chicago takes three days and the two nights in between. California to Denver gets one the mountain scenery and is a day and a night shorter. The most interesting scenery is seen on the two western days: crossing the Sierra Nevada between Sacramento and Reno, then in Colorado west of Denver and adjacent Utah. One night is spent crossing most of Nevada and western Utah (desert, mostly). The other night is spent on the Great Plains: eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa.
I agree with one of the previous commenters: it is an aspiration, not a schedule. Do not expect this train to arrive at the advertised time.
A sleeping car is not really a first-class (or Pullman, if you remember back that far) service anymore. Sleeper space still commands a first-class price, though.
You won’t starve, but the food service is going downhill. Most Amtrak dining cars are now serving airline-type food put up in a commissary hours if not days earlier and run through a microwave. Some one-night trains in the east no longer have a dining car.
At this point in time, I think our Canadian cousins do it better. If you want a rail-borne deluxe cruise, take the Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Banff (or Jasper). If you want tradition: dining car service, sleepers, and Vista-Dome cars, try VIA Rail’s Canadian across the continent between Vancouver and Toronto. (But, for the latter, again, it is an aspiration, not a schedule, alas).
Righto about the Canadians. I've done the Mountaineer and the branch of the Canadian from Jasper to Prince Rupert called the Skeena, or "Rupert Rocket". The Skeena was the most fun, gets you way off the tourist path, and you can top it off by riding the ferry from Rupert to Port Hardy, then driving down Vancouver Is. to Vancouver. If you do the Skeena, get into Banff however you want to, then drive to Lake Louise and take the Icefields Parkway to Jasper to catch the train. That whole trip, Banff via Jasper and Rupert to Vancouver takes about the same time as a train trip across the prairies from Toronto to Vancouver, and all you miss is the prairies.
As a boy my family and I took the Santa Fe from Illinois to Southern California a few times. There were dining cars with linen and crystal—even finger bowls. My parents would get two adjacent sleeping compartments.
As a grad student, I got a job as a 2nd class sleeping car conductor (Liegewagenbetreuer) for the (then West) German railroad. That was a stupendous job for an American kid from the cornfields. A couple weekends each month and during semester breaks I’d ride a train all night, or two nights, and then have a layover to bum around Paris, Amsterdam, Athens—just about every city in Europe, even behind the iron curtain.
Have taken the Zephyr, the Empire Builder, and the Coast Starlight / Coast Daylight routes twice. Great fun if you have a sleeper. Not so sure I'd do it otherwise.
On-time performance doesn't happen on Amtrak (I was once a full day late.) Food is nothing to write home about. Service ranges from barely mediocre to outstanding. It's pricey. Hell, it's more or less a part of the FedGov, so you can't expect excellence.
But...it's a helluva way to see the country, warts and all. It's a throwback to another era--minus the genteel manners of the Pullman age, which are sadly gone everywhere. It's a leisurely way to get to Point B from Point A.
Still, I'm looking forward to taking a train trip with my kids now that they're old enough to appreciate it.
We took the Zephyr (a roomette, way up front) in 2016, from Emeryville to (consults map) Galesburg, that being a place we could rent a car right next to the train station without being in the big city. Thence by road to Knoxville and other points of interest.
It was different. Accommodations were OK. Food was decent. We met a bunch of people we wouldn't have met had we traveled by car or plane. The train pretty much kept to the official schedule.
It did turn out that there were a lot of details we didn't know, and didn't know we didn't know, so it didn't occur to us to ask - such as how dinner schedules are managed.
I didn't cope all that well with the dang train moving all the time (along and around various axes), and took a couple of days to regain my balance after we were back on terra firma.
Anyway, it's worth doing once, but maybe not again.
(Ugh. Having a train-motion flashback. Time to think about something else.)
n 1955 my mom took 4 kids age 5, 4, 2, and 1 from chicago to union station in los angeles. We had a sleeper. My memories are of the dining car where i had lunch of a peanut butter sandwich cut into 3 pieces with the crust removed. I am pretty sure we were on the Santa Fe Super Chief.
Some years later we rode the union pacific city of Los angeles from Chicago to LA i recall lots of reading material advertiing orange groves and sunshine. I had orange juice in the dining car but no crustless PB&J I like the UP more than the santa fe.
Our next train trip was from clarksburg west virginia to chicago via pittsburg. It was late at night when we got on the train. As I recall we were coach on a new York Central Train my dad ordered me hot chocolate. It was the most fantastic hot chocolate ever afer that for many tears I said the NYC had the best hot chocolate in the world. on this trip the whole family was was with us and we rode coach. but we spent many hours in the observation car watching the towns roll bye. I had a copy of the time table and kept track of which towns we were coming to.
the summer before my freshman year of high school my younger by a year brother and I did a Round trip to Chicago on the train unaccompanied by any adult. we had travelers checks and a lil bit of money. we learned to get off the train at the stops with longer layover and but food from nearby stores than pay for meals in the dining car. In Denver there was a fairly long layover but whe we got offthe train there was no nearby store. we were running late getting back to the train. the conductor met us near the train and asked our names. he told us that they were holding the train for us!
years passed I got married and my wife and I took the train from Kansas City to Los Angeles we had a sleeper with the price of a sleeper we were entitled to meals, so we ate in the dining car 3 times a day. there was a lounge car where I could smoke and drink to my hearts content and i would move to the observation car other times. We were continuing onto some other stops on the coast starlight. We had an over night in Los Angeles and stayed at a hotel close to union station. we went up the coast to San Louis Obispo, Chico and Redding. I was a Burlington Northern Railroad employee at the time I had a pass which lowered the cost and and our fare was one of those good anywhere on Amtrack for 30 days. that was a long but pleasent trip. A few years latter we took the same trip but out of Denver with a year and a half baby boy. We brought as big an ice chest as we could carry. I think they still allowed smoking in the lounger car but the writing was on the wall that was going to stop. that was the last trip I look on the train. The quality of the food is not as good, and the bus is probably faster. I can't even begin to feature riding coach. I can say this the train crews Engineer and Conductors are proud to serve on Amtrak trains. I dont know If I will ever ride Amtrak again but growing up I traveled a lot by trains and it was always fun. best advice I can give is if your in a hurry train rides are not for you
In 1949 my mother took me on the train to Boston from the North shore. She was fulfilling my birthday wish and doing some shopping in Boston. She actually knew the engineer and had set up for me to get up in the cab. But it was a steam locomotive and loud and scary for a 6 year old so I wimped out. I enjoyed the trip, still can see parts of it in my minds eye. I still prefer steam engines but they are hard to find. In traveling by train, just like traveling by car, the journey is the vacation. Drive the Alcan to Alaska and prove that to yourself. The first time I did that was in 1974 and the entire 1000 miles of the Alcan was gravel or mud. But I consider that one of my best trips and I have driven all over Europe. Slow down, take the train. Get a sleeper, it's the only way to go. Also if you have the sleeper ticket some of the lay over stations, like Chicago, have lounges for the sleeper ticketed passengers only.
2 trips to the west coast and both were wonderful. Sleeper car naturally. Good food, great company, excellent service all the way and if you do sleep through the scenery this place is big enough that there is more to see when you open your eyes in the morning.
Boarded in metroparkcentralis, change trains to the named ones in Chicago. With a first class ticket the layover in Chicago is actually quite nice. I enjoyed it both times.
Drive home or fly home. It was all good.
OTOH, I have seen that sometimes the train just stops for a couple of days because of things on the tracks ahead. It is not an e ticket ride but if you want to just see America, well worth it.
Don't travel coach. Get the sleeper. Traveling coach is like riding Greyhound and you don't want to do that, ever.
In the early 1960's we would take Union Pacific from North Long Beach, CA to Grand Island, NE and back. I remember discovering pancakes in the dining car. And punching the button to walk between cars and seeing the tracks in the spaces underfoot. No sleeper car but the seats semi-reclined. Enroute back the train stopped in Las Vegas. Dad got off to put a few bucks in the slots. The train started and mom wondered where dad was. The conductor came through calling "telegram for Mrs. __". Dad had missed the train and said he'd meet us in Long Beach when the next train came through. Great memories. Great scenery especially through the Rockies.