Please sign in to post.

Amtrak travel in winter, govt shutdown

I'm planning an Amtrak trip and have problems finding answers that don't involve itineraries.

I will be traveling alone from the Seattle area, ending up in Texas. I've planned & not taken some trips, so I've looked at the Amtrak schedules, connections, and descriptions of the scenery. What I wonder about is the problems of winter, like lack of daylight - short days to take in the beauty of what's out the window, breakdowns. On booking specific dates, I have seen that some portions of a route will be closed, and covered by buses. I don't mind some delays, and the long evenings of travel are much more pleasant than driving.

Still, I would like someone's travel story with both the good and the - let's say problematic parts. Like, do people travel by train for four days and nights and love it? How would you find a travel pal to share a roomette? It seems like a wonderful way to cross the Rockies, enjoy hours of reading, meet new people in the dining car. Where's the reality I haven't been warned about? I don't think anyone's written this book, as I've looked.

Also, the shutdown? Airports are doing fine, right? I see that backstage, folks without paychecks are checking out or calling in sick. Does anyone know how Amtrak workers are doing or how services might be affected?

Posted by
1238 posts

Well, I find a couple of books: All Aboard: The Complete North American Train Travel Guide by Jim Loomis and USA by Rail Plus Canada, 8th Edition by John Pitt. The author of Rail Ventures: The Comprehensive Guide to Train Travel in North America was a friend of mine. The last edition of that book was published in 1996, but used copies are available online. If you should decide to take a trip the latter book might be useful. Some of the Amtrak information is undoubtedly completely out of date, but the mile-by-mile descriptions of what you're seeing (which make up most of the book) might be fun.

Besides delays, one of the problems I see is trying to plan your trip so you're going through the scenic parts of the country during the day. This might require some overnight hotel stays somewhere.

Posted by
8412 posts

Here on the west coast, the trains between Portland and Seattle sometimes end up being served by buses if there is a track problem. It has never inconvienced us but we are infrequent train users in the U.S. Like so the airlines, their contract is to get you where you are going with no promises of comfort level nor schedule. We are contemplating a trip from Portland to Glacier on Amtrak, but a friend of mine had a bad experience with that route when they substituted a bus and she only found out be coincidence before the trip so she could get a refund. You can arrive at any station and find you are stuck with a bus transfer. Not my kind of fun.

OTOH, a 30 years ago we did an overnight from SanJose to Portland and loved it! Got a private cabin and all meals included, BUT the shower was broken in our compartment so unusable. They did give us a discount for that upon arrival in Portland.

Posted by
4373 posts

My daughter and I did the cross-country trip twice -- once Emeryville (SF area) to Hartford, CT to deposit her at college and four years later in the opposite direction to bring her and four years accumulated stuff home. Three days straight through, lots of time in the viewliner room meeting people. We obviously came as a pair so I can't comment on finding a travel partner; the sleeper is pretty small, so it's probably best to know your partner pretty well.
Love trains!

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks for the book links, as well as the tips. I see that USA by Rail is releasing a new edition - too late for me unfortunately. I did find the USA by rail at my library. Time for study...

Posted by
5188 posts

I think the biggest inconveniences with Amtrak is the lack of dedicated track for passenger service. Amtrak shares the same tracks as freight railroads and those often have priority, so Amtrak is constantly delayed. Amtrak is also affected anytime the railroads have to make track improvements. I could not imagine spending 4 days on that train, it just doesn't measure up to true high-speed trains that you'd see in Europe or Japan or China in terms of top speeds, on-time performance, service, price (too high for what you get), and even food (not good). If you do take it, I think the stretch along the CA coastline would be quite pretty and enjoyable. I've only taken it along the East Coast - the most profitable route (Washington DC to Boston) and still subpar.

As to your question, Amtrak workers are not Federal employees (nor is Amtrak a Federal agency) so they're not affected by the shutdown.

Posted by
2572 posts

Amtrak seriously stinks in most places. I can't imagine traveling long distances on Amtrak.
The Metroliner from Washington, DC to NY and Boston is pretty nice. I imagine some of the routes out west can be nice, up to a point. Also, Amtrak is usually more expensive than air travel.

The few times that I or someone in my family has used Amtrak (in the eastern USA) the train is NEVER on time. Frequently, it is hours late.

Posted by
5397 posts

I could tell you about my 4 cross country vacation trips using Amtrak but unfortunately the last one was in 1994 so not really relevant any longer. What I can say is that, even back then (and even worse now from what I hear), using Amtrak as transportation just to get from one place to another, where being on time would be important to you is not a good idea. As others have mentioned Amtrak uses other companies' rails so is often delayed by freight trains (who take precedence) or rail issues not under their control. On time arrivals is not a slogan used by Amtrak. With train travel in the US it's all about the journey.

Now I will say that I enjoyed all of my trips, delays and unexpected occurrences notwithstanding. Three of these trips were solo and for two weeks at a time so there was lots of time for relaxing with a book and enjoying scenery and for meeting and conversing with interesting people from all over the world - back then lots of foreign travelers and students used the trains to see the US. I never used a sleeper compartment because I planned my trips with only one, or occasionally two, overnights on board, then a two or three night stay in a city on my route. I had no problem sleeping in a reclining seat in coach and washing up in the communal women's toilets, knowing that I would have a shower and a good night's sleep in a hotel the following night.

I wish it was still as comfortable and convenient to do a trip by Amtrak but I don't think I'd ever do it anymore. It's not just faster to fly, it's often cheaper these days.