Answers to common questions about overnight train travel

Answers to common questions about overnight train travel

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This spring, I took an Amtrak sleeper train from Sacramento to Denver and back. I loved watching the spectacular scenery unfold as we passed herds of elk on the banks of the long and robust Colorado River, the amazing rock formations throughout Utah, the surprising snowfalls in the Rocky Mountains and, at the other end of the journey, the Sierra.

It gave us a fantastic insight into the natural beauty of our country, and my only responsibility was to watch. I didn’t have to worry about going in the right direction, where to stop to eat, staying alert, or even staying awake. Traveling by train is a gift and, given the turmoil in the airline industry and the alarming price of gasoline, it makes more sense than ever.

That said, the prospect of spending the night in a sleeping car understandably raises a number of questions. This is what I learned when my family traveled west.

Q: What is the difference between roomettes and dorms?

A: This is difficult to answer, because the definitions vary between western trains (double-decker Superliners) and eastern trains (Viewliners), and even depend in some cases on when the train was built. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says that a “bedroom, no matter where you are in the country, includes a shower and a toilet.” There is one exception: the accessible bedroom does not include a shower; instead, the space is reserved for wheelchairs or mobility devices. If no one books the accessible room, it is open to anyone, disabled or not, a week or two before checkout day. Magliari says that, on some lines, roomettes have a sink and toilet in the room.

On the Zephyr, we set up a roomette in one direction and the H bedroom in the other. In our roomette, two comfortably sized chairs faced each other between a sliding glass door on one side and a large window on the other. At night, the chairs came off the wall to form a bunk bed, and a second bunk came off the wall.

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Q: What is the best room to book?

A: On Superliners, Bedroom A is the smallest, so try any other room. Larger groups on the Superliner can book a family room, which has two adult beds and two children’s beds, but no toilet, sink, or shower. The upstairs roomettes on the Zephyr seemed preferable for easier access to the dining and observation cars, and seemed airier at that elevation, but I also appreciated the privacy of being on the lower level. Narrow stairs connect the levels, with no lift for the disabled.

Q: How do the bathrooms work?

A: The bathrooms also differ in size and location. In our Zephyr room, only a cloth curtain separated the toilet seats, but it was nice to have a sink. There was a bank of toilets and a shower in the corridor, which bus passengers did not have access to. Those bathrooms were pretty small, about the size of airplane bathrooms, and in the family bathroom there was a changing table that folded over the toilet. The Americans with Disabilities Act compliant bathroom contained a seat and small shelf for items in the antechamber, and a small shelf and seat inside the shower, which had a handheld shower attached to the wall.

Q: Can you lock the rooms and bedrooms?

A: Yes, but only when you are in them. If you’re wandering around the cars or going out to dinner, you’ll need to bring your valuables with you or store them in locked luggage. There are luggage racks in the corridors of the sleeping car areas where you enter and exit the train at the stations. You are instructed to pull your bedroom curtain and Velcro shut when you leave to prevent people from seeing what is in your space, because the movement of the train often causes unlocked doors to swing open.

Q: Do you have to buy a sleeping car ticket to travel overnight?

A: No. You can choose to travel by coach, even on multi-night trips. Its seat reclines but does not lie flat. You are also not allowed access to the dining car, so you will have to bring food or choose from the cafeteria’s limited options.

Q: Is it better for introverts or extroverts?

A: It’s great for both of you. If you’re in coach, you might have a chatty seatmate or someone immersed in their phone or a book, like on an airplane. To ensure privacy, reserve space in sleeping car bedrooms; You can even have meals delivered there. Observation cars, if your train has one, and cafeteria cars on eastern trains seem designed to encourage interaction between passengers, with seating in groups rather than rows. In the dining car, staff used to seat singles together to fill a quad, but the pandemic has ended that policy unless you make arrangements yourself. I shared a chatty meal with a stranger by asking him, and had people join me at a table in an observation car.

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A: the dining car it is now only for sleeper car passengers (or on some lines, business class passengers), for whom a full breakfast, lunch and three-course dinner is included with the reservation. Meals are fast-paced affairs, with tables turned so everyone sits and feeds in waves. (You will get a scheduled reservation slot for dinner.) If you’re saving money by going by bus, you’ll need to bring your own food or subsist on the bare minimum offerings at the snack bar, with items like tacos and pizza. . Magliari says the snack bar’s most popular item is the hot dog, though Amtrak is working to make more fresh items available. He points out that efforts to sell apples and bananas on the Midwest corridor trains have not been successful.

Q: Can you work on the train?

A: WiFi depends on the route of your train and tends to be cellular, which follows the roads, says Magliari. So if you go to remote areas or go through tunnels, you will have times of blackout without connectivity. For more traveler-oriented routes, WiFi should continue without interruption. Economy seats have a tray table that slides down from the seat in front of you to provide a workspace for a laptop, and in Zephyr quarters and bedrooms, a small table folds out of the way. wall.

A: On double-decker trains, the spaces above (the car seats and some of the sleeping quarters) are quieter because they are farther from the tracks. As for noise from other passengers, the Amtrak driver declares quiet hours from around 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., with lights dimmed at night. (The party can continue in the observation or cafe cars, where the lights stay on, but no food or drinks are for sale.) I found that the rhythmic side-to-side movement of the train, along with the noise of the engine, made for some of the best sleep, including a midday nap.

Q: Do the trains run on time?

A: It depends on which “host railway” owns the tracks. For us at Zephyr, the Union Pacific lines, which on Amtrak’s 2021 report card gave a C-plus, were significantly delayed by two to three hours each way. In 2021, only 37 percent of Zephyr lines ran on time. If you’re lucky, your train runs on lines owned by Canadian Pacific or Canadian National, which are more punctual, like the New Orleans City Train, which was 83 percent on time in 2021, the only one of the New Orleans trains. Amtrak long-distance trains that meet the Federal Railroad Administration’s standard. State-backed short-term trains were much more timely, like the Hiawatha line, which runs on CP track and was 95 percent on time last year. All this to say, if you have to arrive at your destination on time, leave a day early.

Mailman is a writer who lives in Northern California. his website is Find her at Twitter Y Instagram: @erikamailman.

Potential travelers should be aware of local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Travel health advisory information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel advisories by destination and on the CDC’s Travel Health Advisory webpage.

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