CHARLIE HUNTER hunter-studio CHARLIE HUNTER hunter-studio

Charlie's Train Travel Cheat Sheet

There are some connecting train routes not shown on this map - this is just showing sleeping car lines. Light blue is Superliner routes; dark blue is Viewliner routes.


What you get:
  • Bedding, 2 pillows, towels
  • (beds are 6’2” or so long, 28” wide in Roomette, 40” wide lower berth in Bedroom )
  • Meals (in room or in diner)
  • Privacy!
  • Windows - amazing experience for painters!

  • compact space for 1 or 2
  • by day: 2 seats that face one another
  • by night: bunk beds (lower bed - seats slide together and bedding/mattress placed atop; top bed lowers from ceiling). Beds 28” wide

  • luxury for one
  • commodious for 2 (lower bed is 40” wide, upper is standard 28” width)
  • your own toilet/shower, and sink/vanity

Specialty rooms - Handicapped, Family Room

Two types of equipment:
Single level cars that operate east of Chicago (on overnight lines that go to New York or Boston - due to clearance issues in old tunnels).
Upper berth is roomy, has own window
All have own sink; most roomettes have own toilet. Bedrooms have sink/toilet/shower.

Enter at track level, with luggage storage, specialty rooms, bathrooms, public shower and four roomettes. Up narrow flight of stairs to 5 Bedrooms, 12 Roomettes, one toilet/sink room, and how you move from car to car.
Roomettes on Superliners do not have sinks or toilets, and upper berth is quite coffinlike. Bedrooms have sink/toilet/shower.

Good meals in diner, prepared on board. Also Sightseer Lounge w/bar, coach food service:
Auto Train - Lorton VA-Sanford FL 

TV Dinners with small side salad, blondie/brownie (pasta & meatballs least worst, short ribs next least worst but can vary)

Bottled water provided. Soft drinks in diner. Booze - 1 free drink per trip. Diner has beer, wine, cocktails. Cafe car (for sale) has beer, wine, cocktails and packaged food for coach pax.

Do not trust Amtrak re “Vegan.”


  • Sleeper never feels crowded; feels very safe. Have never had stuff stolen.
  • Diner - seating w/other pax doubtless returning. I tend to eat in room.
  • Sightseer Lounge can get full
  • Coach can get full

  • Seats larger than domestic first-class flights; more legroom; better seat pitch.
  • Fine for a few hour trip.
  • Passenger behavior - can vary.
  • Not my choice for overnight - always get a sleeper if you can.
  • Business Class: offered on some trains;
  • Clean? Yes at beginning of trip. Later on? Depends.

What do you need to bring?
  • Clorox wipes
  • Power Strip (straight plug)
  • Gaffer’s tape, rubber door stop optional - most of the sleepers are at least 25 years old.
  • Bring your own wine, esp. on any of the Flex Dining trains.

  • You can bring on board 2 personal and 2 carry-on (up to 50 lbs each, though nobody is going to weigh stuff you’re lugging yourself).
  • If checked baggage is offered between your city pair, you can also check 2 bags (up to 50 lbs. each) for free. These WILL be weighed.
  • If checked baggage not provided: Superliner trains have luggage area on lower level where big bags can be stowed. Viewliner cars (trains operating to/from NYC or BOS) do not. This can be a real problem if you have 2 big bags (or if there are 2 of you AND you have -say- four good sized bags.

Expect delays. If Amtrak guarantees connection (like from LAKE SHORE to CHIEF, they’ll either hold the train or put you up at hotel until the next train).

Are train stations centrally located?
Depends. F'rinstance: CHI, KC, ABQ, etc. - yes. Jacksonville, Savannah, Salt Lake City - no.

Are stations safe?
Depends. If staffed, yes… but some small towns its just a platform in a parking lot.
Generally, I wouldn’t worry if by day.

Other transport?
You can check ahead and see if a town has Lyft or Uber or taxis.

Tipping (suggested but not required)
$10/night pp minimum if standard service; more if exceptional and/or if meals brought to room.

Traveling in sleeper is not cheap. Neither is first class on an airplane.
About same as 1st class on a plane. Labor is the huge differential between train and plane: one flight crew versus multiple conductors, ass’t conductors, engineers; plus dining car crew, sleeper attendants, coach attendants.

Comparison a/o 4/11/22
To travel May 21 LA to Albuquerque: by Amtrak $497 sleeper (includes dinner, bfast), $69 coach. By American Airlines: $300 first class, $119 steerage. Chicago to Albuquerque: by Amtrak $904 sleeper (includes dinner, bfast, lunch), $122 coach. By American Airlines: $687 first class, $428 steerage.

To travel Nov. 16 LA to Albuquerque: by Amtrak $297 sleeper (includes dinner, bfast), $69 coach. By American Airlines: $318 first class, $129 steerage.  Chicago to Albuquerque: by Amtrak $485 sleeper (includes dinner, bfast, lunch), $162 coach. By American Airlines: $463 first class, $213 steerage.

  • Most long distance routes are normally 1 train each way per day.  A couple of routes are 3 days a week.
  • Amtrak website is a hot mess. Very confusing. Sometimes wrong. Good for corridors; NOT for long-distance. Ok for price comparisons.
  • If booking long distance travel, call Amtrak Guest Rewards at 800-307-5000, not the regular number. Free to join AGR. The regular number often goes to outsourced call centers. AGR is full time unionized employees in Philly who know their stuff, minimal wait times (or call back option). If you get a jerk, hang up and call back later. You can ask them to help find cheapest days to travel.
  • Amtrak Credit Card offers 20,000 bonus miles for new signups.
  • Always comparison check prices for roomettes, bedrooms and family rooms on Superliner trains. Viewliner sleepers only have a couple of bedrooms per car, so bedrooms are ALWAYS way pricier than roomettes on Viewliners. On Superliners, though, there are more options, so sometimes bedrooms are just a few dollars more than roomettes. If so - grab it! Sometimes family room is very cheap - worth it if 2 people traveling.
  • If you aren’t sure if someone will be traveling with you, you can book your sleeper space and then add the second passenger later with something called an “open ticket.”
  • If your plans change, you can reschedule with no penalty beyond fare differences.
  • Westbound and Southbound trains have odd numbers. Eastbound/Northbound trains have even numbers.
  • Roomettes have numbers. Bedrooms have letters. Virtually all sleepers can be oriented either direction, so one never knows whether one will be on one side of the train or the other.
  • Amtrak management has been taken over by ex-airline hacks, so stupid airline practices are increasing:
  • Amtrak is much more likely than it used to be to simply annul trains when bad weather looms.
  • Amtrak is indulging more and more in yield management pricing. Prices will often be quite high when first posted - it always used to be that the low bucket of fares was always posted and the price went up closer in. No longer. Go ahead and book at the high price, but check the website every few weeks to see if the price has dropped. If so, call AGR and have them refund the difference.
  • Amtrak no longer publishes timetables on their website. 
Go to
  • To keep track of your train status, Amtrak has a ‘Track A Train’ feature on their app, but I prefer:
  • In general, do not book round-trip tickets. There is no savings over one-way fares, and, if something goes wrong and your ticket never gets scanned (this can happen if your sleeper attendant tells the conductor you have boarded, and the conductor forgets to manually ‘boop’ your ticket), Amtrak will read you as a no-show and void your return trip.
  • WiFi nonexistent for long distance trains. Cell service is spotty at times. Put away the phone.
Amtrak website:   Beware.
Amtrak Guest Rewards: 800-307-5000 Much better.

Long distance train names:
  • CHI-MKE-MSP-SEA/PTL: EMPIRE BUILDER.  2 nights, good food
  • CHI-DEN-SLC-SAC-EMY:   CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR. 2 nights,  good food
  • CHI-KCY-ABQ-LA:    SOUTHWEST CHIEF 2 nights,  good food
  • CHI-STL-D/FTW-AUS-SAS-ELP-TUC-LAX:   EAGLE/SUNSET.* 3 nights, flex/good
  • NOLA-HOU-SAS-ELP-TUC-LAX:    SUNSET LTD.* 2 nights,  good food
  • CHI-STL-D/FTW-AUS-SAS:   TEXAS EAGLE.  1 night,  flex meals
  • LAX-SAN JOSE-OAK-EMY-PTL-SEA:  COAST STARLIGHT.  1 night,  good food
  • CHI-MEMPHIS-NOLA:     CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. 1 night, flex meals
  • NYC/BOS-ALB-BUF-CLE-CHI:   LAKE SHORE LTD.  1 night, flex meals
  • NYC-PHL-DC-CINCI-CHI:   CARDINAL.* 1 night, flex meals
  • WAS-PGH-CLE-CHI:    CAPITOL LTD. 1 night,  flex meals
  • NYC-PHL-DC-FLORIDA:   SILVER STAR/METEOR. 1 night,  flex meals
  • NYC-PHL-DC-ATL-NOLA:   CRESCENT LTD. 1 night, flex meals
  • Lorton, VA-Sanford, FL:   AUTO-TRAIN.   1 night,  decent food
* = 3-day-a-week routes.

Time permitting, I am generally happy to answer non-neurotic questions re travel by train:

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