When I first decided to head from Montana to New York, my first thought wasn’t to take Amtrak. After years of hearing how slow it was, the amount of delays that often occurred in route, and the fact that there is no Wi-Fi on certain lines (gah!), it never seemed like an option. Amtrak to New York seemed like it would be more of a hassle than it was worth. However, one summer I had a lot of time on my hands and no need to board a plane to get to my destination faster, so I decided to hop aboard.
Here are some things I learned on my trip, and hopefully some advice if you want to take Amtrak to New York.
Obviously, there are going to be a few things you need to know before you book your ticket—such as where you are starting out from. By going to the Amtrak website, you can find your nearest home depot and book a ticket from there.
The best way to book a ticket tends to be on the Amtrak site. While you can book one at the train station, you might have higher fares than you would by booking it a few days in advance. You can either print out your ticket and have a physical copy, or you can use your phone—whichever seems the most convenient to you. I chose to have both just in case something went wrong.
Seating and sleeping
You will be given a number of seating options at different prices. For long-distance train rides, you will most likely have to reserve your seat. From Los Angeles, here’s some examples of seats I’ve found:
- Reserved Coach Set (upper or lower level)
You can find the Coach Seat price at a very low amount. The quote I was getting for a one-way ticket to New York Penn from Los Angeles Union Station was $231. No food is included, and you sleep in your seat as well as sit in it. You can purchase a more expensive option that allows you to change your date whenever you would like, but for the most part you are getting the same experience.
If the idea of sleeping in a reclining chair doesn’t work for you, then you do have the option of a “roomette,” though it does come at a price. For the same itinerary, I found that a shared bedroom costs $1555. Very much out of my budget, but if you can’t imagine sleeping anywhere else but a cot, then it might be worth it. One perk that does make more sense to me are the showers in the car. Since there aren’t any available elsewhere, this could be a major reason to upgrade if you are planning on going cross-country.
Bedrooms are not available on all lines, but there are a few options depending on how many people you want to a room. These include a regular Bedroom (2 people), Bedroom Suite (4 people), and a Family Bedroom (2 adults and 2 kids). There isn’t a ton of information on the bedroom prices, but I am guessing that they are out of most people’s budget.
Just like with a plane, you can check your luggage on Amtrak. At the train station, you will be given a tag to attach to your baggage, which will go in a separate car. You won’t be able to access it until you get to your destination, and any connections you have to make will require you to collect your baggage and re-check it.
You can check up to four bags—two for free and any additional bags for $20. Seems cheap after flying, doesn’t it? Make sure to get to the station about 45 minutes before you board so you can get the details sorted out.
Even though there are some things sorely missing from the train experience (showers for reserved seats—even plebs have to get clean), there are some aspects about it that are a lot of fun. The dining car is a lot of fun, as is the Dome Cars that allow you to get a good glimpse of your surroundings.
Here are some of the amenities included on Amtrak trains to New York.
Technically, Amtrak does offer Wi-Fi, but it is on a very limited basis. This will depend completely on which line you are on, and there’s no guarantee that if you have it your connection will last the entire journey. For example, the train line from Los Angeles, the Southwest Chief, does not have it. I traveled the Lakeshore Limited, and I’m positive I did not have access a few years ago.
This will probably change within the next few years, and all major stations do have it available. However, if you are planning on getting any work done on the journey, you might want to download it in advance. (You can get a full list of the lines that offer Wi-Fi here.)
There are a few alternatives you can employ, such as carrying a portable Wi-Fi hotspot with you. (You can get this one from Amazon for less than $25.) You can connect with a number of devices and share if you have any travel companions with you. You can also use your phone as a hotspot if you have unlimited data through a cell phone provider.
There are outlets! That was my biggest concern when I was traveling for three days. Because I needed my phone to let my ride know when I was arriving at the train station, I couldn’t have it dying on me. Luckily, there’s one for every row of seats and they work just fine with any type of charger.
The Dome Car
Depending how long your journey is, getting up and out of your seat can be extremely helpful when you’re starting to feel as though the ride will take forever. The Dome Car is really nice, and it offers movies onboard and the opportunity to get a better glimpse of the passing scenery along the way. Unfortunately, it’s not always available on all lines, and it can be a bit difficult to plan your trip around when it will be on your train.
All the long-distance trains do have a dining option available, which can be helpful after a few days of eating the sandwiches that you packed in advance. Prices are pretty reasonable considering you have no other choice but to eat on the train (unless you’ve packed a LOT of sandwiches).
Right before lunch and dinner, you’ll have a train employee put down a reservation for you. At the time requested, you’ll head back to the dining car for your meal. Unless you are traveling with others, you’ll probably end up sharing a booth with a stranger. I really enjoyed this and made friends with several grandmothers going to see their grandkids.
There are some additional food options such as a café on the long rides, and the Lounge Car where you can drinks and some snacks. These can be nice if you don’t want to go through the whole dining experience.
Restrooms and showers
There are at least two public restrooms on each car, which are usually kept fairly clean. However, do not drink the water. Not only is it gross, but water is cheap to buy.
The biggest problem I had with the whole journey was that after three days, I was really ready for a shower. By the time I reached Chicago from Montana, I was ready to crawl out of my skin. I ended up dunking my head under the sink in the station there. Not recommended, but it is a way to get clean.
Probably the best way to feel like you have taken a bath is a lot of dry shampoo and wipes. However, if you have a long connection, it might be worth booking a hostel or hotel room near the station for a quick shower before you hop back on. Of course, there are private restrooms in the sleeping car, but they are only for those who have booked a bed in that car.
Train lines that go to New York
Amtrak has this cool map that allows you to put in your nearest train station and see what routes you can take to get to your destination. There are a number of lines, but there are probably only one or two that might apply to you (depending on where you’re coming from).
Here’s a list of the train lines that currently go to New York Penn:
- Amtrak Acela Express
- Amtrak Adirondack
- Amtrak Carolinian
- Amtrak Cardinal
- Amtrak Crescent
- Amtrak Ethan Allen Express
- Amtrak Empire Service
- Amtrak Keystone Service
- Amtrak Lake Shore Limited
- Amtrak Maple Leaf
- Amtrak Northeast Regional
- Amtrak Pennsylvanian
- Amtrak Palmetto
- Amtrak Silver Service
- Amtrak Vermonter
This list does not include the additional routes that you might take before connecting to one of the trains above. Wanderu gives a great overview here on which amenities are included on each train.
If you are coming from either far up north or south, it’s likely that you will have to have a connection or two. These most often happen in Chicago or Washington DC, but much of that depends on the line you are taking. Amtrak does have a cool app that allows you to track where you are and whether or not you are going to make your connection or not. The good thing is that there is always another train, and if you have a lot of time it shouldn’t be a problem.
That being said, Amtrak is notorious for its delays. I was delayed three hours somewhere in North Dakota, and that was minor. Still, they tend to leave plenty of time in between your trains so you can still arrive more or less when planned.
Arriving in New York
When you arrive in New York, you will be docking on the upper level of Penn Station. It’s located on 34th Street and 7th Avenue—right in the heart of Midtown. From there, you have access to more Amtrak lines, all the major subway lines, the Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit.
It can be a little overwhelming stepping off the train and into the Big Apple, so remember to grab your luggage and not to leave anything behind.
You did it! You traveled on Amtrak to New York! Now enjoy the city and stretch your legs. You deserve it after a long journey.
Have you ever traveled with Amtrak? What was your experience like? Any tips?