Exploring the USA by Rail: A Guide to Scenic Train Journeys


Practical Tips and Information for  Train Travel in the USA 

The vast expanse of the United States has traditionally favored air travel as the main mode of domestic transportation. However, train travel remains a viable alternative for both Americans and tourists. Traveling by train in the USA offers the opportunity to admire landscapes along the route. For not-too-lengthy distances, trains can be faster than planes, bypassing lengthy security checks and baggage claims. It’s a charming way to explore the United States, offering an alternative, immersive experience.

USA Train Tickets: How and When to Buy Them

In America, Amtrak is the sole government-funded rail operator, though partially private. Tickets can be conveniently booked on the Amtrak website or mobile app. Additionally, the company offers complete packages including train travel, hotel stays, activities, and personalized travel consultancy through Amtrak Vacations. Of course, third-party agencies can also be used.

When it comes to booking tickets, it's advisable to do so as soon as travel plans are decided (preferably several months in advance), especially when booking a sleeper cabin. Like airlines, Amtrak uses dynamic pricing, so the most affordable tickets sell out quickly.

However, don’t worry if you’ve made a last-minute decision to travel by train, as tickets are likely still available. If not ready to book, you can still monitor the sales pace of the itinerary. Amtrak’s website provides real-time seat availability, showing each train's capacity.

Can You Save on USA Trains with Passes and Promotions?

Those looking for an experience akin to Interrail can purchase a USA Rail Pass allowing 10 trips in 30 days for $499 (£410). Thanks to occasional promotions, the pass can sometimes be found on sale for $299 (£246), enabling cross-country travel multiple times for less than $30 (£25) per trip. However, there are some limitations, such as the pass only covering coach seats and excluding sleeper compartments.

It’s also worth checking Amtrak’s offer page, which often features discounts for group travel and reductions on specific routes during certain periods, like foliage observation in the Northeast. Starting in March, Amtrak introduced special “Night Owl” fares at $5 (£4.10) on certain East Coast routes, like between Baltimore and Philadelphia, between 7 pm and 5 am.

The Onboard Experience on USA Trains

Amtrak offers various travel options, including economy class seats, business class seats, and sleeper compartments of varying sizes to accommodate from 1 to 4 people. Sleeper compartments include linens, towels, onboard meals, and a personal attendant offering water or coffee. There's also adjustable air conditioning. Additionally, some stations offer access to lounges with snacks, beverages, and shower facilities.

To maintain tranquility onboard, Amtrak requires headphones for sound devices like phones, laptops, and tablets. Passengers may bring their food and beverages (as long as they are non-alcoholic), but are limited to a single alcoholic drink per route, purchasable on the train.


Scenic Trains - Photo Gallery





Scenic Trains in the USA: Amtrak's Proposals

Besides regular trains connecting major US cities, Amtrak also offers several scenic routes, providing spectacular experiences with breathtaking views (depending on the route) of seas, deserts, and mountains, allowing travelers to fully appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Why not try one? Here are some options:

  • California Zephyr: Covers about 4000 kilometers, crossing prairies, deserts, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada, linking Chicago to San Francisco.
  • Coast Starlight: Offers panoramic views of the Pacific coast, from mountains to beaches, along the route from Seattle to Los Angeles.
  • Empire Builder: Crosses the Pacific Northwest, from rainforests to prairies, between Chicago and Seattle.
  • Southwest Chief: Travels through eight states, from the Midwest's heartland to the Southwest, from Chicago to Los Angeles.
  • Texas Eagle: Crosses five states, from the Midwest to the South of the United States, from Chicago to San Antonio.
  • Adirondack: Travels through the Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Mountains, connecting New York to Montreal.

Delays in USA Trains: What to Expect

Unfortunately, Amtrak trains are not always perfectly punctual. The main cause of their delays is interference with freight trains, often due to their slowdowns. Despite federal law giving priority to passenger trains, freight railways often ignore this rule, creating inconveniences.

In 2022, Amtrak trains accumulated over 1.1 million minutes of delay due to this interference with freight trains. For this reason, it is advisable to plan flexibly for subsequent travel stages after a train journey (for example, leaving a 24-48 hour window before taking flights or participating in scheduled tours and important bookings). Unfortunately, no compensation is offered for delays.

Despite this issue, however, traveling by train in the USA remains a memorable experience. Compared to flying, trains allow you to appreciate the landscapes, capturing unforgettable photos. The care and comfort of the onboard experience with Amtrak complete the railway adventure, making it a suggestive option for those seeking a slower, more engaging way of traveling.


Scenic Trains - Photo Gallery











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