How to Travel by Train in the U.S.

By Denise Schoonhoven

Romancing the rails: Best places to travel by train

How to Travel by Train in the U.S.

In this age of modern trains, tracks and technology, there's still something romantic about railroad travel. With more than 21,000 miles of routes in Amtrak's national rail network, you can experience the heady combination of relaxation and excitement yourself, whether you're riding coast to coast or just to the next big city.

Favorite routes for speedy, scenic and sun-seeking travel

Along the busy Northeast Corridor served by Amtrak's Acela Express, more people ride the train between Washington, D.C., New York and Boston than fly by plane. Take advantage of the frequent departures, super-fast speeds and stations right in the heart of these major cities when all you've got time for is a whirlwind tour.

Surround yourself with spectacular scenery and enjoy peaceful rest in super-liner sleeping accommodations on the Coast Starlight route between Seattle and Los Angeles. The 1.5-day journey takes you through the majestic mountains of the Pacific Northwest to the rugged beauty of California's Pacific Ocean coastline and beyond, through fertile farmlands and bustling West Coast cities.

For students heading to Florida beaches on spring break and senior snowbirds trading cold northern climates for balmy winter weather in the South, the Silver Service route holds appeal across generations. Any time of the year is fine for hopping aboard, though, when a low-stress, no-driving trip to Miami, New York or points in between tops your travel agenda.

Epic cross-country train trips

No single route will carry you coast to coast, but don't let that stop you from crossing a transcontinental train trip off your bucket list. You'll change trains in Chicago for northerly routes to and from Seattle, or make a connection that rolls through America's heartland to and from Los Angeles. For southerly routes connecting Eastern Seaboard cities with the West Coast, New Orleans is where you'll change trains. The entire journey takes three to four days, depending on which routes you choose. Take full advantage of sleeping accommodations, the dining car, observation car and the lounge for complete comfort on this memorable sojourn.

Tickets, timetables and what to take when you travel by train

  • Fares range from non-refundable Saver prices to fully refundable Flexible tickets with the option of adding on premium services such as sleeper rooms and first-class seats on trains where they're available. Regardless of your budget, make reservations as early as possible to ensure your train trip is everything you imagined and hoped for.
  • Reservations may be made through your travel agent or online. For fingertip convenience and flexibility, download the Amtrak mobile app to place reservations, purchase tickets and check schedules. Plan for just one departure a day on the longest train routes, but on the busiest, shorter routes, train departures may be as frequent as every hour.
  • For free, you're allowed to carry on two personal items such as a purse and laptop, two bags weighing under 50 pounds, and, if you wish to pay to the charge, an additional two bags. For longer train trips, checked baggage service is available at the major, staffed train stations. You will need a photo ID to check bags, and make sure you keep your identification handy as it may be requested at boarding and during any security checks.

Regional railroads and commuter trains offer their own brand of adventure for intrepid travelers. Take Alaska Railroad's Denali Star train, for example, to see awe-inspiring views and stay overnight for a tour of Denali National Park. Revel in the sun and ocean views from the Coaster train between San Diego and Oceanside, California. Or get your game on without the hassle of toll roads and traffic when you ride the New Jersey Transit train between Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

About the Author

Denise Schoonhoven has worked in the fields of acoustics, biomedical products, electric cable heating and marketing communications. She studied at Newbold College and Middlesex Polytechnic in the UK, and Walla Walla University. A writer since 2008, Schoonhoven is a seasoned business traveler, solo tourist, gardener and home renovator.