How to ride Amtrak
While on a recent business trip aboard Amtrak, I encountered a couple who had been living outside of the United States for 20 years and had not ridden on our national railroad since prior to leaving. They were unsure of what to do and how everything worked, especially in the age of electronic tickets, Red Caps and digital signage, not to mention additional security. Their story provided the inspiration for this post. Many of us who travel frequently don’t give much thought to the process when flying or riding the train. There are probably many of you reading this who have never taken Amtrak’s North East Corridor (NEC) regional service and might be wondering what to do. Hopefully these tips will help make your journey fun and easy! Once you’ve planned your trip, you can buy your tickets one of several ways. The easiest way to do this is at Amtrak.com. Simply enter your travel dates, origin and destination, number of guests and then chose the type of fare. There are often discounts for AAA and AARP members, as long as you buy the tickets at least 3 days ahead. You’ll see a number of trains displayed on the next screen. Choose the time, fare and class of service, then proceed to the next step of entering your name and so on. You’ll then use a credit or debit card to purchase the tickets. You’ll get an email confirmation and an electronic ticket. You can also call “Julie”, Amtrak’s automated reservation agent by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL. She can assist you with buying your ticket, or you can ask to be connected to an agent. You can complete the reservation process over the phone. Tickets can also be purchased at many stations from agents or QuikTrak machines. Amtrak has an app for iPhone and Android and this is another easy and secure way to buy your tickets. The app can be downloaded through the Google Play store, Apple store or via Amtrak.com. Once you’ve purchased the tickets, you can either print out the email confirmation which contains a bar code, print your tickets out at a QuikTrak machine located in most stations or open your app and view your e-ticket on your mobile device. Amtrak offers both coach and business class on their regular trains, and Business and First Class on Acela, their premium, high speed train. Fares on Acela tend to be higher but the train is much faster than the regular North East Regional trains. Those trains are very comfortable, modern and, if you choose first class, your fare includes meals and even complimentary beverages-both soft drinks and cocktails! Now that you’ve purchased your ticket and you’ve packed for your trip (check Amtrak’s website for current baggage information, it’s time to head to the station. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before your train so that you’ll have time to locate the track, print out your ticket if you wish, maybe pick up a snack or use the restroom. Many of the larger stations offer “red cap” service. These men and women will assist you with your luggage and get you down to the train. They are especially helpful if you have a lot of bags, are mobility impaired or just want some extra time and guidance in getting to the platform. Red Cap service is free, but gratuities are appreciated. Depending on how many bags you have, the number of people in your party and how much assistance is needed, $5-$10 is appropriate. Once you’re on the train, the conductor will be around to scan your ticket and place a “seat check” over your seat. This lets the conductors know what stop you’re heading to, and that your ticket has been “lifted.” After you have your seat check, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Amtrak offers free Wi-Fi service so you’re able to surf the internet and check emails or post on social media. The speed is very slow and streaming of music or videos is restricted due to limited bandwidth. You may watch movies on your own device provide you use earphones. Each train also has a “quiet car” where loud talking, cell phone conversations and audible ringers are not permitted. This is a good choice if you want to rest or work quietly. The trains also have café cars with food and beverages available for purchase. Alternately, you’re allowed to bring on your own food and non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy at your seat. When walking from car to car, keep in mind that you’re on a moving train, sometimes zooming along at close to 100 miles an hour. Hold onto the seat backs or luggage racks and be sure to hold on to the striped hand rails when passing through the vestibules between the cars. Be sure that you’re listening for the station announcements. It’s a good idea to have a copy of the train schedule with you so that you can know the name of the stop before yours. When you hear the announcement for your destination, gather up your belongings and prepare to detrain. Keep in mind when entering and exiting the train that there is a gap between the coach and the platform so step carefully. Red caps are not available at every station, so if you know that you’ll need assistance getting off the train, let your conductor know so that he or she will be able to help you. For additional information, visit www.amtrak.com and don’t forget to check out Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program-it’s a great way to earn points that you can use for free travel on Amtrak’s entire system.