• Effective immediately we will be deleting, without notice, any negative threads or posts that deal with the use of encryption and streaming of scanner audio.

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Has Anybody Here Traveled By Amtrak?

JASII

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Apr 29, 2006
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2,285
I have been giving some thought to taking a trip from Saint Paul MN to Chicago IL via Amtrak. At first glance it seems to be:

-A less expensive travel option, in some cases, and

-You spend much more time in transit.

For those here that have done a several hour train trip, what was you experience like? Are the meals okay? I am assuming that they all have free wifi, but that really doesn't matter to me because I have an MVNO on Verizon and an AT&T hotspot with unlimited data.

And, I might take a GPS along and/or watch our progress on a smartphone map.

If I bring my scanner, I would use headphones, so I wouldn't bother the other passengers.
 

mmckenna

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I've done long day trips. No overnight, but I have several family members that have.

I dislike flying for many reasons, and the train is much more favorable for me.
It is less expensive, as long as you don't need a roomette. We looked at doing a train ride up to Seattle and with my son and wife would have needed the room. That put the costs -w-a-y- higher than flying or driving.
Yes, it takes longer, but you are not all crammed in a shiny metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere at sub-sonic speeds. More comfortable seats, more room, easier to get up and walk around, change seats if you want to. Bigger windows, more interesting views. No security pat-downs, strip searches, cavity searches, getting groped by some TSA creep, no long lines.
And it's much more favorable with small kids. They really find it interesting, and they tend to fall asleep easily on the train.

Meals are OK, but I've not had a lot of experience there on the less than full day trips. One option is to bring your own food. I usually just grab a cup of coffee and something to gnaw on if I need to.

I think most of the regional/commuter runs have WiFi, but I don't know for sure. I never gave it a try on Amtrak, too busy looking at the scenery.

If you are not in a hurry, it's a good experience. Much more relaxing and much more interesting.
 

TES

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Ditto the above!

Denver to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Return trip the next day. I'd rather travel on or through the Rocky Mountains than over them. No use for wifi with all the other diversions.
 

w2xq

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Burlington County, NJ
We loved traveling on Amtrak between Philadelphia and Denver, using sleepers on both legs of the journey connecting through Chicago where we changed trains. Food was good, the sangria was good, and the personnel--both aboard the train and at the stations--were great. And... no TSA nonsense.

It is more expensive than flying, it does take longer, and delays may result in missing connections. For us, not on a deadline, we didn't care. I could tell you some fun stories, but this isn't the place.

So far as celltower coverage was concerned, in the sleeper car it was minimal at best and usually only around the larger cities. It was a bit better in the mostly glass lounge car. It has been more than 10 years since we last rode the rails; I don't know if WiFi has come to Amtrak outside the Northeast Corridor.

A Garmin 62s GPS was an interesting tool on the trip--location and speed--as was the VX6-R loaded with the ~96 AAR frequencies. We listened to virtually all of the conversations on and near the train, including reasons for slowing or stopping; freight has the right of way. There was no chance to engage in any conversation as the train quickly rolled out of any repeater coverage.

Have fun.
 

k6cpo

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San Diego, CA
I've ridden the Amtrak Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle several times. We always book a sleeper room (meals are included in the price of a room, but not in coach.) We like the ability to get away from the mob and also the ability of get up and move around. I much prefer it to flying...



I've taken an Ht with me to monitor the railroad frequencies and it's never been an issue. I usually keep the volume very low or use an earphone.
 

jaspence

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Amtrak

I have traveled by Amtrak many times. Only once did I have a problem with the conductor. He complained about my radio, but apparently didn't have or know how much authority he had and stopped short of trying to take it. I have used my HT to talk to to people from the train and also carried a scanner to monitor the railroad.
 

Ravenkeeper

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I've ridden the Amtrak Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle several times. We always book a sleeper room (meals are included in the price of a room, but not in coach.) We like the ability to get away from the mob and also the ability of get up and move around. I much prefer it to flying...



I've taken an Ht with me to monitor the railroad frequencies and it's never been an issue. I usually keep the volume very low or use an earphone.
My mother-in-law always takes the Surfliner from SAN to LAX, when she comes up to visit, and then she takes the MetroLink from LAX to Palmdale or Lancaster. When my wife's sister lived in Portland, their mom came up on the Surfliner/MetroLink, and then the next day, she, my wife, and kids took the MetroLink to LAX and then the Coast Starlight up to Portland, for a week, and then back again. I've taken the MetroLink from Lancaster to Oceanside, and back, and have also done the run from Lancaster to San Diego a couple times, didn't feel like driving down to meet up with family, just to bring two cars back up.

JASII,

My advise to you, keep your ticket on you at all times. Some of the conductors/attendants don't pay too much attention to who they have already checked.
 

cbehr91

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I've just done day trips. If you like trains it's worth it. If you're traveling with someone/a significant other who isn't into trains they may get bored. I always bring a radio (with headphones of course), and never have any issues with nosy passengers or conductors. I try to avoid the overpriced packaged food in the cafe. Only on long distance trains is there real food service. From what I hear it's good, and if you get a roomette or bedroom on a long distance train your meals are included, however, Amtrak is trying their best to cut food service. Somebody else here may have an up-to-date list of trains - if any - that still have real food service.
 

W9BU

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Check with Amtrak or with rail passenger fan boards to see exactly what the meal options are now. Amtrak has been cutting back on meal service quite a bit and many riders are now disappointed with the choices.

Also, if you are planning a Saint Paul to Chicago trip, that will be on train 8, the Empire Builder, which has been having real issues with on-time performance due to freight train interference west of Saint Paul. This a long-distance train that originates in Seattle and travels all the way to Chicago.

Here's a link to a web site I use to monitor Amtrak trains: Amtrak Status Maps - West The site mines data from Amtrak's web site.

As I post this, yesterday's train 8 is still pretty much on time--it left Seattle yesterday afternoon. Train 8 from two days ago, which is due into Minneapolis-Saint Paul at 8:00 am today, is running 1 hour 25 minutes behind.
 

N9JIG

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Before we moved to Arizona I had ridden several Amtrak trains over the years. Short services, like the Hiawatha and other Illinois services to Springfield and Galesburg were always fun.

I have done a few long-haul trains but years ago. These included the Zephyr out to SLC and back (Spectacular scenery!) Sunset and City of New Orleans (Get a room, it is worth it!).

Now that I am mostly retired I would love to take more Amtrak but from Phoenix it is almost impossible as times, location and schedules just do not mesh here.

As for scanners, I have always had one on-board with earbuds and never had an issue. Amtrak does not prohibit them as long as you use earbuds. I have found that it is easiest to scan all the AAR channels or use the Rail Service Search. Trying to keep track of the current Road channels, especially on long-distance trains is difficult.
 

k6cpo

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San Diego, CA
<snip>

My advise to you, keep your ticket on you at all times. Some of the conductors/attendants don't pay too much attention to who they have already checked.

On the Surfliner, the conductor places a colored strip of paper in a holder above your seat that indicates where you are getting off. Don't change your seat without letting the conductor know. On the long distance trains, the coach seats are reserved, so you can't change.
 

Ravenkeeper

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Antelope Valley, CA
On the Surfliner, the conductor places a colored strip of paper in a holder above your seat that indicates where you are getting off. Don't change your seat without letting the conductor know. On the long distance trains, the coach seats are reserved, so you can't change.
Yeah, but I had gotten up to use the bathroom, and they wanted to check my ticket again. Just being thorough, I guess. They did it the same way when I took AmTrak from San Diego to Merced, to go see my grandmother. The only thing that SUCKED about that ride, was the bus ride from LAX to BAK, just to catch the train to go up through the San Joaquin Valley.
 

Davidlee_64

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Apr 24, 2018
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Glendale, Az
I went from Philly to Chicago to boot camp 1970 via Amtrak. Then went from Wilmington, De to Washington, Dc and back to look over a commercial bid (NIH). I enjoyed the scenery and not dealing with airports.
 

csxcp55

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Dec 2, 2014
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New York area
My most recent Amtrak trip was aboard the Vermonter when I traveled from New York City to Burlington VT to run in the Vermont City Marathon on Memorial day weekend 2017.
I brought my own snacks, as I already knew that Amtrak 'meals' (there is no dining car on the Vermonter - just a snack car) are expensive, and not all that great.
I purchased two bottles of Long Trail Ale for $7.00 each. Very expensive for beer, but at least I knew what I was getting; unlike their packaged sandwiches or salads.

I didn't take a radio with me, but if I make the trip again I would definitely take my FT-60R or VX-150, which I would program for all the radio channels used on the route.
It's not difficult getting the correct radio channels for your route. There are great resources here at radioreference.com. No need to bother listening to all of the AAR channels. There is a lot of junk on some of those channels you will wind up locking them out anyway. If your 'scanner' is not so fast, it will take a while to get through 100 AAR channels, and you will miss a lot of desired activity.
My FT-60 is a much faster scanner than the VX-150, but still not as fast as a dedicated scanner.
Some of the class 1's are using digital comm now, so you might need a scanner capable of whichever digital mode they're using.

Enjoy your trip
CSXCP55
 

FrensicPic

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My wife and I use Amtrak as our preferred mode of travel. At least one long distance trip per year. In the past 10 years have more than 35,000 Amtrak miles under the belt. Just yesterday, we returned from a Los Angeles to New Orleans to Chicago to Los Angeles trip. About half of our travel is paid with Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) points. We usually travel in a bedroom on the long distance tripsl

Of course, I've got my scanner, hand-held GPS and camera with me.
 

Ensnared

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Waco, Texas
Love Amtrak

I have been giving some thought to taking a trip from Saint Paul MN to Chicago IL via Amtrak. At first glance it seems to be:

-A less expensive travel option, in some cases, and

-You spend much more time in transit.

For those here that have done a several hour train trip, what was you experience like? Are the meals okay? I am assuming that they all have free wifi, but that really doesn't matter to me because I have an MVNO on Verizon and an AT&T hotspot with unlimited data.

And, I might take a GPS along and/or watch our progress on a smartphone map.

If I bring my scanner, I would use headphones, so I wouldn't bother the other passengers.
I have great experiences on trains. I loved Amtrak, even under horrible circumstances.

I traveled from outside of Waco, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas during a very hot August. As a function of the heat, Amtrak was forbidden to go above 45 mph since they were concerned about the tracks remaining intact. Sleeping can be a challenge. If you have money, berths are best, I suppose.

I had a great time with my PSR 500. They may have new features. The meals were very good for a train trip. It has been a number of years back, but I would imagine they are still serving decent food.

If you like to indulge of herbal remedies, I would strongly advise you to leave you recreational material at home because K9 search has been observed in some cases.

The staff was outstanding and very friendly.

Trains represent the backbone of America. Let's try to keep them in operation. Flying is for type A folks, LOL. Take some time, a good book, a scanner, and let them take care of the rest.
 

JASII

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Apr 29, 2006
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....It's not difficult getting the correct radio channels for your route. There are great resources here at radioreference.com. No need to bother listening to all of the AAR channels. There is a lot of junk on some of those channels you will wind up locking them out anyway. If your 'scanner' is not so fast, it will take a while to get through 100 AAR channels, and you will miss a lot of desired activity...
I would either bring a Uniden BCD325P2 or a Motorola APX7000, depending on how many different frequencies I would have to listen to for the whole trip. I am not very savvy on railroad frequencies. How would I determine all of the railroad frequencies to listen to from Saint Paul MN to Chicago IL?
 

w2xq

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Jul 13, 2004
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JASII just put in all AAR channels 02 through 97 and be done with it. You'll soon find the primary one your train is using. When you are in a large city, you'll hear activity from other trains and train yards as well.

In our long distance trips, I noted our train switched primary channels as we crossed through different areas. I started to map it out, and soon realized the project entailed more effort than it was worth. Life is too short. Go up to the lounge car and enjoy the scenery.
 

JeffDS3

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Jun 5, 2016
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My family takes it frequently from our home to Northern California. It&#8217;s great and relaxing if you have time to spare. I usually take it to Richmond, then hop on BART to Berkeley or San Francisco to catch a game. I don&#8217;t take any radios but they have WiFi so we just stare at our iPads or read the paper.
 
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