Traveling by train – know your train travel rights. Learn the ins-and-outs of train travel AND how to complain for the best service.
by Malcolm Kenton
This train travel rights section is specific to the United States, but its lessons are generally applicable in other countries as well.
Primer on US train operations
Amtrak (a short name for and registered service mark of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a quasi-governmental company formed by an act of Congress in 1970 that took over operation of passenger trains from private railroads in 1971) is—for now, at least—the US’s sole operator of intercity passenger train service. Most of Amtrak’s trains operate on tracks owned by private freight railroads whose predecessors relinquished their common carrier obligation to carry passengers to Amtrak in 1970 in eagerness to be relieved of the burden of running unprofitable services. Amtrak does, however, own most of its busiest corridor—the Washington-New York-Boston Northeast Corridor—as well as a stretch of track in southwest Michigan.
Train Travel Tips
Booking an Amtrak trip well in advance of the departure date is highly recommended. Like the airlines, Amtrak prices blocks of seats on the same train at different fare “buckets,” so as seats begin to sell, the fare for the remaining seat changes.
In this chapter, we’ll provide a comprehensive review of train travel rights and tips so you can get the most out of your train travel experience. You’ll learn how to find the lowest possible fares (the E bucket or “Saver” fares). We’ll also cover the following:
Amtrak short-distance routes
All shorter-distance routes outside the Northeast Corridor are operated at the behest of, and subsidized by, the state governments of the states through which they travel. These are called state-supported routes. These routes range in length from under 100 miles to a maximum of 750 miles, and range in frequency from hourly departures (on California’s Los Angeles-San Diego Pacific Surfliners and San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento Capitol Corridor) to one train daily in each direction.
Amtrak also operates 15 long-distance routes (over 750 miles in length). All but one of these routes (the New York-Savannah Palmetto) run overnight for at least one night and offer sleeping car accommodations in addition to reserved coach seating, and all but two feature a full-service dining car as well as a cafe similar to those on Northeast Regionals.
Train travel rights including sleeper car rights and refundable fares
Rooms in a sleeping car are assigned at the time of booking. If booking online, travelers will be automatically assigned the next available Roomette or Bedroom, depending on which they booked. Non-refundable fares and discounts
All fares (even those labeled as “nonrefundable”) can be converted into an eVoucher that can be applied to future Amtrak reservations with no penalty.