Amtrak Travel Tips and Advice for Coach Passengers |

To help you enjoy your travel aboard Amtrak, here is my list of Amtrak travel tips and advice for coach passengers.

Amtrak coach attendant, Joseph, asks coach passengers for dinner reservation requests aboard the Palmetto.
Coach attendant, Joseph, asks passengers for dinner reservation requests aboard the Palmetto.

Amtrak tips for Coach Passengers

You need to have a reservation to travel with Amtrak.  You can do this online, by phone or through a travel agent.  For short journeys or budget-conscious travelers, coach is your best and least expensive option.

Arrive at the station about 45 minutes before the expected arrival time.  If you plan to check luggage, the cut-off time is 30 minutes before departure.  The conductor will assign your seat to you when you board.

Be Courteous to Other Coach Passengers

Etiquette is an absolute necessity when traveling in coach. Yet it’s often overlooked.  Common sense should prevail, but sometimes not everyone thinks ahead.

Earphones are required for all devices.  And it’s nice if you keep your personal space tidy. Leave the tuna fish sandwich and dill pickles at home.  If you don’t want to visit the café car, pack a picnic lunch and snacks that won’t be offensive to others.

Using the Public Bathrooms in Coach

It’s a public bathroom, so clean up after yourself. It only takes a paper towel to wipe down the splashes around the sink or wherever. Your coach attendant can’t clean up after everyone so be considerate of the next person.  Ladies, if you happen to board the train at the very first or second station on the route, the bathrooms will be very clean.  If you need to “go,” visit the restroom earlier rather than later.  I guarantee it will be a much nicer experience.

Amtrak Luggage Restrictions in Coach

One of the best things about traveling on Amtrak is that you can bring your entire wardrobe. But there are some restrictions. There’s only overhead storage for small carry-on luggage, same size as the airlines.

If you’re traveling with a lot of oversized bags, you’ll need to check them at the station. While there’s a 50 lb. limit for checked bags, it’s free!  However, not all stations offer checked baggage, so inquire when you make your reservation. Here’s a list of Amtrak stations that provide baggage handling services.

Cozy in Coach on Overnight Trains

If you’re going on an overnight coach ride, it helps if you bring a small pillow and blanket.  If you can sleep with these in place, bring an eye mask and ear plugs.  Just don’t miss your station because of ear plugs!  For most coach passengers, a good night’s sleep isn’t really possible.  It’s lights-out in the coach at 10:00 p.m.  Plan your evening accordingly.

Dining Aboard Amtrak

Amtrak dining car is ready for dinner.
Dining car is ready for the dinner crowd.

The dining car is usually in the middle of the train.  Same for the Café car.  For lunch and dinner, the dining car staff member will walk through the coach cars and offer you three dining times to choose.  Lunch is usually from 12 until 2:30 and dinner is served around 5:30pm until 8:30pm.  Breakfast is open seating.

Here’s the dining car procedure

Step into the dining car and you must wait to be seated. It’s community seating, four passengers per table.  If you’re traveling with someone, you’ll be seated side-by-side, not across from each other. Remember to tip your waiter, just as you would at a “stationary” restaurant.

Amtrak snack bar aboard Southwest Chief.
There’s plenty to choose from at the snack bar if you don’t want to eat in the dining car.

There is almost always a snack bar available. Lines forms at peak hours, so again, plan ahead.  It’s appropriate to leave a tip for the always-busy snack bar attendant. Usually $.50 – $1-2 dollars, again, depending upon the purchase cost.

Sometimes the snack bar has to close, usually when passing through a “dry” county or when the attendant takes a meal break.  Closings are always announced and advanced warning given.

Read next:  Amtrak tips and advice if you reserve a sleeper

Arrival and Departure Times

Amtrak Southwest Chief made it through an overnight ice storm without delay in Kansas.
Southwest Chief made it through an overnight ice storm without delay in Kansas.

Ground travel comes with its inherent hiccups.  Weather is one of them, especially in winter. Ice storms, blizzards, sudden downpours in the desert, even remnants of hurricanes can cause disruptions.

Then there’s the Big Guys.  Except for tracks within the Acela network and the northeast corridor, Amtrak trains are at the mercy of the freight trains. Big railroads like CSX and Burlington Northern own the tracks and have right-of-way privileges over passenger trains. I give Amtrak a 60-minute on-time window before I consider the train to be running late.

Amtrak Observation Car on the Empire Builder.
The best views along the way are from the Observation Car. This was on the Empire Builder.  Remember: don’t be a chair hog and let others enjoy the view, too.

When a long delay happens, there’s nothing you can do except sit back in your seat, watch a video on your tablet or iPad, read a book, or get up and visit the lounge or observation car.

Amtrak is prepared for traffic delays and weather-related issues. Until Amtrak can finally own its own tracks, a cool head, calm demeanor and a few snacks and beverages from home will get you through these disruptive situations.

Amtrak for Family Travel

An Amtrak train ride in coach can be a fun and interesting experience, especially for families.  Kids love it because they can stand up at their seat and stretch. Or stretch out and doze on an empty seat.  When they’re bored, depending on your route, head to the Observation Car.  And besides, what kid doesn’t love trains?

Read More:  The Complete Guide to Plan Your Amtrak Train Trip

Travel Cheap in Coach

While overnights in coach can mean a not-so-perfect night’s sleep for some, it’s still the best value for your travel dollar. With lights-out at 10PM, the coach car quiets down and it becomes peaceful and calm.  Save more money when you bring your own food and beverages.  Dinner in the dining car for coach passengers isn’t cheap.  Though meals are included for those in sleeping accommodations, coach passengers can easily pay $25 for a steak, salad and dessert dinner.

I hope these coach tips and advice are helpful.  Know what to expect when traveling in an Amtrak coach seat.  You’ll save money, see gorgeous scenery and meet interesting people from all walks of life.  Enjoy the journey!

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