Amtrak’s Cardinal is a relaxing mode of transportation between Chicago, IL, and New York City, NY. The train provides both coach and sleeping car accommodations and, for your convenience, food service.
This train, in total, serves thirty-six communities by rail, including Washington, Philadelphia, Charlottesville, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. To expand this train’s reach, Amtrak offers connecting services for more destinations. This article will give you the information you need to know to plan your next trip aboard Amtrak’s Cardinal.
Taking Amtrak is convenient for passengers in several ways. Many station stops are in the downtown areas of communities, unlike airports. The Cardinal serves many communities without access to airports or other forms of mass transportation. Another advantage of train travel is less jetlag and an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery.
New York, NY- Washington DC – Charlottesville, WV – Cincinnati, OH – Indianapolis, IN – Chicago, IL
What you need to know about Amtrak’s Cardinal
Frequency and equipment use
The Cardinal runs three days a week between Chicago, IL, and New York. NY, with thirty-four intermediate stops. The train leaves Chicago on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and leaves New York on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The train uses one (sometimes more) GE Genisis series locomotive between Chicago and DC and a Seimans electric locomotive between DC and NYC. Rail cars include Amtrak’s Amfleet II and Viewliner Equipment. If you want to ride this train, you can reserve coach seating, roomettes, bedrooms, or accessible rooms.
The train name and numbers
All Amtrak trains are named and numbered. The names make it easier for you to remember what you need to be on, and the train number helps make sure it is the right one. The train numbers identify the trains’ directions and, with some routes, the schedule of that train. The Cardinal going East is train 50 and 51 going West.
If you want to book a reservation for the Cardinal, you have options including Amtrak’s app, website, over the phone (1-800-USA-Rail), or at staffed stations. Some staffed and unstaffed stations also have Quik-Trak kiosks allowing you to use your credit or debit card to purchase tickets.
This train offers travel opportunities beyond the rails with Amtrak’s Connecting Services reserved along with your train ticket.
If you purchase your ticket at a station, you will leave with a paper ticket, plus you can request an email copy as well. When you book online, tickets get emailed to you—more on this topic in the next section.
If you are looking for someone to arrange everything for you, try Amtrak Vacations, a travel agency authorized by Amtrak, or an independent rail-focused travel agency is Vacation by Rail.
Do not plan on buying your tickets on the train. You can purchase tickets over the phone in some limited circumstances and pick them up on the train. For information on both of these topics, click here.
In some cases, you will need to call Amtrak or visit a staffed station, for example, booking an accessible room, bedroom suites, or if you want something special like two roomettes across from each other, and the like.
What you need to know about tickets
You need a ticket, either a paper ticket or digital, to board the train. Along with that, make sure you have a valid government-issued ID. Amtrak ticket readers can randomly ask the conductors to check ID, this hasn’t happened to me, but it has happened to travel companions.
Amtrak sends you an email containing your ticket and receipt when you purchase your tickets over the phone or the internet. Once you receive this email, either print off the pdf or flag the emails so you can quickly find it to show conductors from your smart device.
Tickets on your smart device
The Amtrak app can store your tickets; It works best when signed up for Amtrak Guest Rewards. Another option is a “wallet app” like Apple Wallet. Screenshots will also give you quick access to them even if there is no internet service.
Boarding The Cardinal
When it is time for you to board the train, have your tickets out and ready for conductors and attendants to look at or scan. Your tickets tell the staff all of your accommodation information. It is not uncommon for your ticket to be scanned after you board.
Listen carefully to the instructions given by the Amtrak staff, so you end up in the right spot. Often coach seats are assigned before you enter the train., but not always. After you are seated, conductors place a card over your head with your destination on it, so they know your stop.
Please do not move to another car without talking to a conductor; conductors, group passengers with the same destination in the same coach car, so boarding and deboarding is less disruptive at night.
Downloadable route guide
The route guides are a fun way to learn about the communities you roll through on your way to your destination. If you wish, you can print them or save them on a tablet, so you don’t have to worry about the internet.
The Cardinal Schedule, run time, and miles
From start to finish, it takes the Cardinal 26.5 hours to travel 1,147 miles. Below is a brief look at scheduled departure times for the Cardinal’s major stops.
|5:45 pm||Chicago. IL||10:00 am|
|11:59 pm||Indianapolis, IN||6:00 am|
|3:27 am next day||Cincinnati, OH||1:41 am next day|
|3:19 pm||Charlottesville, VA||1:52 pm|
|6:19 pm||Washington DC||11:00 am|
|9:58 pm||New York, NY||6:54 am|
The full schedule also includes connecting services.
What is the Cardinal on-time reliability?
When I wrote this, I could not find the Amtrak’s on-time reliability reports for this train, but as soon as I can get them, I will update this site.
For information on why Amtrak trains get delayed, check out the video or click here.
Delays happen, and as you learned, often they are not Amtrak’s fault. Trains can make up some of the lost time, and do not let this deter you from booking a trip.
Who owns the tracks the Cardinal uses?
Amtrak does own some tracks, they do not own most of the tracks they use, so they use rails owned by other railroads. The owners of these rails are called the host railroads.
The Crescent operates over tracks owned by Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Buckingham Branch Railroad, Canadian National Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, The Beltway Railroad Co., and Metra.
How to see if The Cardinal is running on time
Amtrak’s Site and App
With a computer or a smart device, you can check the status of The Cardinal or any of Amtrak’s trains. Amtrak’s website and app have a button to gather this info, and once you are in, there are two ways to gather the info.
Option one is by Train Number, for this, you need the train’s number and a station. For example, if you are getting on the train in Hinton, WV, and heading to New York and are curious how the train is doing, enter 50 for the train number and HIN or Hinton. If you do not know your train’s number, look at your ticket, it is on there.
If you want to get info by Station, enter the city where the train started and where you are getting on the train. Suppose we use the last example, type in CHI or Chicago for the departure station and HIN for the arrival.
Either way works, but I found knowing the train’s number to work best for me. I often will how the train did with the stop before mine, for this will give me an idea if I have time to spare or if I need to hurry. Remember that trains can make up some time if they are running late.
If you use the Amtrak app on your day of travel, there is a button in the ticket area that says trip tools; after you hit that, a drop-down menu will give you the option to check your train status, not only for your stop but for your destination.
Or you can also call 1-800-USA-Rail to get train status.
Besides the Amtrak site, there are some third-party to help you. This site is the one I like and use the most because of its useability and its display. This site provides a live map displaying all Amtrak trains running that time, or you can get a particular train or station’s status.
I go back and forth between the site and Amtrak’s app, for I will use the site to see where the train is and then the app when it is close.
I love you to use the site to see how the train is performing on its journey. When using that function, remember you need to enter the date when the train started its trip. For example, if you were going from Omaha to Chicago on the California Zephyer, you would need to enter the date for two days prior.
Third-party sites obtained their data from Amtrak, and this information is close to “real-time. ” Amtrak pings each train every few minutes, so it’s close enough.
Receive text or emails
When purchasing tickets, Amtrak offers the opportunity to receive text messages or emails about the train’s status. If you miss the prompt, you can sign-up afterward using the link below. When signing up for emails, make sure the account you use is an account you can use while you travel.
If someone is picking you up, they can also sign up for this service as well. Then everyone can be on the same page, and it comes in handy if there is a delay and you do not have cell coverage in an area.
Baggage on Amtrak’s Cardinal
Amtrak’s generous carry-on policy allows for two twenty-eight-inch suitcases and two personal items, and all bags must weigh fifty pounds or less.
Coach cars offer storage above your seat, plus a luggage rack at one end of the coach car. Stowed luggage is not watched. Sleeper cars have space in the rooms for your belongings, like above the door in roomettes.
Check bag service is not available for all stops. Before you leave, to prevent a day of travel surprise, verify that departure and arrival stations offer checked bag service. If one or both do not provide this service, you will have to carry on all your luggage.
If you know ahead of time, you can pack accordingly. Further down in this article is a list of all station stops and the services offered.
If you connect to or from this train, your checked bags will transfer with you, with the possible exceptions of bus transfers. When in doubt, ask onboard or station staff.
If you check your bags, you will not have access to them until you reach your final destination, so if you need any medications, make sure you pack them in your carry-on.
You must check your bags at least forty-five minutes before the departure of the train.
Food and alcohol on Amtrak’s Cardinal
Bringing food on The Cardinal
You can bring food and beverages on board the train, but remember that there will be others around you, so be considerate. Egg salad or other food with pungent odors is never a good idea. Some people, like my dad, might suggest that you do not bring noisy food, but my thought is, don’t eat it at night others are sleeping.
Due to FDA regulations, do not bring food or drinks into Amtrak food service cars that you didn’t purchase onboard. Food for children is the exception. Also, Amtrak staff cannot store or warm any food or beverage for you.
Bringing alcohol on The Cardinal
If you are in coach class, you may transport adult beverages, but you cannot partake from your stash as you travel. If you get out of hand from drinking too much or caught breaking this rule, you may get kicked off the train and possibly fined.
Sleeping car passengers can bring and consume adult beverages in their rooms, but like coach passengers, can get thrown off the train for belligerent behavior.
Amtrak café car
Coach and sleeper car passengers can purchase meals, snacks, and beverages, including adult beverages, in the cafe car.
For this train, the cafe is on one side of the car, the cafe’s retail space is in the center, and the other side is the Sleeper Lounge.
Listen to the onboard announcements for hours of operation, but typically it is during the day, but it will close for the attendant’s break times.
Sleeper car passengers can use the Sleeper Lounge to relax, eat, or grab their complimentary meals and beverages. The lounge is the section of the cafe car closest to the sleeping car.
The Cardinal uses Amtrak’s flex dining. There are options for where you eat your meals; you can choose to eat them in the lounge or dine in your accommodations. You or the car attendant can grab the meals and bring them to the room.
Amtrak offers one complimentary adult beverage per eligible sleeper car passenger and unlimited soft drinks. See the Sleeper Lounge attendant for the selection of beverages on your train.
Eastbound sleeping car passengers receive dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Westbound travelers receive breakfast, lunch, dinner, and breakfast. The article on sleeper car dining has sample menus and discusses when you may not qualify for meals.
The 32 stops of Amtrak’s Cardinal and service levels
Below are all of The Cardinal’s stop, station codes, and service abbreviations.
When booking your adventure, it helps to know the station codes, for they can help you quickly entered the proper cities. It is not hard to hit the wrong city from the fold-down menu; I have done it a few times myself.
For example, if you’re going from Chicago, IL (CHI), to Charleson, WV (CHW), and go too fast, you could hit Charleston, SC (CHS). This error would explain why the trip suddenly jumped to two days and in price. Always take the time to double-check your work.
There are a few cities along this route with similar names to one of your possible destinations.
Station Guide Key
F – Flag Stop, B – Baggage Service, S – Staffed Station, U- Unstaffed Station, SL – Station Lounge, CS – Connecting Services, FB – Fresh Air (Smoke Break), Q – Quik-Trak Kios, A- Accessible, A*- Accessible but not all facilities are accessible, and TB- Trackside Baggage Service.
|Chicago, IL (CHI)||B, S, SL, Q, A, CS||Dyer, IN||U|
|Rensselaer, IN||U||Lafayette, IN||U, Q, A*|
|Crawford, IN||U, A*||Indianapolis, IN||S, B, A*, Q, CS, FB|
|Connersville, IN||U||Cincinnati, OH||S, B, A, FB|
|Maysville, KY||U, A*||So. Portsmouth-So. Shore KY||U, A|
|U, A||Huntington, KY||U, A|
|Charleston, WV||U, TB, CS, A||Montgomery, WV||U|
|Thurmond, WV||U, F||Prince, WV|
|Hinton, WV||U||Alderson, WV||U. F|
|White Sulphur Springs, WV|
|U||Clifton Forge, VA|
|Staunton, VA||U||Charlottesville, VA||S, B, CS, A*, FB|
|Culpeper, VA||U, A*||Manassas, VA||U|
|Alexandria, VA||S, B, A, Q||Washington DC||S, B, A, Q, SB|
|S, B, A, Q||Wilmington, DE||S, B, A*, Q|
|S, B, A, Q,, SL||Trenton, NJ||S, B, A, Q|
|Newark, NJ||S, B, A, Q||New York, NY|
(New York Penn)
|S, B, A, Q, SL|
The Amtrak site does offer more specific information for each station, such as addresses, parking info, and more.
Amtrak’s Cardinal line-up
Most of this section is for the sleeping car passengers, but the last paragraph is for coach passengers.
All of Amtrak’s cars display two sets of numbers. One is a blue five-digit number located near the end of the car. That is the car’s identification number, and you can ignore that number.
The other number is the one you need; it is a four-digit number found next to the door. This number gives you the route and the car’s position in the train’s lineup.
When traveling West, the car number should start with 50XX or East 51XX. Occasionally these numbers are not updated, so that a Northbound sleeping car might say 5100 instead of 5000; if you get confused, car attendants and conductors are happy to help you out. If you have a sleeper, the attendants are looking for you, so walk to those cars, and they will help you.
Once again, your sleeping car accommodations information Is found on your ticket with your eticket as a PDF file.
The Cardinal’s order of cars
|Eastbound Car Numbers||Equipment Type||Westbound Car Numbers|
|Baggage Dorm Car|
Connecting to other trains
The Cardinal allows for easy connections with all long-distance trains in or out of Chicago, plus many regional trains. Depending on where you are going, the Cardinal will enable you to transfer to Silver Service for those passengers traveling to the Carolinas, Georga, or Florida, or stay on to head to New York and the New England area.
The examples below will give you an idea of the layout of the Amtrak cars found on the Cardinal. Amtrak has new sleeper cars coming into service, and they do rehab older cars, so your sleeper or coach car may vary from these.
Nevertheless, these diagrams can help you find your room in your sleeping car. The placement of passnger rooms has not changed.
Sleeping car numbers 5800/5900
There are new Viewliner Sleeper Cars no longer have toilets in roomettes. The roomette between room 12 and the end of the car is now the bathroom, and the coffee station moved between bedroom “B” and roomette 1. The new cars have a burgundy interior instead of the blue one.
Coach Cars 5030-5032/5130-5132
Amtrak Café Car
The café car/dining car is similar to this, and the non-bathroom side is towards the sleeper cars.
Average cost of Riding Amtrak’s Cardinal
The prices below are based on one person traveling from end to end and should be considered a reference.
Similar to other companies in the transportation industry, Amtrak uses step or bucket prices. This process means they set aside seats or rooms at one cost, and after selling those, the price goes up to the next bucket or steps and that goes on till the train is full.
As you do the research, you may find the cost can go up or down. If people cancel to move their trip, accommodations can become available, and that can cause the prices to fluctuate.
When booking, the price on the screen is the total price for that section on the trip. For example, if you plan a trip to Charleston, WV for two and after entering that information into the app, you may get results of $118 and the sleeper is $452, that price is for both passengers.
There are two prices wrapped up in one for sleeping accommodations; the first is the room rate, and the second is the “rail fair.” When you book a room with someone, you pay one room rate and two rail fairs. For example, one person in a roomette is $319, but for two, the total is $494.
Discounts like senior, military, or others come off the rail price and not the room price. For information on how to save money on Amtrak and more info on how discounts work, click the button below.
|Accommodations||Approximate Price Range|
|Coach Seats||$90 – $265|
|Roomettes||$394 – $654|
|Bedrooms||$858 – $1397|
|Acceible Room||Call 1-800-USA-Rail|
for more info
Notable views and fun info of the Cardinal
The Cardinal serves as an important role for Amtrak; this train takes rail cars and locomotives to Amtrak’s Beechgrove facilities. When the train leaves Chicago, it could be longer with a mix of equipment, but after Indianapolis, IN, the train goes back to normal. Or if going the other way, your train may get equipment added.
The train travels through the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the wild white-water rivers of West Virginia. Some of these stunning views can only be seen by train.
For transportation and train nerds, Washington DC could be a fun station stop for you. In DC, the Mighty Cardinal changes power! Northbound train sheds its diesel-electric engine for an electric, and the Southbound does the opposite.
During the engine swap in Washington DC, there are times when the train will not have power. During this time, the restrooms will not work, and the foodservice car may be closed. You may get off the train during this time.
Fresh air stops
Fresh air breaks allow you to get off the train and stretch your legs and get a breath of, as the name implies, fresh air. They are formally known as smoke breaks.
I find getting off the train during these breaks add to the experience and are a welcome change of scenery. These breaks happen during crew changes, fuel stops, or if the train arrives early.
If you decide to get off the train at a fresh air stop, follow the conductor’s directions, and don’t wander too far from the train. Keep in mind that the train can and will leave without you if you did not get back on in time. Often you will hear a few blasts from the train’s horn, indicating it is time to reboard the train.
Walking around the train
First-time train riders should be aware of a few tidbits about walking around the train. It is not hard, but often not what people are used to doing as they travel.
The first point is, trains are linear, meaning one car is in front of another, so you may need to walk through a few cars to get to the one you desire.
The second thing to remember is trains are moving, and they sway as they go down the track. Use the seatbacks or luggage racks for support. When going between cars, avoid stepping where the plates come together, and use the candy cane striped handles for support.
Thirdly, the isles of trains are narrow and do not allow people walking in opposite directions to pass at the same time. At times, if you have two seats to yourself, people may step into “your space” for a second to let another pass. Be courteous of others as you walk through the train.
Other things you should know
Smoking and Marijuana on the train
Along with all other Amtrak trains, The Cardinal prohibits smoking or vaping. If caught smoking onboard, you can be removed from the train and fined. While marijuana is legal in many states, it is still illegal to transport or consume it on Amtrak because it is considered federal property.
Bathrooms and showers
There are two bathrooms in each coach car (across from each other), plus the cafe car has one. New Viewliners, the ones with burgundy interiors, have one bathroom at the end of the car, one in each bedroom, and one in the accessible room. Older sleeper cars have a toilet in each room.
Each sleeping car has a shower, and each bedroom has its own; it is in the small bathroom. There are no shower facilities for coach passengers.
Amtrak’s Cardinal wrap up
The Cardinal is a safe, relaxing, and fun way to travel to your next adventure.
Coach riders should budget some funds for the café car. They can always bring food or snacks with them, but Amtrak cannot store, chill, or heat the food brought aboard the train.
If you need to keep medication chilled and bring a cooler, Amtrak may provide ice for keeping your medications cool.
Sleeper passengers’ meals are part of the sleeping car experience, and the meals are part of the reservation. Amtrak is currently offering their sleeping passengers their flex dining; if you want a treat or need a libation, the cafe car is there for you.
Sleeping car passengers can use the station lounges in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, and these lounges offer priority boarding, complimentary beverages, and possibly more.
WIFI and streaming
This train may have WIFI but expect a few dead spots along the route. Amtrak uses a cell-based service, just like your phone, so you may not always have service. On a personal note, I always plan for the train not to have internet, and I am delighted when it does. Speeds can vary depending on the passenger load and location.
According to Amtrak’s website: “(…) this basic WiFi service supports general web browsing activities. Due to limited bandwidth onboard the trains, our WiFi does not support high-bandwidth actions such as streaming music, streaming video, or downloading large files.”
If you have a tablet or smartphone, check with your streaming services to see if they allow you to download videos from home to watch during your trip without using your data.
If you do not use the onboard WIFI, remember to keep an eye on your data. Watching videos on social media or other streaming can use up data quicker than you realize.
Bring and use headphones for any noise-making device you use (phone, games, etc.), and turn down or silence your phone, especially at night.
Headphones are a must, especially in coach class; remember, you are not the only one on the train. I know you listen to the best music, and your electronic games are fantastic, but not everyone into either of those, especially if they are trying to sleep. Oh yeah, don’t forget that if you wear headphones and sing along, we can hear you!
Sleeper passengers, providing you keep the volume down, can go without headphones. I often have my iPad just loud enough to cover the noise of the train. When in doubt, use headphones or check to see if you can hear your device in the hallway with the door closed. Remember, the walls are thin, and sound can bleed through. The moral of the story is, be considerate.
Bring some entertainment with you. Something simple like a book, magazine, or a deck of cards can go far. Electronically, apps that do not need wifi can help you pass the time; ebooks and podcast help as well.
Most of all, bring your patience.
I hope this helps you plan and enjoy your next trip aboard Amtrak’s Cardinal!