You are currently viewing Amtrak’s Cardinal: What you need to know
The Amtrak Cardinal

Amtrak’s Cardinal: What you need to know

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.

Amtrak offers connecting services for more destinations to expand this train’s reach. 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, 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.

Amtrak’s Cardinal

New York, NY- Washington DC – Charlottesville, WV – Cincinnati, OH – Indianapolis, IN – Chicago, IL

Amtrak’s Cardinal Podcast

I did a podcast about this train that is an overview of this article. The article has more detail, but if you are looking for an audio overview, here it is!

Frequency

Amtrak Viewliner Sleeper car
An Amtrak Viewliner Sleeper Car

The Cardinal runs three days between Chicago, IL, and New York. NY, with thirty-four intermediate stops.

The Cardinal leaves Chicago on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and stops after Indianapolis, IN, the next day. It leaves New York on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday and stops after Maysville, KY, are the next day.

Equipment

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.

You can reserve:

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.

Buying tickets

Buying Amtrak Ticket
A passenger is buying a ticket from a staffed station. Photo courtesy of Amtrak

If you want to book a reservation for the Cardinal, you have options including Amtrak’s app, website, phone (1-800-USA-Rail), or at staffed stations.

This train offers travel opportunities beyond the rails with Amtrak’s Connecting Services reserved along with your train ticket.

Some staffed and unstaffed stations also have Quik-Trak kiosks allowing you to use your credit or debit card to purchase tickets.

If you purchase your ticket at a station, you will leave with a paper ticket, plus you can also request an email copy. When you book online, tickets get emailed to you—more on this topic in the next section.

Suppose you are looking for someone to arrange everything for you. In that case, 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 and pick them up on the train in some limited circumstances. Here is more information on purchasing tickets onboard and pickup.

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

WI Real ID
An example of Wisconsin’s Real ID (photo courtesy of the WI DOT)

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 them 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

Amtrak Card
Conductors helping passengers board Amtrak’s Cardinal – Photo courtesy of Amtrak

When it is time 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 get scanned by the conductor 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, so they know your stop.

Please do not move to another car without talking to a conductor; because conductors group passengers with the same destination in the same coach car, so boarding and deboarding are less disruptive at night.

Downloadable route guide

The route guides are fun to learn about the communities you roll through to your destination. You can print them or save them on a tablet, so worry about the internet.

The Cardinal Schedule, run time, and miles

It takes the Cardinal 26.5 hours to travel 1,147 miles from start to finish. Below is a brief look at scheduled departure times for the Cardinal’s significant stops.

Eastbound 50
(Read top-down)
CitiesWestbound 51
(Read bottom-up)
5:45 pmChicago. IL10:00 am
11:59 pmIndianapolis, IN6:00 am
3:27 am the next dayCincinnati, OH1:41 am next day
3:19 pm Charlottesville, VA1:52 pm
6:19 pmWashington DC11:00 am
9:58 pm New York, NY6:54 am
The times are departure times and can change at any time.

The full schedule also includes connecting services.

Who owns the tracks the Cardinal uses?

Amtrak does own some tracks; they do not own most of the rails they use, so they use rails owned by other railroads. The owners of these rails are called the host railroads.

The Cardinal operates on tracks owned by:

What is the Cardinal’s on-time reliability?

For 2020, the Cardinal was on-time 65% of the time. The majority of Amtrak’s route is over CSX and NS tracks.

Amtrak scores each of the class 1 railroads with a letter grade.

In 2020 CSX achieved an on-time score of a B+ with a four-year average of a B. On the other hand, NS for 2020 scored a C with a four-year average of an F.

Here is Amtrak’s full report card and more info on how Amtrak applied performance.

Check out the video or click here for why Amtrak trains get delayed. Delays happen, and as you learned, often they are not Amtrak’s fault. Trains can make up some of the lost time and not let this deter you from booking a trip.

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 collect the information.

The status page on the Amtrak App (May 2021)

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 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 works best for me. I often will how the train did at 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, a button in the ticket area says trip tools; after you hit that, a drop-down menu will allow you to check your train status, not only for your stop for your destination.

By Phone

Or you can also call 1-800-USA-Rail to get train status.

Third-party sites

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 offers several ways to find out the status of your train.

The site provides a live map displaying all Amtrak trains running at 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 using the site to see how the train is performing on its journey. When using that function, remember to enter the date when the train started its trip. For example, if you were going from Omaha to Chicago on the California Zephyer, use the date 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

Amtrak offers the opportunity to receive text messages or emails about the train’s status when purchasing tickets. 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 picks you up, they can also sign up for this service. 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.

Too much luggage
Does anyone need this much luggage?

Coach cars offer storage above your seat, plus a luggage rack at one end of the coach car. No one guards stowed luggage. 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 exception 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 onto The Cardinal

You can bring food and beverages on board the train, but remember that others will be around you, so consider what you get. 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 while 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 onto The Cardinal

You may transport adult beverages in coach class, but you cannot partake from your stash as you travel. If you get out of hand from drinking too much or are 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 they can get thrown off the train for belligerent behavior like coach passengers.

Amtrak café car

Lunch
Amtrak café attendants use cardboard trays to make transporting your food more accessible.

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 on the other side is used as the Sleeper Lounge. Here is an example of a cafe car layout.

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 lounge

Sleeper car passengers can use the Sleeper Lounge to relax, eat, or grab complimentary meals and beverages. The lounge is the section of the cafe car closest to the sleeping car.

Amtrak Flex Meal
Amtrak’s Asian Noodle “flex” meal with roll, salad, dessert, and beer that I enjoyed in my roomette

The Cardinal uses Amtrak’s flex dining. There are options for eating your meals; you can 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.

Scheduled Meals

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.

Station types

The Cardinal serves various stops, including:

The 32 stops of Amtrak’s Cardinal and service levels

Below are all of The Cardinal’s station stop, station codes, and service abbreviations.

When booking your adventure, it helps to know the station codes, for they can help you quickly enter 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.

A few cities along this route have 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 Kiosk, A- Accessible, A*- Accessible but not all facilities are accessible, and TB- Trackside Baggage Service. Some unstaffed stations could be platform stations.

These options can change at any time and are just guides. Fresh air breaks are not guaranteed.

Illinois

  • Chicago (CHI) – B, S, SL, Q, A, CS

Indiana

  • Dyer – U
  • Rensselaer – U
  • Lafayette – U, Q, A*
  • Crawford – U, A*
  • Indianapolis – S, B, A*, Q, CS, FB
  • Connersville – U

Ohio

  • Cincinnati – S, B, A, FB

Kentucky

  • Maysville – U, A*
  • So. Portsmouth-So. Shore – U, A
  • Ashland (Kenova, WV) – U, A
  • Huntington – U, A

West Virginia

  • Charleston – U, TB, CS, A
  • Montgomery – U
  • Thurmond – U, F
  • Prince (Beckley) – U, A*
  • Hinton – U
  • Alderson – U. F
  • White Sulphur Springs (Greenbrier) – U

Virginia

  • Clifton Forge (Homestead) – U
  • Staunton – U
  • Charlottesville – S, B, CS, A*, FB
  • Culpeper – U, A*
  • Manassas – U
  • Alexandria – S, B, A, Q

Washington, DC

  • Washington DC – S, B, A, Q, SB

Maryland

  • Baltimore (Penn Station) – S, B, A, Q

Delaware

  • Wilmington – S, B, A*, Q

Pennsylvania

  • Philadelphia (30th Street) – S, B, A, Q

New Jersey

  • Trenton – S, B, A, Q
  • Newark – S, B, A, Q

New York

  • New York (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 lineup

Car numbers

Most of this section is for the sleeping car passengers, but the last paragraph is for coach passengers.

Sleeper car Number
Amtrak’s four-digit code indicating this car is on train 30, The Capitol Limited, and number 01.

All of Amtrak’s rolling stock displays 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 on your ticket with your eticket as a PDF file.

The Cardinal’s order of cars

Eastbound Car NumbersEquipment TypeWestbound Car Numbers
GE Locomotive(s)
5030Coach5130
5031Coach5131
5032Coach5132
Café/Lounge
5000Sleeper5100
Baggage Dorm Car
This information could change at any time, and occasionally, Amtrak may add another sleeper.

Connecting to other trains

The Cardinal allows 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.

Passenger Car layouts

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 passenger rooms has not changed.

Sleeping car numbers 5800/5900

Amtrak Viewliner Sleeper
A look at the layout of an Amtrak Viewliner Sleeper car

There are new Viewliner Sleeper Cars no longer have toilets in roomettes. The roomette between room 12 and the end of the sleeper car is now the bathroom, and the coffee station moved between bedroom “B” and roomette 1. The new sleepers have a burgundy interior instead of the blue one.

Coach Cars 5030-5032/5130-5132

Amfleet II Coach car
Amtrak’s single-level Amfleet II coach car

Amtrak Café Car

Amtrak cafe car
Amfleet café car

The café car/dining car is similar to this, and the non-bathroom side is towards the sleeper cars.

The 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.

The upper bunk of a Viewliner roomette.
A view of the upper bunk of a Viewliner roomette

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 goes on until 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.

Sleeper tickets

There are two prices wrapped up in one for sleeping accommodations; the first is the room rate, and the second is the “rail fair.” You pay one room rate and two rail fairs when you book a room with someone. For example, one person in a roomette is $319, but for two, the total is $494.

Discount

Discounts like senior, military, or others come off the rail price, not the room price. For information on saving money on Amtrak and more info on how discounts work, click the button below.

AccommodationsApproximate Price Range
Coach Seats$90 – $265
Roomettes$394 – $654
Bedrooms$858 – $1397
Accessible RoomCall 1-800-USA-Rail
for more info
Prices can change at any point, and based on one passenger, use a guide only (2021).

Notable views and fun info of the Cardinal

The Cardinal serves an essential role for Amtrak; this train moves cars and locomotives to and from Amtrak’s Beechgrove facilities.

Cherry blossoms and the Cardinal
The Cardinal passes over the 14th Street Bridge in Washington DC during cherry blossom time. This photo is courteous of Amtrak.

When the train leaves Chicago, it could be longer with a mix of equipment, but it reduces to its average size after Indianapolis, IN. Or, if going the other way, it 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 are only visible by train.

For transportation and train nerds, Washington DC could be a fun station stop for you. In DC, the Mighty Cardinal changes power! The 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. The restrooms will not work, and the food service 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.

Getting off the train during these breaks adds to the experience and is a welcome change of scenery. These breaks happen during crew changes, fuel stops, or early train arrives.

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 do 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 know a few tidbits about walking around the train. It is not hard, but often not what people are used to doing as they travel.

Viewliner Sleepers Car Hallway
The hallway of a Viewliner Sleeper Car

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.

Avoid stepping where the plates come together when going between cars, and use candy cane striped handles for support.

Thirdly, the isles of trains are narrow and do not allow people walking in opposite directions to pass simultaneously.

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 with blue interiors have a toilet in each room.

Each sleeping car has a shower for all roomette and accessible passengers. 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.

Food overview

Coach riders should budget some funds for the café car. They can always bring food or snacks, but Amtrak cannot store, chill, or heat the food brought aboard the train.

Amtrak may provide ice for keeping your medications cool, but you need to bring a small cooler. Ice supplies are limited.

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 flex dining; if you want a treat or a libation, the cafe car is there.

Other reminders

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

Amtrak wi-fi terms and agreement page
After a few seconds, this screen should appear and if you agree to the terms, click the green button, and you are running.

This train may have WIFI but expect a few dead spots along the route.

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.”

Amtrak uses a cell-based service, just like your phone, so you may not always have service. I always plan for the train trip not to have internet, and I am delighted when it does. Speeds can vary depending on the passenger load and location.

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 watch 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 is into either of those, especially if they are trying to sleep.

Don’t forget that we can hear you if you wear headphones and sing along!

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 to be considerate.

Entertainment

smart phone
Smartphones can provide entrainment while traveling.

Bring some entertainment with you. Something simple like a book, magazine, or deck of cards can go far. Electronically, apps that do not need WiFi can help you pass the time; ebooks and podcasts also help.

For more information on entertainment on Amtrak trains, check out this article.

Most of all, bring your patience.

I hope this helps you plan and enjoy your next trip aboard Amtrak’s Cardinal!

Safe Travels!

Kev

Kev

Kev has been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating his tenth year this year. Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200,000 miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by assisting them to get started. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Bob Wickens

    Your westbound arrival time at Charlottesville should be p.m. not a.m.

    1. Kev

      Hey Bob,
      Great catch, thanks!
      Kev

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.