Amtrak Coach Class
Amtrak Coach Class

Amtrak Coach Class: What You Need To Know

Amtrak coach class is the most common and economical accommodation for all trains; the exception is Acela, which has business and first classes. This accommodation can vary based on the equipment of that train, but on the whole, the concept is the same. A few great things about Amtrak are that there is no middle seat and that there are power outlets.

Amfleet I car
Amtrak’s Amfleet II Long-Distance Coach Car

Long-distance trains give you more legroom plus a few other comfort extras!

Some Amtrak trains, like the Hiawatha, only offer coach classes, but other regional trains also offer business classes.

Long-distance trains offer coach-class seating and sleeper accommodations, but the Palmetto has coach and business class because it is not an overnight train.

Some trains also offer Quiet Cars, which are coach cars that maintain a library-like atmosphere and are first come, first served, so you cannot book a seat in this car, but if a seat is open, it could be yours.

My experience with Amtrak coach class

Many of my Amtrak adventures were in Amtrak coach class on both regional and long-distance trains.

I am 6’2″ and about 210 pounds (or trying to be), and I find Amtrak coach class comfortable for watching the world go by while relaxing and working. Sleeping may not be as comfortable as a room, but it is doable for a night or two. If you sleep well in a chair, you will do great.

Because Amtrak uses different equipment across the system, experiences can vary from what I have included. This article does not cover Acela’s trains because Acela does not have a coach class but business and first classes.

Travels with Kev’s Amtrak Coach Class podcast

Why Or Why Not Book An Amtrak Coach Class Ticket?

While you may pick coach seats for many reasons, here are four main reasons why you should.

Why You Should Travel In Amtrak Coach Class

  1. Some regional trains only offer coach class, like the Hiawatha
  2. You like to ride in coach class
  3. You want to save money on trips, especially on shorter trips
  4. The only seats left for the train you are looking at are coach seats.

Whatever the reason, coach class can be an excellent way for some to travel to the USA via rail, especially when you are on a budget.

Why You Shouldn’t Travel In Amtrak Coach Class

On the other hand, there are a few reasons why you might not want coach seating, such as:

  • Do you need or enjoy more personal space?
  • Do you want to sleep horizontally?
  • Amtrak sold out of coach class.
  • The coast is less critical.

If any of the above apply to you, look at Amtrak’s Business class or sleeping accommodations if available on your train.

What Equipment Is Used For My Train?

Regional Trains

Most regional trains use single-level coach cars with everything on one level, but some use bi-level cars with bathrooms on the lower level and some seating.

If your train is not on the following list, more than likely, it is a single-level train, but if it is on this list, it uses bi-level equipment.

Amtrak regional trains with bi-level (two-story) cars.

Pere MarquettePacific Surfliner
Capitol Corridor*San Joaquin*
Illini*Saluki*
*These trains could be either single or bi-level trains.

Long-distance trains

All trains that start or end at New York Penn Station use single-level Amfleet II coach cars and Viewliner sleepers. All other long-distance trains use Superliner equipment.

Viewliner trains (Single level)

Lake Shore LimitedCardinal
Silver StarSilver Meteor
PalmettoCrescent

With Viewliner trains, everything is on one level, and you may need to climb stairs to board. Amtrak has lifts at stations with low platforms to help those with mobility issues.

Superliner (Bi-level Trains)

Auto TrainCalifornia Zephyr
Capital LimitedCity of New Orleans
Coast StarlightEmpire Builder
Texas EagleSouthwest Chief
Sunset Limited

On Superliner trains, the upper level lets you go between cars, and the lower level enables you to get on and off the train.

Luggage & Storage

There are a few places to place your things as you roll down the rails. Not all trains offer checked bag service, so if you need to carry on, there are places to put your things.

All coach cars have overhead storage shelves and luggage racks; Superliner cars have them on the lower level; in single-level cars, the luggage rack is on one end.

Bathrooms

Bathrooms are at one end of Viewliner and on the lower level of Superliner cars. There is often more than one per car, with one being an accessible restroom.

Amtrak Coach Class Amenities

Coach class is Amtrak’s economy class; legroom can be determined depending on what train you ride. Long-distance trains give you generous legroom, but regional trains do not. That said, they have more room than most discount airlines want to provide you.

Coach class includes:

Here are a few things you get when you reserve a coach class.

  • At the seat
    • The average seat width is 23 inches more on long-distance trains.
      • Legroom and seat pitch will vary based on the type of train
    • There is a double outlet; be friendly and share with your seatmate.
      • On newer coach cars, the outlets are between the seats.
    • Overhead storage and luggage racks are available in the cars
    • The seatback has a net for your small belongings
      • Remember, this is not a garbage can; clean up after yourself. Also, remember to take your belongings.
    • Fold-down trays work well to hold food or your entertainment
      • An exception is if you are in the first row or bulkhead seats; these seats do not have trays.
    • Long-distance routes add curtains on the windows, leg rest, footrests, and seats that lean back further and offer more legroom.
  • Other amenities
    • Foodservice (more on this later)
      • All long-distance and most regional trains have food.
    • Chill areas
      • The Sightseer lounge car is available on many Superliner trains; otherwise, most trains have a cafe car for you to stretch out.

Coach Class Basics For Boarding Trains

The basics for boarding trains are similar to other forms of transportation; be prepared with your ticket handy and ready to go when the time comes.

Most regional Amtrak trains have seating like Southwest Airlines, open seating, and you do not have an assigned seat. You may get directed to a particular coach car before boarding.

On long-distance trains, you get assigned a car and often a seat before boarding, depending on how busy the train is that day.

Amtrak Coach Class: Quiet Car

Some regional trains have a Quiet Car, a magical place.

The car has simple rules.

  • Put your phones on silent.
  • Talk in a whisper.
  • Refrain from talking on your phone.

Trains with Amtrak Quiet Cars

AcelaBlue Water
Capitol Corridor trainsEmpire Service Corridor trains
Hiawatha ServiceKeystone Service
Northeast RegionalWolverine

Kev’s packing suggestions for Amtrak Coach Class

Extras I often pack for coach class trips:

  • A reusable water bottle (optional but helpful)
    • You can fill them on most trains
  • Extension cord
  • Headphones
  • Snacks
    • I try to carry snacks even on short trips.
    • Be a considerate fellow traveler, and make sure the food you bring does not smell bad
      • Egg salad, smelly fish, and the like are never a good
  • Charger and cords for all your devices
  • A tablet is handy (but optional)
    • You can use it for entertainment, such as downloaded movies, books, and music.
    • Store Amtrak train schedules 
    • Here are a few entertainment ideas for train travel.
  • Tickets
    • Amtrak conductors can scan your documents off of your electronic device (email or e-ticket in the app), or you can print them out.
  • Wet wipes
    • These come in handy and help you freshen up or clean a tray table.

Long-distance coach class

If you are traveling overnight, consider the list above, plus

  • You can make your own or get one of the Amtrak comfort kits (available in the cafe)
    • Neck pillow
    • Small blanket
    • Earplugs
    • Eyeshades
  • Sleep aids

Food Options For Amtrak Coach Class Passengers

Most coach passengers use the cafe car on all but five regional trains.

  • Cafe Cars offer
    • Hot and cold meals
    • Snacks
    • Hot, cold, and adult drinks
    • And more.

Some reservations are open to coach passengers on a few long-distance trains with traditional dining.

You can bring food and drink on the train; due to FDA regulations, you cannot consume that food in food service cars.

You can bring alcohol on the train but not partake of what you bring. If you drink from your stash, there is a chance you can get removed from the train and fined if you get caught.

Overnighting In Amtrak Coach Class

Around 10 p.m., conductors turn off the car’s light, turn on the night lights, and discontinue announcements.

Sidenote: You cannot turn off the night lights, and do not try to take the bulbs out (yes, I saw someone attempt that)/

Remember that sleeping in coach class is unlike sleeping in a $500-a-night hotel, so set your expectations accordingly. If you want to lay flat and want pricey, get one of Amtrak’s sleeping accommodations.

The seats recline far enough to be comfortable to get a few z’s but far enough to be not flat. I am a side sleeper and often can find a comfortable position for a night or two.

Occasionally, if you are lucky and get two seats together just for you, that is not guaranteed. Find your sweet spot, and a sleep aid can help you slumber.

Do I Have To Stay On My Amtrak Train The Whole Time?

Yes and no, depending on your definition of getting

There are spots along long-distance routes designed for you to get off the train, stretch your legs, and get fresh air.

These longer stops are where Amtrak has crew changes or fuels the locomotives and refills the cars’ waters.

Also, if a train arrives at a stop early, the crew often lets passengers get off the train to get some fresh air.

You can stretch out, get fresh air, or smoke. Do not wander too far from the train.

The train can leave any time on or after its scheduled time. And it can go with or without you. Listen to the crew for the “all aboard.’ Often, the engineer will toot the horn twice as a warning.

Where can Amtrak Coach Class passengers go on the train?

While on the train, you can get up and walk around, walk through other coach cars, or head to the cafe or Sightseer car. Coach class passengers cannot enter the sleeper cars, and the dining car use can be limited depending on the train.

If you need to stretch your legs, stroll through the coaches or walk to the cafe car and Sightseer lounges.

Alternatives To Amtrak Coach Class

Many regional trains have other options if you don’t think the coach class suits you, and long-distance trains have sleeping accommodations that provide privacy and more!

Amtrak Business Class

Business class is available on many regional trains and a few long-distance routes.

Amtrak Sleeping Accommodations

Long-distance routes offer sleeping cars, and those reservations provide privacy, showers, the ability to sleep horizontally, meals, and more.

The Palmetto is the only long-distance train that does not provide a sleeping class, but since it is not an overnight long-distance train, it makes sense.

The Downside Of Amtrak Coach Class

Like all other public transportation, you will probably sit next to someone you do not know. Every once in a while, you could end up with a fellow passenger who does not share the same manners. Over the years, this has been more of an exception to the rule than the standard.

If you go into coach class with the mindset of, I am going to make a new friend for the trip, and things are not going to be perfect, and that is okay, you should do fine.

If you are easily bothered, a very light sleeper, or want privacy, coach class is not for you, and upgrading might be better.

Other Amtrak Coach Class Tidbits

You can track the progress of your train in a few ways: the Amtrak website or this website. It would be best to have the station and train number you are trying to track to optimize your use of these sites. Twitter is also a resource for learning about the causes of delays.

For general safety, remember, when riding Amtrak, say something if you see something wrong. When onboard, talk to a conductor or staff. The other option is to call or text the Amtrak Police to speak to the train crew. Amtrak police numbers are 1-800-331-008, or you can text APD11 (27311).

Amtrak WI-FI

Not all Amtrak trains have Wi-Fi; trains with Wi-Fi may not have service during the entire route. The trains’ Wi-Fi is cell-based; often, there are sections of the trains’ routes where you will not have cell service. In cases of an emergency, talk to a conductor. Remember, Wi-Fi is a luxury and not a right.

Additionally, Wi-Fi on trains does not allow streaming movies and big downloads, and it is a convenience for surfing the web and emails; if you “NEED” Wi-Fi, consider getting a hotspot or check to see if your plan allows you to use your phone as one.

Seating

When traveling with a companion, you might end up with seats not together; talk to a conductor about moving as seats clear up. If you are not assigned seats, you can get up and move. Amtrak likes to keep parties together when possible, and you have a better chance of sitting together if everyone in your party is on the same ticket.

Don’t change cars without talking to staff first; if you do move, take your “seat check” with you if you have one (it’s the small slip of paper above your chair with your destination). The staff knows your old spot is free when you get off. If you have questions, ask the onboard crew.

How To Get Kicked Off An Amtrak Train

Please do not take this section as something I am suggesting you do, but it is meant as things you should avoid doing.

Drinking

While in coach class, you can transport alcohol in your luggage but cannot drink from your stash.

Beer, wine, and the hard stuff are available in the cafe. If you get caught drinking the adult beverages you brought, especially if you have too much, as Amtrak puts it, the next stop will be your stop.

You might even get to ride in a “special rideshare” to an exclusive “hotel” until you get back to yourself (a.k .a. arrested and go to jail).

Pot & Smoking On Amtrak

You cannot smoke or vape anything on an Amtrak train. Even with a medical permit, you cannot transport marijuana.

Additionally, Amtrak does not permit smoking and vaping inside any Amtrak station. And outside of the train station, you need to be away from the station’s door and those of the train.

As stated before, there are smoke breaks along long-distance routes, and not every stop is a smoke stop.

From experience, if someone smokes on the train, EVERYONE will know. The smell will quickly fill that car; trust me. If you smoke, consider smoking or vaping alternatives while on the train. Here is more information

I have an article about smoking, vaping, and pot on Amtrak trains.

Other ways

Do not transport marijuana on Amtrak trains, even if it is legal back home or in the state you are traveling through during your journey. Amtrak trains are considered federal property and follow federal laws.

Opening doors or windows is another way to engage with the conductor and police. Engineers can see when doors or windows are open and inform the conductors of such behavior. So leave the window and doors closed.

Do’s And Don’ts Of Amtrak Coach Class

What not to do in Amtrak coach class

  • Eat noisy food (especially at night) or foods with strong odors anywhere on the train.
  • Use your electronic devices without headphones.
  • Make phone calls from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. from your seat.
  • Wear a lot of perfume; it can be overwhelming for other passengers; use half or less.
  • Have unrealistic expectations about your whole trip
  • Book tight connections or make plans right after your scheduled arrival.
    • Delays happen on train travel often due to the host railroads.
  • Leave messes, especially in public areas, i.e., bathrooms and cafes.
  • Plan on sitting alone.
  • Be a table hog in the cafe car when it is busy. It’s unfair to your fellow passengers.
  • If the train is busy, take up more than one seat; you only paid for one, and the train is not your office.

The Please Dos of Amtrak Coach Class

  • Use your inside voice while on the train.
  • Have proper hygiene to the best of your ability.
  • Use headphones (yes, this is important) and keep them at a reasonable level.
  • Take your eyes off the screen and look outside every once in a while.
    • Not every train route has stunning vistas, but some views are breathtaking.
    • Besides, your eyes enjoy looking at something other than a screen.
  • Be open-minded and pack your patients.
  • Talk to others if you are comfortable doing so.
  • Clean up after yourself.
  • Remember, perfect trips don’t always happen; often, imperfect journeys have better stories.
  • Put your phone on silent or turn the ringer down very low, especially at night, because it’s polite to do, and if you need to make a call, go to a lounge area or a vestibule.
  • Remember that Wi-Fi is a luxury and not a right.
  • Plan on sitting next to someone you may not know.
  • Share the lounge tables when it’s busy; you could make a new friend or learn something.
  • Set realistic expectations.
    • Things happen, and how you react to that is important
    • Don’t expect to see stunning views 100% of the time.
  • Don’t let negative people and thoughts control your trip.

I hope this article can help you decide if Amtrak’s coach class suits you!

Thanks for stopping by, and safe travels!

Kev

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10/8/19

Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

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