Are you contemplating an adventure with Amtrak? Amtrak’s coach class is an economical and comfortable way to ride the rails. Over my many Amtrak rail travel miles, I chose coach class for both regional and long-distance routes. I am 6’2″, about 200 pounds, and I find that it works for me and could work for you.
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 many of the same ideas apply.
With Covid-19, Amtrak has changed a few procedures, so parts of this article may not apply right now. At this point, you should get a two-seat to yourself. Amtrak, currently, is cashless onboard, so plan accordingly, and there is no seating in the cafe car right now.
Why should you pick Amtrak Coach Class?
There are four main reasons to travel by coach:
- Some trains in only offers coach class, like the Hiawatha and other regionals
- You like to ride coach
- To save money trip, especially on shorter trips
- They are the seats left
What are the Amtrak’s coach class amenities?
Coach class includes:
- Generous luggage allowance
- At the seat
- The average seat width is 23 inches
- Legroom and seat pitch will vary based on the type of train
- There is a double outlet; be friendly and share with your seatmate
- Overhead storage and luggage racks are available in the cars
- Seatback have a net for your small belongings
- Remember this is not a garbage can; clean up after yourself
- Fold-down trays (unless you are at the first row of seats) work well to hold food or your entertainment
- Long-distance route seats add leg and footrests, and the seats lean back further and offer more legroom
- The average seat width is 23 inches
- Other amenities
- Two or more bathrooms per car
- On Superliner (bi-level cars) have toilets on the lower level
- Foodservice (more on this later)
- All long-distance trains have food along with most regional routes
- Checked bags and bikes services are available on some trains, only available at staffed stations (check before you book)
- Chill areas
- Sightseer Cars on Superliner trains and cafe cars on Viewliner and regional trains are places where you can go, stretch out, and relax.
- Two or more bathrooms per car
Boarding coach class- stations, getting on the train, and finding your seat
Stations – Getting ready to board
Boardings trains can vary from train to train and station to station.
At staffed stations, passengers received instructions to line up at a gate, number on the platform or other instructions to prepare to board.
My “home station,” the Sturtevant Depot, is unstaffed and where I board the Hiawatha. Conductors make announcements (from the train) to let people know when the train arrives and what track we should meet.
At this station, passengers walk to the open doors on the train to board as instructed by the conductors. Some stations are just a platform without announcements. At other unstaffed stations, there are no announcements. At these stations track, your train and the crew will give you instructions.
Tracking your train at these places is essential; the Amtrak app or a site like this can give the needed information.
If you need help at a staffed station, let someone know. Massive stations have Red Caps (people to help passengers to and from the train). At the unstaffed stations, alert the conductors that you need help.
If you need specialized help such as blind or vision issues, deaf or severe hearing loss, reduced mobility, or other disabilities that would require special accommodations, indicate that when you are on your tickets. For more information, click here.
Getting on the train
On non-reserved trains have open seating, meaning you can sit in any available seat on the train. “Open seating” may be protocol on reserved trains, too, while other routes crews may assign you a car. With most long-distance trains, the staff gives you a car and seat assignment.
Have your ticket out or pulled up on your device to help the conductor or car attendant when boarding a train. They may need to look at it to make sure you are getting on the right train.
Boarding at night
If you board a train between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am, remember people are already on the train trying to sleep. Find your seat quietly, and try not to disturb your seatmate. It is frustrating when you just fell asleep to be disturbed by a new passenger talking loudly or making excessive noise. The train will be dark when you board but for the night lights. If you need help, ask a conductor or onboard staff.
A great tip: pack your sleeping gear in a separate bag or on top of your luggage. By doing this, you reduce disruptions to others and, you can get comfortable and sleep faster.
If you cannot sleep, you can go to the lounge cars; they are open for seating during the trip. Make sure to have your ticket scanned before leaving.
Know where you are going
Conductors and crew members will ask where you are going; tell them your destination on that train and not your final destination, unless it takes you to your destination. All the information you and the staff needs is on your ticket, including where you get off trains to transfer.
Here is an example of a trip I took:
With this example, when I board the Palmetto, the staff wants to know that I will be going to Wilson, NC, and not Kissimmee, FL.
Knowing your train’s number helps when looking at the arrival and departure boards. Back to the above example, the 90 Palmetto is northbound, and the 89 Palmetto is southbound.
Amtrak Coach Class Quiet Car
Some regional trains have a Quiet Car; this is a magical place with simple rules, phones on silent, use headphones if your device makes noise, talk in a whisper, and refrain from talking on your phone.
There is no extra charge for this car or special ticketing, and seats are available to the first person who sits down.
These cars are for people to work, sleep, or unwind without regular coach class noises. The only advantage of these cars is, it’s quiet, and silence is golden. The Quit Car is not the right car for you if you need to make phone calls or if you want to chat with your travel buddy.
What should coach passengers pack?
Extras I often pack for coach class trips:
- A reusable water bottle
- Extension cord
- I try to carry snacks even on short trips
- Make sure it 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
- 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 can help you freshen or a tray table.
Long-distance coach class
If you are traveling for a night plus consider the list above, plus
- You can make your own or get one of the Amtrak comfort kit (available in the cafe)
- Neck pillow
- Small blanket
- Sleep aids
What food options are available for Amtrak coach class passengers?
Many regional trains feature a cafe car, although shorter run trains may not offer food service. Cafe car menus can vary based on region or route.
Long-distance routes offer a cafe car, and those running west of the Mississippi have dining cars coach passengers can use. At some point trains, east of the Mississippi will return to coach passengers to access this service.
You can bring food and drink, but any alcohol you carry on the train must stay packed. You cannot consume your food in foodservice cars due to FDA regulations.
NOTE: For information on what is going on with the eastern train, check out this page.
Overnighting in Amtrak coach class
Amtrak around 10 pm, all but the night lights will turn off, and the conductors discontinue announcements.
Sidenote: you cannot turn off the night lights, and do not try to take the bulbs out (yes, I have seen this attempted)
Be aware that sleeping in coach class is not like sleeping in a $500 a night hotel. If you are looking for a more comfortable place to sleep, try one of Amtrak’s sleeping car 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. Occasionally you are lucky and get two seats together just for you, but that is not guaranteed. Find your sweet spot, and a sleep aid can help you slumber.
If you are the type that needs to sleep flat, consider upgrading to a room.
Can I get off the train? And where can I go while on the train?
If a train comes to a stop early, often the crew lets passengers get off the train. There are spots along long-distance routes designed for you to off the train. These longer stops are where Amtrak has crew changes or fuels the locomotives and refill the water in the cars.
At these stops, you can stretch out, get some fresh air, grab a smoke. Do not wander too far from the train. The train can leave any time after its scheduled time, with or without you. Listen to the crew for the “all aboard.’ Often the engineer will toot the horn twice as a warning.
While on the train, you can get up and walk around. As a coach passenger, you are not allowed in the Sleeper Lounges or sleepers. The only time you should be in the dining car is for a meal or to make reservations if you boarded after you took. If you need to stretch your legs, you can stroll through the coaches or walk to the cafe car and Sightseer lounges.
Amtrak coach class alternatives
If you don’t think the coach class is suitable for you, you may be right. On many trains, you have options.
Business-class is available on many regional trains and a few long-distance routes. Often business class has priority boarding large stations, leather seats, a little more legroom, and free drink free refills on coffee and tea (confirm with the attendant). Additionally, the business class is usually quieter than the regular coach class. This class can be part of the cafe car or a dedicated car.
Long-distance routes offer sleeping cars (roomettes, bedrooms, accessible rooms). The Palmetto does not provide a sleeping class, but that is not an overnight long-distance train; some trains also have a family room.
The downside of Amtrak Coach Class
Just 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 that does not share the same manners as you. Over the years, this has been more of an exception to the rule than the standard.
For full disclosure, I did ride in coach a few times and did not deal with things I didn’t like as well as I should. Aka, I let others make me crabby. I let their behavior bother me instead of just minding my own business and moving on with my life.
If you are easily bothered, a very light sleeper, or want privacy, coach class is not for you, and upgrading might be better.
Other tidbits about Amtrak Coach Class
You can track the progress of your train in a few ways; the Amtrak app or this website. To optimize your use of these sites, you need the station and the number of the train you are trying to track. Twitter is also a resource to learn about the causes of delays.
For general safety, remember when riding Amtrak, say something if you see something wrong. Talk to a conductor or the Amtrak Police, and they can get talk to the train crew. Amtrak police numbers: 1-800-331-008 or text APD11 (27311).
WI-fi is not available on every train, and if it is, it may not have service during the entire route. Often there are sections of the trains’ routes that 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.
Occasionally, when traveling with a companion, you might end up with two 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.
If you have a seat ticket (a small slip of paper above your chair with your destination), take that with you. By doing so, the staff knows when you get off that your tickets got scanned, and your old seat is now free. If you have questions, ask the onboard crew.
How to get kicked off the train
While in coach class, you can transport alcohol in your luggage, but you 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 a little too much, as Amtrak puts it, the next stop will be your stop. You might even get to ride to an exclusive “hotel” until you get back to yourself (aks arrested and go to jail).
There are often smoke breaks along long-distance routes; these stops are usually fueling stops or crew changes (they can happen simultaneously). If the train does arrive early, often, they let passengers out for a break.
Never wander too far from the train, for the train can and will leave without you. When you get caught smoking on the train like above, the next stop will be your stop and possibly with an opportunity of a forced donation (aka a ticket/fine).
From experience, if someone smokes on the train, EVERYONE will know. The smell will quickly fill that car; trust me on this; I have experienced this on my first trip.
Do not transport marijuana on Amtrak trains, even if it is legal where you are from or going. Amtrak trains are considered federal property and follow federal laws.
Opening door windows is another way to engage in conversation with the conductor and maybe the police. Engineers can see when a door or windows are open and will inform the conductors of such behavior. I heard this happen on my first train trip.
A few Do’s and Don’ts of Amtrak Coach Class
- Eat noisy food or foods with strong odors anywhere on the train
- Use your electronic devices without headphones
- Make phone calls from 10 pm to 7 am from your seat. If you need to make a call go to a lounge area
- Wear a lot of perfume; it can be overwhelming for other passengers, use half or less.
- Have unrealistic expectations. The scenery is not amazing 100% of the trip, nor is the ride be perfectly smooth. Traveling by train is public transportation, and like on other transports, not all people how to behave.
- Book tight connections or make plans for a short time after your scheduled arrival. Delays happen 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.
- Use your inside voice while on the train
- Have proper hygiene
- Use headphones (yes, this is important) and keep them at a reasonable level. Just because you think your tune is a banger doesn’t mean everyone else does
- Take your eyes off the screen and look outside every once in a while. Not every route has stunning vistas, but some views are breathtaking.
- Be open-minded and pack your patients.
- Talk to others
- 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
- Remember that Wi-fi is a luxury and not a right, and Amtrak Wifi is not for streaming when available.
- 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.
Don’t let negative things control your trip.
I hope this will help you decided if Amtrak’s coach class is suitable for you!