Is Amtrak Coach Class right for you?

by Kev
Amtrak's long-distance coach seats

Traveling Amtrak’s Coach Class

Are you thinking of taking an adventure with Amtrak? Amtrak’s Coach class is an economical and comfortable way to ride the rails. Over my many miles of Amtrak rail travel, I used coach class on both regional and slept a few nights in coach on long-distance routes as well. I am 6’2″ about 190 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 trains, because Acela does not have coach class, but many of the same ideas apply. 

This article is on traveling on Amtrak coach contains:

  • Why pick coach class?
  • Comfort and amenities
  • Boarding the train
  • Quiet cars
  • Packing list
Hiawatha in MKE

Hiawatha pulling into Milwaukee

Why should you pick Amtrak Coach Class?

There are four main reasons tor travel in coach:

  1. The train only offers coach class, like the Hiawatha and other regionals
  2. You like to ride coach
  3. To save money on your trip, especially on shorter trips
  4. They are the only seats left
Superliner Coach

I am looking forward while seated in an Amtrak Superliner Coach Class Car. The tags inform the conductors and staff of your stop.

What are the Amtrak’s coach class amenities?

Coach class includes:

  • Generous luggage allowance
  • At the seat
    • Average seat width is 23′”
      • Legroom and seat pitch will vary based on the type of train
    • There is one double outlet; be friendly and share with your seatmate
    • Overhead storage and luggage racks are available
    • The seatback net for your small belongings
      • Remember this is not a garbage can; clean up after yourself
    • Fold-down tray (unless you are at the first row of seats)
    • Long-distance routes add leg and footrests, more legroom, and the seats lean further back
  • Other amenities
    • Two or more bathrooms per car
      • On Superliner (bi-level cars) they are on the lower level
    • Foodservice (more on this later)
      • All long-distance trains have food along with most regional routes
    • Checked bags and bikes service is on some trains, only available at staffed stations (check before you book)
    • Lounge areas
      • Superliner trains the Sightseer Lounge is open, or you can chill in the cafe car on Viewliner and regional trains
Amtrak Card

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

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 receive instructions were 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. At this depot, conductors make announcements (from the train) to let people know when the train is arriving and what track we should meet it. 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.

Being able to track your train at these places is Essential, The Amtrak app or a site like this can give the needed information.

Require accommodations?

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 disability 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 open seat 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.

When you are boarding a train, have your ticket out or pulled up on your device to help the conductor or car attendant. 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 there are people 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. 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 sperate 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.

Knowing where you are going

Conductors and crew members will ask where you are going, tell them the destination you are going on that train and not your final destination, unless that train takes you to your final 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:

Amtrak ticket

An example of an Amtrak Ticket

With this example, when I board the Palmetto, the staff wants to know that I am going to Wilson, NC, and not Kissimme, 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 devices are making noise, talk in a whisper, and refrain from talking on your phone. There is no 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 the noises of a regular coach. 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.

Amtrak Quiet Car

These signs hang from the ceilings of the Quiet Cars, so you know to be quiet

What should coach passengers pack?

Extras I often pack for coach class trips:

  • A reusable water bottle
  • Extension cord
  • Headphones
  • Snacks
    • 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)
  • 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 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 Amtrak comfort kit (available in the cafe)
    • Neck pillow
    • Small blanket
    • Earplugs
    • Eyeshades
  • Sleep aids

What food options are available for Amtrak coach class passengers?

Many regional trains feature a cafe car, although smaller 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 having access to this service as well.

You are allowed to bring food and drink, but any alcohol you bring must stay packed. You cannot consume your food into food cars due to FDA regulations.

NOTE: For information on what is going on with the eastern train, check out this page.

Coach at night

At night they turn off the lights in the coach class cars, nightlights do stay on for safety

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, first off if you can afford that, why are you traveling in coach? 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 to seats together just to 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 into 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 the dining car is for a meal or to make reservations if you boarded after you took. If you do need to stretch your legs, you can stroll through the coaches or walk to the cafe car and Sightseer lounges.

Amfleet Business

Amtrak business class on a Midwest Regional

Amtrak coach class alternatives

If you don’t think coach class is right 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 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, possibly a constant complainer, maybe coach class is not for you, and upgrading might be better for you.

Amtrak Luggage racks

Luggage racks on the Hiawatha

Other tidbits you should know about Amtrak Coach Class

You can track the progress of your train 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, if you see something that is wrong, say something. 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).

Amtrak WI-FI

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 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 is not set up for streaming movies and big downloads, and it is a convenience for surfing the web and emails. If you “NEED” wi-fi considers getting a hotspot.

Seating

When traveling with a companion, occasionally, 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.

Smoker

The guy by the poll decided to make this stop his stop by smoking on the train

How to get kicked off the train

Drinking

While in coach class, you can transport alcohol in your luggage, but you cannot drink from your stash. Beer, wine, and the harder stuff are available in the cafe. If you get caught drinking the adult beverages that 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).

Smoking

Often there are smoke breaks along long-distance routes; these stops are usually at fueling stops or crew changes (they can happen at the same time). 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 quickly will fill that car, trust me on this, I have experienced this on my first trip.

Other ways

Remember, do not transport marijuana on Amtrak trains, even if you are in a state where it is legal. 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 police. Engineers can see when doors windows are open and will inform the conductors of such behavior.

Amfleet 1

The inside of an Amtrak Amfleet 1 Coach Class Car found on many regional trains

A few Do’s and Don’ts of Amtrak Coach Class

Don’ts

  • 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 have 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 ou public areas, i.e., bathrooms and cafe
  • 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 “Do’s” of riding coach

  • Use your inside voice while on the train
  • Have proper hygiene
  • Use headphones (yes this is important)
  • 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 stories are better
  • Put your phone on silent or turn the ringer down especially at night, it’s polite to do
  • Remember that Wi-fi is a luxury and not a right and when available it is not set up for streaming
  • 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 coach class is right for you!

Thanks for stopping by and safe travels!

Kev

Are you looking for more information on traveling on Amtrak, check out this page!

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