Are you contemplating an adventure with Amtrak? Depending on where you are going, you may have accommodation choices such as sleepers, business class, and coach, but what is that last accommodation? Amtrak’s coach class is an economical and comfortable ride on the rails.
Over my many miles with Amtrak on both regional and long-distance routes, I have used Amtrak’s coach class. I am 6’2″, about 200 pounds, and I find coach class comfortable for watching the world go by, working, and sleeping; and 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.
Amtrak has changed a few procedures with the pandemic, so parts of this article may not apply right now.
Travels with Kev Podcast about Amtrak Coach Class
Why should you or shouldn’t pick Amtrak Coach Class?
While there are many reasons why you may pick coach seats, here are four main reasons I could think of:
- Some regional trains only offer coach class, like the Hiawatha
- You like to ride in coach class
- You want to save money on trips, especially on shorter trips
- The only seat left for the train you are looking at is 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.
On the other hand, there are a few reasons why you might not want coach seating, such as:
- You need more personal space
- You want to sleep horizontally
- Amtrak sold out of coach class
- Or other reasons you may have.
If any of the above apply to you, look at Amtrak’s Business class or look at getting a room on a long-distance train or a few Northeast Corridor trains.
What equipment does my train use?
Most regional trains are single-level but for:
- Pere Marquette
- San Joaquin*
- Capitol Corridor*
- Pacific Surfliner
If you want to know what your long-distance train uses, go to my route guide page.
*These trains could be either single or bi-level trains.
Coach on Superliner (or two-level) trains
Amtrak Superliner trains are bi-level or two stories, and when you book, you can choose upper and lower seating.
Lower-level seats are best for those with mobility issues or if you need to be close to a restroom. By default, Amtrak puts people on the upper level.
On Superliner trains, you must be on the top floor to go between cars. All restrooms are on the lower level.
There is storage above each seat plus a rack on the lower level by the stairs. There are garbage receptacles on the upper level by the stairs plus more on the lower level.
Coach on Viewliner and many regional trains
With single-level trains, bathrooms are at one end with trash and additional storage at the other. These cars also have overhead storage for your belongings.
What are Amtrak’s coach class amenities?
Coaching class is Amtrak’s economy class; you get more than some other transportation options.
Coach class includes:
- Generous luggage allowance
- 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
- 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
- Fold-down trays work well to hold food or your entertainment
- An exception is if you are in the first row of seats.
- Long-distance routes add curtains on the windows, leg rest, footrests, and seats that lean back further and offer more legroom.
- The average seat width is 23 inches more on long-distance trains.
- Other amenities
- Two or more bathrooms per car
- Superliners (bi-level cars) have toilets on the lower level and often have more than two.
- Foodservice (more on this later)
- All long-distance and most regional trains have food.
- 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 them to board.
My “home station,” the Sturtevant Depot, is unstaffed. 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. You wait for the train to arrive at these stations so the crew can 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, some stations have Red Caps (people to help passengers to and from the train). At the unstaffed stations, alert the conductors that you need help boarding.
For those who need specialized help, such as vision issues, deaf or severe hearing loss, reduced mobility, or other disabilities requiring special accommodations, make sure you indicate that when you are on your tickets. For more information, click here.
Getting on the train
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 ensure you are getting on the right train.
Most Amtrak trains do not let you pick your seat before boarding, like some airlines. Some trains could have open seating, like Southwest, or you get your seat assignment right before you board.
Remember that you only paid for one seat, so if you create an office on the train, and many people are getting on, you may have to move your stuff.
Several times I use the seat next to mine, if no one is in it, to temporarily store my belongings, but to be polite, I make sure and clear my belonging by the time we get to the next station. The exception is if the train car is empty.
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. Some people forget that people are already on the train when they board; please don’t be one, be quiet and considerate.
The best way not to create enemies is to find your seat quietly and try not to disturb your seatmate. It is frustrating when you start to sleep, and a new passenger bothers you by talking loudly or making excessive noise. The train will be dark when you board; night lights are on the train. If you need help, ask a conductor or onboard staff.
If you cannot sleep, you can sit in the lounge or cafe cars; they are open for seating during most of 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 need 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 am 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, a magical place.
The car has simple rules.
- Put your phones on silent.
- Use headphones if your device makes noise,
- Talk in a whisper
- 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 quiet, and the 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.
If the quiet car is busy when you first try, you can try later as people deboard, but take your seat tag with you if you have one.
What should coach passengers pack?
Extras I often pack for coach class trips:
- A reusable water bottle (optional but helpful)
- You can fill them on most trains
- Extension cord
- 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.
- 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 for a night plus 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
- Sleep aids
What food options are available for Amtrak coach class passengers?
Currently, coach class passengers cannot access the dining car; they can use the cafe or bring food.
Some shorter-run trains, known as regional or corridor trains, may not offer food service, but most offer a cafe car. The menu and location can vary from train to train. Long-distance routes offer a cafe car, and at this point, dining cars are closed to coach passengers.
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 you cannot 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 pm, 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 have seen this attempted)
Be aware that sleeping in coach class is not like sleeping in a $500-a-night hotel. Try one of Amtrak’s sleeping car accommodations if you want to sleep horizontally and have more privacy.
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 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.
Can I get off the train? And where can I go while on the train?
There are spots along long-distance routes designed for you to get off the train.
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.
At these stops, you can stretch out, get some fresh air or grab a 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.
While on the train, you can get up and walk around, but you are not allowed in the Sleeper Lounges or sleepers as a coach passenger. 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
Many trains have other options if you don’t think the coach class suits you.
Business-class is available on many regional trains and a few long-distance routes.
Business-class could include priority boarding at stations of origin, leather seats, a little more legroom, and free drink refills on coffee and tea (confirm with the attendant).
Additionally, the business class is usually quieter than the regular coach class. Business 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
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 tidbits about Amtrak Coach Class
You can track the progress of your train in a few ways; the Amtrak website or this website. To optimize your use of these sites, you need the station and the train number you are trying to track. 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: 1-800-331-008 or text APD11 (27311).
Wi-fi is unavailable on every train; 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.
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 they can, 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 the train
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 (aka arrested and go to jail).
Smoking and Amtrak
Amtrak does not permit smoking and vaping on any Amtrak train or station.
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.
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.
A few Do’s and Don’ts of Amtrak Coach Class
What not to do in coach
- Eat noisy food (at night) 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 about your whole trip.
- The scenery is not amazing 100% of the trip, nor is the ride perfectly smooth. Traveling by train is public transportation, and like flying or taking the bus, not all people behave according to your standards.
- Book tight connections or make plans for a short time 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.
- Use your inside voice while on the train
- Have proper hygiene
- 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
- Remember that wi-fi is a luxury and not a right.
- Amtrak wi-fi 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 decide if Amtrak’s coach class suits you!
Thanks for stopping by, and safe travels!