Amtrak Coach Class
Amtrak Coach Class

Amtrak Coach Class: What You Need To Know

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 coach class is an economical and comfortable ride on the rails.

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

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

I am 6’2″ and about 200 pounds, and I find 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 well.

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.

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 you pick Amtrak Coach Class?

While there are many reasons you may pick coach seats, here are four main reasons why you would.

Superliner Coach
The viewpoint looks forward while seated in an Amtrak Superliner Coach Class Car. The tags inform the conductors and staff of your stop. You can also see luggage storage.
  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 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
  • Do 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?

Regional Trains

Most regional trains use single-level 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.

The trains below are regional trains that may use bi-level equipment.

Pere MarquetteSan Joaquin*
Capitol Corridor*Pacific Surfliner
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 cars. All other long-distance trains use Superliner equipment.

Viewliner trains (Single level)

Amtrak Cardinal
Amtrak Cardinal a Viewliner Train
Lake Shore LimitedCardinal
Silver StarSilver Meteor
Parlamento

Superliner (Bi-level Trains)

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

With Viewliner trains, everything is on one level, so if you want to go somewhere, you must walk through a few cars.

If you are on a Superliner train, you need to be on the upper level to go between cars and the lower level to leave the coach car. Seating is available on the upper and lower level.

Luggage & Storage

Checked Bags

Amtrak Luggage racks
Luggage racks on the Hiawatha, a Midwest Regional Train

Most regional trains do not offer checked bag service, nor do all long-distance stops.

If this is the case for your adventure, you may need to take advantage of Amtrak’s generous carry-on policy.

You may be able to take your bike with you on the train; check when you book.

Luggage Storage

All coach cars have overhead storage shelves and luggage racks; Superliner cars have them on the lower level, and 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. One is often accessible, and the other is not.

What are Amtrak’s coach-class amenities?

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

Coach class includes:

An outlet on Amtrak coach cars.
  • 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. 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
      • Sightseer Cars on Superliner trains and cafe cars on Viewliner and regional trains are places where you can go, stretch out, and relax.

Boarding coach class- stations, getting on the train, and finding your seat.

Stations – Getting ready to board.

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

Boarding 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 train’s open doors to board it 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.

Require accommodations?

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.

Mackenzie and Zebra getting in her Amtrak coach car
Mackenzie and her Zebra get in her Amtrak coach car.

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, which are open for 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:

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 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.

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

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 Amtrak Coach Class 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
  • 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 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
    • Earplugs
    • Eyeshades
  • Sleep aids

What food options are available for Amtrak coach-class passengers?

Currently, coach-class passengers cannot access the dining car on long-distance trains; 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.

Coach at night
They turn off the lights in the coach class cars; nightlights stay on for safety.

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?

My niece and I are enjoying a fresh air break in Ottumwa, Iowa.

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.

Amtrak does not run a tourist train, so the stops are short, and you can not leave the trainside.

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.

As I said, 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.

Where Can Amtrak Coach Class Passengers Go On A Train?

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, 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.

Amfleet Business
Amtrak business class on a Midwest Regional

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

Amtrak 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).

Amtrak WI-FI

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.

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 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

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.

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

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.

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.

Amfleet 1
The photo shows 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

What not to do in Amtrak coach class

  • 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 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.

Please Dos

  • 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
  • Remember that wi-fi is a luxury and not a right.
    • Amtrak wi-fi is not on every train nor 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 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

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 with support and information. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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