Amtrak Connecting Service Thruway Service
Amtrak Connecting Service Thruway Service

Amtrak Connecting Service: the info you need to know

The Amtrak connecting service extends your travel to communities without rail by offering you other ground transportation on one reservation, and your ticket could include buses, vans, taxis, commuter trains, or ferries. Amtrak also charters buses as a thruway service to align with their train schedule.

Amtrak Connecting bus
Trains and buses are a great way to see the country from the ground level.

This idea is not new; Amtrak took a page from its predecessors to solve this problem. Illinois Central and other railroads used buses or other transportation to connect passengers to their trains.

Amtrak Connecting Service and Thruway Service are economical and often comfortable ways to reach your destination or connect with a train when no tracks or rightaways are available.

This article will help you plan your next trip if you see Amtrak Connecting or Thruway Services as part of your future travel plans.

What are thruway and Amtrak Connecting Services

Getting to where you need to go on one reservation makes things easier for you as a traveler. While we may prefer taking the train, this service will help fill the gaps.

Amtrak Connecting Service

Connecting services is where Amtrak sells tickets for another transportation company’s services, such as Greyhound, along with your Amtrak reservation.

These services sometimes include a self-transfer where you need to go to a different location, or you could connect at your station.

Thruway Service

Thruway service is when Amtrak charters a service to align directly with its train’s schedule. Often, these services list short layovers. This service could even be an Amtrak-branded bus.

This service is always at the station; if the train is late, this service will wait for you.

These days, Amtrak is not the only one that uses other forms of transportation to get its passengers where they need to go. American Airlines has also started using vans and buses.

Amtrak Connecting Service – buses and other carriers

My first Greyhound Bus Trip
Amtrak sometimes connects with other transportation systems.

Again, Amtrak Connecting Service is when an Amtrak ticket includes another transportation company, such as another rail company, ferry, taxi, bus, etc.

Where do I transfer?

Milwaukee Intermodal Station
Milwaukee Intermodal Station

The short answer is it depends. Amtrak will indicate that you must self-transfer when booking or window shopping for trips.

Sometimes, these connect services are at train stations like Milwaukee, WI.

A self-transfer is when you need to catch the next section of your trip at a different location. The transfers could be a short walk, like in Pittsburg, PA, where the bus station is across the street.

But sometimes, the self-transfer could require a longer walk, or you may need a ride-share or taxi to get where you need to go.

Booking Amtrak Connecting Service

Amtrak staff helping passengers get on connecting buses.
Amtrak staff helping passengers get on connecting buses.

Booking is easy; Amtrak has all of this arranged for you. If you see mixed service when you book, part of your tip is not on the rail.

Since Amtrak allows extra layover time to transfer and for late trains (to the best of their ability), it is best not to make a fancy booking with them because you could lose transfer privileges.

Some connecting tickets are for a specific time, but sometimes tickets are open, and you can take a different time than what is on your reservation. Ask onboard staff or Amtrak agents if you have questions.

A few tips for Amtrak Connecting Service

21" Travelpro Bold

Sometimes, you cannot check your bags with Amtrak and have them transferred to the next leg of your trip. So pack light and be prepared to carry your luggage. Most buses allow you to stow your luggage during your ride. You may be able to check bags with the connecting service.

Bringing extra snacks and entertainment will help fill your time and prevent you from getting hungry at layovers and traveling.

Some companies, like Greyhound, offer onboard entertainment that you can access from your phone or tablet. These days, most buses have Wi-Fi and an outlet, but the service may not be the best. A power bank could help keep your gear powered up, for there could be one outlet for two seats or no outlet.

If you need Wi-Fi, see if your phone can work as a hotspot or get a separate one. Keep an eye on your data plan if you do not have unlimited.

A booking tip: If you want to create a layover, i.e., spending the night, it may be best to book directly with that carrier. For example, I could take the train to Champaign, IL, spend the night, and then go to Normal the next day. Amtrak does tell you what the bus company is when booking, so if this works, you know what bus you could take.

Amtrak Thruway Service FAQs

Amtrak thruway bus
Amtrak’s Thruway Bus service

Amtrak established a Thruway service with guaranteed connections on select routes to connect passengers with Amtrak trains or destinations using dedicated chartered buses, taxis, or vans. Often, buses are Amtrak-branded, but not all time. It depends on the route.

Buses sometimes finish a train route.

Some train routes get lengthened with these Amtrak Connecting Bus Service. Routs like the California Zephyr to or from San Fransico, the bus takes you over the Bay Bridge. Amtrak California uses Thruway buses to connect passengers to the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner trains.

Buses connecting you to another train

The Cardinal's bus transfer in Charlottesville, VA (CVS). The cart helps to move luggage from the train to the bus.
The Cardinal’s bus transfer in Charlottesville, VA (CVS). The cart helps to move luggage from the train to the bus.

Sometimes, you may need to take a Thruway Service bus to get from one train to the next.

A great example is a bus connecting eastbound Cardinal to catch the Silver Meteor. In this case, the Amtrak Thruway Bus connects Charlottesville, VA, and Richmond, VA.

Some Amtrak stops are bus-only

Your transfer point may be at a station like Milwaukee Intermodal Station, where it connects with the I-41 bus. Some Amtrak stations and stops never see a train, for example, the San Fransico stop.

Travelers note

There is not always a station for these buses and vans; some stops are signs on a pole, such as in San Fransico.

When you see the sign, you know you’re in the right place at the right time. If you want more information, check out this article about unstaffed stations; in this case, the bus and train are similar.

I have a short layover with an Amtrak Thruway Bus. Is that okay?

Amtrak Thruway Bus
Amtrak Thruway Bus

Absolutely! Amtrak would not offer these connections if they were not okay. Since these buses and vans are train-specific, they will wait for you.

For example, suppose you are taking the California Zephyr to San Fransico. The train will take you to Emeryville, and the Amtrak Connecting Bus will take you over the Bay Bridge. If the Zephyr is early, the bus may leave as soon as all passengers board or wait for you if the train is running late. That said, if the train arrives early, you may have to wait until the scheduled time; this could happen if your bus is finishing up another route.

Getting your tickets for Amtrak Thruway or Amtrak Connecting Service

A ticket showing Amtrak connecting service
Amtrak TIcket

Booking tickets for these services with Amtrak should feel no different than booking any train. Often, you need to book a connecting or thruways service in conjunction with a train ticket, so if you get an error message, that could mean you need to add a train or make different plans.

Wrap-up and Kev’s views on Amtrak Connecting Service

Amtrak Connecting bus

Several of my trips included Amtrak connecting and thruway services. Most were on Amtrak-chartered buses, but other companies ran a few. I chose the bus for the experience on a few trips.

When I go to San Francisco, the throughway service is the easiest and cheapest way to cross the Bay Bridge.

From my experience, a printed ticket worked best, especially when I left the Amtrak system.

On one trip, the driver needed information on my ticket and took it for a while before returning it. Handing them a piece of paper is often easier and safer than giving them your phone.

When traveling, getting from where you want to start and where you want to finish is essential, so consider using Amtrak connecting services, even if you are a train-only person.

Pay attention when booking: take responsibility for your trip

When booking, pay attention to the details; mixed service means taking a bus or other service.

I have been on a few trips where people were flummoxed they were going to ride a bus. Just because you didn’t see that message, you still booked it, and it is your responsibility as a traveler to verify your trip and accept or change it. Remember, it is sometimes too late to make changes once you start the journey.

Pay attention to layovers and transfers; see if you leave from the station or need to make plans for a self-transfer. A map app can help you figure out how far you may need to go so you know if you are walking across the street or getting a ride share.

Pack a few extras for comfort.

Amtrak Connecting Service Bus
Amtrak Connecting Service Bus in San Francisco.

Bring some extra entertainment for layovers with some snacks. Power bricks and chargers with longer cords can keep your phone and electronics charged.

No matter how you go, a great attitude and realistic expectations can ensure the best trip within your control.

Have a great trip, and don’t worry about short layovers on the Thruway bus service.

Safe Travels!


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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