You are currently viewing Amtrak Trains with multiple route numbers.

Amtrak Trains with multiple route numbers.

Have you researched an Amtrak adventure and found results with two or more trains with the same name and departure times? Maybe the results show different prices and similar route numbers?

Multiple train numbers
Amtrak trains with multiple train numbers.

Why would Amtrak run trains back to back like that? What tickets should you buy?

So you know, Amtrak does not run back-to-back, but they run a few trains as one that split or come together at some point along the route.

This article touches on what you need to knot to make the right decisions regarding buying tickets.

As you read this article, you can get the basics on this topic and be an Amtrak travel pro in no time.

Why does Amtrak do this?

The Lake Shore Limited in Albany.
The Lake Shore Limited in Albany.

While Amtrak does not run back-to-back trains, they have four Amtrak long-distance routes that split or come together at some point along the route.

Splitting trains allows Amtrak to serve more areas more efficiently.

How Train Numbers work (if you are into details)

Amtrak, and other railroads, use numbers to identify train routes and their direction of travel. Numbers make it easier to dispatch than using names, and most freight trains do not have names. Also, there are times when Amtrak trains with the same moniker pass each other in opposite directions. So numbers clear things up.

Portland Union Station
Portland Union Station in Portland, OR.

Amtrak uses the smallest number as the “main section” or reporting number when combined trains go down the tracks. For the Empire Builder, the Seattle section number is the one Amtrak uses when the trains are together, 7/8.

The Portland section is the “split,” so Amtrak adds a “2” to the route number, and between Portland and Spokane, the train becomes 27/28 and identifies with the appropriate number between Spokane and Portland.

The Texas Eagle may have three sections, 21/22 (Chicago – San Antonio) 421/422 (Chicago to LA), and they could run a car as regional from Chicago to St Louis, Mo as 321/322.

As you can see, Amtrak adds a number before the root route number for the split section; often, that number is “4” for most trains but a “2” for the Builder.

The Amtrak trains with mulitiplue route numbers

I use the term “build point” to identify where the trains come together or separate.

Empire Builder 7, 8, 27, & 28

Train 7 and 8 are the main trains for this route.

  • Destinations and route number
    • 7 Chicago to Seattle
    • 8 Seattle to Chicago
    • 27 Chicago to Portland
    • 28 Portland to Chicago
  • Build point
    • Spokane, WA

The cafe car is on the Portland section for the Builder, and the dining car is on the Seattle side. So if you need food and you are going west, you want to do that early.

Lake Shore Limited 48, 49, 448, & 449

  • Destination and route number
    • 48 Chicago to New York
    • 49 New York to Chicago
    • 448 Chicago to Boston
    • 449 Boston to Chicago
  • Build point
    • Albany-Rensselaer, NY, (ALB )

The cafe car is on the Boston Section and Sleeper Lounge (flex dining car is on the NYP). Business Class is on the Boston Section of the train and is the Cafe Car.

Texas Eagle 21, 22. 321, 324. 421, & 422 and Sunset Limited 1 & 2

  • Destination and route numbers
    • 21 Chicago to San Antonio, TX
    • 22 San Antonio, TX to Chicago
    • 321 Chicago to St Louis, MO
    • 322 St Louis, MO to Chicago
    • 421 Chicago to Los Angeles, CA
    • 422 Los Angeles, CA to Chicago
  • Build points
    • St Louis for the “300” cars
    • San Antonio for the “400” cars

The Texas Eagle between Chicago and San Antonio often uses a cafe/dinner car and flex dining. From San Antonio to LA, there is a full dining car with traditional dining and a cafe car.

These trains are put together at night or early in the morning. During that time, you may not have power or heating/AC. It does not take too long for them to make this move, and they are gentle when moving cars, or at least they try.

Texas Eagle
A view of the 421 Sleeping car on the Texas Eagle on one of my Amtrak Adventures; we were out enjoying a fresh air break.

Boarding And Riding Trains With Multiple Route Numbers

When preparing to board the train, have your ticket in hand. Conductors may scan tickets before or after your board, but either way, having your tickets out ahead of time helps conductors direct you to the right car for your destination. Conductors often group passengers going to the same stations together.,

Once you are on the train, feel free to walk around and even get off the train at “smoke stops.”

There is less to worry about if you ride the route section where both “trains” are together. When you get near your destination, ensure that you are in your seat with your destination car overhead.

Do not change cars without talking to staff. If you move, there is a chance when the train splits; you are on the wrong section, plus not all doors open at all stops.

What you need to know when buying tickets

The biggest takeaway

The best takeaway for this whole article is this, when it comes to buying tickets on a train with multiple numbers, make a reservation that fits your budget and the accommodations needs.

If you take the Empire Builder from Milwaukee to La Cross, WI, it doesn’t matter if you are train 7 or 27; both “trains” will get there simultaneously.

Price difference

The price difference from section to section is because Amtrak uses a “bucket system,” like most transportation industries. Amtrak sets aside a set number of seats for each price bracket. After they sell out the first level, the price goes up for the next set, and so on. The ticket system looks at both sections of the train separately, and since it does, that can cause price differences.

When buying tickets, you can often choose the lowest price that is available for the accommodation you want.

There are times when going with a lower price might not be convenient. For example, if you are going to Portland from Milwaukee, a multiple train option could appear. For example, it may offer a roomette on train 8 (Seattle Builder), and then you would switch to a roomette in the 28 sleeper car to Portland in Spokane, WA. If your next room is open, there could be a chance you could change early, but that is not a guarantee.

Paying a few extra bucks may be worth not having to deal with that hassle. This situation can happen with coach tickets as well.

The moral of the story

As you book, go with the cheapest ticket when it makes sense.

When boarding, listen for instructions, so you get in the right car! When traveling, always know your train’s name and number and the destination for that train (or layover). Knowing the last stop of your route is helpful as well.

I hope this clears up and confusion and does not create and create new ones.

Safe Travels,



Kev has traveled over 125,000 miles on over 660 trains all around the United States aboard Amtrak. When he is not on the move, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.