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What You Need To Know About 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 but similar route numbers and possibly different prices?

Amtrak Departure Board

If so, this article is for you!

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

So you know, Amtrak does not run two trains back-to-back. Instead, they run a few trains that split or come together as they go to their destination(s).

This article touches on what you need to know to make the right decisions regarding buying tickets for these trains.

As you read this article, you will get the basics and be an Amtrak travel pro.

Amtrak Trains With Multiple Route Numbers Podcast Episode

Why does Amtrak do this?

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

As I said before, Amtrak does not run back-to-back trains. Four Amtrak long-distance routes split or come together.

Each section has a route number that is one digit different from the other train.

For example, Lake Shore Limited has 49 from New York to Chicago and 449 for the Boston South Station section to Albany, New York.

The two trains come together in Albany and run as one train to Chicago. If the train goes east, it runs as 48 from Chicago to Albany, where it will split. You may get on the train 448 or 48 in Chicago; those cars are together.

After the train splits and the departure time hits, the Lake Shore Limited leaves Albany as two separate trains, 448 to Boston and 48 to New York.

Splitting trains allows Amtrak to serve more areas more efficiently.

The Amtrak trains with multiple route numbers.

Portland Union Station
Portland Union Station in Portland, OR.

I use “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 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 (the 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/ Sunset Limited 1 & 2

Some of the Texas Eagle cars get added to the Sunset Limited. The Sunset itself does not split or come together.

If you are booking between San Antonio, TX, and Los Angeles, going east, you could see tickets for trains #1, #421, and going West #2 and $422. In this case, you could be in either train depending on the number, but in reality, that is one train.

  • 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 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, and listen for instructions. Sleeper and coach cars for each section may not be next to each other.

For example, the Seattle sleepers are on the front of the train while the Portland ones are on the back.

Sometimes conductors may put the 7 and 27 coach passenger together in the same car if the destination is before the splits.

Once on the train, feel free to walk around and even get off the train at fresh air breaks. But ensure you get back to the right car and seat, so conductors get you off at the right spot.

Do not change your seat to a different one in another car 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 from this article is that when buying tickets on a train with multiple numbers, make a reservation that fits your budget and accommodation 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

Multiple train numbers
Amtrak trains with multiple train numbers.

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, which can cause price differences since it does.

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

There are times when going with a lower price might not be convenient. For example, a multiple-train option could appear if you go from Milwaukee to Portland, OR.

For example, it may offer a roomette on train 7 (Seattle Builder) and then have you switch to a roomette in the 27 sleeper car to Portland during the Spokane, WA stop. 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 dealing with that hassle. This situation can happen with coach tickets as well.

The moral of the story

Go with the cheapest ticket when it makes sense for you and your adventure as you book.

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 clarifies confusion and does not create and create new ones.

Safe Travels,

Kev

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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 to get started. Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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