Any train people out there?

We have a new blogger, Bill Seymour at long long short long, and he was writing about trains. That got me thinking: I have two summer trips tentatively planned, and maybe I should go by train. I like a nice leisurely train trip!

The first is to the American Arachnological Society annual meeting in Ithaca, NY.

The second is to Skepticon in St Louis.

I haven’t ridden a train in decades. Would it be practical to take Amtrak from Minneapolis/St Paul to either of those places? I tried perusing the Amtrak site, but good god, if ever there was a web page designed in the 1950s, that’s it.


  1. andersk3 says

    It depends on your definition of practical. I took the Empire Builder from St Paul to Seattle and it was an thoroughly delightful, very long, and not terribly cheap trip. 72 hours if memory serves. If relaxing back and watching the countryside go by for a day or three is your kind of fun I recommend it highly.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    I once rode the Coast Starlight from San Jose to San Diego and back a week later. It wasn’t an overnight trip but it did take all day and some of the night. I liked it as a nice bookend to my vacation. Later I took the California Zephyr from San Francisco (really Emeryville) to Reno for a long weekend with a friend. He’s one of those twitchy types that needs constant stimulation. He hated it, but I liked it.
    I do want to do a long multi-night trip in a sleeper compartment, but those are quite expensive.

  3. andersk3 says

    I forgot how bad the Amtrak site is. Looks like it’s a stop in Chicago for 5 hours and then to Syracuse with an airport shuttle of about an hour. St Louis transfers in Chicago as well.

  4. chris says

    The Lake Shore Limited goes between Chicago and Syracuse:

    We took the train from Albany to NYC, which was beautiful as it goes along side and sometimes on the Hudson River. Much more pleasant than my sister and her husband flying from Syracuse to NYC (where just getting their luggage was annoying).

  5. Allison says

    Just about everything West of the Mississippi goes through Chicago. A 5 hour layover is not very long, especially since the long-distance trains are almost always hours late, and sometimes days late. They blame it on the host railroads, but Amtrak creates its own delays, either due to mechanical difficulties or just an inability to do anything on schedule, and this causes the trains to miss the time slots the host railroads have reserved for them. Even on the NE corridor, where Amtrak owns the tracks and can give its trains priority, it’s common for trains to leave DC or Boston on time and get later and later over the trip. Don’t take Amtrak if you care when you’re going to get there.

    I agree about the website. Getting useful information out of it is complicated, and almost impossible if you want anything more than a particular pair of endpoints on a particular date. For system maps and route timetables, you have to hunt around for non-Amtrak sites that ferret them out and archive them.

    As far as I can tell, Amtrak doesn’t seem to see itself in the transportation business. It acts more like a cruise operator, where passengers are assumed to be more interested in experiencing being on a train than actually getting anywhere.

  6. jenorafeuer says

    I’m in Canada, so different train system, but I use Via rail pretty much all the time if I’m just going from Toronto to London/Ottawa/Montreal or that sort of area, since ‘Quebec-Windsor Corridor’ line is pretty well run (and pretty much the only part of Via that makes money, from what I’ve heard).

    I’ve taken the Canadian line from Vancouver to Toronto once. That’s a four day trip, and far from cheap.

    The one time I tried looking at Amtrak schedules I was trying to get from Toronto to Pittsburgh several years ago, and the fastest route there would have involved a 23-hour layover in New York City. That didn’t exactly sell me on the wonders of Amtrak. The Greyhound bus was a whole lot faster.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    One thing to be aware of: schedules are more like aspirations in American train travel. Rock slides, floods, and idiots in their cars at rail crossings can all add many hours to your travel time. Plus, Amtrak is running on the freight rail tracks usually, so they may have to yield to a lot of freight trains. Better make sure you have a lot of wiggle room in your personal schedule.

  8. billseymour says

    Yeah, Amtrak’s website is pretty awful.

    I see that you’re thinking of starting and ending in Minneapolis/St Paul, and if I lived in Morris, that would probably be my choice as well.  The only stations closer to you are St. Cloud, Staples and Detroit Lakes, MN, and Fargo, ND.  All are served in the wee hours of the morning (the train has to be somewhere at those times), and only Fargo is a staffed station with checked baggage service.

    Train 8, the eastbound Empire Builder, departs St. Paul Union Depot at 08:50; westbound train 7 arrives at 22:56.  To either of the destinations that you mentioned, you’d change trains in Chicago; and the train often runs very late west of St. Paul for a variety of reasons, so there’d be a danger of missing a connection.

    Unfortunately, Amtrak doesn’t serve Ithaca.  You could take train 48, the eastbound Lake Shore Limited, to either Rochester or Syracuse; but then you’d need to rent a car (unless you wanted to pop for a one-hour or longer taxi ride).  I’ve made timetables for the Builder and the Lake Shore.

    There are several options between Chicago and St. Louis, and you’d probably make the connection to one of them.  Returning from Seattle around the middle of next month (when the Builder might well get stuck in a snowdrift), I plan to take these two trains and spend the night at a Holiday Inn that’s just three blocks south of Chicago Union Station; but I’m a retired guy who can take all the time he needs.  Most of the trains between Chicago and St. Louis don’t carry checked baggage, so you’d be lugging your luggage around in Chicago.

    Between St. Paul and St. Louis, it’d be an early morning to late night day trip either way (unless you spend the night in Chicago eastbound to be safe).  If Skepticon is at what’s now called the “OYO Hotel St. Louis Downtown City Center” (where it was held the first two times IIRC), that’s basically just across the street from the train station.

    Between St. Paul and Chicago, you might want to consider getting a “roomette” in the sleeper.  If you’re traveling alone, that would cost about $200 each way; but if Mary is coming with you, it’d be a lot less per passenger.  The way Amtrak sleeper fares work is that you pay once for the room, and then each passenger pays the lowest applicable coach fare.  A sleeper ticket will also get you free meals in the diner and access to the Metropolitan Lounge (a first-class lounge) in Chicago.

    (Sorry for the wall of text…I’m a geek, dontcha know.)

  9. says

    I agree with most commenters on the drawbacks of rail travel today. One of our org. members used to travel from L.A. Calif. to Hutchinson KS in the 1960’s on the Santa Fe Chief and El Capitan. It was a fun couple of days. The trains were clean, comfortable and safe. The tracks are now owned by huge freight rail companies whose policy seems to be fix the tracks when they fail, since there is no accountability for the damage, injury or deaths that causes. NO passenger safety in mind. And, even though burning diesel fuel, it is a very efficient travel method.
    — Sadly our society is focused on Pretending that air travel is safe and fast /S.

  10. tallgrass05 says

    If you go Amtrak, be aware that Amtrak does not own the tracks and any freight train will have priority. You could be shunted to sidings to allow freight trains to pass.

  11. billseymour says

    It’s true that Amtrak’s on-time performance would make European railroads ashamed, but it’s not nearly as bad as some of the commenters have made it out to be.  The eastbound Empire Builder for example, could easily be two or three hours late into Chicago; but it’s rarely worse than that (although that’s possible).  The trains that I’ll be taking between St. Louis and Chicago will almost certainly run on time.

    I’ve been riding Amtrak regularly (prior to COVID) since well before the turn of the century.  Amtrak has put me on a bus instead of the train I had tickets for once from Seattle to Spokane, and once from Pittsburgh to D.C.

    I haven’t had any problems with Amtrak lateness, but then I generally plan ahead, often with extra hotel nights here and there.  I’m fortunate that I can afford Amtrak sleeper fares and the odd extra night at a hotel if I don’t try to afford other stuff I don’t really want that much anyway.

  12. billseymour says

    Marcus @14: 8-)

    In my case, I usually have code to write; and I have Internet access, either using my cell phone, or through a Verizon hotspot that I always have with me.

  13. whheydt says

    I’ve only used Amtrak up and down the West Coast. From where I live–Vallejo–I use the Martinez station. I’ve been to San Diego (which involves changing trains in Los Angeles) and to Portland.
    If at all possible, get a sleeper compartment. That means you’re traveling first class, and meals are included in the price. Plus you have a quiet place of your own.
    Food seems to be an on again off again thing. Amtrak cuts costs and food quality drops like a rock. At the moment I think they’re on a quality cycle with the dining cars. When they’re good, they are very good. Check for what sort of food service is expected if you’re going to on the train long enough to hit meal time.
    Anecdote… On one trip back from LA, some bright types decided that, as part of their protest, to lie down under a Capitol Corridor train stopped at the Berkeley station. As a result, the Starlight I was on was held at the Oakland Jack London Square station. Given the length of delay, they had to get a new crew down from Sacramento (where they were scheduled to change crews). Net result was a 5 hour delay. Since everyone was in “hurry up and wait mode”, I asked to conductor what would happen if we delayed so long that breakfast was served, which would have been many hours after I was do to get off the train in Martinez. His reply, “We’ll feed you. Regardless of schedule, you get a meal when it’s meal time.”

  14. Larry says

    Rode 3 trains last spring: Coastal Starlight (San Jose-Seattle), Empire Builder (Seattle-Chicago), and California Zephyer (Chicage-Emeryville). The predominate take on the experience was that it was slow, slow, slow. Every leg was a minimum of 3 hours late. The roomette I booked, while small, was comfortable. I was alone so I would expect having 2 people sharing the room would be a bit cramped. There is no room for luggage. The meals were decent and pretty filling. Sleeping was comfortable but the train was very noisy. Bring earplugs and an eye mask. Also, the cars bounce around alot while underway. As someone stated earlier, be sure your train arrives well in advance of whatever activity you have planned. Arrive the previous day, if possible. Your train will be late. Brings snacks, music, a book or two, and an extension cord with multiple outlets for charging your devices. The room only has a single outlet.

  15. Reginald Selkirk says

    Looking at Amtrak’s maps and schedules, the closest stations you will find is St. Cloud on your end and Syracuse on the other end. Travel time would be ~ 36 hours (departing 6:32 AM on Friday Jun 23, arriving 11:28 AM the next day, assuming you made all your connections). Prices are as low as $132 if you want to sit in a coach for a day and a half – but what a stupid web site – Is that the one way or round trip price? If you want to reserve a room the price goes way up, $762 or higher.
    So, you get a choice between expensive or extremely uncomfortable, and either way it’s very slow. Oh, and you have to get from Syracuse to Ithaca, which is about an hour’s drive.
    Meanwhile, you could fly from MSP to Ithaca(ITH) for as low as $554 round trip, or from MSP to Syracuse(SYR) for as low as $422. The Ithaca airport is small and only has a few flights per day, so there is no hope of a direct flight.
    Or, you could drive for about 19 hours. Don’t forget to include the cost of tolls, and take a couple extra hours to drive around Chicago rather than through it.
    The Cornell campus is beautiful, and there are many waterfalls in the region.

  16. says

    I’ve done the Bellingham to Seattle train a few times (both ways) and enjoyed it. Well, for the time I was awake — the motion of the train puts me to sleep pretty quickly. If you do take the train, bring a book (or three), your preferred munchies (dining car is a gamble), and a large water bottle.

  17. cedrus says

    I’ve done a few long-haul train trips, mostly in the Western US. Amtrak’s coach class is closer to what business class would be on a plane, but it’s still not nice enough for me to actively enjoy the ride, which is a problem given how long these rides are. If you’re going to do it, spring for a roomette – that’s a nice little introvert vacation. If you would enjoy sitting in a quiet cubicle, just reading or watching the world go by, with nowhere to be and nobody talking to you, then go for it. It’ll cost more than the plane ticket, but it’s an experience.

    If you do transfer in Chicago, they will likely have a place to store your luggage, so you won’t have to lug it around. I agree with the people who suggest snacks and water – you’ll have space, and the dining is hit or miss – and a blanket, as it can get cold at night, even in the summer. Don’t make any plans for the day you’re due to arrive, because you’re likely to be a few hours late, maybe worse.

  18. billseymour says


    [A roomette will] cost more than the plane ticket, …

    It’ll cost more that a coach ticket on an airplane, but that’s not a fair comparison since you’d get your meals in the diner and have access to first class lounges in Portland, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. (and maybe some that I’ve left out).

    Amtrak cut way back on food service during COVID, but proper diners serving freshly cooked food have been restored to all the western long distance trains except the Texas Eagle, and there’s also a proper diner on the Lake Shore Limited which runs from Chicago to New York and Boston, splitting into two trains just across the river from Albany.  The food is still not great on any of the eastern trains except the Lake Shore.

  19. euclide says

    I take the train every month to visit my mother. But I’m French, and this 300 miles trip takes a little over 3 hours (40 min of walk/bus/metro to go to the Paris train station, 2h20 of high speed train, and a 15 min walk at the end). The timing is perfect to watch 2-3 tv series episodes, read a large chunk of book, play a video game or take a long nap.

    The US rail network is something that always puzzles me. On one hand, you have a massive fret traffic, which is better than ours but on the other hand, the passenger side of things looks pitiful, compared to Japan (I’ve tried the Tokyo/Kyoto route which is great), Europe and China where trains compete with planes on a lot of routes (a 300 miles trip is almost always fastest by train, because of the time you lost at the airport vs the train station).

  20. AstroLad says

    Years ago I asked the Metrolink or Amtrak scheduler, don’t remember which, to plan Irvine, CA to Pomona. CA. The first choice it came up with took three days to go < 50 driving miles, somewhat longer by rail. It wanted to go to Chicago and back.

  21. whheydt says

    Re: euclide @ #23…
    There’s an old joke that Europe is where 100 miles is a long distance and the US is where 100 years is a long time.
    For me….home to Los Angeles (note: all within a single state) is 400 miles. Home to Portland, Oregon is 750 miles. Across the whole country is about 3000 miles.

  22. whheydt says

    On the general issue of water and snacks. If you have a roomette, my experience has been that the conductors put out bottled water and some sort of snacks. Last few times I was on a train, there was a basket of apples (as well as the bottled water) on a shelf at the top of the stairs between levels. And if there isn’t water out, they’ll usually put a bottle or two in your room and supply as much more as you want if you ask. Since we’re all civilized people here, there should be no need to mention that being polite and kind to the crew should be expected.

  23. rabbitbrush says

    …there should be no need to mention that being polite and kind to the crew should be expected.
    And I give them big tips. They work hard and are friendly and helpful. They also appreciate any anti-Bush/Trump/Republican tee shirts I wear.

  24. davidw says

    My family of four and I, myself, have used Amtrak a few times. It goes through my area around 2 a.m., but other than that, it’s actually a nice change of pace. Parking is free, luggage check-in (if you even do that) is straightforward, and the overall hassle is so much less than going to an airport. Sure, you’re not going to be on time, but we learned to plan for that. As a family, we got a roomette (meals included), which made everything easier; as a single traveler I just got a seat, which is a heck of a lot roomier than an airplane! I say “do it!” as much for the novelty and experience as anything else. IMHO, of course, and your mileage may vary.

  25. redwood says

    I remember walking to the station and riding the same train with you after the World Humanist Congress in Oxford in 2014, PZ. That was fun. For the past 20 years (other than Covid) I have commuted to work via bullet train. I live around 100 miles from my uni in downtown Tokyo and it took a little over 2 hours door to door. I was on the bullet train around 70 minutes and slept most of them. Very comfortable, late for work exactly once in the 20 years because of train trouble. Not cheap, but my school pays for around 75% of the commuting cost, tax free.

  26. Slinky's Human says

    They way to figure out Amtrak possibilities is to start to book a trip. You’ll see alternatives and prices, including connections by bus. Cancel if you don’t like the choices. Apple and Google Maps used to show Amtrak routes, along with connections to other transit options, but I don’t see Amtrak connections right now.

    I’ve taken Amtrak several times. I can walk to the station in Lawrence, KS to catch the Southwest Chief so it’s super convenient vs driving an hour and waiting in security lines at Kansas City’s airport. For both Reason Rallies I took the SW Chief to Chicago and had a roomette overnight on the Capitol Limited — that’s absolutely the best way to travel. I took SW Chief and Missouri River Runner to Saint Louis for a Tim Minchin concert. My wife and I took our nephew and his fiancé to Chicago for a weekend. My mom, brother and I took SW Chief to Santa Fe to visit relatives, and my wife and I took it to Dodge City for New Years, Long ago, I took SW Chief to LA and Coast Starlight to SF Bay (Emeryville) for work instead of flying because I had a cold.

    My experience with on-time performance has been mostly good. The DC, Chicago, and Santa Fe trips were nearly perfect. The Dodge City trip was 8 hours late in both directions. The Saint Lous trip was great on the way there, but the River Runner returning from Saint Louis was blocked by a freight train problem in front of us (normally it has its own tracks, but flooding diverted it to freight tracks), so they sent buses to take us to KC. River Runner to SW Chief in KC is a “timed transfer” so they held the SW Chief until we got there and the only impact for me was arriving in the middle of the night in Lawrence. The Amtrak app is worth getting and you can check where your train is and when it will arrive.

    I had planned to take Amtrak to Madison for the FFRF convention in 2019, but there was a freight derailment in Arizona that blocked the SW Chief for several days, so I drove instead.

  27. Derek Vandivere says

    I believe Amtrak stopped serving Ithaca LONG ago. Flights to Ithaca are really expensive as well – we went back to Bonecoming last year (that’s Homecoming but for the trombone section) and it turned out to be cheaper to rent a car in Newark for a week than two round trip tickets between Newark and Ithaca.

    Ithaca is one of the very few places I’d consider living in if I were forced to move back to the US.

  28. billseymour says

    whheydt @26:

    … the conductors put out bottled water and some sort of snacks.

    Nitpick:  that would be the sleeping car attendant.  Conductors are in charge of running the train.

    Since we’re all civilized people here, there should be no need to mention that being polite and kind to the crew should be expected.

    Also rabbitbrush @27:

    And I give them big tips.  They work hard and are friendly and helpful.


    One time returning from Boston on the Lake Shore Limited, the sleeper was out of service for some reason, so sleeper passengers got business class tickets plus free lunches as far as the Albany station where the New York and Boston sections get combined into a single train.  Most of the sleeper passengers got rooms in the New York sleepers, but they were one roomette short, and since I was traveling alone, I was the odd man out and, quite reasonably, got put in coach.

    There was no call for me to scream at the station agents like a Karen since it wasn’t their fault.  Indeed, in typical big company fashion, they probably found out about it not much earlier than I did.  I guess they passed the word to the train crew that I had been polite and understanding, so I got my free supper and breakfast in the diner even though I was technically a coach passenger, and I got moved to the accessible bedroom when it became vacant in the morning.

    As the Bad Astronomer once put it, “Don’t be a dick.”

    They also appreciate any anti-Bush/Trump/Republican tee shirts I wear.

    I haven’t had that experience since I’m an old fart who still wears a suit when he travels. 8-)

  29. Rich Woods says

    Hearing about the wonders of the US railways makes me glad to live in the UK, where the rail service has for almost 30 years been privatised, franchised, greedily exploited and politically oversold, but still has a long way* to go before it’s that fucked.

    *Exhausted commuters in the South East and detrained passengers (sorry, customers) in the North East may disagree.

  30. whheydt says

    A note on luggage… Once while waiting for my train to arrive, I had occasion to ask a station agent what the real rules about luggage are. He told, if you can get it up into the car, we’ll take it.

  31. says

    TBH, trains > planes. I can stay in my chair on the train. I have to check it in order to fly, and kinda hitch myself seat to seat along the aisle to get to/from my seat on the plane. Oh, and the train has accessible bathrooms.
    So, from a disability standpoint, traveling by train is much, much better.

  32. whheydt says

    Followup to WMDKtty @ #35…
    Sleeper cars have 2 “family rooms” that double as handicapped access. They’re on the lower level at the ends of the car and extend the full width of the car with windows on both sides. They sleep about 6, IIRC, and are wheelchair accessible.
    I don’t know about coach, but if you have a room(ette), you can get your meals delivered to you.

  33. rrutis1 says

    I have taken the train from Utica NY to NYC a few times and from Syracuse to Chicago once. The train schedule is much better in the good weather months than in the winter, it seems odd that the train would be effected by weather but the passenger cars can actually freeze in cold weather while waiting in the yard for use.

    Other have already said Amtrak does not go to Ithaca, so a car rental is probably in order. That’s ok because it’s a really nice drive down from Syracuse or Rochester and as someone pointed out above there are beautiful waterfalls in town and within 30 minutes.

  34. billseymour says

    whheydt @36:  not quite.  Superliner sleepers have a family room which is for two adults and two young children, and has no plumbing.  The accessible bedroom has facing seats that convert to upper and lower berths like in a roomette, a wheelchair lockdown, a sink and a toilet.

    Viewliner sleepers have no family room, but they do have an accessible bedroom.

    I describe them here.

  35. magistramarla says

    euclide @23,
    I’ve had very similar experiences in Europe and Japan.
    I accompanied my husband on a military trip to update computer software at several installations.
    We traveled from London to Paris, then Paris to Ramstein in Germany on the fast trains.
    After the work was done there, we took the train over the Alps to Venice and from there to Aviano.
    Later, we took a very fast train from Venice to Florence, then from Florence to Pompeii, and after visiting there, we traveled to Rome.
    I’m handicapped and I travel in a wheelchair. Throughout Europe, we would buy the cheapest ticket, but then be bumped to first class, because that’s where wheelchair stowage is located! I was treated so very well!
    We also rode that Tokyo/Kyoto line when the team upgraded the software at the base in Kyoto. I was treated like royalty there.
    A white-gloved conductor pushed my chair onto the train, and another one was always waiting at our stop to take me off of the train.Everything is so clean and organized in Japan. It’s a wonderful place to visit.
    My daughter recently moved her family from Houston to Seattle. I live in Monterey, CA. I’m thinking about taking a leisurely trip there to see the grandkids. It sounds like that Amtrak route might be worth it.

  36. billseymour says

    magistramarla @39:  the station closest to you is probably Salinas.  Amtrak says it’s a staffed station with checked baggage service and overnight parking, and everything seems to be accessible.

    You’d be riding the Coast Starlight which uses Superliner rolling stock, so sleepers have an accessible bedroom on the lower level.  Your car attendant will bring your meals to you.  If you don’t want to pop for a sleeper, there will be accessible seating on the lower level of the coaches; but you’d probably need to specify that requirement when you make the reservation.  I’d recommend buying the tickets from a person at the ticket counter in the station, the earlier the better.

    Train 14 departs at 18:13 and arrives in Seattle at 19:51 the next day; train 11 departs Seattle at 09:50 and arrives in Salinas at 12:06 the next day.  There’s a timetable here (subject to change).

    (If you already knew all this, sorry for the noise.)

  37. Kevin Karplus says

    As a non-driver, I take trains a fair amount, though the longest one I’ve taken in the past 30 years is the Coast Starlight, which is slow but has beautiful scenery and comfortable seats.

    Others have pointed out the train routes, but everyone forgets that there is bus service from Syracuse to Ithaca—you don’t need to rent a car (unless you want to). The worst part of the transit picture seems to be at the Morris end of the trip.

    For planning, I’ve found that Google Maps on a computer does a pretty good job (better than piecing together all the legs from different transit sites), though it was much better a couple of years ago, when it gave you more options in the “Schedule Explorer”. Once I have a series of connections from Google Maps, I then go to the individual sites to double-check the schedules and look for alerts about changes in service (Google is pretty good in the Bay Area about getting updates, but I don’t trust them in places where they have no employees).

  38. mightybigcar says

    Amtrak has been my preferred means of long distance travel for almost 30 years. Yeah, the trains aren’t to-the-minute punctual like they are in civilized countries, but they’re very seldom more than an hour or two late. Just as with air travel, you need to leave yourself plenty of time to make connections. Unlike air travel, Amtrak has always taken me where I wanted to go in the end, and never left me spending the night on the benches in the terminal.

    A roomette is great for one, cozy but still comfortable for two. Superliner (double deck sleepers used west of Chicago) have one shared toilet room on the upper level, 3 or 4 on the lower level. Viewliner (single level sleepers on most trains east of Chicago) roomettes have a built in sink and toilet in the roomette. Your idea of whether this is a good idea or not may vary (I have a love/hate relationship with that setup). Shared showers are available in the same car (downstairs on the Superliner, one end of the car on the Viewliner).

    Bedrooms are quite roomy, and also handy for socializing if you have friends traveling on the same train. Bedrooms on both Viewliner and Superliner have a combined shower/toilet closet, which is quite handy. The lower bunk in the bedroom is large enough for two snuggly people to sleep in.

    Food has its ups and downs, but as someone noted, quality is currently on an uphill curve.

    As some one else has pointed out, luggage management is important! Luggage allowances are generous compared to airlines. Depending on the station, you can check up to 2 bags per passenger through to your destination. For sleepers, you are allowed 2 full size bags, which you’ll want to stash in the luggage racks (lower floor on Superliner, end of car on the Viewliner). I usually travel with one full size bag stashed in the luggage rack, and one small carry on that I take in the sleeper or stash on the overhead rack in coach, and my backpack briefcase. The carry on contains almost everything needed for the trip – toiletry kit, slippers, jammies, change of clothes for each day on the trip, books, etc. Since the in car luggage rack is accessible while you’re traveling, overflow can go in the large bag.

    The backpack briefcase has a power strip (there’s never enough outlets), phone chargers and cables, laptop & charger, various pairs of glasses (as an old fart, I carry 4 pairs), snacks, and a miniature version of my electronics lab for noodling as we go.

    In a bedroom, there’s enough space for the carry-on(s) and briefcase without much worry. When traveling alone in the roomette, I drop the upper bunk one notch and keep the carry-on and briefcase up there when not in use. When traveling with my spouse, we do the same during the day, but it can be a trick to arrange things at night, though we’ve always managed a solution.

    You’re not allowed to consume your own alcoholic beverages in coach, but that’s OK in the sleepers. I like craft beer, and have a little solid state cooler that holds a six pack of 12-oz cans – that’s enough to get me through a couple of days’ travel. It’s narrow enough that you can flip it on its side and stash it under the lower bunk at night. Note: these don’t cool your beverage very fast. It’s best to load it with cold cans from the fridge before heading for the station, and if you plan on consuming more than 6 beverages, add a replacement each time you remove a can.

    There’s typically one or two bottles of water in your sleeper when you arrive, with more near the coffee urn at one end of the car or near the luggage racks.

    As someone else pointed out, get to know your attendant, and tip well.

    A useful sleeper overview can be found here: