What You’ll Find on Amtrak Trains

I want to begin with a more general post about riding trains in the U.S.  Starting around the first of February, I’ll post reports of my next Amtrak trip.

Overnight trains that run west of the Mississippi River, and the Capitol Limited between Chicago and D.C., use Amtrak’s double-decker Superliner equipment.  All eastern trains excep the Capitol Limited, and currently all corridor trains pretty much everywhere, have single-level rolling stock because many stations have high-level platforms which are too high for Superliner doors, and there are lots of places where there’s not enough overhead clearance for the taller cars.

On all Superliner equipment, movement between cars can happen only on the upper level.


Single-level coaches come in basically two varieties.  The Horizon coaches, which are really old, are used only on corridors, but not in the northeast.  Amfleet coaches, which have a more rounded appearance on the outside, can have fairly tight seating on corridor trains, but more legroom on long-distance trains.  There are two toilets and a luggage rack at one end of the car.  There are also overhead luggage racks on each side over the seats.

There are also two types of Superliner coaches.  Most have accessible seating on the lower level; some have a locked room for checked baggage instead of the accessible seating.  All have only seating and overhead luggage racks on the upper level.  All the toilets are on the lower level, and there’s a place down there as well where you can store luggage that you don’t want to lug up the stairs.


Single-level overnight trains have Viewliner sleepers, all of which have three bedrooms with couches that convert to upper and lower berths along with private sinks, toilets, and showers.  A wall between two of the bedrooms can be opened up to give you a bedroom suite; an accessible bedroom is the third.

Most Viewliners have twelve roomettes, not the roomettes of old, but more like the old open sections (a pair of facing seats that convert to upper and lower berths), but with walls and a door instead of just curtains for privacy.  Each of the roomettes has its own sink and toilet, and there’s a communal shower at the end of the car.

A newer model of the Viewliner, currently used only on the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York, lacks the plumbing in the roomettes and instead has communal toilets at the end of the car, and fewer roomettes to make room for them.  I’ve never ridden in one, so I don’t know the exact configuration.

Superliners have five bedrooms on the upper level.  Rooms B and C, and rooms D and E, are mostly mirror images of each other and can be opened up into bedroom suites.  The sofa-berth modules, which include the room’s main electrical outlet, are rotations, not reflections, the result being that the outlet is near the window in rooms B and D, but on the wrong side of the room (IMO) in rooms C and E.  In room A, the sink-toilet-shower module has a different orientation that results in less floor space.  I’ve heard that some passengers get claustrophobic in room A, but I’m not one of the them.  The good news is that there’s an electrical outlet in the sink area in the middle of room A, and you can run your extension cord where you won’t be in danger of stepping on it.

Superliners have fourteen roomettes, ten on the upper level (room 1 being reserved for the car attendant) and four on the lower level.  None have any plumbing.  There’s a toilet next to room 1 and three others and a shower on the lower level.  Also on the lower level, in addition to a luggage rack, are a family room, a couch that converts to adult-sized upper and lower berths and facing seats that convert to child-sized berths, and an accessible bedroom with a roomette-type seat-berth module on one side, a wheelchair lockdown and sink in the middle, and a toilet on the other side with a curtain for privacy.  The family room and accessible bedroom occupy the entire width of the car.

Food service:

Corridor trains will likely have either a dinette with a counter in the middle where you can get a variety of snacks, potables, and plastic-wrapped microwaved stuff, and tables on either end.  Some have a café car with the counter in the middle, tables on one end, and business class seating on the other end.

It used to be that all overnight trains had proper diners where you could have a nice sit-down meal of freshly cooked food.  Unfortunately, COVID was an excuse for Amtrak to cut back on food service, providing only reheated pre-packaged meals, some of which are less awful than others.  They’ve restored real diners to most Superliner trains and to the Lake Shore Limited, but the Texas Eagle and Capitol Limited have “Cross-country Cafés” which serve the reheated stuff.  All the eastern overnight trains except the Lake Shore Limited have only dinettes that serve the reheated stuff.  (The Lake Shore has both a diner and a dinette.)

In any event, meals are included in sleeper fares, but passengers in coach have to pay.

Superliners also have a Sightseer Lounge with a café and tables on the lower level.

My geeky setup:

Over the years I’ve enhanced my experience somewhat with three pieces of electronic equipment that I have to plug in (which explains why I felt the need to rant above about where the outlet is in Superliner bedrooms).

I’ll have a laptop displaying a map, and a GPS receiver plugged into a USB port, so I’ll always know where I am. 😎  In the past, I’ve used Delorme’s Street Atlas, but they went out of business, and I can’t install the older version on my computer’s Windows 10 partition (and it would never have run on Linux in any event).  On this trip, I’ll be trying out something called Maptitude for the first time.  We’ll see how that goes.  I also couldn’t find a Windows 10 I/O driver for my really old USGlobalSat BU-353 receiver, so I ordered the BU-353N.  Unfortunately, I never got it…I guess I was the victim of package theft.  I’ll be stuck with my cell phone’s little screen on my next trip.

I’ll also have a scanner that I bought from Radio Shack many years ago, and a small device that can plug into the headphone jack on the scanner and generate a bluetooth signal that feeds my hearing aids.  The scanner is programmed with all the railroad frequencies, so I’ll be able to eavesdrop on the conversations between the conductors, engineers, and dispatchers, none of which are usually of any interest to anyone but a train geek like me.


Sometimes, a dispatcher will give a train some special restriction, like a slow order around some place where the track is being maintained, or some special permission, like permission to pass a known faulty signal or permission to run on unsignalled track.  The dispatcher will issue a track warrant in the west, or a form D in the east, which the engineer must then repeat verbatim.  I remember one engineer, a newbie I guess, who thought that he could paraphrase the track warrant, and the dispatcher would have none of it.  After two or three repetions, the conductor took over and repeated the track warrant correctly, and the train could continue.  (Minimizing the chance of human error is a really big deal on the railroad.)

I’ll also hear trackside faulty equipment detectors sounding off.  That’ll be an electronically generated voice saying something like:

U P detector milepost three eight five point seven   no defects   repeat no defects   axle count three six   train speed seven nine M P H   detector out

Detectors can warn about any dragging equipment or an overheated axle bearing.  The axle count assures the crew that the train hasn’t separated somewhere. 😎



  1. Some Old Programmer says

    My $.02, use a surge suppressor on any Amtrak A/C outlet. My trip from BOS to WAS last month featured my ancient laptop being kneecapped by an electrical anomaly from the Amtrak outlet. I needed to replace it anyway, and was, after some painstaking work, able to recover important data, but the SSD was damaged enough that some blocks couldn’t be shreded, leaving me to physically break the PCB before handing it over to be recycled.

  2. billseymour says

    My $.02, use a surge suppressor on any Amtrak A/C outlet.

    Oh, yes.  Definitely.  The current is spikey and can go on and off at random times (although that’s rare).

    And thanks for reminding me.  I have a power strip that I thought has a surge supressor in it, but I just looked at the fine print on the device and didn’t see any mention of it.  I guess I’ll head to my local Best Buy and get a replacement.

    I used to worry about crashing the hard drive because of all the bouncing around that trains do, but that never happened to me.  I now have a solid state drive, so I don’t worry about that any more.

  3. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Welcome onboard. I found you even though you try to avoid detection. Unfortunately the Evil Prof PZ mentioned you, and there you were in the blogroll, cunningly hidden as the last entry. (How did you do that?)

    Your missives do not appear on the front page, because you haven’t tagged them with a category. Use Miscellaneous, if nothing else works. (IMHO all train entries should be classified as Art and Culture. Especially Culture.)

  4. billseymour says

    Lassi Hippeläinen

    … there you were in the blogroll, cunningly hidden as the last entry.

    I’m not hiding.  I imagine that the blog names are intended to be sorted alphabetically, and mine begins with a lower case letter which sorts after upper case letters.  I suppose I could ask the webmaster to use a case-insensitive sort, but I won’t because I don’t think it really matters.

    [Late-breaking news:  I changed the blog’s name to “Bill Seymour” so it sorts between Atheism, … and Death to Squirrels, and the URL has changed to just “…/seymour/”.]

    Your missives do not appear on the front page, because you haven’t tagged them with a category.

    I’m a newbie.  I’ll get the hang of it before long.

    Also, I’m sorry if your comment took too long to be approved.  I was expecting to get e-mail messages when another comment finds its way into the moderation queue…something else I haven’t set up properly I guess.  It shouldn’t happen again because I have it set up such that, once you’ve been approved, you’re approved from then on.

  5. JimB says

    I really need to ride Amtrak again. Haven’t been on it since I was a kid. My grandfather, mom’s dad, was a Santa Fe engineer between Gallup NM and Winslow AZ. So every summer, one of my parents would haul me and my little brother down to the station. We’d get on and Mom would tell the Conductor, “[grandpa’s name] will get them in Winslow”. And that was it. No ticket, no nothing. And we had the run of the train. That was kinda cool.

    My dad was an engineer between Gallup and Albuquerque/Belen. Got to ride in the engine with him once. That was kinda cool, but mostly boring… Not much happens up there.

    Your post just brought all of the above to mind… Good Memories!

  6. billseymour says

    JimB @5:  was that back in the days of the Super Chief and the El Capitan?

    Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which I’ve ridden three times, runs on the same route.  I love coming down off the mountain westbound into Alguquerque.

  7. JimB says

    I remember Super Chief. Not sure if I remember El Capitan.

    Riding to Winslow was latter 60’s up to 73 or so.

    Riding with my dad in the engine, was probably around 75.

    Those memories are getting blurry…

  8. Ice Swimmer says

    It’s interesting to read about railway travel and rolling stock from elsewhere.

    I see that Amtrak has run the Superliners for quite a while. Here in Finland, VR has for the last two decades gone very much to double decker coaches and sleepers, which, I think, are slightly bigger than the Amtrak ones, thanks to the rather generous loading gauge here. I haven’t tried the double decker Edm sleepers, but I’m quite familiar with the Ed coaches.

    The single decker long-distance trains are mostly Pendolino high-speed electric multiple units, which have always had a bad reputation due to their unreliability, especially during winter (it’s an Italian design, the original design choices for the couplers and tilting mechanisms may not have included a focus on winter capabilities).

  9. billseymour says

    Ice Swimmer @8:

    The single decker long-distance trains are mostly Pendolino high-speed electric multiple units, which have always had a bad reputation due to their unreliability, especially during winter …

    That’s interesting because the Empire Builder, which I’ll be riding starting on Thursday, is having winter-related problems with engines built by Siemens, so much so that the BNSF Railway, whose tracks the train runs on most of the time, requires that the train enter their territory with three working engine units.  The Siemens units seem to work OK on the City of New Orleans which runs south out of Chicago.

    The Amtrak Cascades, corridor trains that run between Eugene, Oregon, USA and Vancouver, BC, Canada use Talgo equipment. They seem to work OK. Those are all day trips and there are no sleepers on the trains.

    Back in 2011, I had some meetings in London followed by meetings in Madrid. I took Eurostar to Paris, then rode in Talgo sleepers between Paris and Madrid, a business class room southbound and a first class room northbound, just to see what the difference is. The only advantage of the first class rooms that I could see was that you had your own toilet.

    I’ve never been to Finland. The C++ standards committee met in Oulu in June of 2016, but I was unable to attend because I couldn’t take the time off my day job. 8-(

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