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.
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. 😎