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Go Back   Railway Forum > General Railway Discussion > Passenger Operations and Observations

Amtrak Railpass: How it works and how I used it

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Old 6th April 2019, 18:20
mnharris mnharris is offline  
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Amtrak Railpass: How it works and how I used it

Hello, I wanted to write a post about the Amtrak Railpass system. This is a great way to ride trains in the United States, and I have used it myself.

One note: I am sure the particular prices and regulations of the Railpass change from time to time, so this post may not be current when you are reading it. Amtrak's own summary of the pass is at:
https://www.amtrak.com/rail-passes
So go there if you want total, official information.

The Amtrak Railpass is a pass that lets you ride Amtrak for a certain amount of time. Currently, it comes in 15, 30 and 45 day versions, which cost $459, $689, and $899, respectively.

The pass doesn't allow you to just hop on a train, though. You still need to buy tickets. You just "purchase" the ticket with your pass. You can do this before the day your pass goes into effect, or while traveling. The tickets you get with the pass are for coach seats.

The pass also doesn't give "unlimited" rides. They give a certain amount of "Segments". Respectively, this is 8, 12 and 18 segments. This is just a way to say how many tickets you get. These tickets can be very long, or just one stop. Chicago to Los Angeles is one segment, but so is Chicago to Milwaukee. Obviously, there is a lot of planning for optimal routes!

The pass also doesn't work on every route. It works on all "normal" Amtrak trains and connecting thruway connections, but doesn't work on Acela, Autotrain, and a few odd Thruway buses.

It also can't be used for "commuting": you can only go over one segment four times in your trip.

Notice that most of these exceptions won't come up often.


Anyway, this is how I used it: in September/October 2014, using the 30 day pass, starting from Spokane, I went from:
Spokane-Chicago (Empire Builder)
Chicago-New York (Lake Shore Express)
New York-Boston (East Coast Service)
(From Boston to Portland and back, but this was on a bus)
Boston-Washington, DC (East Coast Service)
Washington, DC-New Orleans (Crescent)
New Orleans-Chicago (City of New Orleans)
Chicago-Dallas (Texas Eagle)
Dallas-Springfield, IL (Texas Eagle)
Springfield, IL-Galesburg, IL (This was literally in a van so I could make a connecting route)
Galesburg, IL-Emeryville, CA (California Zephyr)
Emeryville, CA-Portland Oregon (Coast Starlight)
Portland, Oregon-Whitefish, Montana (Empire Builder)

So notice what I said about segments: The van trip from Springfield to Galesburg, which was literally a 2 hour trip in a passenger van, counts as a segment as much as riding the California Zephyr from Illinois to California. The reason I had to take that segment is because the Texas Eagle doesn't quite get into Chicago soon enough to transfer onto the California Zephyr. Also, note that you can still pay for these shorter trips "out of pocket" without using up segments. I didn't in this case just because I felt it would be too confusing, and it didn't matter anyway, since I had enough segments.

I stayed with friends in three stops on the trip: New York, Portland, Maine, Dallas area, and Portland, Oregon. I only rented a hotel room once, in New Orleans. The entire trip took a little under 30 days, and I slept on the train for about half of those. Depending on your age and demands of comfort, spending that much time on the train might be fun, or it might be difficult. The longest solid time I spent on the train with no real breaks was Spokane to New York, and Dallas to Portland, which was three days in the first case and four days in the second.

Even though there is obviously a lot of challenges with this type of travel, for people who really like trains, its amazing. I also think it is the only realistic way to see most of the United States in a short time on a realistic budget. I think my entire trip, including my hotel stay and supplies along with my ticket, cost me less than 1500 dollars. And in that time, I saw (I believe) about 38 states.

Anyway, that is my explanation of the Railpass...I probably left something out, so feel free to ask questions and I will try to answer them.


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amtrak, passenger experience, passenger rail, railpass, united states


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