Amtrak passenger trains you can ride
Amtrak offers 14 passenger trains in each direction serving end points that allow for overnight travel, most of them operating daily but some on a triweekly basis. In the east, the Lake Shore Limited offers nightly service between New York and Chicago, with a separate section serving the Boston-Chicago market, combining with the New York train at Albany. Other key trains between the Midwest and the East Coast include the daily Capitol Limited and the triweekly Cardinal out of Washington, D.C.
In addition, Amtrak has two separate conventional New York-Washington-Florida overnight trains — the Silver Meteor and Silver Star — both of which serve Miami, with the latter offering a separate section to Tampa. There’s also the popular Auto Train running between the Washington suburb of Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., giving both coach and sleeping-car patrons the opportunity to bring their automobile along for the ride. Rounding out Amtrak’s Eastern service is the daily Washington-Atlanta-New Orleans Crescent.
Chicago is the hub of several overnight trains, including the daily City of New Orleans to its namesake city, as well as the daily Texas Eagle, which links Chicago with Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio.
Some of Amtrak’s best-known service comes aboard its Western trains, including three daily West Coast departures to and from Chicago: the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles; the California Zephyr to Oakland, Calif.; and the Empire Builder, which serves the Pacific Northwest with separate sections to Portland and Seattle. Along the southern border, Amtrak runs the Sunset Limited, a triweekly train serving the New Orleans-Los Angeles market. In the Far West, the daily Coast Starlight links Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle.
Comfortable Amtrak passenger trains
Amtrak’s overnight trains offer a variety of comfortable accommodations, including coaches, sleeping car, lounge cars, and diners. In the East, most trains operate with single-level equipment, including some with the latest generation Viewliner II cars. An exception is the Capitol Limited, which boasts Amtrak’s high-level Superliners. The popular Superliners also hold sway on all the Western trains.
Most trains offer two levels of first-class sleeping-car accommodations, including the bedroom, with two full beds as well as private bathroom and shower, and the cozier roomette, with room for two passengers and shared restroom facilities elsewhere in the car. Sleeping-car patrons enjoy complimentary meals in the first-class-only dining car, which offers a selection of meat, chicken, fish, and vegetarian entrees; coach passengers have a variety of sandwich and snack options in the lounge car.
Look out those big windows
When Amtrak boasts about the scenery, it should be taken seriously. Some of America’s most glorious sights are visible through the big picture windows of Amtrak’s coaches, sleepers, and lounge cars. In the East, these vistas include the majestic east bank of the Hudson River north of New York City, visible for long stretches from Lake Shore Limited. The Boston section offers great views of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Equally scenic are portions of the rugged Allegheny Mountains traversed by the Capitol Limited, as well as the Cardinal’s run along the New River Gorge National River in West Virginia.
The best scenery is reserved for trains running in the West, where passengers can enjoy the glass-topped Sightseer lounge car, with casual seating on the upper level and a full snack bar below. Perhaps the most famous of the Western trains is the California Zephyr, which boasts daytime running across the rugged Colorado Rockies, as well as spectacular views of California’s Sierra Nevada and Donner Pass, depending on the time of year. From the windows of the Southwest Chief, you’ll see the seemingly endless buttes, mesas, and cliffs of the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. The Empire Builder winds its way through gorgeous scenery in Montana’s Rockies (including Glacier National Park) and Washington’s Cascade Range.
Just as spectacular is riding the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles, with views of the ocean or mountains on either side of the train. The Coast Starlight also cuts right through the heart of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, hugging mountainsides and winding through deep forests.
And when you’re not marveling at the scenery, Amtrak’s trains offer the other timeless advantages of train travel — a chance to relax with that book you’ve been waiting to read, maybe catch up on some work (Amtrak offers Wifi throughout its trains), or indulge in the simple pleasures of meeting new people in the lounge car or the diner. Mystery author Agatha Christie had it right when she wrote, “Trains are wonderful. … To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers, in fact, to see life.”
That’s still true every day on Amtrak’s overnight trains.