First Time Amtrak Rider

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Old Jul 6, 18, 8:29 am
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First Time Amtrak Rider

I am thinking about doing the empire builder run on Amtrak, and have traveled by train before but not Amtrak. What should I expect? At stops can you get off and look around or is it basically board in Chicago and depart in Portland and you take in the views as you go?

Mainly looking for thoughts from regular Amtrak riders or ones who have taken the empire builder or other long run train rides?
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Old Jul 6, 18, 8:42 am
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There are periodic "smoke stops" where you can get off for 20-40 minutes and stretch your legs, but you're probably going to want to stay within sight of the train at all times just in case.
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Old Jul 6, 18, 8:46 am
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ambyr is right. I take the Crescent every now and then, and you can get off at a few stops where the locomotives are changed/refueled or the like. I usually don't get too far away from the train, though, in case it leaves early.

Get a sleeping car; they're pretty comfortable.
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Old Jul 6, 18, 5:07 pm
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The view is from the train, not the stations. There are longer stops approximately every 6 hours where you can get off for some walking on the platform and fresh air.

Going the full distance I would definitely go for the roomette for comfort. The advantages of Amtrak coach over airline coach diminish greatly after 10 hours or so.
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Old Jul 6, 18, 7:17 pm
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Look at the schedule for arrival & departure times. If they aren't different it's a grab-and-go stop.
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Old Jul 7, 18, 12:15 pm
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I'm a frequent traveler on the Western trains, actually riding the Builder tomorrow Seattle to Chicago. If you're intent on doing the westbound trip, scheduling it during the summer months when days are longest will ensure maximum scenic intake. You will be traveling along the Mississippi and Glacier Park boundaries on days 1 and 2, respectively, both in the early evening hours. If you can do the eastbound trip, all the better as you will get the GP and Mississippi running in full daylight.

I'd say the top scenic highlights are the Columbia River Gorge (PDX)///Cascade Mountain crossing (SEA), alpine Montana (Whitefish//Glacier Park), and the running along the Mississippi shoreline for quite a ways. I find the Great Plains mesmerizing, but that's probably because I live in frenetic LA.

As Ambyr points out, you will get fresh air breaks that vary in length depending on train servicing and trip delays. Barring IRROPS, they will only last long enough to stay trainside. Do NOT walk over to the bars in Havre or Shelby, close as they may seem. I have seen multiple people left behind, including one who was running along the side of the train as it pulled away. Another paid a bar patron 100 bucks to speed him up to the next stop, only to arrive as the train was pulling out. I never want to be in that position as my train pulls away with all my stuff as I'm now overnighting in a small, rural unfamiliar town. Always wondered what those folks did...

It is a neat trip. If you have any questions about the Empire Builder or just about any other Amtrak long distance train, reach out anytime as I'll probably have some answers for you. The Moderator here -- AlanB -- is far and away the best resource for all questions Amtrak, so he is another resource and generously shares his expertise here. Trainorders.com and Amtrak Unlimited are two sites to bookmark to enhance your Amtrak travels. Book it and have a blast!
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Old Jul 8, 18, 6:17 am
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Originally Posted by vincentharris View Post
I am thinking about doing the empire builder run on Amtrak, and have traveled by train before but not Amtrak. What should I expect? At stops can you get off and look around or is it basically board in Chicago and depart in Portland and you take in the views as you go?

Mainly looking for thoughts from regular Amtrak riders or ones who have taken the empire builder or other long run train rides?
FINALLY doing this trip myself in September (Seattle-Chicago) after about 10 years of talking about it (talked about it so much 5 friends have done it!!!!!)

Have paid the extra for a roomette and can't wait to ride the American rails!
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Old Jul 8, 18, 7:36 pm
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The Roomettes on the Empire Builder do not have much luggage storage space, but there is a luggage rack on the lower level of the car. Plan on having just a small bag in your Roomette, and leaving any big suitcases on the luggage rack. I and other travelers often take stuff in and out of luggage using the floor space near the luggage rack.
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Old Jul 9, 18, 2:47 pm
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Originally Posted by ColdRain&Snow View Post
Do NOT walk over to the bars in Havre or Shelby, close as they may seem. I have seen multiple people left behind, including one who was running along the side of the train as it pulled away. Another paid a bar patron 100 bucks to speed him up to the next stop, only to arrive as the train was pulling out. I never want to be in that position as my train pulls away with all my stuff as I'm now overnighting in a small, rural unfamiliar town.
I had no idea people did this. Presumably, it was for the roadhouse experience rather than for cheaper prices compared to the onboard lounge. :-O

As a suggestion, if you have a roomette or bedroom, you may bring your own private stash of booze. There are plenty of places in Chicago near Union Station to stock up. I keep my stock of wine locked in my luggage downstairs and replenish as needed. The sleeping car attendant will provide ice and a reasonably sturdy paper ice bucket. I do not recommend Amtrak wine.
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Old Jul 10, 18, 2:29 pm
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There may be stops where the train may stay put for a period, and they'll let you know, but don't venture too far. In Washington, for example, trains have to take a break to swap to and from the electric locomotive, so folks can stretch their legs in and around the station.
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Old Jul 26, 18, 7:30 am
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I almost missed this thread - please make subject/titles descriptive folks.

Anyways, we are thinking of taking this trip from either Portland or Seattle. Any good or bad using one city vs the other?
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Old Jul 26, 18, 4:41 pm
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Originally Posted by NoStressHere View Post
I almost missed this thread - please make subject/titles descriptive folks.

Anyways, we are thinking of taking this trip from either Portland or Seattle. Any good or bad using one city vs the other?
Feel free to report the thread to a moderator to adjust the title. Unfortunately, since our good friend AlanB passed away earlier this month, the Amtrak forum is lacking a moderator and reports are being handled by the Senior Moderator team, but I believe they act only on reports and doubt any of them regularly read the Amtrak forum.

Regarding your question, both are beautiful trips and both worth doing, although very different. The Columbia Gorge scenery is mostly (except for the stretches closest to PDX) very dry but with dramatic cliffs and river views for the first few hours. By the time you leave the river, it'll be dark. The Seattle portion crosses the Cascades through very scenic mountain passes with exciting tunnels before heading into the drier Eastern Washington rolling hills, though again, it'll get dark before you're too far along through that. Hard to pick which one is better.
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Old Dec 7, 18, 12:23 am
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Originally Posted by Exiled in Express View Post
The view is from the train, not the stations. There are longer stops approximately every 6 hours where you can get off for some walking on the platform and fresh air.

Going the full distance I would definitely go for the roomette for comfort. The advantages of Amtrak coach over airline coach diminish greatly after 10 hours or so.
+1 Stations are generally not too scenic - they stop long enough to take off the garbage and load more food... you can buy something in the station but I certainly wouldn't risk venturing much beyond

Personally I recommend the bedroom if you have 2 or more people - plenty of room to keep all of your luggage with you and some have a private bathroom though it's pretty small. Roomette would be fine for solo travelers

Originally Posted by ColdRain&Snow View Post
I'm a frequent traveler on the Western trains, actually riding the Builder tomorrow Seattle to Chicago. If you're intent on doing the westbound trip, scheduling it during the summer months when days are longest will ensure maximum scenic intake. You will be traveling along the Mississippi and Glacier Park boundaries on days 1 and 2, respectively, both in the early evening hours. If you can do the eastbound trip, all the better as you will get the GP and Mississippi running in full daylight.

I'd say the top scenic highlights are the Columbia River Gorge (PDX)///Cascade Mountain crossing (SEA), alpine Montana (Whitefish//Glacier Park), and the running along the Mississippi shoreline for quite a ways.
+1 - the view departing Seattle was interesting...Glacier Park was amazing (though you'll miss it if you sleep in heading eastbound) and the trip through Minnesota is good. The best part heading east is that you sleep through the most boring parts of Eastern Washington and North Dakota oil country.

Personally I felt 2 nights was a bit too long for me as I didn't sleep great with all the bouncing/noise and the menu gets old after a day. So if I do it again I will probably exit at Whitefish and enjoy the park.
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