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The USA Rail Pass on Amtrak

I wanted to write this up just a bit because I've been using the Rail Pass Amtrak offers for all my rides thus far. I think the Rail Pass is a great deal for exploring America. During the current times things are a bit different than normal. Last year I rode Amtrak from Jack London Square in Oakland to Austin Texas and then I went from Orlando Florida to New York. In New York I caught the northern route train to Chicago and then on to Seattle all in a sleeper. None of these rides were on a rail pass because I wished to ride in Sleeper cars. I had been wanting to do this for years and actually booked a trip back in 2010 or so across the US but due to work issues I had to cancel it all. So the dream kinda moved out. When I left Asia last year for a visit to the US, I decided it was time then to do the Amtrak coast to coast thing. If you have a chance, I really recommend riding across the US on some route. The California Zephyr has to be one of the most stunning rides but riding Coast Starlight is awesome too. The ocean scenery down the coast to Los Angeles was beautiful. I also loved the southern transit across the deserts to Austin.

I think it helps to see a map to plan the trips you want to do. The southern route is very cool but one dynamic to see are the regional hubs where so many routes enter and exit. One has to be Chicago and the other is New York. The routes in California are different. One regional hub is Oakland but the other is Emeryville and it all depends on where you wish to go.

I started this last time in Emeryville because my desire and dream was to ride on two routes I had never done before. The first one is the California Zephyr. The second route will be from Chicago to Albuquerque on the Southwest Chief. The original plan I had was to ride all the way back to Los Angeles but I decided to stop in Albuquerque and then go visit friends in Austin Texas. I guess I could have ridden to Los Angeles and flown to Texas but I often just change the plans more than I keep to the same itinerary when I start doing the booking. The other issue was the covid crisis in Texas.

I will have used 7 or 8 out of 10 segments on the Rail Pass. The way it works is you get 10 segments within 30 days and it starts counting when you book the first ticket on the Rail Pass. I had already booked a airbnb for a week in Albuquerque because I have not been back to New Mexico since I went to school there really and I want to visit Santa Fe to the north. There is a train that runs back and forth every day so I will do a day trip to Santa Fe and then come back. I also decided to visit historic Las Vegas New Mexico and stay in a wonderful old hotel I found for one night.

my recommendation

I don't think comfort is served on longer rides at all and the Rail Pass only works on coach seating. At this point food is not served in the dining car to coach passengers on the routes I have done but that may change in September when Amtrak opens more things up. I bought food and took with me the night before riding from Salt Lake City to Denver. You may want to do that. For longer rides, physical comfort is something too. I'm an old guy and will always opt for physical comfort so a sleeper on a ride over about 12 hours seems a good thing. If you are young or want the coach experience perhaps you can just go with coach seating. I changed my booking from Chicago to Albuquerque because the distance is 23 hours. That's a long time without a place to really rest or to have prepared food I think. It costs more but I value a few things with the sleeper cars. One is the pace of the travel. Sleeper cars are not shared between guests so I get the berth to myself. I can stretch out and basically have my own observation car window. The sleepers have power outlets easily found and the attendant will always help with needs. Food is included in the price as well. You can even take a shower! I did this last year on the long routes and the shower was surprisingly good. There is the rock and roll of the cars so the shower room has plenty of holds and they provide towels and soap and lots of hot water.

So I would do the rail pass IF you have time and are not a destination person and just want to explore the places and stop for days. I would really consider the California Zephyr route going east if you can do that. When you do get the Rail Pass, you can book the tickets on the mobile app or using the website. It is not very forthcoming how you do it but once you find where it shows your trips the site will offer to have you add more trips and then will send you PDF files for each segment. Remember the definition of a segment too. A segment is defined by Amtrak as,

A travel segment occurs any time you board and disembark one of our trains (or other scheduled services). If your trip involves making one connection, you will use two segments of your USA Rail Pass.

Source: Rail Pass Info

So if you want to explore and do it in smaller chunks or can take long coach rides, the rail pass for the person who wants the joy of going and not getting there is ideal. My daughter could never do it and perhaps for similar reasons others could not. She wants the comforts like wifi and space to spread out. A coach seat is nice but somewhat spatially confined. At this time also remember the federal face mask rules on Amtrak. One must wear face coverings and if not done, the train will disembark you. Amtrak is a federal system so federal rules apply. Besides, why someone would opt to argue over a face mask mandate puzzles and disappoints me. My Vietnamese friend V asked me,

Uncle Mike, why do they do that? Do they know how bad covid pandemic is?

I had no answer besides when I left Vietnam to promise V I would come back safe to her and wear a face mask.

I always feel I should state in whatever format whether here or Facebook or wherever to wear a face mask in public whether the law says its okay for fully vaccinated people to go without or not. Just be safe on the Amtrak is my final recommendation.

My main goal is to advocate for riding our national train system. It is an enjoyable, unique, and wonderful experience for those that like the experience of going.

Now I'll go out and enjoy Denver soon. Take care all.

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