Amtrak LogoEven though it’s now a month later, I wanted to write about my experiences as a first-time rider on Amtrak.

This has nothing to do with affiliate marketing (except I took the train to an affiliate conference) so if you’re looking for marketing tips, stop reading now.

Buffalo to Chicago – Lake Shore Limited #449

I took the Lake Shore Limited from Buffalo to Chicago for the ShareASale Think Tank. I originally chose the train because it was 1/3 of the cost of an airline ticket ($120 vs. $360+), but the day of the event, I realize taking the train had other benefits.

The first thing I did was go to the train station earlier in the week, to check things out. The parking lot was full, but there was nobody in the station. Apparently, leaving your car there is a common thing to do, so I changed my plans & drove myself.

The train was scheduled to arrive at the Buffalo (Depew) station at 11:59pm, and because this was my first trip, I wanted to be early (Amtrak recommends arriving ½ hour before your departure), so I arrived at 11:00. When I got there, the train was already ½ hour late.

Lesson 1: Call ahead.

BUF Amtrak train station, waiting for the Lake Shore Limited

A few minutes before the train arrived, the conductor came into the waiting area and punched our tickets (which were easily retrieved from the automatic ticket machine with my receipt) and gave us little slips of paper with our destination written on them.

When the train arrived, we lined up outside the train to board, and another Amtrak employee gave us seat assignments, which was different from what I’ve read online. While I’ve read you get on & pick a seat, we had to sit where they told us.

Boarding the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago

Once at my seat, I placed my luggage overhead (it’s like an airplane, only no doors) and took my seat.

Bags go overhead

The seat itself is 50% wider than an airplane seat, and not only reclines with a leg rest (like a lazy-boy) but the seat in front of you has a foot rest that comes down, too. Also (I realized this on the way home) when you recline back, the bottom cushion of the seat slides forward, reclining you even more.

Lots of leg room!

There are two outlets on the side of the car at each seat, which is great for charging as you go. However, sometimes the train shuts down when it stops, so if you’re using a DVD player that doesn’t have a battery, you may lose power.

My seat - roomy!

I took a Dramamine and fell asleep in about 20 minutes. It wasn’t a deep sleep, and I woke up every time we got to a station (Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Waterloo, Elkhart, and South Bend). Somewhere in Indiana I decided to try to find the snack car, and once I saw a few people come from the front doors with coffee, I figured it was up that way. I had a coffee (well, coffee-flavored water) and their breakfast sandwich, for about $6.

We pulled into Chicago’s Union Station about 25 minutes late, which isn’t bad at all considering some of the trains are hours late. Union Station is very different from Buffalo, as all of the trains are under ground.

Amtrak train at Chicago's Union Station

Chicago to Buffalo – Lake Shore Limited #448

I was dropped off at Union Station early, but didn’t have to at all. It’s not that there weren’t a lot of people on the train (it was packed, both ways) but because of the boarding order. Seniors and families with small children and military personnel board first, then the rest of us. Since I was going solo, I didn’t fight for a spot in line – I knew they’d have a seat for me.

As you walk down the platform, someone asks where you’re going, and tells you what car to get on. As you approach that car, they ask you how many are in your party (so you can sit together), and you’re assigned a seat number. Leaving Chicago at 9:30pm, this is important – here’s why:

They seat everyone who gets off at the same station together, so when you arrive at that station, you don’t wake anyone else up. Also, an Amtrak employee will come through the car and wake everyone who’s getting off at the next stop, so don’t worry about sleeping through your destination. Nice 🙂

I had a ton of kids around me, so 2 Dramamine later I was out cold. When I woke up, we were past Erie and only an hour or so out of Buffalo.

Things I Wish I Knew

Seating diagram – I had no idea what the train was like on the inside. I’ve seen tons of photos of happy passengers, but I wanted a seating diagram. Here’s what a Coach car is like:

It seats 59, and you’re all facing forward. There are two bathrooms at the rear of the car, and when you lock the door, an “occupied” sign lights up.

Doors at the front & rear of the car go to the other cars. As you’re boarding the train, take note of where the Cafe / Lounge / Snack car is, so you know where to go (or, watch others once you’re on the train).

Would I Do It Again?

Yes! Especially an overnight trip like this. I didn’t lose any time due to traveling, and I got a good rest going both ways (unlike the red-eye from the last ThinkTank, where I didn’t sleep at all). You really do just arrive ½ hour early (not 2-3 hours, like at an airport) and people are generally nice (there are a few whacko’s).

Many people flying into Chicago that day were delayed because of the weather, but the train keeps on going (except for floods, which lately have been hindering service).

It was very relaxing and, if I wasn’t drugged up, I could have gotten work done with my laptop & Sprint broadband card (no need to ever turn off electronics on a train!)

I think 12 hours is the most I’d want to be awake for – anything longer, or with long layovers, I’d stick with flying. Unfortunately, I booked my JetBlue flight to NY for Affiliate Summit this summer before my train ride, or else I’d probably do the train again. Hopefully soon I can take the family on a train trip!


7 Comments » for First Amtrak Ride
  1. Shannon says:

    I think the Dearborn, MI station is exactly like the Buffalo one. Must have used the same plans.
    My one recommendation is to upgrade to Business Class if you can, because it is quiet, you get a bit more room, and you get priority boarding at Union Station. Not such a big deal, because as you said everyone gets a seat, but there was a huge line to wait in. I would definitely take the train again too 🙂

    • Eric Nagel says:

      Yeah, I looked at Business Class, but for some reason it wasn’t offered on my train. And since our seats were assigned, there was no reason to get on the train first. Either sit at the station, or sit on the train at the station.

  2. imagine says:

    That’s great that you got to ride on Amtrak. I think that everyone should at least ride it once in their lifetime. A few years back I went from Cleveland to Pittsburgh and back to visit my brother and it is so much more relaxing than going on a bus or a plane ride with all of the security passes you have to go through. 🙂 I would ride it again also if the price was right & the the trip wasn’t too long.

  3. Holly says:

    Not sure if every train has sleeper cars, but if you wait until boarding you can you usually get one for $50-$100 extra depending on the time. Then, you have lots of room (option of bed or seats) The best part, it includes meals and a ‘butler’ that will bring you juice and water whenever you want.
    Great and informative blog, btw.

  4. Ken Savage says:

    12 hours?.? ouch. I can hardly stand a 3.5 hour train ride from Boston to NYC. Dont know how you did 12 hours. Does Dramamine really work? I’ve never been able to sleep on trains or flights. Nerves I guess.

    • Eric Nagel says:

      I slept most of the way, and was working (or playing on my phone) when not sleeping.

      When leaving Buffalo, I got a little queazy, so I poppped a Dramamine and felt fine a few minutes later. Placebo? Perhaps.

      Doing it again in about a month with my wife. Can’t wait!

  5. You note that a lesson learned is to call ahead. You can also check “train status” at amtrak.com. Just type in your train number and where you are departing from. Check this when you are about to leave for the station.

    Another tip: sit near the center of the car. You’ll be away from doors and not above the wheels. Much quieter!

    If there are any unsold sleepers after you get on the train, you can buy one at a reduced rate from the conductor. Sleepers are awesome, even for day travel because they convert to private sitting rooms by day. And you get free meals in the diner if you book a sleeper.

    Oh, while the cafe/lounge car is a good place to get a snack or drink (including alcoholic beverages), nothing beats a full meal in the diner with real china (OK, maybe its stoneware!). Not all trains have them, but the trains between Buffalo and Chicago do. Amtrak recently refurbished a 1950’s dining car to its art deco splendor, but with some modern kitchen features. The diner is what sets train travel apart from the uncivilized modes of travel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*