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