- Amtrak is spending $US28 ($AU39) million to upgrade long-distance trains and make journeys more enjoyable.
- Each class is set to see upgrades from coach to sleeper cars, as well as the dining car.
- Train travel is still slower than air travel, but the new upgrades make it more enticing.
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Amtrak has emerged as a popular mode of transportation during the coronavirus pandemic, especially as fares have been discounted to encourage ridership. Taking the train is still longer than flying, but there are new advantages to taking the slow route.
The rail company is investing $US28 ($AU39) million to upgrade Superliner and Viewliner trains in all classes of service on its longest routes.
Interior elements from coach seating to rooms are being upgraded over the next three years.
And in the dining car, traditional dining is being restored with white-tablecloth service and a new menu with classic favorites and new culinary delights.
I went onboard the first of more than 450 train cars being overhauled at an Amtrak event in June, and now I want to book a cross-country trip. See inside one of the newly updated trains.
Traveling across the country on Amtrak in coach can actually be quite cheap with new pandemic pricing. A ticket from New York to Seattle via Chicago can be less than $US200 ($AU277) one-way.
Coach is aligned in a 2-2 configuration that most Northeast Regional riders will recognize.
The tired blue cloth seats of Amtrak’s past are being replaced with sleek leatherette cushioning for a more modern and clean look.
One of the perks of riding the trains instead of flying is all the extra legroom in coach, about 50 inches’ worth, plus a footrest.
And while there are no middle seats, single riders face the prospect of having a seatmate.
Amtrak’s coach seats do, however, have a rather large width, so it’s not as if passengers will be shoulder to shoulder in most cases, as is normal on airplanes.
Two power outlets are available at each seat to charge devices, whether they be laptops, tablets, or phones.
Amtrak also offers complimentary WiFi that could help passengers stay connected in the more remote parts of the country, with tray tables allowing for laptop use.
The new coach seats also offer a greater recline, as well as a leg rest, and the combined width of the seats is almost the size of a twin bed.
Riders just have to bring their own pillows and blankets.
But riding in coach doesn’t come with the added perks of the sleeping car. Two types of rooms are offered on long-distance trains: rooms and roomettes, both with capacity for two adults.
The smaller roomette is ideal for budget-minded travelers and still comes with many of the comforts of a room.
Two berths are available that come with new bedding as part of the overall train upgrades.
And occupants sit across from each other in an intimate setting.
It doesn’t, however, come with a private shower or restroom. Passengers in the car share a communal restroom and shower.
Rooms contain the larger bedrooms and are the most expensive cabins on the train.
There’s much more space and a large couch with the new cushioning, as well as an armchair.
Two connected rooms can be purchased and made into a bedroom suite with room for four people.
Each bedroom has a shower and restroom for additional privacy.
The new upgrades in the shower include dispensers for the soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Amtrak says getting rid of single-use bottles will help cut down on waste and lower its environmental footprint.
A new lotion dispenser is also installed at the sink in each room.
New towels are part of the upgrades as well.
Sleeper-car customers on long-distance routes have access to the dining car and the newly restored traditional dining service that Amtrak just recently brought back.
Guests are seated at tables adorned with white tablecloths and Amtrak-branded plates, soon to be replaced with china. Riders can choose communal dining — how Cary Grant’s and Eva Marie Saint’s characters met in “North by Northwest” — or individual dining.
A new menu is on offer for each meal as part of traditional dining’s comeback.
Breakfast includes such items as French toast and three-egg omelets to start the day.
Lunch then includes simple items like grilled-cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and salads, as well as a dessert.
Dinner caps off the night with an extravagant three-course affair featuring an appetizer, entree, and dessert, as well as a complimentary alcoholic beverage.
Appetizers include lobster crab cakes and tamales followed by items like steak and salmon for the entree.
Desserts include Philadelphia cheesecakes, flourless chocolate tortes, and carrot cakes.
Sleeper-car customers can take their meals in their rooms. It’s a more intimate setting in the roomette, but the tables are quite small.
When it’s time to sleep, an attendant can make up the two berths. This is usually done while the riders are having dinner.
So while the price of a sleeper car might seem high, passengers should keep in mind that it includes all the meals for the duration of the trip.
Tips for the staff aren’t, however, included and riders should bring something with which to thank the attendants, waiters, and other Amtrak employees.
The other social area on the train is inside the Sightseer Car.
Huge windows allow for near panoramic views of nature from the comfort of a rail car.
The train could be passing through the Great Plains one day and the Rocky Mountains on the next.
Coach and sleeper-car customers have access to this shared space with seating offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
These seats have similarly been updated with new cushioning.
Coach passengers can purchase meals in the café section below and take their meals on the observation level.
All in all, I walked off with a burning desire to book a train trip.