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Amtrak & Via Rail Canada pros & cons

Amtrak, Via Rail - scenic routes

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Using Amtrak and Via Rail
Tips for booking and finding the best fares

Looking out of the entrance to Amtrak's Los Angeles Union Station toward the centre of downtown. The LA City Hall looms in the foreground. Trees on the right mark where Los Angeles was founded.

Above: Looking out of the entrance to Amtrak's Los Angeles Union Station.

Here you find hints for booking Amtrak and Via Rail trains in Canada and the U.S.

You'll also learn some low fare tips.

Nevertheless, in general, you should not think of American and Canadian trains as a way to save money. Often bus and budget airline fares are cheaper.

Instead, Amtrak and Via Rail Canada offer a great way to see lots of beautiful scenery in considerable comfort in a friendly and relaxing environment.

We will merely help you pay as little as possible.


The Amtrak California Rail Pass - a super deal!.

This may be the best transportation bargain in North America that does not merely exist for a moment until a few seats are sold out.

The pass includes seven full days of Amtrak travel within 21 days that can take you from San Diego at the Mexican border to the great redwood parks not far from Oregon.

For more information >>>

Amtrak & Via Rail Canada booking tips


Book early

With Amtrak and Via Rail Canada, your main concern is not the fare. It is actually booking a reservation especially on long-distance scenic routes..

You absolutely must book the most popular long-distance trains early if traveling during busy seasons.

As an example, just two Via Rail Canada trains operate just twice per between Toronto and Vancouver during winter and just three-times during the summer. Both Amtrak and Via Rail operate trains that book up weeks or months in advance during peak periods.

Amtrak and Via Rail do not have nearly enough equipment or funding to meet the demand.


Booking tips

Even if you plan to use a travel counsellor who is knowledgeable about rail travel, research your choices and alternatives before beginning the booking process.

Both Amtrak and Via Rail Canada provide helpful Internet sites.

For example, on the Amtrak site, you can download actual timetables that show you what you will see during the day and what you will miss at night.

In some cases, the direction you travel a route may make a big difference.

Also, consider what a three or hour hour delay will do to your scenery.

As an example, it's better to travel between Chicago and California westbound rather than eastbound on the California Zephyr, especially during the winter.

You'll find this type of information on our scenic routes page.

When planning your trip, do NOT book same day connections between long-distance trains. If you must, allow many hours—more than three or four—between trains.

The freight railroads on which Amtrak and Via Rail travel most of the time are just too congested to foster on-time travel.

However, you can book connections from long-distance trains to regional services, where there are lots of alternative connections if you miss yours.
For example, if you are are arriving in Los Angeles from Chicago in the morning, trains opperate to Santa Barbara into that evening.

Expect to travel by coach (economy chair) class, unless you are flush with cash.

Private room sleeping accommodation on both Via Rail and Amtrak is horrifyingly expensive, with the budget group sleeping options available in Europe not found in North America.

Via Rail, though, does offer less expensive "berth" ("uppers" and "lowers") sleeping accommodation on some trains.

Both Amtrak and Via Rail economy seats on long-distance trains are quite comfortable—similar to first class seats on some airlines before airlines added sleeper seats. You enjoy lots of legroom, in contrast to flying economy class.

On Via Rail, book the ones with leg rests. On Amtrak, all seats on long-distance trains in the western U.S. have leg rests.

You should plan to break journey on long trips in order to stay rested. Travelling from New York City to Los Angeles without stopping is not a good idea.

All trains have large windows, washrooms, and at least some snack service.

Most long-distance trains—all in the west—have full-service dining cars with regional specialties.

Amtrak also offers a vegan burger at lunch and usually one lacto-vegetarian choice at dinner.


Amtrak and Via Rail North American Rail Pass

Sadly discontinued.


Senior fares

Both the Amtrak and Via Rail offer discounts for seniors.


National passes for international visitors

Check if Amtrak and Via are currently offering nationwide passes. These come in various travel durations and number of allowed trains.

There are also usually reduced rate passes for people who live outside of Canada and the United States. Travel agencies that specialize in student travellers often have information about these, as well as Greyhound bus ones.

Stopovers—breaking journey

When not travelling on a pass, stopovers between the origin and destination of an Amtrak train usually cost extra. Check. There is no set rule on this and it may not impact your trip.

On the other hand, if you buy a ticket, let's say Birmingham Alabama to Los Angeles via a connection at New Orleans, you may find that you can break journey at New Orleans for more than one night at no extra fare. That's because the Birmingham to New Orleans service operates daily, but the direct service from there to Los Angeles operates just three times per week.

Take advantage of these situations.


A warning

Please be aware that Via Rail and especially Amtrak are political pawns.

Some U.S. politicians believe that rail services should be self-supporting, while airports, air traffic control, and highways are subsidized to the max. Canadian politicians do not say that. They merely neglect to avoid the funding necessary.

Politicians in both Canada and the U.S. usually travel by air. They often lack empathy for those of us who love train travel.

As a result, trains may be discontinued, but not without warning..

Go to >> Amtrak & Via Rail - Travelling the most scenic routes

Go to >> Amtrak & Via Rail - Changing trains in Chicago

Go to >> Home page for other useful travel tips.

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