Amtrak: What to Expect Post-Pandemic

Amtrak: What to Expect Post-Pandemic

Amtrak Train / Image courtesy of Wired.com
Amtrak Train / Image courtesy of Wired.com

I recently got back from traveling from Richmond to Austin by way of Chicago–all by train. The journey, though long, was very enjoyable for me, and I got to see some beautiful scenery and meet some cool people. I have always loved train travel, preferring it to flying.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of what made train travel so much fun. Hopefully these will be returning to their former glory in the near future, but for right now they are what they are. 

Here are 3 key differences you should be aware of:

Dining Options

One of the worst changes that’s affected Amtrak is the removal of sit-down dinners. 

For those who don’t known, prior to 2020, you would be seated down with other passengers on your train and served actual food on actual dishes. You would get to have real conversation with your fellow passengers (if you wanted) and meet some interesting people. 

Unfortunately, this past time I rode the train, the menu consisted solely of a la carte items. You’ll basically be paying $7 for a microwave hamburger. Okay in a pinch, but I can’t lie to you and say it’s necessarily good. Also, all these items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can add up quickly over a long train ride. I would recommend taking along some high-protein snacks to keep you going until you get to your destination. 

Also be aware that dining cars are closed from 10 pm to 6:30 am.

Observation Car

Amtrak observation car
Amtrak observation car

This one really hurts because I used to love the observation car! These are primarily on the Superliner cars that run west of Chicago (i.e. the Texas Eagle). The Viewliner cars that run east of Chicago (i.e. the Cardinal or Northeast Corridor) typically won’t have them. 

The observation car has floor to ceiling windows that allow you to take in all of your surroundings in stunning glory. You can also stretch your legs if you’re sick of sitting in your seat for hours at a stretch. 

Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of Amtrak routes are doing away with this beloved section of the train. I asked one conductor and he said that it was a matter of “not having enough personnel to man them.” I asked him if the service would be returning in the future, and he said “Maybe.”

Comfort Kits

Amtrak Comfort Kits
Amtrak Comfort Kits

Amtrak comfort packages include a blanket, eye mask, and ear plugs. Before getting on board the train I had researched them, and an article from a few years ago had said they were $7. Well of course everything’s getting more expensive so I figured they’d gone up to what, maybe $10?

Try $20

Granted, if you’re cold on a train (and the cars do get chilly), then you’ll most likely fork over the money for one. But I would just plan ahead and bring your own sweater and whatever other amenities you might need.

The Texas Eagle resting outside the Longview, Texas Amtrak station
The Texas Eagle resting outside the Longview, Texas Amtrak station

Conclusion

Despite all these setbacks, I still loved my train trip! I’m hoping that before long, the trains will be back to operating at their full potential.

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