Planning an Amtrak Trip

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I enjoy planning my trips almost as much as I enjoy travel. This one has been in the “research” stage for a long time. It has been on my bucket list since I was 15 years old. I am excited to get started.

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Planning and Research Hit a Roadblock

After many months of planning and research, my daughter Tiffany, my father’s sister Gwen, and I have made reservations to ride the Amtrak train the City of New Orleans from Memphis to Chicago. We leave Memphis on February 25, 2023, at 10:40 PM and arrive in Chicago at 9:15 AM on the 26th. Then we board the Empire Builder a few hours later at 3:05 PM headed for Seattle, Washington. We arrive in Seattle on the 28th at 11:30 AM. 

We had everything scheduled including hotels and a tour, for us to leave on February 21st but Amtrak canceled our trip. That was a heart-breaking call to get. We were all so excited to leave. I have been packed for a week. They didn’t give us a reason why they canceled. I found a Winter Storm Warning across Montana, calling for a foot of snow for Tuesday and Wednesday night with the storm continuing until Thursday. The reason I wanted to go on the Empire Builder is that I wanted to see DEEP snow but I don’t want to be trapped sitting on a train in a blizzard. 

Only God can make it snow so I believe He was just protecting us from being trapped on the train in all that snow. 

Gwen told us that Oregon had rain forest. I had to Google that one. How in the world is there a rainforest in a place that gets so much snow? Well, there is. It seems Washington has a couple of rainforests too. We planned a tour of Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls Tour from Portland. With all the date changes we are not sure what we will do yet. We left all the plans open after our one night in Seattle. We are planning to wait to see how the weather is before we decide how long to stay or what to do.

In our previous travel plans, we were going to ride the train from Memphis to Chicago to Seattle. We had a hotel room reserved and we planned to tour around Seattle, visiting the Pike Place Public Market, maybe a boat tour, and a trip to Chinatown. We planned to spend the night in Seattle and get up at the crack of dawn to ride the train to Portland, Oregon.

The City of New Orleans Coach Car

With all the reservation changes it only ended up costing us an extra $20.52. We were riding coach from Memphis to Chicago and my ticket was on the lower level and Gwen and Tiffany were on the upper level. We really didn’t like being separated. Now our tickets are all three upper level. The coach seats are not assigned but my ticket said lower level specifically. I have read blogs that say if the train isn’t full, they will let you change cars. I do plan to ask.


The lower level is supposed to have more noise from the tracks and people boarding. The seating area is supposed to be larger, and they are closer to the bathrooms. The upper levels may be quieter but there isn’t a bathroom up there.

Empire Builder Roomettes

We purchased three roomettes on the Empire Builder. None of us are tiny ladies and I was afraid I would not be able to climb up on the top bunk. Tiffany just isn’t limber enough to handle it either. Previously my room was #12 and Tiffany’s was #11 on the lower level. Gwen was way down at the end of the hall on the upper level in room #9. This wasn’t the best arrangement, but we were happy to be in the same train car. We worried about the view on the lower level but in most of the videos I have seen the view looks great no matter where you are.  

Superliner Transition Sleeper Cars

Our new reservations have us booked in the Superliner Transition Sleeper car. I am in room #23, Tiffany is in room #24, and Gwen is in room #22. I am right next door to the bathroom (a very important point for me!) We are all three right together on the upper level and we will have views of both sides of the train.

I had trouble finding those room numbers in the normal car layouts, so I started researching what this car was all about, of course. As it turns out, this car has a passenger roomette and it is also the sleeper room for the crew. It is called a Transition Sleeper because one end of the car has an exit door on the lower level and the other end has an exit door on the upper level. This allows for the train to connect single-level cars to two-level cars. This car is usually always very close to the front of the train.

The Empire Builder splits in half at Spokane, Washington. The end of the train goes to Portland, Oregon while the front continues to Seattle.

This is from Empire Builder – Wikipedia

A typical Empire Builder consist is configured as follows (with the assigned section west of Spokane shown in parentheses):

  • Two or three GE Genesis or Siemens Charger ALC-42 locomotives
  • Viewliner baggage car (Seattle)
  • Transitional Crew Sleeper (Seattle)
  • Sleeper (Seattle)
  • Sleeper (Seattle)
  • Diner (Seattle)
  • Coach (Seattle)
  • Coach (Seattle)
  • Sightseer Lounge/Café (Portland)
  • Coach/Baggage (Portland)
  • Coach (Portland)
  • Sleeper (Portland)
  • Coach (Chicago–St. Paul)

Now I am wondering if the experience will be better or worse being in the crew car. Some say we will have to go to the next car to get coffee or water. Other say the service is better because the crew is always coming and going. Since our rooms are right by the stairs that could be an issue. Several people said the sound of the horn was annoying. There were comments about meeting the conductors, which I think will be cool. We will have to walk through two cars to get to the Diner car and 5 cars to get to the Sightseer Lounge. All of us are looking forward to sitting in the panoramic views car so I hope the long walk isn’t an issue. I guess we will soon find out.

So, now we have to wait another four days. I could have boarded that train in just minutes but here I sit typing away. Waiting is always hard when you are excited. I trust Jesus and whatever He has planned for my life, so I am trying hard not to be too disappointed. The days can’t pass fast enough. I am ready to board this train.

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