Category Archives: News

CP commits to support Amtrak service expansions in two U.S. regions

From an Amtrak press release:

WASHINGTON, D.C., and ​CALGARY, Alberta – Amtrak and Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (CP) (TSX: CP) (NYSE: CP) today announced an agreement with Amtrak supporting the proposed combination of CP and Kansas City Southern (KCS) railways.

“CP has been an excellent host of Amtrak intercity passenger service year after year and has established itself as a leader in the railroad industry,” said Stephen J. Gardner, Amtrak President. “We welcome CP’s commitment to our efforts with states and others to expand Amtrak service and are pleased to have reached an agreement formalizing CP’s support of Amtrak expansion in the Midwest and the South.

“Given CP’s consistent record as an Amtrak host, we support CP’s proposal to expand its network,” Gardner added. “This is exactly what Congress and the Administration are seeking: Amtrak and the freight railroads working together to benefit freight customers, Amtrak passengers, our state/regional partners and the general public.”

“We are proud of the success we have achieved as a host railroad providing industry-leading service to Amtrak on our lines,” said Keith Creel, CP President and Chief Executive Officer. “We thank Amtrak for its support of our historic combination, which will have no adverse effects on intercity passenger service. CP is pleased to continue to support Amtrak and its infrastructure projects to provide capacity needed to accommodate additional service.”

CP has consistently received an A rating from Amtrak in its annual host railroad report card, recognizing its industry-leading on-time performance record. CP is also the first Class I railroad to complete 100 percent certification of its Amtrak schedules to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB).

CP has committed to maintaining its industry-leading role as a host railroad and to cooperating with Amtrak to implement its long-term strategic vision to bring new and expanded intercity passenger rail service to more North Americans, including:

  • Increased frequency on the Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.
  • Extending Hiawatha Service from Milwaukee to St. Paul, Minn., to create a second round-trip on the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago corridor.
  • Passenger service through the Detroit River Tunnel between Michigan and Ontario to Windsor and Toronto (with connections to VIA Rail Canada).

Subject to CP’s application for control of KCS being approved by the STB, the agreement also includes CP’s commitment to support Amtrak efforts to work with the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) and others for the first service in more than 50 years on two U.S. routes:

  • Establish Amtrak service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.
  • Study the potential for Amtrak service between Meridian, Miss., and Dallas.

“We appreciate Amtrak’s efforts to provide additional intercity passenger rail service that will benefit the people and economies of both Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher. “Once complete, the second daily round trip between Saint Paul and Chicago is expected to improve existing infrastructure and provide increased choice for residents traveling between some of our major cities – with stops in towns and cities of all sizes along the way.”

“WisDOT looks forward to continue working with Minnesota DOT, Illinois DOT, Amtrak, CP, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to implement planned additional daily passenger trains on the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago and Milwaukee-Chicago Amtrak Hiawatha Service routes,” said Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Secretary Craig Thompson. “The agreement between Amtrak and CP facilitates the realization of the full benefits of WisDOT’s FRA grants for the Twin Cities-Milwaukee Chicago Intercity Passenger Rail Project and the Muskego Yard Freight Bypass of Milwaukee Intermodal Station Project. Amtrak and CP continue to be strong partners in our efforts to achieve improved transportation options for rural and urban areas across Wisconsin.”

“We appreciate the work Amtrak is doing to unite more of the south with passenger trains, from Mobile to New Orleans to Baton Rouge and now opening the door in this agreement to directly connect Mississippi and Louisiana with Texas on the I-20 Corridor,” said SRC Chairman Knox Ross of Mississippi. “The SRC continues to be impressed by CP welcoming the start of new Amtrak service west of New Orleans to Baton Rouge, while other railroads have fought new Amtrak service.”

Amtrak and CP will file their agreement as part of the docket in the CP-KCS proceeding at the STB.

Amtrak increasing train speeds between Kalamazoo and Albion

Fast facts:
– Effective May 25, the maximum speed of Amtrak Midwest trains will increase to 110 mph between east of Kalamazoo and west of Albion on 45 miles of MDOT-owned track. 
– Key infrastructure improvements and accelerated speeds will improve the safety and on-time performance of Amtrak Wolverine and Blue Water trains.
– An additional Pontiac/Detroit-Chicago Wolverine round trip returns on July 19. 

Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) have received federal approval to increase maximum speeds of Amtrak Midwest trains to 110 mph on certain sections of track between Amtrak stations in Kalamazoo and Albion. Effective May 25, the accelerated speeds come following key infrastructure improvements and successful testing of the positive train control safety system on 45 miles of MDOT-owned track. Also, an additional Pontiac/Detroit-Chicago Wolverine Service round trip returns on July 19 and will see its on-time performance improve thanks to higher speeds allowing trains to recover from potential delays elsewhere on the route.

“Michigan will have the first state-owned rail corridor with passenger trains travelling up to 110 mph,” State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba said. “I am proud of the partnership and hard work among MDOT, Amtrak, and its contractors to modernize this vital rail corridor. Passengers will truly benefit from the safety and reliability this important work has provided.”

his marks another phase of MDOT and Amtrak-led safety improvements leading to accelerated speed increases on the Detroit/Pontiac-Chicago corridor. The first phases led to speeds increasing to a maximum of 110 mph on Amtrak-owned track between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo. Further incremental speed increases will occur between Albion and Dearborn over the next several years, after more infrastructure improvements and testing that will ultimately result in shorter schedules for the full 304-mile route.

Faster speeds will improve the reliability of the Amtrak Wolverine Service with daily round trips between Pontiac and Chicago via Detroit and Ann Arbor, and the Amtrak Blue Water trains with one daily round trip between Port Huron and Chicago via East Lansing. The Wolverine has been operating with one daily round trip after two other frequencies were temporarily suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the second Wolverine returns on July 19, eastbound trains 350 and 354 will depart Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively. Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively. All times are local.

Business Class and café service are available on all MDOT-sponsored Amtrak services, including the Blue Water (trains 364 and 365) and the Pere Marquette (trains 370 and 371) daily between Grand Rapids and Chicago. Those service levels are unchanged.

As travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan, Amtrak and MDOT will examine restoring the third Wolverine round trip (trains 352 and 353). The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has launched the Michigan Vacc to Normal Tracker. This tracker includes vaccinations of Michiganders received both in-state and out-of-state, allowing the state to provide more comprehensive data on vaccination milestones as they are reached.

Reservations are required for Amtrak trains on Michigan routes. Holders of 10-ride discounted multi-ride tickets can quickly satisfy this requirement by confirming their travel on their choice of trains using Amtrak RideReserveSM. Ticketing is now available on, Amtrak’s mobile apps or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.

“This expansion of 110 mph service is a major milestone in developing one of the high-performance ‘spokes’ of our Amtrak Midwest hub, centered in Chicago,” said Joe Shacter, Amtrak senior manager for these state-sponsored corridors. “Our 50th anniversary year at Amtrak also is the 47th year of our Michigan partnership, and the prospects for further service improvements in the Great Lakes State have never been greater.”

Motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists always should use caution when in proximity to this important rail corridor. Trains can appear to be quieter and not as fast as they actually are as they approach. Only use designated public crossings with signs, flashing red lights, or a gate. Never disregard flashing crossing signals, go around lowered gates or trespass on railroad property. If there is a problem or emergency on or near railroad tracks, the railroad can be contacted immediately by calling the telephone number on the blue emergency notification sign (ENS) located at every crossing.

To ensure safety along portions of the corridor, special equipment monitors the functionality of crossing lights and gates, alerting the train crews of any potential problems. Fencing also has been installed in select areas to prevent trespassing.

Accelerated speeds are just one part of the ongoing passenger rail improvements in Michigan that have included new stations, new locomotives, track enhancements, new grade crossings, and other safety upgrades. Starting later this year, new passenger railcars will be deployed on all Amtrak Michigan trains and other Amtrak Midwest corridors.

Comments on Michigan Mobility 2045 State Long Range Transportation Plan

Comments on Michigan Mobility 2045
State Long Range Transportation Plan

submitted by

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP)

John Guidinger, Chair
February 4, 2021

The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the Michigan Mobility 2045 State Long Range Transportation Plan.

Our comments follow the order of the subjects addressed in Item 4 in the agenda for our meeting and interview on this date. They are limited to passenger intercity rail, commuter rail, and Thruway bus matters. We are not addressing the currently severe effect of the virus pandemic on rail passenger service, because we believe this issue will be resolved soon.


MARP wants to see a system of intercity trains that are modern, fast, reliable, and operate on frequent, regular-interval schedules to meet the travel needs of all passengers. On the corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac departures should be hourly or bi-hourly. The trains should connect all significant population centers in Michigan with other population centers in Michigan and centers throughout the United States and Canada. The system must be closely integrated with other means of public passenger travel to allow seamless transfer from one mode to the other and to promote travel into Michigan. We believe that the reduced dependency on road travel will bring enormous economic benefit to Michigan through the rejuvenation of the downtown areas of our cities, increased tourism, expansion of rail-oriented industry, and a less hectic lifestyle. These important societal advantages will accrue over road travel even when travel times are similar. Other advantages include reducing conflicts with urban and rural land uses, improving human mobility and convenience, reducing road congestion, decreasing the need for costly road expansion, increasing travel safety, conserving energy resources, reduction of impacts to air and water resources, and improving space utilization. We believe Michigan is in a unique position to optimize the return on assets from its ownership and previous investments in rail service, both passenger and freight.


Track and Right-of Way

  1. Continue the development of the Michigan Line Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program as defined by MDOT. This is essential to develop a reliable, high-speed corridor for rail passengers traveling between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac and on routes connecting to and from the corridor. We cannot over emphasize the importance of this program.


  1. Make critically needed improvements in two specific problem areas in Michigan in order to prevent delays for passengers traveling on the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridor.
    1. Separate passenger trains and freight trains on the 1.8 mile section of Canadian National railroad at Battle Creek.
    2. Work with host railroads Canadian National and Conrail Shared Assets to reduce freight train interference between Dearborn and Pontiac. Improving fluidity of train movements will benefit both passenger and freight.
  2. Continue to work with Indiana and Illinois, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, and USDOT to develop the federally designated high-speed corridor between the Michigan border and Chicago. Congestion in this area results in continual, lengthy delays for Michigan passengers. Removing this congestion will not only help rail passengers, but will also help speed rail freight movements and potentially draw trucks and autos off roads.
  3. Install a track connection northeast of New Buffalo to allow trains to/from Grand Rapids access to the high speed corridor and allow these trains to serve New Buffalo.
  4. Continue the ongoing program to separate or protect road/rail grade crossings. This is an important safety issue, especially as passenger train speeds increase. Grade crossings should be closed, grade separated, or protected by devices such as four quadrant gates, skirting/center line barriers, pedestrian barriers, and advanced warning devices.
  5. Fencing and cautioning signage should be installed in appropriate areas to prohibit crossing between station tracks, and reduce trespassing near stations, in yards, and on portions of the right-of-way deemed prone to trespassing.


  1. Continue to improve, rebuild, or replace passenger stations in order to improve the total passenger experience, consistent with the preservation and adaptive reuse of the remaining historic depot buildings. Provide multimodal facilities that support the complete end-to end journey, including suitable waiting rooms, restrooms, platforms, parking, lighting, multilingual signage, handicapped accessibility, emerging mobility access, and micromobility solutions.
  2. Initiate a program to install level boarding facilities, consistent with FRA and ADA standards, at the busiest stations to enhance the comfort and safety of all passengers as well as help keep trains on time.

Schedules and Frequency

  1. Establish train schedules to provide departures on the corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac once every hour during prime hours and approximately once every two hours at other travel times.
  2. Ensure that every possible effort is made to adhere to scheduled times of arrival and departure. This is critical to attracting and retaining passengers, particularly business travelers.
  3. Develop the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridor to at least 5-6 round trips before initiating any new routes in Michigan. Once the corridor is running well with large numbers of passengers, support for new routes will be strong.
  4. Schedule at least one train to arrive in Detroit before 11 AM and one train to depart from Detroit after 8 PM. This will require either an overnight train, or trains leaving/arriving at Chicago at inopportune hours, or trains that originate and terminate in Niles, Kalamazoo, or (via Kalamazoo) in Grand Rapids.
  5. Develop train schedules that facilitate connections with other trains, intercity buses, and local transit for maximum passenger convenience.


  1. Provide modern, well maintained coaches and improved on-board food service to make for a comfortable travel experience for the passenger. There should be a business class seating option. Provisions must be made for regular maintenance and mid-life upgrades for the new coaches coming online today, as well as planning for replacement of this equipment about 2045.
  2. Provide fast, safe, and reliable Diesel locomotives that meet or exceed evolving emissions standards. Evaluate the use of electrification of the Michigan corridor or the use of emerging power systems, such as hydrogen powered locomotives and multiple units. Provisions must be made for regular maintenance and mid-life upgrades for the new locomotives coming online today, as well as planning for the replacement of this equipment about 2045.

New Services

  1. Initiate through trains between Southeast Michigan and Windsor and between Port Huron and Sarnia to allow convenient and efficient travel between Canada and the U.S.
  2. Initiate Thruway bus services, such as those proposed by MARP between Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, and Windsor, to provide corridor train connections for Amtrak and Via trains terminating in Detroit and Windsor.
  3. Add service between Chicago and Grand Rapids on a route that operates on the corridor via Kalamazoo.
  4. Add service to the Blue Water route. Terminate at least one new train on this route in Bay City instead of Port Huron.
  5. Complete the required environmental and engineering studies and implement new service connecting Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids/Holland/Muskegon. Extend this route to Toledo to provide vitally important connections to the rest of the Amtrak system.
  6. Complete studies of the proposed excursion service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City/Petoskey and implement service. Consider the use of a private operator similar to

the operation of the Grand Canyon Railroad in Arizona and the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad in Colorado and New Mexico.

  1. Implement the long sought commuter rail service in Southeast Michigan, including service in the Detroit area, service to Detroit Metro Airport, and service on the Ann Arbor-Howell-Brighton route. MDOT should take the lead in implementing this service by working with all parties involved. In the Detroit area, trains may serve both the existing Amtrak Station and the former Michigan Central Station (MCS), which is currently under restoration by the Ford Motor Company. We strongly encourage study of the idea advanced by Ford that MCS become a multimodal center, an interchange point with rail, bus, streetcar and micro-mobility services and thus a catalyst for rejuvenation of the entire area around MCS.

Northern Michigan

  1. Continue state support for Thruway bus service to points in Northern Michigan and across the Upper Peninsula that make connections to transportation networks in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This will serve the mobility needs of underserved populations in rural areas of the state.


MARP would like to see Final MM 2045 Plan contain:

  1. Specific goals for expanding existing or initiating new intercity and commuter rail service by 2045. These goals should include completion of all improvement and expansion projects already underway or in the planning process. The goals should also include the new projects listed above or other projects identified by MDOT.
  2. A basic timeline for implementing these projects. The timeline must be based on reasonable assumptions. Regular progress reports should be made to the public.
  3. A list of governmental funding sources to provide funding for these projects. The plan should assume that funding will be provided over the years from existing Federal, State, and local sources. In addition, careful study is needed to identify funding opportunities from existing programs that may not be normally associated with rail transportation and from anticipated future, and as yet undefined, governmental sources.
  4. An assessment of the potential for private funding. Corporate funding providers should be especially attracted to the development of real estate and station facilities as shown by the very successful private development of the new station at New Buffalo, as well as by the interest of Ford Motor Company in developing Michigan Central Station, and by the reported profitability of Amtrak’s Real Estate Division. The potential for other private funding should be explored in areas such as joint operations with private bus operators, providing food services, advertising in stations and in Amtrak printed materials, and in the sale of naming rights. Once the expansion of passenger services causes ridership to increase into the millions, private interest in funding other aspects of rail operations should come willingly, and relieve passenger operators from complete reliance on government funding.

Assistance to the Mission of MARP

  1. Establish an advisory committee within the MDOT Office of Rail. MARP, who represents rail passengers in Michigan, will be happy to participate without compensation. Other members of the committee could represent rail unions, freight interests, shippers, transit, urban planners, equipment suppliers, Thruway bus operators, etc. The committee should meet once or twice a year and make recommendations to MDOT on a variety of rail matters. Face to face meetings such as this should promote understanding between all parties and help MDOT assess the effectiveness of rail office programs.
  2. Keep the public informed of MDOT Office of Rail actions. For example, the Michigan Line Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program is a major, multi-year project involving hundreds of millions of dollars, and over a hundred miles of railroad. We commonly see Amtrak trucks, equipment, and workers working on the railroad, and we note the large construction office in Jackson. But we see no public statements about the goals of the project or its progress. Attempted conversations with workers indicate that they are not allowed to talk to the “press.” We think MDOT and Amtrak should be proud of their work on this important project. We do not understand why statements from management cannot be given out on a regular basis as to the goals, progress to date, and anticipated future work. MARP suspects that there are other similar projects where at least simple press releases could be issued periodically.

Again, we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to provide our comments and suggestions for the MM 2045 Transportation Plan. Thank you

Grand Rapids-Chicago Amtrak Pere Marquette trains return June 29-30, 2020

Beginning June 29 and 30, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation are restoring the daily Pere Marquette round-trip trains between Grand Rapids and Chicago in response to anticipated demand. This Amtrak MidwestSM service was temporarily suspended on March 21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The train will originate in Chicago on June 29 and both Trains 370 & 371 will operate starting June 30. Train 370 departs Chicago at 6:30 p.m., St. Joseph/Benton Harbor at 9:14 p.m., Bangor at 9:50 p.m., Holland at 10:33 p.m. and arrives in Grand Rapids at 11:34 p.m. Train 371 departs Grand Rapids daily at 6:00 a.m., Holland at 6:49 a.m., Bangor at 7:32 a.m., St. Joseph/Benton Harbor at 8:10 a.m., arriving in Chicago at 9:08 a.m. All times Eastern, except Chicago, which is in the Central Time Zone. Business Class and café service will also be available.

Amtrak continues to take extra steps to keep train travel safe, including limiting bookings to less than half of capacity to maintain physical distancing onboard trains. Reservations are required for Amtrak trains on this route, excluding holders of Multi-Ride Tickets. Ticketing is now available on, our mobile apps or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.

“We are dedicated to doing everything possible to return service safetly. We want everyone to feel comfortable as they navigate this new normal,” said Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn.

In addition to aggressive steps to disinfect stations and trains, additional Amtrak measures deliver a New Standard of Travel by including the following:

  • Facial coverings: As part of Amtrak’s ongoing commitment to protect customers and front-line employees in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Amtrak is requiring that all customers in stations, on trains and Thruway Buses wear facial coverings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of simple cloth facial coverings or masks to slow the spread of the virus and prevent transmission.
  • Cashless service: As an added measure to ensure the health and safety of our customers and employees, we are temporarily accepting only cashless payments in stations and on trains.
  • Physical distancing: Signage has been displayed at our busiest stations to indicate safe distances in high customer traffic areas such as waiting rooms, ticket offices, base/top of escalators, lounge entrances, etc. In addition, clear protective barriers have been installed at stations where there were no barriers.

Amtrak continues to evaluate practices and pilot new opportunities to support personal safety. Visit for more information about how Amtrak is maintaining a safe environment.



My Amtrak Story: From Milwaukee to San Francisco

From Progressive Railroading:

By Gina Doyle

Fifty-one hours train time — plus 90 minutes from Milwaukee to Chicago. When my husband and I told friends and family about our plans for travel from Milwaukee to San Francisco, we got one of two responses:

  • “Are you crazy? Why would you want to spend so much time sitting?”
  • “Wow! I’ve always wanted to do that. You’re going to have a great time!”

What made us decide to use Amtrak as our mode of transportation? Honestly, I don’t believe there was one specific thing that inspired us. My husband originally suggested the idea and said it was something he had wanted to do. So, I agreed to try it out on a one-way trip to San Francisco.

Neither of us had much experience riding trains. I had taken Amtrak’s Hiawatha route from Milwaukee to Chicago a couple of times for convenience, and my husband’s passenger-rail experience came only from European lines. Riding Amtrak for an extended period was going to be a first for both of us.

Choosing a route West

There are three routes that could get us out West, but ultimately we landed on the California Zephyr. Its final stopping point (Emeryville, California) was closest to our destination of San Francisco, and we were really looking forward to winding through the Rockies and seeing the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas.

Next, we had to decide which accommodations to book. We chose a roomette, which consists of two seats on either side of a big picture window. For sleeping, the seats convert to the bottom bed and a top bunk folds down from the wall. According to the Amtrak website, the dimensions of a roomette are 3’6” x 6’6”. So, while it would be by far the smallest accommodations we ever elected to stay in, it really was all we needed for a couple days. A step up from a roomette is a bedroom where the toilet and shower facilities are included. This comes at a price that we were willing to forego. Instead, we used the shared facilities that are found in each sleeper car — three restrooms and one shower room.

A number of people asked if cost was a driver in choosing Amtrak. We were clearly not paying for convenience like you would a plane ticket, but rather for the experience overall. That said, our price of $928 for two train tickets cost more than airfare from Milwaukee to San Francisco. However, the train tickets also included meals and lodging — logistics we would have had to figure out if we had chosen to drive.

Our tickets bought us our roomette for lounging and two nights’ sleep, three meals a day in the dining car and access to a hot shower. Another item to note: Amtrak was extremely gracious in offering partial refunds on our ticket prices when we noticed — just a few days after booking — that the price had dropped. That’s something that can’t always easily be done with airline tickets.

Boarding the train in Chicago

Our route left on a Friday morning and, before we were even out our front door, we received a call from Amtrak stating the Zephyr train was delayed by roughly four hours. With that information, we still decided to go ahead and catch our scheduled route from Milwaukee to Chicago. Once we arrived at Union Station, we were able to take advantage of the lounge access, which was included in the price of our sleeper car tickets and proved to be a nice convenience.

The lounge provides drinks, snacks, chairs and TVs, plus we were able to store our luggage there. Access to the lounge — if you do not have a sleeper car reservation — costs $50. After dropping our bags off, we made the most of our time in Chicago. The delay gave us the opportunity to kill a few hours in a fun city, fill up on Giordano’s pizza and walk a good number of miles before our (mostly) sedentary trip ahead.

We boarded the train by finding our sleeping car and then our room number. Each sleeping car has an attendant who is available for most of the day, save for very late night or early morning. He or she can answer questions, provide clean towels, open the main door at stops for stretch breaks and make up and fold down the beds.

Our attendant, Cy, a Chicago native, stopped in and greeted us soon after boarding to give us the lowdown. Over the course of our trip, we enjoyed talking to him about the train and learned that he does two to four of the Zephyr trips a month.

Considering our delay, the dining car started dinner service soon after we left Union Station in Chicago. For dinner service, a dining car attendant comes around to each sleeping room and writes down your reservation. When it’s your turn, they call reservations over the public address system. My husband and I were not sure what to expect as far as food or service — or even where to find the dining car.

Chatting with other travelers

Once we found the right place, we were asked to sit on the same side of the booth and quickly learned that we would be sharing the table with other passengers, not unlike a cruise ship. Throughout our meals, we met a lot of friendly, interesting people. From our first co-diners — whose destination was Omaha, Nebraska, and had taken the route several times — to our last co-diners — people who didn’t speak much English — we conversed with a number of new people.

I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that, on two separate occasions, we were seated with passengers who lived outside the United States. It was interesting to learn where they were visiting from and why they decided to take an Amtrak trip.

As for the food, I found it tastier than I expected. I wish I had the opportunity to visit the kitchen facilities because I can only imagine the small scale the staff must have to work with while trying to feed a continuous stream of people. For dinner, you could choose from menu items such as salmon, chicken, risotto or even a signature steak. Lunch options consisted of a hamburger, veggie burger, or chilaquiles; breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, pancakes, oatmeal or breakfast quesadilla options. Water and soda are also included with meals along with dessert, which we indulged in a few times. We highly recommend the pecan tart!

Initially, we were looking forward to spending time in the viewing car, which is located between the sleeping cars and coach. The top portion of the car has lounge seats with floor to ceiling windows, while the bottom part of the car has a few dining booths and a snack stand. This car was almost always at capacity. Coach passengers have access to this car, too, so the seats fill up quickly. We did have one or two opportunities to sit in the car, which provided nice views. But we mainly found ourselves in our personal sleeping car, using our large window to take in the scenery.

Spectacular scenery

Our route took us through some spectacular places. The highlights were winding through scenery next to the Colorado River, taking in the views as we made our way up and through the Rockies and seeing the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas.

My husband and I agreed that our favorite stretch of the trip was between Denver and our final destination, which provided the best views — and would have been a great place to begin the trip if we didn’t have to get from Milwaukee to Denver.

A lot of our friends and family asked if we were able to get off the train during our trip. There’s a misconception that passengers can get off at every stop and explore. It would be fantastic if that were the case, but it also would add a huge amount of time to the journey. “Stretch breaks” came once every few stops — and we took full advantage to breathe in some fresh air and walk around outside for a few minutes. I believe Amtrak must plan these breaks based on the popularity of the stop and the number of people boarding and disembarking.

We also noticed that Denver was many passengers’ final stop. The train became noticeably quieter and less crowded from Denver on to California. All in all, we were two of only a few dozen passengers who rode the train all the way to Emeryville.

Overall, I had three main takeaways from our trip. First, you’re forced to slow down — but in a good way. There’s no hurry to get anywhere. Second, the change of scenery is constant. The views can’t be had by car or road. And third, you meet a lot of people, some who were veterans of these trips and others who found their way from Australia to the Amtrak route.

Since our return from San Francisco, the question my husband and I are often asked is: “Will you take another Amtrak trip?”

My answer is that we’re definitely open to considering another Amtrak journey. And the next one will be easier, because we’ll know what to expect. However, we’re also sure that when we take our next long-distance Amtrak ride, it will be a bit shorter on the distance. Fifty-one hours is a long time to be jostled back and forth while sitting or sleeping on a train.

In the end, we were incredibly happy to have had this experience. We highly recommend train travel if you’re looking for a unique trip or another way to see our beautiful country.

Gina Doyle is program manager of education and conferencing for Trade Press Media Group, parent company of Progressive Railroading. Email comments or questions to