Boarding An Amtrak Train: What You Need To Know - TWK (2023)

One thing that every Amtrak passenger should know is the process for boarding an Amtrak Train.

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While this process can vary from station to station, the overall concept is the same. Boarding an Amtrak train can be fast and easy if you are ready and know what to expect, and it would be faster if everyone else knew too.

This article will cover a variety of experiences, such as boarding Amtrak regional, Acla, and long-distance trains.

While this article does not cover every train and station, it will give an excellent overview that you can adapt to your needs.

Grab a snack or tasty beverage and prepare to learn; I am glad you are here.

Before You Leave For The Station

Buy Your Tickets Before You Leave For The Station

There are a few things I would suggest you do before leaving for the station.

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The first thing to do before leaving for your trip is to buy your tickets before your day of departure. You can buy them online, in the app, over the phone, or at staffed stations. This move is essential if you are departing from an unstaffed station.

Some staffed and unstaffed stations have ticket machines that you can use to make reservations or print out tickets.

Buying your tickets ahead of time may give you a better price and peace of mind because you do not have to worry about getting to the station and having the train sold out.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, but it is not bad for beginner Amtrak travelers to follow.

Do not plan to buy tickets on the train. Most Amtrak trains do not allow you to purchase tickets on the train. If you board a full train without a purchased ticket, you could get let off at the next stop.

Verify Everything Is Right

A week or so before a trip, I log into my Amtrak account or app to verify my ticket info. I ensure that nothing changes and that I have everything correct on my tickets and with my hotels and schedule. Also, check for any service advisories.

Sometimes there are changes like departure times or rooms that you may have missed. If barcodes do not show up, call Amtrak as soon as possible. You could also call Amtrak to verify.

Don’t Forget To Check For Amtrak Service Advisories.

Research Your Stations

Many Amtrak stations, especially in small towns, are unstaffed.

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Unstaffed stops could be a building to wait in or a platform. Either could be a flag stop.

There are also staffed stations along the system, especially in bigger cities. Some of these stations even have lounges.

Doing some research before you leave can save you from last-minute panics. This way, you know what to expect.

Suggested questions to research about your stations:

  • What services do they offer?
  • Can you park for as long as you need?
  • Do they have an indoor waiting area?
  • Can you check bags?
  • Are there bathrooms?
  • Other needs you may have.

Making a dry run is a great way to get to know the station. If you plan to depart from a staffed station, you can buy your tickets there; this way, you can become familiar with the station and ask questions to someone from that station.

How Early Should I Arrive At The Station?

While it is up to you when you arrive at the station, Amtrak suggests you arrive 30 minutes early if you do not check bags and 45-60 minutes if you need to check bags.

Take into account some time for traffic, paying for parking, and figuring out where to go. The train will likely not wait for you if you are late.

At some stations, the doors to the train close five minutes before departure, so keep that in mind.

Boarding an Amtrak train at some stations starts ten to twenty minutes before departure.

At other stations, as soon as the train arrives, people board, and when the scheduled time hits, the train leaves with or without you.

Check Your Trains Status Before You Leave

Before leaving for the station, check the status of your train.

You can use the Amtrak app, call Amtrak, or on a few third-party sites.

Amtrak offers an alert service that texts or emails you if the train is running late. You can sign up for this when you purchase your tickets or if you forget afterward.

Do I Need To Check In Like Airlines?

You do not need to check in 24 hours before with Amtrak, like when you fly. The only time you may need to check in is if you use a lounge, more on that later, or some stations check to make are you are where you need to be for your journey.

Getting Your Luggage Ready

Whether you carry on or check, all bags must have a tag with your name, phone, email address, or both.

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Amtrak has a generous carry-on baggage policy allowing you two personal items and two suitcases up to 28,” and everything must weigh under fifty pounds.

Checked Bags

You can check bags on many Amtrak trains if your begging and ending stations must have checked bagged service. The app and train indicate if you can check bags on your journey.

Stations With Self-Service Checked Baggage

Self-serve trainside checked baggage service is available to and from the following stationsonly: Charleston, WV; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, WI; Crawfordsville, IN; Dyer, IN; Hammond, LA; Lafayette, IN; Meridian, MS; Mount Pleasant, IA; Rensselaer, IN; Texarkana, AR; Tuscaloosa, AL; Winona, MN.

Checking Your Bags Mid-route

I have an advanced Amtrak check-bag travel tip for you.

You can check bags mid-route. For example, if you travel from Sturtevant, WI, to DC, you must carry your bags onto the Hiawatha, but when you get to Chicago, you can check your bags there and grab them in DC.

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Boarding An Amtrak Train At Unstaffed Station

For unstaffed stations, check for signs with boarding instructions (there may not be any).

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If there is only one platform at the station, things are more straightforward; wait behind the yellow line for the train to come. If there are two, check for signs.

A few unstaffed stations have announcements, such as Sturtevant Depot, where there are two tracks.

At this station, conductors or other Amtrak staff can remotely inform passengers the train is coming, what train track, or other announcements.

Whatever the case, gather your belongings and tickets ready as soon as you see the headlights because the train will arrive soon!

At flag stops, the train only stops if you purchased a ticket before the train’s arrival.

As The Train Pulls Up

Keep an eye out for your accommodations at unstaffed stations as the train rolls into the station.

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For example, if you have a sleeper, those cars are usually on the front or end of the train, so if you did not see them as the train rolled in, walk towards the back.

There are two trains where the sleepers are on both ends. These trains split or come together somewhere along their route.

Those are the Lake Shore Limited and the Empire Builder. For those trains, the Boston (448/449) and Seattle (7/8) sleepers are often at the beginning, and the New York (48/49) and Portland 27/28) are on the tail.

After the train stops, conductors and staff will get off the train, give instructions, and help you get in the right car.

Boarding An Amtrak Train At A Staffed Station

Where You Can Wait For Your Train

If you are at a staffed station, check if there is a lounge. You can use the lounge if you have reservations for a sleeping car, Acela First Class Passenger, and sometimes business class. (depending on the station).

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If there is no lounge or you do not qualify to use one, there is a waiting area for you to wait.

Some larger stations like Chicago have a Great Hall and food courts to use as you wait for your train.

If you get to a staffed station early, you may be able to store your bags for a small fee. See the agent for more information.

In my experience, the cost has been between free and $10.

Verification & Checking Your Bags

Some smaller staffed stations like to verify that you are at the station at the right time for the train and on the travel date. I mainly experienced that in Omaha.

Reminder, if you want to check bags, the Amtrak rule is you must check your bag 45 minutes ahead of time.

Some stations may let this rule slide; it is best to assume they do not. Remember that both stations need to offer a check bag service.

(Video) Beginners Guide To Amtrak | What You Need To Know

As the train pulls up

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When your travel time is close, make sure you can hear announcements or at least one person in your travel party if you are not a solo traveler.

It is also an excellent time to ensure everything is ready, meaning your belonging are together, and your tickets are out.

When it is time to board the train, the staff will help you get to the right spot on the platform. If you are at the initial station, you could load early, especially if you are in a sleeper. This practice could happen at some of the longer stops.

Finally, Boarding An Amtrak Train

The train is here, and it is time to board, or is it? It is!

Before I get into this section, I want to emphasize something. And that point is to listen to what the staff is saying to understand the process. I often see people not listening to instructions and slowing the boarding process.

The key points to listen for from station staff are the train’s number plus the gate and track information. Additionally, listen to instructions on the position of your accommodations.

Long-distance Trains Coach Class

Walking to the train, look for the conductors and staff who will direct you to the right car.

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Often coach passengers on long-distance trains receive either a seat check or tag, which is the seat assignment.

Long-distance Trains Sleeping Accommodations

If you have sleeper accommodation, you are assigned a car and room after completing your reservation, so check your tickets.

Walk to the car that matches your reservation; the car number is the four-digit number by the door.

Often the car attendant will meet you at the door unless you are boarding late at night when a conductor may help you.

There is no need to push and shove to get to your car because it is reserved for you, and no one will take it.

Regional Trains

Some regional trains are open seating, meaning you can enter through any door and sit anywhere.

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Occasionally conductors will assign you a car; sometimes, this is due to short platforms where not all doors will open.

If you are a business class passenger, look for that car or ask a conductor.


On Acela trains, when you book, you are assigned a car and a seat that you can change for free.

As you walk up, look for your car number, enter, and find your spot. Do not ignore your assigned seat, especially at tables, because there are people who picked those spots.

Tickets And Boarding An Amtrak Train

Eons ago, and as seen in every old movie with train travel, you see the conductor walk through the train with a paper punch and punch your tickets. If that is what you expect for your Amtrak journey, there will be some disappointment.

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These days, conductors use an iPhone-type device with a scanner to scan your bar or QR code.

The same barcode could get scanned a few times along your trip, depending on the number of segments.

When It Happens

Depending on how many people are boarding, the conductors may scan your tickets before or as you board, or they may wait till you board the train and are seated.

There has been a time or two when I was the only one boarding the train, and the conductor looked at me and asked Kevin? I said yup, and he hit the button, and that was that.

The conductor may consult your car attendant and lift your ticket manually if you are a sleeper car passenger. Meaning they may never scan your ticket.

Boarding An Amtrak Train Wrap-up

Following these few steps will make boarding an Amtrak train easier:

  • Be ready
  • Pack light
    • Make sure your luggage is in good shape!
    • Plastic shopping bags and garbage bags are not great for luggage.
  • Do research the stations you use to know what to expect.
  • Have your tickets ready, either on paper or electronically, to make the boarding possess quicker.
  • Listen to announcements if at a staffed station or unstaffed station with a PA system.
  • Keep an eye on the train’s status.
  • Don’t push and shove; the train will leave after all passengers are onboard.

Boarding Amtrak trains is not complex when you know what is going on and are ready to go.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you found what you were looking for when it comes to boarding an Amtrak train.

Please check out my other article about riding Amtrak. If you found value in this information and want to ensure the site continues, help out here.

Safe Travels!


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What do I need to bring to board Amtrak? ›

Each passenger may bring onboard two pieces of carry-on luggage (this includes bicycles), plus two personal items, including small bags, backpacks, laptops, and purses. Please speak to the conductor if you have questions about any other items.

How does Amtrak boarding work? ›

Boarding gates are usually posted 15 minutes prior to a train's departure. Many stations have monitors and signs that display the boarding gate locations for each train. At many stations, Amtrak customer service representatives will make announcements about boarding times and gate locations.

Do you go through security check on Amtrak? ›

With due respect to passengers' privacy, the random and unannounced screening and inspection of passengers and their personal items is completed as quickly as possible - usually in less than a minute.

Does Amtrak check bags before boarding? ›

Luggage must be checked at least 45 minutes prior to your train's scheduled train departure.

Can I bring my own snacks on Amtrak train? ›

Bringing Your Food Aboard

You may bring your own food and beverages onboard for consumption at your seat or private Sleeping Car accommodations. However, you can only consume food and beverages purchased in Dining and Lounge Cars in those cars.

Does Amtrak check your bags? ›

Each traveler can check up to 4 bags (2 free and 2 at $20 per bag). Size/weight limitations apply.

What can you not bring on a train? ›

The following items are prohibited onboard the train: non-service animals, firearms and ammunition, hover boards, corrosive or dangerous chemicals and materials, incendiaries, martial arts and self-defense items, archery equipment, devices containing propellants, sharp objects, and similar items.

What is allowed on Amtrak trains? ›

Each passenger may bring two personal items, 25 lbs. (12 kg) and 14 x 11 x 7 inches each, and two carry-on items, 50 lbs. (23 kg) and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each, onboard. Make sure you have a tag with your name and address on the outside of all your bags.

How early should I arrive at Amtrak? ›

Plan to arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart (Auto Train passengers should arrive at the station at least two hours prior to departure).

Can you sit anywhere on Amtrak? ›

Can I choose a specific seat? Not while you're making a reservation. Your seat will be automatically assigned when you complete your reservation. You may change your assigned seat at any time after your booking is complete using interactive seat maps on the Amtrak app or on

Where do you put your bags on Amtrak? ›

There are overhead luggage racks in all Amtrak cars, as well as a big luggage rack either at one end of the car on single level cars or downstairs by the entry doors on the bi-level cars. The overhead racks will take a pretty big suitcase, larger in fact that what you're officially allowed to carry onto the train.

What documents are needed for train travel? ›

like Identity card, Driving License, Passport, Educational certificate, certificate from Local Bodies like Panchayat/Corporation/Municipality, or any other authentic and recognised document. This documentary proof of age should be produced if demanded by some Railway official during the journey.

What ID is required for train travel? ›

Valid Ids:- Passport / Voter photo identity card issued by Election Commission of India / Driving Licence issued by RTO / Pan Card issued by Income Tax Department / Photo Identity card having serial number issued by Central / State Government / Student Identity Card with photograph issued by recognized School/College ...


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