18 November 2010

Amtrak Service and Fares # 2 – Routes – Long distance trains – North to South

Before I jump into Amtrak’s route structure, it bears pointing out that since I live in the West this series has a definite focus on rail service in my part of the country.  As Jim Morrison of The Doors muttered twice in his iconic song The End: “The West Is the Best”.  And boy, was he ever right!  Nonetheless, you’re going to get well acquainted with Amtrak service throughout the United States by the time this series is complete.  It's a big country.

Originally, I was going to write just one chapter about Amtrak’s routes but I realized after starting that not only was it too much to write, but even worse, it would be way too much too read at one sitting.

So I’m breaking it into six manageable blog post bites – eat one or eat them all:
  • Long distance trains – North to South
  • Long distance trains – Western (Pacific Coast to Chicago and New Orleans)
  • Long distance trains – Eastern (Chicago to the Northeast)
  • Short distance corridors – Northeast and Midwest
  • Short distance corridors – California and the Pacific Northwest
  • Route to Route – How things fit together
The first three chapters will provide a look at all of Amtrak’s long-distance routes.  Long-distance for our purposes means trains that travel overnight at least one night from origin to destination travel overnight.  Following long-distance trains, the next two chapters will examine Amtrak’s short-distance corridors.  Finally we’ll see how they fit together.

Amtrak has excellent resources available for research.  Each route reference below contains a link to the relevant Amtrak.com page where you’ll find a route map and route guide, list of all the stations served, timetables, accommodations, policies, and plenty more.

We’ll begin with the north-to-south trains.  6 long-distance trains operate in a mostly north-to-south orientation.  All north-south trains are two days in total duration (only one overnight from origin to destination).  For example, if you left Los Angeles on a Monday morning you would arrive Seattle on Tuesday night.

COAST STARLIGHT (trains 11 / 14)

In the West, the only north-south train is the Coast Starlight between Seattle and Los Angeles.  The principal cities it stops at along the way include Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Barbara.  While “Coast” is part of the name, the portion that is actually along the coast is just from roughly Ventura to Pismo Beach.  It’s beautiful, and much of it you’ll can only see by train because the highway (U.S. 101) runs inland from Pismo Beach to Gaviota (south of Buellton).  Except for glimpses of the San Francisco Bay and the Puget Sound, nothing else that could be considered coastal.  But the route is outstanding from start to finish, and provides a survey of the three Pacific coast states that takes in most of its great cities, agricultural areas, and wilderness.

CITY OF NEW ORLEANS (trains 58 / 59)

One Amtrak’s weaknesses is that it offers no other north-south service until the midsection of the country, and not all that much there.  More or less paralleling the Mississippi River is the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.  Its principal stops along the way include Memphis and Jackson, Miss.

CRESCENT (trains 19 / 20)

The Crescent runs in a northeast-southwest diagonal, connecting New York with New Orleans.  The principal cities it serves include Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Atlanta, and Birmingham.

SILVER STAR AND SILVER METEOR (trains 91 / 92 and 97 / 98)

Three trains connect the Northeast with Florida.  Two of them operate similar and to some extent overlapping routes.  The Silver Star and the Silver Meteor both begin in New York and end in Miami.  The Silver Star, however splits into two sections in Orlando, where one section continues to Tampa, whereas the other section continues to Miami.  Both the Silver Star and Silver Meteor serve Washington, Richmond, Virginia, Savannah, and Jacksonville, but the routes in the Carolinas diverge.

AUTO TRAIN (trains 52 / 53)

There is one more long-distance train that operates along the eastern seaboard: Auto Train.  This is a unique train for two reasons.  One, is that it operates without any passenger stops from Lorton, Virginia (close to Washington, D.C.) to Sanford, Fla. (just north of Orlando) and, two, it carries passengers and their vehicles.

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to History
Forward to Routes - Long-distance trains - Western (Pacific coast to Chicago and New Orleans)


  1. Aw, c'mon. I would have thought Meridian, MS (my hometown) would be considered one of the Crescent's principle cities....:)

  2. Hey, Robert, I should have included Meridian because I believe a member (probably no longer) of Amtrak's Board of Directors was from Meridian, Miss. I believe his name was Robert Smith and he was the mayor a big time Amtrak proponent.