Let’s see…we have covered boarding, eating, sleeping, and where you put your stuff. On to what you do when you are on a train, other than just ride.
One of my favorite things about riding a train as opposed to cars or airplanes is that you can freely get up and move around. You have to learn how to walk on a train—with your feet a little wider apart than normal and with your hands always holding onto a rail or handle or seat back. Some tracks are smooth and some are quite rough so it pays to always be holding onto something as you move down the aisles. My son was eleven when we went on a 28-day Amtrak trip, so he walked the length of the train many, many times to burn off all that kid-energy.
If you get tired of your coach seat, you can go to the lounge car, which has floor-to-ceiling windows for watching the scenery. Seating on the lounge cars includes a couple of rows facing the windows on each side and some booth-style tables. People tend to be very social in the lounge car, so it is not a place for loners or grouches. Although I have strong tendencies toward both of those last two personality types, I have greatly enjoyed visiting with people in the lounge cars. Train riders are an incredibly diverse group of people, so lounge car socializing is not for the close-minded or argumentative, either, although you will encounter those kinds of people on occasion. It is much more enjoyable if you can relax and see your fellow passengers as your windows into other ways of thinking and living. You are bound to learn something if you spend time in the lounge car!
With a few exceptions on-board entertainment is not provided, so if you expect conversation and passing scenery will not suffice, be sure to bring your own. Music or movies on a laptop or iPod are popular, but be sure to bring headphones as Amtrak requires their use. As with car travel, cell phone reception varies greatly depending on your location. Some trains advertise internet access but I have found this to be very unreliable. Card games are a very popular diversion and someone on the lounge car usually has one you can join. My favorite bring-alongs are an iPod loaded with some audiobooks and good music along with a knitting project. Speaking of electronic devices, some trains have a power outlet available at every pair of seats, while some have just a handful of outlets available in the lounge car. On the outlet-poor trains, passengers can get quite testy about charging their phones!
And speaking of testy passengers, smoking is not allowed on trains. Smoke stops are provided but, apparently, not often enough to suit many smokers.
I think I have covered the basics of travelling on Amtrak. I hope it provides you enough of a start to feel confident in planning your own train adventure. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and/or questions at email@example.com. I have started a blog of these columns so that I can add additional information, links, and photographs (and for the convenience of my out-of-town friends and relatives). I invite you to visit it at www.springcreekartsguild.com.