This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 97 13:31:13 -0800
In the summer of 1997 a group of us decided to take Amtrak to the
northern Californian town of Dunsmuir. This is the last stop before
Oregon and we wanted to ride from the California boarder to Sacramento
through the Central Valley since we had never heard of anyone doing
After several calls to Amtrak we finally found out that we could take
the train from Fremont to Dunsmuir with only one transfer in
Sacramento. But since neither Fremont nor Dunsmuir had passenger
services (which allowed baggage loading and unloading) we couldn't
take the bicycles with us.
We made other plans for the bicycle transport. We had a sag wagon
going up there but most people would probably opt just to send the
bike via Greyhound which is cheap, reliable and goes more places than
the train does.
The train was a bit late at Fremont but we finally got out only a few
minutes off of their schedule. The view and the trip to Sacramento
were very nice. The trains are extremely comfortable in the seating
position though the overhead luggage section isn't suitable for normal
sized carryon stuff. This line had bicycle carriers that would accept
ONLY single bikes. Tamdems would definitely not fit.
The connecting train was a real problem. It was 2 hours late and the
Sacramento station is something built around 1925 or so and extremely
uncomfortable, drafty and cold at night. Moreover, Amtrak personnel
generally know nothing at all about what is going on, what the delays
are or when you can expect the train to arrive. This isn't because
they are stupid or don't want to be helpful, it is because no one
knows what is going on and the railroad won't tell them.
There was another bike rider there who was going between major
stations and so was loading his bike into a box provided by Amtrak.
However, they had no tape and it was late evening and there was no
place for him to get tape. I don't know how he resolved the problem
since he was gone when we got back from dinner. But if you intend to
take your bike on Amtrak be aware of this possible problem.
Amtrak loads passengers into cars in some manner that keeps most of
the passengers getting off at any specific station in the same car so
that it is easier for the conductor to remind you to get off. The
problem with this is that the more popular stations will crowd some
cars while others will be almost empty.
If you want a good view the upper levels are best, but that is also
the level though which the children run continuously fore and aft as
the train is traveling. Because of this you will get no sleep
whatsoever if you seat yourself at either end. The doors are
continuously opening and closing and have air mechanisms that are very
Instead sit near the center of the car. The lower level seating is
very quiet in this regard though there is more track and traffic
noise. I would sit on the lower levels in the future since our trip
was almost exclusively at night and there was nothing to see anyway.
We had other members of the tour arriving the next day but that train
was 8 hours late and no one knew where it was stopped. This was a
nightmare for the people involved and it took the sag wagon away from
the ride for the entire day trying to recover these riders. Without
the sag wagon to wait for and sag these late riders up, we would have
had to lose a day of the tour and we would therefore have had to
reroute the trip missing the most scenic portion of the trip.
Be aware that while there are some advantages to taking Amtrak, there
are a lot of disadvantages and you cannot count on time schedules
being kept. I would always allow at least an extra day for travel to
or from an event knowing what I know now.
We had planned on a day to recover from the trip and booked rooms at a
local motel for the day after the trip and that was definitely the
right thing to do. The owner of the motel also allowed us to use their
garage to store the 15 bikes after they were reassembled from