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Amtrak, Via Rail

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Amtrak and Via Rail
Know the pros and cons of travelling by rail

An Amtrak train leaving Chicago Union Station with Chicago's Loop's skyline in the background. The Willis Tower, formally the Sears Tower, is the tallest building seen.

Whereas coach travel give you many choices and the flexibility to change, rail travel in both Canada and the U.S. offers limited routes and trains per route, all too often without daily service.

In busy seasons, you must book each long distance segment well in advance. You have little ability to change plans at the last minute.

For example, just one train per day travels the entire scenic coastal route between the San Francisco area and Los Angeles. Some of its departures must be booked months in advance.

And, a mere three trains a week journey from Toronto to Vancouver, across Canada. Needless to say, booking these at peak periods can be very difficult.

On the other hand, once you have somehow obtained a reservation, trains offer a level of comfort and food service far superior to coaches.

The rail experience

The least expensive long-distance "coach class" train seat in the western U.S. are similar to traditional airline first class seats—but quite like the ones available today. They are comfortable.

High-level observation cars are often available without extra charge on long-distance services, especially in the central and western United States.

Food service on long-distance trains is far better than at the stops you make using Greyhound in Canada or the U.S. Note though that Amtrak may change to cold meals on most of its trains.

Via Rail Canada's "Canadian" from Vancouver to Toronto serves excellent meals far superior in most cases to Amtrak.

On many trains, you meet people from a wider range of backgrounds than you usually do on buses. And, with lounge cars on most trains in Canada and the U.S., meeting people and making friends are easy.

Trains are generally faster than coaches, although not nearly as fast as trains in Europe or Japan.

Some of the most scenic routes in North America are train routes. Be sure to see Dr. Voyageur's Amtrak and Via Rail Canada page for itinerary suggestions.

Learn about the pros and cons of other travel methods:

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