Traveling Amtrak for the holidays? What passengers riding the rails need to know

Taking the train home for the holidays? There are some things you need to know when riding the rails, where the rules are a little different from air travel. 

Amtrak advises passengers to arrive at the station 45 minutes before departure. Unlike commercial air travel, rail passengers do not undergo intensive security screenings.

Most travelers will want to reserve their tickets ahead of time, on Amtrak’s website or its mobile app. Effective Dec. 20-30, passengers on the Keystone Corridor and Pennsylvanian trains will be required to reserve their seats in advance. The Keystone trains operate between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, via Philadelphia. The Pennsylvanian trains operate between New York and Pittsburgh via Philadelphia.

Amtrak does not charge a fee if your plans change, but you may encounter a 25% cancellation fee for certain fares. Fares are fully refundable if canceled within 24 hours of purchase.

Does Amtrak charge for baggage? 

Unlike most commercial airlines, Amtrak does not charge passengers for the first two checked bags. Like the airlines, though, there are restrictions based on size and weight.

Amtrak allows two personal items and two carry-on items per passenger. Personal items must weigh 25 pounds or less and fit within 14 by 11 by 7 inches. Carry-ons must weigh 50 pounds or less and fit within 28 by 22 by 14 inches, or 28 by 22 by 11 inches on the Pacific Surfliner trains in California.

Passengers can check two bags that weigh 50 pounds or less and can check two overweight or oversize bags for a fee of $20 per bag.

Can you bring a bike on the train?

Amtrak passengers can bring their bikes aboard many trains, as long as they weigh 50 pounds or less. In most cases, passengers will need to reserve spots for bikes, as they are limited. Riders can either carry their bikes on or check them. Fees range from $5 to $20 per bike.

What about traveling with pets?

Dogs and cats that weigh 20 pounds or less can travel on certain trains in approved carriers for a $26 fee. Pets must be properly vaccinated and cannot travel in business class or in sleeping cars. Spaces must be reserved and are limited to one pet per passenger.

Are there any Amtrak discounts available?

Amtrak offers discounts to seniors, veterans, students, children and people with disabilities.

Seniors and veterans can get a 10% discount on coach seats nationwide. The discount does not apply to non-Acela business class tickets, first class or sleeping car accommodations.

Seniors and veterans have it even better in California: The state-supported San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner routes offer a 15% discount.

The nationwide senior discount is available to passengers 65 and older; in California, the senior discount applies to passengers 62 and older.

Students can get a 15% discount on Midwest regional routes in Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and Michigan. Students in California can get a 15% discount on the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner routes.

One child age 2-12 traveling with an accompanying adult can receive a 50% discount on the lowest adult fare. One child under age 2 can ride free with an accompanying adult.

Adult passengers with disabilities can get a 10% discount.

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