There are many factors that go into determining the best course of action for your arrival to an Amtrak station. The biggest factors will be how if you are checking bags and which station you are leaving from.
How Early To Arrive For Amtrak
You should arrive 1 hour early to the Amtrak station for your Amtrak train trip. If you are checking bags, this will allow enough time to get inside and get your bags checked before departure. If you arrive too close to departure they will have closed the bag check for your train.
Each ticketed passenger can bring up to 2 checked bags for free. There isn’t a lot of extra space on the train, so we recommend checking a bag if you can. In our must have items for an Amtrak trip post, we go over everything we take on board with us.
Sleeper Car Passengers
Amtrak sleeper car passengers may want to arrive even earlier to the station to enjoy the Metropolitan Lounge. See our list of stations that have a Metropolitan Lounge. If your station has a lounge, access is complimentary if you are in the sleeper cars. There will be free food and drinks available in the lounge while you wait for your train.
One big benefit of the lounge is that staff in many locations will walk you as a group to the train a few minutes early to help you board before general boarding is called.
The lounges are beautiful and should be considered part of your trip, so don’t miss a chance to see and enjoy them. The best lounges are in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Parking at the Amtrak Station
Parking at an Amtrak station can be an adventure, and every station is different. Unless you have been to the station you are leaving from, you should allow extra time if you’ll need to park.
For instance, and the unmanned Burbank station, there is minimal parking, just one row. If you show up to this station 30 minutes before departure and the lot is full, you’ll have to scramble and park over at the airport, which might make you miss the train.
Other stations, have plentiful parking, but you won’t really know until you get there. In major cities we usually take an Uber or cab to the Amtrak station to avoid any hassles.
Returning a Rental Car to the Amtrak Station
Most Amtrak stations don’t have a rental car return, so you’ll be returning it off site. If this is the case you’ll need to allow extra time. Other stations, like Union Station in Los Angeles, are difficult to return your car. We drove around the station 3 times and had to ask 3 people before we could figure out exactly where we needed to go.
Security at the Amtrak Station
Unlike at an airport, you will not need to pass through any security after arriving at the Amtrak station. There are no lines to stand in except for checking your bag, which is usually really short.
Airports usually make passengers arrive at least 2 hours early, but due to the lack of a security check, you can arrive at an Amtrak station 1 hour before departure and it will be fine.
Take Time To Know Where You’ll Board
We’ve seen people who arrived to the station in plenty of time get left behind because they didn’t know where they needed to be to board. If you are at a small station with a short stop you’ll need to be on the platform when the train pulls up.
At smaller stations the stop can be as short as 3 minutes. If you are inside when the train pulls up, there is a good chance you’ll miss it. They will not come inside to look for you, the train will just leave when it is time to leave.
If you have any question as to where you should be, ask Amtrak staff at your station. If you are at an unmanned station, you need to be on the platform so you are visible to the train and the conductors know someone is getting on.
Figure Out On Which End of the Platform Your Car Will Be
At stations with shorter stops, station staff will let you know which end of the platform you’ll need to be on. In the picture below, Allie is waiting for our train, but other passengers are way on the other end, barely visible. It was a really long train and the stop was only 3 minutes. If you were on the wrong end you’d have a hard time making it.
At an unmanned station you’ll just have to guess which end you are on and watch the train for signs as it goes by. If you are on the wrong end just walk as quickly as possible to the car with your seat or room. The staff will see you coming and hold the door for you.
Unlike many trains in Europe, most Amtrak trains only run once per day. If you miss the train, they will likely get you on the same train the next day if possible, but it’ll be at a great loss to your trip. Since there isn’t another train coming later in the day, it is worth spending a few extra minutes at the station to ensure you don’t miss it.
Amtrak Red Cap Service
At larger stations Amtrak has a Red Cap service. Red Cap attendants will help you get to the train, and even assist you to get on if you need help. This is a perfect service for anyone with mobility issues. When you arrive at the station, just let the staff know you’ll want Red Cap service.
With Red Cap service you won’t have to worry about anything, as when it is time to board the train they will come get you and take you where you need to be.