Photo: Beth Ruggiero-York/Shutterstock

Celebrate National Train Day by Learning Everything About US Train Travel

United States Train Travel
by Morgane Croissant May 4, 2023

Traveling by train is more than just getting from point A to point B — the journey by rails matters as much as the destination, if not more. It’s certainly true in the US where taking the train is less about convenience and more about the experience of traveling slowly across varied and beautiful landscapes. For all those who favor traveling by train to any other modes of transportation, there’s a circle to be drawn on your calendar around May 13, 2023, i.e. National Train Day. This US holiday is for train aficionados and prospective train travelers to celebrate riding the rails and learn more about all things trains.

When is National Train Day and what is it about?

National Train Day is a holiday that was started by Amtrak in 2008 and that is celebrated each year on the Saturday closest to May 10. In 2023, it will be held on Saturday, May 13.

National Train Day celebrates the historical, cultural, and economic contributions of rail transportation in America. The holiday has its roots in the event of May 10th, 1869, when the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

Events held around National Train Day vary per location but often include free or discounted rides on local trains and/or model train displays. Demonstrations and other activities related to American railroads are also common.

Is Amtrak the only passenger train in the US?

Brightline train that operates in Florida

Photo: Jillian Cain Photography/Shutterstock

No, Amtrak is not the only passenger train in the US. While Amtrak is the national rail operator in the US, other companies do offer passenger rail services in the country, such as Via Rail Canada (Canada’s national passenger rail company), Brightline (a Florida-based rail service), and Rocky Mountaineer (that runs between Colorado and Utah), among others. Additionally, there are several smaller regional companies that provide service between certain cities or states, such as the Alaska Railroad.

What are the best train rides in the US?

Train from the Alaska Railroad

Photo: Beth Ruggiero-York/Shutterstock

If you’re looking for a long and slow ride across large swathes of the country, Amtrak has four amazing options:

  • The California Zephyr: From Chicago to San Francisco in three days across a variety of amazing scenery.
  • The Empire Builder: Following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, the Empire Builder travels from either Seattle or Portland to Chicago.
  • The Southwest Chief: From Chicago to Los Angeles via eight states.
  • The Coast Starlight: Between Los Angeles/San Francisco, and Portland/Seattle along the Pacific coast and across forests and snow-peaked mountains.

For shorter trips that are just as beautiful, check out The Denali Star, a stunning train route run by the Alaska Railroad, or the Rockies To The Red Rocks journey run by Rocky Mountaineer.

There are also vintage train journeys, as well as fall foliage-focused rides, short but fun train journeys in Hawaii, or even booze-filled trips like the ones you can take on the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Are there any luxury trains in the US?

While Amtrak offers First Class Private Rooms which are lovely and comfortable, especially on long routes, it would be a bit of a stretch to call them deluxe. The Rocky Mountaineer that operates the Rockies To The Red Rocks journey between Colorado and Utah has a much more luxurious offering.

The company Vacations by Rails organizes luxury train trips in the US with various railway operators, including Amtrak and the Alaska Railroad. If you’re looking to indulge, they are your best option.

Are there any sleeper trains in the US?

Amtrak’s fleet is equipped with sleeper car accommodations in a variety of settings, from roomettes to family rooms and even ADA accessible bedrooms. The sleeper cars are found on many of Amtrak’s routes so you can have a good night’s sleep even on journeys that last multiple days.

Are there any bullet trains in the US?

While there are no bullet trains that match Japan’s in the US, there are high-speed trains:

  • Amtrak’s new Acela fleet, scheduled to begin service in late 2023, will run at top speeds of 160 mph, while today’s Acela fleet operates at a maximum of 150 mph. Acela is the high-speed train service that connects cities on the East Coast (between Boston and Washington, DC).
  • Brightline, a Florida-based intercity rail service, operates high-speed trains that can run at up to 130 mph.

What’s the fastest train in the US?

The fastest train in the US is Amtrak’s Acela train which can run at a maximum of 150 mph. In comparison, the fastest train in the world is Japan’s Maglev that runs at 310 mph.

What are the most scenic train rides in the US?

Photo: Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock
Photo: Cory Woodruff/Shutterstock

According to Amtrak, the railway operator’s most scenic train routes are:

  • The Coast Starlight that connects Los Angeles and Seattle
  • The California Zephyr that runs between Chicago and San Francisco
  • The Pacific Surfliner that operates in Southern California between San Luis Obispo and San Diego
  • The Cascades that goes from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Seattle, Portland, and Eugene.

Some of Amtrak’s routes also go through national parks, making for extremely beautiful and tranquil scenery.

Note that there are Observation Cars (also known as Sightseer Lounges) with huge floor-to-ceiling windows on Amtrak’s long-distance double-decker trains that run west of Chicago.

The Rocky Moutaineer and the Alaska Railroad also offer incredibly scenic journeys in Colorado and Utah, and Alaska, respectively. The Rocky Mountaineer and the Alaska Railroad trains have glass-dome cars where you can get the best views.

How can you cross the US by train?

Amtrak’s network makes crossing the US from east to west, and vice-versa, by train extremely easy. One possible route is to go from New York City to Chicago onboard the Cardinal, and then reach the West Coast by riding the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, or by riding the Southwest Chief/Texas Eagle from Chicago to Los Angeles. You can take the journey from west to east by riding the same trains in the opposite direction.

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