After purchasing a USA rail pass and making a travel plan, it was time to make reservations for each train ride. The pass is just a proof that I can do 12 segments of ride within one month. To get a seat for the specific train ride, I needed to make a reservation in advance.
There are two ways to do it.
- To make reservation for each train ride as a trip goes on… one or two ride(s) at a time on the road. –> Better if you left your trip schedule to be very flexible.
- To make all the reservations at once, before your first trip. –> Better if you made detailed plan for the whole trip in advance. It’s mostly okay to change the reservations afterward, so there’s not too much risk. And it is a MUST if you are going for sleeping cars because they tend to get sold out fast (especially in summer.)
I pretty much finished to make the travel plan of the entire trip and decided to go for #2, to make reservations for the whole trip at once.
I somehow imagined I could do this online, perhaps maybe on Amtrak website. But I was wrong! Amtrak’s instruction on the website was to make reservations by calling them (1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245)), yes, over the phone. (Or you should send an e-mail if you are outside the US.)
This got me a bit scared because as a non-native English speaker, I wasn’t sure if I could complete the task. I had to make reservations for eight train trips and two thruway bus rides (transfer bus that you can ride with USA rail pass) and that seemed a bit too complicated task to finish over a telephone call. I am now living in the US, so I did not qualify for an e-mail reservation thing. Visiting an Amtrak station seemed like the easiest way, since I would be able to hand over to a staff the printed out timetable I made for my trip. One problem was that visiting the station was NOT stated as an option on Amtrak website.
I googled in desperation and found conflicting results. Somebody said that I should stick with telephone reservations, but another one insisted that I didn’t need to and I should just visit the Amtrak station to make reservations.
So, I decided whatever!… to visit the Amtrak station and give it a try. If they say ‘no,’ I will just make a reservation at the station with my cell phone, right? Moreover, I need to visit the station once anyway to pick up my pass, so why not at least ask?
The nearest Amtrak station from my home is (the beautiful) Boston South Station. I could easily find the Amtrak office on the first floor.
Luckily for me, there was not many customers at the office on the Thursday afternoon. And more luckily for me, the Amtrak staff I walked up to was a really nice lady who was so very willing to help. I asked her if I could pick up my USA rail pass and make reservations for the train rides too. “Sure,” she said without a hesitation. Very relieved, I gave her my reservation number, passport, and the train schedule table that I made before.
She seemed a bit surprised to see so many lines of rides, but quickly returned calm and made each reservation one by one for me. The process took quite a long time, about thirty minutes in total. The lady had to struggle with some kind of Amtrak system problem and somebody came to help etc… but at the end the task was successfully completed. I came out the station with my new USA Rail pass, and tickets for the every train rides from Boston all the way to the west.
But unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here. I needed to add one more train ride and make time change for another. So I visited the same station again. I thought it would be no problem at all but this time the staff was not too kind to handle the matter. There were more customers in line (like three or four, then later none) and the staff (a young man this time) seemed very annoyed that he had to do something for the USA Rail pass, making sounds of dissatisfaction with whatever he could. He wasn’t shy to let me know that he was unhappy to meet USA Amtrak traveler and told me “this is why we tell you to do it by phone.” I didn’t understand what ‘this’ was, but guessed it might be very hard to carry out the task related to USA rail pass by Amtrak software because he was saying ‘this’ while looking at the monitor and hitting the keyboard hard. I felt like a kiddo in a principal’s office and almost said I was sorry. But anyway, after like ten minutes I successfully got the new tickets!
So for the train ride reservation, I suggest from my experience that:
- make reservation by phone or e-mail in advance if you are comfortable with phone calls. However, it doesn’t mean you have to do it by phone. You technically can make reservations at the station. Amtrak staffs can do this, but sometimes they don’t want to… so art of negotiation might be needed.
- if you are to visit the Amtrak office, choose the time that are not too busy… weekday afternoon for example.
And one suggestion for Amtrak: why don’t you make an easy online reservation system for USA rail pass so you can safe both staff members’ and travelers’ time?