Amtrak Advice for Sleeper Car Passengers Plus Etiquette Tips

Amtrak Advice for Sleeper Car Passengers
Please wait to be seated when you enter the dining car.

Helpful hints for Amtrak sleeper car passengers.

If what I’ve read is accurate, there isn’t much etiquette to be found when it comes to flying. Since I haven’t been on a plane in over 25 years, I tend to believe most of what comes down the pike.

Amtrak, America’s passenger railroad, is unique. When it’s time to board, I’ve seen people form proper queues or at least they’re not pushing and shoving to get on their train. I can’t say the same for the popular European trains, though.  Everyone shoves their way to be the first to board, suitcases are tossed onboard like misguided Frisbees even though the passengers have reserved seats.

Let’s start with my favorite way to travel on Amtrak; in a sleeper compartment.  Here is my Amtrak advice for sleeper car passengers that I’ve learned over the years.

Your Car Attendant.

Our car attendant gave everyone a local newspaper at our first stop in the morning aboard the Southwest Chief.
Our car attendant gave everyone a local newspaper at our first stop in the morning aboard the Southwest Chief.

While not required, a gratuity is the norm, usually about $10 per person. If you and a companion are in the deluxe bedroom, then $10 per person ($20 total) is okay. Sometimes I’ll hand the attendant a $20 at the beginning of a two-night journey, especially if it’s a sold-out sleeper. Things can get pretty busy for one attendant to handle and it’s a nice gesture.

Be thoughtful.

Your room attendant sleeps in small bites of time. If you suspect he or she is getting a much-needed nap and your request isn’t urgent, wait a few minutes until either the next train stop or if you see or hear your attendant in the corridor.

Don’t overcrowd your space.

If you're not sharing the roomette, the upper bunk in is a great spot to put extra baggage.
If you’re not sharing the roomette, the upper bunk in is a great spot to put extra baggage.

If you’re traveling solo in a roomette, you can bring your carry-on luggage in the room with you. To clear up space, stow your smaller bags and carry-ons “upstairs,” (on the upper bunk) or shelf. You can ask your room attendant to place them up there.  However, if you’re traveling with huge pieces of luggage, you’ll want to check them through baggage. If you opt for the larger deluxe bedroom, there’s room for a few pieces of luggage.

About checked luggage.

If you decide to check your bags at the station, make sure the tag that’s put on your bags have the proper code for your destination (WPK is Winter Park, Florida and very close in the tag bin to WPB for West Palm Beach.) Maximum weight for checked baggage is 50 lbs. And it’s free!

Extra pillows.

Available from the upper bunk, they can be used for sleeping, but also to cover the adjustable air vent along the window.  Ask for an extra blanket if you tend to get cold during the night. I’ve used my coat over my blanket when I forgot to ask.

Using the “facility” in a roomette.

Here's the roomette with the en suite "facility." Don't worry, it at the foot-end of the bed.
Here’s the roomette with the en suite “facility.” Don’t worry, it at the foot-end of the bed when it’s made up at night.

Whether you have bashful kidneys or just want to block a draft in winter, here’s a solution. Take one of the hand towels from your sink, roll it lengthwise and set it along the gap under your door.

What’s included with a roomette or bedroom?

Help yourself to coffee, tea, bottled water or juice, located in every sleeping car.
Help yourself to coffee, tea, bottled water or juice, located in every sleeping car.

All meals, bottled water and juice are included for those in roomettes and deluxe bedrooms. Alcohol is additional.

After a long trip, if I don't feel like socializing in the dining car, I'll order room service for dinner.
After a long trip, if I don’t feel like socializing in the dining car, I’ll order room service for dinner.
Every sleeper car has a shower room. The attendant has even made a pretty flower with the wash cloth. Aw.
Every sleeper car has a shower room. The attendant has even made a pretty flower with the wash cloth. Aw.

Dining car procedures.

Amtrak Southwest Chief dining car. I was traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Amtrak Southwest Chief dining car. I was traveling between Chicago and Los Angeles.

It’s community seating, four passengers per table. If you’re in a sleeper, walk towards the front of the train. Enter the dining car and wait to be seated.

My Amtrak dinner reservation slip.
My Amtrak dinner reservation slip.

To avoid congestion at peak dining times, the dining car attendant will walk through the sleeping cars and offer you three dining times to choose; usually around 5pm, 6:30pm and 8pm.  Like buying a Groupon restaurant coupon, it’s courteous to leave a gratuity for your dining car server based on 15%-20% of the cost of the meal. Guidelines: $2 per person Breakfast; $2-3 Lunch, Dinner $5 or so.

There’s On Time and then there’s Amtrak Time.

Amtrak Southwest Chief made it through an overnight ice storm without delay in Kansas.
Southwest Chief made it through an overnight ice storm without delay in Kansas.

Being “on time” on Amtrak means to allow a little bit of leeway. For me, anytime within 60 or so minutes is as good as on time. More times than not, though, we arrived on time.

Except for parts within the Acela network and the northeast corridor, Amtrak doesn’t own or maintain the tracks.  Amtrak trains are at the mercy of the freight trains corporations like CSX and Burlington Northern.  They own the tracks and have right-of-way privileges over passenger trains.

When a long delay happens, you have the best of both worlds. You’re relaxing in the privacy and comfort of your accommodation, there’s the observation car to pass the time and you don’t have to drive!

No reservations necessary to take a seat in the double-decker observation car. There's a snack bar on the lower level.
No reservations necessary to take a seat in the double-decker observation car. There’s a snack bar on the lower level.

Whether you are going only a short distance in coach or coast-to-coast in a deluxe sleeper, knowing the lowdown on Amtrak etiquette and how to plan will help you to arrive rested and ready to hop off when you reach your destination.

For my Amtrak Etiquette tips for riding in coach, click here.

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43 thoughts on “Amtrak Advice for Sleeper Car Passengers Plus Etiquette Tips”

  • Hi Lois,
    Thank you for reading my article and for your questions. Both trains are Superliners. On the Capitol Limited, your Bedroom A is upstairs and has a private bathroom and shower. On the Southwest Chief, your Roomette 12 is (or should be) on the lower level. This is good because while your roomette doesn’t have a private bathroom, you are only steps away from an array of four bathrooms. It’s very convenient.

    Have a wonderful train ride! And thank you again for taking the time to send in your questions.

  • I just want to know, I am booked on the Capitol Limited from Pittsburgh to Chicago…car 2900, room A..
    I would just like to know ahead of time if i am upstairs or downstairs. And am I near a bathroom? I get up several times
    during the night to the bathroom.
    Also, I am booked on the Southwest Chief roomette 012, car 330. Is this roomette upstairs or downstairs? Will I be near a bathroom?
    I enjoyed your article! Thank you.

  • Hi John,
    Thank you for your question. Until June 30, Traditional Dining is suspended on all long distance trains. During that time, Flexible Dining is available.

    Here is what I found on Amtrak’s site:
    Flexible dining: Amtrak is temporarily offering flexible dining service in the dining or lounge car on all long-distance routes (except Auto Train) and encouraging Sleeping Car customers to select optional room service.

    Unless something specific applies to the Zephyr, you should be able to have your Room Attendant arrange room service for you. I could not find anything that said the Zephyr would not provide room service to sleeping car passengers.

    After June 30, this may change and the dining car might be partially open? But if it were me, I’d play it safe and have my meals delivered to my room. I can’t imaging having to pass another passenger in the narrow corridors or walking through car after car to the dining car. I would suggest that you phone AMTRAK (1-800-USA-RAIL) and confirm Zephyr room service.
    Thank you again for taking the time to write and read my article. Have a wonderful cross-country train ride.

  • Hi, informative site. I read something on Amtrak’s website that suggested that room service in the sleeper cars was not available on the California Zephyr leg to Chicago, only on the Chicago to New York leg. Do you know if you can dine in your private car all the way from San Fran to NYC? Thanks.

  • Hi Richard,
    Despite the fact that, as I mentioned, I was on the July 7 eastbound Empire Builder from Portland and the woman in the Metropolitan Lounge asked if I wanted to check a bag. I’m not sure why this person with whom you spoke said there is no baggage car. (I always tell people that if they don’t get a “good” answer, call back and hopefully speak with an “old-timer.”

    I can post a photo of the wooden baggage cart in Whitefish, MT. The only and I mean the ONLY hiccup I can think of is that maybe from Portland to Spokane they’ve suddenly eliminated the baggage car? Here’s a link to the actual PDX Amtrak page: Scroll down to “Baggage” and unless they’ve not updated their site, all should be okay. I really hope so. Please let me know how this turns out so I can help others. Thank you very much.

  • Sherry,

    Thanks for your generous and informative reply.

    I was told by an Amtrak agent on the phone this morning that there is no baggage car on the Empire Builder east bound. I sensed she was not well informed and may have been reading off the company web site. She was quite definite on this and I couldn’t quite believe my ears.

  • Hi Richard,
    I’m not sure where you learned that there isn’t a baggage car. Well, that’s partially true. There is a baggage car on the Empire Builder and suddenly there’s not one on the Lake Shore Limited. So yes, for half the journey, you’ll need to stow your luggage in your accommodation. If there’s an empty roomette, sometimes the attendant will put extra luggage in there so you’re not cramped. I’ve had that happen. It’s really a shame what the new Amtrak president is doing to our trains…between losing dining cars, closing or unstaffing stations, cutting services and now no baggage car.

    Please note: Neither train has a traditional dining car. They did add a separate dining area in the car where you or your attendant pick up your boxed meals. But the good news is that once you join Train 8 in Spokane, you will have a full-service diner the rest of the trip.

    Also, when you leave Portland, all you get is a cold boxed dinner. But there is a cafe car where you may purchase something additional. You will though, be offered a complimentary wine, beer or soda with your “dinner.”

    What I think is more convenient than using the baggage car ise the baggage storage racks on the lower level of the Superliner out of Portland. This is not available on the Chicago eastbound Lake Shore Limited.

    I hope this is helpful. Have a nice journey despite the baggage issue.


  • I have reservations for Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago and Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Boston. I just learned that neither train has a baggage car and all baggage must fit into my sleeping compartment(not the smaller roomette).

    I recall from a previous train trip that there was space on the first level of the car for larger suitcases. Is this accurate? Otherwise, I will have to ship or mail the larger suitcase to my final destination.


  • Hi – I tried your email address but it failed.

    Thank you for your question and for reading my Amtrak article. The Sunset Limited runs daily but to get to Phoenix, you will need to leave the train in Maricopa and take the Amtrak motor coach. For Santa Fe, it isn’t so easy. You’d need to leave the train in El Paso and take the motor coach to Albuquerque. From there, you will find a motor coach up to Santa Fe.

    I would suggest that you call AMTRAK at 1-800-USA-RAIL and tell the reservation person what you want to do. An alternative would be to contact Amtrak Vacations 1-800-268-7252 (this is a separate tour company contracted with Amtrak) and tell them what you would like to do…they could combine the rail with hotels, too.

    It’s definitely possible to do this…you just need to put the puzzle pieces together until they fit. If you aren’t satisfied with the first Amtrak reservation person, politely hang up and call back. This is more of a job for, as we say, an Amtrak old-timer, lol. It’ll all work out.

  • I’m having all kinds of problems understanding the sleeping cars .I would
    like to take my husband from New Orleans to LA on Sunset line. We would like to get off on San Antonio Phexoix and Santa fe. How do we do that ? How do I get help with this on and off staying couple days at each ? Can you send answer to my email I don’t know how o get back here for sure . Thanks kindly w jordan

  • Yes! For sure. Your car attendant will ask if they walk alone into your car, so just let the attendant know. Have a nice train ride!

  • Hi Shirley,
    No worries! You’ve paid for your roomette for the entire journey. No need to have to get up and move to coach. It’s a beautiful train ride, too. If the train is running late, you’ll be able to get lunch before you arrive in Sandpoint! Keep your eyes open on the left side of the train as you follow the Colorado river. You might see why some parts of the river are called, “Moon River”!
    Have a wonderful first train ride. Thank you for your question.

  • I am traveling from Waterloo,In. to Sandpoint Idaho in June of this year, my question is I am getting a roomette in Chicago for one night ,I arrive in Sandpoint at 11:30 the next day ,is there a time limit for the roomette?like maybe I need to go out to the coach seats in the afernoon ,don’t know what to expect as this is my first train ride and I am a senior,

  • Hi Renae,
    You didn’t mention where you will board the Coast Starlight, but the scenery is amazing almost the entire route.
    No, the rooms do not lock when you go to the dining car. While I wouldn’t leave a wallet with cash sitting on the sink near the door, I’ve never heard of anyone having something stolen while they were in the dining car or observation car. When I leave my compartment, I automatically take my purse/handbag with me. Everything else is just left out of sight. When you leave your bedroom, you’ll first close and velcro the curtain and then close the door. Most times, the door stays closed but if it should slide open, the curtain obstructs the view into your room. Your car attendant also monitors who comes and goes into the sleeper car.
    Have a wonderful train ride!

  • Thanks for the information. As we prepare for our trip on the Coast Starlight with a bedroom reserved, we wonder if our room is lockable while we go to the dining car. Amtrak’s site states they are not liable for baggage, but should we plan on making sure essentials are with us when we leave our car?

  • Hi Chris, I’m glad you’re enjoying your time aboard the Lake Shore Limited. It’s really unfortunate that the higher-ups at Amtrak cut the dining car. But I’m also glad that you found the boxed meals to be good. Thanks for reading my article on tipping on Amtrak.

  • Hi there. I am currently in a roomette on the Lake Shore Limited. Although I am a frequent coach passenger, this is the first time I have had a sleeper. I found this site after checking on tipping.

    Dining is different now as all meals are pre-packaged. You have several options, and the two meals we tried were good with lots of food. Also, there was a complimentary drink at night.

  • Hi Oliver, thank you for the kind comment. Glad to learn that my Amtrak article(s) are helpful. And excited that you’re going to try the Coast Starlight to San Francisco. Yes…you can have ALL of your meals in your compartment. Room service on a train…go figure. You simply mention to your car attendant that you’d like to see a menu to order your meal. He or she will take your order (be sure to think of everything you might want…even condiments) and you’ll be served in your roomette. At the end of a long trip, I almost always am burned out and I’ll have that first night’s dinner in my room. There should be a coffee urn in your car and first thing in the morning, your attendant brews a fresh pot and the coffee aroma finds its way into each compartment. So I’ll usually walk over and get a first cup and then take that with me into the dining car for breakfast. That way, if the waitstaff is swamped, I’ll at least have my first cup to sip while I wait.

    Maybe you didn’t see this – They may have stopped the wine and cheese party and the movie theatre isn’t there anymore.

    Have a wonderful time and thanks again for your comment.

  • Absolutely fantastic read, and helped a lot in weighing my options. As a frequent flier, I thought I’d ought to give the train a chance from LA up to San Fran/Oakland at least once when I’m not in such a rush. I do wonder though, as a sleeper car passenger in a roomette, can you order all the meals (perhaps breakfast aside) to your room, and can you order whatever you’d like off the menu, or are there just certain items? Thanks for your help and again, great read!

  • Hi Debbie,

    Wow…that really brings back memories. You didn’t mention which train you will be on for this adventure. If you’re heading out west, yes, there will be No Service areas…you’re traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of our country. If you’re going between Florida and New York…there’s service almost everywhere, depending upon your provider. In fact, the Silver Service trains have wifi…though when everyone else is on, the bandwidth can get jammed. Some of the trains heading west also have wifi but again, you’re on a moving vehicle trying to relay to a satellite and back to earth again. He’ll be fine, I hope!

  • Sherry,

    I will be traveling with a teenager who is dreading the separation from his girlfriend. Despite assurances that we’ll pay for data overages and a mobile hotspot, he is convinced there are significant portions of the trip that won’t be covered by cell service. Can you provide any details / assurances?

  • Hi Tim,

    Great question and one that’s familiar to me, too. Sometimes it depends on your car attendant. When I’ve had a post-midnight boarding (due to a late train) I’ve found my bed already made up and ready. Since you’re supposed to board at 10PM, there’s a good chance that your room attendant will then ask you what time you’d like your bed made-up for the night. He or she will also show you to your sleeper, and give you a quick rundown on the various buttons on the panels. Have a nice train ride!

  • We are boarding a the Coast Starlight (Superliner) in Klamath Falls at 10:00 pm. What is the procedure for converting the Roomette into a sleeping accommodation? Is it already made up at that late hour? Or must you request the steward to do so once on board?

    Thank you for any information you might have.

  • Some things to clarify regarding the “comforts” of sleepers.

    Superliner cars such as you show the full size bedrooms have a shower/commode area. Roomettes on Superliners DO NOT have toilets in the room. Toilets for those guests are on the lower level as is a shower room.

    Viewliner sleepers has the following “comfort” accomadations .. ALL Roomettes have a commode (that is the photo you show with the two seats). Fullsize bedrooms have a combo toliet/shower/sink “room”.

    In both types of sleeping cars “access available” bedrooms have combo toilet/shower/sink however while the Viewliner is a seperate “room” on the Superliner the area is seperated by a “curtain”.

    You can look at the link from Amtrak (as of 1/2017) for layout of the rooms for both Superliner and Viewliner cars.

    I thought it necessary to write this as we wouldn’t want anyone to be disappointed in rail travel nor Amtrak.

    I like Sherry tend to take dinner in my room .. but breakfast and lunch in the diner. And if you have a sleeper get out and about the train depending which added cars are available such as a cafe/lounge car and/or “observation” car. And be considerate of other travelers and don’t “hog” a seat. Stay a reasonable time and then “move on” so others can enjoy the car too.

    One extra bonus for sleeper car passengers you’re considered First Class. As such in NYC-Chicago-LA you can use The Metropolitan Lounge (in Boston for the Lake Shore Limited – The Acela Lounge). These lounges have comp non-alcoholic beverages, TV to watch, Wi-Fi and comfortable chairs to relax while waiting for boarding or a catnap for extended wait hours for same day connections in Chicago.

    All Aboard and enjoy your land cruise across the US on Amtrak.

  • Hi Lii, Glad to hear you’re moving to Amtrak. In my years of traveling Amtrak and even before (I was very little!) I have never encountered a rude sleeping car attendant. Occasionally, one of the wait staff in the dining car is sullen but when I realize how overworked they are, I understand. Usually the entire car becomes like one big family dining event! I always leave a tip even though our meals are included with the accommodations fare. Bad food? It’s come a long way…and mostly downhill. However, eggs are still cooked fresh in the morning and having a hot meal in the dining car is compensation enough for me. Enjoy your travels!

  • I am giving up on air travel. After reading over 500 consumer complaints regarding Amtrak, it was refreshing to read your columns.
    Traveling in a sleeper car is a prerequisite for an enjoyable cross country journey for me. I realize delays are sometimes unavoidable and being able to retreat to the privacy of your compartment would alleviate some discomfort. However, have you not typically encountered rude service, bad food, etc.?

  • Hi Ellen, sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner. So glad you enjoyed the narration by the docent. By now it’s too late. I took the Empire Builder twice last year and never noticed anyone giving a tip. If you have a chance, please let me know the outcome. Thanks! Sherry

  • Hi can you tell me if we tip the National Park Docents who are riding the Empire Builder with us right now? They are phenomenal!

  • You can bring your own if you have a sleeping compartment. According to Amtrak’s online cafe car menu, beer can range from $4.50 to $7.00 depending upon what you choose. Thank you for your email.

  • Do you happen to know what the charges are for beer / a glass of wine.
    Can you bring your own?

  • Great article, lots of great information….however, I have a little problem with tipping the dining room staff at the normal 15 to 20%. My son is a waiter and I waited tables and bartended through my early years so I am a chronic over-tipper. That said, my son currently makes $7.50 per hour waiting tables (before his tips) and that is considered high for a lot of restaurants. I believe the Amtrak union employees in the dining car make $25-$35 per hour (before tips). If I’m correct on their wage, then I intend to leave more like 10% per meal.

  • Hi Jenni,
    Thank you for reading the article. Unfortunately, roomettes on your trains do not have an en suite bathroom. There is one or sometimes there are two on the upper level. The main level has 3 or 4 plus a shower room. My suggestion is to pack a little ditty bag (that’s what we called it at overnight camp!) with your toothbrush, etc. to bring everything with you to the bathroom. There is a hook on the door so it’s really helpful to have a bag with a loop to hang it up. Have a great “circle” trip!

  • Thanks for the tips. I’m taking my first extended train trip (Empire Builder, SW Chief, and Coast Starlight) shortly and was unsure of the etiquette, especially with regard to tipping. I was unaware that my roomette included facilities. I thought I’d be sharing, so that is pretty awesome!

  • We traveled from Chicago on the Southwest Chief to LA in early November. We paid $1800.00 for a bedroom for my wife and me. We did not get a morning paper, there was no ice in the sleeping car and our second night out we were unable to find our sleeping car attendant to set up our beds. We ended up doing it ourselves.

  • Hi Claire,
    I’m not quite sure what it is that you need the exact space dimensions. Is it for a portable crib? There are more Amtrak photos on my site that might give you a better idea of space in the deluxe bedrooms. I’ll check around to see if I can get more details. Thank you for your comment.

  • Hi! I’m traveling Amtrak with a 6 month old in a few weeks. I really appreciate your info about tipping! Thank you for this article.
    Do you Sherry–or anyone else– know if the Superliner (Empire Builder) Bedrooms have 23″X32″ between the bottom bed and the wall with the “chair” when the bed is up/sofa position? (I’m having a heck of a time finding definitive info about the floor space when the bed is in sofa position. (Even the Amtrak phone folks couldn’t tell me). ANY help is appreciated!

  • Hi – Absolutely not. It’s your own room. You can even order room service! Have fun!

  • Hi! Thanks for the informative article. Just booked my first train trip. Traveling solo and I’ll be in a sleeper car. Amtrak doesn’t double up solo travelers in their sleeper cars do they? I hope not!

  • Hi Jools,
    Thanks for reading the article. Tipping on Amtrak seems to be a grey area for Americans, too! On your next Amtrak trip, if you try tipping right after you board the train, please let me know how it goes.

  • Hi Muriel,
    It just takes a lot of planning and learning the schedules. Somehow it all fits together. And yes, it does take an extended period of time.


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