How to Find a Rail-Savy Travel Agent to Book Your Amtrak Travel

I recently received an email from someone asking if I recommend using a travel agent to book rail travel.
Good question! My answer was (and is), “That depends.”
There’s really no reason why you can’t book it yourself, especially if your itinerary is a simple trip — Point A to Point B.  The Amtrak web site is very well designed and all you have to do is plug in your starting point, where you’re getting off, and the date of travel.  And, of course, you can always call Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL) and book through one of their reservations agents.
On the other hand, if your trip involves long-distance trains, connections or stop-overs, or if you would just feel more comfortable relying on an expert, by all means work with a travel agent.
But here’s the thing:  not all travel agents are familiar with rail travel, especially long-distance trains, so it’s important that you find someone who is truly rail-savvy. He or she will know to do the little things that can make a big difference.
For instance, a really knowledgeable travel agent will know to put you in a sleeper that’s right next to the dining car, which means you’ll not have to make a long walk through several cars on a moving train three times a day.
A rail-savvy travel agent will have good advice about making specific connections because he or she will know which long-distance trains are likely to run late.
Sleeping car space often sells out well in advance, but a good experienced travel agent will have the in-house capability to put you on a wait-list for a specific train … something you can’t do for yourself.
Ahh …  but since a lot of travel agents know very little about booking Amtrak, how, you ask, can I find one who really is rail-savvy? Well, just ask him or her a simple question: What’s the difference between a roomette in an Amtrak Superliner sleeping car and a roomette in a Viewliner?
A good rail-savvy travel agent will know that a Viewliner roomette has an en suite toilet and wash basin, while those facilities are “down the hall” in a Superliner. Also, the upper berth in the Viewliner has a window, but there’s no window for the upper berth in the Superliner roomette.
If the travel agent answers that question correctly, you’ve found someone you can trust to do the right kind of job in booking your long-distance train journey.