Travel Agents to Book Train Trips?

I received an email yesterday from someone asking about travel agents: Should they use one when putting together a train trip? And my answer is … (drum roll) … “It depends”.
If you live in Springfield, Illinois, and want to take the train to Chicago to see the Cardinals play the Cubs at Wrigley Field, there is no reason why you can’t book that yourself through the Amtrak web site or with one of the Amtrak reservationists at 800-USA-RAIL. Unknown-2
But if you want to take the family on a real vacation by train, with several stops and a couple of connections, you would be wise to consult a travel professional to work out the details and avoid any potential problems that might never occur to you.
Ah, but here’s the problem with that: many travel agents—maybe even most—really don’t know much about long-distance train travel. So, if you’re contemplating an extended train trip and really feel the need for some professional help, the issue now becomes picking a travel advisor who is rail-savvy.
My suggestion? Ask the travel agent a simple question: What’s the difference between a roomette in a Superliner and a roomette in a Viewliner? (Most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains use bi-level Superliner cars, but single-level Viewliner sleeping cars are used on overnight trains that operate east of Chicago or New Orleans.)
The answer: there are two significant differences: Viewliner sleeping cars have a window for passengers in the upper berths; the Superliner sleepers do not. And there is a toilet in each roomette on a Viewliner sleeper, but you have to do “down the hall” to the facilities on a Superlunar sleeping car. If your travel advisor knows that, you can probably feel comfortable having him or her help you in planning your rail journey.
Unknown-3There is another possibility: You could call one of the firms specializing in rail tours. They will have a variety of options available, with all the details already worked out. For rail tours in the U.S. and Canada, I would recommend Vacations By Rail. For rail travel in Europe, I recommend Railbookers, which I have used on several occasions.
If you really want to see the country—or the world, for that matter—the best possible way to do it is by train. Just be sure of the details, especially when there are connections to be made. My advice for putting your itinerary together and booking it: If you have any uncertainties, get help from a pro.