My Opinion: Worth What You’re Paying for It.
Q. I have business in Washington, DC, coming up and will be leaving from Chicago. I have noted that there are two trains running between those two cities—the Capitol Limited and the Cardinal—-but with very different itineraries. Do you have a recommendation?
A. Sure, take the Capitol Limited to your meetings in Washington and the Cardinal back to Chicago. But there are a couple of facts you’ll need to take into consideration. First, the Cardinal operates only three days a week, so you’ll have to work that wrinkle out. Second, you’ll have a full-on dining car on the Capitol Limited, but the meals served on the Cardinal are frozen . . . cooked in a microwave and served at a table in the lounge car. Finally, book as soon as possible because there is only one sleeper on the Cardinal and several of the roomettes are required for the crew. On the bright side, the one sleeper is a Viewliner.
But I must tell you that the Cardinal is my favorite eastern train. Once it leaves Washington, the train passes over the Blue Ridge Mountains, crosses the Shenandoah Valley, and follows the New River through some truly beautiful country, criss-crossing the stream a dozen times or more.
Give the Cardinal a try. It’s wonderful ride!
It’s been some time since I answered some of your questions here, so let’s get to a few of the emails that have come in recently.
Q. I remember in one of your posts you suggested that $20 a night would be an appropriate tip for a sleeping car attendant on the California Zephyr. That seems pretty generous to me. Is it still your recommendation?
A. Yes it is. Done right, the attendant’s job in an
Amtrak Superliner sleeper is hard work, start to finish. Furthermore, the last I heard, some trains are still short-handed due to layoffs that occurred during the pandemic. As a result, on some of the long-distance trips, sleeping car attendants are being asked to take responsibility for one-and-a-half rail cars. In other words, assuming a sold-out train and a two-night trip, your car attendant will be making up about 70 berths. He’ll also be responsible for keeping six lavatories and a shower room tidy.
Look at it this way; a two-night trip in a sleeping car on the California Zephyr will cost you at least a thousand dollars, depending on your accommodations. It seems to me that the person who’ll be making up your berth and making sure you have an enjoyable comfortable trip is worth another $40 or $50 dollars.