Amtrak Superliners: Old but Still Super.

Friends of mine took an overnight train several years ago and had something less than a satisfactory experience in a roomette on an overnight Amtrak train. They have refused to travel by train ever since.

I’ll bet a box of donuts that the problem—whatever it was—could have been fixed with a call to the car attendant. If my friends had understood in advance what a roomette is and—probably more important— what it isn’t, I’ll bet a box of do-nuts there would have been no problem.

Let’s start with the basics. 

There are two kinds of sleeping cars in the Amtrak fleet: Superliners and Viewliners. The Viewliners are used on trains that operate in the eastern part of the U.S. because there are bridges and tunnels in that part of the country that won’t accommodate the big Superliner sleeping cars.

Many first-time travelers are put off when they first see a roomette, no matter if it’s in a Superliner or a Viewlliner.  Yes . . . O.K., so they’re small. But they are also very well designed and have everything you’ll need. (Except a toilet. They’re “down the hall.”)

Superliner Roomettes

Each Superliner sleeper has 14 roomettes—ten on the upper level and four on the lower level. I prefer one of the upper level roomettes because you get a slightly better view of the passing scenery and you don’t have to climb the stairway to go to the dining car. The car attendant usually occupies roomette #1 on the upper level. 

Each roomette includes two berths. The lower berth is created by sliding the two seats together which flattens the seat backs. You have to have at least a little bit of agility to get up and into the upper berth, but there are a couple of steps you can use that will help. The upper berth is comfortable enough, but there is one serious negative in my opinion: there is no window for the passenger in the upper berth and for some, that makes it a bit claustrophobic. 

There’s one lavatory on the upper level and four on the lower level.  There is also a wonderful changing room and shower on the lower level with an endless supply of hot water.

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, pulling a consist of Superliner sleepers, left Chicago
yesterday and is now nearing its destination, Washington, DC.

On the upper level, there are five large bedroms that have sinks with running water and a combination toilet/shower There are four roomettes, four lavatories (for all passengers), a changing room and an excellent shower on the lower level, but for a couple of minor points, I still prefer being on the upper level.

First, there is a narrow flight of stairs leading to the second level and on a moving train, that can be a challenge for older passengers.

Second, the upper level seating, is (I’m guessing) probably eight feet higher than the accommodations on the lower level. The view is better —but not by much. 

In my opinion, the big bedrooms are not worth the extra money. Partly because they have a big flaw: There is a flimsy piece of material covering a handle that will release a dividing panel that moves out of the way to create a “suite” to accommodate a family of four or five or two couples traveling together. The problem is with that removable panel in place, passengers in Bedroom B can clearly hear every word in Bedroom A that’s spokn above a whisper. If you can hear them, they can hear you!

Finally, if you—or more likely your wife—are concerned about the two of you being crowded into a small roomette, book two roomettes across the corridor from each other. There are real plusses to this arrangement: (1) neither of you has to climb up into that claustrophobic upper berth; (2) If one of you wants to take a nap, you’ll have privacy and, if you want semi-darkness for this or that, with two roomettes, you can go sit across the hall and close the curtains. But best of all, you can enjoy the views from both sides of the train depending where the scenery happens to be.

I must add here that a Superliner sleeper also has a family bedroom that accommodates two adults and two children. There is also a room designed to accommodate an elderly person or someone needing  medical care and a companion. It’s self contained with its own toilet and sleeping facilities.

Damn! If only they had thought to go with a window for the roomettes upper berths!

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