About Rail Travel in the USA

About Rail Travel in the USA
When people think of riding the rails, most think about the modern high-speed rail systems found in Europe and Asia. The U.S. is the land of the automobile and the interstate highway system. Long distance rail-travel in most of the country has long since been replaced by the airplane. Rail travel via government-owned Amtrak is still alive and well in some places, notably the Northeast and the Chicago metropolitan area. In other parts of the country, train travel is available, but because of its unpopularity and freight-preferred access to rail lines, service is slow and spotty.


The railroads were the first industrial means of transport aside from the steamboat. The first transcontinental railroad was completed in the 1860s. In the late 19th century railroads became essential to the United State' economic growth by providing fast and efficient transport of people and goods. It remained the dominant transportation mode until the 1950s, when the interstate highway system was completed and air travel took off.

Coverage and Routes

The Northeast Corridor includes Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Train service in this area is reliable and efficient. All of these cities feature modern rail mass-transit systems as well. The Chicago area has a well-linked rail network, as do parts of California and the Northwest. Other parts of the country are serviced, but the train is significantly slower and schedules are more irregular. See "Resources" for an Amtrak system map.

Rail Passes

The USA Rail Pass can be used for discounted rail travel throughout the country. It is sold in duration/segment packages. For example, the 15 days/eight segment pass is good for eight travel segments within 15 days. A travel segment is defined as any time you get on and then off a train. Distance is not a factor. The rail pass is also sold in packages of 30 days/12 segments and 45 days/18 segments.


You can buy tickets online at the Amtrak website, over the phone (800-USA-RAIL) or at any station. The earlier you buy, the better since tickets are priced based on availability. Tickets are normally sold one-way, so a roundtrip involves buying to one-way tickets.

Riding the Trains

Amtrak tickets rarely indicate a coach or a seat. You simply board and sit in any available seat in a reserved car. If you do have reserved seat, the attendant who checks your ticket can indicate what car you will be in. Keep your ticket on you as it will be checked in route at least once.

Article Written By Jason Gordon

Jason Gordon is a professional writer and editor. In addition to online work, he has written for "Texas Highways," "AAA Southwest," "Glimpse," the "University of Washington Daily" and the "Dallas Morning News." Gordon's passions include animals, reading and finding the perfect pairings of pastry and espresso.

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