A new way to see the USA

In the United States, flying is the default mode of transport for crossing the vast distances between major cities. Time is a major factor in this, as rail links wiggle along old routes and are slow compared to Europe’s high speed lines. For leisure travellers however, where the fun is in the journey, Amtrak trains offer a comfortable way to travel and a chance to view the country’s scenery. They are also well within a student budget, often costing less than flying with low cost carriers.


Some Amtrak routes have become tourist destinations in themselves, such as the California Zephyr, travelling between Chicago and San Francisco. Travellers often take the entire 50 hour journey just to enjoy the scenery, which includes the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada. For those more interested in cities Amtrak trains offer some convenient routes between these, which will still give a sample of scenery. One such service is the Lake Shore Limited, an overnight train offering a convenient way to get between New York and Chicago, while saving on the cost of a night in a hotel.

Modern New York is a busy but fairly friendly city, with the perception of it as cold and brash, now outdated. Museums and attractions can be expensive, especially compared to London’s numerous free offerings. For a short visit getting a New York Citypass is a cost effective and easy way to see the major sights including the Empire State building and Museum of Modern Art. Not only does it offer good value for money but it allows you to skip queues and helps structure your visit. New York has many interesting districts to explore; Coney Island is one of these and is worth the long subway ride. Out of season, the amusement park and beach resort site can be a bit vacant and surreal, which is quite an interesting experience.

The journey from New York to Chicago takes around 18 hours. Ticket prices vary widely, like those of airlines, but if booked in advance it will cost little over $100. The standard seats are spacious with good legroom and are bigger than Greater Anglia’s first class seats, each with a power socket. An option is to reserve a sleeper cabin with roomettes starting at $291. Included with the Roomette are meals in the dining car, showers and a morning paper. A car attendant is also at hand to make your bed, help you with anything you need and normally enjoy a chat.

The train departs from New York Penn station, which has its own stop on the subway. Within minutes of departure you will be riding alongside the Hudson River. While arguably not an awe inspiring view it is picturesque in parts. Across the other bank you get to see the large homes of New York politicians and big shots. The dining car experience should really not be missed. Aside from the surprisingly good food, it is a great time for exchanging travel tales, admiring the landscape or discussing Prince George.

The Roomette flat bed is more comfy than most student house beds, you won’t have trouble getting a good night’s rest while being gently rocked by the train. The more budget friendly standard seats are also very comfy, but shouldn’t be considered a hotel replacement.

Chicago, America’s third largest city, has a friendly Midwestern vibe. It is less busy than New York, but has just as much to offer. Although the city has featured regularly in national and global news in relation to its high murder rate, this is limited to particular areas and should not concern travellers. A Citypass is also available here which covers the major sights. Other things worth doing include; eating a hotdog at Portillos; visiting the free zoo in Lincoln Park; and playing old arcade games with a pint at Beercade. River tours are a good way to see Chicago’s famed architecture.

Getting the train between New York and Chicago is a great option that makes a trip to the two exiting cities even more enjoyable, comfortable, safe and cheap.


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