America’s only national rail service, Amtrak, provides both intercity and long-distance train service. There are 293 other tourist railways in North America offering short routes, wedding, and other specialized services. There are also 16 heavy rail rapid transit systems in the United States, each operating in large cities such as NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
Amtrak: National Scenic Byways
Amtrak offers 500 destinations in 46 states, 21,000 miles of routes, and 18,000 employees to make your American train travel a memorable experience. Note that Amtrak is known for its travel delays, perhaps because it is utilized by an average of 78,000 passengers commuting on up to 300 routes daily or simply because its tracks are privately owned railroads. Nearly 30 million passengers log over 36 million miles on Amtrak each year. Amtrak has various passes available: the North American Rail Pass, rail/fly packages, regional passes, and Florida and California state specific passes. Most people ride Amtrak for the scenic routes and its comfort, not for its expediency.
Subways and Elevated Trains
New York City’s subway is the only U.S. subway open 24/7. It serves nearly 7.5 million daily commuters on its 26 lines. The United States ranks first in the world for its rapid transit length and number of stations open to serve commuters. There are approximately 30 current/future light rail systems and 43 light rail/streetcar systems in America, not including 15 heritage streetcar systems serving localized areas. Streetcars are also called trams or trolleys; and, there are railborne vehicles of transportation.
There are over 100 tourist rail options in the U.S. as well as nearly 200 local tourist trains available for just about any need from general travel to specialized get-togethers such as weddings and reunions. Some run through historically significant areas, some simply through zoos and museum grounds.
Tips for Traveling U.S. Rails
- Read rail tickets carefully for reservation and service information
- Know that there may be delays or cancellations
- If you have children and are traveling overnight, consider a sleeper car
- Dress comfortably
- Do not leave luggage or personal items unguarded
- If you have food allergies or other dietary needs, find out about dining ahead of time
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security shares the responsibility of enhancing rail security against terrorism with the Department of Transportation to help assure rail travelers of a worry-free travel experience.
Note that no rail system in the U.S. needs U.S. citizenship documentation unless a line heads over the border into Canada as in the case of two Amtrak lines. Still, it is prudent to carry proper identification, an In Case of Emergency or ICE contact, and copies of your travel medical insurance or travel insurance policy just in case of personal emergency.