9 Golden Rules of Amtrak Etiquette

Taking the train? Here’s how to avoid annoying everyone else on board.



Darn! I missed National Train Day on May 10th. But in reality I have a lot of train days. That’s because I’ve been using Amtrak frequently over the past few months. And I’m not alone: Amtrak reportedly carries 31.5 million passengers a year and if trends continue, by 2040 ridership could reach 43.5 million. And I’m pretty sure all of those passengers were on the 6:25 Northeast Regional with me last night coming home from New York.

Were you on that train? Well, you snore. And also, please, out of respect for me and all the other 31.5 million fellow passengers, I hope you follow these 10 rules of etiquette.

1. Don’t Eat on the Train

Last week I sat across from a guy in one of those four-seaters with the table in the middle and he pulled out a huge Italian sub with extra onions and oil and chomped merrily on it all the way from Penn Station to Trenton, leaving a grease spot the size of Lake Michigan on the seat after him. I walked out of that train smelling like a Lee’s Hoagie shop following a busy lunch hour. I don’t care if you’re going from DC to Boston, eat your meal beforehand. Your seatmate doesn’t want to get a whiff of that penne pasta you’re eating, and she certainly doesn’t want to wear it when the train ultimately hits a bump or suddenly slows.

2. Don’t Talk on Your Cell Phone

OK, Mr. 32-year-old-man-of-the-world-talking-loudly-on-the-phone-coming-home-from-your-big-day-on-Wall-Street. First of all, you don’t work on Wall Street, you work at some piddly investment firm in Philly and the guys who do work on Wall Street were making fun of you the minute you walked out the door. No one needs to hear your super-important conversation because it’s not really that super-important. Also, do you really think your client would appreciate 87 people overhearing the intimate details of his planned purchase and closing of a day care center that you’re shouting out to your assistant? I don’t care if this isn’t the quiet car, there’s nothing more annoying than hearing some arrogant loudmouth have a one-sided conversation for 45 minutes. Did you notice no one else is talking on their phone? Why do you think that is?

3. Don’t Pay for an Acela Ticket

Really? You paid $334 for a one-hour roundtrip to New York? Out of your own pocket? Who actually does that? My friend, take a look at the packed train around you. Trust me when I tell you that you’re likely the only one who paid this astonishingly overpriced fare. Everyone else on the train had their tickets paid for by their own company, a client … or the U.S. taxpayers. No one actually pays for this ridiculous amount themselves. The people who do are hoofing it on SEPTA and NJ Transit, or on the MegaBus. Oh well, lesson learned.

4. Don’t Speak to any Celebrities

Yes, that was Tom Ridge who just walked by you from the Acela lounge. And yes, you once saw Joe Biden get on at Wilmington and your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: Rick Santorum sometimes takes the train. Whatever you do, don’t talk to or even acknowledge these people. They are all extremely humiliated that they must resort to taking the train when someone of their reputation and stature should be flying in a campaign contributor’s private jet. Sure, they may represent the people but that doesn’t mean they have to be with the people when they can avoid it. And, after a few trips on Amtrak can you blame them for feeling this way?

5. Don’t Put Your Stuff on the Empty Seat Next to You

So you think that just because you laid your coat and pocketbook on the seat next to you that that will stop a passenger from sitting there when the train is already over-full? Unless a Black Mamba or an actual severed human hand is under there, please save me, the tired passenger, the extra and awkward task of having to ask “excuse me, but is anyone sitting there?” Please don’t apologize or pretend you didn’t know. You knew. You’re not fooling anyone. And by the way — it’s fine. I’m not going to bite. I don’t want to converse with you. And I bathe. Well, at least most days.

6. Don’t Push and Shove in Line

The one thing about taking the Acela is that your fellow passengers are likely type-A personalities who can afford to take the Acela. And when the train is announced, particularly at Penn Station, be prepared for those type-A business leaders to reveal their true natures: dicks. Those professional, corporate, one-percenters, the men and women in expensive suits who give generously to the United Way every year will suddenly become … animals.  They will sprint to the announced gate, shove old ladies and little children out of the way of the escalator and knock over any poor schlub who’s between them and getting a window seat. This is how they achieved success in their lives!  This is how they win at Amtrak!

7. Don’t Get Too Excited by Amtrak Rewards

I’ve travelled dozens of times on Amtrak the past few months and have earned a free coke so far. This is not like the airlines. To earn enough miles for a decent reward you’ll have to hitch on one of those freighters near the zoo that are rumbling their way to Chicago. Oh, and does your username and password never work when purchasing a ticket? Phew, I thought it was just me.

8. Don’t Use the Internet

It doesn’t work. However, if you’d like to experience what it was like using an AOL dial-up connection in 1995, then you’ll get that experience trying to get online with Amtrak Connect. And no, your wireless provider’s service through your smartphone isn’t much better. Not sure why this service is so inconsistent but hey … DC to Boston is just the most populated region of the country and thousands of business people are relying on this train service every hour so it makes perfect sense that the Internet would be bad, right? Amtrak’s Internet service makes GoGo Inflight look like a T1 connection.

9. Don’t Make Your Conductor Angry

These poor people are on their feet all day, waking up passengers, dealing with jerks and delays. And they’re as sick of me as you are by now. Please don’t make their lives more miserable than they already are.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.

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  • SMH

    This was probably THE worst article I’ve ever read on Philly mag. You come across as such an arrogant jerk. Definitely not someone who should be putting their opinion out there to the masses. Get a life!

  • jc4275

    Very negative sounding. My experiences on Amtrak leave me with a much more positive concept of passenger rail, even if the occasional delay or weird event occurs.

  • Meg

    Here here! Get. Off. The. Phone.

  • Numinous

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! Thanks for saying what so many of us feel.

  • matthew brandley

    I agree with most of it. As far as the conductors Eff em! they are for the most part over paid rude and lazy. As for the food? I will never EVER eat amcraps over priced lousy food! I will bring on and have my own food and drink!

    • Ah Geez!

      Perhaps you have dealt with a few bad apples. However, consider this. A conductor is in charge of the train (a captain of sorts). They are continually busy operating the train SAFELY to get you from point A to point B.
      Not only are they telling you to get your feet off the seat next to you, they are also:
      1, Obtaining/releasing track warrants
      2. Ensuring the compliance of any speed restrictions, work zones, signal crossings.
      3. Must protect the crossings when gate arms malfunction.
      4. Must continually inspect the train throughout for both mechanical and safety issues.
      5. Collect/scan tickets
      6. Deal with rude, inconsiderate idiots.

      So, if you decide to “Eff ’em” simply because they didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t appease your every whim, know they’ve got more to do than you think.
      Just watch yourself. Re-read the Contract of Carriage and the on-board policies online. Violation of contract of carriage and/or policies can result in detraining. Non-compliance could result in police arrest.

  • SK

    What a negative article! I agree with some points (people become ridiculous at Penn station when the track is announced, yes) but overall you didn’t need to write a list of 10 negative points… How about 10 reasons to travel by rail rather than plane or car? I travel on Amtrak PHL-NYC 2-4 days a week and the majority of the time it’s a positive and easy experience. When I dont want to hear people talking, i sit in the quiet car.

  • AL

    This is really helpful information from someone who is clearly better than us all. Thank you, sir, for enlightening us!

  • Db

    How about don’t walk around with your shoes off, or put your feet on the seat like it’s your living room.

    • Dispatch66

      Oh yah, thank you for this one. I know what you mean especially sitting next to a young man last week who either never changes his socks or never washes his feet. Gross!

      • Cindy Morgenstern

        I don’t want to sound sexist here but why is it always men and boys who do this? They act like they are at home, push the seat back and sometimes even walk around with their dirty smelly socks. Wash your feet guys!

        • Dispatch66

          I can’t argue with that. I am an older male myself but I think it’s the way society is today and the more casual aspect of the younger generation. I have never taken my sneakers off except at home. I have seen only a couple of women do this but maybe their feet don’t sweat as much as a males do. Anyway, I have spoken up especially if there are no seats left and usually they will put their sneakers or work boots back on.

  • Random Comment

    Don’t eat on the train? That’s funny, I thought they had a car… A dining car, if you will… for that very reason.

  • Sharon Patrick Rodriguez

    What a load of BS. My 4 year old grandson could definitely give you lessons on Amtrak etiquette. I’m so glad I’ve never run into a fool like you on Amtrak! We’ve traveled all over this country many times…. several times on our Amtrak rewards. And BTW, if I ever see Joe Biden on the train I will thank him profusely for his awesome support of our national rail.

    • smitty195

      LOL! Dumbest human being to ever serve in the United States Senate, and now the dumbest VP ever. Yup, that’s Biden. (And crooked, too….look at what he’s gotten for his son).

  • Sarah

    #7 is ridiculous. Between train travel, the shopping portal, Double Days, and the AGR Master Card, I rack up enough points to earn us 2-3 round-trip journeys in roomettes and bedrooms every year. Once you get the hang of the points system, it’s easy.

  • PerRock

    @GeneMarks, 1st off where is the 10th Rule you speak of?

    Lets rattle down why some of your rules might not actually be the best
    1. Also, so based off your rules when I take Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle, that’s 2 days on the train you expect me to starve myself?

    2. Ok there is some merit to this one. But people still need to have communications these days with others on the phone. A better way would be, “Keep phone calls to a minimum & the volume down.”

    3. Yes there are cheaper fares, in general it’s a good idea to look for them. If you can’t afford the Acela, take a Regional. But in reality does it really matter who paid for it? How about, don’t complain about paying for a ticket.

    4. Actually a lot of celebrities that take Amtrak do it out of choice & preference, not because they are forced to. From the reports of people running into them, the celebrities are usually quite happy to meet people on the train.

    5. On a full train, definitely, on an empty train, again who cares. If you have your pick of any seat, are you really going to pick to sit next to the guy that has his stuff on the other seat? If you have your stuff on the seat next to you, be prepared to move it if asked.

    6. Naturally, but then that goes with any line anywhere.

    7. Amtrak Guest Rewards are actually really good. Especially if you have the Chase Rewards Card, you can earn tons of points on your regular everyday purchases. I know more people who have gotten free trips with AGR then any other travel rewards program.

    8. Don’t do heavy processing on the internet. Amtrak’s internet uses Cellphone internet technology. So it needs to be treated like your phone. Streaming stuff is going to slow it down for everyone.

    9. Expand that to all staff, anywhere.

  • Why would I listen to what self-proclaimed expert Gene Marks has to say about Anything? If the type As can be jerks, why can’t we? I’ll talk to whom I want, I’m eating when I’m hungry, drinking when I’m thirsty and telling you to F-Off if you annoy me or mention how NYC is better than Philly. BTW, please stop with the ‘first off’…it’s just ‘First’, OK?
    Now move your briefcase and coat before I hafta go all all Philadelphia on your a$$…

  • marco

    This piece was a waste of time. Telling people not eat? Tell Amtrak to stop selling food and not to use diner cars. This is so typical of the pseudo elitist articles of Philadelphia magazine. Better yet why don’t you take the Mega Bus, Bolt Bus, SEPTA and stop writing irrelevant bull like this. Sorry I read it. This is why no longer buy this magazine.