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.