The Amtrak USA Rail Pass

Take a road trip without the road: Amtrak has options for those who have the time to train

Amtrak routes
Amtrak routes
America is a terribly scenic country, but rarely do we have the chance (or the time) to sit back and appreciate it.

Did you ever want to see a side of America where the route isn't lined with guardrails and picked out by a glowing conga line of 50-foot signposts for burger joints and motel chains?

Have you yearned to marvel at the vastness of the landscape besides that hazy patchwork of green and maybe some purple mountains rising in miniature majesty far below, glimpsed through breaks in the cloud cover?

If you can take two weeks or more to ride the rails of North America, Amtrak offers a keen rail pass.

Boxcar Willy—But with style

Amtrak ( is offering you the opportunity to live the life of a hobo for 15 to 45 days… only with comfy seats, a dining car, and none of that business about running alongside moving freight trains and jumping into box cars.

It's called the USA Rail Pass, and it lets you ride the rails to your heart's content throughout the U.S.A. The sky's the limit, folks. Well, not really the sky; that would require a plane. But the limit (aside from the number of segments you can travel) is at least the sizeable chunk of North America serviced cross-crossed by railroad tracks, and that's quite a bit.

We're talking 900 stations connected by more than 27,900 miles of track in 46 states (the off-limits states are simply those with no Amtrak service, which includes Alaska and Hawaii—naturally—plus South Dakota and Wyoming, which is sad as both are terribly scenic).

Heck, you could even cross the whole darn country in fell swoop between Washington, DC and and Los Angeles via Chicago aboard the "Capitol Limited" and "Southwest Chief." That's 63 hours straight of rail travel, over two and a half days spent traversing a staggering 2,717 miles (and, were you to have to pony up for a regular ticket, $387—just $2 shy of the cost of the 15-day railpass).

How the Amtrak rail pass works

You get a certain number of days and/or segments you can use up in an 180 day period as follows (these are 2012 prices):

A "segment" is used up any time you get off a train and onto a new one.

For example, there is no train direct from Washington, DC to Oklahoma City. You'd have to go from DC to Chicago, Chicago to Fort Worth, Fort Worth to OK City. That's three segments.

There are some other fiddly (and complicated to explain) restrictions; refer to for details.

You do need to make reservations on each train. The pass is not a ticket per se; it's more of a voucher for a ticket. You still need to get a a seat set aside for you for each leg.

You can make these on the spot as you go along, even minutes before the train's scheduled to depart—though, of course, it's far wiser to book each on-going leg perhaps a day or two in advance, just in case the train you want fills up (and because there is only a limited number of seats on a given train open to passholders).

Where can I get an Amtrak pass?

You can get the pass online at, or from Amtrak agents in train stations—or your local travel agent can sell you a voucher, which you can exchange for the pass at any station—or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.

Don't have the time to take the train both ways? The Amtrak Vacations branch of the company ( often features air-train passes that let you ride the rails in one direction, then fly home.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

Related Articles



This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in January 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.