Answers to common questions about overnight train travel

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This spring, I took an Amtrak sleeper train from Sacramento to Denver and back. I enjoyed watching breathtaking landscapes unfold as we drove past herds of elk on the banks of the long and deep Colorado River, amazing rock formations throughout Utah, unexpected snowfalls in the Rocky Mountains and, at the end of the journey, the Sierra.

It gave us a fantastic view of the natural beauty of our country, and my only duty was to observe it. I didn’t have to worry about going in the right direction, where to stop to eat, stay alert, or even stay awake. Traveling by rail is a gift, and given the turmoil in the airline industry and troubling gas prices, it makes more sense than ever.

At the same time, the prospect of spending the night in a sleeping car, for obvious reasons, raises a number of questions. That’s what I learned when my family went to the West.

Question: What is the difference between rooms and bedrooms?

IT HAS: This is difficult to answer because the definitions of western trains (double-deck superliners) and eastern trains (viewliners) differ, and in some cases even depend on when the train was produced. Amtrak spokesman Mark Magliari says “the bedroom, wherever you are, includes a shower and toilet.” There is one exception: the disabled bedroom does not have a shower; instead, space is reserved for wheelchairs or mobile devices. If no one reserves an accessible bedroom, it is open to everyone, with or without disabilities, a week or two before check-out day. Magliari says some lines have a sink and toilet in the rooms.

On the Zephyr we drove the coupe in one direction and in the H bedroom in the other. In our room, two comfortable sized chairs stood opposite each other between a sliding glass door on one side and a large window on the other. At night, chairs were pulled out of the wall to form one bunk, and a second bunk from above descended from the wall.

Aboard the Amtrak Crescent train, amazing comfort and welcome privacy on a slow train to Mississippi.

Question: What is the best room to book?

IT HAS: On superliners, bedroom A is the smallest, so try any other room. Large groups on the Superliner can book a family bedroom with two adults and two children, but no toilet, sink or shower. The upstairs rooms on the Zephyr seemed preferable due to the ease of access to the dining and viewing cars, and they seemed more spacious on this level, but I also appreciated the privacy on the lower level. The levels are connected by narrow stairs, there is no lift for people with disabilities.

Question: How do bathrooms work?

IT HAS: Bathrooms also vary in size and location. In our Marshmallow Bedroom, only a fabric curtain separated the seats from the toilet, but the sink was nice. There were several bathrooms and a shower room in the corridor, which the bus passengers did not have access to. These bathrooms were quite small, about the size of an airplane toilet, and the family bathroom…

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