Amtrak shipping for dummies
August 30, 2012 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Shipping stuff tonight on Amtrak for a cross-country move. Give me the nitty-gritty details!

I've read any posts/comments I can find that mention Amtrak shipping. I know I can't send breakables or anything with a plug and that the boxes can't individually weigh more than 50lbs. What am I missing? How did you label your boxes? Name/address or just station? Were they easy to find and pick up at the destination station? We've called our local station twice to verify that they can ship and they're open 24 hours, but I'm still freaking out. Anything you wish you'd known before you shipped with Amtrak?
posted by jabes to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not done it with Amtrak, but with Greyhound and airlines - I imagine there are similarities. I was shipping boxes a handled clothes trunk.

1. Wrap the stuff like it's going to get rained on, inside the box. So stuff, with a name/address/phone card (NAPcard), wrapped in plastic bags, and closed. Inside a box, with a NAPcard outside the plastic, secured / written inside the box. Seal the box, with a NAPcard on the outside of the box.

2. They will likely have forms for you to fill out, maybe shipping labels or their own brand of NAPcards.

3. Take pix of your containers after they strap the Amtrak-specific luggage tags on them / trip tickets on them.

I've taken Amtrak from luggage and non-luggage stations, but I traveled with carry on only and didn't pay attention to the specifics, but I remember porters with carts and luggage piled under an awning waiting for a train. Good luck!
posted by tilde at 5:48 AM on August 30, 2012

There's generally a freight office in the stations where Amtrak offers shipping. Sometimes you have to look around for it, often it's stuck in a back corner somewhere. Ask a Red Cap if you can't find it immediately. You should drop your stuff off at the office at the origin station and pick it up at the office at the destination.

If it's not going on a direct train from one point to the other, then I would definitely wrap anything in plastic that can't get wet, since it seems possible they might sit outside. (Although admittedly, I've never seen packages sitting outside in the rain on any of my Amtrak travels.) Trash bags or cheap plastic dropcloths used like wrapping paper, sealed with duct tape, are what I'd use.

When I've used Amtrak for shipping it was for faster-than-express point-to-point stuff (e.g. drop a package off in Washington and have someone pick it up in Philly a few hours later), basically as an alternative to having someone courier it. In that case I just packed things as though I was sending it through the mail, but with the destination station and date clearly marked.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:45 AM on August 30, 2012

Yeah, I taped my name, phone number, and destination station to *everything*. This was probably overkill, but hey, why not? I will note that nothing got wet, although everything got dirty/dusty.

They will not open the boxes [in my experience] so you can sneak small appliances in, if you are so inclined. I sincerely doubt it would matter, as long as you don't try to insure them.

What's your destination station? Some are easy to deal with, some are not (*cough* Newark *cough*). Bear in mind that the baggage guys will usually only be able to help you if there isn't a train they have to unload, so you may get stuck sitting there awhile. This happened to me and I had to resort to loudly complaining until helped.
posted by zvs at 11:46 AM on August 30, 2012

Oh, and most places will hold the boxes an extra day or two, despite the nominal charge. Both SEA and NWK did that for me.
posted by zvs at 11:46 AM on August 30, 2012

I think the important thing to put on the box is not your address but your phone number.

The only thing I've shipped with Amtrak is my bike. I just went up to the ticket counter when I dropped it off and filled out a form, then we walked over to the baggage area and I put the bike in the box and one of the guys took it. When I picked it up I just went to the ticket counter again and they called one of the baggage handlers and pointed me to the back where the baggage area was. These were rather sleepy stations, at busier stops you might be able to just go straight to the baggage area and talk to someone there.

My bike took a bit longer to ship than just the train schedule would indicate, since express shipments are lower priority than passenger baggage.
posted by ckape at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2012

Label everything really well and pack everything really well. I shipped stuff from Albany (NY) to Emeryville (CA) this way and everything arrived fine.

The only problem I had was that the freight staff in Emeryville had given one of my boxes to someone else and I just happened to see it on their cart. Apparently, the guy just pointed to the boxes he thought were his and the staff handed them over without checking claim stubs. My box happened to have old shipping labels from the University I had worked at and this guy was moving from - I think he genuinely thought it was his, but he actually argued with me that it was his box until I pointed out my name and address and showed him the corresponding claim stub.

So label well and keep your claim stubs and don't let your stuff sit around at the station longer than you need to.
posted by gyusan at 12:28 PM on August 30, 2012

Response by poster: Great info, everyone. I hadn't thought of putting a phone number on the boxes along with name/address but will definitely do that. Station I'm going to is Denver, and I'm not riding the train along with my stuff but it might sit in the station a few days before I get there to pick it up, so I'm kind of worried about that. Any other info appreciated! I'll update with all my tips & tricks once the move is through.
posted by jabes at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2012

Letting it sit there a while should be fine. There is supposed to be a small fee ($5 per item per day, I think) if you wait over 48 hours, but nobody asked me for anything when I picked up my checked baggage nearly a week late. Your stuff should be kept in a back room until you show up, so barring things like gyusan's story no one is going to walk off with your stuff.
posted by ckape at 1:58 PM on August 30, 2012

This might be too late, sorry! I would label each box with contact info, and also with a "box number". I use 6-to-a-sheet labels that I run through my printer for this. Then, in a notebook that you keep with you, write down what is in each box number. That way, if any boxes go missing, you at least know what was in them, generally, without having written, you know "All my DVDs are in here, world!" on the side of the box.

When I did it, Amtrak also made labels with information, though I'm not seeing that mentioned above.

How much stuff do you have, and where is the endpoint (not sure if you mean Denver as endpoint, sorry)? At smaller stations, they may not have room for all of your boxes at once, in which case, they will let the boxes continue riding the rails until they come back when they have space. For me, this happened in San Jose, CA, and my stuff did eventually make its way back. If you have a fair amount of stuff and options for stations (e.g., I could have chosen Oakland), you might want to choose a bigger station for this reason.
posted by freezer cake at 4:20 PM on August 30, 2012

Response by poster: I can't believe I spent so much time freaking out about this, and it turned out perfectly! Here's my situation:

Shipped almost 700 pounds from the Pittsburgh station (they're open 24 hours) so we dropped the boxes off really late, like 3am, when no passengers were around and it was easy to get help. The limit is supposed to be 500 pounds per shipment, but the guy at the Pittsburgh station didn't care that we were over. Apparently the policy is that if a shipment is over 500 pounds, they have to start a "new" shipment, which just means they start charging you the base price for the first 100 pounds again. I think it saved us a few bucks by having it as one shipment but it wasn't worth worrying about. We had almost 30 boxes, and they were loaded onto two wooden pallets and shrink-wrapped together. We put name/address/phone number on all boxes, and did the numbering system mentioned above by freezer cake, writing a number in Sharpie on the box and then jotting down on a sheet of paper what was in the box. Of course we misplaced the sheet :)

The guy in Pittsburgh was willing to hold our shipment for a couple of days which was AWESOME because we wanted to take our time getting to the destination station, Denver. So we dropped our stuff on a Friday and he didn't send it out until Monday. When Denver called us that our stuff was in, they said we had 48 hours to pick it up, and then after that it would be $3 day per box to store it. We went early on a Saturday morning to pick it up, backed our cars up to their loading dock, and they rolled the pallets out so we could load up our trunks easily. Probably took about 15 minutes to load the boxes in the cars.

My advice for people doing this: call the stations directly that you're shipping to and from to ask if they can hold boxes for you, what they charge, how long it will take your boxes to arrive, etc. The 1-800 number is useless and they'll just transfer you to your local station after making you wait on hold forever. We packed small electronics and breakables in larger boxes, surrounded by clothes and other soft stuff, and as far as I know, everything made it in one piece. None of our boxes were damaged at all and nothing got wet, but that could just be the luck of the draw. It's probably a good idea to at least put plastic bags or something like that on top of your stuff before you tape your boxes shut. I'd also make most boxes about the same weight. We had some close to 50 pounds, and some about 10 pounds, and I don't think the guy who packed them on the pallet put the heavier ones on the bottom. So there definitely could've been some smushed boxes.

Our total cost to ship 700 pounds of stuff about 1500 miles was $325 -- I think about $45 for the first 100 pounds, and then maybe .50 for each additional pound. Definitely the best way to ship our stuff. Thanks to everybody for the helpful advice and for making our move successful!
posted by jabes at 7:35 AM on September 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

With all your help, I just shipped 450lbs/14 boxes from Boston to Los Angeles! Thank you so much! For anyone else reading for tips, I highly recommend using Amtrak. All of the advice above was helpful. The Amtrak employees on both ends could not have been nicer. One guy in LA even helped me get my boxes into a friend's truck.

I used a ZipVan to move the boxes from my apt to South Station. That was also SUPER easy - much more convenient than renting a UHaul. I labeled all the boxes excessively and lined the inside with thick black trash bags before packing the stuff in. Only one box had a bit of superficial damage, but it was because it was lopsided (my illegal microwave was in there so I can't complain). You're not supposed to pack in plastic bins, but I had one that they let slip by.

I did the whole thing by myself, so if you're stuck in a similar situation, make sure you pack the boxes light enough for you to carry. I got 20 from Home Depot for under $30. The small ones were perfect for most items.

One last thing, definitely call the local numbers of the stations in advance to ask what the best time is to drop off/ pick up and also where to park.

For Boston, call 617-345-7458 and drive down Summer Street, take a right onto Dorchester Ave and its the first right. There is a security check point.

For LA, call 213-683-6897 and drive along the right side of Union station, following the road until you see a ramp on the right. There were plenty of people around to ask if you get lost.
posted by nbaseman at 9:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older How might I have better conversations with my...   |   Okay to move out but still be together? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.