Has anyone traveled the Amtrak Lakeshore Limited?
January 10, 2007 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Is it a good idea to take Amtrak from Chicago to New York City?

I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with this service (Chi-NYC). The train is called the "Lakeshore Limited". My wife and are considering a sleeper-car trip in June. Don't worry, we're not in a hurry! I am an Amtrak veteran (in coach) so I know there will almost certainly be delays. However, most of my experiences have been between DC and NYC which is rumored to have better service. Is the Lakeshore Limited somewhat reliable by Amtrak standards? Presumably a sleeper will make some delay more tolerable...
posted by beachhead2 to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a BAD idea. But it will most likely be several hours late.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:42 AM on January 10, 2007

I've taken it once in each direction - it was on time enough to make a connecting train, so I would say probably about 2-6 hours late would be most likely.
posted by true at 7:48 AM on January 10, 2007

I've heard the train sometimes nicknamed the "Late for Sure Limited", so you can be fairly sure you'll end up with delays. One analysis of on-time performance from 11/29 though 12/28 shows the NY-Chicago train on-time 17% of the time, with an average delay of 1hr 25m; the Chicago-NY trip was never on time, average delay 1hr 37m. Just for the sake of more numbers, the most recent NY-bound LSL was 3 hours late, and Chicago-bound was 14 minutes early.
posted by Godbert at 7:51 AM on January 10, 2007

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks. 0%! Anyone have experience with a "sleeper" on Amtrak?
posted by beachhead2 at 7:54 AM on January 10, 2007

My wife and I just took it from NW ohio to Syracuse NY and it was a awesome trip. We had to get two sleeper cars because we have two kids, but it was SOOO much better then driving. I really don't think we will drive up there again. The food was great, they brought our breakfast right to our rooms in the morning.
My one complaint, as mentioned by others, is the four hour delay we had. Otherwise it was awesome, and we will definatly be doing it again.
posted by JonnyRotten at 7:56 AM on January 10, 2007

There's a pretty predictable but mercifully short delay around Albany. I'd say 3 out of 5 times there's a delay of 60-90 minutes, sometimes in the station (on top of scheduled stopover time) sometimes in the middle of nowhere. I've been taking this particular route several times a year for the last 8 or 10 years; it used to be much worse. I've never taken it further west than Buffalo, so I don't know what the schedule is like beyond there.
posted by sonofslim at 7:59 AM on January 10, 2007

More detail about the cars:

Each car had two seats facing each other that you could make into a bed, and a fold out bunk up top. A toilet was provided in each room, as was a small fold out sink and waste basket. The seats were pretty comfortable, my wife slept in the bed mode with our baby girl, I'm a big guy, so I slept sitting up in the seats, and my son slept in the up top bunk. He loved climbing up and down like a monkey. The seats reclined slightly, and I rested my feet on the opposite seat. There was also room for coats and luggage in a little nook above the hallway. Our bags weren't checked, just taken and giving back to us when we got to our destination.

Overall the rooms were cozy, but small. I had room to stretch which was pretty nice.
posted by JonnyRotten at 8:01 AM on January 10, 2007

Did a sleeper years ago with the family on a trip through the mid-west and southwest then up California home to Sacramento. Was ok, a little cramped but definitely do-able.

If you're doing the trip for the experience of seeing things, great - although I'm not sure how exciting CHI-NYC will be.

Otherwise, flights are cheap right now round trip between the two cities. I travel weekly for work and lately my RTs have been below $100.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:02 AM on January 10, 2007

I've done the sleeper between San Francisco and Chicago. It was pretty cool, very beautiful, but I was kind of bored by the end. (I had remembered a very different overnight Amtrak experience from the 1980s, with a bar car, and people drinking and talking into the wee hours, musicians playing -- this recent trip was all kids, parents, and grandparents.)

There are a couple of different models of the actual sleeper rooms, so you may want to check out exactly what the Lakeshore has ...
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:13 AM on January 10, 2007

My best friend and I took a sleeper from LA to Seattle. Different route than you're taking, but it was an incredibly fun trip. We played board games, wandered around the train and talked to people, etc. Sleeping on a train is particularly fun. When you get a sleeper, I believe your meals are included, and I always enjoy being seated at a table with strangers (if you're only 2 people it's bound to happen) and sharing a meal and finding out their stories. If you have time and are interested in taking a slow, ambling sort of trip, it's really, really fun.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:20 AM on January 10, 2007

We took the Lakeshore Limited from Syracuse to Chicago and back last February. I can say that sleeping in the seats is not altogether comfortable for an overnight, so check your options. I don't think we were *too* late arriving either way, but I wouldn't schedule something right around your expected arrival time.

It was fun though and I actually had a great time talking with some Mennonites that got on after us, especially after finding out one of them had family near where I grew up.

Make sure you have things to do or talk about during the last leg of the trip home though. I was itching to get out by that point.
posted by stefnet at 8:31 AM on January 10, 2007

If you're not in a hurry, it's plenty fun. We did it with a 4-month-old and cloth diapers! I only regret we didn't get to eat in the dining car, but we got the good hot food (included in the accomodations). Being used to New York City living spaces, it didn't seem all that small(!)
posted by rikschell at 8:35 AM on January 10, 2007

I've taken the Lakeshore Limited from NYC to Chicago and I think it's at a little disadvantage compared to routes west of Chicago because they can't have double-decker cars east of Chicago (tunnel issues). The double-decker viewing and dining cars are much more fun and spacious than the single-decker Lake Shore Limited. The LSL is usually packed and averages 24 hours for NYC-Chicago.
I also met lots of interesting folks on the train (including James Garner's son on his way to Rosemary Clooney's funeral).
posted by mattbucher at 8:51 AM on January 10, 2007

I don't have any experience with the train. I have general experience with train travel, and there's virtually always a quicker and cheaper way to travel.

I came in here to suggest "cheaper". JetBlue recently started service between NYC and Chicago and were offering insane specials on one-way and roundtrip flights. (cheap enough to perhaps negate the costs of airport commuting in both cities vs. total train costs) It's also one of the most comfortable and friendly coach-seating carriers around. If a plane trip is an option for you, that's what I'd look into. Trains and inter-city bus service are, for the most part, absurdly expensive, and I hate to see someone overpay a couple hundred dollars for a trip that takes many hours longer.

That said, nothing more scenic and relaxing than a long train trip. It's a vacation all its own.
posted by brianvan at 10:15 AM on January 10, 2007

My cousin just took Amtrak from Colorado to Boston, including the Lakeshore Limited from Chicago to NYC. He loved it, but did say you have to think of the train as part of your vacation, not just a mode of transportation to get somewhere.
He also ended up flying from Chicago to Boston b/c his train was late and he had an appt to make. He did take the train the whole way back though. He enjoyed the sleeper car, as well.
posted by jdl at 11:06 AM on January 10, 2007

apologies for playing devils advocate but with prices being this low (New York JFK, NY $39 OW, Travel thru May 10, 2007 on AA or B6) ... why take amtrak? I mean ... it's amtrak, not the TGV.
posted by krautland at 2:09 PM on January 10, 2007

My wife & I took it this past August.
What a dump!
Paid $900 for 1st class accommodations-
Cramped quarters, dirty carpeting, broken everything, shitty food, ANGRY staff.

The romance of the 17 hour trip never appears.

We are flying Jetblue next time ($440 rt!)
posted by stevejensen at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2007

Sure, but you'll be taking a chance. Two summers ago I took the Lakeshore Limited from Buffalo to Chicago. Worst travel experience of my life...even hours-long trips on Indian Rail (General class!) were better.

Booked one of these and arrived 15 minutes before departure time.
> the train was 7 hours late
> our car had no air conditioning, leaving hot, smelly air in its place
> the dining car ran out of everything about 8 minutes after departure
> our train's turtle pace lost another 5 hours on the way (travel time jumped from 9 to 14 hours)
> almost 24 hours after leaving home we arrived at our destination feeling, looking, but mostly smelling like shit
> also, the scenery sucked (no clue about the Buffalo to NYC section)

Point A to point B performance is ridiculous: 550 miles in 24 hours! And it's on a bloody track!
Never again. But good luck to you!
posted by pants tent at 6:31 AM on January 11, 2007

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