Baby on Board!
April 4, 2008 6:47 AM   Subscribe

The wife and I will be taking our four month old baby on an Amtrak train from Chicago to St. Louis. Does anybody have any recommendations for surviving this?

Specific insight on the following would be appreciated:
-Whether or not to keep the baby in the car seat as much as possible.
-The availability of changing stations on the train.
-Where to park near Union Station where I won't get charged an arm and a leg for overnight parking
posted by blackjack514 to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some years back, I took the Amtrak route from St. Louis to Chicago several times when I was young and poor, last time was around ten years ago.

As a rule of thumb, pack for delays. How long Amtrak says the trip takes is sometimes only a darkly hilarious best-case scenario--it only takes one problem somewhere on the rail to lead to truly painful delays. My personal worst-case was a trip that turned into at least 9 hours due to some unspecified bridge problem. Another occasion, some other train had issues, and there was several hours of sitting around while things like the other train getting moved onto a siding, our train reversing to link up to its cars, etc. I really don't mean to sound like such a downer, but from my Amtrak experience on that route, it really made me appreciate air travel by comparison. :)

So just pack accordingly for the diaper bag, etc. Hopefully they've improved since my experiences.
posted by Drastic at 6:58 AM on April 4, 2008

If I remember correctly, not every bathroom has a changing station, but there should be at least 1 per car in the bigger bathrooms. I'd also scope out the seating on the lower level that's generally reserved for handicap seating, but they're not always occupied. It might be a good place to take a screaming baby if you can't calm him/her down.

on preview: Drastic's right. I just took a denver-chicago trip and we were about 7 hours late.
posted by lilac girl at 7:00 AM on April 4, 2008

We just took our 4-month-old on a day-and-a-half Amtrak trip. She was great, but it got a little long. We rented a bedroom...are you just sitting in the regular seats?

There were no changing stations that I saw on our train, but I was able to easily change her on the bench seats in our room.

Re: car seat, depends again on if you are sitting in seats or in a bedroom, and how long the trip is. Our baby is great on 3-hour flights in her car seat the whole way, but the nice thing about the roominess of the train is you can take her out. If she's not sleeping the whole way, I would take her out, pass her around, let her practice standing on your lap or the seat next to you, etc. She needs to stretch out just like we do.
posted by GaelFC at 7:28 AM on April 4, 2008

PS: We had none of the issues Drastic mentions. I made sure to have plenty of diapers, wipes, toys, and bottles, of course. You might find it easier to bring some of your own food, too, so you don't have to juggle her on a trip down to the food car.
posted by GaelFC at 7:29 AM on April 4, 2008

Yeah, just to add to the crowd, you will not get to Chicago in four hours. Five hours at best, but I've had a nine hour ordeal on this route as well. The bathrooms get really ripe when this happens. Pack lots of food (and water).

On the good side, it's not usually an overly crowded train, so you should be able to spread out.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2008

Opt for business class (or whatever Amtrak calls it these days).
posted by nitsuj at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2008

Is it a nighttime run? If so, please consider getting a sleeper for the comfort of your baby and out of consideration for folks riding coach (especially since this is the first time you'll be trying this and you don't know how the baby will react).
posted by quarterframer at 9:10 AM on April 4, 2008

We've done both a 4- and 7-hr east coast route many times with Baby Cocoa over the last few years and it's great. Way better than a car. I think for a 4mo the car seat depends on whether you need it at your destination and whether Baby Blackjack sleeps better in one. I often just nursed and held Baby Cocoa. A sling or pouch is great for this because it means you can still get up and move around even if the baby's asleep. (Also, a carrier of some sort is useful when you're both dealing with luggage or baby crap and need all four hands.) I wouldn't keep the baby in the carseat otherwise unless s/he's really distressed by travel. Most people around us were at least sympathetic to travel with baby and many times thrilled there was a baby around (lots of grandparents take trains!).
- On planes and trains I make a point to walk up and down the aisle a few times early in the trip when the baby's in a good mood and let him charm his fellow passengers--I think it helps later if the baby's crying that people have "met" him and don't resent some faceless crying kid.
- We weren't in love with a pacifier, but made exceptions for trips since it was a dependable soother and meant that I could detach from the baby without all hell breaking loose.
- You and your wife may want to agree in advance about who watches Baby Blackjack when. You'll both need downtime given the close quarters. When Mr Cocoa and I have taken a more laissez faire attitude (Whaddya mean "watch" the baby? What could possibly happen to him?) we both end up on alert all the time and arrive cranky and tired. What's worked for us is either alternating each hour or, for a longer trip, doing a 2hr stint each, then an hour stint, then a half hour (a pattern that takes into account everyone's dwindling energy levels).
- With business class you have a bit more legroom and can lay down a playmat where s/he can sit or loll. Some new curiosities to play with wouldn't hurt. But, get up and walk around a lot. It really helps pass the time.
- You'll be able to find some changing tables, but they're not in every bathroom. Scout out the closest one(s). For these occasions I bring a yard of rubberized cotton (example) that I lay down on the floor for bathrooms without a changing area. It's a lot better than nothing, it rolls or folds small, and you can throw it in the wash later. I don't think I'd change a 4mo in the seat.
- We do bring a lot of our own food and water because, well, train food sucks, and sometimes there are huge lines and it's more pleasant all around to have our own.
- Have fun. Take pictures. Train travel can be a nice opportunity for some relaxed family time.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:23 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Haven't done this route, but I have traveled on Amtrak with kids and highly recommend the sleeper room for 4 people. That plus diner car service and you'll be traveling pretty comfortably with a kid.

Nthing that Amtrak is never on time. My worst case was a 24 hour delay. The Coast Starlight, traveling southbound from Vancouver, is IIRC commonly 2hrs late by the time it gets to Portland, OR.

I asked why Amtrak doesn't revise the schedule, if they're regularly late. One person said that Amtrak had, but that the freight company that owns the rails just bumped Amtrak trains further down the priority list, making them once again late.
posted by zippy at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2008

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