My Unconventional Journey From DC To Staten Island With Amtrak’s Sleeper Car

I was heading to DC for work and planned to meet my wife and daughter in New York. Our plan changed a bit, and instead of meeting downtown I needed to heat out to Staten Island (gosh, I hadn’t been there since late 2018 or early 2019). So my plan to arrive at New York LaGuardia at 5 p.m. on a 7,000 mile award wasn’t looking so good. Maybe it would take just an hour to get over to Staten Island, but it could easily take two.

Prices for most alternatives were pretty ugly. I wanted to fly into Newark but United was getting $450 for that. To get a reasonable price I considered the 1:55 p.m. JetBlue flight into New York JFK ($120) and that would get me in at 3 p.m. which was probably early enough to avoid traffic, but also I didn’t actually need to be in Staten Island so early.

So I checked on Amtrak to Metropark in New Jersey. The 2:15 p.m. would get me in at the perfect time to cruise up to dinner at 6 p.m. if everything was on time.

$170 for coach or… $352 for a private room? I looked a little deeper because in all of my time taking Amtrak (I lived in DC for 18 years) I’d never done a sleeper car!

It turned out that $352 was for a ‘Roomette’ rather than a ‘Bedroom’. The bedroom was sold out, but an accessible bedroom was available. It wasn’t that much of an upcharge from the roomettte, but $434 seemed insane. At that price I’d fly to Newark. And besides I felt a little like I was doing something wrong, booking an accessible accommodation I did not need.

I figured I’d never done a roomette, that was kind of interesting!

The Roomette comes with access to Amtrak’s ClubAcela or in this case Metropolitan lounge. I took a meeting at Union Station around 12:30 p.m. for my 2:15 p.m. train, and at 1:45 p.m. went to the lounge. Even though there are staff at the entrance, the doors are locked and you have to buzz for them to be opened. They open them for anyone who buzzes.

An agent at the desk scanned my ticket. They told me that my train would be called from in the lounge, and then seeing that I was in a sleeper seat they told me that “someone should be collecting you any minute.” No one ever did.

I went inside the lounge to wait, figuring either someone would come or the train would get called. The space itself is rather sad and soulless. There is no natural light. There are no windows. There is furniture, some packaged snacks, and people waiting for trains. The people are either on important-sounding calls that all can hear, or they look sad too.

The lounge is on two levels, in the sense that one level is raised slightly, and it wraps around with some different seating areas.

The nice thing to say about the food and beverage options is that while there is no alcohol, there is plenty of ‘to go’ bottled water, juice and soda. Take what you wish. There’s popcorn, pretzels, and chips plus some cookies and clif bars.

After 20 minutes train Crescent 20 was announced, about 10 minutes to scheduled departure. Everyone on that train (there were four of us) gathered by one of the exit doors to the lounge. She walked us out Gate F, onto the platform, and back inside to track 25 where she sent us down the escalator to our train saying “it’s the one on the left.”

I walked into the train cabin and was shown to a different roomette than the one on my ticket. I was told that that one had just been vacated and needed to “air out.” But there were several that appeared to be open. I was struck by how small the roomette was, a contrast to the full-sized rooms I’d see later. The knobs and electronics looked like something out of the late 1960s, maybe a Bond film where a train car murder takes place.

There are two seats opposite from each other, and there’s a fold out seat and a hidden toilet. Above the seats is a bed – but boy it is close to the ceiling of the train car, and anyone that’s large might squeeze between the mattress and ceiling possibly touching both?

There’s towels, pillows, and bedding. You open a latch and the sink pops down. You lift a cover and there’s a toilet. You can draw the curtains for privacy, which of course is good because the room is also your bathroom.

The train has power and wifi, neither of which worked at the station, but once the train got going both were fine. Wifi wasn’t nearly as good as satellite internet in the air on Delta, American or JetBlue – but much better than the last time I used it.

The trip came with a meal and beverage, though alcoholic beverages were charged. The attendant came by and asked if I’d be eating. He said “most people take the beef.” I took that as a hint and ordered it. And it was genuinely disgusting – like a frozen dinner reject, because the meat was too low quality. It was chewy and tough. I ate a piece and then tried a second piece to make sure the first wasn’t an outlier. Genuinely terrible. There was a small salad, a dinner roll (unheated), and a shrink-wrapped dessert. Good thing I was going to dinner at my destination.

I worked on the train for awhile, and then got up to walk around and stretch my legs. There were a couple of empty full-sized bedrooms, and those looked far more comfortable – much larger, and with a private shower inside. However the bunk bed is still way too close to the ceiling, just as in the roomette.

Anyone staying in a roomette has access to a shared shower at the back of the train car. I did not avail myself of this. Bags of dirty laundry were piled in the space between the shower and the towel rack in any case.

After a short three hour journey I disembarked at Metropark Station in New Jersey.

It took me half an hour to get on the road from there. I requested an Uber, but they insisted they didn’t have their toll transponder and wouldn’t take the ride. I approached the one waiting taxi and he wouldn’t go to Staten Island. A Lyft driver who didn’t speak English couldn’t find the station (?). Another taxi refused the trip. Finally another Uber still picked me up after a 10 minute wait.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It sounds like a flat-out waste of hundreds of dollars. A regular NER seat arrives at the same time.

  2. And you look at what China, Europe, Japan, etc. is doing with developing really comfortable high speed trains that operate on time and are in systems that are designed to compete with air travel. The Northeast corridor carries Amtrak, but things like this are pathetic and haven’t gotten better for decades. And should you be doing a long distance (and expensive!) trip, say from Chicago to Seattle…don’t count on it being on time for any stops in between or at the end. It’s generations of neglect by many politicians and industries who profited from pushing new roads and developments, plus cars, trucks and planes over trains. The results mirror a lot of declines here.

  3. Hey Gary, those bunks that look too close to the ceiling actually descend into the space below them for sleepy time. That way you have more space beneath when you’re awake, and more space to snooze when you’re asleep.

  4. Thanks for the review Gary. We have an Amtrak station a couple of hours from our house and have considered doing an overnight train just for the experience. But we ride the Japanese train system several times a year and I’m afraid we are spoiled by it. It’s amazing how those trains run on time and are clean and comfortable. We can had one of the smaller lines that was two minutes late one day. The conductor jumped off, ran to the platform and apologized to each passenger as we got off the drain.

  5. For clarity’s sake: the bed near the ceiling is the second bed in the roomette, the primary bed is created from folding down the seats, and is quite comfortable, if a bit short.

    No clue however, why anyone would spend several hundred extra dollars to ride in a roomette on a short daytime trip like this one however.

  6. Amtrak is phasing out toilets in the roomettes for the very reason the assigned cabin had to “air out!” It is inconvenient for two people in a room. The newer sleepers don’t have them, and Amtrak might remodel the older cars as funds allow. There are or will be two public toilets per sleeper, depending on the car. All the bedrooms still have an enclosed toilet/hand held shower. Yes, the price is insane, but the cabins sell out on the Florida trains and Western double decker trains. Sorry about the food, but Amtrak is slowly bringing back full service diners on long distance trains—but don’t hold your breath. What you had was indeed a microwaved tv dinner. I follow your column for air news, but I’m a train buff at heart.

  7. The rail systems in almost ANY country besides ours is in much better shape. I can only hope that the recent promised infusion of billions of dollars will eventually (After I am dead? I’m a Senior.) make Amtrak better or competitive with “world class” trains? Out here in CA., many of us are anxiously waiting to see what Brightline will produce on the new LA-Las Vegas high speed (private) rail line.

  8. In the 1990s I was the Product Line Director for the Crescent – trains 19 and 20. In those days the Viewliner car in which you rode was new and generally better than the 1950s vintage sleepers they replaced. From you photos, they look a bit tired 30 years on.

    In a cost-saving measure some years ago Amtrak sidelined the actual dining cars where the food was cooked to order and replaced it with the sub-par airline food you were served. Our food was arguably the best of any single-level train (operating into Penn Station, New York, versus double-deck Superliner cars operating to the west). My mother still raves about the grilled lamb chops she was served on the Crescent.

    As to the laundry piled in the shower, lack of storage, especially for refuse, has always been a problem on Amtrak. The trade-off of space for trash versus space for passengers is always won by the latter.

    I agree with some of the other comments in that you would have been better served by taking an Acela or Northeast Regional train rather than springing for a roomette. In fact, as the train on which you rode originated the day before in New Orleans, I’m a bit surprised that Amtrak sold you the sleeping accommodation for such a short trip. In my era, shorts were not allowed on long-distance trains operating on the Northeast Corridor. In the case of the Crescent you had to ride to or from a station south of Manassas, Va.

  9. Gary Leff wrote: “I walked into the train cabin and was shown to a different roomette than the one on my ticket. I was told that that one had just been vacated and needed to “air out.” ”
    I wonder if “air out” is Amtrak codespeak meaning “the previous guests were infected with COVID-19 or MPOX (Monkeypox).”

  10. I travel by train in Europe occasionally. Its generally very nice and 1/3 the price of Amtrak. .

    Amtrak is the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars beside the Ukraine scam. Thanks for sharing what lighting $20 billion a year on fire looks like.

    Maybe we should give the subsidy dollars to Brightline and see what they can do. We know Amtrak is a total failure.

  11. Next time, try a room on the Silver Star or Silver Meteor. Those trains have traditional dining car service. Crescent might get it soon, though!

  12. It’s about time Amtrak resumes proper dining car service on Eastern trains, as they’ve done in the West. The failure to do so is unconscionable, at the high prices they charge.

  13. And we pump so much TAXPAYERS $$$$ into the amtrak system for nothing… sad and wasteful just like most other things the gov wastes our tax $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$on…

  14. The upper bunk pulls down to the top of the chairs. You can see the rails for this above each chair.

  15. If you had asked the sleeping car attendant to make the bed for you they would have. If you wanted to use the upper to “sleep” and the lower to sit and watch scenery that would work fine. When made up the upper comes down about 12-15 inches approximately.

  16. I read how people think spending tax dollars is a complete waste of money. No it isn’t. What we lack is better investment. We invest $209.9 Billion in highways every year while we only invest about $2 billion in passenger rail. The problem is no one wants to ride rail because of the lack of investment by the government. European passenger rail is publicly owned and subsidized while American rail is privately owned. Over the coming decades as gas prices increase, we will see an urgent need for public Transporation funding, subsidies, and capital investments. If we don’t, our economy will suffer. Dollar for dollar, rail is the most efficient form of Transporation.

  17. I don’t know. Kinda looks like Etihad first apartments except for the meal. Joking/not joking.

  18. What’s wrong w you? I’ve used Amtrak NY to Providence and sit on tge seat provided. You don’t need those rooms w a bed or private toilet w shower. There’s a toilet at the end of the train car. The Acela is overpriced for saving one hour of travel. Yes I’ve taken tge trans Europe express and traveled all over Europe.. Much cheaper and tge one w tge 2 beds in the compartments are good. When u are tired you will sleep anywhere .Amtrak has a senior price.

  19. What a pity article. U should see trains in post soviet countries. U saying sad and soulless is disrespect to the people who tried really hard to comfy your way between the cities. And disgusting food. But in Russia that will be ripped furniture, beaten corners, fallen ceiling, stinky bed with insects. Rude personnel. Say thank you to the things you have here. Such disrespectful and unthankful remarks.

  20. You were extremely lucky the train was on time. Long-hauls from the south are at the mercy of freight, and it is not uncommon to see them many hours late. The “flexible dining” food is microwaved crap. We spend a fortune subsidizing highways and airports, but Amtrak is somehow expected to survive running 30-year-old trains across 150-year-old tracks, without any operating subsidies. So, yeah, your amusing journey in an old sleeper is the result.

  21. There are actually two beds in a roommette and in a bedroom. The car attendant makes them up from the daytime seating. I’ve slept in the upper bump on both toes of sleeping car and felt there was plenty of space between me and the ceiling. It’s true that amtrak’s food service is very spotty . A much better alternative would have been a business class seat, which is like flying first class.

  22. Our Lessons Learned in a Roomette. Overnight Autotrain.
    1. With bunk down almost no room to turn around, dress.
    2. Sleeping in the lower bed above the trucks is joke. Good Luck.
    3. Return trip second level room much better for sleeping if we hadn’t been too close to engine and every crossing horn.

    Won’t do it again.
    At least a real dining car

  23. @ExeterDave

    I wish long distance trains such as the Crescent, which I love as it stops in my home station, had a coach, business class and then sleeper option. But as far as I can tell, and it is certainly true for the current Crescent, the options are coach or a sleeper. On a day train, such as the Carolinian, the two options are coach or business class and no option for a sleeper.

    I do wish the Crescent had a business class option with curtains on the windows, free drinks, and a food option more than the cafe and the Carolinian had a sleeper. Even as a day trip some people prefer the quiet and privacy and can are willing to pay for it.

  24. Fascinating insight into Amtrak roomette, managed by a quasi-government entity that is Amtrak. Just some thoughts.
    1. Amtrak Acela First Class DC to NY (or anywhere inbetween) is lovely and worth it, with fine food service, and you get Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
    2. I’ve also done a roomette on the NE Regional. Food offers are best declined. Especially useful when I want privacy and peacefulness without neighboring guests. It’s akin to being in a transcontinental business class cubicle.
    3. Like much of the NE US, you have to deal with historical aspects. (It ain’t Dubai.)
    4. Uber, at best, is a work in progress. Uber is Uber? Enough is enough? Sadly, your Uber experience is not atypical. Half the time I use the Uber app, (or maybe more than half,) I have a horrid, wretched experience. Sometimes, the Uber app works smoothly and meets expectations as promoted. In and around DC and NY, we sadly have nothing like London’s Black Cabbies, who spend three years learning The Knowledge before picking up their first passenger.

  25. The president is trying to get our infrastructure somewhat modernized. It’s an uphill battle. I expect that if the Rail lines were again ordered to provide passenger service things would improve. But of course they’d scream to the federal government that they can’t do it without tax money.

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