Traveling by Amtrak – dogs not allowed
Since Chloe was a puppy (and for many years before that), this post was accurate. But a year or so ago, Amtrak launched a pilot program in the suburban Chicago area, trying out the experiment of allowing passengers to travel with pet dogs and cats, and recently the company announced a wonderful expansion of its pet travel pilot program. Keep your fingers crossed, be polite pet travelers, and let’s all hope that the expansion continues!
Amtrak’s pet policy bans all pets except “trained service animals accompanying passengers with disabilities in all customer areas in our stations, trains and Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches.” Some of you have been traveling on Amtrak for a long time, and may remember when dogs were allowed on board (either in the sleeping cars or, in carriers, in other cars). That policy was changed in 1976.
I had planned to bring Chloe east to see my niece during the long weekend we’re spending in NYC, but since my travel plans ultimately included three short train trips, I left Chloe in Seattle. Instead, this weekend was a reconnaissance mission, to see whether I want to risk traveling with her on future Amtrak trips.
I’ve taken the Adirondack, which only has coach cars; the Empire Service, which has coach and business cars; and the Acela Express, which has business cars and a First Class car (and is Amtrak’s high-speed option). On all three trips, it would have been easy to bring a dog, even one Chloe’s size, as long as the dog is reliably silent in her carrier (and the carrier looks like a purse or a computer bag). Bags are not x-rayed, and the boarding agent who checks your ticket before boarding has a crowd to deal with. As long as you meet Amtrak’s general baggage requirements (number and size of bags), the contents don’t seem to be an issue.
Silence is key, though. Avoid “quiet” cars (meant for travelers who want to escape cell phone users and other extra noise) and choose a regular car, so you have at least some sound cover. The regular cars weren’t a hive of activity either, though — it’s a quiet way to travel, and any vocalizing from your dog would be audible.
On the Adirondack and Empire Service trains, there is a bit of room under the seat in front of you. To use it, your carrier must be no bigger than 9″ tall and 13″ wide (any wider, and you’ll impinge on your neighbor’s underseat space). Amtrak, however, doesn’t require that the space beneath your feet be kept clear, so I could have tucked Chloe’s messenger bag between my legs and the seat. (If you plan to put your dog’s carrier under your legs, please note that there is significantly more leg room in business class than in coach class. Coach, however, is survivable even with a carry-on on the floor.)
The Acela has essentially no underseat space, so you’d need to put your dog’s carrier under your knees. There is a ton of space behind your seat, but I wouldn’t use it for a pet — if someone else slung their suitcase in too vigorously and jostled her, you might hear an exclamation of surprise (besides, she’d probably prefer being closer to you). The Acela also has the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever encountered on a mode of transportation: bring a lumbar pillow, and get ready for a numb bum.
You would also, of course, need to assess your dog’s bladder capacity, and travel only as long as she can be comfortable. The station stops are too brief for a bathroom break. And keep in mind that if you are changing trains and have a layover, you’ll need to find a grassy spot far enough away from the station that her exit from her carrier and her re-entry aren’t noticed by Amtrak staff or other travelers.
Please be aware that this is a risky maneuver! You are, in fact, breaking the rules, and the penalties for being caught may include a fine or being asked to leave the train. On balance, the risks (for me) outweigh the benefits. Who wants to find themselves in Prince, WV, suddenly looking for alternate transportation?