Lake Shore Limited

Lorna and I have ridden all of Amtrak's major cross country routes, and almost all of them start with the dreaded Lake Shore Limited. As much as we love the Southwest Chief and its big western brothers, we loathe the Lake Shore Limited.

Why do you hate it so?

  • The big western trains are double-deckers, where you ride upstairs. There is an observation car, which adds an invaluable option for a mother with fidgety kids or when you just want a change of scene. By contrast, the Lake Shore Limited and the rest of the Northeast Regional Service is single-level trains with no observation car.
  • The Lake Shore Limited is crowded. It's a popular route, and Amtrak can count on full trains with few empty seats. The lounge car (from Boston) fills up fast and often runs out of snacks. 
  • As a result of both factors, it's almost impossible to sleep in a coach car, and the Viewliner Roomettes are ok for a single rider but very tight for two. 
What do you like?
  • I do enjoy riding along the Erie Canal in upstate New York.
  • There's not as much empty space as out west, so there's always something to see out the windows. 
If sleep is so hard, is a sleeper worth the cost?

There are two kinds of sleepers. The Family Sleepers are spacious and very expensive, far more expensive than flying. The Viewliner Roomettes are merely expensive, but your meals are included and if you share it with another person it's not outrageous. 
But sharing a Viewliner Roomette is not as easy as it sounds! The space is very tight. A single person can do just fine, but adding a second person changes things dramatically.
  • You get two seats facing each other that pull together at night to make a bed. That means one of you rides backwards.
  • You only see out the side of the train that the sleeper is on. Unlike in Coach where you see easily out both windows, if you are on the wrong side of the train while passing through a scenic area, you'll have to go to the crowded Lounge Car to see it - and the Lounge Car may be 5 cars back!
  • The second bunk pulls down from the ceiling. You have to clamber up into it by stepping on the toilet and the sink, and watch your head because there's not much room. 
  • Once you're up there, getting down may be harder than getting up was. 
  • In the morning, until the upper bed is back in place and the lower bed is returned to its facing-seats configuration, there's room for only one person to stand and nobody to sit, so you might stand out in the narrow corridor while your wife cleans up, etc. 
In the final analysis, having tried both riding coach and in a Viewline Roomette (and being unwilling to pay for a Family Sleeper) we have decided that we are through with the Lake Shore Limited. 
That can make it difficult to see the rest of the country by rail, but there are alternatives.
  • Fly or drive to Chicago and take whatever big train you like.
  • Take a day train to Washington DC and catch one of the big trains from there. That's probably how we'll do it next time. 
The big trains do not come through Boston, New York, or Philadelphia because the old tunnels there are too small for the big trains. Once you get to Washington DC, the big trains are available and you can connect to the rest of the country. 
And that's just what I plan to do!