If you’re just travelling a short distance in the United States, it can often be quicker and cheaper to travel by train instead of flying, especially if you are travelling between city centres. Luckily then, for a number of years Amtrak has allowed small pets to travel on many of its train services, similar to flying in the cabin of a plane with your pet.
Find out everything you need to know about how to travel on Amtrak with a dog, from the rules for travelling with a pet on Amtrak to how much it costs and how to make a booking. Plus, I cover in detail our experience of travelling with our dog on Amtrak from New York City to Philadelphia and then to Washington, D.C.
Are Pets Allowed on Amtrak?
Both small dogs and cats are allowed on Amtrak trains, although naturally there are some restrictions. For starters, not all trains allow pets on board. (If you’re travelling with service animals, they are welcome on all Amtrak services and these rules don’t apply.)
Pets are not allowed to travel on the Auto Train, San Joaquins, Capitol Corridor and Thruway Connecting Services. Pets are also not allowed to travel on board the Adirondack, Maple Leaf or Amtrak Cascades in Canada.
Note that the previous prohibition on the Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian has been removed. Double check the latest list at the top of Amtrak’s pet policy.
Other key rules to keep in mind are that the maximum weight of both dogs and cats, including their carrier, is limited to 20 pounds (9kg). There is also a limit of one pet per customer (as the pet must be stowed underneath your seat except on Amtrak Cascades trains), plus your pet must be at least eight weeks old and be vaccinated.
Pets are only allowed on trips up to seven hours in duration, including transfer time for multi-segment trips. Pets are only allowed in coach class, not in first class, business class or sleeping cars, except for Acela business class. Pets are also prohibition from the Quiet Car on Keystone and Pennsylvanian trains.
Refer to the Amtrak pet policy for details of the carrier your pet needs to travel in. The maximum size is 19″ long x 14″ wide x 10.5″ high. It can be hard or soft, but must be leak-proof, well-ventilated and large enough for your pet to sit and lie down inside without touching the sides.
Note that your pet in its carrier counts as a piece of carry-on baggage (out of your normal limit of two carry-on pieces and two personal items). Your pet must remain inside its carrier both at the train station and while on the train, and you are not allowed to leave your pet alone.
Booking Your Pet on Amtrak
There is a limit to the number of pets allowed on each Amtrak train service, usually five pets, so try and book your train trip in advance.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as it used to be to book an Amtrak train trip with your pet. Whereas previously the number of remaining pet spots on each train service was clearly displayed when the list of train services to select from were listed (plus made clear which train services were pet-friendly), this is no longer provided.
To double-check that the train service you’d like to book is pet-friendly, once you’ve started your search, I recommend clicking on Trip Details and then Services under the train service. Underneath Add-Ons, “Pet” should be displayed.
Once you’ve comfirmed your preferred train service allows pets, then choose your seat type and ticket option (whether Saver, Value or Flexible). On the next screen, the Trip Summary screen, you’ll be displayed a list of Additional Items and be able to add your pet, along with see the price charged. The number of pets you can add depends on the number of passengers in the booking.
Click Add to Cart, and then it’s time to finalise your booking, including entering passenger details, and pay for your tickets. It’s also possible to make pet reservations through the customer call centre or at staffed Amtrak stations.
The fee for traveling with a pet varies depending on the train service and distance travelled, as of October 2023. Currently the pet fee is either $29 or $39 per segment. The full list of pet fees is displayed on this page, plus the fee is listed when you add a pet to your trip.
This fee is higher than I’ve experienced in Europe (where in many countries a small pet in a carrier bag rides for free), but it is far cheaper than if you were flying with your pet.
Checking in with Your Pet
We travelled with our dog on two Amtrak train trips in 2018: firstly from New York City to Philadelphia, then from Philadelphia on to Washington, D.C. We made sure to arrive in plenty of time for both trips.
Amtrak requests that people traveling with a pet from staffed stations (like we were), to check-in at the ticket office 45 minutes before departure. I don’t believe this is a hard cut-off like when checking in for a flight. Although we did go close to finding out in New York!
In my experience though, the down-side is then it’s a long wait after checking in until the platform number is announced for trains. And pets can’t join you in any station lounges or First Class waiting areas.
At the ticket office, the staff member looked up our booking, had a quick glance at our pet carrier bag with our dog inside (although didn’t weigh or measure it), and then handed us a Pet Release and Indemnification Agreement to sign. (This form is available at the end of your booking, or later through “My Trip”.)
It’s best to review this ahead of time, so you are familiar with the contents, but you don’t need to print it and bring it to the station. If you are traveling from an unstaffed station, speak to the conductor who will validate your pet’s eligibility and paperwork.
Boarding the Train with Your Pet
Once the platform for our train was announced each time, we headed downstairs to the train. Previously it was stated that you need to sign the provided form and return it to a crew member, but this no longer applies (and wasn’t even enforced when we travelled in 2018).
The other confusing thing is that despite having “reserved coach” tickets, you generally don’t have a specific seat reserved. “Reserved” just simply means you are guaranteed a seat (with a maximum number of tickets sold for the train).
Except for a few trains that have a specific car for pets, you can sit anywhere, on any coach car (although perhaps skip the quiet car).
The trains with a specific car for pets include: Amtrak Cascades, Carl Sandburg, Illinois Zephyr, Illini, Lincoln Service, Saluki, Pere Marquette, Wolverine, Blue Water, Hiawatha and Missouri River Runner. Pets are also not allowed in the quiet car on Keystone and Pennsylvanian trains.
Additionally, it’s possible to travel with a pet on Acela trains in business class cars, where it’s possible to reserve an exact seat.
On-Board the Train with a Pet
Once you’ve found seats onboard the train, place your pet in their carrier bag underneath your seat. (The seats are constructed differently than on a plane, so there’s a gap underneath your seat, rather than the seat in front.)
The one exception is Amtrak Cascades trains where you can put your pet carrier on the floor in front of the seat next to you. It’s even possible to stow your pet’s carrier bag in your footwell, if you would prefer, as it’s quite roomy.
Sometime after boarding, a ticket inspector will come around the check your tickets. At this point, also hand over your pet agreement form.
At the time of our trip, as well putting some tags in the holder above our seat to indicate our ticket had been checked (and perhaps the destination), the ticket inspector also placed a paw print tag there.
Now it’s time to sit back and relax for your train trip. Note that until you disembark and depart from your destination station, your dog will still need to stay in their carrier bag. And if you’re planning on heading to the food service car, you won’t be able to take your pet. (Perhaps pack a snack instead.)
Other Dog-Friendly Trains in the United States
In addition to Amtrak, there are a number of other regional trains in the United States where pets are allowed to travel onboard with you.
The most common scenario is that small pets in a secure, enclosed carrier are allowed to travel with you, similar to the Amtrak pet policy. Some of the trains that this applies on includes:
- Arizona: Phoenix Valley Metro Rail, Sun Link
- California: California Metrolink, Los Angeles Metro, San Diego MTS, San Francisco BART
- Colorado: Denver RTD
- Connecticut: Connecticut CT Rail
- Florida: Florida Tri-Rail, Florida Brightline, Miami Metromover, Orlando Sunrail
- Georgia: Atlanta MARTA
- Illinois: Chicago CTA, Chicago METRA, South Shore Line
- Indiana: South Shore Line
- Maryland: Maryland MARC, Baltimore Metro
- Massachusetts: Massachusetts Bay MBTA Commuter Rail
- Minnesota: Minneapolis Metro
- New Jersey: New Jersey Transit, Port Authority Trans-Hudson
- New York: Long Island Railroad, New York Subway
- Ohio: Cleveland RTA
- Oregon: Portland TriMet
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia SEPTA, PATCO Speedline
- Tennessee: Nashville’s Music City Commuter Rail
- Texas: Houston METRORail, Dallas DART, Dallas Tre Commuter Rail
- Utah: Salt Lake City FrontRunner, Salt Lake City TRAX
- Virginia: Virginia Railway Express (VRE)
- Washington: Seattle Sound Transit’s Link light rail
Double check the train service website for full details, including any size and weight or peak hour restrictions.
There are also some train services that are more pet-friendly. For instance, on the San Francisco Muni trains in San Francisco, larger dogs that are leashed and muzzled are also permitted on board, outside of peak hours. On the Metro North Railway in New York, dogs up to 65 pounds are permitted onboard.
Scenic tourist trains also tend to be pet-friendly, often allowing small pets in carriers onboard.
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About the Author
Shandos Cleaver is the founder of Travelnuity: Dog-Friendly Travel. She has travelled extensively with her Miniature Dachshund, Schnitzel, including to 33 countries across Europe, every state and territory of Australia except Tasmania, and 10 of the United States. She’s passionate about providing inspiration and information to others wanting to travel with their dogs, whether close to home or internationally.
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