Travelling on Amtrak with a Dog

travelling on Amtrak with a dog

While travelling around Europe with my dog, one of my favourite ways of travelling was via train. I was delighted then to discover that Amtrak in the USA recently started allowing small pets to travel on many of their train services. Read more about our experience traveling on Amtrak with a dog, from New York to Philadelphia and then to Washington, D.C.

Are Pets Allowed on Amtrak?

Amtrak pet friendly

Arriving at the grand Union Station in Washington, D.C.

While small dogs and cats are now allowed on Amtrak trains, there are naturally restrictions. For starters, not all trains allow pets.

For example, if travelling between New York and Washington, like I did, the Northeast Regional trains accept pets on all services. However, the Acela Express only accepts pets on weekend and holiday services, while some other trains don’t allow pets anytime.

This is clearly listed at the top of the Amtrak pet policy, click here to view it.

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 a limit of one pet per customer (as the pet must be stowed underneath your seat), and your pet must be at least 8 weeks old.

Pets are only allowed on trips up to seven hours in duration, including transfer time for multi-segment trips. Pets are also only allowed in coach class, not in first class, business class or sleeping carriages, except for weekend Acela business class.

Also 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.

Booking Your Pet on Amtrak

Booking an Amtrak train online. On this train, five pet places are remaining.

It’s very easy to book your small dog (or cat) to travel with Amtrak using the website. When selecting your train journey, alongside essential details such as the time, duration and ticket options, each trip displays whether pets are allowed and how many remaining pets can be booked.

(There is a limit to the number of pets allowed on each train service, usually five pets, so try and book in advance.)

Once you choose a train and ticket option and click “Add to Cart”, it’s simple to add one or more pets to your booking (depending on the number of passengers you’re also booking) on the next page, in the same way as you would add a bicycle or golf clubs.

Then it’s time to finalise your booking and pay for your tickets. It’s also possible to make a booking including a pet through the customer call centre or at staffed Amtrak stations.

The fee for travelling with a pet is currently $26 USD (or 800 Amtrak Guest Reward points). This is higher than I’ve experienced in Europe (where in nearly all 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 For Your Trip

pets on Amtrak

My Amtrak ticket showing I had a carry-on pet that I received after checking in

We travelled with our dog on two Amtrak train trips: firstly from New York 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 travelling with a pet from staffed stations (like we were), to check-in at the ticket office no later than 30 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!  

The down-side is then it’s a long wait after checking in until the platform number is announced for trains.

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.

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 travelling from an unstaffed station, speak to the conductor who will confirm your pet’s eligibility and provide you with this document.

Boarding the Train

Amtrak dog policy

Checking the train platforms at the beautiful Amtrak station in Philadelphia

Once the platform for our train was announced each time, we headed downstairs to the train. Despite what is printed on the pet agreement form (that it “must be signed and returned to an Amtrak Train Crew Member to permit pet on-board”), you don’t need to show this to anyone before boarding the train.

I hunted for someone both times, but was waved onto the trains. Hold onto it until the ticket inspector onboard reaches your seat.

The other confusing thing is that despite having “reserved coach” tickets, you 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 carriage for pets (as mentioned in the pet policy, but double check with a staff member if you’re uncertain), you can sit anywhere, on any coach carriage. Although I recommend avoiding the quiet carriage unless you are confident that your dog won’t make a peep!

On-Board the Train

Amtrak pet carrier

Schnitzel in his carrier bag under the seat in front

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.

As well as putting some tags in the holder above your seat to indicate your ticket has been checked (and perhaps your destination), the ticket inspector will also place a paw print tag there.

are dogs allowed on amtrak

Tag above our seats showing we were travelling with a pet

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 carriage, you won’t be able to take your pet.

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  • Reply
    December 6, 2018 at 12:34 am

    I wish Amtrak would allow large dogs as well. Since they already have vehicle cars for transporting people’s cars to Florida, I don’t know why they couldn’t put aside an entire car for people with large pets. But the US is far behind the rest of the developed world on train travel so I guess I won’t expect to see it in my life time.

    Glad you had a good trip with Schnitzel. Trains are the best!

    • Reply
      December 6, 2018 at 8:38 am

      It would be great if they allowed large pets too! They’ve only been allowing small pets for a couple of years, so fingers crossed. Hopefully by having lots of small pets ride and be well-behaves, helps the case for larger pets, too.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Shandos great website. I will recommend it to my friends. Our family loves our dog and to resolve some of the issues my son had of walking the dog he and I decided to create a product to resolve that and maybe there are more on the way. We are currently in China and there is a huge boom in new dog owners. If you could translate your site into Chinese you would have many new followers.

    • Reply
      October 9, 2019 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks Lago! I will consider that for the future.

  • Reply
    Linda Hicks
    November 19, 2019 at 2:40 am

    I rode Amtrak a few days ago with my King Charles Cavalier, who had her on ticket. She was in the carrier for four hours, sleeping. When we got near Winona, Wisconsin, the only stop where people can smoke or walk a dog) I took her out to put her jacket and leash. The conductor, Mr. Shorter, came by and said, “ I’m taking you off the train because your dog is out of the carrier.” He actually called the POLICE! I was left in the middle of nowhere, at a depot without an attendant. I had to call a friend who drove 2 hours to pick me up. I guarantee that my dog was sleeping the whole time and I am a calm, elderly woman who has never made trouble, anywhere

    • Reply
      November 19, 2019 at 9:20 pm

      Linda – That’s terrible to hear! It’s horrible to hear that the conductor was so strict with the rules, when it should have been clear you were just preparing to walk your dog outside. Have you spoken to Amtrak to complain? I guess for now, it should serve as a warning to leave our dogs in their bag until outside the carriage when stopping.

  • Reply
    November 22, 2019 at 7:32 am

    What if your moving?

    • Reply
      November 22, 2019 at 7:19 pm

      Mikaela – I’m not sure what you mean, can you clarify? If you’re moving house, your dog can accompany you on Amtrak, as long as you follow the usual rules.

      • Reply
        June Howell
        December 20, 2019 at 2:35 pm

        I wish my med sized dog could travel with me. He is ESA and so well behaved.

        • Reply
          December 21, 2019 at 8:20 am

          It would be great if the restrictions could be eased!

  • Reply
    December 28, 2019 at 4:51 am

    I travelled with a 20lb pug on amtrak this week. I found it painful and frustrating. Much like Linda above, it seemed that amtrak trained its employees to be nitpicky about every single possible thing.
    For example, when we first got on the train, the train was in the sun and quite hot. We opened his carrier to fan him and give him some water. he just had his head poking out, and the conductor had a major issue with it. He was quiet, calm, seated in the carrier under our feet, not bothering a soul. I found this kind of stickler-ness for the rules to be typical. It makes travelling with a dog pretty stressful and not fun. Overall, I wouldn’t do it again. And my dog is pretty good!

    (Obviously I understand the need to keep dogs from acting out, being unruly, etc., but I’m mostly looking at the no harm type situation, like the example above, or if you wanted to hold your dog in your lap, assuming it wasn’t bothering your neighbor, etc)

    • Reply
      January 2, 2020 at 10:18 am

      Chris – Thanks for sharing your experience. This helps all of us know what we should do when taking Amtrak, or whether we might want to skip Amtrak entirely with a dog.

  • Reply
    Sampath Parthasarathy
    April 18, 2020 at 6:47 am

    I am thinking of taking my dog (less than 11 lb) with me from Denver to Orlando. I have questions and concerns.
    How do I walk the dog? Do trains stop at major stations and are there walk areas?
    Do I have to feed and supply water inside the dog carrier? What if I have a sleeper coach?

    • Reply
      April 18, 2020 at 9:16 am

      Hi Sampath, I’ve only taken shorter trips on Amtrak, so don’t directly have experience with this. However, I recommend you to speak to the staff on board to find out what are the longer stops, when you can take your dog off the train for a walk, plus to feed or give them water. Otherwise, I recommend feeding and supplying water to your dog inside their carrier, as some other travelers have been treated harshly for even briefly taking their dogs out of their carriers. Hope this helps! Shandos

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