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 pet 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 a service animal, they are welcome on all Amtrak services and these rules don’t apply.)
Pets are not allowed to travel on the Auto Train, Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian, San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor Pacific Surfliner. Pets are also not allowed on Thruway Connecting Services. This is clearly listed at the top of the Amtrak pet policy, click here to view it, including to see if this list has recently changed. As of 2021, pets are now allowed on weekday as well as weekend Acela services.
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), 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 also only allowed in coach class, not in first class, business class or sleeping cars, except for 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, 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 but eight pets on Acela services, so try and book your train trip in advance.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as it used to book an Amtrak train trip with your pet. Whereas previously the number of remaining pet spots on each train service was displayed when the list of train services to select from was displayed (plus made clear which train services were pet-friendly), this is no longer provided.
You’ll now need to select a train service and enter your personal details before you can attempt to add a pet to your booking. Perhaps the full number of pet spots are rarely used?
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 Details and then Services under the train service. Underneath Add-On, “Pet” should be displayed.
You’ll then need to select your preferred train service, seat type and option (from Saver to Flexible), then enter all travellers details, before you can add a pet to your booking, on the Add-Ons page. The number of pets you can add depends on the number of passengers in the booking. It’s similar to adding a bicycle or golf clubs to your booking.
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 traveling with a pet is currently $26 USD (or 800 Amtrak Guest Reward points) per segment. 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 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 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 traveling from an unstaffed station, speak to the conductor who will confirm your pet’s eligibility and provide you with this document.
Boarding the Train with Your Pet
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 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.
Additionally, it’s possible to travel with a pet in Acela 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.
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.
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.)
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