Amtrak Cardinal Review 2022. Worth It or Not?

Let’s dive into this Amtrak Cardinal Review. Going to Chicago from NYC or vice versa, forget about driving, get the Amtrak Cardinal. Even though it takes 26.5hours!?

Yes, Absolutely. Why you ask? Because…..

Amtrak’s Cardinal is a long distance passenger train going between Chicago and New York City. It has a total of 36 stops, departs three days every week, has absolutely stunning views and is the most comfortable & enjoyable ways to go between Chicago & New York. BOOM!

Well, that’s my opinion…

I travelled on the Cardinal last fall and had an incredible time, I hope you get the chance to!

You’ll go through 36 stations including Washington, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Newark, and Indianapolis to name a few & you won’t even get jet lag.

This article will  cover the relative advantages of choosing the Amtrak Cardinal as your preferred mode of transport. Additionally, we shall also list the things you should keep in mind while booking a ticket on  the Amtrak Cardinal.

Before You Board – Buying Tickets

Buying tickets is a fairly simple process with Amtrak. Firstly, you must know which train number you are supposed to buy a ticket for. The Cardinal on the eastward or up journey is number 50, and the Cardinal on the westward or down journey is number 51.

The train leaves the end station of Chicago on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Similarly, it alternates every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday from New York City.

Armed with all this information, you can proceed to book tickets using the intuitive interface of Amtrak’s mobile application or their website, which you can easily access, even a slower internet connection.

Amtrak additionally offers the service of using a toll-free number (1-800-USA-RAIL) to book your tickets too.

However, you can always physically buy a paper ticket from a staffed station or the ingenious Quik-Trak self-booking kiosks, which accept digital payments, which is a huge bonus. 

Important Ticketing Information

Amtrak sends you an email upon purchasing. If you’re not so tech savvy and like the physical confirmation in your hand (like me) the best is to print out a copy, in fact, print two copies. Keep one in your pocket and one in your bag. 

It’s an old travel trick and has served me greatly in the past.

Are you tech savvy? Great, save a copy on your smart device so it is easily accessible. 

The easiest way to manage tickets is on the free Amtrak app,  a lot of people swear by this, you can download it below:

On an Apple IOS device: Down the Amtrak app HERE

On an Android device: Download the Amtrak app HERE

You can use the paper tickets or the digital copy of your email to confirm your reservation: screenshots or a transaction receipt on a wallet application work too.

Remember, you will not be able to buy tickets after boarding & you will also need to verify your identity using a government-issued identity card. Also, Amtrak now accepts PayPal too.

amtrak cardinal review

Post Boarding & Route

You can download a route guide to help you see where you are going. It also has some extra information about the stops you will be making along the way too.

And away you go!

The Cardinal offers stunning views along the route, from the legendary Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley (famous Fleet Foxes songs), and the white rivers of West Virginia too.

If you really want to splurge, you can enjoy these views comfortably in a Bedroom Suite, which is a premium option offered by Amtrak, a private very comfortable space all to yourself.

The coach has a place for you to sleep, and dining is also included in certain packages.

The various seating accommodations are discussed in the section below, but before we get onto that, let’s look at the Locomotive making this route possible.

What Is The Locomotive Setup Setup? Trains? Carriages, How Many?

Firstly, I will clarify that a group of vehicles eg. Locomotive/Train & carriages is referred to as a consist.

So, now that we know that, let’s confirm the Amtrak Cardinal’s consist.

A typical Cardinal consist will include a single locomotive powering it, one of the 321 Amtrak GE Genesis diesel locomotives followed by three Amfleet II long-distance coaches, one Amfleet II Diner Lite diner-lounge car, one or two Viewliner I sleeping cars & one Viewliner II baggage dorm car.

If you’re lucky, in Autumn, Amtrak will add on a full length dome car to allow for the ultimate viewing.

Ok, so where do you sit, where do you sleep, read on….

Coach & Seating Options

amtrak cardinal review

There are lot’s of different options to suit different budgets, see below:


If you want privacy but don’t want to shell out extra bucks for a private bedroom during your journey, a roomette might be your best option. It is half the size of a normal Amtrak bedroom (6 feet approximately in length and 3 feet in width), with two foldable seats that become two sleeping berths once folded. 

It provides phenomenal views without any disturbance from other passengers. You also get the privilege of a dedicated Car Attendant. You are also free to access the lounge and complimentary meals, similar to that of other bedrooms in your car.

Don’t forget you are also provided with a dedicated shower and a private washroom shared by three other roomettes in your car.


The Viewliner and Superliner bedrooms provide an extremely spacious option, with additional benefits like free upgrades, dedicated car service, extra legroom, and leather footrests.

Every room has a private sink, restroom, and shower, which you can access alone. It has a bigger sofa and armchair, which can fold into an upper and lower berth for sleeping. It is twice the size of a roomette.

Bedroom Suite

The bigger option is a Viewliner or Superliner Bedroom Suite, twice as big as the bedroom. It contains two bedrooms adjoined by a small passageway with small cupboards and closet space. You get a dedicated Car attendant for your suite, and bedding, pillows, and linens are changed every day, free of charge. 

You also get complimentary meals for all the above options, and the menu frequently changes. The train provides free Wifi and internet for almost every coach, except for certain budget roomettes. Seating accessibility is good as there are features available for inclusivity.

You can bring pets if they fulfill the size requirement and are contained within the stipulated containment apparatus.

Family Bedroom

Travelling with the whole family? No problem, The Amtrak Family Bedroom has ample space for two adults and two children, I am yet to experience one of these, although I was offered a look in, and they look great!

Let’s Not Forget About Coach

You will find a fold-down tray, reading lights, ample leg space, and 120v electric outlets for charging your appliances at every seat triplet. Single-level and bi-level trains are the two options, and the train you get depends on the day you catch the train. The best way to know in advance is to check your options while reserving your coach. 

The Superliner train is invariably a bi-level train and offers a seat on the upper or lower levels. Both have their pros and cons, but importantly the upper level offers a better view and is preferred by people trying to travel around America and tourists on a budget.

The lower levels provide easy access to washrooms and convenient access to lounge and dining areas, as they are all on the lower level.

Pricing, How Much? $$$

Prices will vary hugely depending on dates, class travelled & length of route, but as an overview you can expect to pay anywhere from $4.50 – $740. 

If you head to they will scan for the cheapest tickets and are an official Amtrak partner.

Baggage, We’ve All Got It!

Amtrak Cardinal Baggage Policy

Amtrak Cardinal has a very fair and generous baggage policy, as it allows up to two pieces of standard size bags, weighing less than 50 pounds each, per passenger.

This means if you are traveling with a family of four, you can collectively carry luggage of up to 400 pounds theoretically, which is another reason why many people like travelling on the Amtrak Cardinal.

amtrak train travel

What About My Bike?

You can carry your bicycle on the train as a checked or carry-on (only if it is foldable) if you intend to get off and explore the stops. The bicycles must only be kept in areas specifically designated as the bike rack for accommodating foldable bicycles in coach areas. 

In the unfortunate event that the racks are full, bicycles will no longer be allowed on the train.

If you have a room, you are free to stow your bicycle in your room, but if you want to keep it elsewhere, you will have to check it and get it stowed in the train’s cargo depot. 

Where Is My Luggage Stored? Is It Safe? When Can I Check It On?

Coach cars have the typical “abocve your seat” type storage plus stowed luggage for larger items, but remember nobody guards the luggage in common coaches, so you should keep an eye on it.

Except for the conductor and common attendant for the entire car, there is no other surveillance mechanism.

amtrak checked luggage

Checked Baggage

 You must check your luggage at least 45 minutes before departure. However, it is safer to do it earlier since technical glitches may delay the process of checking in luggage. 

NB: Checked on baggage is not available for all stops, please check your station HERE.

Accessibility Options

If you have a disability or are travelling with someone that does, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL before you travel to talk through your needs.

Amtrak has Accessible room accomodation, these rooms offer space, comfort & accessibility. These rooms are booked on a first come first serve basis, so please book at least 2-3 weeks in advance.

Top Tips For Disabled Travellers

To make your journey as enjoyable as possible, please:

– Call 1-800-USA-RAIL a minimum of 2 weeks in advance (if possible)

– Clarify Accessibility at the departing and the arriving station, make notes on entry and exit points.

– If you would like assistance at the station, please make this clear at the time of booking.

– Ask for a station provided wheelchair if needed.

– Arrive at least one hour earlier on the day.

1-800-USA-RAIL have wonderful customer service and are always there to help.

Ok, this all sounded good, but I’m hungry, what can I eat!?

What About Food & Dining? Can I Bring My Own? Does Amtrak Serve Food?

Ok, I get, you’re hungry after all this reading, bare with me here.

amtrak cardinal review

You are allowed to bring your food, as long they are not readily spoilt foods that may cause inconvenience to other passengers. Although onboard dining is available and complimentary with most room and suite options, many people prefer to carry their food for the four-day journey.

Check out the Amtrak Cardinal menu HERE. If you’re feeling naughty, you can’t go past their French Toast!

You can also carry alcohol with you on the train, although you are not allowed to consume it in coach seating options. Passengers in rooms or suites are free to consume their stock or buy it from Cardinal Cafe and consume it in the Sleeper Lounge, but in moderation 🙂

I will always bring a few snacks on board, but Amtrak does have your food covered, see below.

Sleeper car passengers have easy access to the Cardinal Cafe, which is in a car adjoining the sleeper car. Coach passengers can also access the Cardinal Cafe and purchase food, beverages, and alcohol. The Cafe is closed at certain times during the journey, so it is safe to listen to announcements or ask your nearest attendant about the timings of the Cafe.

There is a retail car just adjacent to the Cafe and lounge car. You can even purchase t-shirts and even souvenirs from the in-train shop. The rates are reasonable, and the quality is good. 

Amtrak offers a complimentary flexible meal plan for roomettes, rooms, and suites, which means that passengers can choose between eating in the lounge or their room’s comfort. One alcoholic beverage (only for rooms with adults) is complimentary, along with all meals in a day, for these rooms.

amtrak cardinal

Closing Thoughts

The Amtrak Cardinal is superior in comfort and convenience. If you have time to plan a journey and have three days to spare, you can choose to travel using Amtrak, as it offers breathtaking views on a reasonable budget, with no jet lag nor a trip to the airport needed!

Interested in how fast an Amtrak train can go? Click HERE

And if you love trains, it is a great train ride!


Is Amtrak Cardinal still running?

Absolutely it is over 70,000 people travel on the cardinal each year, it departs from New York City & Chicago crossing our beautiful country three times per week.  

Does Amtrak Cardinal have sleeper cars?

It sure does in fact it has a large range of travel options, please see “Coach & Seating Options” Above.

What time does the Amtrak Cardinal leave Chicago?

The train departs Thursday, Saturday & Sunday at 12:00pm.

Does the Amtrak Cardinal run out of Cincinnati Ohio?  

It sure does, three days per week in each direction, more Amtrak information on Cincinnati Ohio station can be found HERE.  

Are Amtrak Sleeper Cars worth it?

It is completely individual and depends on your budget, but getting great meals and bags included are huge bonus points & to be honest if you add up all costs it would be cheaper than staying in a hotel.

Especially if you get it on sale, which does happen. 

What is the difference between a roomette and a bedroom on Amtrak?  

So let’s break down what a roomette offers. A roomette has the day time seating, this is what converts into a bed. Naturally you have electrical outlets, reading lights, climate controls, closet and a little table that folds out. All of this is within an arms reach.

On the other hand, Amtrak bedrooms are significantly larger than the roomettes, have a sink, vanity, toilet and shower included too. If within your budget, the bedroom is a much more comfortable option.