Traveling the United States by Train

traveling the united states by train

Most who have traveled in Europe will know of the famous interrail network for traveling around Europe.

A similar network exists in the U.S. but is perhaps less known. Seeing as the U.S. is such a large country, travel methods usually involve catching national flights. Often travelers rent campervans or cars in order to see the States at their own pace. However, the USA rail pass enables you to travel to over 500 different destinations in the whole of the U.S. on comfortable, quick trains at a combined price.

The USA rail pass is run by AMTRAK, the only company that can officially sell travelers a rail pass. Travelers must make sure they have the necessary travel authorization in order to enter the U.S such as the ESTA travel authorization which is available to up to 39 different countries, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. Without this authorization, it will not be possible to enter the U.S. and use the USA rail pass.

Applying for an ESTA online is simple, given that applicants can apply online and receive the ESTA without having to fill out extensive paperwork and send it off in the post. Instead, the whole application is completed online.

How Does the USA Rail Pass Work?

Similarly to the European interrail pass, the USA rail pass gives travelers a certain amount of trips for traveling within a certain period of time. There are three different options for the USA rail pass:

  • Travel for 8 segments in 15 days
  • Travel for 12 segments in 30 days
  • Travel for 18 segments in 45 days

There is no right choice when it comes to picking which pass to get. It all depends on your planned itinerary, your length of stay in the U.S. and where you want to go. You don’t have to travel by train for the whole trip. Instead, choose to travel by train in certain areas and make other plans for travel from your final rail destination.

Note that the passes give you segments and not whole days of travel. A segment is one journey which counts as boarding and disembarking a bus, train, and other permitted methods of travel with the USA rail pass. Make sure you plan all routes accordingly as there are ways of getting to destinations by only taking one train as opposed to two. This will help you to use your segments wisely throughout the validity of your rail pass.

Steps for Buying a USA Rail Pass

  • Buy your USA rail pass
  • Reserve your train journeys
  • Collect your USA rail pass and tickets

It is a good idea to reserve all your journeys to avoid having to take more complicated routes and using up your segments more quickly. There are limited seats on trains, therefore USA rail pass holders are recommended to book their train tickets in advance. Once you reserve your tickets, you will be able to collect everything at the same time and set off on an incredible adventure.

How Much Does the USA Rail Pass Cost?

The prices for the USA rail pass differ depending on which package you choose. Children receive a half-price discount on any rail pass and children under the age of 2 can travel for free.

  • 15-day pass: $459 and $229.50 (children aged 2-12)
  • 30-day pass: $689 and $344.50 (children aged 2-12)
  • 45-day pass: $899 and $449.50 (children aged 2-12)

Once you have purchased your pass online, you are given one year to exchange it for a USA rail pass at an official office in the U.S. Once the paper form has been issued, pass holders have 330 days to complete their intended travel plans. On the day that the pass is first used, the validity will begin and it will no longer be able to be used once the number of valid days has passed (depend on the type of pass).

Remember that the ESTA only permits travelers to stay in the U.S. for a total of 90 days. Bear this in mind when arranging your travel plans, as it is important that you make sure you use the USA rail pass before the validity of the ESTA expires. Apply for your ESTA travel authorization online before your USA rail pass to make sure you will be granted entry to the U.S. before arranging internal travel plans.

Documents Required for the USA Rail Pass

When traveling with the USA rail pass, travelers will be required to possess:

  • A valid USA rail pass (this cannot be reimbursed or replaced if lost)
  • A valid ticket for every service used (if travelers lose a train ticket, these may be replaced)
  • A valid passport
  • Valid travel authorization, such as ESTA or a visa

For more information regarding entry to the U.S., learn more about the ESTA authorization FAQ, who is eligible for ESTA, and how to apply in order to be able to visit the U.S.

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