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Old 07-19-2013, 09:17 AM   #1
candygirl75
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Business Class or Unreserved Seats for Amtrak from San Diego to Anaheim?

We (family of 5 - including 9, 6, and 2yo) will be travelling from San Diego to Anaheim by Amtrak (Pacific Surfliner) on a Sunday. Is it worth getting the reserved seats? What are the chances we wouldn't be seated together?

Thanks!
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Old 07-19-2013, 09:54 AM   #2
bcla
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I haven't taken the Pacific Surfliner, but I'm a regular Amtrak California rider and am familiar with the California Car layout, which has tables for up to four. I believe the Pacific Surfrider is pretty much unreserved. Even during Thanksgiving week "reserved" only means you can only board if you have reserved a ticket and can't purchase on board. It's 100% general seating, although the conductors may help you out by forcing others to move. Perhaps it wasn't on Amtrak, but once I boarded a commuter train with my kid and it was standing room only with quite a few seat hogs. A couple of people actually moved, took their stuff off the seat, and let us have two seats together.

I think it would be tricky. I participate in a passenger train message board, and have heard of cases where the Surfliner was extremely crowded to the point where the conductors were actually enforcing their rule of one seat per passenger. It's typical to see people block off seats with bags/jackets or even sleep sideways across two seats.
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Old 07-19-2013, 10:01 AM   #3
sheetz
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I haven't ridden this line but have ridden Amtrak many times. Families with small children get priority boarding, so if you are boarding at the point of origin for your route (in this case San Diego) you should have no problems getting seats together as long as your arrive at the station early enough.
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Old 07-19-2013, 10:09 AM   #4
candygirl75
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It's an extra $70 to get "reserved" seats for the whole family! I would hope that meant I got assigned seats. Didn't even think that merely meant a guaranteed spot on the train. I think I might give Amtrak a call and confirm.

Getting there early won't be a problem as we have to be out of our hotel by noon and the only train left with checked baggage allowed departs at 3.

Would you expect it to be very busy on a Sunday afternoon?
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Old 07-19-2013, 10:24 AM   #5
candygirl75
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So I called Amtrak. The Business Class "reserved" seating means a guaranteed spot on the train in a particular car where the capacity is limited (i.e. no overcrowding) as opposed to general seating where you can sit anywhere and (presumably), if it's busy then not everyone may get a seat. Probably go with Business Class just to make sure my crew is comfortable. Adding 3 kids to tight spaces for 2 hours tends to not be a good thing.
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Old 07-19-2013, 10:29 AM   #6
bcla
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sheetz View Post
I haven't ridden this line but have ridden Amtrak many times. Families with small children get priority boarding, so if you are boarding at the point of origin for your route (in this case San Diego) you should have no problems getting seats together as long as your arrive at the station early enough.
All Amtrak California routes are different than standard Amtrak routes. Other routes they'll line up passengers with an attendant checking tickets before boarding. I've been to NY Penn Station (taking the Keystone) where everyone had to get in line at a gate before the stairs down to the platform and an attendant checked our tickets before allowing us in. The conductor still had to lift our tickets. I've taken Amtrak long distance trains (not for actual long distances though). I've done this twice. The first time I had to enter at a specific coach car door that was manually opened by the conductor, and this was the only coach door opened. This was at an unstaffed station. The conductor then got out and either checked our tickets or asked our names (it was pretty easy when there were only 3 scheduled passengers). Another time was at a busier station where they had cordoned off an area and an Amtrak attendant started asking for reservations/tickets and matched them against names on a clipboard.

Amtrak California routes are free for alls. They use automated doors and all of them open except maybe for the cafe cars. You then find a seat and it's up to a conductor to find you to lift your ticket. No lines per se and no way there's any priority boarding.

http://amtrakcalifornia.com/index.cf...g-information/

Quote:
STEP 1) BOARD THE TRAIN
Refer to your train ticket to determine your train number and departure time. When the train arrives at the platform, the train will stop and the access doors will open. Please allow arriving passengers room to de-board before you begin boarding. You may enter the train at any open door, unless directed otherwise by Amtrak personnel.

On San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains, look for an orange triangle near the doors. You may board anywhere you see an orange triangle adjacent to open doors (except for Cafe Cars). On Pacific Surfliner trains, you may board at any open door.
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Old 07-19-2013, 10:37 AM   #7
SuzanneSLO
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The Pacific Surfliner is our preferred method of transportation to Disneyland so we have riden it many times. However, we typically board at the northern end of the line and get off in Anaheim. We have only take the SD to Anaheim trip a few times.

Generally, a business class ticket on the PS gets you a guaranteed seat plus some snacks.

A coach fare does not guarantee you a seat as standing on the train is allowed. That said, often the business class car is more crowded than the coach cars. It is not unusual for the one passenger, one seat rule to be enforced on the PS.

No seats are reserved, so there is often a significant line to board at the SD station. There are separate lines for coach and business. I am not aware of priority boarding for families (but I could be wrong as this does not apply to us); only those with disabilities.

If you board in SD and arrive early, I would expect you will get seats together.
The SD to LA train is used by commuters and tourists. It can be very busy both on weekdays and summer or holiday weekends.

This weekend it is expected to be very crowded due to the Del Mar races and Comic-con.

I hope this helps. -- Suzanne
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Old 07-19-2013, 10:39 AM   #8
bcla
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Originally Posted by candygirl75 View Post
So I called Amtrak. The Business Class "reserved" seating means a guaranteed spot on the train in a particular car where the capacity is limited (i.e. no overcrowding) as opposed to general seating where you can sit anywhere and (presumably), if it's busy then not everyone may get a seat. Probably go with Business Class just to make sure my crew is comfortable. Adding 3 kids to tight spaces for 2 hours tends to not be a good thing.
Theoretically there should be space although it could get crowded in coach. The issue would be that there's no real limit and there might be standing room. Also someone with a multi-ride or monthly pass could get on at any time and they have no way to know ahead of time.

If you're getting on at San Diego I doubt there's going to be an issue. The conductors will likely help you.

Here's some video of the Surfliner boarding at San Diego.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEicbpFuU3s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSxP2vzNQhk

I also noticed that the conductor was checking for tickets but didn't take the time to lift them at the door.
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Old 07-19-2013, 11:04 AM   #9
candygirl75
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Thank you all for the information. I booked Business Class to hopefully improve our chances of a comfy ride. I find the more prepared I am with 3 kids, the smoother things flow and it's the getting to and fro that requires the most organization. I'll definitely take a look at the videos you suggested BCLA - this sounds very similar to how our commuter train system works here in Toronto. And thanks for the tips Suzanne. Much appreciated.
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Old 07-19-2013, 12:45 PM   #10
bcla
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Quote:
Originally Posted by candygirl75 View Post
Thank you all for the information. I booked Business Class to hopefully improve our chances of a comfy ride. I find the more prepared I am with 3 kids, the smoother things flow and it's the getting to and fro that requires the most organization. I'll definitely take a look at the videos you suggested BCLA - this sounds very similar to how our commuter train system works here in Toronto. And thanks for the tips Suzanne. Much appreciated.
The first vid seems to be of a group entering a California Car painted in the Surfliner color scheme. The seats seem a little bit different than I've seen riding the Capitol Corridor or San Joaquin, but otherwise the layout seems to be the same. These cars have two doors on each side and are pretty much all open together when the conductor presses a button to open them. They're linked to open together, and the conductor only has to be at a door with a control panel, which is active when the conductor turns a key (you'll hear conductors walking around carrying several keys making tons of noise).

The doors can also be opened individually, which appears to be the case in the second vid. That's still a coach car with two doors, and the passengers are walking by one of the closed doors.

Some of the Pacific Surfliner cars are retrofitted Amtrak Superliner cars with only a single door on each side (at the center of the car) that can only be opened if the conductor is specifically at that door and presses a button at that door's control panel.

I wouldn't stress it out too much. Different crews adopt different procedures, so be flexible. Even if you can't find seats together, ask if a conductor can help you. If they tell someone else to move, they are required to move or they can be removed forcibly if necessary.

Additionally, the most that can really sit together is four (maybe five if the 2 yo sits on a lap), so you might want to be flexible and accept a table or four facing seats, plus a couple of seats together. Someone noted that it can be even more crowded in business class than coach. It's just that they won't sell more reserved tickets than they have seats, but in coach it's possible to use an unexpired (one year to use) ticket, buy a ticket on board with a penalty (depending on the station - some don't have ticket sales and there's no penalty to buy on board), or use a 10-ride ticket or monthly pass. There are no guarantees that business class will be less crowded than coach.
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