Travelling across the U.S. by train recently has revealed a brand new language to me; I have discovered the dialect of the American railway. I now speak fluent “Amtrak”, and you can too.
The train language of the rest of the world has had limited chance to interbreed with the U.S, leaving America with a unique set of rail words. Most make some sense to English speakers, but a variety of carriage (sorry, car) types and multiple names for the same thing can at times become confusing. In addition, the first time traveller may be surprised by the way the jargon is phrased up with words not heard very often on the other side of the pond. Tickets might be inspected “presently” and the dining car might open “momentarily”. The language is both polite and direct. Once introduced, expect to be called Mr or Miss and then often your first name, and also frequently as just “Sir” or Ma’am”.
Here is my introductory Amtrak language lesson. Please read and repeat until fluent!
ACAT Menu Specials – Amtrak Culinary Advisory Team dishes are interesting looking dinner choices on the restaurant menu of some of the Superliner trains. They are never actually available to order though, so don’t get too excited by reading about them. Take my advice and stick to steak or chicken with baked potato.
All Aboard! – always shouted by the conductor before he signals for the doors to be closed by the car attendants. It’s hard not to join in the fun and shout “all aboard” too.. it can feel a bit like “Von Ryan’s Express” at times with smoking stops on a long journey.
Amfleet Coach Car – standard single deck seated coach car.
Baggage – luggage. Occasionally weirdly used in the plural, like “your baggages must not be left in the corridor”. Travel with as little carry on baggage as possible as there might not be room for both you and your suitcase in a Roomette. You can store it on racks located on the lower level if it won’t fit though.
Bedroom – a room with two beds and an en suite toilet and shower in a Dorm Car. This as luxurious as it gets on an Amtrak train, and you can imagine being in a classic train film like “Silver Streak” whilst you dress for dinner. (N.B. No one else will be dressing for dinner though)
Bed – it’s a bed, not a berth. The lower bed in a Roomette is much better than the upper one. It is bigger and more padded. Negotiate well with your partner if you are sharing.
Bedroom Suite – Two twin Bedrooms with separate en suite rooms joined together by an interconnecting door. The sort of room James Bond would have with the beautiful woman next door if he were travelling on Amtrak, obviously.
Brakeman – old fashioned name for the Conductor, sometimes still used to describe the person responsible for the running of the train.
Breakfast – served in the restaurant, or delivered to your room by the car attendant if you are in a Sleeper and they are in a good mood. Avoid the Creole sauce and grits with your eggs unless you are very adventurous.
Bumper – the end of the line. For example, Conductor: “that’s us up on the bumper at 12.36”
Business Class – rarely seen upgraded coach class car with inclusive benefits like food and wifi. Probably used more on regular non Superliner trains. Most business people in America travel by plane, so not in great demand.
Cafe Car – the lower deck of the Observation Car has a bar and snack shop and a few tables. Open longer hours than the restaurant. Mainly serving passengers in coach class as those in Sleeperettes have meals in the restaurant included. Unlimited supply of ice and often run by a barman who has trained at the Amtrak equivalent of Butlins.
Car – a rail carriage, not a road based car – that would be a “vee-hicle”..
Coach Attendant – confusingly sometimes also called a Conductor. Responsible for rooms on Sleeper cars and anything you might need during your time on the train. Be polite and tip well for the best possible service.
Coach Class – regular daytime seated car that has comfortable seats in Amtrak Coach Car. The Viewliner (two deck) version feels like first class when compared to many European trains, but with no inclusive benefits like food or drink.
Community Seating – the dining car policy is to place diners together by a reserved dining time. You get to hear the amazing life stories of your fellow table guests. There is no choice in this matter. Most Americans eat early, so usually by 19.45 the dining car will be half empty on its last sitting if you want more peace and personal space.
Cord – the thing you use to plug your phone into the plentiful 120 volt electrical sockets in nearly all the cars. The power supply may not be stable and can be prone to surges, so protection is worth considering.
Conductor – usually a car based attendant responsible for ticketing on a regular train.
De-board – to get off the train.
Depot (“Dee-po”) – often a large junction that may well also be a station. May involve backing in to the platform and lots of tooting of the horn.
De-train – same meaning as “deboard”.
Double Spot – Not a snooker or pool word. This is where the train is longer than the platform, and it stops twice to let passengers from every carriage “deboard”.
Dorm Car – Superliner sleeper car. This isn’t Hogwarts though.
Family Room – 4 bedded room suitable for two adults and two children on lower deck of sleeper car with lots of space, but no en suite.
Gate – entry point to platform, sometimes where tickets are checked.
IC – the intercom, not the PA. The private comms system between carriage attendants for the resolving problems and telling of jokes.
Observation Car – two level car with mix of seating and panoramic windows on the upper deck, bar and cafe below. Usually the social centre of the train and a place to chat with fellow passengers. Just don’t mention politics though.
Lead Service Attendant – the person who supervises service in the dining car. Often heard on the PA announcing dining times and moving people on and off the wait list, depending on his or her mood.
PA – Public address system. Used for all sorts of passenger communication, including dinner reservations, and occasional banter.
Parlour Car – see Dining Car. More specifically the part of the dining car where the on duty service attendant sits and puts together the community seating plan.
Quiet Car – unreserved coach car with no noise, no phone policy. Mainly seen on single deck corridor trains.
Redcap – porter who deals with checked luggage. All big bags are checked in similar to at an airport. The redcaps transfer them to the baggage car.
Restroom – the toilet. On Superliners there is one upstairs and three downstairs per sleeper car.
Resties – a trip to the Restroom.
Roomette – small compartment with two chairs that converts into an upper and lower berth at night. Cosy for one, bit tight for two. Its not a cabin or a compartment.
Service Attendant – person who serves meals and drinks in the dining car.
Shower Room – one per sleeper car located on the lower deck of the Sleeperettes.
Sightseeing Car – see Observation Car.
Smoke Stop – longer stops where baggage is being handled and the conductor invites passengers to stretch their legs on the platform.
Superliner – a two level long distance Amtrak car also called a Viewliner.
Surfliner – same as a Superliner but hippyfied and a sign that you are in California.
Sleeper Car – car made up of overnight accommodations – roomettes, family rooms and bedrooms (with en suite toilet). Sometimes also called a Sleeperette.
Transition Car – car set aside for use by crew, usually a sleeperette.
Viewliner – see Superliner.
Wi-Fi – supposed to be available on most Amtrak trains, but usually impossible to log in to.
To make any sense to your Conductor you should aim to stop using words like “luggage”, “the gents” and “compartment” as soon as possible and embrace speaking Amtrak as fluently as you can. Please do share any new words that you discover and I will add them (“presently”) to this list.