You just saw The Darjeeling Limited and Before Sunrise and have been dreaming about taking the train for your vacation rather than a plane. It seems so romantic—looking wistfully out the window as the coast passes you by, getting caught up on all that reading you have been meaning to do but never have the time for. Now, you’ll have the time!
Except for one problem: you have a dog.
Luckily, there are ways to travel on Amtrak with your pet, but there are strict stipulations. So before heading out on your romantic train adventure with your dog in tow, you should check into a few things.
Taking your dog on the train: yes and no
The good news: Amtrak now allows dogs and cats* on some train lines.
Though service animals have long been allowed on trains, in 2015, the country’s train service announced that pets who fit the size restrictions would be allowed on certain lines for a pretty small fee, $26. (That means kitties can come aboard, too, unless you’ve got a very large cat).
You can thank Representative Jeff Denham (R-California) for this possibility. He’s the one, who after years of being frustrated that he couldn’t travel with his French bulldog on planes because she’s a short-nosed dog, agitated for pet travel on trains. His bill passed in 2015, which included a pilot program that would allow pets in a designated train car. Since that bill passed, Amtrak has increased the number of lines that allow pets.
*The bad news: They have to be 20 pounds or less. That means your big golden retriever will not be able to sit next to you in your car. (Like Elizabeth Warren, we at Rover have a plan for that).
So while you can go places with your pet, there are many, many, many complications and exceptions.
Let’s go through them.
Where you can travel
Quite a few places! There are 40 pet-friendly routes throughout the U.S. including some of the big ones like the Amtrak Cascades, which rides along the West Coast, passing through Portland and Seattle (you can’t go with your pet through Canada, though), the Illinois Zephyr, which goes from Chicago through Illinois, and the Acela, which travels the Northeast Corridor from Boston through New York to Philly and Washington D.C. (pets are allowed on weekends and holidays only). Some routes like the Illinois Zephyr and the Cascades have a special Coach car for pets.
If you have any questions, you can always call the mainline, 1-800-USA-RAIL, to confirm if your route allows pets.
Unfortunately, you won’t be allowed to travel in first class, business class, or a sleeping car with your pet.
And, sadly, you must limit your trip to seven-hour stretches, including transfers. (I’d guess that’s so your pet has time to pee and stretch their legs).
How to prepare for your dog’s train trip
- Buy your ticket in advance by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL to make sure you have a seat on the train. You can also do so online. Only five pets per train (and one pet per person) are allowed, so you should book in advance to make sure you have a seat.
- Make sure they’re up to date on all their vaccinations and have a clean bill of health. You’ll also have to sign an indemnification and pet release document before you travel, which certifies that you’ve got a pet who’s vaccinated and healthy and is not aggressive.
- Give them a good bath. Says Amtrak: “Your pet must be at least eight weeks old and be odorless, harmless, not disruptive and require no attention during travel.”
- You have to arrive a little earlier at stations where there’s a ticket office and check-in yourself and your dog friend (or cat friend). Make sure you have all that paperwork ready. At unstaffed stations, the conductor will check the paperwork.
Get a good carrier
If you have dreams of you and your best dog friend sitting on the seats and looking dreamily out the window, unfortunately, this is just a fantasy. Your pet will have to stay under your seat in a carrier at all times. So, make sure you have a good, comfortable pet carrier (it can be either hard or soft-sided) and must be leakproof and well-ventilated. The size can’t be greater than 9″ x 14″ x 10.5″ and can’t weigh more than 20 pounds. The carrier counts as a piece of carryon baggage.
When I traveled with my kitty, I had a carrier similar to this one, which I really liked because when you rolled in, it stayed flat and allowed her to look outside.
Check out our shopping guide on carriers (just make sure the sizing is correct).
It’s also not a bad idea to have a wee-wee pad liner in case of an accident. And, it goes without saying, include a water bottle and food dish for the journey.
If things go awry, and the trip is canceled Amtrak will try to find a pet-friendly hotel.
If you’re traveling a long distance, your best bet is to travel in short bursts (up to the allotted seven hours) and then find a good pet hotel for the night and continue the next day.
If you’re looking to travel regionally in places where Amtrak doesn’t go, Millions Miles Secrets has a good rundown of regional trains and pet restrictions. Call 1-800-916-1392 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and Hotel Guides will check the hotel for you for free.