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I took an 18-hour train ride from Chicago to DC. Here were the 5 worst parts.

The writer rolling her eyes on the train next to a photo of the train and tracks
My 18-hour Amtrak ride had some downsides.
Nylah Burton

  • I spent 18 hours in coach on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Washington DC.
  • Some parts of my trip were amazing, but I wasn't impressed by my assigned seat.
  • There weren't that many hot food options for coach riders, which I thought was disappointing. 

Recently, I traveled in coach on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Washington, DC. I loved some parts of my ride, but it wasn't all rosy. 

Here are some of the worst parts of my 18-hour trip:  

My assigned seat wasn't great since I didn't get a desk 

The writer's backpack and no desk in her train seat
I definitely couldn't stretch my legs.
Nylah Burton

Before the pandemic began, it seemed like I often had a seat to myself in coach. Now, I"m not sure that will happen again.

Since I was in coach and the train was full, I was assigned a seat at the very front of the train.

I had more legroom than some other people in coach, but no desk. I had to work during the whole trip, so it was uncomfortable having my computer in my lap for hours. 

I also wasn't thrilled about my seatmate, who spread out way too much, watched loud videos, and snored. 

Still, although I didn't try in my case, an Amtrak representative told Insider that it is possible to seek out a seat reassignment while you're on board.

Dealing with leg cramps was tough  

Riding in coach always gives me leg cramps, because even if you have a lot of legroom like I did, you still can never fully stretch out.

My body always aches after a train ride and I end up needing to walk it off during the stops. 

I thought the hot food options in coach were lacking

I like the food on Amtrak's traditional dining menu. Almost every time I ride, I get a lobster and crab cake, a medium-rare steak with wine sauce, a nice carrot cake, and a glass of red wine.

Unfortunately, the traditional dining menu is usually only available on Western train lines like the California Zephyr, Empire Builder, or Sunset Limited. I was taking the Capitol Limited, which has a flexible-dining menu. 

I usually don't like the flexible-dining menu, but it didn't matter since I was a coach passenger. In coach, my options for hot meals were slim and limited to things on the café menu, like hot dogs or a cup of noodles. 

I felt bad for a woman who begged the attendant to give her a more substantial hot meal because she'd been traveling in coach for three days and hadn't had food besides ramen that whole time.

The attendant was super nice and promised to help her figure something out, but it was still kind of a bummer that coach passengers don't have access to bigger meals no matter how long they've been on the train.  

I kept anticipating delays, which made me a bit anxious

Amtrak train on its tracks
Like many forms of public transit, Amtrak can experience delays.
Nylah Burton

My train was only slightly delayed, which was nice.

But Amtrak so often has delays that anticipating them can feel exhausting. I once took a Capitol Limited train that was about five or seven hours delayed.

With trips that can take hours, I want to know exactly how long I'm going to be traveling. When the arrival date keeps getting pushed back, it can make me jittery and anxious, especially in a full car.

The bathrooms in coach weren't too clean, either 

In my experience, the bathrooms in coach are pretty gross. I found it genuinely upsetting to have to use the bathrooms, but I dealt with it since my trip was only 18 hours.

I'm not sure if I could have handled them if this was an 80-hour trip, which is how long I've spent going from DC to Seattle.

A representative for Amtrak told Insider its "train attendants strive to keep our lavs in clean, working order. But, like all public lavs, we [are] always at the mercy of the previous user." 

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