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Woof, Woof. All Aboard! Cats and Dogs Get ‘Ticket’ to Ride … Amtrak

ANIMAL WATCH-After a rocky ride through Congress since 2013, Amtrak has finally announced, “Rover, Come On Over. Pets Welcome Aboard Amtrak.” The ‘Pets-on-Trains’ program is now permanent and allows Amtrak riders to travel with their cat or small dog to more than 500 destinations nationwide, including Los Angeles – Union Station, Pomona, Ontario and Palm Springs, CA. 

 

A pilot program along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Norfolk, VA, and the Downeaster line between Boston and Maine ended on February 15, during which more than 2,700 small pets traveled with their humans. The first trial in Illinois resulted in over 200 pets accompanying riders “without a single complaint or incident,” Amtrak reports. 

‘Pets-on-Trains’ is now extended to coach service on all cross-country routes, excluding the Auto Train. (The Auto Train is a 17-hour, 29-minute trip from Washington, DC, to Orlando, Florida, and it allows your vehicle, motorcycle, or small boat to accompany you -- packed as a suitcase -- but is too long a trip to take your pet.) 

Here is the ‘Pets on Trains’ Program Guideline:  

  • Trips with pets may not exceed seven hours in length.
  • One cat or small dog is allowed in an enclosed carrier, with the weight of both pet and carrier not exceeding 20 pounds.
  • Pets must be placed under the seat of their human companion at all times during the trip.
  • Reservations are required, and there is a $25 surcharge for your pet each way.
  • You must book your ticket by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL or at an Amtrak ticket counter. 

Amtrak has specific guidelines regarding service animals and other pets

Amtrak advises it has also started a weekend-only pilot program, inviting pets to ride on the Acela Express until June 12, 2016, when it will be reviewed for possible continuation. Acela is known as “America’s Fastest Train.” It travels up to 150 miles per hour on a short stretch in New England, with top speed between New York and Washington, DC, at 135 miles an hour.

Lawmakers began urging Amtrak to allow companion animals on trains with the introduction of H.R. 2066, ‘Pets on Trains Act of 2013,’ sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), and John Campbell (R-Calif.) This Bill required every Amtrak train to have at least one car designated as a “pet car.” However, dogs and cats would have to be kept in kennels and the trip could not exceed 750 miles.

The bill was inspired by Rep. Denham’s dog, Lily, whom he identified as a “part of our family,” and who traveled with him from California to Washington, D.C. regularly. “If I can take her on a plane, why can't I travel with her on Amtrak, too?" Denham asked, according to The Hill.  He added that this could also be a boost for efficiency and revenue for Amtrak.

Although the Bill had bipartisan support, it got buried. Then in December 2015, The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act was passed by Congress and included Denham’s ‘Pets on Trains Act’ (reintroduced as H.R. 674.)  

The legislation requires that Amtrak dedicate at least one car per train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a domesticated cat or dog in the same manner as ‘carry-on’ baggage. However, Amtrak had already taken the initiative and started the Illinois and Northeast pilot programs. 

"We are excited to bring this service to more of our passengers throughout the country who want to travel with these cherished family members," said Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman. "We listened to our passengers and delivered on this program, which will also help increase ridership and revenue." 

Long-distance trips on Amtrak to California can be complex and do not fit the seven-hour limitation for pets, so Rep. Denham may still have to fly with Lily. Here’s an example: 

Hop aboard the Texas Eagle, traveling daily between Chicago and San Antonio, taking you through major cities such as from Austin to Dallas. Connecting service between San Antonio and Los Angeles is available three times a week via the Sunset Limited 

“Passengers traveling on trains 421 and 422 to and from points between Chicago and Los Angeles will experience an overnight layover in San Antonio, TX, ranging from 7 to 9.5 hours in order to accommodate train coupling operations. For more detailed information on the Texas Eagle visit the Texas Eagle State Site.”) 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.