Amtrak trains are slowly growing in popularity as people look for interesting and environmentally-friendly ways to travel. With the passing of the infrastructure bill in the summer of 2022, interest in traveling via Amtrak is higher than ever. With all that interest comes a host of questions, one of the most important being: do these things have Wi-Fi?
Some Amtrak trains have Wi-Fi, others don’t. Amtrak has concentrated its Wi-Fi services on the routes that have the most passengers and stick the closest to civilization/cell towers. Below, we’ll break down exactly which trains have Wi-Fi, which ones don’t, and what you can do when you find yourself on a train without it.
Amtrak Wi-Fi Breakdown: Which trains have it, and which ones don’t
Amtrak offers Wi-Fi onboard 29 of its 39 trains, which accounts for the vast majority of annual ridership. Most service is concentrated on the East Coast, Great Lakes, and some parts of California. (Note: This list is checked regularly and is accurate as of July 2, 2023.)
|Boston – Wash, DC
|Montreal – New York
|Wi-Fi available in US only
|Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Eugene
|Wi-Fi available in US only
|Lorton, VA – Sanford, FL
|NYC – Pittsfield, MA
|Chicago – Port Huron, MI
|Chicago – San Fran/Emeryville, CA
|Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose
|Chicago – Washington, DC
|Chicago – NYC
|NYC – Charlotte, NC
|City of New Orleans
|Chicago – New Orleans, LA
|Seattle – Los Angeles
|NYC – New Orleans, LA
|Brunswick, ME – Boston, MA
|Chicago – Seattle – Portland, OR
|NYC, Albany, NY, Niagara Falls
|Ethan Allen Express
|NYC – Burlington, VT
|Springfield, CT – New Haven, CT
|Oklahoma City, OK – Fort Worth, TX
|Chicago – Milwaukee, WI
|Illini and Saluki
|Chicago – Carbondale, IL
|Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg
|Chicago – Quincy, IL
|NYC – Philadelphia – Harrisburg, PA
|Lake Shore Limited
|NYC – Boston – Albany, NY – Chicago
|Chicago, IL – St. Louis, MO
|NYC – Toronto, ON
|Wi-Fi available in US only
|Missouri River Runner
|St. Louis, MO – Kansas City, MO
|Boston, MA – Roanoke, VA
|San Luis Obispo – San Diego, CA
|NYC – Savannah, GA
|NYC – Pittsburgh, PA
|Chicago, IL – Grand Rapids, MI
|Raleigh, NC – Charlotte, NC
|Oakland/Sacramento – Bakersfield
|NYC – Miami, FL
|NYC – Miami, FL
|Chicago, IL – Los Angeles, CA
|New Orleans, LA – Los Angeles, CA
|Chicago, IL – San Antonio, TX
|Greenfield, CT – New Haven, CT
|St. Albans, VT – Washington, DC
|Chicago, IL – Pontiac, MI
As you can see, Amtrak offers Wi-Fi on the majority of its routes, with the major exceptions being cross-country routes like the Empire Builder and California Zephyr. On these routes, there is simply no way to guarantee even crappy Wi-Fi for the majority of 2,000+ miles, which is why it’ll be quite some time before we see Wi-Fi on 100% of Amtrak trains. But, hey, 5G is here and improving, so maybe it won’t be that long a wait.
Amtrak Stations that offer Wi-Fi
Even if there isn’t Wi-Fi on the train, you may be able to get a quick connection before, during, and after your trip at an Amtrak station. The stations and lounges that offer internet service are:
- Penn Station, Baltimore
- Boston, MA
- Union Station, Chicago
- Auto Train station, Lorton, VA
- Moynihan Station, New York, NY
- Penn Station, New York, NY (some areas only)
- Philadelphia, PA
- Providence, RI
- Sanford, FL
- Union Station – Washington, DC
- Westwood, MA
- Wilmington, DE
Is Amtrak Wi-Fi any good?
Not really. It’s stable enough for things like email, reading the news, or getting some work done in Google Docs/Sheets, but not much else. If you’re hoping to watch Netflix, live sports, FaceTime, or sneak into a Zoom call, you’re better off relying on your phone’s LTE/5G signal than on Amtrak’s on-board Wi-Fi.
One of the reasons that Amtrak Wi-Fi isn’t that great is because the trains are moving. They’re always having to connect to new towers, and so the Wi-Fi signal is spotty in some areas, fast in some areas, and nonexistent in others. If you can stomach occasional headaches, though, you can still get some work done and entertain yourself as you chug along.
What to do when you need internet on an Amtrak train that doesn’t offer Wi-Fi
It’s worth mentioning that this section comes from personal experience. On a three-day journey from Cincinnati to Seattle, I needed a semi-regular and semi-stable connection in order to submit projects to my boss on time. He didn’t know I was on a train, and I had deadlines to meet.
Luckily, I figured it out, got my work done, and had an amazing time on the train. The following are what made it possible for me:
Grab a hotspot
Without this, I’d have lost my job before I got off the train! I’m a T-Mobile customer, and I bought a cheap 4G LTE hotspot from Amazon that claimed to be compatible with T-Mobile SIM cards. It cost me about $45; next, I ordered a mobile hotspot SIM card from T-Mobile, which cost $25 total for activation and one month of service.
Depending on your service provider, there are a lot of different ways you could do this, and a lot of different prices to pay. But, for a simple hotspot and 10GB of 4G LTE service, I spent a total of $80.
The hotspot enabled me to stay connected anywhere, as long as I was close enough to a cell tower. I was very fortunate, in the end, that T-Mobile’s network covered over 90% of the Empire Builder’s route. I got all my work done without issue, and I was able to enjoy the trip without freaking out too much.
Use your phone as a hotspot
Any smartphone released in the last 7-8 years has the ability to turn itself into a wi-fi hotspot, which lets you connect your laptop, tablet, or even someone else’s phone to the internet. Smartphone hotspots don’t work quite as well in my experience as dedicated mobile hotspot devices, which is why I went ahead and purchased one. However, if you only need a brief connection here and there, you can avoid spending any money by using your phone as a hotspot.
But, before you get on the train, make sure that your cell phone plan allows you to use a mobile hotspot, and confirm how much data you can use before it gets throttled to death. Cheaper phone plans often skimp on services like this, and you don’t want to be stuck on a train with no connection at the wrong time.
Download anything and everything
Google Docs, Sheets, and other services let you work offline, as long as you download your files before you lose a connection. Office 365 lets you do the same. Downloading work files lets you get at least some work done on the train, which is better than nothing (unless you’ve got the luxury of true free time, you lucky non-workaholic!).
As far as entertainment goes, pretty much every streaming service allows some form of content downloads, so long as you’ve got the mobile or tablet app installed on your device. Before my last Amtrak trip, I downloaded a couple seasons of The Office, as well as some movies I’d been wanting to catch. I didn’t watch any of them, because the view out the window was too damn good.
Look out the window!
If you don’t have to work, just look out the window. You can bring a book, magazine, or a newspaper for when the scenery isn’t that cool, but it’s undeniable that one of the best parts about Amtrak trains is that you get to look out the window. It’s not quite the same as the view from your car (many cross-country routes don’t follow the exact path of the interstate system, so the views are fresh even if you’ve driven it before), and it’s definitely more intimate than seeing the Rockies from an airplane.
So, while it’s nice to have a connection for the times you truly get bored, my experience is that Wi-Fi on an Amtrak train is a luxury, not a necessity. Unless, of course, you’ve got deadlines to hit…