In 2015, The White House and House of Representatives passed a bill to continue government funding for Amtrak. It also required the train line become pet friendly. While both political sides didn't fully agree, it was thought that the pet-related part of the bill won over many representatives for the bi-partisan vote. The provision was included in the bill by California Representative Jeff Denham who had been advocating for pet friendly trains since he realized several years ago that he couldn't ride Amtrak with his French Bulldog, Lily.
When the bill was passed, Amtrak had already been testing a small pilot program in Illinois, but this legislation gave the train line a year to figure out the parameters of an official program.
They took the time to expand the pilot program to include the popular Northeast Regional and Downeaster routes (from Norfolk, Va. to Brunswick, Me.), which was a success. Animal lovers were thrilled and the $25 pet fee made Amtrak nearly $500,000 in extra revenue. During the October to March pilot period, 4,600 passengers traveled with pets. In that time, Amtrak didn't receive a single piece of negative feedback from customers who shared cars with a furry passenger. Instead passengers wanted Amtrak to include other pets (currently only cats and dogs are allowed) and to increase the current 20-pound limit.
Then Amtrak announced that the Northeast Regional and Downeaster routes would become permanent pet routes and expanded the program to include longer trips up to seven hours in length (that means the Auto Train from Virginia to Florida wouldn't be included). They also announced a new pilot program on the Acela Express that will run into June.
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Because the program limits five pet reservations per car, Amtrak recommends booking pet spots early. Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and fit in a carrier that can go under the seat (19" x 14" x 10.5" or smaller). For safety reasons, animals must be able to sit and lie down comfortably without touching the sides of the carrier. While riders may not be asked for it, passengers are required to have their pets' vaccination records on hand. Quiet and cafe cars remain humans only.
As Amtrak is phasing in the pet program, they're still working through challenges. For instance, in some regions, passengers may be transported between train stations on buses that aren't pet friendly. Also Amtrak will sometimes arrange lodging for delayed passengers, and finding a pet friendly hotel adds an extra complication. However, Amtrak is committed to expanding the program.
In 2022, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains now allows passengers to bring dogs and cats weighing up to 20 pounds on board for only $26 or 800 Amtrak Guest Reward points as of May 20. The rollout of the pet program is part of Amtrak Pacific Surfliner’s ongoing efforts to better serve the needs of passengers, providing more options for customers ahead of the summer travel season.
A limited number of pet reservations are available per train and each customer is limited to one pet reservation per trip. Pets will be allowed in all cars, except for Business Class and the Café car. More information and a complete list of travel guidelines can be found on Amtrak.com/Pets.
It's always great to have another pet friendly travel option. I hope that Amtrak not only expands the program to other regions and routes, but also finds a way to include larger dogs as well. Pups that don't fit under a passenger seat (by train or by air) are forced to travel essentially as plane cargo. Hpoefully Amtrak can one day provide an alternative.