Taking Pets on the Train: What You Need to Know

Many pets are now welcome to travel on train lines throughout the United States.

taking pets on the train
Taking pets on the train: If your pet is easily stressed by loud noises and crowds, perhaps travel isn’t for them. Photo: Frances Ellen

When you’re leaving home for a while, moving or just want to take a weekend vacation, there’s a good chance you’ll bring your pet.

Keeping them home isn’t always feasible. If you’re making a long-term move, it might not be possible.

Without a car (or perhaps without room in your car), driving might not be an option. And plane travel, while efficient, can be a scary experience for your pet — if they’re even allowed on board.

That leaves us with one other, rather charming, option: taking pets on the train.

Unless you’re a train enthusiast or prefer not to get on airplanes, train travel is probably only a blip on your radar. Especially in the United States, traveling long distances by rail isn’t that common.

Outside of metro and rail systems in large cities like New York and Washington, D.C., there is, however, a major rail line serving a vast majority of the country: Amtrak.

Amtrak connects cities like Chicago to San Francisco, New York to New Orleans and Los Angeles to Albuquerque, just to name a few.

With over 500 destinations in 46 states, it’s a worthy form of travel — and not just for humans.

Taking Pets on the Train

In the past, only service animals were allowed aboard Amtrak trains.

Restrictions have been loosened, though, and pets can now be taken on board the majority of train trips.

Taking pets on the train is often the best way to transport them with you if you don’t have a car:

  • There are typically frequent stops, which means ample bathroom breaks.
  • Train cars aren’t cramped like an airplane’s cabin is, generally.
  • Not only that, but also there’s no reason to fear your pet being put in a cargo hold or suffering from cabin pressure.

Bottom line: While your pet still might not love being on a train, the level of comfort compared to flying is much higher.

If you’ve traveled with your pet before, you may get a sense of how they’ll react to being on a train. Photo: Rosanetur

Rules for Taking Pets on the Train

While taking pets on the train is much simpler than flying, there are still rules and regulations to be aware of. Your pet’s size, the route and the type of carrier you travel with are all important aspects to keep in mind.

On Amtrak specifically, dogs and cats up to 20 pounds are allowed on most routes under 7 hours in length. Some restrictions apply to various routes on weekends and holidays, but for the most part, the rules are the same for trips.

Only 5 pets are allowed per train, so make reservations as early as you can. To do so, either head over to Amtrak.com, call the reservation number (1-800-USA-RAIL) or visit a staffed station.

Other rules to keep in mind:

  • You can bring only 1 pet on board per passenger.
  • Pets are allowed only in coach class.
  • Pet reservations are $25 per trip segment (some long-distance trips have multiple segments).
  • Your required pet carrier can’t be bigger than 19 x 14 x 10.5 inches.

Of course, there are countless other, shorter-distance rail systems that allow pets on board, too. Study your options, along with rules and regulations.

Safety When Traveling With Your Pet by Train

Before making your reservation and hopping on board, decide whether or not train travel — or, really, any long-distance travel — is safe for your pet.

If you’ve traveled with your pet before, no matter the method, you probably have a good idea of how they’ll handle it. If they’re uncomfortable and scared while being transported in a pet carrier, for example, that experience will be no different on a train.

Traveling, potentially for up to 7 hours, with your pet in a carrier when they’re highly stressed isn’t a good idea. Not only will it be traumatic for them, but also the trip will be difficult for you.

Avoid online advice to sedate your pet to travel with them. Instead, train them well ahead of time to be comfortable in a carrier.

Likewise, if your pet is prone to motion sickness, an hours-long journey will be miserable for them. Train travel can be bumpy and rocky. If your pet gets sick in the car, they probably will on a train, too.

Taking pets on the train? Check out these helpful tips for traveling with your pet:

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How to Reduce Your Pet’s Travel-Related Stress

Another factor coming into play during train travel with pets: crowds and small spaces.

If your pet is easily scared by loud noises, large crowds or cramped spaces (remember that their carrier must go under your seat), then taking your pet on the train might not be the best idea until they’re comfortable.

If you can train your pet ahead of time, these factors might not be an issue by the time the trip comes around.

So do the following in advance of your big trip:

  • Get your pet used to their carrier.
  • Start taking them on small trips that mimic what they’ll feel like on a train.

The more comfortable you can make them, the better things will go when taking your pets on the train — for you and them.