Information about restrooms (toilets) on Amtrak trains. I never realized how important this topic was until I found that many people were avoiding Amtrak travel because of their lack of knowledge on this subject.
I would never think of staying in an American hotel room which did not have its own bathroom. A hotel where guests had to share public restrooms and shower I would not consider a desirable place to stay. I did not realize that many people look at accommodations in an Amtrak Sleeping Car the same way. They will only accept a room that has its own bathroom and shower. The only rooms that have that are the Deluxe Rooms. But, once they hear the price of a Deluxe Room, that is the end of the rail travel plans for many people. The price is about twice that of the Standard Bedroom.
Personally, I never really thought of a private bedroom in a train as being similar to a hotel room in terms of requiring each room to have its own private bathroom and shower in order for the accommodations to be considered minimally adequate. Right from the beginning I thought of the private bedroom as being a super upgrade over coach travel.
I hope the information presented here will bridge the gap so that those of you who find the cost of the Deluxe Bedroom out of reason will decide that travel in the Standard Bedroom is acceptable, even without a private shower and toilet.
First, let's start with the easy issue: cleanliness. The bathrooms are cleaned thoroughly by a cleaning crew before the train starts from its point of origination. There is one Sleeping Car Attendant assigned to each Sleeping Car. Generally, the Sleeping Car Attendant does an excellent job of keeping the bathrooms in his car clean during the trip. The Sleeping Car Attendants don't have time to clean the bathrooms between each use, but there is a sign in each bathroom and an announcement is made requesting that passengers please leave the bathrooms neat after use. Sometimes you will find a restroom in a bit of disarray when the passenger who used it before you didn't quite follow the spirit of this request. If you find a bathroom to be less than adequate, you can set the "Call Attendant" button and close the door. Just use one of the other bathrooms in the meantime. The Sleeping Car Attendant will clean up the bathroom at first opportunity. Even without being notified, my impression is that the Car Attendants clean each bathroom at least two or three times each day.
Second issue: privacy. Each toilet on the train is totally private. The bathrooms are not like other public restrooms where there is one big room with multiple stalls. Each bathroom is a totally enclosed individual room. Each one is a small room about the size of a phone booth, but they are quite private. Thus, even though the Standard Bedrooms don't each have their own private bathrooms, each bathroom itself is quite private.
Are there enough restrooms in each Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Car? Absolutely!
The Superliner Sleeping Cars are configured with 10 Standard Bedrooms (formerly called "Economy Bedrooms") and 5 Deluxe Bedrooms on the upper level plus 4 more Standard Bedrooms, 1 Family Bedroom and 1 Handicapped Bedroom downstairs. The 5 Deluxe Bedrooms, numbered "A" through "E" each have their own combination toilet/shower. The 10 Standard Bedrooms on the upper level are numbered 1 through 10 with Room 1 being the Car Attendants room and closest to the center of the car. Room 10 is nearest the end of the car and next to the door that goes to the next car. Downstairs the Standard Bedrooms are numbered 11 through 14. The Family Room is numbered 15, but is also called "Room F". The Handicapped Bedroom is called "Room H". The Handicapped Bedroom has its own toilet, but not its own shower.
Each Standard Bedroom can hold up to 2 people which theoretically means that up to 28 people from those rooms and up to 5 from the Family Room, for a total of 33 people compete for the same 4 toilets and 1 shower. Don't panic! This isn't as bad as it seems. First, seldom is every room booked, and even when they are all booked, most rooms are have less than maximum occupancy. A number of Standard Bedrooms are usually occupied by some traveling alone. Thus, you are almost never competing with 33 people to use 4 toilets.
In well over 100,000 miles of travel in the Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Cars, I don't believe there has ever been a time when I have found all 4 toilets occupied! For that matter, there is usually 2 or 3 available at all times! You may have talked to someone else who has said the restroom was always occupied and they had to wait forever. How could both these opinions be true?
The secret is that very few people ever use the 3 toilets downstairs in the Sleeping Car! There is a large population of senior citizens that travel by train. Of those, I imagine quite a few would rather wait for the one upstairs bathroom to become available rather than go down and up the stairs. Even the passengers who don't have difficulty with stairs often seem to wait for the one bathroom upstairs rather than go downstairs. So, if anyone ever told you that the bathroom always seemed to be occupied, they probably never tried the ones downstairs!
I suppose some people think the upstairs bathroom is for the upstairs Sleeping Rooms and the downstairs ones are for the downstairs Sleeping Rooms. That couldn't be further from the truth! If that were the case, there would be one bathroom shared by 10 upstairs rooms, and 3 shared by 5 downstairs rooms! That ratio is even more lopsided since Amtrak generally only books the downstairs rooms after the upstairs rooms are all booked up. Quite often, there are no passengers in any of the rooms downstairs (except the Family Room which is quite popular and often booked many months in advance). Personally, I'll usually use the downstairs bathrooms even when the upstairs bathroom is unoccupied. I do that for two reasons: (1) I know there are seniors that have difficulty with the stairs and really need the upstairs bathroom to be available as much as possible, and (2) I know that many more people attempt to use the upstairs bathroom and will frequently test the door to see if it is occupied. When you use the bathrooms downstairs, you will seldom ever take the last one available and it will be rare that anyone will be waiting outside to use one of the bathrooms.
How to "Flush":
A quick note about the Superliner II toilets that frustrate some people the first time they use one: you won't find any handle or button to flush the toilet! Don't bother looking for one. Just close the lid to the toilet and it will automatically flush. As with everything to do with trains, you will find an electronic signaling system to tell you when to go and when to stop. It really isn't as weird as I just made it sound. When the red light is off, the toilet is ready to be used. When you close the lid, the toilet flushes and a red light comes on and remains on until the toilet is ready for use again. This takes less than a minute. If the red light starts flashing, the toilet has become stuck and you better signal for the Car Attendant. I've never seen that happen, but one stuck toilet unattended can stop the plumbing from working throughout the entire Sleeping Car! On the Superliner I Cars you will find a button to flush the toilet. Just make sure you push the "Flush" button and not the "Call Attendant" button!
What you can put in the toilets:
I've owned my own boat with similar toilets to those on Amtrak trains. The important thing to remember is that the toilet was only designed to accept human waste and a very limited amount of toilet paper. Anything else or even an excessive amount of toilet paper can easily jam the toilet. What you flush is actually stored on the train until a specific stop where the tanks will be emptied. On trains older than the Superliner, what you flushed was actually dumped onto the tracks! Thus, for courtesy to people waiting in train stations it was common practice to not flush in the stations nor anywhere that men where working on the tracks! The Superliners do not dump on the tracks so it is OK to flush their toilets anywhere.
This applies to both Superliner I and II Cars. In some toilets, the door latch has a tendency to unlock itself. Unfortunately, the other side of the latch has the notation of "VACANT" and "OCCUPIED". So, not only do some latches tend to unlock themselves, but they automatically switch from notifying anyone looking for an available toilet that yours is "VACANT"!
Many Amtrak Cars are old enough that the paint has worn off the "VACANT" / "OCCUPIED" sign. Thus, rather than even bother to read the latch setting, most people will attempt to turn the knob on the door to see if it is locked. Here is a little hint: There is a small light in the ceiling in front of each bathroom door. When the light is on, it means that someone is in that bathroom and has the door locked. No need to test that door! However, as mentioned above, it does not necessarily mean that someone is not in that bathroom just because the door is not locked!
I've been spared the embarrassment of having someone walk in on me, but have not been spared the embarrassment of opening the door on someone else. Ever since then, I have been very cautious and open the door very slowly giving anyone inside plenty of time to manually grab the door closed.
When you are in the toilet, I'd recommend that you monitor the latch. The vibration of the train will unlock some latches rather quickly while others take quite some time to undo themselves. Most latches will remain firmly locked all by themselves.
Here is a little something that I've picked up that is great for solving this problem: little plastic wedges. I found them in a hardware store. Each is the shape of a book of matches, but smaller and made out of plastic. The hardware store sold them for about 10 cents each and I purchased several of them. If you stick one between the bathroom door and the frame of the door, it holds the door tightly against the door frame. That completely stops the vibration of the door and the latch then stays firmly in place. These wedges are also great to use in your own room if anything rattles, especially the sliding door. You just put the wedge between the door and the frame to hold the door tightly against the frame which usually stops any rattling noises.
As far as the shower goes, a good portion of travelers will be on the train less than 24 hours and will not take a shower on the train. There are also a number of people who just don't like the concept of taking a shower at 79 miles per hour and will opt to wait until they get to their destination before bathing. Also, the shower is available to passengers around the clock. Thus, there will not be as much competition for the use of the shower as you might think, especially if you can take a shower at some time other than the morning when just about everyone who plans to take a shower will attempt to use it.
I do have photos of the Public Bathrooms and Shower in the Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Car. However, I'm not quite sure where they are in the 10,000+ photos posted at TrainWeb. If you happen to run across them, please click here to send the exact URL to me via e-mail and I will post those photos to this page.
Don't be dissuaded to travel by rail just because a Deluxe Room with its own bathroom and shower can be so expensive. I've traveled over 120,000 miles by Amtrak and almost all of that has been in the Standard Bedroom. Not having a toilet or shower in my own room has not subtracted from the enjoyment of that rail travel at all.
Every Bedroom in the Amtrak Viewliner Sleeping Car has its own toilet and sink. I guess that is Amtrak's acknowledgment of how much passengers desire a private toilet in their own room. However, there is a price to be paid for this convenience.
The Standard Bedroom in the Viewliner Sleeping Car is about the same size as the Standard Bedroom in the Superliner Sleeping Car but the price of the room is about between the price of the Superliner Standard and Deluxe Bedrooms. Generally, you cannot get Bedrooms in the Viewliner Sleeping Car as "inexpensive" as in the Superliner Sleeping Car.
When traveling alone, nothing beats the convenience of having your own toilet and sink in your room, especially in the middle of the night when you really don't want to throw enough clothes and shoes on to step out in the hallway. However, let's think about the ramifications when you are not traveling alone!
Unless you are exceptionally immodest, your traveling partner has to leave the room in order for you to use the toilet! The toilet is right beside one of the two passenger seats in the room and there is no partition between the toilet and the rest of the room. How soon should your traveling partner come back into the room? Where do they go while they are waiting, especially in the middle of the night? (I guess they have to get dressed enough to go out in the hallway, even though you don't.)
If you have traveled in the Superliner Standard Bedroom before, you might wonder how they managed to fit a toilet into a space so small. It actually does fit pretty nicely. There is a small shelf next to one seat that has been eliminated and one of the two passenger seats in the room has been made a bit more narrow. The seats in the Superliner Standard Bedroom are very wide, so making them a little less wide was not a big problem. Each room also has a sink that folds out of the wall from directly above the toilet.
For traveling alone, having a toilet and sink in each room is ideal. But, as you can see, it isn't so convenient when you are with a travel partner. There are no public restrooms in the Viewliner Sleeping Car unless your Car Attendant were to open up an unoccupied Sleeping Car Room to be a public toilet. I've never seen that done, but seems like it would be a good idea.
Below are several photos of the toilet and sink in the Amtrak Viewliner Sleeping Car Standard Bedroom. The blue cushion beside the toilet is one of the passenger seats. However, I have the seat opened up flat so that I could set my camera tripod on the flat seat.
I don't have much to say about Coach Car Bathrooms. Each one is a private room just like those in the Sleeping Cars. However, since so many more people have to share each one, they are a bit more difficult to keep clean and stocked with supplies. Whenever I have traveled by Coach, I have usually found the bathrooms to be in good shape. However, I have probably found the bathrooms a bit messy with towels, tissues and water splashed around more often in the Coach section than in the Sleeping Car section. Overall, however, the bathrooms are kept in good shape and because of this, I prefer to use the bathrooms on the train more than the ones in the stations, even the ones in Coach Class.