Amtrak (U.S. train network), Chicago
Chicago is the central railroad hub of the US and pretty much all trains crossing through the region end in Chicago. This makes things more difficult if one is trying to cross the country or not going to Chicago, but it makes it much easier to get to or from Chicago by train.
Of particular note is the California Zephyr, going from the San Francisco Bay Area (specifically Oakland/Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco). a popular and beautiful route that operates constantly and regularly. traversing a varied array of scenery from California's Central Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains, to desert, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. It takes almost exactly 48 hours, sleeping cabins are comfortable, service and food are good, there is a great observation deck, and it is a very enjoyable way to travel between the to places while seeing some scenery. If one gets a sleeping cabin, the meals in the dining car are included.
Take the train to Chicago and save fuel, avoid the traffic and parking hassles, and arrive feeling refreshed!
Well, we all know that's a good idea, but is it actually practical? In the summer of 2007, I discovered that it was indeed a practical, economical, and relaxing alternative to the drive down from the north. I drove down to Milwaukee and parked my car at the MKE airport ($5 a day), then took Amtrak (7 trains daily, average 90 minute travel time) for the final 90 miles to Chicago.
Standart RT fare from Milwaukee is $48 RT - and I was able to get a 10% on that for being a member of AAA.
Union Station is also one of the stations served by RTA trains. Recently I stayed with a friend in LaGrange, and we took the train into Union Station for a carefree (and car-free) day of fun and frolic.
Did I miss the Edens and the Tollway? Not a bit! Was I glad not to have to pay between $20 and $30 a day for parking? Yup! Was the train crowded? Not really. Would I do it again? Shoor!
Grand Rapids is relatively close to Chicago which makes Amtrak the perfect option for travel. The train departs daily from GR at 7:35 AM and arrives in Chicago at 10:33 AM. The route take three hours and fifty-eight minutes. (You will change time zones.)
One way tickets are thirty dollars and round trip tickets are sixty dollars, flat rate. Try to purchase your tickets in advance as the routes can be often sold out during high travel times (like the weekends and or holidays...which ticket prices also go up). Arrive at the train station at least a half hour before your departure in GR and probably forty five mins to an hour in Chicago. The bigger the city, the earlier you should arrive.
Amtrak is convenient. It saves time, money and the stress of driving! I loathe driving in big cities and the traffic in Chicago is a nightmare, especially downtown. That doesn't even include hunting for parking spots.
Amtrak allows storage for personal suitcases (limit one) after that you have to pay. You're also allowed to carry a small backpack with you on your seat.
Amtrak serves alcohol and food, although quite pricey. My recommendation would be to sneak a few goodies in your bag. Try to get a window seat because the views are worth the look, especially when you pass Lake Michigan. Those are million dollar views in the warmer months.
There were some interesting characters that were on my route two of which were dubbed "Ballet boy" and "Pork Alert"......so people watching is always a form of entertainment if you didn't bring a book or your laptop! The seats themselves are quite comfy, so sit back and enjoy your trip!
One can reach Chicaho from Milwaukee either by Bus or by Train.
Amtrak operates 7 daily trains on weekdays.
The downtown Milwaukee Amtrak station is at the Milwaukee Intermodal Terminal, located on the south side of downtown at 433 St Paul Ave. Tickets are available and the cost was about 16 USD in 2007.
The Chicago station is at 225 S Canal St.
There is a local Greyhound bus terminus within walking distance of the Train Terminal.
Greyhound also operates Bus services to Chicago , with late evening and early morning services. Time taken is about half an hour more than the train.
I first rode Amtrak when I was a wee 6 years old from Oakland, California (where I was born) to Huntington, West Virginia to visit Mom's family in eastern Kentucky. Because we were traveling the last 2 weeks of school, school work was to be made up during the 3-day train trip which is why I'll always remember those pull-down trays so handy for such duties.
The 2nd train trip was this past October when the kids & I traveled to New York City. Although, it was a longer trip than going via plane, it was infinitely more comfortable. The leg room has more space than cattle class in a plane and on a bus, plus, there's more room to move about. Every so often are stops where one can jump out for a quick view of this or that quaint town. While bringing alcohol on board is prohibited, the trains themselves serve alcohol so it doesn't seem to be a safety or legal issue so much as competition in sales. I'd suggest bringing your own (it's wonderful to sip champagne as one travels the countryside in autumn) but to be discrete.
The only 2 downsides are:
*the bathrooms - which don't seem to be emptied our cleaned out during the entire trip, so about halfway through the smell becomes intolerable
*the attitude of the workers in the dining hall area who seemed to act as if they were doing us a favor by serving us.
The 3rd trip was overnight from Cincinnati to Chicago, about a 9-hour trip, which is great! It makes for plenty of time to sleep. Hop on the train at 1:30am; arrive at 9:30pm Chicago time. In between, I skip the smelly bathrooms and the intolerable service issues.
Photos: June 2009
Being the closest big city to the center of the 48 contiguous states, Chicago is Amtrak's main hub. Wherever you're coming from, you can take the Amtrak. Even if Amtrak only had coach cars, it would be far more comfortable than a car or a bus. Add the fact that you can get up and go to the cafe car to buy a snack (and keep moving while you're eating it), go to the dining car and order from a menu and get served by waiters (and have the landscape beyond the window keep moving while you're being served), go to the lounge car and sit around, sip your drink and relax (and still be moving), and there's really no comparison to anything. If you're traveling far, you can get a sleeper car, and then you'll also have a bed and a shower and your own room, but that gets a bit expensive. I, personally, have taken a virtually nonstop six-day train ride coachclass, and it was perfectly comfortable.
I don't really have any experience with Amtrak in Chicago - have only been to the Union Station on Canal Street. However, I've had experience with Coach USA between Wisconsin and Chicago. It is nice/comfy bus service. Bus stops in O'hare, downtown chicago and midway. They park at the Union Station when arriving in downtown chicago.
My husband and I took our first Amtrak trip to Chicago, June '05. It was most fun and enjoyable. We selected a roomette so our fare included meals. The staff was great, actually left you alone unless you need them. The food was good, small selection, but good. The challenge of taking a shower while train is moving is not to be missed. This was our first trip without children (all grown) - and we had a lot of fun. Walking car to car was rocky but after a few moments you were prepared to hang on. Best vacation for the money. I would go again.
Living so close to Chicago we had two budget options to get to our destination: drive or ride by train. Rather than dealing with driving to/in Chicago and paying for parking we chose to take the Amtrak train between the two cities. For a reasonable $40.00 per person roundtrip we had a hassel free trip getting to and from the city. The train only took about an hour and half and was a pleasant ride. The train leaves from one of two locations in Milwaukee: an airport location and a downtown location. We left from the airport location and arrived at Union Station shortly thereafter. It couldn't have been easier to get out of Union Station and find a taxi. We were at our hotel in no time at all with less stress than we would have had if we had driven ourselves.
From what I remember it was a reasonably priced way to travel to Chicago without having to worry about a vehicle or parking. Making the trip via Amtrack allowed one to relax and enjoy the trip in comfort. It made a nice day trip to shop Michigan Ave. from Michigan. They may offer lower rates during holiday season also.
An alternative to flying or driving in/out of Chicago is to take the train. Amtrak offers train service throughout the United States and Chicago is a central hub.
Generally, as long as you don't need to reserve a sleeping car then the cost is very reasonable.
I won this Amtrak ticket at eBay. For $100, I got a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Chicago with stopovers in Kansas City and Albuquerque.
Los Angeles to Chicago by train (the Southwest Chief) takes approximately 41 hours. Along the way, you'll see deserts, mountains, and prairies. I saw the great Mississippi River for the first time onboard the train.
Train travel is not for everyone but for some people, the "romance of the rail" is very much alive. The next time, I'll take the train from Los Angeles to New York.
One of my favorite ways to arrive to Chicago is via the train. Every chance I get I take the train from NY to Chicago. Always a pleasure to get off and see the familiar. The recently changed. And know you are near enough to everything you must do in town before heading onward.
There are two airports, O'Hare and Midway. Public transit runs from both airports to downtown Chicago. If you prefer to drive, good luck. Once you get within 30 miles of Chicago traffic slows down to a crawl. There is also an Amtrak station downtown - as long as the trains are still running! Greyhound has a station here as well and it is within walking distance of an 'El' station.
Chicago has a pretty decent public transportation system. The trains run every 7 - 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. Buses are more infrequent, depending on time of day and traffic. Some buses do not run 24 hours, so if you are relying on a bus for transportation after the bars close, make sure it will still be running!
They have a website where anyone can put in their starting point and destination and it will tell you what to take to get there.
Union Station is a train station but, to me, it is as much a part of Chicago as the Field Museum or the Sears Tower.
The architecture in the lobby is wonderful and, as a kid, I remember getting a great feeling of energy from the place. There was a sense of activity as if everyone there was on an important mission: somewhere exotic to be, some villian or hero or lover to meet, something exciting to see or do... Maybe this is where my love affair with travel started; on a dark wooden bench, watching and wondering where everyone was going.