New policy offers convenient travel for you and your small buddy
When Amtrak Cascades — which operates trains between Washington, Oregon and British Columbia — first considered developing a pet carrier, there was one small setback.
"We talked with Amtrak about wanting to be able to carry pets on our trains and they gave me the dimensions of the pet containers that would fit under the seats," says Kirk Fredrickson, Cascades Passenger Services Manager in Olympia, WA. "And, true story, I had one of my coworkers and his three young boys create a cardboard box in the pet carrier's actual dimensions. They brought it to our train and it didn't fit."
Turns out, the Amtrak Cascades are the only trains in the entire Amtrak system with cars built overseas. "Amtrak Cascades coaches are from Spain," explains Fredrickson, "and they’re different than all the other trains. Our trains have a post under the seat so the box they told us we could use didn't fit!"
On all the other Amtrak trains, the pet carrier slides under the seat. But on Amtrak Cascade trains, the carrier is allowed to sit on the floor in front of the seat. After that minor detail was worked out, in May 2016, Amtrak Cascades began offering riders the ability to take along their dogs and cats. The traveler purchases his or her seat at the going rate, and an additional $25 for the pet seat. Since the carrier sits in front of the other seat it is unusable by another passenger.
Amtrak Cascades added five pet seats to each of its 11 daily trains. Pet seats purchased for any train are placed in Coach 4.
Amtrak began offering pet seats after a small national pilot program. At first, the company was concerned about losing the full fare of a seat offered to a pet. "We said there may be a little bit of revenue loss on some of our trains as a result of this, but at the end of the day we're going to come out ahead and we're going to please a lot of people who would like to travel with their pets," says Fredrickson. "We've been hearing people ask about traveling with their pets for years."
Portlander Dena Sorensen has had her Blue Heeler puppy June for just three months, but they’ve already traveled together on Amtrak. "We traveled to Seattle to visit my mother-in-law," Sorensen says. "It was very convenient. I mean, it was not an issue at all! Her seat was right next to me. Having the carrier close was a good factor in keeping her calm."
Sorensen says she wouldn't have taken the train at all if they hadn't allowed her to take June along, adding that driving in Seattle is a turn-off and that she's grateful she now has another option.
"It was awesome!" she says. "I enjoyed not having to drive four hours or sometimes five to get there. It was relaxing. And the scenery is so pretty. It's worth taking the train — I enjoy it."
Amtrak's early concerns about noise from the pets, "accidents" needing to be cleaned up, or riders having allergy issues were soon laid to rest. “None of that has been a problem," says Fredricksen. "We've had a couple of people ask to be reseated from the pet car and that was not a problem — we reseated them and everything was fine. Our cleaners come through and clean the carpets and wipe down the pet car after every trip and they have had no problems."
Prior to the new pet policy, Amtrak did not allow pets of any kind or size other than service dogs. "People would say all the time, 'We want to be able to take the train and we want to travel with our pets,'" says Fredricksen. "It's not easy for folks to find a pet sitter or kennel and they want to bring their pets because they’re part of the family. We saw the pet policy as a good way to keep our customers happy and increase ridership on the trains."
Amtrak Cascades carried 813 pets from March to December 2016. So far in 2017, 220 pets have traveled Amtrak with their families. “Word is getting out among our pet-loving customers and the numbers are climbing,” says Fredricksen.
Limitations and Guidelines
- Only cats or dogs are allowed. No rabbits, gerbils or other animals.
- Must be 20 pounds or less
- Pet reservations are first-come, first-served for five pet seats per train (service animals do not count toward this limit)
- Pet owners must provide a pet carrier meeting the train's size requirements
- The pet must stay in the carrier the entire trip
- The pet must be at least 8 weeks old and current on vaccines
Get the complete guidelines at www.amtrak.com/pets
Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home (who thankfully, her family accomodated). She lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, OR, surrounded by dogs, cats, horses, chickens, and kids.