Amtrak Gears Up for Thanksgiving Surge

PHOTO: Amtrak has added trains on the Cascades line in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in Michigan and Illinois to combat the heavy travel during Thanksgiving week.Getty Images
Amtrak has added trains on the Cascades line in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in Michigan and Illinois to combat the heavy travel during Thanksgiving week.

Thanksgiving may be heavy on the bird puns, but not everyone will be flying home this season. Many will be hitting the rails.

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The day before Turkey Day is historically Amtrak's busiest travel day of the year, and the railroad is boosting its fleet and 2013 schedule to accommodate what it expects to be another high-traffic holiday week.

"Amtrak carried a record 737,537 passengers during the 2012 Thanksgiving travel period, up 1.9 percent over the previous year and the prior record set in 2011," said Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods. "To accommodate the expected surge of riders this year, Amtrak will operate every available passenger rail car in its fleet and is scheduling extra trains and adding capacity on routes in the Northeast, Midwest and the West Coast."

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The busiest travel days of the holiday week are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, according to company data. If you're looking to squeeze in, morning trains typically have more available seats than those in the afternoon and evening, said Woods. But she advises booking soon.

"In Amtrak's Northeast Corridor alone, we will serve more than 300,000 passengers during the holiday week," said Woods. "This year is also the first Thanksgiving for the new Norfolk, Va., service."

In the Midwest, Amtrak will operate 18 extra trains in Michigan in order to supplement regularly scheduled Wolverine Service, she said. Those extra trains will run between Chicago and Kalamazoo/Ann Arbor, Mich.

On Wednesday, Nov. 27, and Sunday, Dec. 1, Amtrak will also add four trains along the Amtrak Cascades route between Portland and Seattle, the company announced earlier this month.

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"Special Thanksgiving Holiday Timetables are now available online," Woods told ABC News. "These expanded versions of the timetables for the first time offer day-by-day schedules to make it easier for passengers to find trains for a specific day of travel."

Other Amtrak tips for keeping holiday rail travel calm include: wearing comfortable clothes, packing light, remembering to bring a charger for mobile devices, arriving 30 minutes early, tagging your luggage for fast retrieval, downloading a movie for trips after sundown and taking advantage of the free Amtrak app.

"We're pretty hip," said Woods. "Our free apps for iPhone and Android phones means you can plan and book your Thanksgiving travel throughout Amtrak's nationwide system of trains and buses straight from your phone. You can also check the arrival and departure status of trains and display your eTicket from right in the app."