Leave it to Mom to introduce me to a travel service I’ve seen over the years but never used – The Amtrak Baggage Service with the Red Caps at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. We were scheduled to board the Acela (I got a deal for our Saturday one way trip) from Philadelphia to New York Penn Station for the weekend before starting our journey to Paris on Mom’s luxury trip to Europe. This was just the beginning of learning new things about Mom for the next ten days.
When we arrived at the station, it was the first opportunity to feel (and see) how heavy Mom’s suitcase and carry on were. For a petite woman, I think she packed bricks in those bags! I was just hoping she didn’t pack food this time (she is slightly addicted to those orange over processed cheesy crackers with peanut butter and packed boxes on her trip to Germany). When planning the trip, I said you need to be able to roll your bag or make it easy for me to lift with my bags. Selective listening on her part with that request as she basically ignored me. So when I said “can you handle that bag on the escalator down to the train tracks?” she gave me a look and replied “no, I don’t like escalators”. Ok that was a new one considering the vast amounts of time I spend in shopping malls with escalators as a child and I’m sure Target has escalators now too – she isn’t taking the stairs there. Now, however, in her mid-70’s escalators are a thing – a bad thing. So I tuned to the Red Cap desk and asked for help. The Amtrak Red Cap baggage service is free but they work on tips so add this to your budget and bring cash to tip. At the beginning of what would be a long trip, I was ready to hand anyone cash to take some stress away.
Amtrak Red Caps
Think of the Amtrak Red Caps as the hotel bellman (woman) and valet service for the train. They are the front line Amtrak train station assistance to help you navigate the often busy train station and/or platform. There were five red caps at the desk on Saturday afternoon. The first red cap asked us for our train number and then passed us along to another red cap since his clients and their bags were going in the opposite direction. Our bags were tagged and we were handed claim tags and told to come back 20 minutes before departure time. This allowed us to wander the train station bag free (not truly free with Mom’s monster carry on, which we would abandon in NYC to lessen the load) to enjoy the various food vendors prior to boarding. Mom, however, was a bit paranoid that her bag would be stolen as it sat in front of the five Red Caps at the stand amid a plethora of bags and carts so we sat nearby with eagle eyes staring at our bags. I had already made enough comments about the weight of her bag and too many bags, etc. so I wasn’t allowed to comment further about “her bag being too heavy to pick up and run with” but I stuffed a cookie in my mouth to avoid a fight on hour one of our ten-day vacation.
Acela Boarding Time
At our agreed upon time, we went back to meet our Red Cap who had no other passengers on our train so he walked us and our bags to the elevators (my first time on the elevators at 30th Street Station) and down to the track to wait. We chatted the whole time and asked him about the highs/lows of the job which he is paid by tips only. He told us of the busy times and the day going by so quickly and the slow times when it doesn’t (I remember my days as a waitress working for tips so I understood). He walked us to the end of the platform to wait, telling us “it should be easy to get you two seats in this car”. It was the first car of the train and no one else was waiting with us, opting for the middle platform.
When the train arrived, passengers exited and he quickly scooped up our bags and boarded the train. As the train was full, he put our bags in a small empty area and found us two seats together. He mentioned that he would call ahead to NY Penn Station Red Caps to meet us when we arrived but it was hit or miss depending on how busy they were (no one was there to meet us in NY to Mom’s disappointment but I took her carry-on and she only had to deal with the suitcase that I would later repack and get rid of weight.
Amtrak Baggage Service Final Thoughts
We thanked our Red Cap for his assistance and tipped him $10 ($5 per bag) as he saved us the long line and wait in the train station, saved Mom rom the escalator and dealing with her bag and for chatting with Mom during our wait. For those already stressed out by the travel journey, the Amtrak Red Cap service can alleviate your ear of missing the train or boarding in the wrong location. For families with kids, large groups and those needing extra assistance due to mobility issues, the service is well worth it.
For future trips on Amtrak, I would totally use the Red Cap Service again even though my suitcase has wheels and doesn’t weight a ton because I enjoyed the skip the line, board quickly service and the conversation. It’s also a wonderful service for those stations that don’t have a platform, like Portland, Oregon for the Cascades Trip to Seattle. It’s a Fast Pass for you and your bags and that’s always a good thing.
Red Caps offer Amtrak Baggage assistance at twelve stations
East Coast – Baltimore, Boston (South Station), New Haven, CT, New York, Newark (not the airport stop), Philadelphia, Wilmington, DE and Washington, D.C.
Central – Chicago
West Coast – Los Angeles, Portland, OR and Seattle