Category: Travel Tips
Author: Michael DeFranceschi • Published

What Does Segment Mean on Amtrak? It's Easy!

Short answer: segments are how many transfers you'll take from A to B.
An Amtrak train for an article answering 'What Does Segment Mean on Amtrak'.

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At the time of this writing, my most popular article on the blog compares Amtrak to flying.

So, after people are convinced of Amtrak's merit and go to book tickets on their website or on their app, they may see the word 'segments' in the results.

A segment is essentially another word for transfer. A transfer doesn't always mean another train! A transfer can also mean a bus!

Let's explore further what segments mean on Amtrak and how this compares to other modes of travel, such as flying, driving, or taking a bus!

IN THIS ARTICLE...

What Does Segment Mean on Amtrak?

Multiple Trains vs Mixed Service

Picture of a bus in a city.
Many Amtrak routes will include bus service.

Source: Unsplash

Both 'Multiple Trains' and 'Mixed Service' will show more than one segment. Let's look at two examples to illustrate both.

First, let's look at an Amtrak ride from Detroit to St. Louis.

What does segment mean on Amtrak? This screenshot shows 2 segments from Detroit to St Louis where both segments are trains.
An Amtrak route from Detroit to St. Louis.

Both of the results in the above image show 2 segments. To the left, you will also see 'Multiple Trains'. So this means that from Detroit to St. Louis, you would ride two trains. In other words, you would transfer once to another train.

Another example: let's look at an Amtrak ride from Detroit to Grand Rapids.

Amtrak route from Detroit to Grand Rapids where one segment is a train and the other segment is a bus.
An Amtrak route from Detroit to Grand Rapids.

Notice that one of the results shows "Mixed Service" and says 2 segments. The graphic also shows a train and bus. To be more precise, on the right side, you'll see a link that says 'Details'. This shows you that one of the segments is a bus.

In other words, one of the options you can elect to take you from Detroit to Grand Rapids is to ride a bus and then transfer to an Amtrak train.

Do shorter routes have only one segment?

Inside of an Amtrak train.
Interior of an Amtrak train.

Source: Unsplash

I know that when I travel, I like anything direct, a.k.a no transfers. For instance, when I fly, I prefer Delta over flying Spirit because Delta has far more direct flights as opposed to flights with layovers.

With Amtrak, I have the same preference as I do with flying: I want only one segment.

Shorter trips are a little more likely to have only segment. How do I define "shorter", though?

The way I define 'shorter' is I see how long it would take me to drive from point A to point B. Anything under 4 hours is what I consider a short trip.

For example: Portland to Seattle. By car, it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. An Amtrak train from Portland to Seattle takes 3 hours and 25 minutes and has only one segment.

But, a counterexample, and one we looked at earlier: Detroit to Grand Rapids. By car, it takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes. But an Amtrak route from Detroit to Grand Rapids takes... 8 hours and 4 minutes and has two segments!

Why do some short Amtrak routes have multiple segments and others don't?

I'm a visual person and I know my readers love my insertion of multiple images so let's use some visuals to best illustrate this! Below is Amtrak's system map, as of 2018, taken from Amtrak's website.

System map for Amtrak.
The system map for Amtrak, courtesy of amtrak.com.

The red color on the map shows the tracks available for Amtrak to use. Some cities are fully connected via the "red" and others aren't. This map is the best resource to consult if you want to see whether your Amtrak trip will have multiple segments or not.

I'm sure you can imagine there are only so many railroad tracks that can be built and if the tracks aren't there, Amtrak has to transfer to either another train or a bus to take its customers from point A to point B.

Amtrak vs other modes of transportation

Wing of an airplane.
Direct flights are the best!

Source: Unsplash

Alternative transporation options to Amtrak include flying, driving, or taking a bus, such as Greyhound.

Here is a brief overview of taking Amtrak as opposed to flying, driving, or taking a bus, especially in regards to segments.

First, flying. If you live near a major city, there's a fair chance that you can find a direct flight as opposed to having an Amtrak trip with multiple segments. But, the best way to investigate this is to use FlightConnections.

The free version of FlightConnections will show you direct flights from any airport for any airline. It's a convenient all-in-one resource as opposed to having to open multiple tabs for each airline on your browser or having to switch between apps on your smartphone.

Second, driving. Regardless of where you live, driving potentially is the most direct way to go, assuming you don't take any detours!

And third, taking a bus. In many cases, Greyhound would have less transfers than Amtrak. Below is the system map for Greyhound, taken directly from Greyhound's website.

System map for Greyhound buses.
The system map for Greyhound, courtesy of greyhound.com.

Conclusion

Well, that about wraps things up for 'What Does Segment Mean on Amtrak?'.

A 'segment' on Amtrak is how many transfers you'll take from point A to point B, whether it is another train or it is a bus.

Did you find those system maps for Amtrak, the airlines, and Greyhound helpful? I know I did when I discovered them! Let me know if you found them useful!


Thank you for reading! Like... seriously. So many people just skim sh*t and don't read anything past the headline. You're one of the good ones!

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