Good news for Amtrak passengers aboard the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains from Chicago to Quincy: The company recently announced a pilot program that will allow travelers getting on in Chicago, Naperville, or Galesburg to bring along their furry friends. Amtrak, along with the Illinois Department of Transportation, announced the program as a trial run for what could become a national pets-on-board Amtrak policy.
Amtrak allowed pets on board in the 1970s but only in baggage cars that had no heating, air conditioning, or ventilation. The service was discontinued after less than 10 years.
The new program began running on May 5 and will continue through November 12, 2014. The accompanying pet must be a dog or cat (up to 20lbs) and must be able to fit in a carrier stored under the passenger’s seat. No more than four pets will be allowed per train car. Specific pet reservations will be required, and there is a $25 fee. Service animals will continue to be allowed on for no charge, and do not count towards the four-pet-per-car maximum. Non-pet lovers are in luck too, Illinois Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that at least one car per train will be pet-free for those that are allergic or who prefer not to sit near them.
“Amtrak is supportive of accommodating pets on trains, and through direct collaboration with the Illinois Department of Transportation and a working group led by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California we are optimistic a plan can be reached to address the needs and concerns of all our passengers,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.
Denham has been spearheading the Pets on Trains Act of 2013 which proposes a nationwide pets-on-trains law. He brought his own dog, Lily, to a November 2013 news conference for the bill.
“Lily, is a part of our family and travels with us to and from California all the time,” said Denham in a press release. “If I can take her on a plane, why can’t I travel with her on Amtrak, too?”
It seems that the move is encouraged largely by airline policies, which frequently allow traveling pet parents to fly with their small dogs and cats. “It’s fairly common within the airline industry,” said Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jae Miller. “More people are looking to take the train so we saw a need for this…. We think this is an exciting opportunity and we are looking forward to seeing how passengers respond to this pilot program. We are leading the way.’’
Amtrak has not announced how they will proceed if the pilot program is a success, but hopefully soon trains across the country will start allowing pets to come aboard.