Amtrak long-distance trains by night and day

Long-distance trains in a big country run 24/7. Our map shows you where Amtrak sees daylight and darkness.

RELATED TOPICS: PASSENGER | 1990S TO PRESENT | AMTRAK
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This Map of the Month was featured in the November 2003 issue of Trains magazine.

Amtrak advertisements showcase images of passengers looking out windows at breathtaking scenery, and gleaming trains winding through spectacular canyons or along scenic river- banks. But that's only half the story. Long-distance trains (those on routes of 750 miles or more) spend about half their running time operating at night. This map shows where Amtrak's long-distance trains — if operating on time — run in daylight and darkness, and where the transition occurs on particular date. 

The date selected was the autumnal equinox, September 23, when locations on Earth have an almost equal 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Once the date was chosen, sunrise and sunset times were determined for stops along each route, based on published schedules. The U.S. Naval Observatory maintains a website with sunrise/sunset information for more than 22,000 locations in the United States. When using the site, make sure to adjust times one hour when Daylight Savings Time is in effect.

Length of daylight, of course, varies with the seasons, with the greatest variation occurring at the Earth’s poles. On a northerly train like the westbound Empire Builder, sunset on the first day out can differ by up to 4 hours and 269 miles (Hartland, Wis., at 4:15 p.m. on December 8, versus Stroms, Minn., at 9 p.m. on June 21).

With only one train a day on most routes, many cities such as Cleveland, Flagstaff, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City are only served at night — a marked inconvenience for those weighing a trip by train versus flying or driving.

However, geography and scheduling often coalesce so that trains cross scenic mountain ranges in daylight. And that gives passengers a reason to smile.

Railroads included in this map:
Amtrak
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