8

Amtrak's unaccompanied minor policy is quite clear, but I have a few questions about information that doesn't appear to be listed on their website (I am talking about their policy for 15 year olds):

  • Both boarding and arrival stations must be staffed. (Please note that even certain staffed stations do not allow for unaccompanied minors.) The stations that I am interested in are New Haven Union Station (NHV), Greenfield Station (GNF), Boston Back Bay Station (BBY), Boston South Station (BOS), and New York Penn Station (NYP). Are these stations staffed, and do they allow for unaccompanied minors?

  • No transfers of any kind are permitted. Is this a hard and fast rule, or do exceptions exist? I am not very familiar with the extent of railway connectivity available in the United States, but I would assume that nonstop train service exist only between certain stations, many of which may not be staffed. I am interested in traveling from Greenfield (GNF) to Boston (BBY or BOS). This is a fairly short journey and should only take 4-5 hours. The only trains that exist on this route, though, involves a transfer at New Haven (NHV). So I am assuming this trip would not be allowed for an unaccompanied 15 year old?

  • For each unaccompanied minor traveling alone, the adult (at least 18 years old) bringing the child to the departure station must complete and sign a release form. Both the adult and the minor must be at the boarding station at least 30 minutes before the train's departure time. Must an adult be present physically at the departure station? Isn't a release form carried by the minor or a digitally signed release form acceptable?

  • Finally, why exactly is Amtrak's policy so strict? They even require all minors to wear an Amtrak wristband during the journey! Such a policy would be appropriate for children younger than 10 or 12, but 16 seems too high in my opinion. Again, I am not very familiar with the railway system in the US, so is there something that I am not understanding here? Most countries allow domestic air travel for unaccompanied minors above the age of 12, and airlines like Emirates and Etihad even allow international travel. This includes flights with transfers and (obviously) immigration checks and border control. I would think that train travel would be similar to international air travel, and not significantly more dangerous or difficult for a teenager travelling alone. Am I missing something here? Again, I'm emphasizing the fact that I have no idea what rail travel in the US is like (apart from the exposure I have through the internet), so is rail travel significantly dangerous there? Or does Amtrak just have a really strict policy :(

4
  • 4
    Why is the policy so strict? Perhaps teenage runaways are much more common on buses than airlines
    – Traveller
    Apr 29, 2023 at 7:31
  • Though I was asking about trains and not buses, you've got a point there. That might also be why they don't allow online booking for minors and instead only bookings through their call center.
    – Zo-Bro-23
    Apr 29, 2023 at 7:33
  • 2
    From possibly-outdated personal experience, Boston South Station is staffed for unaccompanied minors while Boston Back Bay is not.
    – xnor
    Apr 29, 2023 at 18:16
  • 1
    FWIW GNF is explicitly unstaffed and explicitly disallows unaccompanied minors: amtrak.com/stations/gfd (and, from the description, it seems to be a pretty minimal waiting room: no payphones, no vending machines, no ticketing kiosks ...)
    – Ben Bolker
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:35

2 Answers 2

18

To exaggerate (but only a bit), in the US children are not allowed to travel independently and public transport is for poor (read: dangerous) people, so things that would be mundane elsewhere, like letting a child ride a subway alone, can result in newspaper headlines calling the child's parent the world's worst mom -- even if nothing at all happened!

(Meanwhile, it's considered completely normal to give the same 15-year-old who can't ride a train the keys to a murder machine on wheels and the freedom to drive it anywhere one year later. But I digress.)

Add in another distinctively American factor, namely that companies get sued at the drop of a hat if anything goes wrong, and it's not surprising that Amtrak insists on legally binding release forms signed in person and doesn't want to do anything even mildly complicated, like allowing a minor to transfer trains. So, no, Amtrak will almost certainly not deviate from their written policies.

9
  • 2
    Wow! I've heard that public transport in the US is not very popular, so that could be another reason why people are reluctant to let their children travel alone (as opposed to say air travel or driving). Here in India it is quite normal for a 14 or 15 year old to travel alone in the subway or even take a mid-range trip on a train (5-6 hours), so that's why I was very surprised to learn about Amtrak's policy. Anyways, thanks for the answer!
    – Zo-Bro-23
    Apr 29, 2023 at 10:25
  • 3
    @Sebastian the first link in the question says: "Children 16 and over may travel without restriction." Apr 29, 2023 at 14:59
  • 3
    @DimitriVulis It's at least somewhat of an exaggeration. In Manhattan, I see ~12 year old children on the subway by themselves relatively frequently. Perhaps this is the result of movements grown out of the article you linked, I don't know. Apr 29, 2023 at 16:43
  • 4
    In contrast, I am reminded of a Swedish news story from 2015 about a 4-year-old who ran away from his mother at a grocery store, got on a train and travelled 200 km (120 miles), including changing trains at a busy 16 platform station, before anyone took notice of him.
    – jkej
    Apr 29, 2023 at 18:43
  • 4
    When I was fifteen I travelled on my own from Belgium to France, and that involved multiple trains, and a change of stations in Paris using the metro. When I arrived I looked for a phone booth (no mobiles then) and called home that I had arrived. When I left I didn't even know when I would arrive, as our local station did not have the full French train schedules available... Apr 30, 2023 at 8:38
-1

What you might be missing here is that you are reading a policy for an optional service. As a 15-year-old (rather a long time ago), I traveled up and down the east coast all by my lonesome on many occasions. No one on Amtrak will ask your kid's age. They have a ticket, they can ride.

All this complex policy only comes into play if you want Amtrak to take responsibility for ensuring that your 15-year-old ends up in the right place.

12
  • 8
    So what’re saying is, she's got a ticket to ride but she don't care? Apr 30, 2023 at 2:02
  • 3
    When I book tickets online, they have three categories. Adults (16+), Youth (12-15), and Children (0-12). When I select Youth without selecting an Adult, it says that unaccompanied minor tickets must be booked over phone and must follow the said policy. I don't know if they enforce their policy very strictly or not, but at least on paper, 15 year olds are not allowed to travel alone on an Amtrak train without following the rules mentioned above.
    – Zo-Bro-23
    Apr 30, 2023 at 3:48
  • 6
    @Willeke in Germany children are allowed to travel alone on long-distance trains from the age of six and only pay half of the normal fare (they point out that it is the responsibility of the parents to make sure the child is mature enough to ride a train alone): bahn.de/service/ueber-uns/inside-bahn/tipps-tricks/….
    – Jan
    Apr 30, 2023 at 9:17
  • 3
    "policy for an optional service" I don't see how this is an optional service. It clearly states that this applies to all unaccompanied minors not ones that pick something in particular. In fact what you are proposing (buying an adult ticket for a minor) is explicitly against the T&C: "You may not book reservations for unaccompanied minors on Amtrak.com."
    – Voo
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:10
  • 5
    "Rather a long time ago" things were different and children were allowed some independence in travelling. And in other things as well. Now parents accompany them to the corner of their own street to wait for the school bus and the cops may be called by some busybodies if a kid is playing without direct adult supervision in their own front yard.
    – davidbak
    May 1, 2023 at 1:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .