What To Bring On Board
This page discusses what you might want to bring with you when you travel on Amtrak.
The first suggestion is: don't overpack. It's easy to think you need to overpack. You might be thinking you'll spend 12 hours on a train, or 36 hours on a train, and think you need to bring 36 hours of entertainment. It's easy to think along those lines. But that would be forgetting the unique options on the train: eating in the dining car, watching passing scenery or a movie in the lounge car, taking a nap at your seat or in your room, or sleeping overnight. Of course, some train trips could be only a few minutes or hours long, and you'd need even less.
I've often seen first-time train travelers on a 10-hour trip carrying all sorts of luggage with them: 2 days worth of DVDs, stacks of books, all manner of CD players and iPods, etc. Maybe you really need that much, but to me it just adds up to a lot of unnecessary heavy things to keep track of and carry around.
Even as someone that has been taking the train for years, I still find that I often overpack.
Personal Comfort & Hygiene
If you take any medications, make sure you take them with you in your carry-on luggage. People traveling overnight often like to bring a change of clothes with them. The sleepers offer showers. Coaches don't, though it is still easy enough to wash up and arrive presentable in a coach restroom.
Coach passengers often bring a blanket for overnight use, as the temperature in coaches can be a cool for some. Some coach passengers also bring pillows, as the pillows Amtrak hands out in coach are quite small. Sleeping car passengers are furnished with a full set of blankets and pillows, so don't need to worry about it.
It's common to see people with MP3 players, battery-operated DVD players, laptops, books, electronic games, magazines, newspapers, and the like. Remember that in coach, you will likely not have access to outlets during your trip, and in sleepers, there is only one outlet per room.
Don't forget that there are on-board entertainment options such as movies in the lounge car, playing cards at a table in the snack car, and the like.
Music players and radios tend to have better battery life than devices with a large screen.
Amtrak requires that you use headphones with any noise-producing device and keep the volume at a reasonable level so as to not disturb other passengers.
Outlets for Coach Passengers
Some coach cars have outlets at every seat, but surely not all; Amtrak is slowly doing renovations to provide that. There are one or two outlets even on the non-renovated coaches, mainly designed for use with Amtrak's vacuum cleaners when they clean the coaches. There may also be an outlet or two in the lounge car. Expect lots of people to want to use these.
Cell phones are permitted anywhere on Amtrak (unless you have specifically purchased a ticket in a Quiet Car). And they will usually work. However, note that Amtrak trains travel through some very rural areas, far away from cities or interstates, and you shouldn't expect to have a signal when you're outside of cities. Some cell phones drain their battery really fast in those circumstances; you might wish to turn them off when you're not using them to conserve power.
Food & Snacks
There are some regulations on this. Some people bring food with them to eat at their seats. Most prefer to purchase food or snacks on the train, as it is more convenient and doesn't require you to pack these things in advance. Diabetics will likely want to pack appropriate items in their carry-on bags.
Alcohol is generally not permitted on the train, although you can purchase drinks in the dining car and consume them there. Sleeping car passengers may be permitted to bring wine on-board to consume in their rooms.
Check with Amtrak before bringing any food or drink on-board to see what current regulations are.