I did not create the idea of Hacker Train. I merely implemented an instance of it--an instance I hope to replicate for years to come.
Our Hacker Train came about from a group of coders desiring a fun and beautiful way to head up to CascadiaJS 2013. Trains are a beautiful and safe way to travel. Vancouver, the location of this year's conference, allowed for a hearty 8 hours of riding and relaxing. Why not pick up a few friends in Seattle and make an adventure of it? We ended up attracting 30-something developers ready to hang and hack. With a Cascadia flag in tow and devices ready to overload the best of wifi, we made the best of our journey while fighting to get a little code in too.
Make no qualms about this, you are the travel planner for your riders
Now, the dirty details of planning your Hacker Train
You will have to initiate coordination of the travel by phone. There is a group reservation line, 800-872-1477.
Steps to reserve:
- Call group line. Clearly explain whether you want a WHOLE car or number of seats with details of your trip. You will be given a deadline to get the passenger list turned in. You will be provided with a passenger list form by email.
- Amtrak will confirm the passenger list is acceptable and you make full payment.
The turnaround on this is only a handful of days. They are trying to lock in a price for you. The service attendant will give you an offer expiration but you can always get it extended. They will not give you the price for the tickets until the list is set. You can get a general idea for the cost by looking up your trip as an individual rider.
You can reserve a whole train car at a time(36 seats), or a specific number of seats. A whole train car requires a different level of approval, so they will have to get back to you regarding this. You will have to submit the complete passenger list at the time of reservation confirmation. You cannot add to the list after this.
All passengers must board in the same city, at the same stop. If you are doing multiple cities, I highly recommend having a 'captain' for each city helping to coordinate riders and be responsible for the single ticket they will give you for the entire group. Ultimately, you are running a separate 'trip' for each city. This ticket is literally a piece of paper they will fed-ex you.
We travelled internationally into Canada. This was an added challenge. It entails getting sensitive information from each and every passenger prior to being able to confirm the reservation--Name, DOB, passport #, passport exp., station boarding. Then you pay. We used tito.io to register all of the interested travelers and take payment so we could purchase the group reservation. Getting passport information from all of your passengers in a timely fashion is , well, fun times. Be prepared to gain a few gray hairs from this.
As for cost, it will save your passengers little to book on their own vs. getting the group seats. The group seats give you the opportunity for everyone to sit next to each other. Getting the entire train car reserved means you don't get split up. You can purchase an entire train car and not fill it up. You will be paying for the price of all 36 seats. We were fine with this solution. (I was afraid they had some archaic rule that wouldn't allow for having open seats even if they're paid for.)
Food and funtimes
For our train line, we were told they would overstock the dining car to prepare for us, but could not offer us any sort of meal planning ahead of time. They did run short of a few items that were very popular for our group. Once we get on board a train attendant helped me coordinate our meal and drink tab. This did not result in what had been communicated. We made due by going in waves to the dining car and charging to a single card.
The Good, the Bad, and the Meh
I could not have asked for a better group of people heading up to the conference. It allowed me to meet a number of developers I hadn't interacted with in my community and gave me a great connection that would set me path forward with organizing my first conference.