April 28, 2014 at 3:19 PM ET
Pets have long been permitted to fly with their owners on many airlines, either in a secure carrier under a passenger's seat or as cargo. Now Amtrak wants to allow passengers to bring their dog or cat on train trips.
Beginning May 5, pet owners will be able to travel with their furry friends on specially designated train cars on Amtrak's Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains between Chicago and Quincy, Ill. — a 4 1/2-hour train ride. It's part of a six-month trial program that, if successful, may roll out nationwide.
This is the first time Amtrak is allowing pets that aren't service animals to travel in the passenger cabin, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. Previously, Amtrak carried pets "in the baggage cars of some of the trains," but that ended in the late 1970s, he said.
Service animals currently are welcomed aboard Amtrak trains at no additional charge.
The way it works is similar to air travel: For a $25 fee, passengers will be able to travel with dogs and cats up to 20 pounds. Pets must be secured in carriers such as those used aboard airplanes and placed under the seat.
But don't expect to be able to take your pooch out for a potty break.
"There are stops at stations, but they're not for that purpose," Magliari said. "The stops are pretty short."
Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation are teaming up with a working group led by Rep. Jeff Denham, R.-Calif., who last year introduced legislation to require Amtrak to implement a pet policy, to provide this new service.
The legislation also has the backing of The Humane Society of the United States.
"We think it's a huge step forward for keeping families and pets together," said KC Theisen, director of pet care issues for The Humane Society. Many families face conflict — as well as added expense — over who will care for their pet while they are traveling, she said.
More than 2 million pets and other live animals are transported by air every year in the U.S., according to the Department of Transportation.