From Chicago (Union Station) to Washington, D.C. (also Union Station). The route crosses northern Indiana and Ohio, same as the Lake Shore Limited, before diverging south at Cleveland to serve Pittsburgh and then following the Potomac River through Maryland and West Virginia to Washington.
The Capitol Limited has both a full-service sit-down dining car and a cafe/lounge car. The table service aboard this train is superior to the Lake Shore Limited‘s, including china coffee mugs and silverware instead of the usual plastic.
Eastbound: Dinner is served a few hours out of Washington, D.C. A limited breakfast is served the next morning prior to arrival in Chicago.
Westbound: Dinner is served on departure from Chicago. Sleeper passengers make reservations from the first-class lounge in Chicago; which can make it difficult for coach passengers to get a reservation. Breakfast is served the next morning.
The opportunities for sightseeing are limited, but the portion between Connellsville, Pennsylvania and Martinsburg, West Virginia is stunning, highlighted by the stop in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Westbound this is often passed in darkness, depending on the time of year, but it’s scheduled for morning eastbound.
Forget about it between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. The train follows the ex-Baltimore & Ohio main line and it runs through a river valley. There are long stretches with no signal at all. West of Pittsburgh is fine save for the infamous black hole west of South Bend, Indiana.
Unusually for East Coast trains the Capitol Limited uses double-decker “Superliner” cars. This makes for a smoother ride in my opinion and you’ve got a better view since you’re riding higher. The Sightseer Lounge, Amtrak’s version of a dome car, is a wonderful place for watching the world go by.
Why take it?
The Capitol Limited has a more reasonable departure time from Chicago than the Lake Shore Limited (6:10 PM vice 9:30 PM) with dinner served aboard. Because it has Superliners it has the Sightseer Lounge which is vastly superior to an Amfleet cafe/lounge. It has better on-time performance than the Lake Shore Limited and the Potomac River is more interesting than Central New York. It does, however, require a connecting train between New York and Washington and is longer trip overall. It is price-competitive with the Lake Shore Limited. I prefer it eastbound.