The Lake Shore Limited fills an in-between role as far as Amtrak service goes. Amtrak has a few regions where it runs as a commuter rail line between heavily-populated cities. The Chicago region, with frequent service between Chicago and Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit is one, and of course the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C. corridor is another. Amtrak also operates several long distance lines, such as The Empire Builder and California Zephyr that connect Chicago to the west coast.

The Lake Shore Limited is a long distance train, by Amtrak's definition. It takes about 24 hours, according to the schedule, between the time it leaves Chicago, and the time it reaches either New York or Boston. It is an overnight train, with a sleeper car and a dining car. And yet, unlike the routes from Chicago to the West Coast, the train doesn't pass through any prime tourist destinations. The train ride itself is not an experience. Instead, it serves to link together two regions where train travel is a practical matter. But there are more efficient ways to get from Chicago to New York than riding a train, and the scenery on the train doesn't really justify doing it for its own sake.

The Lake Shore Limited is a good example of the quandary that Amtrak often finds itself in: routes that are not scenic enough to encourage people to travel on the train for the sake of a train trip, but not quick or short enough to be efficient commuter routes. It also leads to the situation where the only Amtrak service to Cleveland occurs around 3 AM.