Train

In the U.S., we might think of train travel as a slow, outdated, and expensive way to get around.  Yet, in other countries, it’s the primary means of transportation and it works well!  In certain parts of the U.S., taking the train can be a great alternative to driving or flying.  Here are some reasons why I hope you’ll consider the train for your next trip or vacation!

1. Trains can be cheaper than driving or flying

I totally agree that on the surface, train tickets seem expensive.  I recently bought an Amtrak train ticket from New York Penn Station to Providence, RI for $97 one way (coach ticket prices vary from $47 to $122 for this route).  My friends thought I was crazy. According to Google Maps, the distance by car is 178 miles.  If  gas costs roughly $4/gallon, and you get 25 miles per gallon, the cost of driving would have been $28.48.  Way less than the $97 train ticket, right?  Hmmm…

Hold on a minute. When we talk about the cost of driving, we usually think of gas, but rarely think of depreciation and maintenance.

Let’s say you bought your car for $20,000 and will drive it for 100,000 miles.  That comes out to a cost of 20 cents per mile.  Let’s add another 5 cents (conservatively) per mile for maintenance and repairs.  Now, the cost of driving comes out to 25 cents times 178 miles or $44.50 plus the cost of gas, $28.48, so we’re talking about $73!  I haven’t even started talking about tolls and parking.

When you consider the real cost of driving, plus tolls and parking, the cost can easily exceed the price of an “expensive” train ticket!!

Let’s talk about the cost of flights now.  The fact is, the face value of a plane ticket does not reflect the real total cost of of that flight!  You have to add baggage fees (usually $25 to $50 each way) if you check in luggage.  Plus, there’s the cost of parking, or transportation to and from the airport, because airports are rarely in the center of town.

So, the train might actually be a better deal than driving or flying!

I will say that if you want the ultimate in low cost transportation, the bus is the way to go, hands down.  Carpooling can also be dirt cheap if you split the tab.  Just make sure you split the real total cost of driving, not just gas!

2. Trains can be more convenient than flying or driving

The other big argument about trains is that they are slow.  And yes, I wouldn’t take a train to go cross country or anywhere near that far.  But, for medium-length trips (like NY-Boston), trans can be just as fast as a plane when you consider total door-to-door time.

Before 9/11, I would get to the airport an hour or less before my flight.  Now, I try to be there two hours before to deal with any security lines.  That’s a lot of time.  Plus, add in the time it takes to get to the airport, which is usually outside of the city.  Finally, factor in the time it takes to de-plane and wait at the the baggage claim.  This adds up to a few hours at each end, so that a “one hour flight” can easily take three or four when you add up all of the hoops you have to jump through.

The last time I took a train, I showed up a mere fifteen minutes before departure!  When the train arrived at my destination, I simply grabbed my bag and walked into downtown!  No waiting for the plane to get to the gate, no waiting for people to get off the plane, no baggage claim, and no taxi into downtown!

Overhead space on a train
There is usually plenty of overhead space on a train for luggage. No fighting for space like on a plane, no waiting forever at the baggage claim, and no check-in fees!

Let’s talk about driving. Between New York and Providence, the train takes 3 1/2 hours.  I did this by car once and it took me about 4 1/2 hours.  During rush hour it can take over five hours!

It’s true that driving does gain time in that you can leave any time you want, whereas with a train, you are at the mercy of the train schedule.  But consider these factors: on a train, you don’t need make pit stops for gas, food, or restrooms, or waste time finding parking when you arrive.

3. Trains are way more comfortable than cars or planes

On my last Amtrak train trip, I did an experiment.  I tried to slouch until my knees hit the seat in front of me.  I had to slouch to the point of being uncomfortable before my knees hit!  Compare this to a cramped seat on an airplane where your knees hit all of the time (if you’re tall).  The seats are also wider on a train, and there are no seat belts to mess with. Of course, trains vary, and commuter trains are less comfortable than Amtrak (but also much cheaper).

These days, airplanes are almost always full.  Most of the time when I take a train, however, it’s usually half or 75% full and I often get two seats to myself.  Of course during rush-hour, trains can get completely full. Trains are way more comfortable than a car because you can walk around and even get food in the dining car. It’s definitely cheap fast food, but better than nothing.

The gentle rocking of a train is one of the most comforting sensations, in my opinion. Driving takes concentration and is tiring.  I’d much rather go into a business meeting after a 3-hour train ride (nap!) than a 3-hour drive (stress!)

4. You can do real work on a train

Power outlets on a train
This train had two power outlets per row and free Wi-Fi.

On my Amtrak trip, I was able to actually use my laptop at my seat.  On a plane, the seats are so close together that it’s almost impossible to type on a laptop when I put it on the tray.  My train seat also had two power outlets and FREE Wi-Fi.  Not all do, and sometimes it’s flaky, but it’s something.  Worst case, you can still use your smartphone to check your email and text (don’t try that on a plane or while you’re driving). There are also cars with four-person tables, so you could have a little business meeting going during your trip. Compare this to traveling by bus, car, or airplane, where the travel time is pretty much completely wasted as far as getting real work done is concerned.

5. Trains are a great way to see the country

If, on the other hand, you’re on vacation, trains are a great way to see the country. The train routes in New England, for example, are beautiful. I never get tired of the scenery. And if you’re traveling during the fall colors, wow!

6. Trains are better for the environment

Trains emit much less carbon per person than driving alone or flying.

7. Trains are more fun!

Okay, that’s just my opinion.

I don’t think anyone would describe today’s airport experience as “fun”. Or driving in traffic for that matter..

Boston South Station
The food court at Boston’s South Station. From here you can walk to many downtown attractions!

To be sure, trains are not perfect, and they may not go where you want, when you want. But, if you can find a train going to the right place at the right time, you might want to consider it!  For more information, check out Amtrak or Google the cities you want to travel between and the word “train”.

Los Angeles Union Station
Los Angeles’ Union Station is a vintage masterpiece from 1939; a throwback to a different era.

Let me know your thoughts about train travel! – Brian

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