Trains vs. Airplanes
December 3, 2003 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Trains vs. Airplanes. Amtrak has reported record ridership levels for the Thanksgiving season. But the success of the rails is indebted to post 9/11 air-travel anxiety. Maybe, it would be better for travelers to stop fearing hijackings and resume flying planes instead of riding intercity trains out of fear. On the other hand, it could be a good thing that rail travel is getting a second look after years of decline.
posted by gregb1007 (51 comments total)
i haven't ridden a train in years, but if it's any less disconcerting than being harrassed by armed high school dropouts and having your fingernail clippers confiscated, i don't see why anyone would fly if they didn't absolutely have to.
posted by quonsar at 9:27 PM on December 3, 2003

You're assuming all those passengers who used to fly planes and switched to trains are staying there out of fear. Maybe they just found it to be a better way to travel.

From experience, Thanksgiving has always been a big weekend for Amtrak, including the Thanksgivings before 9/11. I rode the Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited the Thanksgiving of 2000, and Amtrak had added extra cars to both trains to handle the extra passengers.
posted by mrbula at 9:28 PM on December 3, 2003

Also, what quonsar said.
posted by mrbula at 9:29 PM on December 3, 2003

armed high school dropouts

They are not armed - and you generally need a diploma or GED, but related experience is okay too.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:31 PM on December 3, 2003

I took Amtrak from Seattle to Washington, DC in 1999, it took me four days and cost me $99. It was a fantastic experience, scenery was amazing, seats were roomy and comfortable, food was surprisingly tasty and affordable, I got some good reading done, and I met and talked to a very wide variety of interesting people. Highly recommended, it's a great way to see the country. And no, I don't work for Amtrak.

Also, my in-laws took the train here to Seattle from Chicago this Thanksgiving, they said it was really fun.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:34 PM on December 3, 2003

The single thing I miss most about living in England is the easy travel between cities via train.

Amtrak recently (ok, way over a year ago) finally connected Maine to the rest of the US via a train called The Downeaster, and train travel to and from Boston became instantly popular ... simply because its so much easier. Its a very economical way for one person to visit Boston (or Boston to Maine), but not so good (around $35 round trip) for two or more people. I know of many people who now have access to jobs, education, etc. that they never would have considered previously, due to the easy availability of public transport.

Now if they could just make it cheaper....
posted by anastasiav at 9:36 PM on December 3, 2003

quonsar, did you ever see high-school dropouts on Amtrak? If so, then somebody must be subsidizing the 300 dollar round trips? Perhaps low-income folks are qualified for a significant discount on Amtrak fares. If so, please tell me about it.
posted by gregb1007 at 9:39 PM on December 3, 2003

I would never fly along the Northeast Corridor... I mean, why leave a city, check in, wait a while, take a short plane hop, wait some more for luggage, then have to reenter a city when I could just go from city center to city center? Even if the time is equivalent or more, I'd rather be on the train reading than being shuffled around an airport or taking a taxi, bus, or the A train. I regularly take Amtrak to visit my parents, and I'd love to take longer trips (Empire Builder, etc) if I ever could get away from this "education" nonsense that I subject myself to.

On preview: Quonsar was referring to the illustrious airport security, gregb. Ease up on Amtrak... why the hate?
posted by The Michael The at 9:44 PM on December 3, 2003

Doesn't Amtrak have a worse crash history than domestic airlines?

Speaking of trains, the Japanese maglev broke the 500kmh barrier the other day.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:04 PM on December 3, 2003

The Michael, it turns I did misunderstand what Quonsar was saying. I thought he was talking about how trains are dangerous to ride cause they are full of dangerous hoodlums. A lot of people tell me that.

And yes, I do resent Amtrak for being so expensive.
posted by gregb1007 at 10:19 PM on December 3, 2003

twice a week for about 5 months, I took amtrak between newark nj and wilmington de.

I loved the (relative) quiet and the scenery. the prices were horrendous (thank ghod the company was paying for it). I learned that on friday evenings, it was worth it to pay the extra bucks for first or business class, as amtrak's 15% overbooking strategy really came back to bite passengers on the ass.

I was very happy with the lack of so-called security (except around thanksgiving last year, when they did make some annoying pretense at it. bleh.)

I like trains. I'm no railfan, but trains are definitely cool. I think we would have more/better trains in the us were it not for the influence of the big-3 auto makers so many years ago. but as it is, the gubmint has to bail out amtrak year after year; well, they have to bail out the airlines too, so...
posted by dorian at 10:22 PM on December 3, 2003

Amtrak is great if you live on one of the rail lines. However, for most of the rest of us, Greyhound offers better availability (but admittedly worse service.) For example, direct connections between Indianapolis and DC only runs three days a week. Best case trip to Atlanta via Amtrak takes 30 hours. (Not counting the drive to get to the closest station.)

The 30 hours would not bother me so much (although compared to Greyhound's 12 it is a pain) because I do like train travel, but the bad availability typically meant adding an extra hotel day to the trip.

The end result is that rail travel where I live is more expensive and more annoying than the alternatives. Why should I pay the same amount for a two-day trip as opposed to a one-day trip, for a 1:30am departure time as opposed to a 11:00 am departure time, for 3 days a week of availability as opposed to 7 days a week availability? (And this is ignoring some of the other logistical benefits of airports such as cheap long-term carparks.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:58 PM on December 3, 2003

Also, Amtrak and Greyhound now require ID to travel, a blow to anonymous travel, although you could always pay someone a little extra to buy a ticket for you, as ID's are not checked on the train or bus (and it's not like they could do much anyway).
posted by calwatch at 11:12 PM on December 3, 2003

In New Jersey, NJTransit Rail is absolutely the way to travel when possible. It is very nice being able to "walk" to New York City with just a few dollars and change in the wallet (and no cars!).

Amtrack is another story, though. If only airplanes and hiways weren't such welfare queens, it might be competitive. But as is, it is something of a drag. Because security is so lax, bums hitch rides, and can be quite a hassle. Nothing like fighting with a drunk dude for your seat when you aren't personally in posession of your ticket and he knows it...
posted by Ptrin at 11:18 PM on December 3, 2003

if youre trying not to pay for your train fare , hide in the toilet , put your trousers round your ankles and leave the door unlocked.

remember to look shocked.

you will not be asked for a ticket.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:32 PM on December 3, 2003

Or just not wanting to waste 4 hours for the flight preliminaries?
Why do you always assume the worst of people? Is it because you yourself are always guilty of the worst?
posted by HTuttle at 12:29 AM on December 4, 2003

put your trousers round your ankles and leave the door unlocked.

sgt serenity's latest book, "america on 48 cents a day - a scotsman's guide to the heartland" will be available through next month.
posted by quonsar at 12:35 AM on December 4, 2003 [2 favorites]

I used to regularly take the train between DC and NYC. If I recall, the price was great, the cars clean and rarely was it overcrowded. As oppsed to driving to NYC, it really was a no brainer.

The only disconcerning moment was when I was standing at the back of the last car, looking out the rear window (always an interesting effect, seeing everything eventually vanish into a point) when I heard a series of thumps. An Amtrak employee was standing there and gave me an embarressed look.

"That's some kids throwing rocks at the train as we pass. They do it all the time at the same point."


Also, for those that complain about the cost, I would like to remind you that every year, without fail, Amtrak looses money (as does most public transportation). Be glad it doesn't cost more.
posted by Dagobert at 2:26 AM on December 4, 2003

I always love travelling by train, although travelling long distance here in the UK is generally a more relaxing experience than trying to haul my ass into work everyday on the chronically packed tube.
posted by johnnyboy at 2:34 AM on December 4, 2003

And yes, I do resent Amtrak for being so expensive

Amtrak's FY 2003 congressional budget was just over $1 billion. The FY 2004 budget is just under $1 billion.

Contrast this with the $15 billion gift that the airlines got from congress after 9/11 and another $3 billion after that, and you may have an idea why Amtrack struggles.

Amtrak incurred just over $2.7 billion of debt between 1997 and 2001. US airlines lost $18 billion in 2001-02. These numbers don't synch exactly, but I think it clearly shows that US air carriers are no better financial stewards than Amtrak; they offer low fares, post monstrous losses, and make it up in congressional subsidies.

When Amtrak loses money we cut their funding. When the airlines lose money (on a much grander scale) we just give them more.
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 2:42 AM on December 4, 2003

Simply, Amtrack needs to allow you to bring your car along. Create car carriers on the passanger trains and charge a set fee. Setup car on/off facilites at really major hubs at first.

I write this to Amtrack every year, but more couldn't hurt.

Trains can work in america, but they need to work to beat the merit of car, bus, and air transport.
posted by rudyfink at 3:06 AM on December 4, 2003

rudyfink: There's a larger issue for the majority of America, I daresay. That's the expense. I was curious after reading about Ty's $99 trip from Seattle to Chicago to see if my estimation of the fares were really that far off base.

I live in Phoenix, which is serviced on Amtrak via Greyhound. The Southwest Chief runs through Flagstaff to Los Angeles. I figured that I'm good for the drive up north to catch the train to LA to save a few bucks. I've driven from Phoenix to LA plenty of times so I have a pretty good idea of how much it would cost via car.

Let's see, $392 and nearly twenty-four hours of roundtrip travel. That's about $292 and twelve hours more than if I drove it. The scenery would largely be the same, though I wouldn't have to contend with passing trailers and RVs every few miles. But I would end up missing the Patton Museum and the chance to phoon before said museum.

Net: waste of money (for the taxpayers, too).
posted by bbrown at 4:08 AM on December 4, 2003

I've ridden Amtrak and commuter trains on the East Coast and I think that, in certain situations, train travel is a smart and economical way to go. The problem, as I see it, is that very few people are interested in travelling for long periods of time on a train. While it might be a quaint notion to see the world by train, there's simply no demand for that trip from Seattle to Chicago. Amtrak needs to cut a lot of its direct long distance service and focus more on regional connections and increasing service and speed, while lowering the cost. I looked into taking Amtrak from Baltimore to NYC for Christmas a few years back, and for two people it was nearly $300. Needless to say, we drove.
posted by marcusb at 4:19 AM on December 4, 2003

there was a nice discussion on amtrak's challenges last year :D also maglev !
posted by kliuless at 5:01 AM on December 4, 2003

If you can get it paid for, the Acela Express between Boston - NYC is much better than the plane. No waiting (show up at South Station 10 minutes before, maybe) and best of all it drops you at Back Bay / South Station / Penn Station instead of Laguardia / NWK / Logan (30 dollar cab or hour long M(B)TA ride.) Also the plugs for laptops (real 3 prongers!) are great, it's quiet (I HATE plane noise) and there's no-cell-phone / "quiet" cars on most trains. Oh, also your cell phone will work if you're inclined.

If they added WiFi I'd be making a lot more trips, of course. But door to door it slightly beats or matches the airplane shuttle time. Not by price, though.
posted by neustile at 5:11 AM on December 4, 2003

In Canada, we have VIA Rail. The onboard food is crappy, but the seats are way more comfortable than any bus I've been on.

And with all the hassles the airlines have us go through especially since 9-11, I'll only take the plane if the alternative is a train trip of more than one day.
posted by titboy at 5:50 AM on December 4, 2003

Another problem with Amtrak's long-distance connections is that they are hardly ever on time. Several times last year, I took Amtrak's Silver Service from Jacksonville to Trenton (or the other way). It was never early, and all but once, it was more than two hours late. Once it was so late northbound that the southbound train wasn't able to leave New York on time because they couldn't service the cars fast enough. I'm glad I got on the one that was only a couple hours late heading south, because the next train from Florida was about 24 hours late.

NJT and SEPTA seem to be a lot better at actually being on time, probably because they're not relying on trains that come from 500 miles away or more.
posted by oaf at 6:02 AM on December 4, 2003

quonsar, did you ever see high-school dropouts on Amtrak? If so, then somebody must be subsidizing the 300 dollar round trips? Perhaps low-income folks are qualified for a significant discount on Amtrak fares. If so, please tell me about it.

I know you misunderstood quonsar, but yes -- there are a lot of people from the lower socio-economic groups aboard Amtrak. (South of Richmond, VA, that is.) These are the people that bring 10 garbage bags on board, riding all the way from New York City to somewhere in Texas on a coach ticket. They're not doing it for fun, they're doing it for economics.

Only for this small segment of society, and for the Northeast Corridor, does Amtrak make sense. What marcusb said absolutely is the key to reinventing Amtrak -- focus on the commuter train rider. Anyone interested in the future of rail travel should read Derailed by Joseph Vranich. It's a bit out of date, but it's a good critical, conservative look at Amtrak as written by a liberal.

It's hard to justify wasteful spending at Amtrak when there's no innovation. Things can only get worse from here on out. An interesting chart in the book shows that since 1952 (when steam engines were replaced with diesel), only 10 train routes have improved their times. Many routes are almost an hour slower than they were in 1952 -- if not more so. These times have only worsened since the book's publication due to rail deterioration.

I'd support major funding for Amtrak if it was for mag-lev or high-speed rail. (None of this 60 mile per hour shit.) And the focus of the industry should be manageable trips -- not 36-hour rides.
posted by jennak at 6:04 AM on December 4, 2003

(oh -- and obviously the economics of Amtrak would improve once it creates a system that people are willing to ride.)
posted by jennak at 6:06 AM on December 4, 2003

Again, I think the problem with Amtrak's model is that it's years out of date. I'm sure cross-country train trips must have been a necessity at some point in history, but with the arrival of affordable air travel, those days are gone. People don't want to be on a plane, train, or in a car for more than 6 or 7 hours at a time. They'll sit longer if they are going from, say, New York to Tokyo or DC to Paris or something. But for rail service, it makes no sense to sit on a train for 36 hours to go the same distance I could go on a plane in a fraction of that time. But it does make sense for Amtrak to provide regional service between destinations that are less than 8 hours apart. I think the profitable Northeast corridor proves that. People love taking Amtrak from DC to NYC or Boston. The same would be true, I'd think, in the Midwest if cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Detroit had affordable and efficient connections between them. But like jennak said -- it's got to be about speed. The Acela trains should be the standard, not the exception. And the maglev idea is one that's worth pursuing. Rail service should be 100+ mph standard.
posted by marcusb at 6:28 AM on December 4, 2003

Trains have always seemed sensible to me; they are efficient, their safety record in terms of passenger fatalities compares well with other means of transportation, the infrastructure is already in place (for freight trains), and train stations are generally more centrally located than airports. Unfortunately, the funding issues mentioned by several posters above have hamstrung passenger rail in this country and made it impractical for too many people. Many years ago I tried to take Amtrak home to Augusta, GA from Austin, TX over the christmas holidays. The ticket agent quoted me an itenerary that took three days, went via Chicago (about as out of the way as possible), couldn't get me closer than 50 miles from my destination, and cost more than a plane ticket. I would love to take a train when I travel, but as the scenario above describes, it is hopelessly impractical.

On preview: I would definitely sit for more than 6 or 7 hours on a train, especially if it was more comfortable than airplanes currently are; more than 24 hours is another story; it depends on how much of my total travelling time would be taken up by the train trip.
posted by TedW at 6:38 AM on December 4, 2003

I love riding trains, much more so than planes. There is more room, it's quieter, great reading time, soothing view, you can get up and wander around as much as you want, and you can recline your seat without fear that the person behind you will get angry at the encroachment on his or her space. About seven years ago I took a train when I moved from Colorado to Delaware, which took three days and was really, really fun. And I was able to put all my belongings (which, granted, didn't amount to much more than a trunk and four or five boxes) on a train, too. Great way to move long distances if you don't have much stuff.

Still, for the majority of the traveling that I do (visiting relatives in the north east from central North Carolina on a tight time and economic budget) it's cheaper and faster to suck it up and fly. I would like to see better regional rail in this area, and better connections between Greensboro or Raleigh and major city centers in NC and cities in the north east (DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, Boston). I'd be on a train to Philly every couple months if it was easier.

On preview: While the three day trip was pretty massive, I'd happily take up to a 10 or 12 hour train trip. I hate driving, especially the I85 - I95 6 - 8 hour trek depending on traffic that I face if I end up driving home to see family. I'd put in 12 hours on a train to avoid 6 hours of driving without even thinking twice. (And I just checked fares and I can get a round-trip ticket from Greensboro to Wilminton, DE for $149, with no long connections. Huh. *makes travel plans*)
posted by jennyb at 6:45 AM on December 4, 2003

some of my fondest memories of childhood are from riding the southwest chief every summer, and riding up and down the west coast a couple of times too. This was late 70s/early 80s.

Maybe we were naive, but my mother and I were rarely worried about our safety. Since it was always just the two of us, we would have to share a booth with some random couple in the dining car at mealtimes. It was always interesting and we saw it as an adventure.

Contrast that with feeling like a sardine every time I've flown, and the exhaustion of a long road trip, and train travel wins, hands down. I'm sure it's changed since I was a kid, but I still think getting there should be half the fun.
posted by whatnot at 7:06 AM on December 4, 2003

Combination travel is often cheapest. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I went to NYC for the weekend. We didn't particularly fancy driving, but the roundtrip Amtrak ticket would have been about $200 each. If you drive to NYC, you pay a lot to park, and you don't need a car there. Plus, the last bit of your trip is likely to take a long time.

By contrast, the drive to Metro Park in NJ is relatively quick, and the NJT train will take you to Penn Station for under $7 each way. If you get to Metro Park on Friday evening, you can park until Sunday at midnight for $9.

You can also catch an Amtrak train from the same location, but it'll run you about $30 each way.

I'd love to see Amtrak cost less. I don't know how much of a subsidy it receives, but given that it takes congestion off the highways, it would not seem amiss to use some gasoline tax revenue to help fund it.
posted by anapestic at 7:23 AM on December 4, 2003

Jennyb -- just take the train from Greenboro to Philadelphia, and see if you'd still be happy to take a 10-12 hour train trip. It's especially hard when the cafe runs out of food, or your train is going to be 2 hours late, etc.

their safety record in terms of passenger fatalities compares well with other means of transportation, the infrastructure is already in place (for freight trains)...

I have to disagree with TedW on these two points. As far as safety goes, Amtrak pales in comparison to other trains. In 1993, a French high-speed train travelling at 183 mph derailed -- only one person was slightly injured. Yet Amtrak derails at speeds of 50 mph. Furthermore, while Amtrak accounts for a certain percentage of passenger miles, it accounts for a disproportionate amount of fatalities and accidents. Amtrak is usually the second or third most dangerous way to travel. (Cars are obviously first.) [via Derailed]

And as far as infrastructure goes, using existing freight lines is the reason that Amtrak can only go at a top speed of 60 mph. Some trains only average a speed of 30 or 40, maxing out at 50. Especially in hot summers, when the rails expand -- trains must go below 45 mph or risk derailment.

I love the nostalgia feel of riding via rail. I rode it constantly when I lived in DC. But as much as I love it, Amtrak needs to be done away with. They can't reinvent themselves, and they'll never introduce high-speed rail to the US. Their version of "high speed" is the Acela, which runs at a max speed of 150 but typically only hits a max of 80mph.
posted by jennak at 7:36 AM on December 4, 2003

Trains, planes....Paaahhh!

What the HELL ever happened to blimp travel ?

Helium is perfectly safe, and blimps are so serene......

Public transit blimp travel could be partially subsidized by the rental of advertisement space on the sides of the outsized craft, and neon-lit ads would provide a welcome relief, at night, to the tedium of the little changing night sky.
posted by troutfishing at 7:38 AM on December 4, 2003

The Amtrak express From Washington-Union Station to New York-Penn. Station can cost as much as $283.00 return. Does the market dictate/justify such a price?

I think I'll take anapestic's advice and just drive to NJ and take the NJT into the city.

I'm of the opinion that subsidizing Amtrak isn't going to solve a damn thing. It is essentially a monopoly or even worse a pseudo-government agency and as such it moves at a snail's pace and really has no reason/motivation to improve.

Also, a friend once told me something that might be of interest to some mefites. You can apparently ship large items via Amtrak. This can make moving cross country a lot easier and much cheaper than using a trans-continental moving company.

[on preview] I hear ya, troutfishing! That scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade always reminds me of how cool it would be to travel by Zeppelin.
posted by shoepal at 7:45 AM on December 4, 2003

Jennak; you may have a point that Amtrak is not as safe, efficient, or as comfortable as it could be (In fact, my anecdote was meant to show that as well), but I was talking about the potential advantages of train travel in general. While train derailments and other accidents are more common than plane crashes, they generally have far fewer fatalities (and trains can carry far more people). This PDF has some pretty good statistics on train safety from Europe.
posted by TedW at 9:07 AM on December 4, 2003

neustile, for Boston/NYC service with WiFi, snacks, and more, check out the LimoLiner. (I haven't tried it, but their "introductory price" of $69 o/w seems competitive.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:40 AM on December 4, 2003

Amtrak runs most(all?) of it's routes over tracks owned by freight railroads. That's got to make it tough to get around. I remember we went to New Orleans by train, and our train would have to pull off to a siding to wait for the freight trains that owned the track to go by. Makes for a long trip.

Also, air travel and car travel is preferentially subsidized, in amounts much more massive than railroads. At the beginning of commercial air travel train tickets were actually taxed to provide some of the funding for building airports. Talk about losing your lobbying war.

Amtrak may not be the way to run a railroad, but if the subsidies were comparable to air and car or truck transport we might be able to see some sort of regional high speed rail service that could make economic sense. Allowing people to use truly convenient high speed rail for services in regional trips and airlines where it made sense could possibly even save money by reducing loads on airports, saving tax money scheduled for airport expansion.

You got to admit, it would be nice to be able to take a 450 mile trip by reserving a seat online, catching a ride to the train station 20 minutes before scheduled departure, hop on at the last minute, swipe your credit card at the onboard ticket machine to pay your fare, have internet access and plenty of seating room, and disembark three hours later in the downtown of the metropolitan area you were traveling to.

A bar car with internet access rolling along at 150+mph would definitely seem like a service that could sell.
posted by dglynn at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2003

I'd love to take the train my area (NJ/NY metro) to Washington DC, but at nearly $300, it's out of my price range. I used to send my boss that way allt he time, though, as it was comparable time and expense to flying.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2003

The reason more people are taking the train this holiday season is because travel appears to be up overall, and I'm guessing that the airlines were caught without sufficient staff to operate as any flights as are really needed, or, possibly, that they are driving up per-seat profits by intentionally restricting supply. A Seattle-to-Columbus (Ohio) flight last Christmas cost me about $400; this year, buying at about the same time, it cost over $600 (a first-class ticket turned out to be only $100 more). To get a cheaper fare I would have had to take a sub-optimal flight (e.g. connecting through Houston or Newark for a flight two hours longer, taking a three-hour layover, or flying the red-eye). Clearly I should have bought my tickets earlier, but I've never had a problem booking Christmas travel in mid-November in the past. When the cheapest tickets have already been sold and the available seats are so expensive, the train begins to look a lot better.

Seattle to Columbus is a long way to take a train (and the last leg would require a bus, and then I'd still need to rent a car and drive two hours to my parents' place) so I paid for the first-class ticket, but if I weren't going most of the way across the country, I might have considered the train more seriously. Next year I'll book my Christmas flight in June.
posted by kindall at 10:28 AM on December 4, 2003

We shouldn't assume the corridor trains are the fiscally responsible ones, as some data suggests the long-distance trains are more financially stable.

Also, those suggesting people don't ride Amtrak because the trains are too slow probably haven't ridden on a long-distance route lately. I've taken a number of long-distance trains from the Chicago hub over the past few years, and the trains have always been full. On one trip on the Empire Builder the staff actually had to resort to seating passengers in the viewliner car.
posted by mrbula at 10:49 AM on December 4, 2003

I thought bbrown's figures for Flagstaff to LA sounded kind of high, so I punched up the Amtrak quick fare finder and got a price of $113 round trip (far less than his / her figure of $392), leaving on the 4th (today) and returning on the 11th. Did you add a private sleeper or something? Those things are darned expensive.

I've ridden the California Zephyr between Denver and California several times, and the route is gorgeous. Nevada particularly wows me. And the train goes through the majestic Ruby Canyon near the Colorado-Utah border, a place the road doesn't go - through the canyon, it's just the river and the rails.

I've gone on about 9 long train trips on Amtrak, and never eaten in the dining car - their snack bar is rather well-stocked and on my last trip they even had White Castle burgers. Yum!
posted by beth at 12:29 PM on December 4, 2003

We took the Amtrak from DC to Indiana last year and loved it. I do not fly and it was the easiest way for us to go.

The trip out there wasn't the best, but I was extremely ill and we had a couple of elderly women with attitudes in our car. On the trip back, we upgraded to a sleeper car and fell in love with train travel. I'd much rather sit back in a comfortable seat and not have to worry about driving. Not to mention, we got incredibly cheap seats as they had a major sale going and it ended up being way cheaper than a flight would have been.
posted by SuzySmith at 3:01 PM on December 4, 2003

sgt serenity's latest book, "america on 48 cents a day - a scotsman's guide to the heartland" will be available through next month

and it will be printed on used toilet paper.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:22 PM on December 4, 2003

Just to add to the general train-love, I take the coast train from Seattle to Portland or to Vancouver BC every now and then. It's far more pleasant than driving or flying, simply because there's more space and you can move around. And even before 9/11, I enjoyed the more relaxed, businesslike atmosphere of the trains, in contrast to the paranoia of the airports. That's become even more true now that air travel means taking my shoes off and being patted down while I worry that I might have forgotten to take my nail clippers or leatherman tool out of my bag.

And yes, when I become Grand Vizier, I will support programs to build up the nation's vital dirigible and high-speed-train infrastructure.
posted by hattifattener at 12:16 AM on December 5, 2003

I love train travel, for pretty much the reasons mentioned, but mostly because 1.) there's room 2.) you can get up and move around -- not to mention pick your seats and 3.) you can go to the dining car, no waiting for stewardesses to come around (one of the most frustrating waits ever, IMO) ... but I can see the time problem for many people... I took a relatively short trip (actually, probably the length Amtrak should concentrate on) from Holland, MI to Chicago... and let me tell you, waiting once for a freight train was nothing compared with the traffic awaiting drivers heading into Chicago, not to mention that it really makes no sense to try and have a car in Chicago.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:34 AM on December 5, 2003

In 2001, I think I got 12 phone numbers from taking the train. (To NYC, DC, Long Island, Virginia, North Carolina...) I never got one from taking a plane.

I think I was able to meet all those people most because of the amenities of train travel: the roominess, the ability to move around, the quietness, the sense of privacy. And maybe a bit of the romantic notion that still prevails about train travel.
posted by jennak at 12:03 PM on December 5, 2003

On the other hand, it could be a good thing that rail travel is getting a second look after years of decline.

Funny how those "years of decline" coincided with their smoking ban, eh?
posted by RavinDave at 5:24 AM on December 6, 2003

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