In this modern age of speed, faster and fastest, how does Amtrak, “the train”, stay in business? Two readily available reasons might be all that leg room and all that free time between stops where the train traveler is permitted to move about the “cabin” as they please.
Planes are theoretically great for speed, but who hasn’t spent time on the tarmac or had their flight delayed by hours, or even overnight, due to weather or other engine and technical difficulties?
Monetarily speaking, quite often plane and train travel are equal rivals, or close enough so that a decision based on price alone is not clear cut. Occasionally deals and special price breaks and discounts will make one mode of travel the clear winner over the other, but that is a rare occurrence.
So what would position train travel over plane travel regularly? Breakpoint factors include departure days, departure times and length of travel.
Clearly, plane travel is best for frequency and duration when the destination is outside the 5-8 hour or 300-500 mile journey. Equally obvious, with a trip from the East Coast to the West Coast, say Virginia to California, the train travel option only stands a chance with a vacation itinerary of 3-4 weeks. And then there really are certain departure-arrival cities where the train just doesn’t go (but where bus transportation could be arranged to connect stops).
Instead of stressing over traffic, having body aches from the locked-in seated position of a long drive, train travel would allow:
- spacious seating,
- pit stops that don’t add time to the overall journey,
- an in-house snack car or dining car,
- and the freedom to move about to prevent blood clots, swollen ankles, or other cramped limbs and spine discomforts.
And of course, train travel has fewer choices with regards to routes and departure times, and that “time” variable may be a cut-off point. For example, if the traveler has little flexibility on the day, date and time for travel, either train routes or seats may not be available. Some trains run daily, and others perhaps only on Tuesdays or Sundays, for example.
With a traditional, 7-day vacation, a 4-day round-trip-by-train destination would only leave 3 days for vacation fun. Add to that a strict Saturday-Saturday vacation timeline, and many train-served destinations are off the table.
However, if the desired vacation destination is within the 5-8 hours driving time-frame, and it’s too late, or too costly, to purchase plane tickets, researching suitable train routes can become a viable option.
Trip objectives might also play a role. If the “vacation idea” is to relax and regroup, while being somewhere new, the hassle of security checks and cramped plane seating, or technical delays may not support the start, or end, of a good relaxing trip.
By its very nature, train travel tends to be leisurely, and many train passengers have already fully embraced that slower mode of travel. Often the quiet conversations with a fellow train traveler will remain a top highlight of the train travel trip, years after its completion.
Instead of stressing over traffic, having body aches from the locked-in seated position of a long drive, train travel would allow: spacious seating, pit stops that don’t add time to the overall journey, an in-house snack car or dining car, and the freedom to move about to prevent blood clots, swollen ankles, or other cramped limbs and spine discomforts.
Granted train travel has its drawbacks, such as longer travel times, limited travel date and time options and the cost of overnight cabins, but for those travelers who believe the journey, not the destination, is the thing…well then, train travel can start to look pretty good.
So sit back, relax, enjoy a good read from the latest New York Times Best Sellers List and let the train conductor and engineers handle the stress and worries of the travel logistics for this year’s next vacation.
The Amtrak station in Charlottesville, station code CVS, offers travel options by three routes: the Northeast Regional, the Crescent, and the Cardinal. (Travel times vary; it is always best to confirm travel plans with Amtrak directly.)