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(Salon)   Amtrak, the Prius of long-distance travel   (salon.com) divider line 34
    More: Cool, Prius, Amtrak, ejector seats, Metra, Swiss Army  
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8062 clicks; posted to Main » on 19 Feb 2014 at 11:31 AM (31 weeks ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2014-02-19 09:53:57 AM
6 votes:
I live in a New York City apartment with tinier-than-normal energy-efficient appliances, I bike or take public transportation most places, I compost, the bulk of our food comes from the local farmer's market, I live walking distance to work, I fly only rarely. However, when I needed to go to the Ragdale Artists Colony in Lake Forest, Ill. (an hour outside of Chicago) to finish my novel, I took a look at the University of California, Berkeley's carbon calculator to see how much the short-ish flight would set the planet back.

the pretentiousness... it burns!
2014-02-19 11:47:52 AM
5 votes:
I'll take the train whenever it makes any sense at all, it is just a much better experience than flying or driving a longer distance.

It only really makes sense when heading to cities in the 8-12 hour driving distance though, unless I want a two day train trip to be part of the fun (for example a train through through the mountains is really nice).

At those distances, flying and the train cost about the same price.  Driving over 8 hours is a waste of a day, because I'll always get there exhausted.   Flying those distances takes 4 - 6 hours  (thanks to security and delays), while the train will usually take longer than I can drive the distance.  However the extra time on the train is worth the extra comfort of being able to stretch out, walk around, or sleep without interruption.
2014-02-19 02:03:04 PM
3 votes:

Mikey1969: redmid17: Train would be OK by me in that case if you can get the tickets cheaper. I'd be glad to take a train if I had a decent schedule.

Then there is another issue... Sadly, trains only go where the tracks are... In this part of the country, it's east-west, I can't go form Salt lake to Phoenix, or I would in a heartbeat. Hell, Amtrak won't even let me fark around and plan one where I go through somewhere like Sacramento first, I have to make it 2 separate trips, which increases the cost. It's a self-perpetuating loop, trains cost money, nobody wants to put money into rail systems unless they see a profit, they can't make a profit if they don't have an infrastructure, etc....


The basic problem is that airplanes have a MUCH higher startup cost (because you have to build the multi-billion dollar airport.), while trains have a much higher per-MILE cost because you have to build tracks everywhere.

So if you're in Europe, and you have that nice central population corridor only a few hundred miles across with towns every couple of day's ride on horseback, yes, go nuts with trains.

cache.eupedia.com

Whereas if you have the entire Mountain West time zone with less people in the entire time zone than NYC, AND the stupid thing is covered in mountains (and all your major cities are a couple hours drive apart at minimum once you leave the East Coast, and they're much more spread out cities to boot, which makes city center to city center mass transit less useful*), which are apparently their own special class of pain...  That's not to say that rail in America is useless, just that outside of few corridors, it makes a lot LESS sense than it would in say Europe.

www.mapofusa.net

i.imgur.com


*Seriously, did a cross-country drive from Detroit to SF via OKC.  When the biggest city you pass through on the third day is Flagstaff, your country is empty.
2014-02-19 11:54:04 AM
3 votes:
Not having to go through security-molestation theater ALONE is worth the cost and time of taking Amtrak.
2014-02-19 11:44:54 AM
3 votes:
I traveled from Seattle to Saint Louis years ago by train due to an injury that prohibted me from flying for a while.  The trip was really long but the cab with the beds allowed some privacy and a place to sleep in peace.  The author is spot on though talking about the social aspect.  On the long ride people chat, play cards, and eat together and it is generally a more relaxed atmosphere.  I have traveled by plane a lot and planes, especially those filled with people travelling for work, are filled with angry, upset people who are in to much of a hurry for my tastes.
2014-02-19 10:21:55 AM
3 votes:

bdub77: Sure OK you're saving money but time is money. And being on a train for 19 hours sucks balls


I guess it depends on which route you're taking. Up the East Coast, it's easier and less harrowing than driving and the time is comparable to flying.

If you're crossing the Appalachians, though, it sucks balls. The only real advantage is for places like DC or NYC, it plops you down in the middle of the City with quick access to public transit. Of course, the scenery is nice, but it would be nice to see it at 55, 65 or 100 mph, instead of 25.
2014-02-19 09:45:11 AM
3 votes:
Where did she get a train ticket that was 1/3 the cost of a plane.  I've always found the train to cost almost as much if not more than a plane ride for anything that wasn't so short a train wouldn't have been more effective anyway.
2014-02-19 11:53:49 AM
2 votes:
I once took the train from Oakland, CA to DC, because I had the time and just wanted to.  I was by myself, but booked a family sleeper room (had its own bathroom and shower), and it was an amazing trip.  I'd like to do it again some day.  The accommodations were comfortable, the food (included in the price of the sleeper ticket) was decent, and the people were friendly.

I brought two books, a bottle of 21 year-old Lagavulin, and didn't finish any of them during my four day trip.  Sitting on the equivalent of a sofa behind a large picture window and watching the country go by was profoundly soothing.
2014-02-19 11:41:45 AM
2 votes:
I checked out Amtrak for a family trip (My spouse, 2 spawn and myself). The tickets would cost as much as taking a plane (plus food and beverages) and would take as long as driving. The only benefits over driving would have been that I could sleep during the trip and the kids could move around a bit. Of course, then I would need to rent a car at the destination.

I am anxiously awaiting any real competitive alternative to airlines. I really hate air travel at this point.
2014-02-19 11:15:56 AM
2 votes:
Train to visit my parents: $500-600 and 20+ hours
Plane to visit my parents: $200-300 and 2 hours
2014-02-19 10:48:48 AM
2 votes:

Three Crooked Squirrels: I've got a nephew going to Kansas from New York on a train today, as it so happens. Ticket is $150 and takes something like 17 hours. He could get there in just a few hours by plane for $180. He says he is going by train because "his friends are going by train", but does not have a good reason for why they are traveling that way. I'm pretty sure I figured it out in about 12 seconds: no TSA means he can bring as much weed and whatever else he is using these days with him. Which, if that is the reason, seems like a much better reason than not liking the results dialed up on Berkley's carbon calculator.


There is one more pretty good reason:  It's a thing in itself.  You miss a lot at 35,000 feet.  Riding Amtrak is an experience.
2014-02-19 10:46:45 AM
2 votes:
I've got a nephew going to Kansas from New York on a train today, as it so happens. Ticket is $150 and takes something like 17 hours. He could get there in just a few hours by plane for $180. He says he is going by train because "his friends are going by train", but does not have a good reason for why they are traveling that way. I'm pretty sure I figured it out in about 12 seconds: no TSA means he can bring as much weed and whatever else he is using these days with him. Which, if that is the reason, seems like a much better reason than not liking the results dialed up on Berkley's carbon calculator.
2014-02-19 10:34:20 AM
2 votes:

FlashHarry: I live in a New York City apartment with tinier-than-normal energy-efficient appliances, I bike or take public transportation most places, I compost, the bulk of our food comes from the local farmer's market, I live walking distance to work, I fly only rarely. However, when I needed to go to the Ragdale Artists Colony in Lake Forest, Ill. (an hour outside of Chicago) to finish my novel, I took a look at the University of California, Berkeley's carbon calculator to see how much the short-ish flight would set the planet back.

the pretentiousness... it burns!


The best part will come when someone informs her that the flight she decided not to take still took off without her aboard.
2014-02-19 10:01:25 AM
2 votes:

Tom_Slick: She is spot on about security and baggage though, I used to have to transport large trade show displays from Atlanta to DC and when I did I always took Amtrak.


Is it still pretty much no1curr about bags?  Haven't been on a train in awhile, but the Amtrak stop closest to here resembles a bus stop with a little kiosk.  The train pulls up, you get on, you go.

Amtrak:  Travel with your weed!  We don't give a shiat.
2014-02-19 09:57:17 AM
2 votes:
Wow the smug was huge with that article, plus Amtrak from Atlanta to DC costs the same as a flight from Atlanta to DC.  She is spot on about security and baggage though, I used to have to transport large trade show displays from Atlanta to DC and when I did I always took Amtrak.
2014-02-19 09:00:14 PM
1 votes:
I love taking the train. Even the long distance trips. But I have family that lives in Vegas and there is no route from the east that goes directly there. You have to disembark in Kingman, AZ and continue by bus from there. Considering that Amtrak owns outright almost no rail right-of-way and runs on leased rail from the various Big 4 railroads, and that there is a UP mainline that runs -directly- through the middle of Las Vegas parallel to the Strip, you'd think that some arrangement could be made to connect both Chicago [where almost all East Coast traffic routes through] and LA to Las Vegas. Might take a little burden off McCarran as well. Hard to beat less than seven hours door-to-door instead of closer to thirty-six, and I certainly would not do it for every single trip, but if you've got the time there's nothing like looking at the world from the window of a train.
2014-02-19 02:22:45 PM
1 votes:

meyerkev: So if you're in Europe, and you have that nice central population corridor only a few hundred miles across with towns every couple of day's ride on horseback, yes, go nuts with trains.

That's not to say that rail in America is useless, just that outside of few corridors, it makes a lot LESS sense than it would in say Europe.


Thank you. I've been saying similar things for years, every time I hear somebody lament (yet again) that we don't have the highly-developed passenger rail infrastructure that you find in Europe or Japan. Many people don't seem to realize that France (the largest country in Europe by area) is smaller than Texas. Germany is smaller than California or Montana.

Relatively small areas, with relatively high population densities, are very conducive to effective rail transit. This is why rail is actually somewhat effective in the Northeast Corridor. It is also why subways work in cities.

Vast swaths of empty land, on the other hand, are NOT conducive to rail when there are other options.
2014-02-19 01:04:38 PM
1 votes:

Headso: I want to like Amtrak but man those seats are uncomfortable, the train I was on had those seats that end at your shoulder so there's no headrest.


Compared to the matchboxes that airline bean counters call seats these days, an Amtrak seat is downright luxurious.
2014-02-19 12:13:35 PM
1 votes:
I took a trip last year via Amtrak from Kansas City to Chicago. My wife hates flying (due to discomfort, not fear of dying), and also tends to get a little stressed during longer road trips. I decided to take a train for a long weekend in Chicago and she loved it. I forked out about $100 more for these train tickets than it would have taken to fly and it took 8 hours vice 2, but i was able to get a cheap "roomette" (small room with chairs that can fold to beds) and chatted with her the entire way there. She loved it.

The people on the train were much more laid back than anything I had experienced at the airport. There was even a time that someone had left a larger piece of baggage just sitting next to a line of people and walked off, but they just made an announcement to come get their bag and did not freak out about a potential bomb. The meals are also pretty cool as, due to limited space, they sit you at tables with people that you generally wouldn't get a chance to talk with and hear some interesting stories. I could see how it could be awkward if you are nervous around strangers, though.

The downside of the trip was that I had planned on coming back by transferring through St. Louis and just riding coach that way, but since i had arrived at the station less than 5 minutes before the train left (3 minutes to spare according to the ticket because I had accidentally initially went to the subway station instead of the Amtrak station), they refused to let me board the train. When i pointed out that i still had 3 minutes to spare, they just cussed at me in what i got to know during my time there as the typical Chicago fashion and told me to get a ticket for the next train departing the next day, they were not going to let me in, and if i kept on protesting about it, they were going to call over security. I ended up just getting another roomette and a direct train to Kansas City that arrived at about midnight. The train ride itself was still relaxing and my wife enjoyed it.

Moral of the story: Amtrak has its advantages and disadvantages, but if they would just model and advertise themselves as a way to travel in relaxation and luxury, they would likely be able to attract more customers.
2014-02-19 12:12:28 PM
1 votes:

bdub77: Why not just buy a carbon offset? You can purchase 2.4 tons of carbon offset from carbonfund.org for about 25 bucks. Or spend the extra I dunno 12 hours you'd save off the plane planting trees somewhere.

Sure OK you're saving money but time is money. And being on a train for 19 hours sucks balls. And like the previous poster said I've never seen a round trip train ticket 1/3 the cost of airfare.


With all the pretentious bullshiat in this article...can the rest of us purchase smug offsets?!?!?

theconservativetreehouse.files.wordpress.com
/thanks fartbongo
2014-02-19 12:10:19 PM
1 votes:
The recurring problem that comes up is that Amtrack is obscenely expensive.  I mean, if it's so much cheaper than jet fuel and pilots, air maintenance, whatnot, where is the price coming from?
2014-02-19 12:09:20 PM
1 votes:
I'd love to take the train if I could go direct, it would get us there overnight, and the price was reasonable.

But I just priced out Amtrak for our September vacation. Flying will get us there in 2.5-4 hours (depending on direct or connecting flights) and cost around $700 (round trip) for two people and another $150-250 for a rental car. Driving takes at least a full day (it's about 12-14 hours actual drive time) and costs $300ish in fuel, with another $100 for a hotel room if we don't want to one-hop it. No rental needed.

Amtrak was a bit over $700 and would take TWO DAMN DAYS to get there... as in leave on Monday, arrive on Wednesday. Two train changes would be required, as would a rental at our destination. I know the folks on the eastern seaboard can use the Auto Train, which would be neat, but that still takes 17 hours or so to get there.

I've just yet to see any way Amtrak beats driving unless you want to work as you travel, and even then flying is much faster.
2014-02-19 12:03:42 PM
1 votes:
The oddity of the pricing being out of whack usually destroys me taking the train. I can get a roundtrip flight for the same price it costs me to go one-way on Amtrak from DC to Boston.

That said, I *far* prefer to take the Train. I like being able to get up, walk around and the seats are better than those on the flight. I also like not being x-rayed or otherwise TSA'd up my arse.

Thirdly, and I can't believe nobody else has mentioned this, the might and wonder of the Quiet Car. Hooooly fark, what a great invention. Nothing like seeing chatty idiots getting escorted out because they thought they were above everyone else.

Blissful, delicious, enforced quiet.
2014-02-19 12:03:24 PM
1 votes:
"While the sleek airplane has a futuristic capsule quality, on the train, I was reminded of Proust"

In the tens of thousands of miles I've traveled by train in the US, I can safely say I have never been reminded of Proust, ever.   Faust, occasionally.

It really is a nice way to travel, if you have the time and a rewards card to get you a room.
2014-02-19 12:02:13 PM
1 votes:
We took Amtrak from Atlanta to New York last summer.  Was $1200 for four people, round-trip, a little less than the plane tickets at the time.

We enjoyed the trip.  It was around 14 hours, which was twice as long as I'd expect the entire airplane security theater/transit time/luggage pickup/get cab into New York to cost, and Penn Station was literally across the street from our Hotel (Hotel Pennsylvania).

It was much more comfortable than flying, it was much more laid back, we brought a cooler full of drinks and a bag full of food, we didn't have to take our shoes off or even walk through a metal detector.

I'd take the train over the plane next time I travel, if time permits.
2014-02-19 11:53:14 AM
1 votes:
if you want a REAL experience travel like i do and hop in an empty box car.
2014-02-19 11:52:50 AM
1 votes:

nekom: Is it still pretty much no1curr about bags? Haven't been on a train in awhile, but the Amtrak stop closest to here resembles a bus stop with a little kiosk. The train pulls up, you get on, you go.

Amtrak: Travel with your weed! We don't give a shiat.


Sure is.  Last time I carried on a backpack, a rolly bag, a bag full of con swag, and a grocery bag full of snacks.  Nobody gave me a second glance, despite that you're technically only allowed 2 carry-ons; hell, one of the porters helped me with them.  And this was at a full-fledged station (Seattle), so yeah.
2014-02-19 11:52:05 AM
1 votes:
Also, I flying was cheaper and more convenient than trains when I ilved in Europe - and their train system is more developed than ours... I think I'll stick with quick travel.
2014-02-19 11:45:10 AM
1 votes:
Skipping the airport, saving the planet: My 19-hour carbon-saving jaunt across America


i.imgur.com

Damn hippies
2014-02-19 11:43:14 AM
1 votes:

bdub77: And being on a train for 19 hours sucks balls.


Depends on the train.  If you're going to a con, I heartily recommend taking the train.  I've been to PAX twice, and taken Amtrak both times.  38 hours each way, surrounded by fellow nerds and their favorite games... tons of fun.
2014-02-19 11:42:36 AM
1 votes:
I enjoy riding Amtrak but the cost isnt great.

I do love that the MBTA extended my line all the way down to where I grew up.  Train travel is convenient and affordable for me.
2014-02-19 10:34:16 AM
1 votes:

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: Tom_Slick: Pretty much, except for long distance trains with baggage cars for oversized items these are handled by Amtrak personnel so in theory you should keep contraband out of that . Your personal stuff you are taking to your seats is not checked, although now that all trains are completely non-smoking don't toke up on board.

They frown on drinking at your seat too. Now on the other hand, if you have a berth, feel free to get hammered.


The bar car from Atlanta to DC is usually wonderfully empty.
2014-02-19 10:28:56 AM
1 votes:
I took the Texas Eagle from Dallas to Chicago and back in 2011. The sole reason for the trip was to catch a Flaming Lips show at the Aragon. A few close Farkers decided to come up as well to make a weekend of it.

The trip to Chicago was one of the WORST travel experiences of my life. It started with a freight derailment between Dallas and Longview which caused us to be loaded onto buses that took us to Longveiw. We had a roomette sleeper and found the accommodations to be quite comfortable. The cabin attendant was a very nice guy and told us newbies to relax and enjoy the rest of the trip. Supper that night was delicious and we met some really great people. Back to the cabin for bed which was fairly comfortable and I slept quite well until 4am when I heard "buses"...I woke up and looked outside and were in Little Rock. Turns out there was another freight derailment and we had been sitting still for who knows how long. The buses finally got moving around 7:30 for a two+ hour ride to Bugtussle (Walnut Ridge) Arkansas....as we were pulling in to Bugtussle, I noticed buses just leaving heading south. As it turns out the southbound train had just arrived and they had to get things turned around and rehabbed as best they could before we could board and continue.  Away we go...and we were told that we were going to take an alternate route to try to make up time...however there was a lot of freight traffic getting rerouted as well so we spent a lot of time sitting still. By the time we got to Chicago 11 hours late, coach was like a third world country, the sleeper was not as up to standard as the first train, the food was dwindling, the crew was tired  and to top it all off we missed the Lips show. On a side note we met a man who had just retired and he present to himself was to take every overland route that Amtrak offered and he "had been on the rail for the last 30 days and this was the first bad experience that (he) had." It made no difference to us...the first impression had been made.

We made the most of the rest of the weekend (LOVED Chicago!) but were very apprehensive about the return trip...we almost punted and flew home but we had "packed for train and not for plane" so we toughed it out.

The return trip was one of the BEST travel experiences of my life. Left on time, the only stops were scheduled and we pulled into Dallas within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival. Food was great, crew friendly and attentive and the train clean and comfortable. When we told the cabin attendant that we were kind of snake bit he knew that we had been on the Eagle that was so delayed and told us that he would do everything he could to make the return trip as comfortable as possible and followed through.

Would I do it again? Hell yes! (mamarita notsomuch) Planning on it this summer. BUT, if I'm going with the intent of being at my destination for  a scheduled event, I will book with a day's lead in mind...and I'll pack more booze.

/csb
2014-02-19 10:07:03 AM
1 votes:

nekom: Tom_Slick: She is spot on about security and baggage though, I used to have to transport large trade show displays from Atlanta to DC and when I did I always took Amtrak.

Is it still pretty much no1curr about bags?  Haven't been on a train in awhile, but the Amtrak stop closest to here resembles a bus stop with a little kiosk.  The train pulls up, you get on, you go.

Amtrak:  Travel with your weed!  We don't give a shiat.


Pretty much, except for long distance trains with baggage cars for oversized items these are handled by Amtrak personnel so in theory you should keep contraband out of that .  Your personal stuff you are taking to your seats is not checked, although now that all trains are completely non-smoking don't toke up on board.
 
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