Take the Train?
When does it make sense to take Amtrak?
With airfares dropping on many routes, there are those who would shout "Never!" Granted, our national rail service has never been known for speed, on-time performance or gleaming rail cars. As for food, it makes the airline equivalent seem like haute cuisine.
That said, there's nothing like riding on the train. It can be relaxing, you can sleep, read and work, traveling from the center of one city to another without any airport hassle. I love train travel in Europe and Japan, but in the US, it’s often expensive and painfully slow.
So when does it make sense to consider a train ride? Start by comparing costs and then comparing how long the journey will take.
If you ride Amtrak from New York to Chicago, for example, it takes over 18 hours on the Lake Shore Limited. A nonstop flight averages two hours and change. As for the cost, the train is far pricier, especially if you opt for a sleeper.
A smarter bet is to look for city pairs that are relatively close together, such as New York and Washington, D.C. Once you factor in airport travel time and security wait times, the one hour flight between those cities is really closer to a three or four hour journey. Which is pretty much what the train takes. With that in mind, consider the 90-minute trip between Chicago and Milwaukee on the Hiawatha or the three-and-half hour Coast Starlight from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. Look at the Pacific Surfliner, which makes the trip from Santa Barbara to San Diego in under six hours, and the Downeaster, which travels from Boston to Portland Maine in two and a half hours.
Like everyone else, Amtrak is feeling the heat from the recession and has a host of short terms deals like 25% off train travel in the Northeast that are worth perusing. See them at Amtrak.
If you need further incentives to ride the rails, remember that there are no security lines, so you can arrive minutes before a train minutes departs. Better yet, unlike aircraft, trains don't have middle seats.