Train travel is easily the most underrated form of long-distance travel out there. Air travel certainly has its ups and downs, and long car trips can easily go awry. But train travel? Under most circumstances, is stress-free.
Of course, trains can’t get you everywhere — they can’t cross oceans, and many remote areas don’t have access to them. But for traveling from city to city within a continent, they’re pretty great. Here are 10 reasons you should consider taking a train to your next destination.
1. Money Savings
In the U.S., trains aren’t cheap. But in general they’re cheaper than flying, especially short distances. While some rates are quite competitive ($104 on the train vs. $108 by plane between New York and Boston in a recent search), you’ll sometimes see dramatic fare differences. For instance, we found a $134 roundtrip fare on Amtrak between New York and Montreal, as compared to $294 for the cheapest roundtrip airfare. The train ride will be longer than the corresponding flight, but for travelers looking to cut costs, the train often wins out — and you’ll get to see some scenery along the way.
Unlike airlines, Amtrak and other rail operators often give discounts to children, seniors, students, AAA members, military personnel and other key demographics. On Amtrak, children under 2 years old ride free and kids ages 2 to 15 ride half price.
Air travel involves a lot of waiting in lines — check-in lines, security lines, boarding lines. Those lines can drive any innocent traveler to the brink of his or her sanity. Train travel eliminates those lines. Most railway services do not involve check-in, and have self-service ticket kiosks or use e-tickets instead and trains rarely have TSA-style security. There may be a line to board, but it should go quickly. For the most part, you just arrive and walk on to your train.
There’s something refreshingly traditional about taking a train, particularly if you’re traveling over a long, multi-night route. The days of silverware and fine china in coach class may be long gone in the airline industry, but on overnight trains you’ll still find dining cars with full-service meals and uniformed wait staff. During the day, many train travelers choose to read books, play cards or simply enjoy the scenery rushing by. Between the food car, the conductors, and the world flying by outside your window, there’s a nostalgic appeal to train travel.
With no take off, landing or seat-belt signs, you’re not stuck in your seat for endless amounts of time. You can move about the train as frequently as you wish. Since someone else is doing the driving, you’re free to eat, drink, nap and get up to stretch your legs whenever you like. You’ll also never have to turn off your electronics or listen to a flight attendant give the safety spiel.
5. Comfort and Relaxation
Train rides are smooth and turbulence-free, meaning they won’t jostle the contents of your luggage or your stomach. Seats are usually roomy enough — certainly roomier than the back seat of a car or an economy-class airplane seat. Rather than cramming yourself into an ever-shrinking airplane seat or squinting at road signs trying to figure out where to make your next turn, why not relax on a train? It’s one of the least stressful forms of transportation out there: someone else does the driving, you’ll have more legroom than you would on an airplane and you’ll be able to move around at will — not just when the captain turns the seatbelt sign off.
6. No traffic!
Goodbye, road rage!
7. No hidden fees!
These days, nearly all the major airlines charge travelers a fee to check a bag or two — and a few (Spirit, Alligiant, Frontier) now charge for carry-on bags as well. Compare these stingy policies to Amtrak’s baggage allowance: two carry-on items up to 50 pounds each (as well as personal items such as purses, strollers and diaper bags) and up to four checked bags up to 50 pounds each, the first two of which are free. Third and fourth checked bags cost $20 each.
In short, Amtrak allows you to bring 200 pounds of luggage — plus personal items — for free. Try bringing that on a plane!
Unlike airplanes, which whisk you from point A to point B with barely a glimpse of what’s in between, a train ride can be a destination in and of itself. You can see cities, mountains and rivers from the seat of a train. Train travel is just an all around better, more relaxing experience than its air and car counterparts. Train travel is about the ride!
Consider the California Zephyr, a dramatic route that wends its way through the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains from Chicago to San Francisco. During fall foliage season, try a ride on the Ethan Allen Express from New York to Vermont and enjoy the autumn colors.
Trains are more energy-efficient per passenger mile than planes or cars, making them one of the most eco-friendly transportation options around (short of walking or riding your bike!). Carbon emissions from trains are less damaging to the environment than those of airplanes because train emissions are not released directly into the upper atmosphere. As a bonus, the relative energy-efficiency of trains means that the industry is less vulnerable to increases in fuel prices — making train fares more stable in an unstable economy.
10. Stable Fares
Anyone who’s agonized over when to purchase airfare knows how arcane and frustrating the airlines’ pricing structures can be. (We’re still waiting for a logical explanation of why a one-way ticket often costs so much more than a round trip. Anyone? Anyone?) Train fares tend to be the same day after day on any particular route, whether it’s Monday or Saturday, April or August, two months in advance or two days before departure. While some increases may occur (particularly at peak times or over the holidays) and occasional sales may be available, you can usually count on the stability of train fares, even at the last minute.