Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Train vs. Plane: 10 Reasons To Ride The Rails

Based on what I've seen in movies, air travel used to be a much more romantic than it has ever been since I've started traveling. Hot meals were routine, comfort (in addition to safety) was a priority and air travel was still enough of a rarity flying through the skies was a special occasion for many.

Almost all of my romantic vision of the golden age of air travel comes from the movie "Three Guys Named Mike" starring the ever so dreamy Van Johnson and the slightly less dreamy Jane Wyman.

Sadly, this aeronautical utopia only lives on as a cinematic fantasy and in the memories of those lucky enough to have lived through it. It seems that the quest for efficiency and safety (or the perception of safety) has killed most of the romantic aspects of air travel. There's no more running to catch planes at the last minute. It's more of a run and hope that you are early enough to get your ticket and then hope that you make it through security in time.

Times have changed the airlines in drastic ways. Fortunately time has been less cruel to travel by rail. When I think of movies that act as my gauge for train travel I think of "Some Like it Hot" starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. You can go ahead and add that to your NetFlix queue now, and you can thank me later.

While "Some Like it Hot" has relatively few scenes aboard a train, the ones that did occur on a train are priceless. Running to catch a train to join a band, a late night cocktail party with a hot water bottle cocktail shaker and even band practice. While you might not see all of these things while riding the rails, it still seems within the realm of reason.

Not all of the fun has been drained of the rail industry, so it still retains a lot of the romanticism that it always has.

Recently, I traveled from Boston, MA to Manhattan, NY twice in one week by train. Spending quite a bit of quality time on a train lately has got me thinking of some of the benefits to taking the train over flying, below are my top 10 in no particular order.

Bigger Lavatories
The lavatories aboard a train appear luxuriously large if you are used to flying. Some of the lavatories are even wheelchair accessible, and they seem big enough to throw a party in.

Café Car
What’s not to love about a whole car where you can buy snacks, beer, liquor and wine? You can even just hang out in the café car if don’t happen to get along with your seatmate. I saw more than a few people putting away splits of wine (half bottles) on the three hour, forty-five minute journey.

More Legroom
Not only is there more legroom but also the ceiling is a good 7 feet above the floor so you don’t have to worry about smashing your head so much.

Electrical Outlets in Coach
There are electrical outlets in coach so your laptop/iPod/iPhone can remain fully charged on your journey. As an added bonus, you can use your cell phone freely provided that you aren't in a dead zone, you don't annoy your seatmates or you are in the quiet car where cell phone usage is forbidden.

More Room for Carry-on Bags
That 7-foot ceiling affords much larger overhead bins. You might not have under-the-seat-in-front-of-you storage, but you can keep bags next to your feet and they won’t make you stow it. While officially there is a 2 carry-on limit, I didn’t see anyone enforcing this limit when I brought 3 carry-on bags plus another of checked luggage size.

Bigger Windows
The windows are so large that you can even see interesting things out the other side without having to maneuver over other passengers for a view.

More Varied Scenery
Clouds are great, but they are only so interesting for hours on end. With a train you really get to see part of the country. Sure it’s the part that’s next to the railroad tracks and you’ll see a lot of graffiti, but that’s a heck of a lot more culture than flying over it looking at clouds.

Walking Between Cars
Walking between cars on a moving train is fun, everything is shifting and bouncing around, plus there are places to go such as the café car, the quiet car or a vacant lavatory. On a plane, you might get to walk down the narrow aisle during some turbulence, but then you’ll have to sit down and buckle your seat belt because some guy up front doesn't want you to get hurt. There’s much less coddling on a train, there aren't even any seat belts; if you get hurt on a train then you probably deserved it.

No Security Checks
This not only means that you don’t have to show up one to two hours early but you also don’t have to be without a pocket knife if you are inclined to carrying one. Of course, this means other people also have knives and possibly other weapons as well. Like I said earlier, there's much less coddling on a train.

The train can be much cheaper than traveling by air, especially to smaller cities that might not have a large airport. While trains are slower, if you figure in the time that you have to arrive before a flight and how long it takes to reclaim your bags, riding the rails can actually work to your advantage for shorter trips.

With Amtrak, fares are straightforward. If the fare says $79 then it will cost you $79. I had to switch my tickets from one date to another and there were no itinerary change fees associated and it took just a few minutes of talking face to face with a real live person, his name was Phillip.

There you have it. For short trips, the convenience and comfort of the train wins hands down. What are the reasons why you enjoy riding the rails?

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.


  1. I would take the train to visit my husband when he lived in Newport News and I in NJ, so much fun. My character takes the same train ride so I find this post to be timely for me. The train I took had a bit lower ceilings so we had to be careful not to bump our heads on the over head bins and I think the windows opened a bit but then I could be mixing it up with the German slow trains. The older I get the more I get mixed up!

  2. Cheers!
    Great post! Very informative.
    Thanks for possibility to write on your website,
    it's great!
    I’m still hoping there will be more posts on this site.
    Thanks a lot!

    train travel to us