A businessman waiting for a train

Ever hear the famous Jack Benny bit that goes, “Train leaving on track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuuuuu-camonga!” We may associate train travel with glory days gone by, shoved to the back of our memories like old episodes of “The Honeymooners” or “Happy Days.” Train travel was once as common as the telegram, space exploration and TV dinners.

However, the golden age of traveling by trains isn’t behind us! With fewer Americans getting their driver’s licenses, train travel has become an attractive and affordable option for consumers looking to maximize their travel budgets. Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of train travel, basic train etiquette and what regions are particularly suited for viewing from high above the tracks.

Train Etiquette

Common courtesy and sense go a long way when it comes to train etiquette.

If you’re on a long journey, feel free to pack your own snacks or meals. However, don’t eat at your seat. Your cabin-mates don’t want to smell your nacho cheese chips and salami sandwich. Head to the dining car to eat your goodies.

Shower before you travel and go easy on the perfume or cologne. While you may love your latest rose garden splash, another passenger may be nauseated every time you move. Save your fancy-scented toiletries for when you arrive.

Offer to switch seats with someone who appears uncomfortable. Some people travel better when they have aisle access, and others need to have a forward-facing seat to calm their motion sickness. If you see a fellow passenger struggling, be kind and offer to move.

You’ll have a chance to move about your train car and chat with other people headed to your destination. Don’t be afraid to strike up a friendly conversation and learn more about where you’re headed.

Pros of Train Travel

You Can Take a Lot More Luggage

Plane travel has rapidly decreased what they will cover gratis (free of charge) as part of your ticket price.

Once legroom was chopped, added fees for checked and carry-on luggage were sure to come next. Airlines can charge hefty prices for opting to check bags that once were covered and also penalize travelers for overweight bags.

If you choose to travel by train, many carriers offer the opportunity to bring a lot more luggage at no additional cost. For example, Amtrak lets you check up to four bags, two of which are completely free. If you’re taking a longer trip that requires more luggage, you could end up saving hundreds of dollars on checked bag fees simply by taking a train.

There’s Space to Move Around

One of the hardest parts about plane and car travel is that there’s nowhere for you to roam during the journey – you’re either stuck behind the wheel or trapped in a cramped seat.

When you’re on a train, you can move about your cabin, head to the dining or observation cars, and have some much needed space to do something other than stare blankly ahead. This is also perfect for young children who need room to be active and move about without crowding others’ personal space.

Some trains even have seats that recline to a full horizontal position. Imagine actually getting proper rest while you’re en route to a destination instead of just a few winks!

Trains Are Environmentally Friendly

It can seem difficult to cross large distances while still being environmentally friendly. However, trains use 30% less energy per passenger mile than cars do and 20% less than planes. Many companies are now looking at biodiesel fuels and other green technologies to reduce trains’ carbon footprint even more.

It Is Affordable

In recent years, plane tickets have risen steadily, while fuel prices, increased tolls and vehicle maintenance make car trips an expensive proposition. Train tickets are often priced at less than half of traditional airfare.

For example, if you wanted to travel from New York City to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 21, the cost to fly would be $395, or $625 for first class.

However, if you wanted to travel the same route by train, the cost would be $152 for coach, or $200 for business class.

Both of these fares are one-way trips only, so you could travel business class by train, round trip, for the same cost as a one-way plane ticket! Factor in the cost of checking baggage, and the savings continue to grow.

Cons of Train Travel

It Takes Longer Than Flying

If you need to get to your destination quickly and have only a limited amount of time off for your trip, then flying is the better mode of transport. Train travel, while relaxing, adds time to your journey that you may not be able to afford.

If This Train’s a Rockin’…

Some people find the rhythmic swaying of a train comforting and peaceful. Others find it nauseating and annoying. Unlike an airline at its peak altitude, you’ll feel the train moving along the tracks. Consider this before booking a ticket for an especially sensitive child or motion-sickness prone adult.

Maintenance and Repairs Create Delays

As train ridership increases, the wear and tear on old train tracks needs increased attention. However, with federal spending on rail lines decreasing, companies need to hire private contractors to provide maintenance. This means that repairs can be sporadic or sudden, resulting in unforeseen delays that can eat up precious hours of your trip.

Finding the Best Deals

Sites like Kayak and Wanderu are fantastic for sorting through your specific travel needs, as well as finding hotels at your destination. You can even specify if you’re looking for train routes with WiFi, extra legroom, and dining or sleeping cars.

Best Places to Travel by Train

One of the best parts of train travel is watching the picturesque countryside roll past your window. Try taking the same trip that the pioneer settlers did by traveling from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., winding your way through the Rocky Mountains, the red rocks of Utah, and into the San Francisco Bay. Experience the Pacific Coast Highway without having to navigate the coastal roads on your own by traveling along California’s and Oregon’s coastlines. Check out vibrant autumn leaves when traveling New England by rail on a fall foliage tour.

Traveling by train has not gone the way of the DeLorean – it’s still a viable, relaxing and affordable means of transportation that more Americans are choosing every year. So if you’re going home for the holidays and you’re looking for a more affordable travel option, consider taking a train.

Do you travel by train frequently? Let fellow travelers know your tips for a safe and enjoyable trip!

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. If traveling on an overnight or long distance route, a sleeper room (roomette on Amtrak) is a must! You will need the option for privacy. Also, all meals included with price.

    Roomette sleeps 2; family rooms sleep 4.

  2. With 50K miles of long distance travel in the past 10 years I know some about train travel.
    Get a Roomette at least if you are on a train more than 24 hours. Well worth the money.
    If you get a room split pack. A small bag for what you need on the train and kept in your room. A big bag checked or stored in luggage area of car.
    DO NOT be in a hurry. Last trip made of 6K miles….3 of 4 legs of the trip were late…..as many as 7 hours late. Be prepared for such.
    It’s the only way I travel other than my own car.

  3. There are a number of narrow gauge steam powered lines across the US that have spectacular scenery such as the Durango & Silverton that are worth riding also.

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