Justifying a Long-Distance Train Ride.
People are surprised to hear that most of my travel on the mainland is by train—whether it’s a three-hour ride up the East Coast or clear across the county. When they find out that’s my preferred mode of travel, that’s when I have conversations like this one:
I hear you’re going to Chicago. It’s such a long flight.
But I’m flying to L.A. and taking Amtrak to Chicago
What? You’re taking the train from L.A. to Chicago?
How long does that take?
Yes. It’s the Southwest Chief. I’ll leave L.A. about dinner time and get to Chicago two days later in the afternoon. It’s two nights on the train, but I’ll really only “lose” a day and a half. The Chief leaves Los Angeles at 6:10 in the evening, so Day One doesn’t really count.
OK, but you’re on the train all of the next day, and the flight is only four hours!
Yes, but the reality is, it would take pretty much that whole day if I flew. I’d have to get to LAX early, go through security, and then wait for the flight to depart. You’re right, the flight itself takes about four hours, but I’ll lose two hours with the time change, so it’ll be late afternoon when I get to Chicago anyway. That means, as a practical matter, the only real difference between flying and taking Amtrak is the third day.
OK, but you could be going to a meeting on the morning of Day Three and the train won’t get to Chicago until 3:00 that afternoon.
You’re forgetting all the extras I got in exchange for that third day.
I’ve traveled in comfort instead of being crammed into an economy seat on a plane. I’ve seen some magnificent scenery. I’ve met some interesting people, all my meals have been free, and I’ve had a real bed to sleep in with no hotel bills to pay.
That really starts some people thinking and more than a few friends and acquaintances have taken one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains as a result. Not everyone has become a convert, but I don’t think any of them failed to enjoy the trip or, at the very least, find it to be a worthwhile experience. So the next time you’d like to convince someone that a long-distance train ride is a worthwhile experience, feel free to use this argument. No charge.
How do you get free meals? Do you pay for first-class seats on the train?
When you book accommodations in a sleeping car on a long-distance train, your meals are included in the fare.