The Case for Long-Distance Trains.

When I tell people that I take Amtrak everywhere I go when I’m on the mainland—even traveling coast-to-coast—I get a lot of strange looks. But here, in no particular order, are seven reasons why a long-distance train really isn’t such a crazy idea at all.

1. Stress-Free Departure

The last time I flew out of Chicago’s O’Hare, it was a high-stress, five-hour experience. By contrast, the last time I took a long-distance train out of Chicago, it was a 5-minute taxi ride to Union Station. When my train was called, the conductor scanned my ticket and directed me to the sleeping car where my roomette was located. The train started moving precisely on time and by then I had asked for and been given a 6:30 reservation for dinner in the dining car. 

2. No Baggage Limit

Do you check and remove items from your luggage to be sure it’s not over-weight before heading for the airport to make sure you haven’t exceeded the limit? Well, Amtrak lets you bring two carry-on bags, each weighing up to 50 pounds! No charge.

3. A More Comfortable Ride

Yes, of course you’re usually on the train for a longer time, but there’s room to move around. There is much more space between seat rows—usually as much as a foot more than in first class on an airplane. The coach seats are large and very comfortable.  And if you really want to relax, long-distance trains have the option of sleeping cars with private accommodations. Just ask a conductor for an up-grade and, if there’s room, it’s really that easy.

4. Sleepers Cost More, But You Get More.

Of course a sleeping car costs more than riding in coach, but in a sleeper you get privacy, a real bed to sleep in, and all your meals are included in your fare. If you want a between-meal snack, there’s a lounge car with a surprising array of hot and cold items available for purchase, comfortable seating and picture windows to enjoy the passing scenery. 

7. You May Actually Save Money In a Sleeper.

Next Summer, I’m taking another train trip across the country and back. I’ll be on the train for a total of seven over-nights. That means seven nights I will not have to pay for a hotel room  (average $250 per night) or restaurant meals with tips (average $200-$300 per day).

6. There’s Real Scenery Out There. 

Most of the time, you don’t get a window seat when you fly and probably some of your flights are at night. The truth is, you really don’t see much of this country from 30,000 feet. But on a long-distance train, you pass through small towns and big cities, cross trickling streams and mile-wide rivers, see fertile farms and arid deserts. And all that sightseeing is included at no additional cost in your rail fare.

7. You Can Have Real Conversations.  

When was the last time you had a relaxed chat with someone on a plane? On a long-distance train, you meet other travelers in the lounge car, or they’re across the hall from your roomette, and three times a day you spend an hour or more chatting with them at meals in the dining car. 

You think Amtrak long-distance trains are too expensive? Nonsense! How can you put a price tag on an experience like that? And remember: you’re not paying for a hotel room or your meals while you’re traveling in a sleeping car on one of Amtrak’s long distance trains.

And that’s why I choose to travel by long-distance train.