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All Aboard! Train Travel Gains Popularity in the United States

12 April, 2010 11:07  EasyExpat EasyExpat

During much of the history of the United States, train travel was the primary means of long-distance overland routes. With the invention of the airplane, train travel suffered a rapid decline. However, in the 21st century, Americans have begun to rediscover train travel. Between May 2007 and May 2008, Amtrak, the nationally subsidized railway system in the United States, had a 15 percent increase in ridership for long-distance routes and a 14 percent increase in ridership for short-distance routes. Americans are learning what other travellers around the world have always known; train riders enjoy a number of advantages over their counterparts who make overland journeys by bus, plane or automobile.

Getting There is Half the Fun

On a train ride, passengers enjoy scenery that is frequently little more than a "fly over" on a plane ride. Trails and Rails is a cooperative effort between the National Park Service and Amtrak designed to make the most of this advantage. National Train Day is one of several programs sponsored by Trails and Rails as a day of celebration for American railroad systems. For 2010, National Train Day is scheduled for May 8, with programs planned for cities across the country, including Washington, D.C. , Chicago and Los Angeles.

On long-distance train trips, passengers can book a sleeper berth and treat the trip as part of the vacation. Passengers who purchase a sleeper berth enjoy the same convenience as cruise passengers, who unpack once during a trip and use their means of transportation as a base of operations. Meals are also often included in the price of a ticket for a sleeper berth.

Less Hassle and Inconvenience

As of April 2010, there was no "3-1-1 Rule" on trains requiring passengers to limit liquids in their carry on luggage to three ounce bottles or zip-top bags as there is for airplanes. Passengers are not required to remove their shoes to board the train. A change in travel plans or missing a departure carries less financial penalty for train passengers than for those traveling by plane.

In fact, many trains do not even require reservations; passengers can arrive minutes before departure and board right away if there are seats available. Train seats are also more comfortable and offer more legroom than cramped airline seats. Train passengers have little restriction in their freedom of movement, while airline passengers are often confined to their seats for the entire duration of a flight.

Short train trips can be nearly as time-efficient as a plane trip, when the time is added for getting to and from the airport through security checkpoints at the airport. Another advantage of train travel is that train stations are often located in or near the heart of the city, while airports are often located far from the center of town. Getting into town from the airport in many locations requires an expensive taxicab ride, because public transportation options are limited or nonexistent.

A Greener Alternative

Train travel frequently has a lower ecological impact than other forms of transportation, especially driving alone or flying, according to a report by Carbonfund on its website and also described on the Planet Green website. This calculation includes both carbon emissions and fuel efficiency for cars, trains buses and airplanes. Driving alone in a car with average fuel efficiency or flying resulted in the greatest environmental impact of all forms of transportation. Bus travel often had a lower ecological impact than train travel, but with much less comfort, especially for long trips.

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Audrey Henderson
Freelance writer based in Chicago


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America's passenger rail network [Reply]

Please encourage everyone to call their congressional representatives in Washington D.C. and ask them to draw up and pass legislation that will require Amtrak to begin restoring an abandoned national rail passenger network in the United States. America needs passenger rail.

chuck     12 Apr 2010, 19:50

My train trips are my "Mini-Retreats" [Reply]

I love my train trips-- when packing, I take along those books I've been meaning to read, my knitting, and a sketchbook and pencils to draw bits of the scenery I'm seeing. I also take a camera so that I can draw later from my photos. I love my train trips - I try to take one a couple of times a year cross country!!

  Peggy     14 Apr 2010, 16:12

Train Travel in the United States [Reply]

Chuck -- I agree with you that train travel should be promoted here in the U.S. Check out the developments on high speed rail -- that would be a big boost in encouraging rail travel if/when it comes to pass.

Peggy -- your train trips sound like great fun. I don't draw, but I am a picture taker, and I really appreciate the opportunity to capture the sights on a trip. Train travel is great for that!

Audrey Henderson     22 Apr 2010, 17:23

Train Travel in the United States [Reply]

Agreed - for short-haul trips especially, the train is often a more convenient and hassle-free way to travel compared to flying or driving! Plus I love to daydream while watching the scenery whip by :-)

Vivian is Virtual
VIA Rail's tour guide

  Vivian, VIA’s virtual tour guide     23 Apr 2010, 00:25

Train Travel in the United States [Reply]

I absolutely would prefer to take the train rather than drive for a short trip. Daydreaming and watching the scenery is definitely better than dodging the other crazy drivers on the road! :)

Audrey Henderson     28 Apr 2010, 22:23