Train vs. Plane: And the Winner Is ... Well, It Depends

An analysis of six trips in North America evaluates which method is quicker, cheaper and easier.

Comments: 183

  1. I have lived on both coasts and currently live in Los Angeles. The author is spot on in his recommendations for train vs rail vs auto for the Northeast Corredor but sadly mistaken on the Los Angeles to San Diego route. Why? Because access to Union Station in downtown LA is all but impossible to reach for those of us (all of us) who don’t live downtown. I live in West Los would take me over an hour to take the Metro downtown on a week-day just to get to the train station. Then a two and a half hour train ride to San Diego. If, when you arrive in San Diego, your destination is not walking distance from the train station you will need to take a cab or Uber. Nope. Just doesn’t work on the left coast. Wish it did but it doesn’t.

  2. @Rachel Rose: Not sure why it takes you so long on the LA Metro, which runs directly to Union Station. But you must be choosing to ignore the heavy traffic on I-5, which can easily add two or more hours of frustrating stop-and-go during many parts of the day. And you can transfer to light rail at SD station or at Old Town.

  3. @Rachel Rose "Just doesn't work on the left coast" is a bit of an overreach, no? It may not work for you, under the exact circumstances that you describe, but it may work for lots of others. On average, I think train stations are more accessible than airports, not less.

  4. @Rachel Rose i have taken Amtrak from Fresno to San Diego, going through LA, over 200 times, and believe me, anything is better than driving the 'grapevine' with speeding eighteen wheelers before and aft on the road, and once you get to San Diego, you are in the heart of the city, getting to anywhere is easy.. So I completely disagree - it is a great route, very pretty from San Juan Capistrano on down (I have seen dolphins sporting in the sea, from the train!), meet lots of nice people, and can only be improved by high speed rail..And by the way, I take it you have never experienced the Del Mar racing days trains - full of high-spirited well-dressed partiers with their racing garb of big hats for women and ties for men , all having eschewed driving on the horrific corridor, and enjoying the train travel, together..No, the train from LA to SD is wonderful, fun, better for everybody on the earth, and can only be improved with the introduction of the planned high-speed rail line..Good luck to SanDag with their new, environmental attitude towards commuting in California..

  5. It’s about time someone began to compare travel options that reduce carbon footprints, and give them some air to breathe. If you agree, then maybe transportation that affords peace of mind does too. In my opinion, peace of mind has great value that is nearly impossible to calculate. I recently completed the VIA Rail (Canada) trip from Winnipeg to New York City, three days and two nights long. The service (dining car service far superior to Amtrak’s), the comfort (and exceptional sleeping comfort) and the optional cameraderie was, just as I thought, priceless.

  6. Seattle to Vancouver: you can make this trip via seaplane on Kenmore Air. About an hour. Downtown to downtown. Quick customs check (these are small planes, so little concern about them bringing down buildings). Maybe 2 hours travel time. On the other hand, a lot more expensive than Amtrak (which travels a mostly scenic route). If you’re traveling for leisure, train wins. If time is the issue, seaplane.

  7. @ghd just don't take young children with you. A friend did and it became a nightmare.

  8. And all this is without any significant improvements to our rail infrastructure in many decades. In most cases, train travel is no faster today than it was in 1940. Imagine if we invested in true high speed rail!

  9. @Alex, it's certainly not the case that "all this is without any significant improvements to our rail infrastructure." All this is in spite of DIMINISHED rail infrastructure.

  10. I commute weekly between downtown Boston and Midtown NYC. Assuming LaGuardia is not full of flight delays, my overall travel time via air (& using the E/Q70 link in NYC and the Blue Line in Boston) comes to just over 3 hours. Average shuttle flights, when booked in advance, are about $110. The Acela takes just over 4 hours between the two points (and the Regional longer) and costs more, with fares starting at $135 or so and escalating quickly to $210. Also: the last Acela departs NYC at 7pm, while the last shuttle leaves at 10, so there’s greater flexibility there too. The plane has been winning this competition for me for a few years now.

  11. I don’t take the train much, to be honest, but when I have compared the Acela to regular Amtrak the Acela hour you save on the Acela doesn’t seem worth the price difference. Taking this one step further in relation to your comment, does Amtrak have a lot more regular trains later into the night?

  12. @JE Presumably, if Amtrak can sell a more expensive ticket for a slower journey, there is a strong market for its services. Likewise, a sleeper on a long distance train is outrageously expensive. In both cases, a private enterprise would see these markets as an opportunity for investment in capacity. Amtrak is paralyzed by unpredictable and political decisions about investment, and, outside the NEC, inability to control its schedules over host freight railroads.

  13. @JE Any way that you could commute less frequently? We would all appreciate it. "A few years" of flying every week is a lot of flying for one person.

  14. My New Year’s resolution last year was to stop taking short haul flights whenever more environmentally friendly options are available to decrease my carbon footprint. I’ll soon be taking a train from New York to Pittsburgh, and am about to book a train for my next work trip to Chicago. I’ve found that I enjoy traveling by train way more than I ever enjoyed flying — it’s the absolute best place to get work done. Does the train take longer? Sometimes. But the peace of mind of contributing less to the destruction of the world my children will inherit is worth way more than a few hours of extra travel. Traveling costs aren’t only measured in time and money.

  15. @DC I've taken the train between NYC and Pitt many times for personal reasons, and I've flown this route. When factoring in commute to and from the airport, security, and dealing with the horror of JFK or LaGuardia, the train is almost as fast. When I was in Germany and Austria I took trains that regularly traveled at about 140 miler per hour. Imagine if that existed between NYC and Pitt? We'd actually live in a modern country!

  16. Love this! After a Panama Canal tour docked in San Diego ten or so years ago, my husband and I had tickets on Amtrak to come back to Los Angeles. Our friends were flying back. The train station in San Diego is very close to the port, we could see it from the departure gangway. A pedicab loaded our bags and peddled us over. It cost very little and took about 10-15 minutes. I had booked the noon train but the earlier one, about 10:30 was getting ready to leave so we took that. Two hours or so, with an occasional stop, but beautiful coastal scenery, got us to Union Staton in downtown LA. My husband wanted a smoke, but there was no time! They loaded our bags & us on a flat bed vehicle, drove us around to the front of the station to the cab stands. (This is pre- ride hail.). Almost immediately we were in the cab and whisking away to Santa Monica. Home by 2 or so. Total travel time, somewhat around 4 hours. Our friends didn’t get home till much later: flew to Phoenix, waited some time, then flew to LAX and got a ride home. Their travel time was at least 7 or8 hours.

  17. What this does not factor in is frequency of service. For a business traveler or just a busy person on a short trip, when I can arrive and when I can depart are a big deal. NYC, Philadelphia and Washington DC are (presumably) connected by frequent train service. So is, from what I remember, Chicago and Milwaukee. Many cities that have Amtrak service, however, do not have much (or any) choice of time of day. Of course, the most flexible form of travel is driving, and this may be the train's biggest competition on short routes. If the calculation cites is correct, and that a lone train passenger represents just under 50% increase in miles per gallon over a lone driver, that is not all that compelling and the train is worse for people traveling with a friend or coworker. As cars get more fuel-efficient (or battery-efficient), this relationship will only favor cars more. Outside of the Acela corridor, inter-city trains are not likely to be a meaningful help with climate change and will likely be a net negative if they require new construction.

  18. @Alan I agree with you on all counts. I was surprised that the low friction of steel wheels on steel rails didn't make rail a more decisive winner energy-wise. I wonder whether the somewhat marginal role of rail travel (in America at least) has allowed inefficiencies in other parts of that mode to go unaddressed. In another comment I argued that for a country both long AND wide, roads may remain the only cost-effective system, especially since they're already built, and fully (or even partly) self-driving cars will use roads and fuel (and emergency rooms) more efficiently. I think however that buses may play a role, but only if someone is brave enough to unfurl a tape and actually measure the physique of an average American. I wish we had inherited MUCH wider traffic lanes (allowing wider seats), but we could still drastically rearrange the seating layout on buses (diagonal, like British Air?) and charge more, letting first class subsidize a dense grid of frequent bus service.

  19. @Ben you are absolutely right about frequency of service, and I point this out all the time. The time in motion for the train may be the same as for driving, but if you have to wait three hours until the next train -- or even stay overnight -- the competition falls apart. There are relatively few city pairs that have the volume of business travel (I will explain in a moment why I say business travel) to warrant hourly (or greater) frequency of service outside of the Northeast Corridor. BUT, there are some. Certainly San Diego/LA/San Francisco is the prime candidate, with LA/SF currently the most-traveled air route in the U.S. Chicago-St Louis; Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-Minneapolis/St Paul; Dallas/Austin/San Antonio/Houston are others. It also helps if the destination city is dense enough, and has the kind of transit infrastructure, that makes arriving downtown significantly better than arriving at an airport. SF is already there, and LA is now further along than many might suppose. Why business travel? Because for families, the second, third, and fourth passenger, and the family dog, all essentially ride free. No train can compete.

  20. @Alan The comments ignore the rampant gridlock in both our highway and aviation infrastructure coupled with rapid population growth. We simply can’t build enough highways and airports to keep up with demand. Trains can move a tremendous volume of passengers. Further, long distance trains are the only feasible way to provide comfortable and convenient service to rural communities. Busses are so uncomfortable, and as the article says, still subject to traffic delays, that they don’t make sense except as feeders to rail routes. The issue of frequencies is simply resolved by adding more trains.

  21. I once took Amtrak from NYC to New Orleans. However generally enjoyable train travel is, it was Memorable Misery :) But those who leave their office in midtown to fight traffic out to LaGuardia so they can fly to DC or Boston are utterly insane.

  22. The fallacy of this article is that it does not account for on-time performance. In this regard, Amtrak is far worse than airlines. And that is compounded with the length of the trip (not so with airlines). So my guess is that air beats rail in almost every instance on a probability-weighted basis

  23. @Wondering every instance except impact on the environment. And if we subsidized Amtrak as much as we do the airlines the on-time performance would be improved.

  24. @Wondering No need to guess for me. In the Northeast, Amtrak clearly beats flying. I travel NYC to DC weekly. Only occasional delays and on the order of 10-15 minutes. There's simply no comparison with flying. Whether it's LGA or JFK or EWR, you are treated like cattle. TSA security lines are completely unpredictable - could be 5 minutes, could be an hour (I've experienced both) - not to mention "take off the hat, take off the belt, take off the shoes, now we'll scan you like a common thief." Then, there's simply the fact of trying to get anything done. Forget it on the plane - you're packed in like the fridge the day after Thanksgiving. God forbid you have to get anything out of your bag, which is packed in the overhead - not worth the effort. Finally, the costs: want a bottle of water? That's $2.50 on the plane, whether you get it before you get on or after. Remember, you can't bring any liquids through security unless it's a quantity that will quench the thirst of an ant. Wi-Fi? Few emails are worth the $10 they want to connect for an hour - on Amtrak it's free and if it goes off you can use your phone. Don't forget the priceless "must be a terrorist" harassment you'll get if you forget that large tube of toothpaste in your carry-on. Amtrak all the way. I've compared them for years and Amtrak wins easily.

  25. I travel to Pittsburgh from Long Island a couple of times a year. Up until a few years ago, airfares were dirt cheap between PGH and NYC. The problem was that with flight delays, I still had to budget nearly 8 hours door to door. Driving, even with a couple of leisurely stops and putting up with NYC traffic rarely takes more than 9 hours, and I’m not beholden to a schedule. Driving this trip is inherently tiring so if I was making a quick weekend trip, flying usually won out. Now however, many airlines have exited this route, and airfares have risen astronomically, often more expensive than a coast to coast round trip. There is Southwest but that frequently entails a connection in some city like Philadelphia or Baltimore, adding unnecessary time to the trip. JetBlue has eliminated the route altogether but will happily fly you via Boston costing both a couple of extra hours and a couple of hundred extra dollars each way. I tried Amtrak once. My one way PGH-NYPenn was marred by a freight train derailment in front of us, leaving my trainmates and me stranded in Altoona PA. And there’s only one “no change” train in each direction daily, so if it doesn’t fit your schedule you’re out of luck unless you want to connect with a bus through central Pennsylvania. Bottom line-my son takes MegaBus when he visits here, mostly because of the price and the fact that he doesn’t mind the bus. I on the other hand, absolutely HATE the bus, so by process of elimination I end up driving.

  26. For an honest comparison, add around $.4 per mile for auto depreciation and gas, To that add tolls.

  27. I was so interested to read this because I assumed that it would compare carbon footprints. Is the author unaware of Greta Thunberg and the light she's cast on the extreme pollution of jet fuel? Were they traveling during last week's climate protests?

  28. At least you still have train service. No Amtrak in Las Vegas for about twenty years now.

  29. @veganinvegas It is such a shame. I had to go to Kingman the last time I used the train in 2010. But I love to travel cross country by train. You get to see all of the "flyover" country you never notice on the plane.

  30. In your comparison of Boston to New York, you mention flights into Laguardia. While this is the closest airport to downtown, the current agony factor is sky-high. Dan Kravitz

  31. Having traveled throughout Western Europe for several decades, I had an ironic laugh at the analysis of American train travel. High speed trains, e.g., TGV, take people from city to city comfortably and on time, i.e., to the minute. For example, you can go from Lille, in northern France, to Charles de Gaulle Airport in an hour. You step off the train, take an elevator up a few flights, and you are in the middle of the airport. Should you choose, you can stay overnight at a hotel that is IN the airport. You can travel throughout Western Europe this way. High speed trains, as well as locals, take people from place to place without much hassle. And, by the way, the roads that take you to the nearest train station are not filled with pot holes and the bridges are not rusted through. It makes me angry that we have so wasted our resources and allowed our infrastructure to deteriorate.

  32. @VKG Also look at Japan, with their system of high-sped trains and subways. Pleasant, punctual, and pollute-friendlyish.

  33. This comparison is a joke. We have a modern air travel system and a rail system from 1950. The country DESPERATELY needs high speed rail. The rest of the developed world has figured this out , why are we so slow?!?

  34. @Hmmm If only we had a rail transportation system from 1950 -- multiple private carriers, many more route, fare, and schedule options. No, we have a rail transportation system from 1971 -- grudgingly kept alive, just barely, by the government, and running over tracks it doesn't own.

  35. @Hmmm We are slow because we have been persuaded that taxes are evil, so our infrastructure deteriorates and we are becoming a left-behind nation: trains, roads, health care, cyber security - you name it.

  36. @Hmmm LA Times 8/19/19. “It is offensive to assume that the U.S. taxpayers continue to pay for more than 50,000 Americans in Germany but the Germans get to spend their [budget] surplus on domestic programs,” Grenell was quoted telling DPA, comments which made waves in Germany and were confirmed by the U.S. Embassy.”

  37. Maybe I missed it but did you include cost of getting to/from airport? LaGuardia to Manhattan is probably another $40 each way-or are you saying subway from LaGuardia to Manhattan?

  38. I live in The Hague and we have easy and fast train service to all destinations in Germany, Belgium, and France. To these countries the train is always preferable to the car or plane. We are going to Naples at Christmas and considered taking the train. Sadly, we could find no way to make sense of this trip by train. RT ticket by plane is 250 Euros. Trip lasts 2.5 hours. RT ticket by train is 350 Euros and takes 1.5 days. Too bad.

  39. If only the U.S. would be forward-looking enough, to invest in upgrading rail lines nationwide and then invest in metro and regional light-rail lines, but that all takes financial commitments from the federal and state governments, and as we know many of our elected officials have been 'paid' by the 'fossil-fool industries' to not look forward, but only backwards.

  40. Unfortunately, not enough options exist rather than fly or drive for the overwhelming majority of Americans. Too much of USA is rural. I would love to take the train to D.C. from Savannah when I am there but there are so many stops it is prohibitive. Now Philly to D. C.? Way better than driving or flying! So yes, it does 'depend'.

  41. As the writer said, for the numbers to work you have to live near the train station and your destination needs to be near the train station. If one or both of these are not true then the train advantage may well disappear.

  42. The quality of train travel in the US is disastrous compared to Europe or other countries. This past summer I had to get from East Hampton to Bellport, it took over two hours to travel about 45 miles because of train issues and the fact that we had to wait for a train to pass us. Within the same time I could have gone from Geneva to Zurich (170 miles) in Switzerland. A few days later, the Sunday after July 4th, the train was so packed people were sitting on the floors, stairs, you couldn't move. I would not want to imagine what would have happened if an accident occurred. It is really shameful that a country like the US can't get train travel right.

  43. I got stuck on a business trip in Baltimore (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) in January 2016. It was a Wednesday evening; no way to get out by plane until the following Monday at the earliest. Talking to the travel agent about options, she said, “What about Amtrak?” I said, “Tell me more.” I ended up catching a train from Baltimore to DC, then to Chicago, and on to Denver, arriving Sunday morning—at least a day-and-a-half earlier than I would’ve otherwise. But what an experience! I got to enjoy the company of many new friends (several of which were in the same situation as me, trying to get home from business in the DC area), enjoy the fabulous scenery along the route, and relax in my own cozy “Roomette” (Amtrak’s term for the convertible 2-facing seats to dual bunk beds with a door for privacy) whenever I wanted. It was one of the more interesting adventures I’ve had in years. We’ve since made several more Amtrak trips, partially for the convenience and partially because it’s just such a more civilized way to travel than the Big Aluminum Germ Tube. Meanwhile, here in Europe of course the trains run on time and run everywhere. We’ve taken the train a half-dozen times from Paris (usually CDG) to southern France (Carcassonne) in just a few hours. The TGV reaches speeds of around 300 kph (186 mph), so factoring in the overhead to get to/from an airport, parking, etc., etc., it’s more often the best way to travel. The US is being left in the dust on high-speed train service.

  44. I've taken the Amtrak routes of OKC to Fort Worth, TX and Seattle to Vancouver. Loved them both, it was fun and relaxing but both for vacations i.e. time was not a factor. Locally, we have a light rail called the TRE. I would love to take it for when I have to travel to Dallas once a week but it is terribly inconvenient vs a car. To make it on time at work I have to leave way early to get deposited downtown whereupon I have to take another bus to get to the station close to the office and I'm still walking 10 minutes. *Sigh* I just hate the traffic and think people drive insane here in DFW so I would love to take the train but it is just not time efficient or convenient. Would love a bullet train connecting all the major cities in Texas and I think they're laying the groundwork for one but I'll probably be 90 before it's operational. In the meantime, it's planes and cars and trains for vacation only.

  45. @Mich, when I lived in Texas in the 80s, there was a proposal to build a high-speed train line between Dallas and Houston, with one plan offering the option of adding stops in Waco and College Station for college students who could be expected to use the train. Alas, CEO Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines and others (esp. in the auto and airline industries) lobbied hard against it and succeeded in getting the project scrapped.

  46. I am a train advocate, and your time & money calculations do support train travel for journeys <300 miles. However, outside the Boston-NY -DC corridor and LA-San Diego, train service is infrequent--you must factor in the availability of frequent train service vs. a handful of trains on the other corridors.

  47. Before my partner moved to Boston, I frequently traveled to NYC to see him and now we go almost every two weeks to see his family. We always choose the train over flying. We work in downtown Boston and can easily make it to the 5:20PM Acela after leaving work at 5. It takes us to Penn Station and we can avoid the horrible Friday night traffic in both Boston and NYC.

  48. In Texas, we now have a luxury bus service called Vonlane that runs between all of the major cities. When at all possible I use it instead of flying or driving. The seats are big and comfortable, they give you snacks, have wi-fi and a TV if you want want to watch it. The cost is about $100 each way, and more and more people are using it regularly.

  49. If you have TSA Precheck, and most people who travel fly regularly for business do, you can shave anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour off airport arrival time (except at the nightmare that is LaGuardia). This throws off most of the time calculations in the article.

  50. @diverx99 TSA Precheck is great (or at least way better than the regular line), but it is not "30 minutes to an hour" faster than the regular line. 10 to 20 minutes faster. On crazy crowded days, when the standard line is 30 minutes--the TSA Pre line also gets longer and slower, going from 0 mins to 15 mins.

  51. Once used Amtrak for a round trip Savannah to Philadelphia, longer than guideline in article. Had a sleeper car going which was expensive but perfect. Had business class seats for the return trip which was endless due to slowdown for track work (or lack of). Overall trip cost more than flying and took longer than driving BUT we weren’t flying and we weren’t driving - it was a nice change and I would consider doing it again.

  52. A great alternative from the Boston suburbs to midtown NYC is via bus. It takes about 4 hours from Riverside to midtown and is a great deal. The best part is that you arrive in Manhattan without having to deal with LaGuardia. Last time I flew into LGA it took me longer to get a cab than the whole flight from Bos to LGA.

  53. I have always enjoyed traveling by train particularly when time is not much of a factor. Planes are, of course, more efficient in most cases; however nothing brings up nostalgia more than traveling by train - especially through scenic areas. I realize America's decentralized economic and social structure combined with its vast geography, makes a cohesive and viable national rail service [on par with Europe] very difficult.

  54. I agree. I get very little done during a cramped flight, and the airport hassles are fatiguing and depressing. More generous seating on trains make it easier to work. And I have to admit I like looking out at the countryside rather than down on it.

  55. Could you analyze train vs flights for these or similar trips for carbon footprint impact? Time and money matter, but only as much as the cost on the environment matters when we make these kinds of choices.

  56. @EG I wish they had included that too. That said, short-haul airline flights are the worst for ghg emissions (the takeoff and landing are responsible for most of the jet fuel emissions) and thus, in the instances the author cited (trips less than 500 miles) the carbon footprint of the flights would be WAY more than the train rides. I don't have the numbers to cite exactly how much more, I wish the author had done the research.

  57. Yes, but I travel from within Illinois, and live very close to a regional airport. Free parking with subsidized flights. $25 on an 8 passenger airplane to St Louis. Then STL to ORD. Price and time varies. Not fastest ever. Amtrak to Chicago Union Station is option 2. Cheapest. Driving is quicker until I get within 60 miles of the Loop. So I run Chicago Sunday morning in and out. My Ford can do the round trip of 750 miles on one tank of gas. Gas is cheaper south. And I have a vehicle when I get there to Chicago.

  58. I'm a retired Amtrak ticket agent. I spent many years explaining why we didn't have the kind of trains they have in Europe to my customers. 1. Government support. Germany alone (size of California) spends six times Amtrak's budget on their train system. 2. We are at the mercy, in most of the country, of the freight railroads who own the track. Most European freight operates on separate lines. Amtrak pays bonuses to the companies just to keep the trains on time - with generous leeway. 3. No one thinks of how much government subsidizes the airlines, from aircraft research and development to building airports to providing air traffic control. There is no more efficient way to move anything over land than steel wheels on steel rails. My time has passed but perhaps the country will wake up someday.

  59. @Kevin Burke I agree. We need an entire network of high-speed trains across the country, subsidized by the government as part of a comprehensive jobs and environmental plan. Right now I can no longer take a train anywhere, unless I'm willing to drive to the northern part of the state and pick up an east-west Amtrak from Seattle to Chicago. I travel a lot for work and would happily take a train if I could. Unfortunately, air travel is my only option, and I hate it.

  60. @Kevin Burke I love taking the train from Boston to NY, but agree that this article misses the point, that while US train travel is currently sometimes better than air, it could be so so much better, as it is in Europe, Japan, and now China. It is deeply sad that our funding hasn't treated rail as well as car or plane travel.

  61. @Kevin Burke LA Times; Aug 19, 2019. : “It is offensive to assume that the U.S. taxpayers continue to pay for more than 50,000 Americans in Germany but the Germans get to spend their [budget] surplus on domestic programs,” Grenell was quoted telling DPA, comments which made waves in Germany and were confirmed by the U.S. Embassy.”

  62. Have to factor in another metric: Amtrak is more fun and more relaxing! If you’re working on a laptop, train travel gives you longer stretches of time to work instead of driving to/from airports and waiting in lines.

  63. I would like to see carbon footprint added to these comparisons. We need to be thinking about our impact on our environment as much as our time and money.

  64. @Nan Foster I wish they had included that too. That said, short-haul airline flights are the worst for ghg emissions (the takeoff and landing are responsible for most of the jet fuel emissions) and thus, in the instances the author cited (trips less than 500 miles) the carbon footprint of the flights would be WAY more than the train rides. I don't have the numbers to cite exactly how much more, and I wish the author had done the research.

  65. @hkath23 Thank you! I didn't know that about takefoff and landing.

  66. I love the relaxing atmosphere on the train. I take the 400 mile trip from Chicago to St Paul once a month. It does take about 3 hours longer than the same trip by plane, but I arrived feeling rested and relaxed. Crews on the train are warm and peaceful personable. Cost savings is about $180 factoring in Lyft to get to the door. If I have the time, I take the train.

  67. I recently traveled (round-trip) between Durham, NC, and New York, something I do several times each year, typically on Amtrak, and often for free, when I choose to redeem points rather than pay with dollars. Not long before my trip, Amtrak notified me that my trains had been canceled due to scheduled track work. I could find no reasonable alternative schedule as my dates were inflexible and so booked a trip on American Airlines through CheapOair. To fly, I paid less than half of what I had paid to go by rail but in fact spent much more time doing so: - Driving from Durham to RDU Airport was bumper-to-bumper; I can drive to the Amtrak station here in Durham in five minutes. - Getting from LaGuardia to Manhattan took three hours. - Leaving New York, I gave myself so much time to get to LaGuardia--of course it was a breeze--and so spent half a day waiting for my flight, which left an hour late. - The traffic from RDU to my house was bumper-to-bumper. I always opt for the train, even if it costs more. Flying takes just as much time and then I have to fight my way into the city. Amtrak takes me to midtown, from where it is a short subway ride to my East Village abode.

  68. I recently tried the train from Albany, NY to Philadelphia, PA, and will never do it again. Had to change at Penn Stationin NYC, navigating wait times, elevators and escalators. In my eighties and hampered by Lyme, finding Red Caps to finally get me to connecting trains was in one instance a fiasco. For the comfort of business class, I paid more than a flight, which would have been far more humane in terms of time and effort.

  69. I used to joke that I lived 3 blocks from Penn Station, NY; even though I lived in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. To get to Penn Station I walked two blocks to a direct express bus to Union Station, Toronto. There, I crossed the street (one more block), bought a ticket, and 12 hours later I was in the heart of Manhattan. For me, at the time, a peaceful day working at a FULL table with a (get this) power outlet, some excellent wine and cheese (in my grad student-savvy picnic basket) made for a relaxing, and unusually productive day. Unfortunately this is not a 'luxury' when time constraints are in place. I still try to consider non-flight options whenever possible. I was pleasantly surprised once by an overnight greyhound bus from Chicago to Toronto. With the climate conditions we face...we need to both consider these alternatives, but also reconsider the 'speed' at which we expect things to happen. Perhaps for a while we 'slow' down while we let technology catch up with our desire for speed.

  70. @Beverly Goodman - good points. People should also consider that an overnight train trip might kill two birds with one stone - provide the transportation and replace a night in a hotel.

  71. @Beverly Goodman Sounds like our Capital Corridor trains in California — also with large tables and 120 volt regular household type outlets. Also nice to be able to get up. stretch a bit, and wander to the dining car for a 'beverage'

  72. @Beverly Goodman When you consider that you could be spending that time at home, watching TV and listening to the legalese lists of contra-indications in pharmaceutical commercials or your neighbor's music or barking dog...

  73. The Seattle-Vancouver assessment is flawed. Those trains run only early in the morning and late at night (vs flights throughout the day), the trains are usually delayed significantly due to freight trains having higher priority on the same tracks, the airports have global entry / Nexus while the trains do not, and both cities have efficient trains from the airport directly to downtown so are very convenient. I like Amtrak Cascades and it's my favorite option for vacation travel between the cities, but only when I can deal with things like stopping on the track for an hour with no communication about what's going on.

  74. @Kevin You are so right. I love Amtrak cascades when I'm not in a hurry and I enjoy the parts where it runs through the forest along the ocean as it enters Whatcom county. But this train is geared toward tourism not commuters. But it's the chill way to go from Seattle-Bellingham Greyhound

  75. @Kevin On the west coast Union Pacific is the main freight manager. When they took over, all the trains in California are directed by control in Utah. Also, we still don't have the latest safety systems that are now years late in being installed.

  76. @Kevin The bolt bus option between Vancouver and seattle is very competitive. Easier and far cheaper than air ($30 if you buy at the right time, sometimes less) comfortable, on board wi fi and more reliable than train during the rainiest winters when the tracks are sometimes blocked by mud slides south of Bellingham and both sides of Edmonds (though they have made some improvements along the trackway to prevent those disruptions). And the customs delay at the border usually isn’t too long.

  77. Researching on the internet is all very well and good but it can’t show the problems that are often encountered. On the west coast and cross country, passenger trains are frequently stopped because freight trains have the right of way. These stops can take hours, adding stress to the journey. Other times the trains stop for no apparent reason. My friends who take the train are always late arriving because of these many unscheduled stops.

  78. @Anita Larson Passenger trains have the legal right of way but that rule is not enforced by our government.

  79. I agree. This is especially true for long distance, cross country service. From what I've read, the sweet spot for practical train service within the US is ~300 mile inter-city service. Beyond that, air travel makes more sense. As such, Amtrak should focus on developing high speed service on dedicated(!) passenger train right-of-ways for these markets, similar to what's been done in the northeast corridor.

  80. @Anita Larson Then again there's that Jet Blue flight that sat at LaGwoddia for ten hours while the toilets overflowed into the aisles because the "emergency-ness" of even the most mundane details of flying prohibited its simply returning to the - duh, - gate to let people use the normal sort-of-clean restrooms in the terminal.

  81. Very thoughtful article but I think that weather is another factor which seems to be left out. I have been in South Station and watched the crowds swell as the news that the airlines have canceled flight to NY. I have missed more than one ballgame because of flight delays in Newark which seem to occur relative to the number of clouds in the sky. On the other hand, I was on a train that took 9 hours from Boston to NY. There was a raging blizzard, and we lost power, but they hooked up a diesel and towed us in. At least I made it home.

  82. @Nuz -- I have a theory that when Newark ATC limits flight takeoffs and landings, forcing airlines to start cancelling flights, they start by cancelling the most "driveable" routes. I've driven home from Richmond, VA (twice), Syracuse, Boston and even Buffalo, rather than waiting for a later flight. More often than not, that "later" flight is -- at best -- the next morning. The train almost invariably takes longer (in some cases, several hours) longer than driving, and the schedules seem designed mostly to get people into NY in the morning and out in the afternoon. We've more or less decided that driving is the most efficient way to travel to most places from Virginia to Massachusetts

  83. The straight time comparison is a little unfair to trains. In my experience (living on the NE corridor), a good portion of my air travel time is taken up by activities that do not allow useful work: driving to/from airport, walking around the airport, embarking/disembarking, getting baggage, standing in security lines, etc. In contrast, the train time is almost all sitting in a comfortable seat, where I can get real work done on my laptop. If you distinguish between wasted and productive time, the train often comes out the winner.

  84. @Steve Siegel Good comment. You also save the time you would spend earning enough money to buy those ripoff-priced 3-ounce bottles of shampoo, etc. Tiny bottles of Coke and Pepsi they don't even sell, although shrink-flation does seems to be leading us rapidly to the 2-ounce vial of yogurt. I gleefully schlep about a half-gallon of liquid onto a train or bus.

  85. Never understood why the US refuses to make a more serious effort to help update and expand it's third branch of travel and shipping-The railroads. Maybe it has something to do with the current devils pact of massive political patronage and payoffs from the trucking, airline and petroleum industries; cause it certainly has nothing to do with the economics, safety and convenience of moving large quantities of people or drayage across long distances. And just think what it would do here in the US to jump start our reentry into the making of a serious effort toward decreasing global warming?

  86. @birddog If you are shipping freight, most of it with in the US moves by rail. It is far, far cheaper the truck or air. Concerning passenger, except for parts of the NE Corridor, most US tracks are not suitable for high speed rail. It would all have to be redone. Here in California, our attempt at high speed rail has ended in acrimony and recriminations. This was due to incompetence, politics, and environmentalism. I don't believe anyone will be willing to try again for at least a decade.

  87. @Bruce1253 Sadly, only 17% if freight moves by rail in the US. About the same volume as moves by water. We do not get good service from our rail infrastructure. We can do better and must with climate change.

  88. Trains in Europe, Korea and Japan are wondrous: fast, cheap, easy and restful. The USA is far far behind. It is thrilling to walk into a train station anywhere in Korea, buy a ticket, walk onto a bullet train, and an hour later arrive 200 miles away rested, with fast WiFi all the way, coffee, etc. The USA does not have an equivalent.

  89. When I lived in London I would fly to Paris, with all the “delights” that the airports and the trips from them to the cities. A few years ago a I was back in central London and took the London-Paris Chunnel express. It was much quicker and more comfortable with an excellent (French) meal. I would always choose this ( except of course with Brexit who knows if they’d even let people in from Britain!)

  90. Wishing there were more connections in the Southeast to light rail and commuter rail. How awesome would it be to take the train from TN to ME?

  91. A few inaccuracies for the Seattle - Vancouver route, which I have taken many times. The United States and Canada recently signed an UPDATED preclearance agreement. Preclearance has been going on for decades by US CBP at Canadian airports. Can make connecting through a major Canadian airport to a smaller US destination from Europe/Asia faster than connecting through Chicago / New York. Immigration preclearance (passport scan / inspection by CBP officer) is already in place at the Vancouver train station and is quite quick. The stop at Peace Arch border crossing has never been more than 10 minutes for a customs inspection. I have only been delayed once (dozen + trips) , on time performance is about 75%, so near airlines. Cafe / bar car with tables decent, used Spanish Tango trainset is comfortable.

  92. Oh, the poor US. I live in a "developing" country in Africa, where their TGV travels 200 mph, arrives precisely on time, and the price is about 25% or less of the Amtrak price.

  93. I began my boycott of flying about 10 years ago. If I can't get there by car or train, I don't go. I know I am stubbornly choosing a degree of inconvenience because Amtrak schedules and destinations are so limited, but that is balanced out by the lack of stress. I used to love flying decades ago, but it's become too much an ordeal, too often. I'm not going to pay to be stuffed in like a sardine and inspected like a criminal no matter how much time it's supposed to save. Both rail and air are subject to unexplained delays so that gripe comes out about equal. One of these days we will wake up and realize we need to improve rail travel in the U.S. We need more lower carbon-footprint options.

  94. @Jane H Yes, I agree that planes are more inconvenient than trains. But I would not trade seeing the world (as you can only do by plane) for anything.

  95. That may be the case in the US, but it is not my experience elsewhere. Two recent cases: i flew from Lyons, France to Berlin on Ryan Air for $45. The train ran $180. I flew from Osaka to Nagasaki for $15. The train was $90. Everything else being equal, I prefer trains and do not mind the extra time. But everything else isn’t.

  96. One problem with Amtrak is that many of their schedules are terrible for short- and medium-length trips. For example, I can take Amtrak from Chicago to Toledo, Ohio in about four hours, which is only about 30 minutes slower than driving, or possibly faster if there is a lot of traffic. However, there are only two trains a day that go to Toledo, and one arrives at midnight, the other arrives at 3AM(!) They have these ridiculous schedules because the same trains end up in Washington, DC or New York (IIRC) the next morning. It seems to me that they would attract a lot more passengers if they designed their schedules on trips that are competitive with driving, instead of trips these trips that take most of a day. These long routes don't even provide a good service for people on limited budgets! The cheapest (one-way) Amtrak ticket from Chicago to DC is $194, which is within the range of a flight if the timing is right. Greyhound is half the cost at $95, and is actually slightly faster (probably much faster once Amtrak delays are taken into account).

  97. i grew up outside of Boston and we took the train to and from New York and Providence many times- it was enjoyable and even fun... I also took the train when i moved from Fort Worth TX to NYC when i moved a few years ago - yes, it was 2 12 hour legs (via Chicago) but the chance to see the country was great and I was able to bring, as the article stated, more 'stuff' with me. the people seemed much more relaxed and friendlier, there was almost a sense of community. besides being able to walk around, get whatever refreshments desired whenever, the seats are a heck of a lot roomier and more comfortable!

  98. I love train travel throughout Europe and wish we had their abundance, character, and efficiency here.

  99. I hope I live long enough for a high-speed, cross country train, but I have my doubts. Thanks for taking up for the civilized alternative to the agony of flying!

  100. Here in VT we drive to Lebanon NH and use the Dartmouth Coach. Excellent clean and neat with direct trips to Boston and NYC. It is cheap as well and offers movies, snacks and water.

  101. Over a decade ago, a colleague at work had to make frequent business trips from Huntsville to New Orleans. He liked to go by train rather than drive or fly. He would grab a table in the diner car, plug up his laptop, and work through the 7.5 hour train ride from Birmingham. He could get two full work days on the train during the roundtrip rather than lose a day's work due to airport time. I tried that out myself and found him to be right. Add to that, train travel, as primitive as it is in the US, is just way more comfortable than driving or taking a plane.

  102. The truth is, one can't travel well by train in this country. I prefer trains to planes and would ALWAYS choose train over plane if I had the opportunity. But US passenger service has been allowed to deteriorate to a shocking level. We consider ourselves an advanced nation but lack high-speed (TGV, bullet trains, etc.) trains. Train travel - one can move easily; one can watch incomparable scenery; one can work or sleep comfortably; departures and arrivals are usually city-center convenient; and one arrives, not cramped and frustrated but ready to go - business or pleasure - unlike coming off a plane, facing awkward connections from the airport. Oh, for a real passenger service, one where passenger trains are not put on the siding for hours waiting for the freight trains!

  103. I've been a little freaked by some of the train accidents and don't think that train travel is necessarily relaxing.

  104. What impresses me is how competitive train travel already is, and that despite the government hostility toward passenger rail. Imagine the results if well maintained tracks and passenger priority made high-speed intercity links possible. That's not a pie-in-the-sky infrastructure dream project. It's achievable with relatively minor investment (the Hudson Tunnel being an obvious exception) and some pretty simple policy changes.

  105. Complete fiction that flying is so much "quicker" thank grounded rail transportation. This story clearly shows that rail travel is the superior way — and this is on archaic Amtrak railroad technology running between freight trains (all rail travel in the United States is on freight rail lines where the "policy" is that passenger travel is to have the right-of-way but more typically that is ignored leaving rail passengers idle on sidings sometimes. Comparing travel times between air and rail is like comparing apples and rocks. For the time spent on rail travel — as this story well documents — that time is spent in leisure with the ability to walk the entire train. Meanwhile, the air traveler is subjected to long walks at airports, long waiting in line for security checks, more waiting for boarding, then enduring being stuffed in an undersized chair with sharp edged arm rests until then being dumped for longer walks until completing their final leg riding more again to get into the city through highway and city traffic. The rail passenger departs in the center of urbanity and not in some isolated airport miles from a downtown destination. The disappointing thing is the proposed Amtrak policy of doing away with real food dining. It seems someone at Amtrak wants to level the playing field by serving rail travelers with the same cardboard boxed food that air travelers were once served. Instead of pouring money into concrete highways and instead support rail travel.

  106. The train is a great option for short trips from cities that have limited air service. I live in East Lansing, Michigan, and regularly take the train to Chicago. To fly would cost more and be far less convenient. One way by plane, minimalist fare: ~&90, no carry-on luggage, so baggage check fee of $30, no leg room. Amtrak business class, depending on the day: $62 to $90, no baggage fee, plenty of leg room. The difference in time, given commuting and pre-check: about an hour. No way would I fly.

  107. A generation or more of starving our passenger rail service has left us with a system, as limited as it is, still beats driving or flying. Traveling up and down the east coast as I often do, I prefer Amtrak, and I take it whenever feasible. Sometimes on my rides, I imagined some favorite fantasy routes, like Charleston, SC to Asheville, NC, with tea in Greenville. Or DC to Chattanooga, through the Shenandoah, along the Blue Ridge Mountains. It always has pained me to think about what we could have been enjoying as real travel alternatives to the petrol intensive cars and planes.

  108. As you say, it depends. I much prefer train to plane going to NYC from Richmond, not just because the time difference isn’t that bad but the added hassle of getting from JFK into the city vs. a direct arrival from Penn Station. However my experience taking the train to Boston has been mixed. Flights on JetBlue are easy and getting met by family at Logan is more convenient than going into the city for the train. I would never consider traveling by train on my family trips South. I have found the longer the trip, the greater the likelihood of delays. The special Amtrak deals that pop up periodically have me going to DC next week for $10 each way and it is much more convenient to get to the railroad station than the airport here in Richmond. It is definitely easier than driving to DC through I-95 traffic. I feel fortunately to have options.

  109. I live in the San Luis Obispo, CA area and when I travel to Los Angeles, I always take the Pacific Surfliner. The round trip fare is less than I'd spend on gasoline alone, I get to enjoy spectacular views in a clean, quiet coach but most importantly, I arrive in downtown LA's splendid Union Station having completely escaped the horrendous LA basin traffic which from my direction begins at Ventura. Last year, 3 million riders joined me in enjoying these benefits. My comments on LA's superior public transportation system will have to await another post.

  110. Train stations in the larger European cities are often underground cities themselves, with an inviting range of food and shopping experiences that dwarf anything found in and around American train stations or airports. It's not all that surprising as Europeans take train travel more seriously than we do.

  111. @Tim Clark I fly to Zurich (and sometimes Geneva) frequently on ski trips, and this airport is a joy, to transition to trains. In Zurich, just go down one level in the Airport, and surprise, you are now in a train station! Even the baggage carts, at Zurich Flughaven are supplied for free, and engineered to go up and down the escalators, loaded down with skis. Lots of shops, say for the phone charger with a Euro plug you forgot, and very good food. The trains, with modern cars, and wifi are smooth riding on welded rail, and info screens, in each car tell you what station is next, and arrival time for further stations down the line. I regularly take a train from Zurich to ski in St. Anton.

  112. Other things to factor in: airline delays vs train delays (trains come out ahead); stress factor (trains come out ahead); comfort factor (cramped sardine can seats on planes means trains come out ahead). If the current railway system in the US is already nearly on a par with air travel, imagine if the US updated its trains with high-speed rail (to catch up with the rest of the developed world): then the trains would leave the planes "in the dust."

  113. A few random thoughts: If the traveler intends to rent a car, the local taxes and fees are often much higher at the airport, so there might be a savings renting once you've made it in town on the train. Some airports can take much longer to get to, not just for some travelers, but for the friends or family dropping them off or picking them up. While living in Jersey City last decade, I always told visitors I'd pick them up if they flew into EWR (30 mins, round-trip), but they were on their own using JFK, because I was never going through that again (3 hrs round-trip). Did your comparisons use the price of a guaranteed seat on the train? My first NE train ride 20 yrs ago wasn't well planned and the only place to sit was on my luggage between cars. It would be interesting to see an analysis of how reliable train service is in bad weather, compared to planes. Anyone travelling in the NE knows how sensitive those airports are to bad conditions. On the other hand, anyone paying attention is aware of how many disruptions and delays there now are into NY PENN. AND, FINALLY: my god, the slight improvement between the Acela and the other trains is appalling! Twenty percent of the way through the 21st Century we don't have anything like the high-speed options common in other countries. (I still remember my ride on the sleek train to Cologne, 15 yrs ago, with the speedometer flashing 299 KPH for most of the trip.)

  114. The most efficient fossil-fueled cargo transport is the river barge or ship that can get 500-576 ton/miles per gallon. This compares with 400-436 ton/miles per gallon for rail transport, 100-155 ton/miles for tractor-trailer rigs, 20 ton/miles per gallon for pickups and light delivery trucks, and 5-7 ton/miles per gallon for air transport. Using a ship or barge as the norm, rail is roughly 80% as efficient, a semi-truck is 20% as efficient, a pickup is 4% as efficient, and a cargo plane 1% as efficient. Good piece, but your calculations need to take the environment more into account.

  115. I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and would love to be able to rely on taking the train to and from Chicago. However Amtrak shares the Detroit — Chicago route tracks with freight trains and they get priority. What that means is if no freight trains need the tracks, the passenger train pulls into Chicago Union Station on time (amazingly it was even early once). It pulls an hour late (or more) if there’s an accident on the tracks or if the passenger train has to stop for a freight train several times. So while it’s great that the train is working in the Northeast (particularly in the Washington DC area where the politicians are, no doubt, riding it) it’s not a viable option for the most heavily traveled route in the Midwest. I’ve taken the trains in Japan and they are amazing. We need a system like that so we can stop relying on cars and airplanes to move us around our huge country. We need train tracks that are dedicated passenger tracks. Until then, I’ll be flying to Chicago.

  116. There are quite a few places in Los Angeles with easy access to Union Station, most notably via Metro’s Gold Line (East LA to Azusa) and Red Line (Union Station to North Hollywood, through one of the city’s most densely populated areas). The opportunity to enjoy the very beautiful Union Station (Art Deco, Moderne, Mission/Spanish revival) before boarding Amtrak is worth any extra time the journey takes. Were I a resident of West LA, I’d prefer sitting in Union Station to sitting on the southbound 405. Amtrak to San Diego is a significant stress reducer.

  117. Not only do I love the train it is not practical for me to fly if I visit family who live a few hours from the airport. One thing that I do prefer about the train is that you can take your own cooler on board full of the kind of food and snacks you like to eat. And I like the leg room and spacious bathrooms. I did pay a premium once for a cabin that included all of my meals. I felt isolated from the rest of the train but was a nice retreat when my infant son was an infant. And was able to shower. And It's fun to sit back and see the scenery. No you cannot be in a hurry but with LAX being a permanent construction zone it's hard to even get out of there and onto the streets. train it if you can!

  118. People who travel a lot, particularly those with families, will often live in the suburbs where it is easy to commute to the airport. Many businesses are on the outskirts of cities, not in the center. It is not true that most business trips are from center city to center city. That was true in 1960, not now.

  119. @Tom Meadowcroft There are always suburban stops on the train that are convenient, and with Uber and Lyft, the last mile problem has been solved.

  120. Great article, but the context of frequency is left out. The train from Miami to Tampa, for example, runs only once a day at noon and often late at that. That said, the US (and even Canada) need to do much more to improve train travel between feasible city pairs but it's harder than ever given the push towards self-driving cars and the ongoing disinvestment in transit infrastructure.

  121. The most successful train trips. at least described here, are the sort of short hops that make it worthwhile over the interminable security theater of flying. I have enjoyed the Acela from DC to New Jersey to see family for years. However, for the coast to coast traveler, the train is expensive, inconvenient and excruciatingly slow. Also evidently undependable. We're talking three or more days travel in cramped accommodations vs. 5 1/2 hours in the air. I checked it all out a couple of years ago; we live in the Washington, DC area and have close family in Seattle and Los Angeles. A nonstop direct flight takes between 5 and 6 hours. For the train, we would have to change trains in Chicago, and the Amtrak ticket agent I spoke with said to allow at least three days travel. I didn't even factor in the delays for freight trains, of which I was unaware until this article. Family members took the train to see us two years ago. They arrived a full 24 hours later than their original arrival time. Not worth it.

  122. @SMJ I've taken the same coast-to-coast trip, and as long as you're willing to exchange the shorter travel time for more comfort, it's not the nightmare you describe. The change in Chicago is nothing - it's a few hours in a well-appointed station where you can stretch your legs and if you're me, meet up with a friend for lunch or dinner. As for the delays, I've had visitors arriving hours or a day later than expected by plane due to weather. They've spent that time miserably trapped on tarmac or in an airport corridor, sometimes with absolutely nothing to do. On the train, sure you sometimes have a freight override, but you can also take a walk, go to the club car, go to your sleeper car if you have one, look out the window... The opposite of cramped accommodation. I will take a train delay over a flight delay any time. I get to stay on the train but still wander or lounge; the plane might be delayed 6 hours but I still have to lurk in the airport just in case the fog clears. Not everyone can take the time to take the train, but I've found it to be a really nice way to get around the country and sort of a mini-vacation, whereas plane travel is always just something to grit through.

  123. Many commenters here making nice remarks about Amtrak, with which I largely agree, but I was very sorry to hear that they are discontinuing dining cars on long haul trips. For those of us that appreciate the comfort and pace of train travel, that is a sad decision. My last long train trip took me to Birmingham AL from Boston. I loved my "dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer, than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina" -- alas, to be no more soon.

  124. The worst part of train travel in the USA for me is the food. Due to a pile of wrappers on an unused dining table, I believe that all the cooked food was single serve and microwaved on my last trip. It looked, smelled and tasted terrible. Keep the dining car, skip the terrible food. I’ve heard that some specialized trains have great food. Chicago to LA?, nope.

  125. VIA Rail in Canada gets between Ottawa and Toronto in around 4 hours, depending on how many stops are made and how many freight trains need priority. Flights are faster but more expensive and less comfortable. There are also not a lot of trips but when I went by train (for business) I was reimbursed for first class travel that costs less than economy airfare and includes a station lounge and a great meal, wifi, a large reserved (single) seat, interesting scenery and no worries about weather. As on Air Canada, you get to listen to all announcements in two languages. I always chose the train if the schedule made it possible. I recommend the experience.

  126. Don't rule out intercity buses.  Yes, it's often a "grittier" travel experience.  And yes, it's not the best choice on high-traffic routes like Boston to NY.  But they are much more comfortable than a plane (larger seats, free wifi, the ability to get off the bus periodically at rest stops, etc), stations are usually located downtown, tickets are usually inexpensive, and there are a LOT of scheduling options (depends on the route, but typically there are many more departure times than either trains or planes, at all hours of day and night.)  Also, buses serve an enormous number of locations.  Not everywhere is near an airport or an Amtrak station.  I have traveled a lot in the US on all 3 modes and for short/medium distances the bus is my first choice.  Flying is great if it's a long distance, if I can find a cheap ticket (not possible for many locations) and if my destination is near an airport.  Otherwise it's a huge expense and/or a huge hassle.  I love the experience of riding Amtrak, but sadly it's horribly unreliable, the scheduling options are limited and a lot of areas don't have any service.

  127. All good info. The big variable this write-up is missing however is the risk of flight delays. They should be factored in: If you have a 10% chance of a one-hour delay, add 6 minutes, etc. In my view, the drive has to be 7 hours to make flying the better option, especially considering how miserable air travel has become, with security, tight seats, etc. Granted that will mean extra time in the car. But it's more comfortable than flying, during which time I never can get anything done. The train is much nicer but options are limited outside the Amtrak NE corridor.

  128. Since passenger rail travel between the SF Bay Area and Los Angles consists of one daily train, my comparison is based on Flying v. Driving. This was several years ago, and travel options were limited by my employer. Calculating the time involved, air travel consisted of one hour to the airport, at two hours allowed for checking in and clearing security, approximately one hour in the air, and about an hour for baggage claim and airporter wait time, and about 1-1/2 hours allowed airport to hotel. About a 6-1/2 trip. I drove. It took me about 8 hours from my house to the hotel, including a lunch break and a fuel & refreshment break. The kicker? Driving cost about $30.00 less than the total air travel.

  129. As with so many good NYT articles, I hope the paper revisits this environmentally important topic periodically. During grad school in NYC in the 1980s I spent a summer in my Ohio home town of 13,000. A well-meaning young person was conducting a door-to door opinion survey regarding public transportation. "How quaint!" I thought, as I smugly quipped that as many people lived in the catchment area for my NYC subway station as in my entire hometown. Thus the Hooterville Transit Authority could only have one station. I've wised up since then. The Acela should make as much sense in the Eastern Corridor (maybe even Montreal to Miami) as does the Bullet Train in Japan. Both areas are densely populated and linear (long but narrow), and justify the expense and eminent domain needed for high-speed rail to defeat the environmental monster of air travel. However in the sparse and two-dimensional (long AND wide) heartland of America (and China, as rising wages slow the rail-building spree) the cost of high-speed rail infrastructure per rider will not soon make sense. If we want effective public transport to towns like mine (or at least to small nearby cities) then eventually some bus designer must actually measure the body of an average American. Roads are relatively cheap and already built. I wish the lanes were two feet wider to allow each passenger 6 inches more seat width, but we can remove seats and try other layouts, and then charge a little more. It'll still beat flying.

  130. The future should be oriented t to use cars the less possible, and for short trip until 400 miles away the rail ( or any form of rail ) is a absolute necessity , as a architect they are already 40 years i said and re said ,most people seems to be blocked on there mind , but we have to act before it s to late , make it easy for Citizens means less pollution and gain of personal energy.

  131. I do believe there was just a bit of cherry picking for this article. Let's take another common route here in California to illustrate why most fly: San Diego to San Francisco, using just actual travel times Train - 16 hours 35 min, $84 economy Fly - 1 hour 40 min, $69 economy

  132. @Bruce1253 -- There are trip distances and market sizes beyond which trains don't compete with air travel. San Diego to SFO is outside the range at which trains can compete. But 16 hours sounds like a bit much. I hope the scenery is good.

  133. @Bruce1253 San Diego to San Francisco is quite far and even with European type trains it would likely still make sense to fly. Yet there are many cities that should have much better intercity train service. The most obvious national example is the northeast corridor connecting Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC. The sheer amount of people and population density makes it most sensible. Other examples are Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. Or perhaps Milwaukie, Chicago, St Louis. Clearly if I am to travel from, as an example, from NYC to Miami, taking the train is not sensible.

  134. @Bruce1253 SD to SF in 16+ hours? That's an average speed of 31 mph. That does not seem right. There is no Amtrak station in SF, you have to take a bus from the East Bay. There's a layover to switch trains in LA. The airplane does not take you downtown.

  135. Not sure about this article. The ONLY route that works in the East is Washington to NYC. The only one! You cannot escape the irony of sitting in a train in CT and seeing stop and go traffic on I-95 beat you. Wasn't the average speed through CT in the 40mph range? There is no excuse. And please, look up the travel time for the Pennsilavanian. Philly to Pittsburgh is a joke.

  136. Thank you for your interesting article. I have not boarded a train in over 40 least not in the US. I may rethink that after reading your article.

  137. Please don't - it's just expensive torture!

  138. Why isn't there a simple chart with this article? If the author wants to chat inconsistently about his "research," so be it. But please present the results in a useful format. I agree with ghd that carbon footprint should also be considered.

  139. If I were President, after working to reduce Homelessness to a minimum, reform the "Lack of Justice" System and make the Prisons more humane and fix our schools and colleges and provide National Health Care. I would rebuild the entire train system and make them faster and have them criss cross the country. Everyone should have the opportunity as Roger Thornhill ( Cary Grant ) did, of meeting ( Eva Marie Saint ) Eve Kendall on the 20th Century Limited from New York to Chicago.

  140. Seattle to Victoria I taken the hydro ferry for less than the plane fare and riding of a ship up thru Puget Sound extremely pleasant

  141. I noticed you did not check a very common west coast trip LA to SF. Could it be because the train takes twice as long as driving? 11hours!! I would really like that high speed train we voted for.

  142. Yes, travel in Europe on new modern comfortable trains at 150 mph.

  143. How about the pollution and climate impact of train versus air travel? Air travel is widely recognized to be disproportionately powerful in increasing the greenhouse effect of emissions into the atmosphere. The NYT covered Greta Thunberg's trip by sailboat with fanfare. A shame that this article does not compare train and air travel on the environmental merits.

  144. Let's not forget the unquantifiable pleasure of the Amtrak quiet car.

  145. Again, in the NE corridor maybe - on long hauls it's a joke.

  146. If it's fewer than 1,000 miles, and you have several meatloaf sandwiches and a small ration of Xanax, a nice car is the way to go. You choose the stops, the route and, best of all, no boorish seatmates.

  147. Too many cry, "Invest in high speed rail!" Baloney. Current train technology should get you to 70mph, no problem. Yet, divide your distances by travel times and you often get speeds of 30 - 40 mph. Now tell me why I should trust you (the train transportation organizations) with billions for high speed rail when you can't even make what you have run effectively? Europe doesn't have this problem nor do they require the grandiose budgets you claim to need to "maintain and improve infrastructure". Why do you?

  148. @Jim...the problem with trains is that Amtrak only owns some of the track they run on - the rest belongs to the freight railroads. If the track doesn't allow for faster speeds, it doesn't matter how fast the train could go in theory. And don't get into "Europe"...they've spent a pretty penny on their systems.

  149. @Jim -- Europe, Japan and China have spent many billions of dollars on *new* rail infrastructure. If it looks like they don't have "grandiose budgets" it's because those services have been in place for years, run frequently and safely, and are taken for granted. But they *invested* and it's paying off for them. Their markets and distances are better suited to high speed rail than most of the US but there are still corridors that can support the newest technology in rail. It's just that America seems to be fixated on *not* doing things. I think that they are called Americant's.

  150. 2hours 35 minutes between NYC and Washington is RIDICOLOUS. During that time a Shinkansen would get you from Washington beyond Boston, and with less rattling, and more on-time arrivals and departures. All that in clean trains and clean stations for a fraction of the price of the Acela.

  151. Then there is the Empire Builder from Portland to Williston ND. Slow as molasses in January when it is on-time, plus frequent and lengthy delays to allow the oil trains to pass. Last time I took the trip it was 14 hours late. Taking the plane can be a problem too. My nephew's flight from Williston was late getting to Billings MT and he missed his connecting flight. He spent the night in the brightly-lit and food-free Billings Airport before catching another flight.

  152. Rail from Dallas, Tx to Cheyenne, Wy via New Mexico & Colorado existed until the 1980s. The disinvestment in rail for decades seems perplexing to folks moving to the mountain west. The expansion of population along the Colorado front range has led to congestion, & folks are interested in bringing rail back along existing highway alignments. Amtrak needs greater investment. We need more high speed rail. There are not options for regular travel from Denver via rail.

  153. Add the fact that there are no price fluctuations with Amtrak and you get a better deal for yourself and the environment.

  154. Between NYC and DC, the author is spot on. The train beats the plane in every way: time, comfort, cost, productive use of time. I'll contemplate driving once electric cars are reliably getting 300 miles a charge but will probably stick with the train - who really wants to drive these days? Too many knuckleheads on the road.

  155. @Joe Took the Acela to DC nothing beats it. Convenient, fast and no taking off your shoes for security.

  156. In August 2019, I took a train from Chicago to Albuquerque; billed as a 25 hour trip. In Trinidad, CO, the locomotive blew a cooling hose and we had to wait 5 hours for a freight locomotive to pull us up over Raton Pass, NM. It caused us to be more than 6 hours late, or 11:30 PM. Generally speaking, those people connecting were livid. The station was closed, so no one to help.

  157. I travel from Ashland, KY to St. Paul, MN for Christmas, then Rockford, IL (by connector bus) to CHI back to Ashland after New Year's. ETA is plus or minus 24 hours. I've been in train wrecks, fires, out of water, plumbing quit working, stoppage due to blizzard, etc. (I would rather experience those things on a train than an airplane.) You have to be a good problem solver to travel by train, and not have a strict schedule for arrival and departure times. Recommended equipment: Lysol wipes--clean the bathroom before you use it. Eye mask and ear plugs if you are sleeping in coach overnight. Crossbody bag or travel wallet that fits inside your pants/skirt if you are sleeping in coach. Face/body/hand wipes in case the water/plumbing goes out. That said, it is far more sociable and pleasant. I meet the neatest people on trains.

  158. No San Francisco to LA example?

  159. @Albert Ferreira Taking Amtrak in California is not a thing that one can assign a time value to. It should be viewed as 'an experience'.

  160. It's wretched both ways - waaaaay too slow. Horrible and dirty. Skip it unless you like travel torture.

  161. I would be curious about the difference in carbon emissions

  162. @AL -- That data is easily found with a google search.

  163. So very tone deaf that this article does not mention carbon footprint while the United Nations hosts a summit on global warming.

  164. I appreciate this article and the *one* mention of environmental costs. But, c’mon New York Times! How did this article not consider co2 emissions in each trip comparison? We have costs- time and money. What about costs to the environment in each trip? It’s a significant oversight, especially for an article published right in the middle of climate week.

  165. Just imagine if the United States had functional high-speed rail like Japan, South Korea, and many European nations. Chicago to Minneapolis or LA to San Francisco in 3 or 4 stress-free hours anyone?

  166. What about the bus from NY to DC? convenient, cheap, and you look at the scenery. takes a bit longer, but drops off at convenient locations. Go Bus has rates as low as15 dollars. I fly business or first class, just to show I have standards, (I'm not bragging). The bus is a deal! They even give you bottled water!

  167. What's so frustrating is that with modest improvement the train should be more competitive on some routes. It is absurd, for example, that it takes a train more than five hours to cover the 313 miles between Chicago and St. Louis. One needn't have 200 mph high-speed rail to cover it in roughly three hours, which would beat driving and almost certainly beat flying. Similarly, the train trip between Los Angeles and San Diego is agonizingly slow, taking nearly three hours to cover 120 miles, a distance that should be covered by non-high-speed trains in under 90 minutes, which again would beat driving or flying hands down. Not every city pair warrants the investment necessary to increase passenger rail speeds enough to make them truly competitive. But LA and San Diego are two of California's largest cities with more than enough potential business. Chicago-St. Louis is a key midwest corridor, even with the recent decline in St. Louis' population. It is preposterous, for example, that Amtrak trains traveling north from San Diego must, for some miles, slowly wend their way along a single-track line as if they were traversing some rural backwater. Or that passenger schedules are at the mercy of the freight railroads on whose tracks they run. Anyone who has spent any time in Europe, or especially in Japan, rides their trains and weeps.

  168. Love traveling in Europe with their high-speed train networks! Back home in the States, I'd like to use train more often along the NE corridor. But when the NE Corridor train wrecks show in the national news too often in recent years, I hesitate to travel in train even I really want to. When does Congress have the will to fund the smart system that promises to prevent trains from over-speeding and causing deadly accidents during these past few years? NYTimes please report on the technology front of the rail transportation safety so we can travel more by train with peace of mind!

  169. @Fashion Fun Lover -- There's a Nova program available on Netflix called Why Trains Crash. It's really fascinating.

  170. I love train travel. Whether it be Amtrak or Metro North. I have visited several towns that dot the Hudson all by train. Amtrak is the best way as Metro North is like taking the LIRR. But it's the best. Since I have a fear of flying this is the perfect alternative for me. I would love to go to Canada via rails, it's a long haul but the scenery is top notch. Good article.

  171. The last time I took Amtrak was from San Luis Obispo to Oakland; a 225 mile trip that's supposed to take nearly 6 hours. Somehow, they managed to add about 3 1/2 hours to that. Just my luck, I guess. In Europe or Japan that would have been about a 2 hour trip. Apparently, they have trains now that can go over ONE HUNDRED MILES AN HOUR!!

  172. Mr. Glusac, Well written interesting comparison. One of my colleagues sent this piece to me because he knows my passion is surface transportation and it appears that you have not heard of the idea for improving surface transportation first put forward by the late Senator Pat Moynihan of NY when he was chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee in 1987. He proposed development and testing of a superconducting Magnetic Levitation transport invented by Brookhaven National Lab scientists Drs. James Powell and Gordon Danby. His great idea, which captured my imagination, was to develop and test this public carrier and create a national 300 mph, all weather network for both passengers and freight trucks that would interconnect the metropolitan areas in the lower 48 States. 75% of Americans would be within 15 miles of a Maglev terminal. (See for concept.) We envisioned that the Maglev network would be used for Amtrak passenger service and for a new service to haul highway trucks overnight. The operating and maintenance costs are 5 cents per passenger mile and 10 cents per ton mile. The 300 mile trip from Chicago to St. Louis would take one-hour and the cost would be $15 and to cover the cost of servicing the bonds to build the guideway could be covered for less fare than a highway motor coach. The advantage of this system is its capability to carry highway trucks which would generate savings for the truckers, and reduce congestion on highways.

  173. I have traveled by train, New York to Fort Lauderdale, Calgary to Vancouver, Newark to Niagra Falls and many other trips on this continent. I have done trips with little kids and older folks. On one Florida trip, I read the first Harry Potter book to my daughter, and we "camped out" in sleepers. I regularly travel Newark to Philadelphia by train, and would not even consider flying that distance, and would only travel if I needed a car on the Philly end for suburban visits. It is not as convenient or easy as in Europe, but the trains are fast, comfortable and relatively clean. When I have to fly, I feel stressed, harried and tense. Relief from that pressure is worth $100 a trip - easy.

  174. By international standards, American air travel and airport services are more or less up to par, but Amtrak trains and stations (despite some improvement in recent years) are well below par. In addition to being more fuel efficient, trains abroad (for instance in western Europe) are more competitive against private automobiles because gasoline there is priced higher (not as far below its real societal cost) than in the US. The train-plane comparison in this piece seems fair, but the "playing field" in America is tilted towards flying.

  175. The US has done itself a disservice by not maintaining its rail infrastructure to international standard. The neglect is a product of a zeal for privatization (a failed promise almost always) and anti-government attitudes. Also, an over-reliance on automobile travel, but even roads aren't well maintained. With the exception of the NE corridor, the train is not used by enough people who have a choice of modes (meaning more $$), so there is no political upside in investing in the physical infrastructure and technology that other countries find so beneficial. I'm surprised Amtrak does as well as it does.

  176. One thing tells me everything I need to know about the difference in experience between air and rail travel: have you ever met an "airplane fan" on a flight before? Neither have I. Trains are full of people who love railways. The experience is one people enjoy.

  177. Some further analysis with delays and cancelled flights considered would be good. I fly a medium amount, I find 1/3 of flights have significant delays. And that’s not even talking cancellations which I hit about once per year. If I go anywhere by air I leave in early AM and allow a full day (x2 round trip). I work on arriving 2 hours early at airport (and never regret it). When circumstances force getting there 1 hour before flight, I always regret it. Sometimes I’m surprised and fly somewhere in a half day...many times it’s 12-14 hrs (whether it is across continent or 500 miles). The theoretical break even point of 300 miles may be more like 400 if flight delays (and train delays) are factored in. If I can drive there in 10 hours, I will do that rather than cost, discomfort and uncertainty with flying. (Driving a hybrid). It’s a day anyway you look at it, and you have transportation when you get there.

  178. In college, I took the train home for the holidays and always had a good story to bring back. Today, I would still choose Amtrak for long trips. The lack of wifi is my excuse to unplug and do what I don't normally have time for: I read books, nap, write, take pictures of gorgeous vistas and talk to a cross-section of people I'd never meet ordinarily. I look forward to the random conversations I have over meals in the dining car (food is surprisingly good, and a bargain included with sleeper seats). I would also not rule out buses, which have come a long, long way. Cabin, a luxury overnight bus service from LA to SF, is always sold out when I want to travel. And buses from NYC to DC extend into VA, useful for conference travelers.

  179. I'm sorry, but with the possible exception of the NE corridor, Amtrak is the pits. It's expensive, and has few upsides. We traveled from Chicago to Portland, OR, then down to LA back up to SF on that vacation and it was very poor each leg. Scenery? You get to see lots of urban decay and the backs of overgrown junk and train yards. Yes, some of the scenery is majestic, and even the junk is fun, but here is the second problem: speed. Amtrak runs on rails that are owned by others, so any other train along the route gets priority. We had many long delays while we pulled off to let cargo trains go by, some delays took multiple hours. The trains, without exception, we're all old, dirty, and smelly. I took it upon myself during the countless hours to clean our mini-room (hah!) and I am no germaphobe or neat freak, and it was so filthy...nothing had been wiped down or cleaned for months. The staff works hard, but they have no means of communicating among staff without putting requests over the PA system, it seems. There were constant announcements for dinner times, snack specials, and calling different employees to different parts of the train. The conductor would regularly get on with announcements like, "We would like to remind you that the floor is not the garbage can. Please find a trash can to throw away your trash, people!" The announcements were pretty funny but addressed us as cattle. No fun - never again!

  180. As someone used to Eurostar and the TGV, the travel times amaze me. Central London to central Paris is a no brainer. The train wins hands down, same with Paris to Lyon. Plus the aircraft style food on the French trains is not nor is the wine!

  181. Have they suspended all of the special fees and surcharges that afflicted the flight between SeaTac and Vancouver? The money was negligible, in one case apx 43 cents, but the lines added about an hour to air transit between the two.

  182. Compared to Europe and China, where train service is fast and efficient, the U.S. is stuck in the 20th century. No surprise in a country that demonizes public investment and the common good as "Socialism."

  183. Why can’t the USA manage a Japanese style bullet train? Or a European style TGV?