the beauty of trains

How many times have you heard someone say: “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Or the quote attributed to Buddha, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Either way you say it, how you get there is a big deal.

segovia station

Segovia-Guiomar, Spain

For anyone living in Europe, this is a no-brainer. For those of you that have lived there once, I suspect you might be mourning the loss of public transportation. I am! I love my car, and I love driving. But trains, metros, buses, trams and shuttles are just a really smart idea. I’ve traveled all over Spain by train, across the plain. I chauffeured my parents to and from four different cities using the RENFE system, and have been subject to several mandatory RyanAir train rides to civilization. Nose to the window, eyes wide open and taking pictures along the way.

I had a realization today in the office, and I’ve confirmed my suspicions: I have never been on a train in the United States. You’re probably thinking that’s crazy for a train lover that has lived most of her life in the Northeast Corridor. Let me tell you something about Amtrak up north. Here’s some math:

  • Washington, DC to New York City, NY: 3 hours, 25 minutes.
    Cheapest round-trip  (off-peak times on the Northeast Regional) = $160
    Fastest round-trip (2 hours, 42 minutes on the Acela Express) = $284
  • Philadelphia, PA to New York City, NY: 90 minutes.
    Cheapest round-trip (off-peak times on the Northeast Regional) = $100
    Fastest round-trip (60 minutes each way on the Acela Express) = $260
  • New York City, NY to Boston, MA: Between 4 and 5 hours.
    Cheapest round-trip (off-peak times on the Northeast Regional) = $138
    Fastest round-trip (3 hours, 30 minutes on the Acela Express) = $236

That being said, is it any surprise that the United States pales in comparison to other countries when it comes to train-riding? I don’t know about you, but when I travel the largest part of my budget is not set aside for transportation. This past summer I got up before the sun to get on a train from Budapest to Prague that boarded at 4:30 a.m. Why? Because it cost almost nothing (7 hours, 13€), compared to its later departure time. But if I have to get on a train in New York at 4 a.m. and still spend over $100? No thanks, I’ll pass.

courtesy of Ultimate Train Challenge

For those of you who think you’re train-savvy, here’s a group of people that will put anyone to shame. As part of Ultimate Train Challenge 2011, three awesome traveler bloggers took to the rails in a 30 day sprint from Lisbon to Saigon. In one particular video, the team is en route from Moscow to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian. From karaoke to kisses from conductors to cabin cocktails, Nora, Michael and Jeannie have an interesting time of it .. somewhere around the 7 minute mark you will see Nora narrating as the train pulls away from the station while they aren’t physically onboard. Think about this for a second (the duration, not the escaping engine): ONE WEEK on a train. That’s 150 hours. (!)

budapest keleti

Budapest Keleti Station, Hungary

This weekend I’ll embark on my first US train trip, a mere three hours. One of my office staff gave me the low down on the train bound for Chicago from our neck of the woods. We’ll pass several university stops and some other high traffic areas, on our way up north. This train does not have the reputation for being on time or for having enough seating. Needless to say, it will be an adventure, whether I get there on time or not.

Stay tuned for tales from the tracks!


4 thoughts on “the beauty of trains

  1. I remember my parents and I took a train to Colorado when I was little. It must have been cheapish, if my parents did it. We had a plan to have a train built in Wisconsin last year, but our governor didn’t think it was practical. Ughh.


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