I’ve used Amtrak quite a bit for the last few trips I’ve taken and found myself raving about it to friends and family alike. While I’ll gladly admit, for a number of reasons, it is not the right choice for everyone under all conditions if you’re lucky enough to have a train station available to you, as I do you really owe it to yourself to at least give it a try. When you ride the train it’s hard not to compare the experience with that of flying since that seems to have become what most of us have as our point of reference for mass transit. I certainly will be doing that some as well. However, while there are some similarities there are also some key differences both for the better and for the worse. So, here are our top reasons we believe you should give Amtrak a try.
That old world feel
The thing is when you roll up to the train station it really does just feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Each train station has it’s own style, for sure, but all of them seem to hearken back to another time. This is something you feel from the architecture all the way to the way that the staff interact with you. The conductor, for example, while it appears to be the old world equivalent of a flight attendant is quite possibly one of the most under the radar male dominated professions and feel like they behave with an authority you’re not quite sure you should be giving them but they clearly think you should and so since you’re along for the ride why not just roll with it. The staff are friendlier and more accommodating too. When I’m flying I often feel like they’ve kind of got me over a barrel. They’re overbooked already and very unlikely to work with me if there’s an issue. What I have is what I get. But, just as an example, on a recent trip to Washington DC for various reasons everyone on the trip ended up parting ways a little sooner than I had anticipated. I arrived at Union Station hours earlier than when my train was departing and just out of curiosity I went to the desk and asked if I could get on an earlier train. The woman working behind the counter smiled said yes there was a train leaving sooner and in fact it was cheaper than the one I was currently on and put me on it while refunding me the difference. I, honestly, cannot ever remember an occasion where that has happened on a flight.
Even in coach the seats are just plain bigger than they would be on a plane and you have more space to spread out. Some of this is a little contingent on how booked the train is. I’ve had a few early morning train rides where by the time everyone spread out to their respective seats We all had our own row. I have been on trains that were fully booked and that was not the case as well but even fully booked the seats are bigger and there’s more legroom than on a plane. Pair this all with the free WiFi and power at each seat and Amtrak is a bloggers dream. There’s also just more freedom and room to roam. I don’t know about you but when I’m flying, other than a trip to the bathroom or something I feel kind of locked into my seat. On the train as soon as we were underway I was up to grab a table at the cafe car with a seat by the window and a cup of coffee at a table that I could spread my laptop and a book out on. Here’s where I should probably give a word of caution. I’m not trying to unfairly sugar coat the experience. Amtrak is definitely trying to get as much mileage as they can out of these trains and you get the impression that the interior of the trains have not been updated in a long time. Sometimes, judging by the smell, they haven’t been cleaned in a while either. It’s not over the top luxurious (the food in the cafe car is not great either more on that later) but just different.
Unlikely to see a bag fee
You know those pesky bag fees you can get hit with when flying? I actually usually avoid this by just traveling light but still I know it’s an issue for a lot of people. On an Amtrak train you can bring two carry-ons and two checked bags before you get charged a $20 bag fee.
Lack of Security/Convenience
This goes back to the that whole old school feel thing. While I’m not the only person to talk about this I’m also somewhat hesitant to call attention to it but it really is kind of a draw for me. I showed up to the train station an hour early like I would for a flight the first time I rode the train. It was completely unnecessary. That time saving and sparing yourself the stress that goes with the long lines of people anxious to get to their destination all of whom are slightly disgruntled makes the whole experience better. In addition to no TSA it also means things like being able to carry things on with you that you maybe wouldn’t normally (food, drinks, utensils, etc.,). While Amtrak does sell food, drinks and alcoholic beverages on the train you are permitted to bring your own onboard (food that is). If you’re in a sleeper car you may bring your own private stock of alcohol onboard as well. Let me say that one more time another way. When I am in a sleeper car I will be bringing my own bourbon on board. Also, let me refer you to our previous lack of security point. Nobody is checking what’s in your bag so hey bring some bourbon and sit where you want. Doubt anyone will say anything about it unless you’re rubbing it in the face of the cafe car attendant.
The whole convenience thing extends to other things too like bringing your furry friends on board provided they weigh 20lbs or less. Or if you’re on the east coast bringing your car with you if you live in Northern Virginia
See a different part of the Country
No I don’t mean a different place. I mean a different part of the country. Whether you’re passing through the Sierra Nevada’s or you’re just passing through that town you’ve driven through a million times before. There’s a good chance you haven’t seen them from the window of the train. The thing I was most struck by as I passed through these towns on the train was how unfamiliar they seemed. Sometimes you’re passing by completely undeveloped land where now road runs, sometimes it’s someone’s back yard. Sometimes you pass through towns where you can tell that part of the town has been built entirely around the tracks. You’re looking into bars and restaurants whose windows look out on the tracks and you can see what’s on TV how the happy hour is going. You feel like you’re seeing the place for the first time. As you enter larger cities the train often drops you right in the center of town and it’s very convenient if you want to get in see the sites (maybe have a few drinks) and then have a relaxing trip back where you don’t need to worry about some of the hassles of driving.
So, look I realize almost all of my positives here for riding Amtrak fall under on of two categories. Style and convenience and that really is it. It’s not especially cheaper than driving (although it can be at times), it’s definitely not faster than flying. But what, really, is wrong with style and convenience sometimes? What’s wrong with taking the train that often drops you right in the center of the city see the sites (maybe have a few drinks) and then have a relaxing trip back where you don’t need to worry about some of the hassles of driving.
Well there you have it our five favorite reasons for riding the rails with Amtrak right now. Feel free to let us know what your favorite Amtrak experience was by leaving a comment.