Sunday, December 23, 2012

Commuting by Train

Commuting by Train

Americans love cars. If time is of the essence, we fly. Otherwise, we drive. For a relaxing vacation we may consider a Caribbean Cruise. But, as a society, we have eschewed train travel since air travel became accessible to all classes.

I live on the eastern seaboard and my job requires me to travel from Washington, DC to Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark and New York City. For cost effectiveness, ease of travel and time considerations I’ve tried every mode of travel offered. All in all the best of all worlds is the Acela train on Amtrak.

My company limits the number of miles I can charge per day for reimbursement if I drive my own car to 175 miles. To use the rental company “highly recommended” I would need to drive the 60 miles to Dulles Airport, rent the car, and then start my drive – which is generally miles out of the way.

While flying is generally my preferred method of travel, delays more often than not interfere with convenience. I still must drive 2 hours to Baltimore to catch a cheap flight to Newark. The flight is a mere 35 minutes – if – and that is the operative word – if – anything goes right. The last time I flew to Newark from BWI I was lulled into complacency. The flight to my destination left on time and landed early. But the return was a different story. First- we experienced a delay of 1 hour to board the plane. Then, we boarded the plane and taxied towards the runway for takeoff; only to be told we didn’t have enough fuel to fly the 35 minutes to Baltimore if we needed to circumvent a storm. So…back to the gate.  Only – there was no open gate. We sat on the tarmac for an hour before a gate opened up. Then, after refueling – we had to wait until the “paperwork” was executed to leave the gate.  Somebody brought computer print outs on “dot matrix printer paper” for the pilot to sign. What? No electronic payments? Then – to the end of the line for take off again…4 hours later – we lifted off….I could have driven home faster…..

So, despite the frustration of driving to Union Station in the District of Columbia, Amtrak was my next option.  And….it was easy. The Acela train offers convenient access, easy parking business class seats, wireless internet, comfort, and bad food that is more varied than any current airline offering. Additionally, the train stops in the center of most cities that limits the costs of a taxi at the final destination.  It is also easy to change trains if a meeting ends earlier or goes later.

So, Amtrak it is. Despite my preference in general for flight, for a short trip I’ve found Amtrak cost effective, easily accessible, convenient, and comfortable. It is a shame in so many respects that train travel is not thought about more favorably in the US. Europeans embrace train travel.  But, despite the cost of petrol, we embrace our cars and love our planes. I, for one, am a convert- at least for those trips along the Eastern seaboard.

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