Trains vs. driving for vacations — for a couple not a bad deal


The summer travel season is right around the corner and with the price of gasoline climbing to unprecedented rates, many travelers are turning to travel by train across the U.S. as an affordable, relaxing alternative to travel by car or plane.

“When you consider today’s average gas prices, the cost of a rail ticket on one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains is significantly less than keeping the car fueled,” explained Todd Powell, president of Chicago-based specialty travel company Vacations By Rail.

It’s also more relaxing. Train passengers don’t need to be concerned with navigation or travel interruptions for meals and rest stops. “Train travel is care-free, entertaining, and a big part of the vacation experience,” Powell said. “There are onboard activities to suit every traveler’s needs: lounge cars offering panoramic views, delicious meals in the dining car, and quiet nooks and crannies to curl up with a good book. It’s also a great way to meet people from around the country all taking part in the same exciting experience.”

Average gas prices in the Chicagoland area—home to Union Station, Amtrak’s hub for long-distance trains—are currently topping $4.35 per gallon and showing few signs of slowing. The city is not alone with metropolitan areas across the country preparing for gas prices to reach upwards of $5 per gallon by the time the summer travel season arrives.

Compare that to train tickets between popular city pairs and the savings are evident.*

Photo: Illinois Central Railroad

  • jeff

    The flaw in the argument is that on long distance trains the roomettes are terribly expensive and make train travel much more expensive.

    Using the LA to Seattle example, the train leaves LA at 10:20am and arrives the next day at 8:45pm, 34 hours and 25 minutes later. 2 adult fares come to $326 (dunno where the $104 pp came from) for seats. (I certainly wouldn’t want to sit up for that long a time!) A room with only two bunk beds comes to another $422 for a total of $748 for two. If you want an en-suite toilet and shower the room will cost $1105 for $1431!

    I’d drive with a nice motel for $50-75 in the middle to break up the trip for under $400 for two using your gas figures.

    Or I’d fly for a lot less money, time and energy!

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  • bodega

    Sadly from nonmetropolitan areas, getting to Amtrak takes too much time and cost. If you wish to take the southern route and live in our area, you have to arrange to be dropped off at the Amtrak shuttle a day prior to your train. Once the shuttle gets to the station, you have to take a taxi to the nearest hotel (which isn’t that close), then a taxi back in the morning. On your return, should the train connection in LA actually work out (many times you have to overnight in LA due to a misconnect) you have to again stay overnight before taking the shuttle back to your pickup point and then get a ride home.

    From our area to Seattle, it is a trip of two full days and if you wish a compartment for sleeping you pay Hyatt Regency pricing for Motel 6 accommodations. Many try it once and either drive or fly after their experience.

    The best trip here on is the Coast Starlight from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara. A reasonable travel time and beautiful scenery. This one is the only one worth giving up the car for!

  • Kevin

    And forget about going to Yellowstone by train. The next train north goes through Glacier, the next south through Denver!
    The West isn’t great by plane, either. You’ll save lots of time, of course, but the flight from Denver to Laramie, for example, which is a 2 hour drive, can cost more than the flight that gets you to Denver.

  • Frances

    I feel train travel will increase as gas prices increase and air travel becomes increasingly uncomfortable.