It should come as no surprise that I like trains. I like trains in just about all forms: steam, diesel, electric, standard gauge, narrow gauge, etc. (I'm not so sure about monorail or mag lev though...) So it shouldn't surprise you that I like riding trains too - and would generally prefer to take a train "no matter where it's going" (to paraphrase a poet).
So why is it just so often so godawful to do so?
I'm not talking about tourist trains, of course. There, the whole point is the novelty of the journey.
I'm talking about taking a train the way it was originally intended - as actual transportation.
Case in point:
I'm planning to attend the New Haven Railroad Historical & Technical Association's Annual Reunion in Stamford, CT. I live in Old Saybrook, CT. There's a railroad track connecting these two towns and there's not just one, but three passenger train services on this route (though only two real choices @ Saybrook).
So the Big First Problem is solved: there's actually a train I can take (So Not True for most of America). So I have options (though not anywhere near as many as our grandparents did). But let's look at those options . . .
Option 1 - Amtrak
The United States' inter-city passenger service actually runs through Old Saybrook and can get me to Stamford - which is a real blessing, considering all the places in the country Amtrak doesn't even get close to. Problem is - it's WAY too expensive to use.
Travel Time: 1hr 22 mins
Notes: Direct (one-seat) travel with no connection, but arrives in Stamford an hour later than needed.
Option 2 - Shoreline East/Metro-North
Since the 1990s, we in Old Saybrook have had the added advantage of a state-owned (though Amtrak operated) local train service from New London to New Haven. So I at least don't have to pay an Amtrak fare to get to New Haven, but once I get there I still need to get to Stamford. That's where the nation's busiest commuter railroad - Metro-North - comes in. M-N will get me from New Haven to Stamford, but I'll have to change trains in New Haven first.
Travel Time: 2 hours
Cost: $14 ($6.75 SLE/$7/25 M-N)
Notes: Scheduled to arrive in Stamford with 5 minutes to spare, but that's assuming the train is on time. Also, have to change trains in New Haven and the schedule allows 5 minutes for the transfer (and NH->Stamford ticket purchase). Fine if the train's on-time; not so fine if it isn't.
Option 3 - Drive my truck
I have a 2004 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. Not exactly a fuel-efficient vehicle, but it's mine and it's paid for. On a good day, it'll get 23 or so MPG on the highway. It's all highway for the 70 miles from Saybrook to Stamford, but for ease of math I'll figure on just 20mpg.
Travel Time: 1hr 6 mins
Cost: $7.70 (70 miles at 20mpg & $2.20/gal for gas)
Notes: Make it an even $8 (heck, even $9 for oil, insurance, maintenance, etc) and driving my truck is a clear bargain compared to taking the train. And these figures are only one-way Saybrook to Stamford - double the figures for round trip and the savings is even more obvious. It costs almost double to take the train versus driving - both in terms of money and time.
Sure, it's "cooler" to take the train - especially for a train buff. And I can sleep/read/daydream on the way, which I can't do when driving (well, I can daydream I s'pose). But are those benefits really worth paying twice as much for and taking twice as much of my time?
I'd love to know what you think!