Our modern railroads evolved from roads of rails called wagonways used in Germany during the 1550s. Horse-drawn carts rolled along wooden planks—it was quicker than driving on the dirt—as fast as the animals could travel. By the early 1800s, these primitive wagonways were replaced with iron rail lines designed for steam-powered locomotives racing away at 18 miles per hour.
The days of wagonways and steam locomotives are long gone. Today’s high-speed trains are pretty remarkable: two stories of comfortable seating with large viewing windows, no checked baggage fees (for the first two), free Wi-Fi and flexible ticketing. The fastest train in the United States, Amtrak’s Acela, shoots you to your next destination at 150 miles per hour, and the fastest trains globally push 300 miles per hour. Additionally, on a train you don’t have to worry about directions, assorted airline charges or prices at the gas pump.
Here are six reasons to consider traveling by train on your next adventure:
Reliable, cheap fares
The price of a plane ticket fluctuates like the stock market, train tickets do not. If I needed to travel from San Francisco to Portland this weekend it would cost me $200 roundtrip on Amtrak or $560 roundtrip on Virgin America, the cheapest option displayed at Kayak.com. If I want to repeat the trip in a month, I can predict the train fare but wouldn’t wager a bet on plane pricing—which can be as low as $150 roundtrip for this itinerary if you time it right.
You can make last minute plans and not get charged an exhorbitant amount for a normally reasonable ticket. And, if you miss your train, you can hop on the next one—same train type traveling the same route—for the same price.
(Lack of) Baggage fees
Your first two checked bags are free. Remember the good ol’ days when you could do this at the airport? Ah, the memories. We seem to have lost this right somewhere between the four dollar peanuts and the eight dollar pillows.
No security lines, walking around barefoot, arriving two hours early,or cattle rows—most of the time. Many train stations allow you to park and walk only one hundred yards or so to the waiting platform. And most train stations are closer to downtown cities than airports so they are quite convenient to local attractions and well-connected to other transit options.
Air travel is one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Friends of the Earth. This is largely due to radiative forcing, when the impact is augmented because the emissions are released in the upper atmosphere. Trains, on the other hand, have lower greenhouse gas emissions—released down on Earth—and are more energy-efficient per passenger mile than a car.
Without being confined to the small space of a passenger car or an airplane seat (especially when the seat belt sign just won’t go off!), you are able to move around as you please, walk from train car to car, visit the dining car for a snack on your own schedule or head to the quiet car for a quick snooze. Back in your seat you have more seat space, additional legroom and usually a nifty foldaway footrest.
Do you still need convincing? Take a look at the Rocky Mountaineer—named one of the world’s ten most scenic train rides by Travel + Leisure. There are four rail routes and forty-five different vacation packages to choose from, each traversing either the UNESCO World Heritage site encompassing Banff and Jasper—or Whistler, home of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.