How Dumb of an Idea is a 21 hour Train Ride?

So I live in South Jersey, and I want to take a trip to see my Aunt near Chicago on Spring Break.

I could fly in a few hours, but I don’t particularly like to fly, both due to nerves and the impossibly small amount of space they give you. I do, however, enjoy trains. I found ridiculously cheap rates for Amtrak – I could make the roundtrip in $200.

Of course, it’s Philadelphia to DC and then a transfer DC to Chicago. This is not a short train ride.

If I go business class, is 21 hours on a train going to really suck? Or is it no big deal? What are my odds of getting some sleep? Has anyone ever done anything like this? Should I just suck it up and fly?

I took a 22.5 hour bus ride last year, so I say this with an idea of what you’re looking at:


Business class means you’d be in one of those semi-reclining seats, right? Not a berth?

I don’t know, that’s a long time. Do they have WiFi?

I am surprised that Amtrak fares are lower than air fares. Even if it costs a little more I would say you’ve made the right choice. Of course, I hate, hate, hate flying because of hassle and space, so I am biased.

Any chance you could get a sleeper? Best way in the world to travel, IMO. Have a nice meal, read for a while, get a good night’s sleep then, in the morning, enjoy the scenery as you eat breakfast in comfort. What’s not to like? If you don’t get a sleeper, well, you will have a lot more room than a plane or bus but I won’t make any promises about sleep.

Amtrak is much nicer than a bus, especially in business class. That said, I’d fly even though I find it pretty unpleasant. Philly to Chicago just isn’t going to be that long a flight, and 21 hours is a long train ride.

It’s been years, but I did an 18 hour ride on Amtrak once. It was pretty nice.

You can’t really compare a train ride to bus or plane. For one thing, the train cars are wider, which leaves more room for a walkway. There are also other cars, including dining and bar area (at least, there were when I rode). This means that you aren’t tied to your seat.

The trains also stop for refueling and changing crews and passengers, so you get a chance to get outside for a bit. I’d guess that you’re going to have at least one lengthy layover somewhere. If you’re lucky, the station will be within walking distance of something interesting.

The main problem I’ve always had with train travel is the amount of time it takes to get where you’re going. That 18 hour ride I took transported me about 400 miles, which is about three times longer than it would be if I’d gone by car.

I’d say, if you don’t mind it taking so long, go for it.

I did four days on Amtrak once. It was a ton of fun! I’m a fan of long-haul overland travel, and I say if you like trains go for it.

If you get a berth, go for it. If not, really dumb.

It was a pretty nice bus. Yeah, Amtrak is better, but not significantly considering the length of the trip.

You can fly on Southwest, Philly to Midway, for about $170, and it’s a 2 hour flight. Unless you have something to do on the train that won’t make you feel that you lost 40 hours of your life that you’ll never get back, I’d say fly.

Everything gang green said, plus Amtrak trains have outlets. So keeping your ipod, cell phone, laptop, dvd player, or whatever electronic entertainment you prefer charged up is not a problem. You can bring all your own food/drinks that you want, and the onboard food is reasonably edible. Also, Union Station in DC has a huge concourse with shops, restaurants etc, so if you find you’ve forgotten something or want something you didn’t bring (a book, some advil, a milkshake) you can easily fix that.

I’ve found I can be very productive with schoolwork on the train. Sometimes they have “quiet cars” where any loud activity and children under 10 are not permitted.

If you have the time, it’s not a dumb idea. My brother routinely (a couple times a year) takes the train from Chicago to Albuquerque in preference to flying out of O’Hare or Midway. That’s 26 hours each way. It’s not an uncomfortable ride even on the ones I’ve been and something like Chicago to Albuquerque uses those two-level trains. I personally have done Philly to DC (that’ll be a couple hours and quite possibly on a unreserved ticket, which means you can get on any Northeast Regional train that’ll get you into DC in time for you connection) but not the entire DC to Chicago leg. Just the Pittsburgh to Chicago stretch on what is a different route.

I see they’ve discontinued the route I used to take, though I could still do it without having to go the wrong way. It used to be that I wouldn’t even have to get off the train until Chicago; now I’d have to kill a few hours late at night in Pittsburgh first.

The only airline I’d be willing to consider to fly these days, especially for a route like Philly to Chicago would be Southwest. But I’ve had bad experiences in Philly, bad experiences in Chicago (both Midway and O’Hare), and the latest TSA stupidity would make taking the train more attractive. Heck, it may be that you don’t lose as much time as you’d think; sometimes you can leave the night before on a late-night train and get there at the same time or earlier than you would flying.

Sure, it is a 2-hour flight, but then tack on 2 or more hours at each end for checking in. Depending on the weather, you could even tack on 1-2 more hours at each end for delays. Now, the “2-hour flight” is looking more like an 8-10 hour ordeal.

Sure, 21 hours on the train might sound like a long, involved trip. However, sitting at the airport for hours on end where you may not have a decent place to sit or plug your electronics in, or the hassle of having to take all your stuff with you to get a drink or go to the bathroom does not sound like fun.

My vote? Get a good book, put lots of music on your MP3 player, and take the train.

I vote for the train, too, if you have the time. I think you need to go in with the right mindset - this is more about the journey, not the destination as much as airplane travel is. My husband and I do all our vacations by car; two years ago we drove from Calgary to Chicago and back. You see so much along the way that you simply miss if you fly. I’d be really curious to see all there is to see between Jersey and Philly and D.C. and Chicago.

I’m really starting to dig my feet in about airplane travel, too - no this, no that, no human comforts - why not just give us all a knockout shot and stack us like cordwood, then?

I actually wouldn’t mind if air travel went in the direction of Fifth Element. I would love to have sleep regulators that regulate your sleep.

I took Amtrak from Chicago to New York a few years ago, and I never got any real sleep. Even in the middle of the night, there were always people walking from car to car every few minutes, and I’d always hear the slam of the doors shutting. If you go by train, I’d recommend getting a seat in the middle of the car (putting you as far as possible away from the doors) and bringing some ear plugs.

We went by rail on that trip purely for the adventure of going by train. OK, we’ve done it once… now I’ll always fly.

In my opinion, just like a plane, it depends on how crowded the train is. I used to take it from Chicago to Pittsburgh (about 12 hours) and if it wasn’t crowded, it was fine. But if there were a bunch of kids traveling, it was a living nightmare. The bar car was always fun though - I met a lot of interesting people in it. I’ve always wanted to do a sleeper berth trip but they tend to be really expensive.

In an aside, the last trip I took, the train hit a woman and stopped with what was left of her outside the dining car. :eek: That added an extra four hours to the trip…

And those stewardesses with the matching blonde wigs…

Just beware that outside of the Northeast corridor Amtrak is prone to delays. They don’t own the tracks, if a freight train has to go by the passenger train waits. So there’s a reasonable chance that something will go wrong between DC and Chicago and 21 hours will become longer. Of course delays can happen if you fly but the time you spend in transit will still probably stay in the under-12-hour range.

It’s not what I would do but that doesn’t make it a dumb idea. If you want to just have the experience of taking the train then you’ll get what you’re looking for. But other than that and fear of flying I can’t see any reason not to fly.

I got you beat. When I was 17, I rode Amtrak from New York to Seattle - 3 days! I thought it was a lot of fun and met lots of people. There’s plenty of space to get up and walk around. I had no trouble sleeping in the chairs. I found it to be a relaxed and sociable atmosphere - people aren’t so tightly wound as you’ll find on a plane. Bring a chess board if you play or a Trivial Pursuit if you want to be more extrovert and set up in the bar, you’ll meet cool people for sure. I’d definitely do it again.