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Travelers increasingly turn to taking Amtrak trains over flights

As domestic travel rebounds from pandemic lows and prices soar, some travelers opting for trains over planes.
For many, the tradeoffs are simple: Trains are often cheaper, provide more leg room and are better for the environment than air travel. Those advantages and others are driving riders to Amtrak, the government-backed U.S. rail service, as it tries to revive pre-Covid ridership and smooth out operations.
Since emerging out of the pandemic, airline ticket prices have skyrocketed as travel demand surged. On top of that, uncertainty in the airline industry has ballooned in part due to high-profile incidents, like one that commanded headlines earlier this year when a section of an Alaska Airlines plane blew off mid-flight, leading to the discovery of loose hardware on Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in multiple airlines’ fleets.
Though train routes often take longer than flight times, the total travel time usually evens out when factoring in traffic to get to the airport, time spent in security lines and boarding wait times, according to Clint Henderson, a managing editor at travel site The Points Guy.
“We’ve done speed tests and measured the amount of time it takes to go between cities like New York and D.C. on the train versus the plane, and even though the flight is super short, it generally takes around the same amount of time,” he said.
Trains will likely never render flying obsolete, but Henderson said he’s seen an increase more broadly across the travel industry in the number of people choosing to take Amtrak trains over flights, especially in the Northeast corridor, where flying between two close-by cities doesn’t always make sense.
One of those passengers is Leonor Grave, who lives in New York City and often travels home to Washington, D.C., on Amtrak trains rather than flying. Grave said she particularly likes that train stations are typically in city centers, as opposed to airports, which are often on the outskirts of towns.
“If trains were faster and reached more destinations, I don’t think I would ever fly domestically,” Grave said. “It’s such a frictionless way to travel… and I just find it a lot more enjoyable on the train – you can get up, you can walk around, stretch your legs, you can go to the food car. You feel a lot more grounded.”
Grave said she’s even been able to bring her bike on the train and arrive at New York’s Penn Station just 20 minutes before the train’s departure, as opposed to having to arrive to an airport the typical two hours early. While she’s experienced some delays on Amtrak trains, especially post-pandemic, she said they’ve been negligible compared to flight delays and cancellations that have recently plagued the air travel industry.
“I don’t glamorize Amtrak as a corporation – there’s a lot they could do to improve its services,” Grave said. “Even though Amtrak isn’t perfect, I think it’s the best option of what we have. The more that rail becomes competitive with flying and the more people take the train, the more we can develop these train routes and connect different places across the rest of the country. It’s an exciting future for train travel.”

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