My husband recently traveled back to the Midwest, and he took the train.
The historic Empire Builder. We have gotten a host of reactions about this. Here is some of the logic and just plain comfort factors that went into the decision:
TIME: A trip from southwest Montana to Minneapolis is a 16 hours of driving time. A train trip is 18 hours, grand total. It takes about 3 hours to drive up to the hi-line where the train still runs but the amount of time spent in transit is nearly cut by a day. It was about 15 hours more than flight time, but when you add all the time you need to allow today to get through any airport security it is more like 12 or 13 hours. Airline savings is only true if one gets the one direct flight from Bozeman to Minneapolis. Otherwise the flights take you through multiple cities and flights and it was only maybe a 5 or 6 hour savings.
COST: It was a wash if we took J’s little car, which we never do on road trips as I want critical mass and all the airbags you can give me. It cost about half the price of gas it would have taken to drive the SUV. Also there was no hotel room on either end. Another savings. It was also about $400-$500 less than a three week ahead planned flight. Best prices with the train were available with only a weeks notice.
COMFORT: If for no other reason comfort is a reason to take the train, leg room, outlets even in coach in case you drag a computer or DVD player along, and the ability to walk around. The dining car is nothing like the elegant dining of old, but it will certainly do. It is more comfortable than any plane or car. If you drive this trip you take a day to just unwind from two days in the car when you finally hit your destination. If you can manage to sleep on the train, you arrive ready to rock ‘n roll.
VIEWS: Since there is only one train daily going across Montana I think the scheduling is done to ensure that the largest cities have the best departure and arrival times. This really sucks as the best views are traveled at night. One should travel through the Rockies and Glacier National park during the day. In spite of that visa dome is pretty spectacular even at night.
TICKET CHANGES: In a nutshell you just need to make changes before your time to use it. If so you get full exchange value. With this time of year and weather it is a good thing. Refunds do charge 10% out of your ticket, but honestly a restock fee of 10% is not at all unreasonable.
HASSLE-FREE: Ok, that is stretching it, but the boarding a train is nowhere near as painful as air travel. No 3 oz. rule. No arrive hours ahead rules. I am sure carry on and checked baggage must have some kind of rules, but they appear to not come into play like they do for everyone traveling by plane. John left with his carryon decked out with a cell phone, kindle, mp3 player, a camera, a couple sodas, an insulated mug and more that would have never make it onto the plane. He texted quite often, phone occasionally and no one was worrying that he might interfere with navigational equipment.
We are sold. We’d do it again. Go Amtrak.