Why Do People Love Train Travel So Much?

Western Maryland Railroad

For some people the process of getting from one place to the other is a pain, a chore, an experience to dread with fear and trepidation. For others, like me, the act of travel itself, be it flying or riding in a car is just part of the experience and it’s something from which I get a lot of joy. But there’s one form of transportation that seems to transcend the usual angst and to which most travelers fell drawn – the train. Be it a modern high speed train in Europe or an old fashioned steam train in rural Maryland, the train has captured the imaginations of people around the world and I wonder why.

 

An era long gone – The rise of the train in the 19th century lead to expansion on an unprecedented level, not only in the United States but around the world. Instead of months to travel a continent, it only took weeks and the experience was far more enjoyable. When the famous Pullman car was introduced, the highest of society could travel in the style to which they were accustomed and it is this gilded age of travel that I think fascinates most of us. We’re so used to being ushered about like sheep in a stall that we want to enjoy those creature comforts that have all but disappeared. True, you won’t get white glove dining on the TGV out of Paris, but you do get some privacy, peace and quiet and civility. There’s a lot to be said for that. The train in question doesn’t have to be entirely practical either. Refurbished steam locomotives take passengers on joy rides around the world to experience the sensation of old time travel and to see the world in a new way. I was on one such scenic train ride just a few weeks ago and the train was packed, every seat sold as hundreds of people jockeyed to get on board a remnant of the past. There’s just something about the experience that compels us.

 

Little effort, maximum enjoyment – Train travel isn’t hard, especially when compared to flying. To fly in the modern era travelers must arrive hours early in order to be processed, poked and prodded losing valuable time from one’s life. The actual flying experience itself isn’t all that remarkable and one also must deal with getting to and from the airport, which is usually out of the way. Compare that to train travel. You aren’t supposed to arrive early, that just clogs up the platform. It’s perfectly alright to arrive on time, a sensation that just feels wrong to modern travelers. Boarding happens fast and hopefully orderly and the actual experience itself is wonderful. In a plane you’re lucky if you get a few nice views, but on a train that’s all you have. I’ve spent hours doing nothing but looking across the landscape as the train has raced past farms and flower fields. Add to that the fact that train stations are necessarily well located, usually in the center of town and you have an experience that requires very little effort but which returns a maximum level of enjoyment.

 

It just works – Everything, the ease of use, the pleasant journeys and the recollections of days gone by all add up to creating a travel experience that just works. I know, I know here in the United States we’ve had some issues with our commuter train system and if you live outside of the Northeast corridor it’s not really all that convenient. But in counties where it is well executed, namely Europe, it’s possible to use the train to be more productive and to get around with a minimal level of effort. It’s amazing to me that in the 21st century, amidst all the security precautions and fear that we can still enjoy a travel experience that is efficient and a pleasure to undertake. I can only hope that it stays that way for future travelers to enjoy.

Are you a fan of trains? Why?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

27 Responses

  1. A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

    Europe really does it right. There’s something about rolling into a city and being able to grab your bag and walk to your hotel, it’s the only way to go for us. We love everything about train travel.

    Reply
  2. Joy

    I will almost always pick train over any other mode of travel. You’re right, though, because I live in the Northeast, I can get easily between NYC and NC, and the train actually stops 8 miles from my parents’ house in NC (versus driving an hour to the local airports).

    There’s a romanticism about train travel that you don’t get from the air or car – it’s watching the countryside go by, the big cities and even the dying little towns of the past.

    I’ve done a cross-country train trip from NYC to Portland (with Seattle/Vancouver tacked on) – sleeper cars and fancy dining cars and observation cars and stops in tiny, tiny towns like Minot, ND (the geographical center of N America), One of the best trips I’ve ever taken to this day.

    I won’t lie though, the movie Before Sunrise has definitely had an impact on my love of the train…though for some reason, Ethan Hawke never magically sits beside me – I usually get nuns and grandmothers and little boys and their video games.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Ha, still even without Ethan it’s a great way to go. Doing a cross country trip is high on my must do list!

      Reply
  3. Lauren Schaad

    I am absolutely a fan of trains! Long train rides are a time when the creative juices are flowing, and I think up new blog post ideas, or of fun ways to capture a travel experience on paper. For some reason it puts me in a very meditative state and I find myself quite relaxed. Love the pictures, keep up the great writing.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Lauren and I couldn’t agree more!

      Reply
  4. Jo (The Blond)

    I love train travel! I remember when I was young and we used to go to visit my aunties living at the other end of the country. The train journey took over a day and I was so excited about the bunk beds and all the games we played during the trip. Such an adventure! maybe that’s why I love traveling so much.

    Reply
  5. Brett

    Part of why I love train travel is comfort. It is so much easier to just get up and walk around when you need to while on a train, something that is usually much more difficult to do on a bus or airplane. And on longer train rides, you can always just wander over to a dining car or snack car and sit down at a table, relax, pull out a deck of cards, etc. Much easier and more interesting ways to pass the time than staring in the dark at a tiny television screen, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I think it’s that freedom that is one of the most alluring qualities. It really puts the fun back into travel.

      Reply
  6. Anita

    As I am a Swiss, travelling by train is something very “normal” for me. However, I agree with your “Little effort, maximun enjoyment” it’s much more relaxing travelling by train than with a car (at least for me) and not only in Europe but also in the US (I like Amtrak).

    Reply
  7. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista

    Another train lover here! For me, trains seem so exotic and romantic. I agree they are easy to use and it is fun looking out the window, wandering around and bringing your own food and drink.

    Reply
  8. Sammy

    Fantastic post – completely sums up how I feel about train travel. It’s a no-brainer when it comes to choosing between flying and catching a train.

    My favourite example when I tell people why I love trains is this: Last year I took the eurostar from London to Paris. Centre of the city to centre of the city. It was the same cost as a budget flight to Paris, but without the added cost of catching a train or bus to the outlying airports. The travel time itself was longer than a flight, but as soon as you start adding on the time it takes to get to Luton or Gatwick, and then another into central Paris from the airport, it’s about the same. Then add on the time you must spend waiting in line at airport security, then waiting for the airline to tell you which gate you are at and the never-ending walk to the furthest reaches of the terminal! Instead I had two very enjoyable hours of relaxing, watching the English and French countryside go by out the window. Bliss!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I agree Sammy, the time really isn’t a factor and it’s just so much nicer!

      Reply
  9. Sofie

    I agree with every positive aspect of train traivel you mention in your post and still…
    I must admit I haven’t travelled by train yet to go abroad (except for going to The Netherlands multilpe times – I live in Belgium), but as far as travelling by train in Belgium goes: I avoid it whenever I can. A lot of delays, a lot of strikes and there are still many places from where you have to take a bus to get to the station or places which aren’t well connected so that you end up doing more than an hour by train whereas going by car would take you only half an hour.
    I think the train is, exactly as you say it, a good way to TRAVEL, but I really don’t like the train for ‘every day life’. At least not in Belgium. It’s unreliable and often not faster or cheaper than going some where by car. (And yes, I realize it is better for the environment)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      That’s a really good point and you’re right, it does presume that you are not using a car.

      Reply
  10. Cheryl

    I’m the opposite! I adore flying … Love the feeling of taking off, landing and staring out the window at the landscape below whether it be a blanket of clouds, mountains or sea below. There isn’t a better feeling for me.

    Trains!? I’d rather poke my eyes out with a fork. I’ve had such bad experiences in Europe. I’ve seen the doors close early separating groups of people travelling together leaving some stranded on the platform! The trains are almost always late and I miss connections as I’m sorry … 5 minutes is not always enough. It’s slow and expensive. It tends to be cheaper for me to fly.

    Sorry rant over! I’ve had some good experiences on trains too but would much rather fly any day!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Ha, no problem! It’s great to hear another point of view. I love flying too but when given the option, I am definitely a train guy.

      Reply
    • Dino

      The wait and stress at the airports has increased too much this century for me to prefer flying.

      Reply
  11. Red Hunt

    In short. Trains are awesome.
    Generally more space to relax…people come around and offer food and drinks, or there is a ‘bar car’. As long as it’s not a crowded commuter train I love trains, especially sleeper trains. The gentle rocking on the rails….ahhh.

    Reply
  12. Christina S.

    As you know, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the train. For a million reasons.

    I’ll give my most recent example: last Thursday I took the train from DC to NYC for a meeting. On the way there, I took three conference calls (sorry other passengers) and got a ton of work done on the free Amtrak wifi. On the way home on Friday, I took two calls, did a little work and enjoyed a Dogfish head beer while staring out the window.

    My ultimate travel dream is a train trip across Canada – but the one I want to take is like $10k, so for now I’ll keep going up and down the NE Corridor.

    Reply
  13. Dean

    Apart from walking, train and boat travel is by far my favourite way of getting around. I think it’s the relaxing pace and the ability to see the countryside pass by as the train chugs along the tracks.

    Reply
  14. Anila

    Another rail fan to add to the list! You hit on a good point – that getting from A to B is often seen as a necessary evil – when in a lot of cases you can begin the adventure the moment you leave your door. For me, the train allows you to see the lie of the land as it were – gets you a bit closer to the culture and geography of a place and generally helps you feel less like a stranger in a foreign land!

    Reply
  15. Monique

    Just saw this post and I had to read because train is one of my favorite ways of travel!

    Be it an overnight train or a point A to point B it just has a different feeling to it, seems less stressful, somewhat calming (unless it is a Regionale overnight train in Italy!) and when you get the bonus of a lovely scenery it feels like winning the lottery.

    Reply
  16. Emily

    Love this post! Train travel is one of my favorite modes of transportation – beyond what you said above, I also love the fact that you can get off when you please, even if you haven’t yet made it to your intended destination (try doing that in a plane!). I also find train travel to be one of the most social modes of transportation – I’ve struck up more conversations and made more friends on trains than while traveling in any other way!

    Reply
  17. Maria Andreucetti

    I adore train travel, but hey .. please puleeeeeaaassseeee … SPARE ME your loud, conference calls (or any other calls on your cellfone or whatever) … rude, arrogant, disruptive and totally unnecessary. If you have business or work to do .. do it quietly .. it’s not just YOUR space .. it’s also everyone elses!!!! So don’t invade that … pulllllllllleeeeeaaaassseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    Reply
  18. Rebecca Chant

    I love traveling by train in order to have a new insight. Train rides can be so revealing about the culture of the country you are traveling through. It is a totally unique experience, and a much more enriching one than just taking a plane.

    Reply
  19. luke wright

    Train travel is relaxing as hell in the city, going to school is so calming, the only bad side in Melbourne is some of the people who go on the train. They are dodgy and some people are always off on drugs or something. But besides that train travel is amazing.

    Reply
  20. Pamela

    Has anyone been across Canada by train and can tell me about their experience?

    Reply

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