No turbulence, no traffic jams and none of the weird smells that come with bus rides: Boarding a train can actually be a joyful way to travel. Of course, no mode of transportation is perfect. Some people adore riding trains; others avoid them. Whether or not a train proves the best way for you to get to your next destination depends entirely on the itinerary, the needs of each passenger and personal preferences.
Advantage: Comfort and Accessibility
Compared to buses, cars or planes, many trains are downright luxurious. The seats themselves tend to be comparable to airplane seats, but travelers don't have to wear seat belts and are free to walk up and down the length of the train while it's moving.
Some trains have restaurant cars with gourmet menus and waiter service; others have cafes that serve just basic snacks and drinks.
Overnight travelers may have the option to pay extra for a private sleeping berth, complete with beds and, sometimes, full bathrooms. Amtrak provides free Wi-Fi on most trains.
For families traveling with kids in strollers and for passengers who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, trains are usually easier to navigate than buses and planes.
Disadvantage: Lack of Control
Feeling spontaneous? When driving, it's easy enough to change plans on a whim and to stop at scenic areas or local restaurants when the mood strikes.
On a train, passengers don't have those options. You're at the mercy of the train schedule.
Statistically speaking, traveling by train is much safer than traveling by car. Most years, fewer than a dozen people are killed by train accidents in the United States. (The majority of people harmed by trains are trespassers or are struck at railroad crossings.)
By contrast, more than 12,000 people die in passenger vehicles each year. And while traveling by train isn't safer than traveling by plane, people who are afraid of flying may be feel less anxiety about boarding a train.
Disadvantage: Close Quarters
As on a plane, expect to get up-close and personal with your neighbors on a train. Some cars have seats that face each other, which can be awkward when you're seated with strangers. Neighbors might carry on loud phone calls during the trip.
For passengers who are accustomed to the privacy of a car – and the ability to listen to music without wearing headphones – adjusting to a not-so-private train car can be tough.
Advantage: Luggage Space
Traveling with everything except the kitchen sink? Train travel is a better option than boarding a bus or plane.
Amtrak allows passengers to bring two carry-on bags and two suitcases free of charge, and two additional suitcases for a small fee.
Disadvantage: No Assigned Seating
It's generally not a problem, but for travelers who feel strongly about window seats versus aisle seats or those traveling as part of a group that wants to stay together, Amtrak's policies may prove disappointing.
Seating is generally first-come, first-served. Boarding a train that's already full limits your options.
Traveling by train affords passengers the chance to see sights and unspoiled beauty they would never see from a plane window or on a busy road.
See fall foliage as you chug through the Adirondacks or catch a view of the Pacific while riding the rails along the California coast.
Advantage and Disadvantage: Speed
Half of Amtrak's trains run at top speeds that are 100 miles per hour or faster, with some trains nearing speeds of 150 MPH. Compared to driving on a highway at 60 or 70 MPH, train travel can be significantly faster than driving, especially considering the delays that accidents and construction cause on roadways.
The screening and boarding process is also significantly shorter than it is for plane travel. However, traveling by train is rarely faster than flying, and traveling on a train route that includes frequent stops is rarely faster than driving the same distance.