I’ve received an email from a man who's job circumstance is requiring him to relocate from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Chicago. He made a brief study of his travel options and the results are interesting.
By plane: He would first have to rent a car and drive 40 miles to Albany, then fly to New York City and connect with a flight to Chicago. Total cost: $312 (rental car $36; air fare $246, plus $30 cab fare from O’Hare into Chicago).
By rental car: It’s about 860 miles from Pittsfield to Chicago. The rental car company would require a two-day rental for the one-way trip at a cost of $151 per day. Add $75 for one night en route in a motel, approximately $100 for gas and $30 for meals and the total cost for this option is about $500.
By train: He boards Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited in Pittsfield at 3:41 in the afternoon and arrives at Chicago’s Union Station the next morning at 9:45. The cost of his train ticket – basic rail fare plus a roomette – is $362. Dinner and breakfast are included in the price of his sleeping car upgrade.
He has decided to go by Amtrak. Yes, he says, it will be a bit more expensive that going by air, but he’ll have a relaxing trip, a bed to sleep in on the way and no extra expense for meals. He acknowledges that flying would also be faster, but says he just doesn’t want to deal with all the connections and waiting in lines.
In many cases, it's also been my experience that the cost of rail travel - even in sleeping cars - is often comparable to other means of transportation. The trick is to make sure that all costs are figured into the comparison. And be sure to include the "comfort factor".