Why aren't overnight trains able to compete with flying?

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fhussain44

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People laugh when I tell them I am taking a 19 hour train from the greater New York City area to Chicago. They don't realize that it is actually faster than flying. The train leaves in the early evening and arrives in the morning. If I took an evening flight I would arrive close to midnight. Then the next morning I would need to spend another hour in traffic getting to downtown Chicago.

Of course nobody gets this. It's unfortunate there are almost 50 non-stop flights a day from NYC to Chicago but only one overnight train.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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Where I live people are receptive until they hear that the Sunset arrives and departs once every few days in the dead of night with zero station parking. The Eagle features crack-of-dawn departures with daily service but also suffers delays with no observation car or coach class access to the dining car. These are fixable problems but I honestly understand why it turns new and potential customers away when they're used to routine flights and car trips they control.
 
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Brian Battuello

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The dead of night thing is a real problem. Back in the day, most railroads ran at least two trains on each long distance line, so that everyone had an equal chance of a midday departure. Think Coast Daylight and Coast Starlight. Now we're lucky if we don't have to wait for a Monday/Thursday/Saturday to depart. Even if I get a decent departure time, no way am I getting off at Podunk, Iowa at 3am in the morning.
 

PVD

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Well, as someone who likes taking the train from NYC to Chicago, I would point out there are 3 trains from NYC, The Lake Shore, The Cardinal, and connecting in DC or Pittsburgh, The Cap Limited. A regional coach to DC and a roomette on the Cap often prices out favorably to the Lake.
 

west point

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The premise of this thread IMO is following a false assumption. When Amtrak is operating short trains that are almost selling out. The argument that the few opening are still available may be more that some passengers will always cancel last minute for any number of reasons. The no change fees certainly has some effect.

Using the Crescent for the next 4 days both coach and sleeper are sold out are coming open then fills up again.

Then the we have the European model which is also have very high loads on the overnight trains. Europe recognizes that the pulling back starting - approximately 2010- 2015 appears to be a mistake.

A very low possibility is Amtrak is afraid that if all available sleepers are booked Amtrak will be in hot water with the POL. It may be a shortage of OBS but we have no idea if that is also a problem. those traveling need to ask them what the manning at there home base. ie: how many on the extra board not working a full schedule.
 

frequentflyer

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The LAX-OAK overnight train from the 80s would be a candidate to bring back. Amtrak has brought back the Night Owl......sort of.......

The problem with marketing overnight trains to business pax is delays. Two or three hour delays due to mechanical, three mile long freights, "signal problems", etc. will not mesh with their schedules.
 

Palmetto

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End-to-end distances in Europe are ALOT shorter than they are here for major cities. So, France is a little smaller than Texas, to put things into perspective. Paris-Ventimiglia overnight would be like Brownsville on the Mexican border up to Ft, Worth. Also, our populated cities are either too far spread out or too close to one another to make the idea a viable operation here, I think. The Boston-Washington corridor seems about the only one that pops up in my mind.
 

jruff001

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People laugh when I tell them I am taking a 19 hour train from the greater New York City area to Chicago. They don't realize that it is actually faster than flying. The train leaves in the early evening and arrives in the morning. If I took an evening flight I would arrive close to midnight. Then the next morning I would need to spend another hour in traffic getting to downtown Chicago.
No, taking a 19-hr train from NY-CHI is not faster than flying.

When I do a similar business trip, if I lived on the NY end and had to be in (downtown) Chicago for an early morning meeting, I would fly in the night before, get a hotel downtown within walking distance of where the meeting is, wake up shortly before the meeting and know I'd be on time. Or if the meeting wasn't too early I'd either do that, or spend an extra night in my own bed and fly out early the next morning.

If I lived on the Chicago end, I would fly home from NY in the evening and spend the night and wake up in my own bed instead of being on the road.

I prefer train travel but outside the NEC it doesn't make sense for frequent business travelers in the real world who (99% of the time) would prefer to spend an extra night at home rather than traveling.

And that doesn't even get into the lack of schedule options and on-time performance you are stuck with from Amtrak. (The LSL doesn't always arrive in the morning.)
 

Trogdor

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People laugh when I tell them I am taking a 19 hour train from the greater New York City area to Chicago. They don't realize that it is actually faster than flying. The train leaves in the early evening and arrives in the morning. If I took an evening flight I would arrive close to midnight. Then the next morning I would need to spend another hour in traffic getting to downtown Chicago.

Of course nobody gets this. It's unfortunate there are almost 50 non-stop flights a day from NYC to Chicago but only one overnight train.
More and faster overnight trains would be nice, but by no measure is the current Lake Shore Limited "actually faster than flying" from New York to Chicago. First, 3:40 pm is not exactly "early evening" (I'd say 5-7 pm would be early evening).

A month ago, I flew from Laguardia to O'Hare on a flight that left at 6:25 pm. Even being overly conservative for travel times and security check-in, you could easily leave Manhattan at 3:40 pm (the Lake Shore's departure time) and reliably make the 6:25 pm flight. The flight arrived in Chicago at 8 pm, which is by no stretch of the imagination "almost midnight." Walking through O'Hare and taking the Blue Line downtown, I was home by 9:15 or 9:30 pm (still not "almost midnight").

Even if I had stayed at O'Hare overnight for some reason, if I got on the Blue Line at O'Hare at 8 AM, I'd still be downtown 45 minutes before the Lake Shore Limited is scheduled to arrive.
 

Tlcooper93

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Well, as someone who likes taking the train from NYC to Chicago, I would point out there are 3 trains from NYC, The Lake Shore, The Cardinal, and connecting in DC or Pittsburgh, The Cap Limited. A regional coach to DC and a roomette on the Cap often prices out favourably to the Lake.
Does the Capitol Limited count as a train originating from NYC? I know its easy to connect, but I never would consider it as such, as you have to make a connection.

People laugh when I tell them I am taking a 19 hour train from the greater New York City area to Chicago. They don't realize that it is actually faster than flying. The train leaves in the early evening and arrives in the morning. If I took an evening flight I would arrive close to midnight. Then the next morning I would need to spend another hour in traffic getting to downtown Chicago.

Of course nobody gets this. It's unfortunate there are almost 50 non-stop flights a day from NYC to Chicago but only one overnight train.
By no stretch of the imagination is any overnight train faster than flying, nor should we advertise or categorize it as such.

An overnight train can only compete in price/convenience ratio over flying, as it does sometimes on the east coast (Night Owl/Silver Service).
What you said out is more a matter of convenience than speed.
 
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Bostontoallpoints

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More and faster overnight trains would be nice, but by no measure is the current Lake Shore Limited "actually faster than flying" from New York to Chicago. First, 3:40 pm is not exactly "early evening" (I'd say 5-7 pm would be early evening).

A month ago, I flew from Laguardia to O'Hare on a flight that left at 6:25 pm. Even being overly conservative for travel times and security check-in, you could easily leave Manhattan at 3:40 pm (the Lake Shore's departure time) and reliably make the 6:25 pm flight. The flight arrived in Chicago at 8 pm, which is by no stretch of the imagination "almost midnight." Walking through O'Hare and taking the Blue Line downtown, I was home by 9:15 or 9:30 pm (still not "almost midnight").

Even if I had stayed at O'Hare overnight for some reason, if I got on the Blue Line at O'Hare at 8 AM, I'd still be downtown 45 minutes before the Lake Shore Limited is scheduled to arrive.
I did travel on the overnight train for business between Boston and Cleveland and Boston and Philidelphia frequently back in the day. The Lake Shore, I think was scheduled to arrive into Cleveland before 5:00 am, and fortunately almost never did. I always had enough time to make my late morning or afternoon meeting. Heading back to Boston required a day on the train, so I either worked on the train or arrived on a Saturday. It was effective going out to Cleveland but not so much coming home. Boston to Philadelphia on the Night Owl was effective both ways and was almost always on time. I think the arrival into Philadelphia was around 5:00 am. I would grab breakfast in 30th street Station before my morning meeting. Going home to Boston that night the arrival was 7:30 am and I would go straight to work. It wasn't for everybody but the sleeper on the Night Owl always to seemed to be well patronized with business types.
 

PVD

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Does the Capitol Limited count as a train originating from NYC? I know its easy to connect, but I never would consider it as such, as you have to make a connection.



By no stretch of the imagination is any overnight train faster than flying, nor should we advertise or categorize it as such.

An overnight train can only compete in price/convenience ratio over flying, as it does sometimes on the east coast (Night Owl/Silver Service).
What you said out is more a matter of convenience than speed.
The OP did not say originate, and because of the NER frequencies, the total running time is not bad even with the connection. And pricing can be favorable. Even so, the Cardinal does originate in NYC, so there would still be more than one train., at least 3 days a week.
 

Tlcooper93

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The OP did not say originate, and because of the NER frequencies, the total running time is not bad even with the connection. And pricing can be favorable. Even so, the Cardinal does originate in NYC, so there would still be more than one train., at least 3 days a week.
I assumed that when you said "from NYC," you meant as such. Thanks for clarifying.
 

fhussain44

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No, taking a 19-hr train from NY-CHI is not faster than flying.

When I do a similar business trip, if I lived on the NY end and had to be in (downtown) Chicago for an early morning meeting, I would fly in the night before, get a hotel downtown within walking distance of where the meeting is, wake up shortly before the meeting and know I'd be on time. Or if the meeting wasn't too early I'd either do that, or spend an extra night in my own bed and fly out early the next morning.
I live in Tarrytown so catch the train from Croton at 4:30 PM. Getting to LaGuardia or JFK is a huge pain from where I am. It would involve taking the commuter train to Manhattan then a bus in rush hour traffic to the airport.

I agree for business travellers it may not be best option due to delays. But for pleasure travelers it can make more sense.
 

Brian Battuello

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I've seen at least three NYC-Boston train/plane comparisons. It all depends on where you start from, where you're going, and how well you plan the schedule. If I was in Manhattan no way would I fly to Boston. Yet people do. I guess they get some comfort from the well-known to them airport routine. And maybe NYP scared them off.
 

zephyr17

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Okay, I'll give a bit of both historical perspective as well as current day issues.

Back in the day, fast overnight sleeper service between such city pairs as New York and Chicago or Los Angeles and San Francisco were targeted to the business travelers on expense accounts. The 20th Century Limited, the Lark and their brethren were businessmen's trains. They were scheduled so that one could leave at the end of the business day and arrive at the start of the next one. In fact, the vast majority of Pullman service was aimed at that demographic. The Chief had a one night out westbound schedule between Chicago and Los Angeles, and almost all the premier West Coast streamliners were scheduled with the business traveler in mind, the California Zephyr being a notable exception.

Two things of the biggest things that devastated the rail passenger business were the desertion of the business travelers starting in the late 1950's with the introduction of fast, frequent jet service, and the withdrawal by the Post Office of First Class mail in 1967. The mail withdrawal gets a lot of attention, but the wholesale abandonment of rail by business travelers does not get the same attention. Most business travelers were not railfans and were happy to get fewer nights on the road. Companies were happy not to have to pay for Pullman accommodations.

Today, any resurgence of overnight business travel is unlikely even if the schedules were speeded up and a Century or Broadway could make NY-Chicago in the same time they did in the 1950s, even though air transport is not nearly as appealing now as it was at the dawn of the Jet Age. One of the big reasons, if business travelers were otherwise amenable (which is questionable at best), is that most corporate travel departments do not allow anything but coach for domestic travel. The accommodation charges would be non-reimbursable at almost all companies, and that is the bulk of the cost.

Having said that, I have managed to take two overnight Amtrak trips on business over the course of a 40 year career. It was not easy to do. I had to work the system quite hard to make it happen with corporate finance departments wholly unfamiliar with overnight trains. In both cases I had to pay the accommodation charges myself, although I was able to get companies to reimburse the base rail (coach) fares. It also involved the use of vacation days to account for the additional time on the train.

Overnight business travel will never again be a major part of Amtrak's business. Overnight trains must be marketed for leisure and personal travel. Speed alone is not as important as reliability and comfort. I think Amtrak does have an opportunity what with air travel being such a dreadful experience as it currently is, and I do not think they are taking advantage of it.
 

Tlcooper93

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I've seen at least three NYC-Boston train/plane comparisons. It all depends on where you start from, where you're going, and how well you plan the schedule. If I was in Manhattan no way would I fly to Boston. Yet people do. I guess they get some comfort from the well-known to them airport routine. And maybe NYP scared them off.
Agreed. Airports in Boston and NYC (with the exception of KLGA sort of) are so removed from the city center. From the flying point of view, it is at best the same as the train or driving, with only a few exceptions in terms of start and end point areas.

One of my feelings is that train travel in general is so out of the public consciousness and comfort that the thought of trains providing any reasonable alternative to driving/flying is just not in the question; most are surprised by the level of service provided on the NEC


Overnight business travel will never again be a major part of Amtrak's business. Overnight trains must be marketed to leisure and personal travel. Speed is not as important as reliability and comfort. I think Amtrak does have an opportunity what with air travel being such a dreadful experience as it currently is, and I do not think they are taking advantage of it.
I would argue that the Night Owl could change this. I use it for buisness (and wanted to even before I became a train nerd). It's appealing that you don't need to spend money on a hotel.
 

Brian Battuello

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I just once travelled overnight on expenses. It was a last minute trip and the cost, even with room, was roughly the same. The travel department had a sense of humor about it and made an exception.
 

zephyr17

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While the Night Owl could well be an exception, and travel departments in the Northeast might be convincible since they deal with the NEC all the time, I still contend that generally no renaissance in overnight business travel is possible in other markets.

You can't build a market on travel/finance departments having a sense of humor and making exceptions. In most companies I have worked for, finance/travel departments were pretty rigid about their guidelines, requiring upper management sign off for waivers. I know darn well that no company I have ever worked for would have approved an expense report with accommodation charges in it. They'd see it as an "upgrade" and therefore verboten.

I discussed both my trips with finance in advance and I structured them so they'd be within guidelines.
 
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