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

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Qapla

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I guess I have a different take on this ...

I do not live near a major airport. To fly to some place that would mean I needed something better than a regional airport, I would have to drive 1½ to 2½ hours just to get to the airport. That means I either have to pay to park my vehicle or I have to find someone else who can spare the time to take me - keeping n mind they have to drive the same 1½-2½ hours back and repeat this to pick me up when I come back.

On the other hand, I can be at an Amtrak station in 35 minutes with very little traffic to contend with. Somehow, I doubt I am in a such a unique situation that no one else has a similar situation.

The fact is, when I have told people about going to NY on by train, they are surprised because they are unaware that the train still runs or that it goes to NY. I have had several say if they had known they may have taken the train.

Lack of advertising has severely curtailed ridership on Amtrak - leading to "loss profits" (if that really exists) - leading to reducing service - leading to less ridership.

Instead of comparing what Amtrak cannot or doesn't have when compared to flying or driving, positive advertising could and should extoll what Amtrak DOES have that both the others don't have and can't offer ... and there are several things that fit this category.

When is the last time you saw an ad for an airline that mentions the security checks, traffic congestion at airports, long lines at car rentals or the lack of freedom that driving offers?

Or, when have you seen a car ad that shows worn out drivers pushing themselves to drive "straight through" so they don't have to spend money on a hotel.

When is the last time you saw an Amtrak ad that makes traveling by train look inviting, convenient and welcome?
 

Trogdor

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If your #of airline delays = your # of Amtrak delays, and if Amtrak (long distance) has a worse record of delays than the airlines (which it does), that would indicate you fly a lot less than you take the train.

But maybe you travel a ridiculous amount for both, in which case my bad.
Your logic seems backwards. If the number of airline delays equals the number of Amtrak delays, with Amtrak having a worse record, that takes a lot more airline flights to get to the same number of delays as on an Amtrak train.

If an Amtrak LD train is late 1 out of 2 times, and a flight is late 1 out of 4 times, then you would have to fly twice as much to equal the same total number of delays (i.e. four flights for every two trains).
 

IndyLions

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While overnight train travel for business is not mainstream (to say the least) - your ability to use it from time to time depends on your situation.

I started my career in the mid-80’s at huge businesses that basically dictated travel itineraries. But for the last 30 years I’ve worked for a small company with flexibility.

Before considering a train for business travel, I always analyze the cost of alternatives (flying and driving). If I take the train, it is because the total costs are in line (fares, hotels, rental cars, meals, etc). On occasion I leave or return on a weekend because the dollars make sense but the extra time does not.

However, in these modern times of being able to work anywhere, any time - the time en route isn’t as much of an issue any more. If it’s a workday, I’m working - no matter where I am. I’m consistently more productive on a travel day working in a roomette than I am rushing around from airport to airport. And I’m certainly more productive than when I’m driving. Other than making phone calls there’s not much work you can do in a car while driving. At least not safely.

So for me, train travel on business is one of the things I like to mix in along with the flying and driving. The variety of all three is one of the things that makes business travel enjoyable for me.

One size almost never fits all. Why not have choices?
 

cirdan

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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.
in my opinion there should be plenty of city pairs that are within striking distance of being able to offer an attractive night train .

The NEC may be a special case as there are important places all the way along it . But for a night train, 3 am type stops are not super attractive . And unnecessary stops also wake people up and so diminish overall comfort . So I think a night train would work connecting two metroplex type areas , serving several stops in both . It doesn’t really matter if the stuff in between is largely empty .

So for your Fort Worth example the train might call at Fort Worth , at Dallas and there connect to dart , but would or should also serve one or several beltway stops, as not everybody will be able or willing to come by public transit .

And then once you’ve finished collecting within the metroplex it’s non stopto some other metroplex area where you do the same in reverse .

Being able to make several stops and thus make it easier for people to get to you is a big selling point versus airlines. And seeing it’s a night train and thus not super time sensitive , the pickup stations don’t even need to be in a straight line but you can work out a way to serve as many people as possible
 
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jloewen

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in my opinion there should be plenty of city pairs that are within striking distance of being able to offer an attractive night train .

The NEC may be a special case as there are important places all the way along it . But for a night train, 3 am type stops are not super attractive . And unnecessary stops also wake people up and so diminish overall comfort . So I think a night train would work connecting two metroplex type areas , serving several stops in both . It doesn’t really matter if the stuff in between is largely empty .

So for your Fort Worth example the train might call at Fort Worth , at Dallas and there connect to dart , but would or should also serve one or several beltway stops, as not everybody will be able or willing to come by public transit .

And then once you’ve finished collecting within the metroplex it’s non stopto some other metroplex area where you do the same in reverse .

Being able to make several stops and thus make it easier for people to get to you is a big selling point versus airlines. And seeing it’s a night train and thus not super time sensitive , the pickup stations don’t even need to be in a straight line but you can work out a way to serve as many people as possible
I take Amtrak on business from WAS to CHI (as well as to points in N IN such as S Bend and Elkhart). The only problem with the Capital Ltd. is on-time performance. I should be able to schedule a lunch talk or 11AM meeting, since it supposedly arrives around 8:30AM. But that can be risky.
Admittedly, the CL is shorter/faster than the LSL from NYC.
The CL too should speed up its schedule (and not be late!) so as to leave a bit later (say, 4:30PM) and still get into Pittsburgh at a more reasonable time (say, 11PM) and then arrive in CHI at, say, 8AM.
But even as it is, it's usable for business travelers and saves time, since you have to sleep and eat dinner and breakfast anyway, and you're moving while doing those things.
Same for WAS to ATL, and to Savannah and Jacksonville, FL. Also WAS to Purdue.
Yes, travel agents, etc., must be educated so as to think about the train as a reasonable option.
 

Palmetto

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The only other large cities enough to support an overnight sleeper in Texas would probably be San Antonio and Houston. The Texas Eagle does its run between Ft. Worth and San Antonio in six hours, 58 minutes. Add another 45 minutes [or thereabouts] to Dallas and an intermediate stop. That could work, with an 11:00 PM departure at each end, but I don't know if San Antonio could support the traffic needed to have such a service. Houston - San Antonio is too short a trip to have this type of service, I'd say.

California had its Spirt of California once upon a time. For whatever reason it stopped running.
Chicago-Memphis?
Chicago-St. Paul?
Boston-Pittsburg?
 

Exvalley

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As someone who actually rides the LSL for business, permit me to weigh in.

The LSL is not competitive time-wise with flying. Not even close.

So why do I ride the LSL?
1) First and foremost, I enjoy it. I like riding trains.
2) Secondarily, I like the convenience. Since the nearest airport is a 1.5 hour drive, I'd rather drive to the train station the afternoon before and arrive in Chicago showered and refreshed the next morning. I can also catch up with some work on the train. After arriving in Chicago, I am usually able to check into my hotel room early and get settled before attending my meeting.

That said, my meetings in Chicago start in the early afternoon. There is absolutely no way that I would take the LSL if I had a meeting that started before 1:00 PM. The on-time reliability just isn't there.
 

Qapla

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Comparing trains to other means of travel in terms of speed is one of the misconceptions ... time is not the only reason people use the means of travel they choose.

Amtrak should advertise the advantages of the train and not mention or dwell upon the disadvantages ... after all, planes and cars have their disadvantages as well.

Amtrak offers wider seats, more space and convenience to power (for keeping devices charged) than planes. Amtrak offers a relaxed manner of travel not available driving. With Amtrak you can work, eat, sleep, sightsee and use the bathroom while traveling without needing to stop or wear a seatbelt. You can even walk to stretch your legs - not doable in a car and not exactly welcome in a plane.

Even on this board many seem to think the only criteria that should be compared is "speed" ...
 
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Exvalley

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Comparing trains to other means of travel in terms of speed is one of the misconceptions ... time is not the only reason people use the means of travel they choose.
Okay, but this is how this thread started:
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.
In no way shape or form is taking the train from New York to Chicago faster than flying.
 

Tlcooper93

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There’s 100 ways (almost in this thread alone) of stating one truth:

There are many reasons to take an overnight train, and many ways in which they can compete with buisness air travel in certain locations and time frames.

speed is not one of them.
 

Barb Stout

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Admittedly 25 years ago, but last time I had to work in NYC, the company put me up in Newark handy to PATH and I could expense PATH because it was much cheaper than a hotel in Manhattan. I would think there could be a real market for sleepers getting you to New York in the AM as a cost saving, even if your first day schedule would have to start at say 10:00 instead of 8:00.
What is PATH?
 

fhussain44

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There’s 100 ways (almost in this thread alone) of stating one truth:

There are many reasons to take an overnight train, and many ways in which they can compete with buisness air travel in certain locations and time frames.

speed is not one of them.
Yes it is when you factor in flights that arrive late at night, hotel shuttles, and rides to the city during morning rush hour..
 

Tlcooper93

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Yes it is when you factor in flights that arrive late at night, hotel shuttles, and rides to the city during morning rush hour..
Nope. You can just take a different flight that doesn’t force you to book a hotel. Most flights don’t arrive delayed.

again, you’re adding a bunch of specific circumstances that don’t happen for most buisness flights. If you tailor the situation to the point where it’s just poor flight picking, yes, overnight trains are faster.
 

Exvalley

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Yes it is when you factor in flights that arrive late at night, hotel shuttles, and rides to the city during morning rush hour..
This thread is about taking the LSL from New York to Chicago. The Lake Shore Limited departs Grand Central at 3:40 PM. The earliest you can conduct business in Chicago is 11:00 AM on the following day - and that is super risky.

You can take a flight from LGA to Chicago departing at 5:10 PM and arrive in Chicago at 6:52 PM. Rush hour is over and you are at your downtown hotel in time for dinner followed by a nice night sleeping in a comfortable king size bed. You can conduct business first thing in the morning - hours before someone arriving on the LSL can conduct their business. And if you are a morning person you can fly to Chicago in the morning and still be conducting business before the LSL arrives.

In the other direction, let's say that you finish business at 5:00 PM. A 7:00 PM flight will get you into New York at 10:11 PM. But let's say that you don't want to get home so late. You can spend the night in Chicago and catch an 8:00 AM flight that gets into New York at 11:11 AM - hours before the LSL's arrival at 6:42PM. Want to sleep in a little later? Take the 9:00 AM flight and get into New York at noon. You are still back at your office (or home) well before the LSL has arrived.

No matter which way you slice it, flying is faster.

I take the LSL for business - but the reason I take it is certainly not because it is faster.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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Nope. You can just take a different flight that doesn’t force you to book a hotel. Most flights don’t arrive delayed.

again, you’re adding a bunch of specific circumstances that don’t happen for most buisness flights. If you tailor the situation to the point where it’s just poor flight picking, yes, overnight trains are faster.
You are also using specific situations... “poor flight picking” - not all airports have that many flights to to choose from.
 

Qapla

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This thread is about taking the LSL from New York to Chicago. The Lake Shore Limited departs Grand Central at 3:40 PM. The earliest you can conduct business in Chicago is 11:00 AM on the following day - and that is super risky.
Yes, the OP was about taking the overnight train from NY to Chicago - but nothing in the OP said anything about "business" ... yet most of the comments seem to dwell on "business travel" - people do travel for other reasons than business.
 

crescent-zephyr

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The thread is about New York to Chicago, per the OP. A quick check shows between 30 and 40 flights per day between New York (LGA/JFK/EWR) and Chicago (ORD/MDW).
That’s not in the thread title, I didn’t realize that was the only example we could consider.
 

Exvalley

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Yes, the OP was about taking the overnight train from NY to Chicago - but nothing in the OP said anything about "business"
Trains move at the same speed - whether for business travelers or leisure travelers.
 

Tlcooper93

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You are also using specific situations... “poor flight picking” - not all airports have that many flights to to choose from.
most overnight trains in question here, are about connecting city pairs where reasonable travel alternatives exist.

Again, we are talking about the viability of overnight trains on popular travel routes (or rather routes that also compete with flying). Taking away other travel alternative, making it a remote location, and saying “look, this night train is faster!” doesn’t count...

there are absolutely remote situations where the fastest mode of travel is a train. but that’s not really what’s in question here.

the OP asked the question of why overnight trains aren’t competing with flying, and coincided that question with the false claim that your average night train is faster than flying. This is not true.
If you finagle a situation that is outside of the ordinary, yes, flying can be slower with a perfect storm of travel disasters. But most major city pairs that have an overnight train between them have dozens of other faster travel options.

If you want to discuss convenience, that’s different...
 
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