I hate flying.
The ordeal I suffered through at O’Hare Airport last summer convinced me to never fly again unless it was completely unavoidable. Long story short: A wrong line, a missing ticket, and an oversized bag later, I found myself paying an extra $100 to get on my flight just minutes before it left the runway. When I finally shoehorned myself, my carry-on, and my skateboard into my shoebox of a seat, I was covered in sweat and gasping for breath, but at least I thought I could comfort myself with the fact that I was almost home.
Well, turns out, not quite.
The next thing I heard was the fuzzy voice of the pilot coming over the loudspeaker.
“Uhh…Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. It seems that we’re experiencing some technical difficulties…”
“Oh no,” I thought.
But the pilot continued, “and there will be a slight…”
“NO…not that,” I thought, panicking. I was at my wit’s end. “Anything but a…”
“…delay,” was the last word before a cold, confirming *click* sealed my fate for another hour.
I decided on the spot that I was officially done with flying. The only way I would ever get on a plane again would be if I had to cross an ocean. I was tired of being treated like a bovine and being herded, single file, into a glorified shipping container. There had to be an alternative, I thought, and then it hit me: how did people travel before planes? Why, the train of course.
Trains get a bad rap today. Even Family Guy has lampooned Amtrak’s poor ticket sales and failure to turn a decent profit. The fact is, though, that railroads played a major role in shaping American history by providing a safe, economical, speedy way of moving massive amounts of people over long distances. The American West was able to be settled quickly because of the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad, the first railroad to traverse the North American continent and link the east and west coasts. Only fairly recently, as air travel became more affordable, have trains fallen out of favor with the general public.
After running the numbers, taking a plane simply doesn’t make any sense, especially if you’re a money-grubbing college student. I have yet to meet anyone at Northwestern who doesn’t travel via plane to their faraway home, and it’s sad how much money they’re wasting as they repeat the same painful process of hopping on the El for an hour or emptying their wallet for a cab to O’Hare or Midway. And though flying is faster, most college students live, at most, 1,000 miles away from home — a distance that can be covered by train in less than day’s time. This is made infinitely more bearable by the fact that, compared to flyers, train passengers are treated like kings.
So, could someone please tell me why more college students don’t take the train home?
There are far fewer hassles involved with overland travel than flying. Baggage is collected and checked much faster, and even massive baggage can be brought aboard and stored without being checked. As a result, lines are almost nonexistent and the security checks are few and far between. Many small stations are completely vacant and seating on the trains is spacious and first-come-first-serve, so passengers actually get a choice.
For half the price of what it costs to fly coach on US Airways, you can take a comfy ride on an Amtrak train with access to fresh cooked meals and spacious seating. Chip in about $50 more and you can get a sleeper car (full bed and bath) with meals included. Of course, the ride can be long, depending on where you’re from – about 20 hours (1000 miles) from Chicago to New Orleans for me – but the calming scenery and relaxing atmosphere will no doubt have you reclining and drifting off to dreamland in no time, so it’s not like you’ll notice time passing.
Getting to the Amtrak station downtown is simple too. Just fork out $4 for a Metra ticket to Ogilvie, get off, walk one block, and you’re there in a cinch. If you somehow manage to get lost, just ask a bum. They’re quite helpful.
Compared to taking the train home, the process of going to the airport and getting on a plane feels like paying for a back-alley root canal without anesthesia. As college students, it makes even less sense for us to continue to use air travel so heavily. I’ve taken the train to and from Northwestern ever since that fateful trip back home last summer, and I haven’t looked back since. I love saving money. I love not having to stand in line after line of security checks. I love not having to empty my pockets and remove my shoes all while juggling three bags and a skateboard and trying not to lose my ID. I love not worrying about a weight limit. Most of all, I love the fact that I actually look forward to my trip, and not just “getting there.”