A bit before my time, travel on the New York Central Railroad was clearly more romantic.
Interesting comparison note the 16 hour claim for the 2oth century limited. Right now Bing Maps shows 12 hours and 20 minutes driving time station to station (in light traffic). Today AMTRAK’s train via Washington is 22 hours.
The old train was overnight and had a better restaurant but driving is still better than either on time and flexibility. AMTRAK has a cheap fare for a coach seat and offers roomettes but at all prices flying is faster and no more expensive.
A French style high speed train would cost billions to lay new dedicated track but still take 5+ hours from NYC to Chicago vs 2 to fly. In France a trip from Paris to Toulon (pretty much across the entire country) is 580 miles making trains somewhat competitive.
Passenger trains worked when highways were limited and cars not a comfortable or reliable. Flying killed the long distance runs and decent highways make the middle distances problematic. Car travel is true point to point and very flexible. Also the cost to take a small group (family or co workers) is no more than for just the driver.
Strictly in terms of cost, car travel wins. Strictly in terms of time, flying wins. But, in terms of sheer pleasure, nothing beats a train… until Amtrak showed up and ruined the service. I remember traveling with my mother from Washington D.C. to Spokane, Washington by train. I remember taking my family (wife and three young children) from Laredo to Mexico City by train. I remember going from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles by train. Best. Trips. Ever.
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