Plane versus Train

I will be attending the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this December. The flight back officially takes 2 1/2 hours, but there’s also the airline system lunacy factor: I have to arrive early to have my shoes scrutinized by the TSA fashionistas; three ounce subportions of each toiletry — insufficient for a week away — would be collected into a one quart, zip-top transparent pouch; and I’d be wedged into a seat sized for juvenile hobbits. Four hours in the airline system.

For a change of pace, I was (briefly) considering taking a train back. Amtrak’s “Coast Starlight,” which, ironically, spends most of its time well-inland, is scheduled as a 22-hour ride from Oakland. Long, yes, but it has seats with legroom and a power outlet. More importantly, it would be uninterrupted time during which I could implement the python module I’ve been wanting to write, write product marketing copy, and read four novels.

Last night I was clicking around and found their arrival was delayed big time. A quick look at Amtrak’s arrival records for the past week:

Day Departed Arrived
Normal 21:47 20:45
T 22:44 03:10 (+1)
M 22:40 21:10
Su 22:13 23:25
Sa 21:47 22:32
Fr 21:47 22:27
Avg delay 0:27 2:35

Yowza.  The travel time plus the delay is what it would take to drive round-trip.
I booked the airline trip back.

6 thoughts on “Plane versus Train”

  1. I have a romance-factor with riding the train, so I’d go by rail if time were not a factor. I’d also get a suite, however. My last trip on the Coast-Starlight was over 15 years ago, and the clientèle in coach had (for the most part) just graduated from riding the Greyhound.

    My 4 year old son took a special liking to one young woman, coercing her to read him multiple stories. “Kids like me, but parents usually don’t…” “Oh, why?” “Because I’m an exotic dancer”. Chip off the old block, that kid.

  2. I last rode the Coast-Starlight around 1977. We left Oakland at 8:00pm on Friday night. We were due into Seattle at 7:00 PM Saturday night. The Coast-Starlight arrived in Seattle at approximately 7:00pm Saturday night. However, we were not aboard it. The physical train we were on did not arrive until 5:00pm Sunday night. We had been delayed by derailments which we had to be bussed around, replacement train crews that never showed up after our train crew went off work (4 hours in Portland before they could rustle up a new crew), and myriads of other delays and slow downs.
    When “our” Coast-Starlight had failed to show up anywhere near time in Portland, they sent a new train on to Seattle so the Coast-Starlight maintained it’s on time record.

    I loved trains, but that’s when I gave up.

  3. Jarrett and I took the Coast Starlight down to California’s bay area before flying out to Japan from SFO. We found it amusing that our trip from one state to another took almost twice as long as the flight to another country.

    All the same, I also share John’s romance with trains, and prefer to ride them whenever time is not an issue. For what it’s worth, our train arrived in PDX early!

    1. John – romance-factor was certainly a … factor. For the OKJ to SEA segment, fare was $87 (less a discount for being an AAA member). Adding the smallest suite was another $166 for the room. Split with a friend, that would be a bargain.

      Allen – how awful! (But I know from whom the airlines learned.) A coworker also told me that they tend to run out of food (!) on the longer trips.

      Scout – I didn’t realize you took the train down for the flight out, but the irony of travel time is not lost. I understand the Coast Starlight (which plies the Vancouver to Eugene corridor) allows one to bring a bike for a mere $5 extra.

  4. Funny — your earlier comment about taking the train had inspired me to check whether I could do the same thing. From L.A., it’s an 11-hour ride to Oakland, then 30 minutes across the Bay on the BART. Not *too* bad. But I have to fly back early to take a course final, and that means leaving my car at the airport, and things started to get sufficiently complicated that I think I’ll have to pass on the train trip this time. Darn!

    Btw, the Coast Starlight *does* travel the coast, but only on the part south of San Francisco. 🙂

    1. Kiri This is a funny statement because your trip last year was what inspired me to consider the train. I could have probably taken the train south for a little while, then flew back to Seattle.

Comments are closed.