roundtrip NC to WA by Train? how bad an idea?
August 20, 2008 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Travel from Raleigh NC to Seattle WA and back by Train: Bad Idea or the "baddest" idea? Specifically cost wise?

It would just be two, possibly three people.

Assuming we do not care about the time problems or punctuality at all (I know Amtrak is infamously chronically late), is this idea possible / reasonable or totally insane?

Specifically is there any way to make a transcontinental US train trip cheaper than the same plane trip? Ballpark price estimate?

Other specific question: entertainment? The people in question like each other and the opportunity to see America from ground level, but beyond looking out the window, conversing or reading one theoretical appeal of train travel is the ability to play cards, chess or similar board games en rout? Is that at all reasonable or complete wishful thinking?
posted by DetonatedManiac to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
not to be a sourpuss and set a bad tone for answers to come, but, having traveled quite a bit on trains in several countries, I'd suggest bus as a better alternative. In the USA the, ah, Amtrak just sucks so hard I vowed never to ride again more than 10 years ago, and haven't.
If you are all young, masochistic and have good drugs, maybe.
Otherwise, take a bus, hitchhike, crawl. No Amtrak.
See another country by train. Any other.
As far as price estimate, call Amtrak or check the website, you can get a specific price, but I'm betting bus is cheaper, and I know it's less unpleasant.
One other idea, one of you take a short few hour trip on Amtrak first. I think that will settle things in yr own minds one way or the other.
posted by dawson at 9:55 PM on August 20, 2008

Not totally insane ...

I took the train once from New York to Seattle, and a different time from New York to Oakland. Yeah, glutton for punishment, I suppose.

It is much better than the bus, though - I've done that too.

It helps if you detach a bit and look at it as an anthropological expedition.

Entertainment? We brought board games, cards, books, drank lots of beer (from the bar car), talked with the farmers.

If any of you are remotely interested in trains, you'll probably find it interesting. If you like history or urbanism or farming, you will see all of that close-up.

Last trip they ran the AC so cold that everyone bought the souveneir blankets from the bar car just to keep warm. Babies cry & shit & stink up the train - for real.

Somewhere in Oregon (?) on one trip the refrigerators in the dining car died, so they had to throw out all the food and pick up at the next stop - I shit you not - McDonalds meals for the whole train somewheres along the line. My companions and I complained to the steward guy that we were vegetarians and did not want it - so he had the chefs (?) cut us up lots of the now-not-to-be-used vegetables and make us a crudites plate. That was pretty fun. But the train smelled like McDonalds for the rest of the day. And so did we.

To sum up - it's not that bad, but it's pretty bad. If you have a sense of humor and really don't care about being late, dirty, smelly - go for it. You'll never forget it. I do look back on those two trips fondly.

But really, bring warm clothes and a deck of cards and three large books. And pack yourself a cooler of food.
posted by gyusan at 10:44 PM on August 20, 2008

You need to add this to your life experiences.

In my experience Amtrak can be quite a bit more than the cheapest plane ticket, but you can look up prices as well as we can. But if you can afford it at all, go ahead and do it.
posted by LarryC at 10:53 PM on August 20, 2008

to make it cheaper, join student advantage (you can use your alumni addy) and book 3 days in advance for 15 percent off. or AAA offers 10% off but the cost of joining that isnt minimal so think carefully. :)
posted by citystalk at 12:26 AM on August 21, 2008

Huh. I make this trip back and forth regularly, as my family is in Raleigh but I go to school near Seattle. When I think about doing it on trains, my thoughts quickly move to killing myself. It will not be fun. It will not be a good value. Buy airplane tickets.
posted by scose at 12:46 AM on August 21, 2008

Specifically is there any way to make a transcontinental US train trip cheaper than the same plane trip?

No, for a few reasons.

Monetarily, airfares and train tickets might be close to the same price. But unless you're in a sleeper car and have included meals, you're paying for your meals in addition to the ticket price - for days on end. And it's not like you can just pop out to the supermarket and get some basic produce and meat and cook it up on your hibachi on the side of the're really at their mercy, and given how unreliable the trains are, I'd be extremely wary of relying on them to make sure I had access to meals, which would mean I'd have to stock up on food way in advance and ration it out, perhaps. So that's more wasted money.

I'll also assume that you're not super-keen on having your bag gone through while you're snoozing in the cheap seats - not saying this is going to happen, but if there's nowhere for you to secure your bag for nearly a week and you've got a laptop in there that someone sees you using, you'd better keep an eye on it for the rest of the trip.

And don't think about the cost of the traveling to get there, but how valuable your time in Seattle is. You say you don't care about problems with time and punctuality at all, but wouldn't you want your trip to be as long as possible? Three to five days there and back, to me, seems extremely bad value. Southwest can get you from Raleigh to Seattle and back for (on the random dates I chose a few months from now) for about $350 a person, with one stop. The whole affair takes two afternoons. Are you saying that you would trade a week or more of vacation or work or life or whatever you're doing in Seattle to spend more to get there? That just seems, to use your words, totally insane. It's money you can't spend in Seattle!

If you want to make this trip more interesting transit-wise, bring some proof of citizenship with you and take a ferry up to Victoria, BC. Or take Amtrak's Cascade service down to Portland (about four hours and $100 round-trip with no discount) for the weekend.
posted by mdonley at 1:43 AM on August 21, 2008

I think it could be very fun. Train tracks tend to go through interesting areas in cities, rural areas, and real wilderness. You could see a lot of the country that you would never otherwise get to see, not even by car, without having to do anything but sit back and enjoy yourself. As for the other kinds of entertainment you asked about, the club car usually has tables that are the perfect size for playing games on. Bring a cooler along with a bag of board games and books, and if you have the time I think this could be a really great vacation.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:21 AM on August 21, 2008

I've always wanted to take the train out to Cali, and then drive back, Route 66 and the like as much as possible. But, that would BE the vacation. Making a long train trip part of getting to your vacation could be the most miserable thing ever.

And in no way will it be remotely as cheap as flying.
posted by pupdog at 5:32 AM on August 21, 2008

The last time I attempted a transcontinental Amtrak journey - well, Chicago to Denver - the train derailed and crashed in Iowa, killing 1 person and injuring 150 others. I was fortunate enough to come out relatively unscathed, but suffice to say I don't trust Amtrak for journeys of more than a few hundred miles any more. I wouldn't take them at all if I could help it, but being a poor grad student without a car limits your options.
posted by i less than three nsima at 7:55 AM on August 21, 2008

My wife recently took the train from DC to Portland, and had an enjoyable time. It wasn't cheap, but she did it first class, with her own private mini-cabin, which included food. Yeah, it wasn't a fast trip, but it wasn't terrible--3 days, I think it was. There's another AskMe that might be of help, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2008

« Older Help me Activate and unlock my iPhone!   |   "Spanish Lice"? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.