Over the Memorial Day weekend, I rode the Amtrak Piedmont from Charlotte to Raleigh for a visit with my in-laws. I love taking the train to and from the Triangle area. It was a regular occurrence in 2013 when I was working for a radio station there but my wife and kids were still living in Charlotte. Although I don’t ride the rails as often anymore, I still appreciate the all of the advantages train travel offers over driving.
Time: Even with the stops the train makes along the way, the time it takes to get from Charlotte to Raleigh is comparable to driving. During a holiday weekend, the train can be quicker because there are rarely any traffic back-ups on the rail line. The same cannot be said of I-85.
Freedom: When you drive, there’s really only one thing you can do. Drive. But on the train, you can read, sleep, walk to the Cafe Car, or use your laptop/smartphone/tablet. Amtrak offers free wi-fi and plenty of electrical outlets. Plus, you never have to pull over to find a restroom, which is clean and surprisingly roomy on the train. Think about traveling with young kids…
Comfort: The reclining seats feel good and the legroom on the Piedmont is ample for an NBA power forward. I’m 6’2″ and can easily stretch out. The only drawback is the distance to the tray tables. That makes it hard to use it as a desk, but it’s fine for snacks and beverages.
Views: Another disadvantage of driving is that you can’t truly enjoy your surroundings because you have to keep your eyes on the road. Not that there’s that much to see along the Interstate anyway. But no matter where you’re sitting on the train, you’re close enough to large windows that offer views of passing countryside and small towns you might not otherwise ever see.
Environment: Did you know that taking a train is one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel? The air pollution, noise, accidents, infrastructure deterioration, and congestion are far lower with trains than private vehicles. Trains use 30% less energy per passenger mile than cars and 20% less than airplanes. In some countries, less than 3% of all transportation-related gas emissions come from trains. The only modes of transportation more environmentally-friendly than trains are cycling and walking. I’m not walking to Raleigh.
Value: It costs a bit more for a round-trip train ticket between Charlotte and Raleigh (around $60) than a tank of gas for most cars, but when I take into consideration all of the other advantages, I still feel that I’m getting a good value. Look at how relaxed I am. You can’t put a price on that. I even got two seats to myself!
The next time you go to Greensboro for a concert or Raleigh for the North Carolina State Fair, consider taking the Piedmont or Carolinian. I’m willing to bet that you’ll arrive less stressed than if you had white-knuckled it behind the wheel of your car.