A ticket for a fast train

So Channel Six will turn travel blog for awhile, because in two days, I'll be setting out to really test my green mettle, on a trip with two simple rules — no planes, and no cars.

You would think this doesn't leave a lot of transportation options, but really, it does. They are, in order of preference:

1. Sail-powered ships
2. Trains
3. Non-sail-powered ships
4. Subways
5. Buses

If all goes well, I'll probably use all of these options at some point during my trip. Failure equals calling a cab.

This didn't start out as a green trip. It started out as a simple trip to Boston. Various circumstances (mostly, the economy) left me without a trip planned with friends this year, and I'm one of those people who goes a little batty if I go too long without traveling.

I checked flights to Boston, and the prices were good. But the more I plugged info into Farecast, the more I began to realize I didn't want to fly. I didn't want to go through the hassle, and I didn't want to be a part of all that jet fuel burned, all that carbon spewed into the atmosphere. 

Maybe I could cut my flying time in half by flying in and taking the train back, I thought. I checked the times for Amtrak's regional train back — about 8 hours, but maybe a good way to wind down on the ride home. Then I noticed that the regional stops in Mystic, Conn., another place I'd been interested in visiting. A night or two in Mystic would break up the train ride nicely.

Then I decided to drop the flight to Boston, too. Looking strictly at the in-transit numbers — 6 hours and 45 minutes for Amtrak's fastest train, the Acela, to get to Boston versus an hour and a half direct flight — the train wouldn't seem to compete. But any one-way flight would involve either: a more expensive flight out of Metro-accessible Reagan National; Metro and then a bus to Dulles; or Metro and then a train to BWI. When I started to consider the 2 hours early I like to arrive for a flight, versus the half hour I'm comfortable with arriving before a train, well, the train suddenly started looking a whole lot more competitive.

And then there's Union Station. The mall-ified-but-still grand Beaux Arts masterpiece is one of my favorite places in Washington. It easily bests Dulles' dated concrete swoosh, or BWI's extreme blandness. Somehow, it felt like I would be cheating on Union Station if I departed for my trip anywhere else.

The Acela's business-class seats are a little out of my usual price range, but I decided I would splurge and take the high-speed train up, to save some time and see what it was like. Then Amtrak offered a fare sale on the Acela, and that sealed my plans.

I'm a big fan of public transit, and after I decided to take the train, it didn't take long for the rules to develop. Or for me to add another city and state to my itinerary — a day trip to Portland, Maine.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the future of travel — about what happens when we run out of oil. I'd like to think that you could still make this trip in that era. So this isn't one of those multi-day sleeper car rail trips where the journey really is the trip. This is just a trip where rail is a more relaxed, greener means of getting from point A to point B, one that's likely to still exist in 50 years.

Now let's see if I can stick to the rules.


Eric Nuzum said...

I'm so excited for your trip! Take lots of pictures, but LABEL THEM WHEN YOU UPLOAD this time. That way I'll know what I'm looking at.

Have a great time.

Carrie G said...

Eric, you and your caption requirements. I'll try...