When Is the Best Time to Take the Train or Bus?

Here’s a math problem for you: If a train and a plane leave the same city at the same time, and the train takes a little over five hours to reach its destination, and the plane takes only 75 minutes, which option is better?

If you read The Frugal Traveler’s column in the New York Times, you already know the answer:

Why swap a roughly 75 minute flight for a 320 minute train ride? On the contrary, time. Considering the travel time to the airport (in my case, one hour), the estimated arrival at least an hour before takeoff, taxiing on the runway upon landing, disembarkation and travel to the destination (often an hour), the flight takes about 255 minutes … I took the 65 minute difference as a trade-off between performance and price of peace of mind.

As travel writer Elaine Gluzak explains, traveling from Chicago to St. Louis by train may take a little longer, but the lower price ($ 65 round trip by train, up to $ 350 by plane) and a more relaxing travel experience make it more than worth it.

A plus for the planet is better:

The Bureau of Transport Statistics found that Amtrak uses 27 percent less fuel than domestic flights per passenger-mile traveled in 2017, the latest year for which data are available.

However, not all of us have the option of taking a train, which is not much longer than a direct flight. I plan, for example, to travel from Cedar Rapids to St.Louis for the Financial Freedom Summit , and I could either take a four-hour flight through Chicago for $ 288 round trip, or take a six-hour greyhound to Chicago and the aforementioned Amtrak to St. -Luisa, which lasts just over five hours, costs $ 164 round trip in total.

However, there is a third option to consider: the eight-hour Burlington Trailways bus ride that will cost me $ 196 round trip. Before you all “don’t trade a four-hour flight for an eight-hour bus ride,” listen to me:

  • The bus in question departs at 9:30 am and arrives at 5:30 pm at a stop that is a short walk from the conference hotel.
  • My flight options are: departure from Cedar Rapids at 6:30 AM (which means I have to wake up around 4 AM) or 11:26 AM; if I chose the latter, I will arrive at the airport by 10.
  • The 11:26 flight has a slightly longer stop in Chicago, with a total flight time of 5 hours 5 minutes. I would arrive in St. Louis at 4:31 pm, leave another hour for disembarkation and baggage claim, and 30 to 60 minutes to get to the hotel, depending on whether I used public transportation or spent $ 40 on the trip. …

Basically, both trips will take the same amount of time, and the bus ride will be less expensive and more environmentally friendly. As the National Geographic Transport Benchmark reminds us, buses are often the most energy efficient mode of transport, and short-haul flights (such as from Cedar Rapids to Chicago or Chicago to St. Louis) are often the least efficient. If I had a car, it would be more energy efficient than an airplane, but less energy efficient than a train or bus, unless it was an electric car.

I used to ride trains and buses over planes whenever possible, but that was when I was living on the West Coast. Now that I’m in the Midwest, I figured flying was my only viable option, but it doesn’t have to.

So, if you were in my shoes, what would you do: fly with a stopover to Chicago or take an eight-hour trip on Trailways?

And how do you decide when to use ground transportation instead of flying?


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