For the past two summers, I have traveled from Washington State to Wisconsin and back three times to work remotely while helping with family. The first trip, in the height of COVID-19, involved borrowing a friend’s travel van and driving both ways when hotels were closed. The last two trips have been by train, and have made me rethink future travel plans.
In Europe, where the train system is much more efficient and trains themselves run on less fossil fuels, train travel can be 90% more sustainable than air travel. Here in the United States, it is often 50% more sustainable. If all of us were able to remove one air travel trip a year from our business or vacation itineraries, we could have a huge collective impact in our fight against climate change.
I’ve always been a fan of train travel and have tried to use it on short trips when time and flexibility allowed, but I admit that I never seriously considered routinely using it for longer trips. After all, the consumer rail system is not really that efficient, it’s not cheap, and it requires more time in transit. But with COVID-19 redefining what it means to work remotely (even on a train), and the urgency of the climate situation, I’m reconsidering my priorities.
My experiences aboard the Amtrak Empire Builder have been so enjoyable, starting with the nearly stress-free boarding and unboarding. And now that the regular food service has returned after the pandemic, the dining car provides great food and opportunities to meet all kinds of people – including the two young architects-in-training I sat with who graduated together from Auburn and were taking a trip across the country together. I love the pace, the views, the nostalgia, and the simplicity of the train.
Amtrak is in the process of adding several short routes all over the US, which will make it easier to get to common destinations without flying or driving. I look forward to making the train a regular part of my domestic travel, and hope others are inspired to find its lure, and use it as a regular option, helping to make a dent in our annual fossil fuel consumption and pollution.