Although there are Israelis who hop between Eilat and Tel Aviv on a plane rather than brave the four-and-a-half hour Egged bus ride, for the most part Israel’s postage stamp size makes the country easy to tackle without taking to the skies.
Not so for the USA.
I decided last week that I will visit my alma mater, Northwestern University, located in Chicago. The trip from New Jersey is 800 miles and the family car is out of the question. So I began checking out the options.
Amtrak, the national railroad company, made headlines earlier in the week when New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg pushed a $1.5 billion funding increase through Congress. Although this bill still requires authorization to release money, it’s the first time the trains have gotten a raise since 1997. Apparently high gas prices and higher train ridership are providing strong grounds for supporting the trains even though George W. Bush (and John McCain) would rather not subsidize them.
So I searched the fares on Amtrak, which charges $233 for a 40-hour round trip with a stop in Washington, DC. I would leave on Thursday, October 16, get in on Friday morning, and then depart on Monday night and pull into New Jersey on Tuesday. Six days on the road for four days on the ground. I could get a lower price, but I’d have to stay in Chicago an extra day.
Greyhound, the bus company, charges $183 for a non-refundable round trip bus ticket. The trip is 19 hours in each direction with a stop in New York, and I can leave Chicago on Monday. However, having taken an 18-hour ride to Cleveland last year, I can attest that Greyhound is not for the faint of heart, nor for people who value sleeping through the night. On my trip I wound up tribally guarding over the empty seat next to me, including feigning sleep at pick-up stops. The lights turned on every few hours as we pulled into different stations. My seatmates included the second-place national Dance Dance Revolution champion, who had more piercings in his face than I had fingers on my hands.
After these two searches, with a heavy heart I took a look at Kayak.com, the airfare search engine. Turns out a flight to Chicago is only $225, scraping in beneath the Amtrak fare and allowing me the luxury of spending three hours in the air as opposed to 19-plus on the ground. I have yet to buy any ticket yet as I weigh my carbon footprint conscience against my basic human urges.
Lautenberg’s funding increase will provide for the study of high-speed rail options across America, and I hope it happens soon. In the meantime, it’s disheartening that rail, one of the greenest ways to transport large amounts of people, is also the most expensive and time consuming option for covering the vast distances of America.