Reasons to Take Day Train Trips
- Cool Off/Warm Up – Most trains are well-ventilated and air-conditioned and in colder months, heated.
- Save Money – Why pay for parking or gas if you don’t need to?
- Get a Local Perspective – I love people watching and when the opportunity presents itself, connect with my fellow passengers; most are fascinating (and some, not-so-savory.)
- Lower Your Carbon Footprint. An estimated 30% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to transportation in the United States alone.
- Slow Travel – Take a break from the fast pace of daily life. Rail rides can be pokey – unless you travel by Shinkensen (Japan’s Bullet Train) or via TGV, France’s intercity high-speed rail service. Be prepared with diversions like books or games and enjoy the pace.
Aside from walking or biking, taking the train is the most environmentally friendly way of traveling. In fact, compared to cars and airplanes, trains emit between 66 and 75 percent less carbon. In terms of energy consumption, use of space, and noise levels, trains are far more sustainable too. According to EuroRail.com
Tips for Rail Rides
- Avoid rush hour whenever possible and leave the crunch to those who must travel during those hours. Timing may vary by location and when special events are scheduled locally, but I’ve found traveling early morning, midday or after dinner to be less crowded.
- Keep your valuables close and relax. Zip up purses and use a cross-body strap. Don’t carry wallets in back pockets.
- Wear backpacks hanging forward when standing. It leaves more room for others and is also more secure.
- Sit close to windows and share seats.
- Don’t spread out unnecessarily or “man-spread.”
- Wear a mask and/or social distance – Yes, it’s still a good idea in close, crowded places.
- Keep your tickets in the same place for each leg of your ride. It makes them easier to find quickly.
Click on the picture below to unlock my video of a rail ride out of Ely, Nevada.
1. San Diego’s New Rail Stations
2. Los Angeles Metrolink – Stress free rail rides around the region
Metrolink is a boon to Southern California commuters and those of us on day train trips. The first minutes of the trip run alongside the beach with views to the horizon, through villages and then north into more industrial areas. I catch the trains in Oceanside (the southern most stop in San Diego county) and cruise north to Union Station in Los Angeles. Check for tickets online and their special fares, like deep discounts on weekends. Check for limited schedules on certain days as well.
3. San Francisco Cable and Street Cars
At 18 I first moved from home to attend college in San Francisco and was challenged to give up my car (it went to my younger brother.) I had to manage getting around by public transit. Over the next five years I traveled from apartments to classes, work to play across the bay area. I grew up taking street cars and buses. So, it was a joy to return recently with my younger sister and explore some of the old routes. The historic street cars still run up and down Market Street but newer cars run through tunnels throughout the city. They’re clean and efficient. Tickets are a bit more expensive than in the 1970’s of course, but day train trips fares are more affordable. You can find the information you need for streetcar rides online easily.
The historic streetcars and cable cars were out of service during the pandemic but have returned to run seven days a week from 7 am to 10 pm. If you’re determined to ride a classic cable car be prepared to wait in line and ride when the crowds thin early or later in the day. There’s nothing quite like watching the engineers work the old gears and watch the city glide by from open-air benches. It’s worthwhile at least once in your lifetime.
3. Portland, Oregon – Take the MAX Line from the airport and around the county
Portland’s done it right. In the 1980’s, the city laid tracks for the MAX Line which runs to and from the airport connecting Portland City Center with Beaverton, Clackamas, Gresham, Hillsboro, Milwaukie, and North/Northeast Portland. Today the system runs flawlessly. The cars are frequent, clean, and affordable.
I took the train from downtown to the Zoo and shuttled over to the Japanese Garden on my last trip. Getting to and from the airport was far more affordable than San Diego or New York City. I highly recommend exploring outside the usual attractions. Ride south to take the Portland Aerial Tram for fantastic views across the region and should the clouds lift, see Mount Hood in all its glory.