Amtrak back? Train vacations up as gas prices and airports disappoint.

One evening in mid-July, Nick Skordilis looked out his window and took in the scenery. He’d just polished off a rich chocolate mousse dessert. Down below, he could see the rivers and mountains of Glacier National Park. In the distance, the sunset flared pink and orange, stretching long shadows from the pines.

It was a moment of perfect summer vacation bliss. And it was all the more striking since Mr. Skordilis was in a lumbering train, still 16 hours from his destination.

Why We Wrote This

With airports tangled and gas prices sky-high, train travel is proving a comfortable, affordable, and even joyous bright spot for many American vacationers this summer.

Finding joy at your vacation destination should be easy – that’s the whole point – but the actual journey towards restful getaway spots is often more about gritting teeth than finding bliss. That has been particularly true this summer, amid high gas prices and airports in meltdown. One bright spot: the rails.

Amtrak ridership is up, rebounding to 85% of pre-pandemic levels in the Northeast for instance. There are some staffing challenges and delays, but the company is even opening up new lines.

Describing his family’s trip by rail from Indiana to national parks out West, James Landrum says, “[The kids] loved Yellowstone; they loved the Tetons. … But when anybody ever asked them what was their favorite part of the trip, they said, ‘the train.'”

One evening in mid-July, Nick Skordilis looked out his window and took in the scenery. He’d just polished off a rich chocolate mousse dessert. Down below, he could see the rivers and mountains of Glacier National Park. In the distance, the sunset flared pink and orange, stretching long shadows from the pines.

It was a moment of perfect summer vacation bliss. And it was all the more striking since Mr. Skordilis was lumbering through the park on a train going 40 mph, still 16 hours from his destination.

Finding joy at your vacation destination should be easy – that’s the whole point – but for most Americans, the actual journey to reach restful getaway spots is more about gritting teeth than finding bliss. That has been particularly true this summer, with airports in meltdown, rental cars scarce, and the classic road trip under siege from gas prices. But there is one bright spot for American travelers this summer: the rails.

Why We Wrote This

With airports tangled and gas prices sky-high, train travel is proving a comfortable, affordable, and even joyous bright spot for many American vacationers this summer.

Passenger rail is handling the double whammy of a summer vacation surge and end-of-pandemic travel bump well – or at least better than its competitors. Amtrak, which has a monopoly on long-distance rail travel, has hurriedly restored services it mothballed during the worst of COVID-19. Ridership is up, too, reaching 85% of pre-pandemic levels in the Northeast and showing a promising pattern elsewhere. The company is even opening up new lines.

“It’s been a much stronger rebound than even Amtrak had projected in its very optimistic report to Congress earlier this year,” says Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of policy and government affairs for the Rail Passengers Association, which acts as an advocate for train travellers.

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