Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

Trains, Airplanes, or Automobiles?

What’s your pleasure?

Among the many exhibits at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs in Iowa was one which compared the transportation options of traveling via trains, airplanes, or automobiles — along with a seat from each conveyance in which visitors may sit.

Trains, Airplanes, or Automobiles?

Union Pacific Railroad Museum
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

Below are the texts that were presented on the wall for each mode of transportation. Obviously, the train won out —this exhibit is in the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, after all — but I do not believe that all of the advantages and disadvantages have been fairly listed, as these texts were written years ago; so I added a few.


Golden Spike Monument railroad tracks
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

“… rail travel is much safer than driving.

“But, most important, when traveling by train the passenger gets to his destination quicker and is relieved of the nervous strain and worry encountered in driving over congested highways where traffic is steadily increasing.”

“…railroads have consistently maintained a better safety record than the airlines.”

“… rail travel offers … comfortable accommodations with lounge cars for relaxation, and dining cars serving a choice of freshly prepared meals; commodious restrooms; downtown arrival and departure; more than three times as much free baggage allowance; dependable schedules that are not affected appreciably by the weather.”

Trains also must travel on rails, which limits them to certain routes. However, one can usually conveniently catch a train in the downtown area of a city.


Punta Cana airport
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

“The airplane has the advantage of speed, but time is not always the essential factor. Between cities reached overnight by train, there is no advantage in flying, since it usually involves an additional night in a hotel or departure from home at an inconvenient early morning hour.”

“On longer trips the plane gets there faster, but the passenger forfeits comfort by being confined to a seat with no room to roam; meals served on his lap; the inconvenience of taxiing to and from airports many miles from the downtown area; the restriction to a limited amount of baggage; the possibility of being delayed by bad weather, not to mention the greater risk he assumes of arriving at all.”

The “meals served on his lap” part caught my attention, as that seems to be happening more and more each day — that is, if a meal is even served anymore.

Unlike trains and automobiles, passengers must wait in line at security checkpoints at airports — and aside from the potentially long lines, other issues arise from that part of the system.

A law was just published via decree earlier this week in France where domestic short-haul flights are banned when alternative train journeys of fewer than 2.5 hours are already available on the national rail network.


Iceland road highway car
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

“Our chief competitor is the private automobile…”

“Many people have the false impression that it is cheaper to drive and like the convenience of having a car at their destination. Actually, studies have revealed that it costs about 9 cents a mile to operate a car, including depreciation, gas and oil, etc. whereas the basic coach fare on western railroads is about 2.63 cents per mile.”

A car may indeed be quite convenient — until it needs to be parked in a garage downtown for $50.00 per night because no free parking is available on the street…

…and between traffic jams, construction site, the possibility of being involved in an accident, law enforcement officers trying to catch speeding drivers, and the cost of operation, automobiles are definitely not always the best option.

Of course, rental cars do provide some advantages here — such as helping to complete a journey which neither a Tain nor an airplane could finish.

Final Boarding Call

Buses were left out of the equation. They may not be as fast as trains; but their routes are more flexible. Travelers can choose between different options: from extremely inexpensive fares that cost as little as five dollars to luxury buses which can be more comfortable than any of the other options.

I probably would lump taxi cab and ride-sharing services — such as Uber and Lyft — with automobiles.

Of the seats, the train one was the most comfortable — followed by the automobile seat; and in distant last place: the airplane seat. It was among the worst airplane seats in which I have ever sat — and I was not even on an airplane!

Anyway, I am curious about your thoughts. Please post them in the Comments section below.

Thank you in advance.

All photographs ©2018, ©2019, and ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

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