I recently had to do an essay for as part of class, based on anything, as long as I be comparing. So, on a whim, I thought of going to SoCal, and comparing to near-similar ways (car and train) of getting there from my town. Also, to kill to birds with one stone, I'll double this essay as a conclusion to an earlier entry, as this adequately describes the 'California' trains as well. Save for an added image, everything is exact from the aforementioned essay -
Stuck in Davis, one wants to escape. One wants to possibly escape to someplace like Southern California. However, one has a dilemma: how to get there in a cheap, convenient, and enjoyable way? Flying is out of the question as cost is high, time constraint and added travel to Sacramento International isn't all that convenient, and the entire process of flying – from check-in to arrival – isn't all that enjoyable. So for the sake of this passage, I will be focusing on the two land options: Road and Rail. Driving down south, one has two options beyond the default I-80: Either go through the Valley via I-5, or go along the coast via 101. Granted, one would most likely choose the former for time's sake. However, assume that one has the time and takes the more casual route, hence the inclusion of both in this passage. From Downtown Davis to Downtown Los Angeles, going through the Central Valley takes roughly 6½ hours at the highest, safest possible speed, with absolutely no stopping complete disregard to the inevitable traffic. Total gas used on an average (25 mpg) vehicle would cost around $27.44 – roughly 14 cents a mile for 396 miles. Going down along 101, of course, will take 1½ hours longer with the same conditions, with a higher gas cost of $68.04 for the 486 mile-long journey
One of the best perks to driving is the mere fact that one is in the privacy of one's own vehicle. In theory, one doesn't have to endure the inconvenience of others' nuisance. In addition, from being able to literally go from Point A to Point B, going on the road allows improvisation. One can immediately change their destination – make a bee-line to Disneyland instead the original plan of Santa Monica, for instance. Also, if one chooses to go on the very scenic 101, one can opt to detour onto Highway 1 and enjoy an even-more scenic view of the California Coastline.
Despite all these conveniences of going south behind the wheel, one has to factor in the ever-costly gas prices, which may be higher than the average previously listed ($3.50/gallon). Also, while the trip on land can be easily completed in less than a day, keep in mind that the times do not count the time spent on stopping along the way for any reasons, such as for gas, food, or potential problems. Also uncounted, as previously mentioned, is traffic, which is inevitable in Southern California. A slight inconvenience to road travel is that one is stuck in a seating position of long periods of time, leading to a buildup of fatigue upon arrival at the destination. While this is a side-effect to any kind of travel, fatigue is more apparent in road travel due to limited ability to move. Another inconvenience is that, in some instances, particularly on the repetitive I-5, there may not be a rest stop of any kind for several miles. Also, if one takes the coastal route, odd are one may opt to detour onto a roadside tourist stop and/or a beach, which inevitably adds-on an additional delay to the final destination.
If by now driving doesn't seem so appealing, but a trip to SoCal still does, the next best land alternative is America's Rail System: Amtrak. From Davis, like the road option, one has two choices for rail travel south: the San Joaquin which travels down the Central Valley, or the self-explanatory Coast Starlight. The San Joaquin, at a cost of $57 (if booked well in advance), requires a bus trip to Stockton before boarding a train to Bakersfield, where one again transfers to a bus heading towards LA, however, this route has the most frequent service with 8 trains south a day for the 8-hour-long journey. The Coast Starlight, while only offering one daily 15-hour trip, is direct from Davis to Los Angeles, at a cheaper cost of $46. Both routes require advance reservation.
Click image to enlarge
Overview of a typical 'California Train' Experience, similar to the San Joaquin
The best, and by far the most-promoted perk of taking the train is that it gives the most personal freedom of all the transportation options – no need to go through a complex check-in/security process, or fill-up on gas beforehand. One has the ability to freely walk about the entire train for exercise, with seats allowing enough room to stretch legs. Also, each and every seat has the convenience of a wall outlet for electronics, with the San Joaquin having complimentary wifi services, giving opportunity to spend useful time that would otherwise go wasted. Rail travel also promotes better socialization potential, as most passengers tend to be easy-going and relaxed, often not in a hurry. If one is traveling on the Coast Starlight, one's seat is essentially a recliner, with the coach lighting being dimmer than the San Joaquin, allowing for better relaxation. The Coast Starlight also has the added amenities of a Dining car serving full meals, a lounge with wide windows to better take-in the evermore scenic view, and the ability to book a sleeper, the equivalent to a first class with the added perks of a private 'parlor' lounge car and free meals.
Granted, taking the train isn't entirely a picnic. Both lines require advance reservation for the best price (last minute-purchases can raise the prices up to $90). On the San Joaquin, a 'reservation' doesn't guarantee a seat, and the trains are often crowded come Stockton. Fortunately, this isn't the case on the Coast Starlight. As Amtrak does not own any of the tracks they run on, both routes can be delayed by freight traffic, and depending on the route and the cars used, the trip can potentially be a bumpy one. While dining the Coast Starlight, waiters try to fill up the Dining car, often leading to be seated with a random group, which, depending on whom one's seated with, may potentially lead to an awkward dining experience. Also more apparent on the Coast Starlight but not at all on the San Joaquin is the abysmal choice of cafe food in the lounge car – akin to a poorly-stocked truck stop. The San Joaquin, while quicker, has by far the most unappealing view, showing the worst of the Central Valley. Also, the Coast Starlight is a misnomer as one only sees the coast for 3 hours out of the entire 15-hour trip through mountains. In addition, the Latter route is often subject to numerous delays when approaching Southern California due to the higher-priority commuter trains around rush-hour.
One has several options for breaking from Davis into a getaway to Southern California, both having their perks and drawbacks. While one may choose the road for convenience, I will have to side on the other hand, Rail, also for convenience's sake. While it takes longer and costs more with no surefire guarantee of on-time arrival, I enjoy the ability to take care of other things while on the move. I enjoy the fact that all my services – food and rest – are available on board without having to detour. Overall, I find traveling by train to be the far more epic experience than going by car, and is worth the added cost.