Paul has been passionate about travelling for 40 years and has visited many places around the world. UK born, he now lives in Florida.
Rail journeys are one of my favorite ways to get around. I've had many comfortable, scenic, and memorable journeys, as well as some very pleasant commutes.
However, while there are many positives associated with rail journeys, it's also fair to say that there can be negatives.
This article explores the downsides of train travel when compared to other forms of transport, such as planes, cars, and buses.
10 Downsides of Train Travel
Here are the main negatives associated with rail journeys.
- Limited Destinations
- Crowded Conditions
- Multi-Leg Journeys
- Noisy Neighbors
- Seedy Stations
- Language Problems
- Luggage Issues
- No Door-to-Door Service
- No Control
I explore each disadvantage in more detail below.
1. Limited Destinations
You are at the mercy of the network when you travel by train. A small, fairly insignificant destination may be easy to get to from your starting station, whereas a relatively significant place might be very difficult to get to, depending on the layout of the rail network. It can sometimes take multiple changes and a long time to get to somewhere that would be a relatively short and easy journey by other means, especially if you are not going from city to city.
Rail travel can be reasonably priced, but it's rarely cheap, and sometimes it can be downright expensive. Ticket prices are often highest when you are traveling at peak commute times, between six and nine in the morning and between four and six in the afternoon. Some ticket systems give you price reductions if you book your tickets far in advance, but tickets are less affordable if you buy them on the day of travel, limiting the opportunity for low-cost, spontaneous travel.
3. Crowded Conditions
Trains and stations can be very busy places. This can make a journey very uncomfortable, as nobody likes to fight their way onto a train, or feel pressed in by neighboring passengers and their personal effects. I've had more than a few journeys where I've had to stand for extended periods or sit on my suitcase because all the seats were taken. Everything becomes a chore when trains are busy, including searching for a seat, going to the restroom, visiting the buffet, or dealing with your luggage.
4. Multi-Leg Journeys
As with plane travel, one of the biggest frustrations can be the changeovers. Transporting luggage on and off trains, switching to other platforms, as well as waiting around for long periods is generally not much fun. The other big problem occurs when your connecting train is late and causes you to miss your next one, creating further delays. You can sometimes be a relatively short distance from your destination but trapped at a station for an extended amount of time because of missed connections, cancelled or late trains.
5. Noisy Neighbors
The quality of a rail journey can so often depend on what the passengers around you are like. A screaming baby, a teenager playing music through loud headphones, or a group of drunken adults are all capable of spoiling a trip. If you've reserved a specific seat on a busy train then your options for moving elsewhere can be limited. Some rail services do offer quiet spaces nowadays, which are a blessing for people like me who enjoy some tranquility and the chance to read a book, but not all trains have this option.
6. Seedy Stations
Big stations in big cities often have large amounts of public access. This can provide opportunities for the more dubious elements of society to operate. Pickpockets, beggars, drunks, drug addicts, and other anti-social types can often be found mingling amongst the travelers. It makes it difficult to fully relax, as you have to watch out for your luggage, wallet, and general wellbeing. While I would never want to exaggerate the dangers (most stations are generally safe places), shady characters can sometimes be an occupational hazard of train travel.
7. Language Problems
Any travel in a foreign country where you don't speak the language can present challenges, but I've always found that the issues can be particularly awkward when traveling by train. Buying a ticket when abroad can be difficult, when trying to work out your route, destination, as well as the other specifics of the trip. Likewise, it can cause confusion when there is a public service announcement that the train is late, cancelled, or arriving at a different platform to the one originally intended.
While I've experienced similar problems when flying, I've generally found that the staff are more likely to speak English, and the flight information boards are more helpful, so I feel less dependent on announcements.
8. Luggage Issues
Transporting luggage can be difficult on rail journeys. When driving or on long-distance buses, the bags can just go in the trunk. On planes, the bigger pieces of luggage are checked in and you just collect your bags on arrival. On trains, you are generally responsible for carrying, loading, and unloading your own luggage. This can be challenging, especially when traveling through busy stations or on crowded trains. Changing trains, as well as switching to other forms of transports, such as subway trains, at your destination just adds to the stress.
9. No Door-to-Door Service
Unlike cars, trains will get you to your destination town or city station, but not to the door of your home, hotel, or other place where you are visiting or staying. This means catching a taxi or a bus, often after a long journey with luggage, and in a busy place that you are unfamiliar with.
Sometimes the rail station might be many miles from where you want to be. Some towns and cities do have integrated transport systems where it's easy to catch a subway train or bus from the station, but it can often be costly or difficult to complete your journey.
10. No Control
There is much less flexibility than when traveling by car. Routes and timings cannot be altered to fit the needs of a particular individual or a family group. Once you get on a train, you are on board until you either have to change trains or you reach your destination. In a car, you can stop whenever you want, take a break, enjoy the scenery, eat a meal, or take a different route than the one originally planned.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Paul Goodman