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Trains versus planes: Survey shows pull toward tracks

There has been no shortage of fodder recently fueling the argument of whether travelers would be better served by trains or planes.

It's a debate that never dies. Between higher fuel costs pushing airfares up and President Obama's multi-billion-dollar proposal last month to improve the country's high-speed rail system, there has been no shortage of fodder recently fueling the argument of whether travelers would be better served by trains or planes.

In a survey of more than 300 North American and European travelers conducted between mid-January and mid-February by SilverRail Technologies, a rail booking technology company, 90 percent of respondents said they would like to see rail options displayed alongside flights when searching for travel; 79 percent would choose trains over planes if high-speed rail options existed; and 61 percent would choose rail over air if the cost was the same or better.

The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman got the debate going again earlier this month after responding to skeptical comments to his "pro-train posts" with this thought:

"Planes go much faster, and will continue to go faster even if we get high-speed rail; but there are some costs associated with a plane trip that can be avoided or minimized on a rail trip," wrote Krugman. "You have to get to the airport at one end, and get from it at the other, which is a bigger issue, usually, than getting to and from train stations that are already in the city center. You have to wait on security lines. You have to spend more time boarding."

While clearly air travel has a leg-up on train travel in terms of value and convenience (let's face it, there are never going to be certain domestic rail routes available whether the Obama Administration invests $53 billion into high-speed rail or not), the SilverRail survey shows that some of the unpleasantries of flying do lend themselves to a brighter outlook on train travel.

Eighty-six percent of the respondents said they would accept having the entire time from door-to-door be longer to avoid the process of checking in, security and boarding, and 66 percent said they would willingly add an hour or more of total travel to their trip to avoid the hassles of long lines, airport security and baggage fees.

Furthermore, waiting in line was considered the single biggest air travel hassle, according to 72 percent of the respondents, and 36 percent liked the idea of family and friends being able to accompany them to their gate.

So, what about you? Which do you prefer, planes or trains, and why? Let us know by voting in our poll or commenting below.

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