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September 12, 2016

"Talking Transportation" becomes "Getting There"

After ten years, "Talking Transportation" is closing up shop.

But a new, weekly commentary on the same topics is now appearing in the Hearst CT newspapers!

We're calling it "Getting There", which says it all.  We'll be writing about trains, trucks, aviation and shipping.  This time we'll have an even bigger readership.

Look for "Getting There" each Monday in The Greenwich Time, Stamford Advocate, Norwalk Hour, Danbury News-Times and CT Post.  It will also appear in Hearst's six weekly newspapers.

A new blog-site "GettingThereCT" is coming where we will archive these commentaries.

August 29, 2016

Bikes on the Train

Days before the CDOT opens public hearings on proposed 5% fare increase on Metro-North, Governor Malloy held a media event to promote good news about “improved service” on our highest-fares-in-the-nation railroad.

What?  A return of the bar cars?  More seats on crowded trains?  No, nothing that monumental:  just a new e-ticketing app and word that bike racks have been installed on our trains.

Now the new MTA eTix smart-phone app is a big deal, but not anything that CDOT or our Governor had a hand in.  It was designed and built by the MTA, parent of Metro-North.  So far it’s functioning well.

But the other piece of news was more concerning.  The Governor said that “as a result of listening to our customers” 190 new bike racks (hooks, actually) have been installed on the new M8 rail-cars.  Great!

But in the next breath he said “now this is not for prime commutation periods”, i.e. no bikes at rush hour.  Not so great.

The reason is that trains are too crowded at peak times.  The seats are full and there’s often standing room only.  Trying to bring a bike onto such a train wouldn’t be possible, partly because these new bike-hooks sit over the handicapped passenger area meant for wheelchairs.  If there’s no wheelchair, a fold-down seat can be used, and on crowded trains, always is.

I’ve written for years about restricting bikes on trains until every ticketed passenger has a seat, a utopian dream we have yet to fulfill.  But for off-peak riders, where there is less crowding, bring your bike and hang it up.  (Folding bikes are always allowed if they can be stored in the luggage rack).

I also remain skeptical of any pent-up demand for bikes on Metro-North.  Sure, lots of commuters bike to their train station.  Others may even take advantage of the Citi Bike service on arrival in Manhattan.  But how many people really want to take their bike on the train into Grand Central?

Connecticut’s buses have offered bike racks for almost a decade and are widely used.  But that’s for shorter trips where the first / last mile of commuting by bike makes sense.
So, let’s see how popular these new bike racks (hooks) on Metro-North prove to be.  Maybe I’m wrong.  It won’t be the first time.

On a personal note:  this is my last “Talking Transportation” column.  After a ten year run, I’m taking my commentary to new channels.

I’d like to thank all of you for your feedback over the years, especially your words of encouragement.  I’ll see you on the train.

August 01, 2016

Don't Blame Malloy for the Latest Fare Hikes

Sure, it was sleazy of Governor Malloy and the CDOT to release news of a proposed 5% fare hike on Metro-North on a Friday afternoon in July, hoping nobody would notice.  But the
more I dig into the proposal, the more I realize the Governor and CDOT are not to blame.

It’s the Connecticut legislature that’s really responsible for this fare hike.

Lawmakers this session left the Governor with a $192 million budget shortfall and every other branch of government has taken budget cuts and layoffs as a result.  Now it’s transportation’s turn to feel the pinch.

Pol’s on both sides of the aisle tell me Malloy could have saved millions by facing down the state employees’ unions and their rich benefits package.  Could’ve, maybe should’ve… but didn’t.

So now we’re looking at a 5% hike in train fares on Metro-North and Shore Line East and a 16% boost in bus fares starting in December.  Plus closing ticket windows, reduced maintenance and fuel savings.  And that’s just on the transit side.

Highway work will also be cut, hiring postponed and less salt purchased for the winter.  Service areas will be closed overnight and the volunteers who work in the Visitor Centers will be fired. Welcome to Connecticut!

So when you calculate the impact of all these cuts on your commute, by road or rail, call your State Rep and Senator and ask “why”?

Why are they allowing the Special Transportation Fund to run dry due to the dwindling revenues from the gas tax?

Ask Senate Majority leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and the usually pro-transportation Senator
Senator Bob Duff
Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) why they have opposed alternative funding mechanisms like the VMT (Vehicle Miles Tax), calling it “
dead on arrival” before it was even explained, let alone studied.

Ask your elected officials what their plan is to pay for our existing transportation network, let alone expand it by the $100 billion Malloy has suggested.  They won’t have an answer.

Why?  Because they are running for re-election this November.  And none of them has the guts to tell you the truth:  we will all have to pay more to drive or commute by rail… as you’ll find out after the election when they approve new taxes.

What can we do in the meantime (aside from holding them accountable during the campaign)?  There will be public hearings in September on the fare hikes and we should all turn out.

It will be political theater, but cathartic.  Commuters will rant and the folks from CDOT will listen and then do what they proposed.  Aside from cutting train service, a fare hike is about the only option.

And, of course as upstate lawmakers constantly remind us, those of us living on the “gold coast” are all millionaires, and we can afford it, right?

July 16, 2016

America's Mass-Transit Mecca

What’s the most mass-transit intensive city in the US?  By the numbers, New York City.  But for a glimpse of the real future of mass-transit,  the winner is clearly Portland Oregon!

Portland has only 632,000 residents but 2.3 million in its metro area.  Yet it has, per capita, what I think is the largest, most extensive and best integrated systems of light rail, streetcars and bike lanes in the nation.

LIGHT RAIL:       It was 1986 when Portland opened its first light-rail line.  Today the system covers 60 miles (including the airport, 12 miles from downtown).  In 2001 a downtown streetcar system was added.  It proved so successful that Portland now manufactures streetcars for other American cities.

Like the city’s extensive bike-rack equipped bus network, all of Portland’s mass transit operates on the honor system:  you buy tickets before boarding and only show them if a inspector boards, looking for proof of payment.

To encourage ridership, fares are ridiculously cheap.  For $2.50 you can roam the system for 2 ½ hours.  An unlimited day pass is $5 or $26 a month (about the cost of a round-trip to NYC on Metro-North).  “Honored Citizens” (seniors, Medicare or disabled) get a monthly pass for $7.50!

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT DRIVING:      To further encourage use of the ubiquitous mass transit, driving in downtown is difficult and expensive.  The main transit corridors have one lane for streetcars, one lane for bikes and just one lane for cars.  Parking is really expensive, both by meter on the streets and in lots.  And yes, the freeways crawl just like in LA.

TECHNOLOGY:      The bus and rail system offers free apps for trip-planning which use GPS to tell you exactly how long you’ll wait for the next trolley, directions by line to your destination and expected travel time.  And yes, you can buy and show your ticket using your smartphone.

BIKES ARE KING:       The city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Portland Weird”, and the residents work hard to do so.  Outside of Europe or Asia I have never seen so many people on two-wheels traversing a community.

There are so many dedicated bike lanes that when a new bridge was built crossing the Willamette River, the bridge was built for everything except cars and trucks:  a mass transit-only bridge!

When a new Medical Center was planned on a downtown hill, designers realized it would be foolish to waste land on parking, so they built an aerial tram from unused industrial land on the waterfront.  Hospital employees and patients alike take light rail or bike to the base station (where a free 400 
space bike-lot is usually full) and are skyward in minutes.

So if you are ever disillusioned by the sorry state of mass-transit in our area, take heart.  The future is now in Portland!

June 05, 2016

Big Brother Comes Along for the Ride

“Here in my car, I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors. It’s the only way to live, in cars.”
-       Cars”, Gary Numan  1979

You may feel that your car is your last private refuge in this busy world.  But there’s someone along for the ride:  Big Brother.  And you’d be surprised what he knows about you, thanks to modern technology.
CELL PHONES:   Your cell phone is constantly transmitting its location, and services like Google Dashboard’s location history can show exactly where you were at any date in time.  Don’t want to be tracked?  Turn off your cellphone.
E-ZPASS:   Even when you are nowhere near a toll booth, E-ZPass detectors can monitor your location.   Want to stay anonymous? Keep your E-ZPass wrapped in aluminum foil in your glove box.
HIGHWAY CAMERAS:    The extensive network of traffic cameras on our interstates and parkways is used mostly to monitor accidents.  But State Police can also watch individual vehicles. The cameras are even available to the public online.  But state law specifically forbids using these cameras to write speeding tickets.
LICENSE PLATE READERS:    This is the newest and most powerful tracking tech, as I saw in a ride-along a few years ago with my local PD.  These cameras mounted on police cars can scan up to 1800 license plates a minute as cars drive by at speed.
As the plate number is recognized, it is transmitted to a national crime computer and compared against a list of wanted vehicles and scofflaws.  
Officer reviews LPR alert in his car
If it gets a “hit” a dashboard screen in the cop car flashes a red signal and beeps, detailing the plate number and infraction.  In just one hour driving through my town we made stops for outstanding warrants, lack of insurance and stolen plates.  (Some towns also use LPR’s for parking enforcement in train station parking lots, forgoing the need for hang-tags or stickers.)
While this may lead to very efficient law enforcement, LPR’s also have a potentially darker side:  the data about plate number, location and time can be stored forever.
Faced with a string of unsolved burglaries, Darien police used their LPR to track every car entering the targeted neighborhood and looked for patterns of out-of-town cars driving through at the time of the burglaries and made an arrest.
But the ACLU is concerned about how long cops can store this data and how it should be used.  They laud the CT State Police policy of only storing data for 90 days.
In the early days of LPRs in 2012 an ACLU staffer filed an FOI request for his car’s plate number and found it had been tracked four times by 10 police departments in a database that had 3 million scan records.

So enjoy your car.  But realize that none of us has any privacy.

May 22, 2016

Our Infrastructure: Dangling by a Thread

The recent fire under the Park Avenue viaduct in Harlem, which disrupted commutes of a quarter million Metro-North riders got me thinking:  our aging, crumbling and vulnerable transportation infrastructure is close to collapse, and the effects of such failure could be catastrophic.   Consider this track-record:
JUNE 1983:  Inadequate inspections and repairs cause the collapse of the Mianus River
Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich. Three people were killed and three others injured.   For almost five months, 80,000 daily vehicles had to detour through city streets.
MARCH 2004:         An oil tanker crashes on I-95 in Bridgeport and the ensuing fire is hot enough to melt steel supports on the Howard Avenue overpass.  Traffic was disrupted for a week.
SEPTEMBER 2013:    Con-Ed plans to replace a crucial electric feeder cable for Metro-North in the Bronx.  The railroad decides to forgo the $1 million cost of a temporary back-up cable and the main cable fails, disrupting train service for weeks, both on Metro-North and Amtrak.
JUNE 2014:    Twice in one week the Walk Bridge in South Norwalk (built in 1896) won’t close, cutting all rail service between New York and Boston.  Cost of replacement will be more than $450 million.
MAY 2016:  Illegally stored chemicals and propane tanks at a gardening center under the Park Ave viaduct catch fire.  The flames’ heat melts steel girders, cutting all train service out
of GCT and stranding thousands.  Limited train service in the following days leads to subway-like crowding and lengthy delays.
Mind you, this list does not include fatal accidents and disruptions caused by human error, like the Metro-North crash at Spuyten Duyvil that killed four.
Our lives, our jobs and our economy rely on safe, dependable transportation.  But when the roads we drive and the rails we ride are museum pieces or go uninspected and unrepaired, we are dangling by a thread.
A single fire, whether caused by accident or act of terrorism, can bring down our infrastructure in an instant, cutting us off from work for days and costing our economy billions.
What can be done?  Safety inspections by engineers and Fire Departments looking to prevent disaster are obvious.  Better enforcement of speed limits and safety are as well.  But prevention of accidents cannot make up for decades of neglect in reinvestment in our roads, rails and bridges.
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual infrastructure report card gives the US a D+.  They estimate we will need to spend $3.6 trillion to get things back into good shape… less than the cost of the last 15 years of US fighting in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
As the old auto-repair ad used to say, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later”.  But sooner or later, we will have to pay.

May 08, 2016

Legislative Lockbox Logjam

I hope you’ve been following CT-N to watch our dysfunctional legislature in recent weeks as they struggle to fill a $900 million budget gap.  Not only could they not get a new budget together before adjourning (only to be summoned back mid-May for a special session), but the legislative logjam left several important measures in limbo.  Among them, the long debated “lock box” for special transportation funding.

As I wrote weeks ago, none of Governor Malloy’s plans to spend $100 billion to rebuild and expand our transportation systems over the next 30 years can go anywhere without an agreement to safeguard those funds from mis-appropriation by putting them in an untouchable “lock box”. 
Because the legislature couldn’t pass such a bill or even put it on the ballot as a potential constitutional amendment referendum, that puts the entire Malloy plan on hold.  Without a lockbox nobody trusts Hartford with money raised by tolling or taxes, nor should they.
The lockbox idea is not new.  In fact, it was Republicans who suggested it years ago.  But when Malloy appropriated the idea as his own, GOP lawmakers saw the Governor’s version as more sieve than safe, and they held up a vote.
Folks, if lawmakers can’t agree on an annual budget, let alone a way to keep transportation funding secure, how can we trust them with $100 billion in new money?
The Dept of Transportation’s track-record on private-public partnerships for transit oriented
Original plans for Fairfield Metro that never happened.
development also gives one pause.  For example, consider the Fairfield Metro train station where a private developer went belly-up, leaving CDOT to finish the job, sort of:  the beautiful new station they built still has no waiting room.

Or consider the ongoing saga of the Stamford rail station garage.  It’s been almost three years since CDOT tapped a private developer to demolish the old garage, replace it with a high-rise office / condo / hotel and build new commuter parking lots within a quarter mile from the station.  In three years, nothing has been done because there is still no signed contract.
Developer John McClutchy Jr
Yet, that project is wrapped in such secrecy that nobody understands the delay.  Or why the CDOT is even still negotiating with this laggard “developer of choice”. It couldn’t be because the developer contributed $165,000 to the Malloy campaign that he’s being given so much time, could it?  Nah, that would never happen.

 So here we are, fellow Nutmeggers.  Lawmakers deadlocked.  A $900 million budget deficit to fill this year and another $2 billion hole in years ahead.  State workers are being laid-off.  State funding to towns for education is being cut (meaning local taxes rise).  Billionaires are bailing (a third of our taxes are paid by the top 1%).  And no prospects for a lock-box let alone more funding for transportation.  Yup, just the same old stuff as ever.

No wonder they call us “the land of steady habits”.

April 23, 2016

The Quiet Car Conundrum

Sixteen years ago a group of regular commuters on Amtrak’s early morning train to DC had
a great idea: why not designate one car on the train as a “Quiet Car”, free from cell phone chatter and loud conversations? The railroad agreed and the experiment proved a great success.

But as early as 2006 when the same idea was suggested to Metro-North it was rejected outright. Then serving on the Commuter Council, I persisted and finally, in 2011 the railroad agreed to a trial with one car on each rush hour train dedicated to what it called a “Quiet CALMmute”.

Almost immediately the plan ran into trouble. Not because it wasn’t wanted, but because it wasn’t enforced.

There were no signs in the cars and only occasional PA announcements before departure reminding folks who sat in the car that a quiet, library-like environment that was expected. Most of all, conductors wouldn’t enforce the new rules. But why?

Conductors seem to have no trouble reminding passengers to keep their feet off the seats or put luggage in the overhead racks. 

But all that the railroad expected them to do to enforce the Quiet Car rules was to pass out bilingual “Shhh cards” to gabby violators.

It seemed left to passengers to remind fellow riders what a Quiet Car was for and confrontations resulted.

Then this spring the railroad surprised even me by announcing an expansion of the program: every weekday train, peak and off-peak, would now have two Quiet Cars! Sounds great, but without signage or education, the battles continued.

One commuter from Fairfield recently e-mailed me with a typical tale: riding in a Quiet Car he became annoyed when a fellow passenger was yakking on her cell phone. He tapped her on the shoulder and told her “we’re in a Quiet Car” and she freaked, telling him to “keep your @&%! hands off of me” and continuing her chatter by telling her caller that "some guy" just tried to tell her to get off her phone and what a fool he was to think this was some kind of quiet car.

Of course there was no conductor around (all tickets having been collected) and lacking any signage in the car to point to, the offended passenger was made to feel like some sort of jerk.

On Amtrak trains those violating Quiet Car rules have been thrown off the train and arrested. Even Chris Christie had to move his seat on an Acela once for yabbering with his staff in the wrong car.

Nobody wants these kinds of altercations on Metro-North. But why initiate and then expand such a passenger amenity as Quiet CALMmute without proper education and enforcement? A few signs and friendly reminders from conductors should make passengers aware that “train time may be your own time” (as the railroad’s marketing slogan says), but it’s also shared time. And I, for one, want a quiet commute.

March 26, 2016

Why There Never May Be Wi-Fi on Metro-North

A few weeks ago a friend was showing me his new Chevy Volt.  Not only does the hybrid-electric car get 42 mpg, it has its own Wi-Fi hotspot.  That’s right.  The car is a Wi-Fi device, so kids in the backseat can watch YouTube.

Days later we were on a road-trip from the Maryland shore when we caught the Lewes – Cape May ferry.  Onboard the vessel they offered passengers free Wi-Fi.  Airlines have offered flyers Wi-Fi for years now. 
Discount bus lines like Megabus have free Wi-Fi.  Even Connecticut’s new CTfastrak commuter bus system to Hartford gives its passengers free Wi-Fi.
Commuter railroads across the US offer Wi-Fi, including Boston's MBTA, Seattle's Sounder and even San Francisco's Caltrain.
But there is no Wi-Fi on Metro-North.  And the railroad says none is planned, even though the new M8 railcars are ready for the needed gear.  And therein lies a story.
Offering Wi-Fi on a moving vehicle usually involves cellular technology.  That’s how the first airline Wi-Fi was offered by companies like Go-Go, though JetBlue and Southwest now rely on proprietary satellite systems which are much faster (up to 30 MB sec!).
When Amtrak first offered Wi-Fi on its Acela trains between Washington and Boston, they immediately had bandwidth issues.  So many passengers were using their cell phones and tablets, speeds dropped to 0.6 mb per second and the complaints came pouring in.

That’s part of the reason that Metro-North is reluctant to offer Wi-Fi:  if an Acela train carrying 300 passengers can’t handle the online load, how could a ten-car train carrying a thousand commuters?  The railroad has enough complaints as it is.

Pay phone on Japanese train
Metro-North’s experience with on-board communications has left them feeling burned.  Remember years ago when the railroad installed cellular pay-phones on the trains?  Great idea, until a year later when costs came down and everyone had their own cell phone.  Those pay cell phone booths went unused and were eventually removed.

Back in 2006 then-President of MNRR Peter Cannito said Wi-Fi would be built into the new M8 cars, both for passengers and to allow the railcars to “talk” to HQ by beaming diagnostic reports.  The railroad issued an RFP for ideas and got a number of responses, including from Cablevision, with whom they negotiated for many months.  They even initiated on-train testing of Wi-Fi gear on one railcar.
But Metro-North insisted any Wi-Fi would have to cost the railroad nothing: that all the expense and tech risk would be borne by Cablevision or its customers.  And that’s where the negotiations deadlocked.

Today the railroad sees Wi-Fi as just a convenience.  Smart phones and cell-card configured laptops can access the internet just fine, they say, using cellular technology.  But to their credit the railroad is trying to get cell providers to fill in the coverage gaps, like in the tunnels and at GCT.

So don’t look for Wi-Fi anytime soon on America’s biggest and busiest commuter railroad.  It’s not seen as a necessity… except perhaps by its passengers who really have no other transportation option.

March 14, 2016

Is Uber Really a Bargain?

In the almost two years since Uber rolled into Connecticut, the state’s car/taxi service business has been rocked to its core.  But is Uber competing on the same level as taxis and car service companies?  Of course not, which is why it’s so successful.
I spoke with Uber’s Connecticut Manager Matt Powers and Drivers Unlimited (a Darien car & limo company) owner Randy Klein to try to get an objective comparison of the services.  (Full disclosure:  I have been a customer of both firms.)
While Uber does offer a “black car” (premium) service, my comparisons are with their more popular Uber X service… private cars driven by non-chauffeurs, 7000 of whom have signed up as drivers in CT, according to Powers.
VEHICLES:     Car services opt for Lincoln Town Cars and SUV’s.  Uber X just requires drivers have a 4-door car, less than 10 years old with a trunk big enough to carry a wheelchair.
MAINTENANCE:  Klein owns and maintains his own fleet, inspecting all cars weekly.  Uber relies on its X drivers to do upkeep.
DRIVER SCREENING:   Klein does his own background checks on top of the DMV screening required for a CDL (commercial drivers license).  Uber says it does “rigorous” screening of drivers, including terrorist watch lists, but requires only a regular driver’s license.  Klein’s firm also does random drug testing of his drivers.
INSURANCE:    Klein has coverage of up to $1.5 million for every driver.  Uber relies on the individual driver’s personal insurance but layers a $1 million policy on top when they are driving Uber customers.
RATINGS:    Uber asks drivers and passengers to rate each other after every trip.  Klein asks passengers to rate drivers but says it’s unfair to allow drivers to rate customers. “We’re in a service business,” he says.
BOOKING:    Klein says most of his reservations are made 2-3 weeks in advance.  Uber doesn’t do advance bookings, though in personal experience I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a car.
FARES:   Though not an apples-to-apples comparison, an average car service ride from Darien to LaGuardia Airport is anywhere from $130 - $180, one-way.  Uber’s quote for an X car is about $75.
SURGE PRICING:    When demand is highest, Uber adds a surcharge to fare quotes, sometimes doubling the fare.  Klein says his rates are the same 24 x 7.
IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS:    Klein says his office can be reached anytime by phone, toll-free.  Uber’s website offers a template to file complaints online.

So, is Uber really a bargain?  Let me answer with a hotel analogy.  Sometimes I love staying at the Ritz Carlton with its plush rooms and fabulous service.  Other times, a Motel 6 or LaQuinta is fine, though there’s always the risk of a “surprise”.

I see car services the same way.  With a plush Lincoln SUV and chauffer you get what you pay for.  But sometimes all you want is to get from home to the airport and an Uber X is just fine… and a lot cheaper!

February 24, 2016

Cross-Country by Amtrak

A recent business trip took me to Dallas on a crowded, turbulent 3 ½ hour flight from LaGuardia.  But the return trip was a real treat:  2 days and nights on Amtrak, for free.
Riding a lot of Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor, I’ve built up a ton of AmtrakGuest Rewards® points, augmented by their co-branded credit card.  So when I checked my calendar and the Amtrak website, I saw an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely ride home in a full bedroom, meals included, gratis.
The long distance trains I rode from Dallas to Chicago (The Texas Eagle) and Chicago to
Washington DC (The Capitol Ltd) were all “Superliners”, ie double-deck cars with a variety of accommodations, including coaches and sleeping cars.

Each train also had a diner and an observation car, though the sightseeing through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois wasn’t exactly memorable.  But the second leg of the trip thru the hills and river 
Observation Car
Photo by Nick Sweeting
valleys of Pennsylvania and Maryland was gorgeous. “Fly over” country sure looks different from an elevation of about 20 feet.

My bedroom was equipped with a big couch that folded down into an almost queen-sized bed… surprisingly comfortable for sleeping.  The private commode doubled as a shower. 
Firing up my radio scanner, pre-set to the railroads’ frequencies, I followed the action as the conductor and engineer received instructions from a dispatcher hundreds of miles away.
The food was good… all cooked to order… and included in my first class fare.  Dining was communal, one of the fun parts of train travel:  getting to meet real folks from across the US, chatting about their travels, their work… everything except politics.
In Chicago and Washington DC, where I had time between train connections, I enjoyed Amtrak’s “Metropolitan Lounge” for first class passengers, complete with free Wifi, snacks
and priority boarding.  I also had time to explore those cities’ beautifully restored train stations jammed with commuters, Amtrak passengers, shops and restaurants.
To their credit, Amtrak does a great job with their money-losing long distance trains.  The service is truly First Class, the ride smooth and, for the most part, on-time (thanks to a heavily padded timetable).  We had only two small delays… one caused by another Amtrak train colliding with a truck at a grade crossing (no injuries), the other by a boulder on the tracks that needed to be removed.

Because demand is high and the supply of sleepers is low, fares for long distance Amtrak trains are pricey and booked many weeks in advance.  Roundtrip airfare from NY to Dallas is as low as $230.  But one-way on Amtrak is $299 in coach and $700+ in a roomette.  Of course with Amtrak it’s like getting two nights of hotel plus meals, but to me it’s well worth it.

So next time you’re planning a long distance trip, turn it into a journey.  Take the train!